1. Adam Jump
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    Adam Jump Member

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    The Passage Of Time

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Adam Jump, May 17, 2016.

    I've been reasonably ambitious with my first attempt at a novel. I'm five chapters and about 15,000 words in. The story is a re-telling of various elements of the life of the world's oldest man, in the first person. I've redrafted and totally re-jigged the whole things many times now and am beginning to be happy with the way the story is developing.

    The one thing I am concerned with is the notion that a reader can stay engaged, within the world of the novel, despite potentially many years passing by between chapters. For example, Chapter 1 begins with a 10 year old protagonist, by Chapter 5 he will be nearly 16. Bigger leaps will occur as I move forward with the story.

    Appreciate any views?
     
  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I've read stories spanning whole lifetimes, or with long jumps between chapters, and really enjoyed them. These spring to mind:
    - Memoirs of a Geisha (from childhood to death, even if most of the novel takes place over 10 years or so)
    - Pillars of the Earth and World Without End (each spanning around 50/60 years)
    - Life Expectancy (can't remember exactly but it starts with the protagonist's birth and he's at least 30 when it ends)
    - Another Dean Koontz book I can't remember the name of... Lightning, maybe? Again, starts with the protagonist's birth
    - A Diane Chamberlain book (I'm bad with remembering titles) that spanned 25-ish years.

    I actually can't think of any books that did this which I didn't enjoy. As long as you make the transition clear, and let us know where the protagonist is in their life at the beginning of each section, I think you'll be fine. After all, it'd be a huge disappointment to read a book about the oldest man in the world and find it only covers his life from age 25-26 :D
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2016
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  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with @Tenderiser - this has been done often. Doesn't bother me.
     
  4. Adam Jump
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    Adam Jump Member

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    Appreciate the reference @Tenderiser - certainly a few interesting bits of reading to restore my faith in the novel :)

    One specific worry, I guess, is starting Chapters with some variation of "I was 21" etc...I suppose nothing good comes easy!
     
  5. Adam Jump
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    Adam Jump Member

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    Very true! :)
     
  6. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your bio says you're 29. So what experience do you have of being the world's oldest man? Or even being remotely geriatric? You're definitely NOT "writing what you know"!

    A few "rookie errors" which you might make...

    1/ If he was born around 1900 (making him 116) technology would have been pretty primitive for much of his life. He'd have been a pensioner before computers became at all common, so he's probably going to struggle with them. (My father, at nearly 90, was given a mobile phone. He never used it...he was physically unable to press the keys with enough dexterity; it wasn't failing eyesight, although he no longer had 20/20; but his hearing was distinctly sub-standard!)
    2/ Dementia, whilst far from uncommon, isn't obligatory. But a bingo card of different illnesses and medications is pretty much a given.
    3/ Again, medical care for most of his life would have been limited. I worked with an American woman who recalled her childhood when medical care was mom getting the medical encyclopedia down off the shelf.
    4/ Get your timeline straight. I was reading today about "the world's oldest woman", who had her first child at the age of 57, in 1953, in Russia. Even today, a healthy child to a woman of 57 would be headline news; without some sort of test-tube type intervention it would be a medical miracle. In 1950s Russia, I just don't believe it. If nothing else, where was her libido during the preceding 40 years?
    5/ Be careful about your history in general. Make sure you're not including stuff that was new just because it was new as a means of establishing the time...only in the last 50 years has communication become remotely instantaneous; prior to that it would have taken a while for news to be disseminated. And be careful how much stuff you include to show how much you've researched the era. You might want to, but whenever I read something like "Frank Sinatra's new hit, My Way, came on the radio" I know that it's set in 1969, but I roll my eyes at such an obvious plant.
    6/ Be careful of where you're setting it; much of the world doesn't have the same infrastructure as the US.
    7/ Try not to overuse slang. It dates like nothing else, and may set your MC as somebody you don't want him to be.
    8/ Most of his contemporaries will be dead; so may some of his children, or his friend's children. Think about the effect these losses will have on him.[/QUOTE][/QUOTE]
     
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  7. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    Write what you know?

    But my character killed people... Better go change my name and live in Yucatan.

    Also, you just said you don't believe facts, such as the fact a 57 year old woman gave birth in 1950's Russia, which is a bit strange.
     
