I hold Sophie’s and Dan’s fate in my hands. What a weird feeling! That’s quite a responsibility, actually. Two people’s lives.
I have their lives planned perfectly, of course. I have a grand plan that spans book one, Sophie’s Turn, book two, Sophie’s Run, and the concluding part. It’s a big picture plan. I know what’s going to happen in broad strokes, and then I plan each book in meticulous detail as and when I write it.
So I did a bit of a double-take when I sat down to plan book three. You see, by necessity, a few years will have elapsed between the end of Sophie’s Run and the beginning of my next novel. Events will have transpired that will have changed the world, and Sophie’s universe.
And I suddenly realise that age matters. As in, my characters’ age. Not how old they are, per se, that’s kind of immaterial to the story by now. Well, not immaterial, it matters, too, of course, they’ve grown a little older and developed in the intervening… time.
What I mean is, their exact age matters. How old they are when this next novel starts, with everything that entails for the plot. I didn’t pay much attention to this to begin with. I had a rough age in mind, and I’d counted out their ages using my fingers. I put an age down for both lead characters in the book-three-planning-box, and that seemed fine.
Until. Until I realised that my books usually run from June or July time through the end of the year, sometimes rolling over into the spring. Sophie’s Run, book two, for example, begins in June, just before Sophie’s birthday, and ends in late November with a little spree into the following April.
Birthday. Yes, there you have it. My characters have birthdays, and they need to be honoured. So where initially I counted this many straight years (“one, two, three years since the end of Sophie’s Run”), it became much more complicated when I actually thought about it properly. Because, you see, at the beginning of book two, Sophie is 29, but then she turns 30. At the end of book two, she’s still 30 of course, but she would be turning 31 quite soon. There’s the hitch. That rolling over birthday calendar.
Same for Dan, just a month later. So straight counting of years is actually misleading. In fact, after much scratching of head and, eventually, a detailed month-by-month calendar exercise charting Sophie’s and Dan’s ages over the years with all the relevant events that would have taken place between books two and three… After all of that, it emerged that I actually cheated both characters out of two years of their lives. Well, that’s not on.
Thankfully, I caught this calamity in the nick of time and managed to get my Trilo-nology right before I start planning in depth, let alone writing. So we can all celebrate birthdays with confidence, and in style.
Does it matter?
It will matter. To my characters. To me. Possibly to nobody else, but at least I know now that the story and its evolution over time are plausible. It could work, it could have happened, because I didn’t mess up a (small?) detail like ages. I’m inanely pleased with myself for working this out, bizarrely complicated as it might have been. I can write with complete confidence now.
What about you? Do you worry about details like chronology, ages or timelines when you write? Does it matter to the substance of the story, or am I tying myself in knots unnecessarily?