1. Rumwriter
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    Rumwriter Active Member

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    How to imply a passage of time

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Rumwriter, Mar 15, 2012.

    I find that sentences or clauses like "an hour passed" really drag down the story. I prefer to let the tone of the sentences, and the pacing of the sentences try to automatically give a sense of a lot of time passing, without actually saying it.

    Sometimes I can get it, but I haven't quite nailed down exactly what it is that makes it work. It just does. Any thoughts?
     
  2. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    What is your character doing during that time? Depending on the activity, it will naturally be assumed X amount of time had passed. If the character is struggling it could "seem like hours, but really only half an hour passed".
     
  3. Rumwriter
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    Rumwriter Active Member

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    In this particular instance (though I think I already made it work, but I'd still love opinions) he is staring at an animal before finally attempting to catch it.

    In general, I find that trying to make the sentences play out in real time works best. As in, if it takes 5 seconds to read from him watching to him catching, then in my mind 5 seconds have played out in the story (in general). So one way to do this is to simply fill the time by adding sentences, but the problem is that you don't want to add anything unnecessary, and you also can't try to fill time for 5 minutes if that's how long they are waiting.

    Anyway...yeah.
     
  4. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    Sometimes it makes the story flow, and sometimes it bogs it down. So it's like a half and half type of thing.
     
  5. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ok, not sure about the best way to do this, but you can use the environment and the character to hint at how long time has passed. E.g, if he stands very still for five minutes, he may notice that his legs have become sore. That should indicate to the reader that a few minutes have passed. If he stands for an hour, he may have to shift his position repeatedly, and may notice that the sun has changed position or the shadows have become longer (if it's in the evening).

    Mentioning things like how the character becomes restless, or hungry, or has to fight sleep, or how his thoughts keep wandering, also gives a sense that time is passing, since they're things which don't happen instantly.

    The character may also notice that it becomes colder, or the wind has turned, or the sun passes behind some clouds. That doesn't in itself indicate how long time has passed, since it can happen in a few seconds, but if you use it in conjunction with telling how much time has passed, it can add depth. Eg, "He stood there for half an hour, staring at the animal. Suddenly he noticed it had become colder, and glanced at the sun. A bank of clouds had moved in front of it."

    That's how the human mind works - it picks up clues from everything that happens, and fits them into a context. By TELLING the reader how long time has passed, you make sure they have the right context, and by SHOWING how it affects the character and the environment, you add depth and make it feel more real.
     
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  6. Phoenix Hikari
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    Phoenix Hikari Contributing Member

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    pretty much what Islander said above me. That actually not just help you indicate the passage of time but also enrich your prose and make the story more enjoyable. Remember readers enjoy what you show them more than what you tell them.

    Another advice is read more and focus on these parts where the writer indicates about a period of time that has passed. See how they do it, there are many different ways to do that. Read carefully and pick something that suits you then adapt it to your needs.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If one chapter ends with a corn harvest, and the next chapter opens with your main character stepping in through the door and stomping the snow from his boots, you know that at least several months have passed. Cues like this are a good beginning to show the reader the passage of time.
     
  8. Rumwriter
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    Rumwriter Active Member

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    well, I'm thinking more like minutes to hours, not months. and I tend to disagree with earlier posts to an extent. I find reading a sentence like "the sun passed through the sky" to be bland and boring. it's right up there with reading about weather.
     
  9. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    You know, a lot of people have asked in this website about when to go for descriptions and settings. Well, this is one instance where the readers won't mind a bit of description about the setting.
     
  10. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, "The sun passed through the sky" is bland and boring. But nobody suggested you write that. Now, go back and look at what they did suggest, because it was all good stuff, and work out why it was't stuff like "the sun passed through the sky".
     
  11. Rumwriter
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    Rumwriter Active Member

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    Hmm. Islander wrote: "The character may also notice that it becomes colder, or the wind has turned, or the sun passes behind some clouds."

    I find all of those things are somewhat weather related, digtig, and I don't find any of them interesting.
     
