1. ZombieHappyMeal
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    ZombieHappyMeal Member

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    Question about orienting a reader in a jumbled timeline.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by ZombieHappyMeal, Nov 19, 2011.

    The latest short story I've been working on is Science Fiction/Horror and has a jumbled time. In the first draft, my readers were having a lot of difficulty following the order of events, so in my second draft I decided to start each section with a header that stated the date (in relation to the events of my story) rather than just having asterisks to separate the sections. For example; what was *** is now Five months before darkness... So, what I wanted to know was, would it be better to be more specific with the section headings and say, "147 days before darkness..."? Or, is it better the way that I have it? I am leaning towards the more specific, but I want to know what you all think. Thanks.
     
  2. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It really depends on if the exact # of days is important.

    "Five months before," "Two months before," etc. would be easier for me to remember. But with it being a short story, they can flip back easily to compare if needed (unlike a novel which might take longer, especially in print form).
     
  3. forgotmypen
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    forgotmypen Member

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    I would honestly leave it the way you have it. Five months will make more sense to most readers then 147 days. If you're leaning for more specific, you could also try using specific dates, such as: 'November 15th, 2014'.
     
  4. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    5 months before darkness? What does that mean?
     
  5. ArtWander
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    ArtWander Contributing Member

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    Personally, I kind of like the 'days' approach. It feels a bit more artistic while still getting the idea of cohesion across.
     
  6. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    I'd say it depends on urgency. #of days makes it feel more pressing, more urgent, like more is happening at a faster rate (even if a lot of time has passed). The 'months' approach slows it down and makes it feel like more time has passed since the last time you stated the time frame even if you ended the last section on day 30 of the last month. It's all perception. So, if it were me, I would think about if I want the reader to feel extra harried and pressed, or if I just want them to feel like they're headed towards a fate they can't escape at whatever rate the content is carrying them.
     
  7. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    I am guessing it means five months before the s*** hits the fan.

    Personally, I would go with the numbered days. People can figure out how many months it is on their own if they want to.
     
  8. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    You should consider making some tweaks to the narrative itself, not just adding headers. Time is part of your setting. As a writer, you should practice describing it the same way you would describe trees or the weather. You wouldn't write a header to describe where your scene is taking place, would you? The reason your readers aren't seeing that time has moved on (or gone backward, in this case) is because you're not making that known within the story itself. Dated headers are a quick fix, but won't really get to the heart of the problem.

    Some examples of how you can illustrate the passage of time:
    • Section One ends with your MC considering buying a new pair of shoes. Section Two begins with your MC hanging out with some friends, one of whom remarks that those new shoes look nice on him. Without specifically saying "hey, this a few days later" it clearly shows time has passed.

    • Section One takes place in a barren, postapocalyptic wasteland, devastated by nuclear warfare. Section Two opens with your MC waking up, turning on the morning news, and seeing talk about 'Nation X' and 'Nation Y' having heated talks and threatening nuclear retalliation. Maybe the news broadcast even directly states what day and time it is, for added effect.

    • Section One has your MC at the bedside of his dying mother. Section Two opens with him at his big hotshot corporate job, and he pauses to notice the picture of his mom on his desk and smiles knowing he has made her proud and grown to be a successful businessman, with integrity.

    These are all rather cliche examples, but I'm merely trying to illustrate how you can seamlessly integrate time into your narrative, rather than using dated headers. And you can still use the headers, too, for added effect. But please please please don't rely solely on them.
     
  9. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    By all means consider that, but "consider" includes the possibility of "reject"! Gary Gibson's Stealing Light and Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife both included time information at the start of each section, and neither feels to me like a failure on the part of the author to manage time properly in their writing (it hasn't done them any harm, either -- that's not just down to my quirky tastes). Stealing Light includes date, time relative to a major incident and location in each section head.
     
  10. Acid001
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    Acid001 Member

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    I like the "147 days" approach, for the reasons ArtWander mentioned. However, Trish's advice is really good. You could even switch between days and months depending on how relaxed you want the reader to be at a given time.

    However, I would usually avoid filling up a short story with chapter headers. Like AnonyMouse said, there are ways of using narrative itself to strengthen the reader's sense of time. When I read a book with specific dates, I tend just to infer the time from the prose rather than use dates for reference, because I find situations easier to follow than numbers.

    But it's down to you. Both approaches can be equally effective. It depends on the nature of your story and the words you use.
     
  11. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    This is exactly what I would say only it's probably easier to understand than it would have been if I'd have said it. ;)
     

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