From Idea to Book (Part 3)

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Welcome to part 3 of this series that explains what my typical process is when writing a book. As with the previous two parts, I’ll be focusing on the practical techniques and tools I’ve learnt in the hope it will help others begin their writing journeys. This segment covers the importance of time and place and how it impacts your story.

If you have a question that isn’t covered in any of these segments, feel free to send me a direct message on either Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. I’m also happy for you to email me directly at info@bowstreetsociety.com. I’ll be announcing new segments in this series in the Gaslight Gazette as well, so be sure to subscribe if you don’t already.

Do I have to define the time and place in my work?

The short answer to this is: not necessarily. The long answer is: even worlds which seem to have no defined time or place still have “rules” by which they operate. If the world in which you are writing is dream-like, you should still outline in your mind how surreal that world can become and how your characters exist within it. For example, can your characters still experience pain/death in your dream-like world? Do they have a body or are they just a blob of consciousness? With regards to time, you should also define in your mind how it’s measured. They say time is merely a human construct. Yet, humans are unable to “rewind” time or “undo” their last action in the “real” world. If time isn’t linear within your world, how will you present this to the reader? How will it impact the order of your story? How will you avoid confusing your reader and losing their interest altogether? These are all questions you should be asking yourself when deciding upon the “time” and “place” in which your story is set.

My story unfolds within a real-life historical period, how accurate should my presentation of it be?

In my opinion the answer to this is tied in with the question of genre. For example, your story may be a hybrid of historical fiction and fantasy. In which case, you may present technology, locations, and fashion in a highly historically accurate way, but mythical creatures and a system of magic may also exist within your world. How accurate you want to be is entirely up to you. Yet, once you’ve decided upon your answer to this question, I recommend trying to stick as faithfully to it as possible. When you introduce your world to your readers, you are also introducing them to its rules, quirks, etc. There can be nothing more jarring than having these rules and quirks flipped or dismissed halfway through the book with no rhyme or reason behind it. The most important thing is to create a strong sense of place within your reader’s mind and then build upon it within the “boundaries” you’ve created.

My story features a real-life location, should I visit it before writing about it?

In an ideal world, yes. Yet, finances, commitments, and a host of other factors can sometimes mean this simply isn’t possible. In which case, I recommend using photographs and descriptions from reputable sources of the place you wish to write about. For example, many of the locations I’ve included in my books are real and I try to visit as many of them as possible. Ultimately, though, I’m seeing them as they are now. Yet, the version I truly want to see and understand is that which existed in 1896. Therefore, I have to rely on photographs, descriptions, and the fantastic knowledge of local historians and museum curators to create a sense of place that is as faithful as possible to the reality. Where possible, I’ll also get digital copies of original floorplans.

I’m writing a series, should time move forward with each new instalment?

There is no right or wrong answer to this. If you’d prefer to keep your characters’ ageing static, then fewer references to the passage of time is better. Yet, if you want your characters to age, then, yes, there should be a stronger sense that time is passing by referring to the time on the clock at various points in your story, whether it’s day/night, or which season it is. How fast time moves between instalments is entirely up to you.

With regards to the passage of time within a story, I always mark whether a scene happens in either AM, PM (aka afternoon) or Night on my plot plan. This allows me to keep within a realistic time frame whilst describing the gradual unfolding of events. By doing this, I’m also determining whether a character’s travel time is realistic between locations.

The importance of the passage of time between described segments can’t be overestimated, either. There will be times when your characters are doing very little. Therefore, it’s not necessary to describe what they’re doing every second of the day. Nevertheless, you as the omnipotent being overseeing this world and their lives should know what they were doing between event A and event B. Where necessary, to keep the order of events clear in my mind, I’ll include “Not Seen by the Reader” events in my plot plan.

NEXT MONTH: Let’s get plotting       

                                                                                                                                         ~ T.G. Campbell, September 2022