by Christine Kling
I am really bad at math. Numbers just won’t stick in my brain. They don’t like me. That is one more reason why it is crazy for me to try to write historical novels. Yet that is exactly what I am trying to do.
Yes, see, I’m currently in that middle part of a book. I’m in that head space where I hate the book, and I’m certain it’s the worst thing I’ve ever written. All you writers out there will know what I am talking about. It happens with every book.
Numbers aren’t the only things I can’t seem to remember. People’s names. Exotic place names. And yet here I am trying to write this big complicated story that covers more than 70 years and three generations and it takes place in Thailand and the Philippines where they have place names like the Hualamphong train station or the town of Tuguegarao.
One reason I am such a slow writer is because I can’t remember all this stuff and I have to devise systems to help me remember my story – especially in the beginning. See, I can’t even remember what I’ve written from one day to the next. It feels like all these complex details are just too much to hold in my head at once. I think about my story even when I’m not writing it, and sometimes I can’t remember whether I’ve already said something or just thought about it.
To help me keep my historical dates and plot timelines accurate, I use timelines. For each book I have a macro timeline that looks at the whole historical picture and a micro timeline that only concerns the events that happen in the modern story. Now, though, as I am writing a second book that takes place several years after the first, even that micro timeline covers quite a lot of time. Currently, I’m using a Mac program called Timeline 3D, but I just purchased a new one titled Aeon Timeline that might work better for me. I like the sort of outline mode one has for viewing the timelines in this new program. Timeline 3D is targeted at the education market. It is designed to be visual and they can be printed out and displayed on a classroom wall, but it’s getting very difficult to look at my huge documents on a screen.
Another system I have devised that should help me and my editor when I finally finish this book and start the revision process is what I am calling my style sheet. In Scrivener, the writing and editing software I use to compose my novels, I can keep my style sheet open as a floating Quick Reference page. This enables me to do a quick check on place names, character names, boat names (I have lots of those in my books), and some special objects or language that I may have introduced. For example, this new book, Dragons Triangle, deals with something called a Tibetan prayer gau. It is an object. I refer to it many times throughout the manuscript, and I need to make certain I am consistent with spelling, capitalization and italics. My style sheet is already several pages long, but it beats trying to do a search through the manuscript for a place name I’ve forgotten how to spell.
The last system that works well for me involves my iPad. I use the navigation application iNavX to plot out the movement of my story on the nautical charts. I have waypoints and routes for all the places my characters go in their boats. The program helps me to calculate how long these trips would take at the speeds their vessels can travel. And because I have two story lines – one that takes place during World War II aboard various ships and another that happens in 2012 aboard a trawler and a sailboat, I have lots of voyages to keep track of.
I don’t know if I would be able to write these kinds of stories if I were back in the days of yellow legal pads, notecards and paper charts. I know it would take me even longer than it does now, and I probably wouldn’t live long enough to write the third book in this trilogy. I’d try to calculate just how long it would take me, but given that it’s a sunny morning and I’m anchored here off Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos, I figure why ruin a gorgeous day? See, that would require me to do some math.
ChristineShare on Facebook