Last time, I wrote about the problem of Time Management as it applies to writers. Now it’s time to take on the concept from our characters perspective. This is going to be a little bit of mental gymnastics, so I hope you’ll stay with me.
The concept is simply this – characters have to live full lives too. They will have their goals and their problems that get in the way of achieving those goals every bit as much as we do as writers. The difference in this case is that not all of our decisions will be based on how best to achieve those goals. Sometimes, we have to let our characters waste more time playing computer games (or the genre specific hobby of choice) than would be wise. Why? Because real people do that and it gets them into the kinds of trouble that makes for interesting stories (sometimes – sometimes it just makes them annoying).
One of the things that you need to know about your characters is how disciplined are they? How focused are they on achieving their goals? You have to decide if your characters even know how to achieve their goals. Not all the best characters would make the best students. Sometimes the ones who don’t seem to be able to get anything done without a deadline or dragon breathing down their neck. Not to mention that poor choices can lead a story in interesting directions.
Say your character is running from the bandits and thinks that he has gotten enough of a lead. He could spend the little extra time he has confusing his trail even further, or he could stop in at the local pub to relax a bit. The smart, motivated thing would be to confuse his trail so the bandits head off in the wrong direction. However, you could have all kinds of fun if he slips into the pub for a quick pint. He could run into the one person who actually has relevant advice for him in that pub. Or he could meet the soon to be love of his life. Maybe the soon to be love of his life is in league with bandits. So as you can see, sometimes the not so focused choice can give you more possibilities, could even be more fun than the responsible way of doing things.
Naturally, this will only work if you’ve shown your character to be a bit of a lush, or irresponsible already.
Poor time management skills can also feature in a character’s back story – you never know what kinds of contacts you might make playing on-line games like World of Warcrack. All those strangers who don’t seem to have anything better to do than be someone else in a fantasy game might just have the insight or skills your character needs to deal with this week’s big bad. And think of all the trivia you can learn from watching too much late night TV or hanging out with the discovery channel playing in the back ground. And if your modern character who wastes her time hanging out at the yarn shop happens to drop through a time portal, well she just might be able to survive even though she was about to lose her totally modern secretarial job.
Don’t think that all of this time management stuff for characters is about how they get to slouch around like a bunch of half hearted high school students.
The plot demands a certain amount of attention. Characters who ignore the plot don’t do any better than students who don’t pay attention to their teachers. They might be able to pull it off for a short time, but sooner or later it’s going to show up in their grades or lack of readers. So while your character is making their choices about what to do with their time, it still has to be plot oriented. Having your bandit fleeing hero stop off for a pint only works if it advances the plot. Your WoW player needs to get some benefit from the game or it shouldn’t be mentioned.
When it comes to the plot, your character needs to be as disciplined as you are about writing. Only your character can’t look like they are plot oriented, that’s just a little too weird. In other words, you as the writer have to use your character’s natural state of time management to advance the plot. This is where the creativity comes in. You get to design your plot to match your character’s flaws. So you can place the important clues in the bars and pubs for your alcoholic hero and ensure that your knitter falls into a time when skill in yarn arts is a blessing. That character who plays WoW would fit in a plot that involved amateur war or war like fighting. Thereby turning their poor time management into an asset.
Other fun things to do with time management in stories is to pair the planner with the pantser. They will drive each other nuts, and provide a fun spectacle for your readers. Or, take just the planner and move things so fast he never has a chance to plan. Take the pantser and put her in the situation that will only work if you plan ahead. Take your laziest character and make her work her but off or send your workaholic on a family vacation. This, of course, is all part of the “put your characters in uncomfortable situations” school of story telling.
The take away from all of this is that you, the writer, need to be diligent about your time management and aware of your character’s. There are a lot of factors that go into both, but knowing them will give you the basis for all kinds of fun and productive writing.