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?