Pinning your story to the clothesline of time.
The real world imposes external timelines that must be observed when writing realistic fiction.
The first is the pattern of the calendar year.
I’ve been working on a novel that opens in the fall just when the year begins its inevitable tilt toward the holidays. I didn’t bother to include the holidays. They were not necessary to tell the story I had in mind, but in revision I realized I had to work them in.
Any American story that passes through November and December traverses a landscape that includes holly berries, overeating, and family gatherings–what you do with these ingredients is up to you. Those holidays served to point out to my characters how alone they really were.
As with the rituals tied to the human calendar, there are the constraints imposed by the natural world. The seasonal rotations of weather, animal behavior, and plant succession have to be accurate. You cannot make lilacs bloom at your convenience.
A small factual slip can call your whole story into question as if you’ve elbowed your reader to let them know:
HEY, THIS WHOLE THING IS MADE UP.
Even if your story is set in the present you will find yourself checking the timeline of history for accuracy.
The main characters in my newest book are seventy-eight. How old were they during the Great Depression? Did they rock around the clock to Bill Haley and the Comets?
The intersections between your story and shared benchmarks like season, history, and cultural memory create context, sometimes opening the door your reader walks through to enter the story.
Hey, they think. I remember Bill Haley and the Comets!
Note: If you give a specific year in your story print a calendar. This link will allow you to select a country as well as a date, giving you the appropriate local holidays.