How to Get Your Chronology Straight

Often you can sneak an error of this kind past the reader’s notice, but a writer with a watchful eye (or even a cynical writer, for that matter) will never be fooled. Chronology is one of the things that virtually no one stresses inside of writing class, but pops up all the time in poorly-written work.

Chronology is one of many necessary things needed to maintain verisimilitude. (the internal logic, consistency, and general believability of a story) Bad chronology will let air out of your story by making pressing affairs seem irrelevant–or unrealistically close and dangerous.

This can especially hurt thriller novels, as the time-driven plot relies on whether or not the protagonists can solve their problems in time. As soon as the heroes are able to traverse vast distances in only a chapter (where it took the villain ten chapters), you may as well have the hero get a stroke of brilliance and solve the problem single-handedly. Well, that’s a plot hole, you might say. But so is bad chronology.

This is what killed the Rings of Power for so many people. The chronology (among other things) was a bit wonky, especially in episodes one and five. In the former (spoiler alert) Galadriel takes the passage to the west in the space of a whole episode, and in the latter the trip only takes twenty minutes. While I’m sure you could construe this as still being consistent (and I believe a case could be made), it looks to the viewers as if Galadriel is fast-travelling. And the readers’ perception, whether true or false, has to be considered.

So the first step is to actually fix your timeline. How long does a journey from Angoma to Hurin-Tar take? Well, I mean, it takes the entire book to get there, so that’s not of much importance. But how long does it take to process a Holocron of information? Two days? Well then, the Jedi who gets it done in two hours (conveniently in the nick of time, I might add) is not helping the story.

The next step is to make your timeline feel consistent. This is admittedly quite a bit trickier. If your reader feels that a timeline isn’t right, that will lead them to view your story as if it were so, true or untrue. This would mainly be a failure due to “too much telling, not enough showing”. (by the way, this rule mainly affects the reader’s perception and won’t actually influence the narrative quality of your story)

Well, how do you do this? Well, I’d start with being consistent on the amount of pages you devote to each passage of time. If X task/action/event takes three days, you would tell the reader that it takes three days and then show a page for each day, perhaps two pages per day. But in any case, you are doing your best to show that it takes three days to get the job done.

But if it takes you six pages of screen time (I like to refer to it as pagetime) to show that three days have passed, then it logically follows that you need six pages of pagetime to show a three-day journey. If you use two pages instead, the reader might come under the conviction that the pacing is “weird”.

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that chronology should be more consistent than it is realistic. Being realistic with a timeline in storytelling is always important, but consistency is more so. Remember, your readers will forgive you for making up all kinds of imaginary things: elves, goblins, trolls, etc. They’re not concerned with what they read about in a book will contradict reality: they fear that the book will contradict itself. Don’t disappoint them.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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