Problems with Timing: Examples

Sometimes real examples of writing issues are easier to understand than lengthy, complicated explanations. In this new series (see the list of “Real Examples of Various Writing Issues“) you’ll see various real-life writing problems and suggested solutions.


“In two months, Joe and I are travelling to Australia to see our family.”
–> Do you mean, “two months later” or that you will be travelling there two months from now? Since your story includes going back into the past (flashbacks) and forth (into your visions of the future) and present (what is happening right now, what is in your mind as you write), you need to be very careful about your transitions so that you don’t confuse your reader. That is why your tense use is so important, but you also need to include “transition sentences” or paragraphs that prepare the reader for changes in time back or forth.

“It was only a couple of weeks ago, when …”
–>If you were speaking about a couple of weeks before the present, this would be acceptable. However, you are speaking about a couple of weeks before an event that is already in the past, so I would recommend saying: “It was only a couple of weeks previous when…” or “It had been only a couple of weeks before this, that….”

“Looking back, I see now…”
–> You don’t need the phrase “Looking back,” as the next phrase, “I see now…” indicates that you are seeing a change from the past.

“As I reflect over the last five weeks where I dare to tread…”
–> I find this part of the sentence a bit hard to understand. Are you reflecting back now, or were you reflecting back at that time?

“They were engrossed in playing the game, when suddenly Erin realized the time, and she was going to be very late.”
–> Perhaps: “They were so engrossed in playing the game, that when Erin suddenly realized the time, she knew she was going to be very late.”

“They’d been kicking the ball on the park’s playing field, and time passed quickly, and they were having fun, and night started to fall.
–> Try this: “They were having fun kicking the ball on the park’s playing field, and time passed quickly until night started to fall.”

“Sarah was on her way to school to see Ms Williams, her grade one school teacher.”
–> According to your story, this event happened in 1962 in a small, rather conservative town. The reason I mention it is that women school teachers were usually addressed as “Mrs.” or “Miss” until at least into the late sixties. The term first appeared in the late 1950s, but didn’t come into common usage until a decade or so later, especially in small towns, and in conservative institutions like schools.

What she didn’t fathom out until years later was that Peter hadn’t actually travelled the world, as he’d claimed. Very soon his exciting tales and the glamour of their first days together changed irrevocably.
–> This seems a bit confusing: “years later…very soon” Which was it?

“… another fifty metres to the family home …”
–> Canada wasn’t using metric yet in the 1950s.

“As we entered into the church’s huge foyer which seemed as large as the one in The Sound of Music, we were greeted by the priest and a deacon.”
–> You are writing this story from your perspective as a child in the 1940s. The Sound of Music had not been produced yet. I suspect you are using this as a reflection, looking back from the present. I suggest you might want to try and think of a comparison that you actually would have made at that age.

“Father asked me to visit him at his new home during my hospitalization.”
–> If you were hospitalized, how could you travel to visit him? Do you mean: “During my hospitalization, Father invited me to visit him at his new home after I had recovered from my operation”?

“A bunch of conspiracy theorists with nothing better to do,” Ellis scoffed.
–> I don’t believe this term was in use in the 19th century when this story takes place: see (under “etymology”).

“Worst case scenarios were his usual perspectives of life.”
–> “Worst case scenarios” is another recent term, going back probably only to the mid-20th century:

“By the time his injury healed, he believed the war would be over.”
–> Timing of this sentence isn’t quite right. Perhaps: “He believed that by the time his injury healed, the war would be over.”

Your turn!

Did reading the above examples help you understand the need to self-edit carefully, to ask a beta-reader to check your writing, and to think carefully whether the timing in your story is accurate and/or makes sense? What did you learn from these examples?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s