A book that I thought was done came back from my publisher’s copy editor. There were the usual corrections; commas, contractions, word repetitions, inept grammar, and the occasional internal confusion. There was also something very much more serious: I had messed up the plot’s time sequence.
Ordinarily that might not matter so much, but in this book, time is vital. In one sense, the book is a thriller, insofar as my protagonist, as they say, is racing against time to save his own life. So when it was pointed out that I had quite confused my timing of events, that was, to put it mildly, a catastrophe.
You might think the copy editor would say, “Here is the glitch.” It did not happen. All that was said was, “This can’t happen this way.” What’s more, the book has a complex plot.
Therefore, what was required was a careful work-through of the manuscript, with a calendar in hand, checking the plot, event by event, hour by hour, and day by day. In time, so to speak, I found it: I had dropped two weeks. How? I have no idea. But, once found, adjustments were relatively easy.
That said, the sequence of time in a plot is really vital, and it can make a subtle if not huge difference. It is all too easy to forget such and such an action will take time to happen, or not to happen. Moreover—readers will notice. Adept use of time is a crucial fiction writer’s task.
So—next time I write a book like this one, I will post a remark made by Albert Einstein over my desk: “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”
In short, when you think seriously about your next plot, remember—It’s about time.