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Timing is Everything

You’ve probably been there. You’re just sitting down at your desk, or laptop, or wherever it is you choose to get creative, and you’re banging out the first few words of a new scene. Exciting, right? It’s like you’ve been dropped into your own world, your own personal fantasy. It’s all just a little bit fuzzy, but with every word you type it becomes more clear, more real, the sights, the sounds, the weather, the seasons, the…

Wait a minute. What season is it? Is this weather right for the season, or did I just throw it in because it seemed interesting? Should it be raining across a mountain pass 8,000 feet above sea level in a temperate zone in late fall? And is the moon really at quarter waning like I think it is? When was the last time I saw this character, and what were they up to? How long has it been since then, and what do I want the readers to get the impression has happened in the interim? I should look back at the previous chapters. But which chapter was it? Do I really have to read through my own dang book to figure out how the story went? Let’s see, so it was twelve chapters ago, and in between she did this and that, and such and so…crap.

No? Never had this come up in your writing? Maybe not. Maybe it’s just for us über-nerds who write in a fantasy world of our own creation, with things that operate just a little bit differently. And also we’re hyper self-critical. And we tend toward perfectionism. Oh, right, and we started ourselves off on absolutely the right foot by setting up a world with not one but two moons, that orbit each other rather than the world itself, and while the pair of them have a lunar cycle of thirty days, the smaller one orbits the larger every seventeen days, so…where the hell are they today, again? Did I mention that magic and prophecy on Cyrradon are hugely influenced by the lunar cycle? Yeah, that.

So you might not have problems to the degree we’ve invented for ourselves, but to a lesser degree, I suspect even the contemporary fantasy/fiction author has the same challenge from time to time (no pun intended). I said all that to say this: timing is everything. The challenge, of course, is to ensure you have the ability to regulate and keep track of your timing throughout the course of your story, a lesson I learned the hard way…

So there I was, in the middle of The Ascension, the second novel in our eight book series. Yes, we started off our journey as authors with an eight book series; more on that particular spiraling descent into self-abuse in a future blog post. The first book took place over the course of about ten storyline days. The second, more like three weeks, with a prologue that happened a month prior to the first day of book one, and in a different part of the world. The third was a whirlwind 6 days, and the fourth…well, the fourth is literally all over the map. Let’s just say that by the fourth book, Eye of the Witch, I was insanely grateful I took the steps I describe below to get my proverbial shite in order.

Anyhoo—squirrel!—So there I was in the middle of The Ascension, trying to determine what the moons looked like, and what the weather would be like that time of year in that part of the world. Why? Because our heroes’ journey was taking place largely at sea! And navigation by sea relies on stars and moons and weather conditions, all details I hadn’t at that point worked out yet. Maybe I obsess on the details a bit too much, but I feel like even if the average reader isn’t likely to appreciate such things on a conscious level, at least there wouldn’t be anything to make them blink. Sure, there is always going to be that small group of laser sharp readers (Sheldon Cooper, am I right?) who’d be like, “Pshhh! That would never happen!” and then flip back 16 pages to point out something else that completely contradicts what they just read. But if a larger set of readers pick up on it, I’ve definitely got rats in the walls and it’s only a matter of time before they start to stink the place up.

So as usually happens when I need to get myself organized, I made a spreadsheet. Me ‘n Excel, we’re tight. I made columns for the year, the months, the days, the lunar cycle around Cyrradon, the 17-day sub-lunar cycle of Boki (our smaller moon) around Nali (the larger), and columns for chapters and comments. Then I inserted another column next to the lunar cycle column, and determined what phase the moons would be in at each point in the 30 day cycle (full, three-quarter, half, waning, waxing, new, all that), and next to the 17-day cycle to tell me where Boki was in relation to Nali at each part in that circuit. Then I took a deep breath and had a beer. Then I told Excel to project that timeline as far into the past and into the future as I thought we would go in this series. Excel was good to me and did just what I asked her to.

Now what I have is a very long chart that allows me to go to any particular year, month, and day, and know exactly what the season is, and what the moons look like. This is hugely important in our story, because as you will see, magic and prophecy in Cyrradon are greatly influenced by the moon cycles. It isn’t always important, but anytime it is…there it is.

But in addition to that, as I mentioned, there were those columns for chapters and comments. So with each chapter of each book, I reference that chapter number on the day(s) that chapter occurs, with notes where critical. This turned out to be the biggest benefit of all. Now when I’m setting up to write a chapter that rejoins a set of characters we (the readers) haven’t seen in a while, I can immediately tell how long it’s been since we’ve seen them last, and draw some very reasonable conclusions about how things would have changed or progressed in their situation in between their last appearance and the present one. Again, hugely beneficial. Many times I’ve found that simply knowing it’s been four days since these guys got trapped in this place is more than enough to get the fingers typing on the new scene.

Still further-reaching is the ability to look back in the storyline to know how long it’s been since some critical juncture was crossed. Say some tyrant has one of the companions held captive and says he’s going to kill them by the next full moon if the others don’t do X, Y and Z. Now I simply make a note in the comments (“Tyrant’s ultimatum”) and another on the full moon (“Tyrant kills Fred”), and I don’t have to go back through chapter after chapter to figure out how much time has passed, or when poor Fred will get strung up by his guts on the palace gates. And I certainly don’t find myself having to go back and re-write chapters when I eventually do find out the characters didn’t stick to the plan.

Still with me? You’re a die hard. I knew you would be, and I appreciate you. So that’s my rant for today, and hopefully it serves to help you in some way to better manage your own writing projects, or maybe at the very least show you our commitment to ensuring the very best possible story experience for our readers!

If you’re a chart-plotting, spreadsheet-spreading, lunar cycle graphing über-nerd like I am, or maybe you just dig the fact we do all the hard work so you can enjoy the ride, we would love to hear from you! Please feel free to comment on the blog post directly, or visit us on any of our social media sites below! And be sure to check out our other blog posts! More to come soon.

Happy adventures, travelers!

Jason and Rose - Legends of Cyrradon

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