In many cases, when writing fiction, a writer does not have to be concerned, particularly, about the sequence of events. One simply has to tell the story in time order, and all will be well. Sometimes an author will want to interrupt the sequence of events. For example, a flash-back can be inserted later in the story, and as long as the reader understands that the events refer to an earlier point in time, and they make sense in that context, it should be fine. Even a flash-forward into the future is possible. Fishing in Foreign Seas begins with a prologue which is set it the future, and in it, Elena, the purported author and the daughter of the key characters in the book explains how she came to write the story, much of which is linked to the quite recent past. The novel ends with an epilogue in which Elena tells the reader what happened to her parents and siblings after the main story concludes.
My two thrillers which will be published soon did not present me with a time line problem. In each case the story unfolds largely in time sequence. In Efraim’s Eye, the scene shifts back and forth between Efraim’s activities in preparing the explosives, and the other two (good guy) characters, Paul and Naomi, who will discover his planned attack. The two streams run parallel and converge at the end. Efraim has two dreams which act as flash-backs and help the reader understand his character and what motivates him.
The Iranian Scorpion has a somewhat similar structure, which focuses primarily on Robert’s experiences in Afghanistan and Iran as he learns the means by which opium is converted to heroin and how it is exported through Iran to the US. Toward the end of the story, a parallel stream opens in which Robert’s father, a retired US Army general, is assigned as a UN weapons inspector in Iran, and becomes involved in attempt to avenge his son’s apparent execution by the Iranians.
For these two novels, it was not difficult to keep the events in a credible sequence.
Apart from the prologue and epilogue, Fishing in Foreign Seas follows a sequential time line. There are two aspects of the story that required attention to the sequence of events. First, there are linkages to real events: the first Gulf War in which Jamie was injured and decorated, and the evolution of the US power generation industry at the beginning of this century. Secondly, there is the growth of Jamie’s and Caterina’s children during the course of the story. One has to be careful that a child who can be no more than six is not behaving like a ten-year-old.
Sin & Contrition had some of the same challenges at Fishing in Foreign Seas: linkages to real events, and keeping the behaviour of the various children consistent with their ages. In terms of linkages to real events, for example, LaMarr, as a Marine recruit, fought in Vietnam, and his subsequent experiences in war zones have to match reality. There is also the complication in Sin & Contrition that the novel is not structured on a simple time-sequenced basis. Each chapter deals with a particular sin, and characters move in an out of the story depending on whether or not they are involved in a that particular sin. In a broad sense, however, the characters age from 13 to 62 as the novel progresses.
The novel that I am currently working on is the (fictional) autobiography of a man who believes he hears the voices of surrogates for God and the devil. Gradually, he develops a philosophy about life as he experiences great joy and terrible grief. For the first time, I’ve had to write down a sequential time line as part of my ‘blue print’ for the novel. This blue print lists key milestones so that even when an event is reported out of sequence (as it might be when one is recalling his life’s events) the events – taken in their overall context – make sense. Keeping the ages of the characters consistent, tying in real external events, and maintaining order in what might otherwise seem chaotic is my latest challenge.