My Obsession with Twilight

twilight And no, I don’t mean the wildly successful book by Stephanie Meyer, or the film based on the book. Although I hear they’re both excellent.

Something became painfully clear to me last week as I mapped out the timeline for my next book, The Gatekeeper. Since I never start with an outline, one of my final acts before handing in the draft is to map out exactly when and where each scene takes place. The main action in all of my books occurs over roughly a week, give or take; that’s never the problem. No, what I invariably discover is that almost everything happens at night. Particularly at twilight. I’ve been known to have twenty-five incidents of twilight in a weeklong span. It’s not pretty, trust me.

I wish I knew where this unhealthy predilection originated. I’m a big fan of the daytime, and there’s no good reason why, in a thriller, critical scenes can’t take place, say, mid-afternoon. There is admittedly something spooky about the darkness, but in Gatekeeper, spookiness wasn’t really what I was after. So why was the sun constantly going down?

Another problem I quickly discovered: teleporting. This is the first time I’ve attempted to write across time zones. My first book took place entirely on a college campus, then with the second I widened the scope to a region (The Berkshires). Now I’m attempting to portray multiple points of view scattered across the country. Worse yet, the characters fly from one to the other with abandon. Or rather, based on evidence in my initial draft, they teleport, since they frequently get from New York to California in mere minutes. Even with the time change, they probably shouldn’t be landing at precisely the time they left: twilight, of course. (Although after traveling over the holidays, I’m wondering if teleporting is ever going to be a possibility. I’d even settle for a flying car: weren’t we supposed to have those by now? A two hour flight from Phoenix involved three hours of waiting at the airport, another two on the tarmac, no water, threats to divert to Monterey, and an extra $100 because we dared to check bags. Beam me up, Scotty).

So I spent the better part of a week mapping out the action scene by scene, minute by minute, checking flight times to insure that my characters were experiencing the same travel nightmares the rest of us undergo on a regular basis. (It’s pretty much the only time in my life I use Excel, but wow, I love that program. I just wish it was easier to get everything to fit on one printed page).

I rewrote scenes so that characters were no longer darting through the shadows cast by moonlight. I eliminated their flashlights and night vision goggles (another weakness of mine: flashlights have been prominent in nearly every book. There must be some sort of twelve-step program that deals with this). I gave them sunscreen instead and pushed them out the door into the light.

After a lot of work, I got it down to a week of sunrises and sunsets, with plenty of light in between. There are, granted, still scenes that occur at night, but at least now it’s not all of them. And as always, now that the draft is done, I’ve promised myself that next time in an effort to avoid this problem I will absolutely try to work off an outline. (I won’t, though. I never do. I might as well promise to stop eating mass quantities of soft cheese, it’s just as unlikely to happen.)


11 thoughts on “My Obsession with Twilight

  1. Well Michelle, I’ve got a solution for your problem. Base your novels in my homeland: Alaska. And keep them in the winter (which starts in late October and continues until mid-April).

    The great big shiny ball in the sky goes down by 3:30 pm and doesn’t rise until after 10am the next morning. Tons of darkness for evil to happen in. And if you need a bit of light in the middle of the darkness the Aurora Borealis can switch on at random and give a surreal swirling-twirling light to your experience.

    On the other hand, if you need lots of light, the sun doesn’t set from late May through the end of August.
    We’ve got the best of both worlds.

    Except of course, there are no babes in bikini’s or blokes in speedos.

  2. Now that I think about…blokes in speedos kinda makes me feel queezy… Alaskan men tend to be a bit…uh…paunchy.

    …forget that image.

  3. I’m glad you got it all worked out, Michelle.

    I don’t have an outline for the book I’m working on now. To avoid similar problems, I’ve been using Excel for chapter summaries complete with timelines, etc. As soon as I finish writing a chapter, I add a tab to the Excel sheet with the chapter number, and jot down what happened. So far, it seems to be working.

    Basil, I’m pretty sure I could never live in Alaska.

  4. Hey Basil, I’ve always wanted to visit Red Square. If I move to Alaska, could I see it from my front porch? πŸ™‚

    Michelle, I can sympathize with you regarding your Twilight obsession. Mine is with the moon. The moon makes an appearance in every book I’ve written, and despite the laws of physics and the principles of astronomy, the moon is usually full every night on any point on the globe. Maybe I was a werewolf in another life?

  5. Wow, Michelle, lots of work for you to keep up with all that character travel! I plug in a tag throughout my manuscript, something like TIMELINE:day&time , and I highlight the tag in bright yellow. As I’m doing my rolling drafts I do a search for the tag to make sure my time lines make sense, and that everything still holds together. I think it’s an easier way to keep track of time than ExCel or drafts, and I’m a big fan of an easier way.

  6. Michelle, this cracked me up! It’s funny how we can fall into habits like that. Years ago, I had one of those silver-handled comb and brush sets show up in three short stories in a row. Unfortunately, I was not the first one to notice.

    Think of all the fun you can have with characters in the early part of the day–they’ll finally get to have lunch and breakfast! xo

  7. That’s hilarious about the moon, Joe. And Basil, I’d love to set a book in your neck of the woods, but would be afraid of stepping on Dana Stabenow’s toes (and I’m pretty sure she could hurt me). I like your recommendation, Kathryn, that’s a great idea. I’ll try that next time.

  8. I suspect that the way your books are progressing that you will have all the action take place on a neighboring planet in the near future. I suspect that some of them don’t have a “twilight” or as much sun as others. But I would definitely have them bring along a flashlight. Probably some oxygen too.

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