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.)