Keeping track of dates and time in a manuscript

How do you keep track of the “timeline” when writing a book? The question came up at a speaking event earlier this year. It wasn’t the first time I’d been asked the question, so here’s the answer.

In the beginning, it was a problem because all my novels take place in many time zones. One approach I tried was keeping everything in Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). That meant every passage had to be converted to local time. The scene would take place at night, but the GMT would be someplace at night. The conversion added confusion words and was a pain in the ass. It led to questions like was it daylight savings times or not.

The solution was simple – keep everything in local time. However, when I am writing a passage or section that takes place on the same day, they are in sequence in how the sun comes up. For example, events taking place in Vietnam or the Philippines come before a scene that takes place in either Europe or the U.S.

Keeping track of the dates in the novel is harder, at least for me, than it seems. The solution again was simple, but it did take some trial an error. On the Internet, I found a site that gives me a year’s calendar on one page along with the major Christian, Jewish and Muslim holidays. I keep a printed copy close for each of the year’s the book takes place at hand as a “master” calendar. As I write, the days on which events are circled. This way I know what days are “used” so to speak so if I need to go back and either reorder some scenes or add one, I know where there are “open” days.

So, wherever I go and have time to write, I have three documents with me. One is the plot outline, another is the ever evolving cast of characters and the master calendar.

It seems so obvious and simple now, but in the beginning it wasn’t.

Marc Liebman

August, 2015