  12. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    The issue isn't that they're weather related, it's that "The sun passed through the sky" is exceptionally bland (and not actually weather related -- it happens whatever the weather is). All of those things could also be written well. As I say, look again at the actual advice you've received, and why that advice is decidedly not to write "The sun passed through the sky."
     
  13. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ok, not sure about the best way to do this, but you can use the environment and the character to hint at how long time has passed

    This was the advice you were given and Islander then gave you the basic off the cuff examples that first came to his mind. (Making the assumption you would use those examples to come up with suitable ones of your own that will work in your story).

    Maybe it is a candle that has burned down, a lightbulb gone out, the fire has become embers, cups of coffee sat on the table etc A longer period of time can be indicated by it being cold, colour of leaves or an event that has passed that the reader was aware was going to happen. Islander's examples aren't boring when blended into a story. Noticing the incoming dark or chill can form part of the mood.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    For a time difference of hours, there are daily occurrences you can use as cues. Brewing a cup of coffee to wake up, cleaning up the dinner dishes, turning on the evening news. Your character heads out the door on her way to work, or walks in the door and kicks off her shoes.

    Get creative.
     
  15. Rumwriter
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    Rumwriter Active Member

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    I guess my point was, how do you do it simply with the tone of the sentence. Does writing 5 sentences about an event make it feel like more time has passed than 1 sentence? Does a long sentence work better than a short? What about simply creating a new paragraph? I feel like it can be done with structure as well as content, and that's what I'm interested in.
     
  16. Phoenix Hikari
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    Phoenix Hikari Contributing Member

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    This all depends on how you write the story, your style and the structure. You can't really tell which works best if you don't see the whole thing and make it flow. There's a difference between what is a standard or a rule and that which we perceive as fitting with the work.

    Play around with your sentences, experiment with this and that until you find that which complements your other paragraphs and adds depth without sounding awkward.
    As I stand by my previous advice, read more and focus on how other writers do it then learn from them and develop your own favorite style.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    No. Unless the paragraph is explicitly about the passage of time, events with time passage in between should be in separate paragraphs. Often, a time transition is a good place for a chapter change.
     
  18. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    No you can imply a long passage of time in a word or two with the right event.

    One of mine was something like.

    Matt's eyes moved to the desk. He nodded towards the small plain pot. 'Is that your dad?'

    'Yeah. I've decided to do something with them when Soc {his brother} gets back.''

    The reader knew the funeral was due to happen later in the week, but Soc wasn't getting back for two at least. They know more than a week and less than two has happened.
     
  19. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not in itself, although a skilled writer can use structure to reinforce the passage of time that's indicated in the text. If anything, structure like that links to the narrator's subjective passage of time, which isn't necessarily the same as actual passage of time.
     
  20. ChickenFreak
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    He was too late to catch the tastysquirrels in their nighttime hibernation; by the time he reached the grove, the sun was up and the squirrels were chasing one another up and down the trees. He sat in a not-too-damp patch of leaves and watched them scamper, then amble, then settle into un-defended furry sleeping heaps as the midday heat took hold.

    Venturing from his hiding place, he was dumbfounded to learn that John was right; the colony of squirrels slept on when he grabbed several by the scruff of the neck and tossed them into his basket. Even the captives just keened irritably and curled up again in the wicker, resuming their tiny snores. "Like windfall apples with fur," he murmured as he headed home with his harvest, wondering if he had any panko crumbs in the pantry.


    ChickenFreak
     
  21. marcuslam
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    marcuslam Senior Member

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    Everyone's made good points. At the same time, often, I have no issue with someone just writing, "the following day". Also, even though it's good to be precise when writing, I usually have no need to know exactly how much time has passed. Like Islander has suggested, I'd be more interested to know the protagonist's legs becoming sore, etc.
     
  22. Whirlwind
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    Things change.

    In RAGING BULL Jake gets fats.

    In GOODFELLAS Henry gets married.

    In BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, a montage shows the passage of time.

    You just show what has changed.
     

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