Tag Archives: fact-checking

Timelines, storyboards and read-throughs

There’s a bit of maths involved in writing a novel. But before all the wordsmiths out there freak out, that doesn’t mean you need to be a genius at arithmetic to make your story a success.

It does mean you need to do some fact checking before you submit your manuscript to a publisher.

So where does the maths come in?

1. Timelines – Whether your story takes place over a day or a week or a decade, you need to make sure all the hours add up. My current manuscript is based around a two-week holiday but only nine days are actually described. If I’d written about 18 days, I’d have been in trouble.

2. Ages and dates – You need to check your characters are the correct age at the correct time. In Game as Ned, I was caught out with a Vietnam War conscript fathering a child when he was barely old enough to a) be conscripted and b) be fertile. I’d checked all the dates and specified ages for conscription but forgotten to cross-check the age of the offspring at a fixed point in time. Whoops. To correct this, I had to turn my conscript into an enlisted soldier, enabling him to be a few years older.

3. Life experience and memories – Is your character old enough to have witnessed or even appreciated and understood the key events you refer to?

So, in polishing my current manuscript, I have done a specific read-through focusing purely on timing issues. Following this, I drew a timeline chart, checking the sequence of events in the narrator’s life to make sure I haven’t overcommitted his time.

It can also be useful when initially plotting your storyline, to put scene sketches on separate cards. You can then shuffle these around, movie storyboard-style, until you find the best sequence.

Planning pays! As does checking and double-checking your facts. OK, so the bird species you mention does frequent your designated setting. But is it likely to be present during the season you intend?

On research and read-throughs

Yes, I’m back on the mainland, still savouring the memories of sea air and mallee scrub that spell Kangaroo Island to my senses.

My research and fact-checking mission was largely successful and it’s amazing what a few days without email, Internet and mobile phones can do to reinvigorate the brain. Now that I’m back at my desk I have oodles of things to catch up on but here are a few quick musings on my last few days:

  • Research can be great fun. Skimming through old newspapers is an adventure in itself – even the classified advertisements are fascinating when they’re more than a century old. An old schoolhouse that reeks of possum piss can harbour untold treasures – as can a conversation with a local.
  • Research can be a double-edged sword. Discover too much good stuff and you risk adding unnecessary details/material and/or losing focus on your main storyline. I don’t want to drown readers in details that might only appeal to me.
  • Ask enough people the same question and you’ll accumulate many different answers, rather than a single, definitive one.
  • Your nearest and dearest can be your toughest critics. My wife has begun a read-through of my manuscript and already uncovered one major timeline problem – something that should have occurred to me but hadn’t. She also highlighted passages that “need work”. While I don’t always enjoy getting this feedback I value it immensely. Better to find out now than hear it from my agent or publisher!
  • Watching someone read the manuscript is akin to a director sitting in an audience screening of his own film. I hang on whether people will laugh or gasp or cry at the right moments … It’s probably quite annoying having me around!

Hard copy

Yesterday I printed out the complete manuscript of Book 2 for the first time. I still have some blank spaces to fill and facts to check but it feels like a milestone – another step in the journey from inspiration to (hopefully) publication.

I find that my confidence in a manuscript ebbs and flows while I’m working on it. Sometimes I feel a story works well. Other times I think it flounders and will never see the light of day. While a hard copy read-through will give me a sense of sentences, paragraphs and passages that need more work, I might not get the same insight into the story as a whole until I hand it over to someone else.

I’m all for saving trees and reducing paper consumption but a hard copy read-through of a manuscript is a must. Why? Because you’ll be surprised just how many mistakes you find on a printed page, compared to reading from a screen. (As mentioned in previous posts, reading your manuscript aloud is also an enlightening, worthwhile exercise.)

The best thing about reaching the hard copy stage for this draft of this manuscript is that I can take it with me on my fact-checking mission. Yes, I’m heading back to Kangaroo Island this week to renew my acquaintance with specific lighthouses, museums, shipwreck sites (without diving) and a very special cemetery. I can’t wait.

Did you know? A lighthouse lover is known as a ‘pharologist’.