When writing my previous novels, I didn’t bother with the underpinnings. I had an idea of where the story began and where it ended, but other than that, I wrote the story as I thought of it. I didn’t pay attention to the timeline; the days flowed one into the other without regard for weekends, holidays, or phases of the moon. (If I needed a full moon, I simply wrote one in, even if it was astronomically or lunarly impossible.) Invariably, though, in the second half of the book, I would get confused as to where I was and how everything fit together, and I’d have to stop writing while I figured out the timeline. My still unpublished novel Light Bringer was the worst because I had several characters whose activities needed to be coordinated, and I couldn’t hold everything in my head or even on a written chart. I finally set up a bulletin board, wrote a brief description of each scene on a card, then arranged and rearranged them like a puzzle until I got it worked out.
To keep that from happening with my current work in progress, to be able to track the story from the first scene, last night I set up a calendar for the hypothetical year of my story — the year the world ends. Even though I will not name the year in the book (at least I don’t plan to) I decided it takes place in 2012. That gives me a year to write the book, a year to rewrite it, a year to sell it, a year for the publisher to get it ready and still have it take place in the near future.
Perhaps it isn’t necessary to use the calendar of an actual year, but so much of reading occurs in the subconscious. Readers register details that don’t impinge on their conscious minds; they hear echoes of duplicated words and phrases; they get an uncomfortable if they feel that events couldn’t have happened as portrayed. So, it’s best for us writers to stick with reality when possible, especially when writing fantasy. (And, in the end, aren’t all novels fantasy?)
This morning I Googled phases of the moon for 2012, wanting to make certain my moon won’t be full or new at inappropriate times. I found the chart I was looking for. I found something else, too, something I had forgotten. The Mayans believe that the world will be end in 2012. Life imitating Art? Art imitating Life? My muse (or my memory) playing tricks on me again?
If nothing else, it tells me I did the right thing by setting up the underpinnings for my story this early. If I hadn’t, I would never have made the connection, and it might add an interesting dimension to the story, consciously or unconsciously.