Timelines really matter, contrary to what we see on TV. Every professional editor on the planet looks closely at story continuity related to timelines. Yet what’s a writer to think when watching TV shows that demonstrate zero regard for how long it requires to get from one place to another?
A couple of years ago I mentioned the flagrant timeline fouled ups on “Longmire.” Since I’m an old farmer from Indiana, my favorite “issue” involved two good, strong farm women. By themselves, they cut and baled and stacked a huge field of hay overnight. Never even worked up a sweat, either. Nothing since has piqued my ire near as much. Except for now I can discuss the past couple of episodes of “The Lost Ship.”
In the penultimate episode on TLS, miraculous things happen. A group of SEALS swim two miles underwater and manage to board and move around a destroyer, undetected. Oh, and in an exact 15-minute timeline, as dictated by a stopwatch in the scene’s setup. Additionally, the ground-assault team manages to advance a considerable distance inland, on foot, within the quarter-hour requirement.
Ah, but this was nothing compared to the season finale. Captain Chandler flies from San Diego to St. Louis in ten minutes! This sort of script dalliance can make a book editor’s job a nightmare. A ridiculous presentation via a popular TV show mistakenly serves as a compass in some quarters for acceptability.
In reality, timeline errors related to what I’ve discussed should be viewed as unconscionable for any writer to entertain. The printed/digital word doesn’t enjoy cinematic privilege. Readers have a keen eye for gaps in a narrative, which remain one of the most common reasons for putting down a book for good.