I have not had to think about how time moves in a story quite like I have in Laemmle High. The plot of the story is literally centered around a school calendar, with important plot elements falling on things like homecoming, prom, and winter breaks. More than that, Merton’s lycanthropy is based on a full moon cycle, and I see now why writers dropped that sort of thing. It’s clumsy and forces confrontations to happen on a schedule, which inevitably makes them feel less natural. All of this, combined with the setting, which is another time period (the time period has jumped around a little since the original conception, which explains a few anachronisms, though not all of them). So one day I decided to sit down and work out exactly when things happen, while also marking all the full moons so I have an idea of what state Merton will be in. It’s pretty easy to pull a quick calendar off timeanddate.com (an extremely useful website for any writer’s fact checking), and even easier to pop it into MSPaint and add the information I need. The result is something like this:
There are several things I have to keep in mind when plotting this story:
- The school year (and thus, the seasons changing)
- The full moon (which works out conveniently for me in many places)
- The central theme of the story, and how it ties into the kids moving into a new era
- The actual plot of the story (not yet revealed)
Especially in Merton’s chapter, which had a pretty strict timeline of when he goes into a coma, when he wakes up, when the first full moon is (the reveal), and then the second transformation (confrontation). This gives me a full month between first full moon and second, so I have to escalate conflict. I also have to think about when he has to be in school, and how it lines up with the other conflicts in the story.
That is to say, I don’t think I’ve had a single other story where I’ve had to keep track of the dates this meticulously. Where I mapped out a calendar. I have other school based stories such as Adventurer’s Academy which also rely somewhat on the semester, but I didn’t have a character who every two weeks went through a monumental physical change that also needed to be lined up with other tragedies. Stories like How Like Wolves (one day I’ll get around to editing that) seem to happen in the course of a few days or a few weeks. It’s a bit like a lot of action movies, where the pacing is focused on the action, and thus timelines and travel time doesn’t really have to be negotiated in the same way. Bruce Wayne needs to be in a secret prison outside of the U.S. to explain the backstory of the villain, but in the next scene needs to be inside Gotham fighting said villain. If done well, and the story is good enough, we forgive these little oversights by filling in gaps in our mind. Doesn’t work like that here.
And writing about how the seasons affect story is like writing about how water is wet. We all know that moody pieces are set in winter, when things are dead and the landscape is muted, and warm summer gives us a feeling of nostalgia and of endless escape. Spring is rebirth, fall is watching things fade away. And they all have different sides to them, but I have to keep in mind the story I am writing. Laemmle High is about the future, the things we want from it, the things we fear from it, and how we are changed over time. It’s a little about growing up and a little about not being allowed to grow up. So I know the climate of Whitby. I know by November it’s already snowing and by spring it will be raining, but how does that affect the story? What does it tell our characters? Betty, who isolates herself and feels constantly alone, spends a lot of time in the wintery landscape far away from other people. Johnny’s death happens in the fall because that is the plot, but a lot could be said about a young life fading away. The thunderstorm for his resurrection was just horror movie schlock. But it sets a tone. It tells the reader how to feel about the scene. The characters are miserable, the truth of their dead teammate an overcast on them, and when he returns it is with a lightning strike.
I think writers, including myself, could benefit a lot more for mapping out a timeline. How many weeks does this take place in? How many years? If traveling, how long should it take? What do the characters do in the interim? How does the plot advance even when the next scene has to wait two weeks to arrive? How do you move the days forward without getting repetitive, and without something monumental happening on every page? This set up allowed me to focus more on character relationships and see their growth. Marya and Betty, Johnny and Beverly, even Betty and Johnny, whose initial introduction was so short, we still have to see how the relationship is changed. And how it is not.
Which again, central theme.
I don’t think I’m good at this yet. I think this story forced me to understand what I was doing, which is the sort of thing that makes you a better writer. All of those questions are things I have asked myself. To be a better writer, I have to understand how this works. And I think I’m figuring it out.
Meanwhile, for a brief period I’ll be taking a break. I really need to get back to Deadlands, my old west horror serial I’ve taken a six month break from for lots of reasons. Part three of this story is not yet completed, which means I have to write and edit it before feeling comfortable posting it here. I’m heading full force into a project with friends called the Renegade Library, a pop up LGBT library in Houston, TX. I’m trying to get back to writing regularly and you’ll hopefully see more short stories and concept stuff while I work on these projects. If you’d like, you can buy me a cup of coffee or donate to our library by purchasing something off our Amazon wishlist. I will hopefully be back soon!