  8. Adam Jump
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    Adam Jump Member

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    [/QUOTE][/QUOTE]

    I appreciate the comments, fundamental issues I'd planned for well in advance. Firstly, I'm from the UK not US, and the protagonist was born 1980's. Without giving too much away, a decent chunk of the novel is set in the near future but the detail becomes much less important and somewhat peripheral to the story the later it goes on. The main theme is about wasted time, how you can spend what seems like a life time waiting for love only to feel reborn when it happens.
     
  9. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    This "fact" came from a newspaper (The Metro), so no great provenance there.

    This woman, apparently, worked for 60 years but can't get a state pension because there is no record of when she was born, so no proof whatsoever of how old she is.

    A 50+ year-old woman giving birth to a healthy child is remarkable today (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pregnancy_over_age_50), even with IVF assistance. For said child to be conceived naturally is almost inconceivable. If the child was conceived, and brought to term (again, 50-year-olds have a poor record) there's a strong possibility that the child would be abnormal in some way (Downe's syndrome, etc.), especially when, as in this case, it was her first child.

    I have to admit that I misremembered her age, it was in fact 53; 57 was how old she was when she had her third child. So, a woman who's been childless for around 30-40 years suddenly gets pregnant and pops out 3 in the space of 4 years.

    So, yes, I don't believe facts; when the facts are as unsupported by evidence as in this case, and when their likelihood is low.
     
  10. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think @Shadowfax is assuming your story is about the actual world's oldest man, rather than one you're inventing for the story. To be fair, I assumed the same--a kind of fictional memoir of a real person. Obviously, since you're making up the character and most of the book will be set in the near past or future, many of those problems go away.

    The 53-year-old's story does seem suspect. Although a five-year-old gave birth to a healthy child, and survived, in the 1930s... so anything is possible.
     
  11. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    No.

    My point about the "oldest person who had a child at 53" is that the reason for my disbelief is the unlikelihood of childbirth in your 50s. I could believe that she gave birth at 33-37, even - at a pinch - 43-47, and definitely at 23-27. Her oldest son is now 67, and I could believe that she's anywhere between 90-110 in age.

    If you're writing about "the world's oldest man", you need to ensure that you don't end up (I've seen too much of it from Hollywood) with a really old person and a really young and dishy grand-daughter. A man of 115 years with a grand-daughter of 30 is stretching credibility too far - for me.
     
  12. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Okay, then I don't know where you're coming from because the OP hasn't mentioned anything about childbirth or grandchildren. Am I missing something? :superconfused:
     
  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think he was just speaking hypothetically ...if you're writing about a man in his hundreds, be careful not to give him a 30-year-old granddaughter, etc. I don't think he was assuming the OP would.

    As you say, this OP's story will be happening mostly in the future—well, the first 35-ish years of life would be a time period we've already experienced, but the rest is speculative.

    I would say the one thing the OP needs to keep on top of is the current pace of change. Whatever we've got now, we probably won't have by the time a 35-year-old today reaches 100. Imagine the changes a person born in 1916 has experienced. That would make them 100 today. Depending on where they lived, most people still used horses for transportation unless they were wealthy enough to own the few cars that were around. Hardly anybody had a telephone. People didn't have central heating in their homes. Many didn't have indoor plumbing. Food was mostly local and seasonal. Refrigerators didn't exist. And etc.

    Okay that all seems bizarre. However, the pace of change was slower then as well. Add these kinds of lifestyle changes onto the accelerated pace of change ...? Yikes. Of course attitudes, relationships, educational levels, aspirations all change too. And some things get better or more efficient, while others dwindle or become less responsive to people's needs. All this kind of change has to factor in, if the story is to be believable.

    I had to laugh a while back, reading a story set about 30 years in the future, where ultra-modern people are still using cellphones. I bet they won't be.
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2016
  14. Adam Jump
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    Adam Jump Member

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    Thanks for the interest and observations - I've tried my very best to map out a realistic timeline for the protagonist's life. As has already been recognised, this is a totally fictional character - they shan't be giving birth at 53 (or 5 ;) ) and the granddaughter thus will not be strangely young.

