Monday, April 24, 2017

A to Z: Editing Fiction: Timeline and Tags

2017 THEME: Editing Fiction (Because that's what I'm in the middle of doing.)

What is the Blogging from A to Z challenge and where can I find more participants? Right here.


Double check your Timeline. We all like to think we know our story backwards and forwards. The problem is, the odds that we sat down and wrote the whole story in one day are pretty slim. If you're like me, you get interrupted by pretty much everything - the dogs, the kids, the husband, phone, unexpected visitors, work, the repair person...

Not only is it easy to forget what time of day it is in a scene that might span a couple days of writing, but somewhere between the beginning and the end, it's entirely possible that either two previously unrelated characters are doing something that doesn't line up later on when they come together or a secondary character is left stranded somewhere in time. The backstory of main characters might be off kilter with character developing scenes happening later. Did she run away at eight years old, but later on, she turns up on the street at twelve?

The easiest way to avoid this is to plot everything out and stick exactly to your plan. Not one of those people? Yeah, me either.

The rest of us may want to take some notes as we go along in our edits, jotting down ages and dates of important events or when those things are mentioned in the story and actually create a literal timeline to make sure everything corresponds.

You might think an editor will do this for you, and if they're super awesome, they might. However, your best bet, is to make sure your story is correct and possible before sending it off so you know it's right. After all, it is your story.

As a bonus, I'm also going to put in a word about dialogue tags, because they deserve editing attention too.  

• Use the simple: Said. It works. You may be tempted, but don't screw with it. This is one word it's fine to use a lot as it disappears from sight. A few deviations for flavor now and then are fine, but should be used sparingly, as should adverbs associated with them. I once read a book where one character "said quietly" almost every line of dialogue. It drove me nuts.

• Instead of those telling adverbs and constantly relying on tags, use action beats to help flesh out the setting, add visuals to a conversation, and express emotions.
Timmy slammed one of his blocks on the table. "I don't want to go to bed."
Jane scowled and her hands formed into fists. "I think you'd better apologize for that."

• Tags and beats can go before or after the dialogue, whichever works best for the flow.

• Avoid adding too many tags or beats, they can bog down a conversation. For example, if it's a longer conversation between two people, using a tag/ every third line to keep us on track of who is talking works just fine.

• Use beats and small doses of narrative to avoid talking heads. Conversations with no description can read like a monotone phone conversation.

• As you edit make sure it's clear who is talking, and try to make the dialogue sound natural for that particular character - they probably don't all phrase sentences the same or perhaps some use different words for things (think lords and peasants). It's easy for the voices in your head to all start sounding the same halfway through your novel.

What is the most distracting dialogue tag you've seen in a book?

23 comments:

  1. Hi Jean - interesting to read this ... it's too easy to get tempted to add too much into the timeline ... and muddle things - as you say - simple is best - cheers Hilary

    http://positiveletters.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/t-is-for-turkey.html

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  2. For one of my novels, I had to note everything that happened on a calendar, so I didn't mess up the timing and the days of the week that things happened on. That calendar was a lifesaver!

    Dena
    https://denapawling.blogspot.com/2017/04/t-is-for-texas.html

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  3. My worst headaches with timelines is if I go back and change something, usually when I realize a character or bit of plot doesn't work in a particular scene. But this create ripple effects through the big where suddenly characters who used to know each other or certain information doesn't anymore, and it creates all kinds of further headaches. It's like going back through time and creating a time paradox.

    T - Toronto's Ill-Fated First Hanging

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    1. I know what you mean. I did that once and have endeavored to never fall prey to that again. What a headache.

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  4. On the one hand, "said" is always the best dialogue tag. On the other hand, constantly saying "said" does get repetitive. This is what I have had trouble with when writing.
    And about timelines--well, that's something I've haven't been doing in my memoir. Rather, I tended to see each chapter by subject.

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    1. Try attributing the speech in other ways so you don't need to use said near as often. I use action beats than anything else because they help add motion and setting to a dialogue-heavy scene.

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  5. Dialogue-tags are important.They convey who's conveying what. They need to match with the personality of the characters or mood.
    Could imagine Jane's hands forming into fists :)
    'Time To Think' #AtoZChallenge

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  6. Keeping the timeline straight is so important. I'm organizing one on a spreadsheet for my current project. Great big yes to keeping tags simple. "Said" doesn't jump out at the reader. We don't want the tags to jump out. I only vary it to make a point, and avoid tags in favor of beats as much as possible. Great info!

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  7. I ended up creating a microsoft Project file for one of my stories, both for the active timeline and for things like birth dates that are important.
    Sophie
    Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles - Dragon Diaries

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  8. Jean, an excellent post for A to Z. The timeline is so important. I have often found myself pulling out of a story I'm reading to try and figure out if the character could possibly have got there in that time!
    T is for Tempting Titles as you Build a Better Blog. #AtoZchallenge.

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  9. I meant to add that I found your site late in the challenge, but I have bookmarked it and I intend to come back and read all this year's posts. They look very good! T is for Tempting Titles as you Build a Better Blog. #AtoZchallenge.

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    1. Ha! I went through several of your posts this morning too! Your blog has also been added to my A to Z list. :)

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  10. Good advice - I have trouble reading dialogue when I have to back up and try to figure out who is saying what. A few tags would have been helpful!

    Emily | My Life In Ecuador | Tide Pools in Puerto López

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    1. I get annoyed with that too when reading. A 'said' now and then can be handy.

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  11. Since I don't outline, it's critical I keep track of timeline issues (especially birth dates for folks). I learned this the hard way when writing my first mystery.

    DB McNicol | Oh, the places we will go! | Tennessee & Texas

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  12. I find it helpful with keeping a timeline to work with an actual paper calendar, usually one I print from a website. Even though I largely never mention specific dates, I still know exactly when they happened.

    I definitely agree that mixing in action beats is a good technique, and not overdoing either tags or beats is a good goal (though it can take a few editing passes to really nail it.)

    Most distracting tag? In Pollyanna, you get a lot of "she ejaculated." Err, child appropriate? Bwahaha!

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  13. Timelines can get complicated, especially when events aren't always obvious. I started using a spreadsheet timeline to plot everything out, but that got quite complicated. I had to Ctrl+F to find an event to figure where it was in the timeline.

    Way too complicated.

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  14. It's so easy to get things out of kilter with time. I create a timeline while doing my chapter divisions and have headings for each chapter (I don't write in chapters to start) - knowing what day(s) each chapter takes place on makes the whole thing much more manageable.

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  15. As a reader the details are important. It drives me crazy if a character has brown eyes at the beginning but then have green eyes a few chapters later or flying across the country in two hours. Girl Who Reads

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  16. What gets me is travel time in a novel. I write historicals, so I'm always looking up how far horses can travel over specific terrain in one day, or how much time it will take a particular type of boat to get from one island to another. Good post! Happy A to Z!

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  17. Some writers just cannot live with "said" as a dialogue tag. I recently read an oversized novel where people were always "interjecting" their comments.

    After an unintentional quirk, I learned to make timeline notes for future reference. In novels two years apart in timeline, my protagonist's son was age 14 in the first, and "going on 18" in the second. His birthday fell after the first novel's timeline and before the second.

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