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Bob Nailor

Time Warping...

And it isn't even a science fiction tale! It is amazing what a writer can do when s/he takes the time to put pen to paper. Unfortunately, the writer can time warp the events and cause the reader to stumble, to drop out of the tale and wonder why it happened.

I wrote a segment. I re-read it repeatedly during my many edits and I even had it edited, professionally. The time warp was missed.

I happen to be reading it slowly and out loud for final edits. A great way to ascertain that the story actually sounds good, but another topic to be discussed another time.

I came to three small segments. I read segment one, it was good and I found no errors. I read segment two. Again, no errors. I started to read segment three and was at about the fourth paragraph when something niggled at me. It's not right.

Huh? So I re-read segment 2 and started to read segment 3 again. It "seemed" okay but still something bothered me. It was time to re-read all three segments.


Segment one occurs on Wednesday night. Okay. Segment two occurs on Thursday morning. Okay. Segment three occurs on... Hmm? Reading the sentence, it would seem it was Monday morning. That can't be right. BUT, there it is - the offending line. It read ...Mr. Johnson wasn't smiling like he did every Monday morning... and today was supposedly Thursday. What's with Monday?

Exactly what was going on? Does Mr. Johnson only smile on Mondays? Rather than think about the possibilities and consequences, I deleted the word "Monday" from the text. Now the segment read just fine. For some reason I had time warped from Thursday morning back to or forward to a Monday morning. Not good.

One of my best writer friends shared her time warp experience. She, too, had edited the section several times and had professional editing done. (Guess this shows that even professionals are human, too!) Anyway, her female character, (names are being changed to protect my friend's WIP) Zooey was met by a cohort Jack at 2am. Now for the time warp aspect. Her brother had confirmed the assignment that afternoon. He spoke with Jack at 2am so Jack couldn't be with Zooey. Plus Zooey has a bad dream at 3am. Anyone who lives in a big city knows - you don't cross town in 10 minutes. So doing a job at 2am and being in REM sleep at 3am is practically impossible.

My friend is currently rewriting the original meeting with her brother as a working breakfast, conferring with Jack at 10pm and then Jack meeting Zooey at 2am. Zooey then has her dream the next night. So there is a lot of rewriting being done to eliminate time warping.

Sometimes a time warp is very subtle and only gets caught by a true aficionado of the subject. When did President Kennedy place the embargo (ban) on Cuba? When did Bay of Pigs happen? When was the missile crisis in Cuba? When did a man walk on the moon? Many other media events need to be accurately depicted. Mess up a date and somebody out there will nail you for it.

Another friend of mine wrote about a witch trial during the late 1700s in NW Ohio. Unfortunately, what she was describing happened in the New England locale since, at that particular time, NW Ohio was much more trapping adventures than pioneering. In fact, our community (yes, I live in NW Ohio) only had 40 homes in 1846. Again, a time warping fix to the rescue, the story was relocated to a New England area.

Therefore, when you write your tale of wonder, make sure that the incidents are plausible and in the proper time sequence. If your heroine is going to the ball at 8pm, don't have her digging with her fingers at 3pm in the garden, especially after having them manicured at 11am. Plus you don't take a frozen 24 pound turkey out of the freezer at 9am on Thanksgiving Day to serve to your guests at 2pm that afternoon. It just can't be done.

We all enjoy dancing the Time Warp (Rocky Horror Picture Show) and Captain Kirk can squeeze the spaceship Enterprise through a time warp, but your readers will shake their heads if you attempt a time warp in the story's facts.

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Elyse Salpeter
My worst time warp moment occurred when I had kids calling a school to talk to their teacher - for some reason I lost track of the days and IT WAS SUNDAY. No teacher would be at school. - totally had to fix that. Sneaky little things... Very relevant post!
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Benjamin X. Wretlind
I just went through this during the edits of the book I released last week. Some things happened on Friday night, then came Saturday, then Sunday...and BAM! back to Saturday. I thought I was going nuts. :o
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Cinta Garcia de la Rosa
Time warping is something that I unfortunately find in a lot of books I read. Sometimes it is very difficult to notice while editing too. It's something that I normally look for in my short stories, because I know that some readers can be very picky when they found some nuisance like that. Nice post, Bob!
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onisha Ellis
Rebekah's book, last has three stories playing out. She had to print out her pages and lay them out to make the times work. She decided to give Schrivener (spelled wrong?) a try and is using it for her current WIP.
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Lisa Jey Davis
I think it's more common than you know, Bob - this Time Warping thing... But I must say that even in your example, if I'd read it, I have become so accustomed to poor writing, that my brain has been trained to make excuses for people... "Ahhh...we've somehow jumped to Monday morning now..." -- but that only goes so far... for instance if you said - "the next morning Mr. Johnson wasn't smiling" and then proceeded with the Monday part... that's similar to what's called a jump cut in continuity in film editing.... (when the coke can is in the shot one minute and gone the next) and it should NEVER happen! Great job catching it, and I love that you are addressing these intricacies in writing! Thanks!
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Lily Bishop
I found a similar time warp when editing my first book. I had added some language to augment a restaurant scene with more action beats within the dialog. Unfortunately, when I reread it later, the impression was that my main character was drinking a margarita *while* simultaneously driving her car. Clearly I had to adjust the beats.
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