    I think this bit is part of the fun for me...as I say, the longer the life goes on the less important the detail becomes for various reasons in the story and the life of the character. Let us not forget, descriptions and uses of modern technology become less relevant for 80+ year old people (even younger sometimes) - and likewise, the younger generations tend to try and frame topics of discussion around the subject so as not to confuse them.

    All that said, some really useful points to take away :)
     
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  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm only nearly 67 years old, and I already feel very very disconnected from modern life, in many ways. And I'm not a technophobe by any means.

    I've owned my own computer since 1994 (a Mac, long before it was fashionable ...most of my friends younger and older didn't have computers then) have been actively online since 1996, and have kept up with the stuff I need to keep up with. I don't have a smartphone (because I don't travel much) but I do have a Stupidphone which I use occasionally. I have an iPad mini for when I'm away from home and need to keep in touch with emails, etc. I have an iPod for music to listen to on the go. I read books on a Kindle as well as buy them from Amazon and bookstores. My appliances are up to date, etc.

    I'm not a Luddite. However, I miss certain aspects of my life that are fast disappearing in the rear view mirror. I remember when you could phone your electricity supplier and get through to a person who worked locally for the company and get an issue sorted. You could phone the next day and speak to the same person again, if you needed to. I remember when you didn't get nuisance phone calls, only wrong numbers. I remember when you could actually learn to fix most things on your car yourself and that the dashboard didn't light up like a Christmas tree when you got in, or beep at you as you approached the thing. I remember when banks existed in real places with real tellers behind real desks. I remember cheques. I remember when people didn't have microwaves. I remember when 33rpm vinyl records replaced the old 78s. The 33s were cool because they were much harder to break (you could actually drop one and it wouldn't always shatter.)

    And I'm only 67. What things will be like when (if) I'm 100, I haven't a clue.

    A good friend's mother has just celebrated her 103rd birthday. The old lady's in great physical nick, and suffers from only a very mild dementia. One of the big features of her life, though, is that ALL of her old friends and relatives are now dead. Some are long dead. So she's sharing a nursing home with people who are 10, 20 or even 30 years younger than she is. She is definitely on her own, despite having constant and loving support from her daughter and the staff at the home. Her memory has become fused with the present, and she often thinks people who are long dead are still alive, still talking to her. She tells her daughter that she's just 'seen' so and so, and they had a lovely chat, or she remembers their birthday and thinks she ought to get them something. I think that sort of thing might happen to an elderly person. Their horizons are so limited, but their memories stretch far and wide, and the living and the dead just join the stream, so to speak.
     
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  16. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    That was beautiful, @jannert. Are you a writer by any chance?
     
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  17. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Earth Abides is a fantastic post-apocalyptic Sci-fi which encompassess the entire life of the MC. There are very large gaps in the narrative, but they do not ruin the effect. Reccomend reading it.

    Genesis by Poul Anderson covers even greater time frames--hundreds of millions of years--and it still works.

    Both books are fantastic and well worth the read.
     
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  18. Adam Jump
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    That's a really lovely and informative passage for you to share @jannert thank you! The novel tries to focus on the influence of love on loneliness and belonging - what life feels like before you find love and what it feels like once you lose it. Feeling disconnected from the world can start at a young age, but may also be exacerbated in older age is my feeling...the entire idea for the novel came from one observation, and translates in the novel as:

    "The quiddity of my lifetime may be principally derived from its length. I am, at this very moment, the oldest man on Earth. That is to say I have survived for the longest period without dying, in spite of a few narrow scrapes along the way. I have a rather meaty and decidedly itchy scar tracing my spine from the nape of my neck to the bottom of my shoulder blades as evidence of one such scrape.

    It may be obvious to some, but can be no more obvious to anybody but myself, that a rather startling fact can thus be deduced: There is not one soul left living today, with whom I shared life on February 1st 1985. The set of humans with whom I currently inhabit this earth is, to a single man, woman or child totally and precisely different to the set I was born with. Maybe some may find that thought a lonely one? "
     
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  19. Adam Jump
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    Adam Jump Member

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    I'm also SO glad you said this :) the novel totally subscribes to the fact that memories in one way or another help tackle the problem of infinity. Just because someone is inarticulate, disconnected or even deceased, doesn't mean they don't exist or influence the world in one way or another.
     
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  20. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Okay, I want to read it.
     
  21. