As soon as I titled this post, I realized how often I ask myself that question right now. The days definitely do blend together. It helps that May is a big birthday month for my family. We had two in the first week, and my daughter is now counting down the days to her 10th birthday (double digits!!), so that helps us keep track of what day it is. But it would be easy to let one day drift into another when each one seems the same.
That can also be true in a manuscript, and I’ve discovered a few different tricks to track the time, depending on what the manuscript needs. Because how many days have passed is more important in some manuscripts than others. So here are a few ways I make sure I don’t lose track while I’m writing.
Use A Real Calendar!
I always use an actual calendar as my starting point. If you’re writing historical, then you can look up the calendar for that specific year. If you’re writing contemporary and aren’t sure what year the book will publish, choose a year a couple into the future. Unless the year is important (like in my debut, as it jumps from one specific year to another), it’s unlikely it will even be mentioned, so the most important thing is that your days don’t repeat or skip. As much as we’d all love to have three Saturdays in a row… wait, that doesn’t work so much anymore, does it?
Even if you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi, if your book still follows our calendar, it would be helpful to just pick a year and use it as a reference. You can use the calendar on your phone/laptop, or you can go to an online resource like www.timeanddate.com, which will show you a calendar for a whole year.
Make a Timeline!
I’ve done this at different points and to varying degrees with different manuscripts. I have one manuscript where the dates are very important, not only for the passage of time but because of what’s happening in the world on those dates. So for that manuscript, I have a separate ongoing timeline document that I update as I’m writing to ensure scenes are happening when they need to. One of my favorite Scrivener features is the ability to use split screen while writing. I have used this feature while brainstorming, to ensure my timeline matches up with all the scenes I’m planning, and also while drafting, to check that I’m still on track with where the characters need to be in time. It’s super helpful! (I was going to include a picture, but it would give away too much about this project 😉.)
Use a Date Calculator!
There might be a case where you need to know how many days have passed since a certain date. For example, your character is marking the days since an important event, like a birthday, death, or wedding. Or counting down to it, like my daughter 😀. There are sites where you can input dates and it will tell you how many days have passed. If you want to get really technical, the date-to-date calculator on Timeanddate.com will even give you the minutes and seconds.
Extra Scrivener tip: If I’m using these resources repeatedly in a manuscript, I import the web page into my Scrivener file under Research.
Those are just a few tools I use to make sure my characters don’t end up losing a week or going to school an extra day somewhere in the manuscript.
Do you have any other tips on managing time within your manuscripts?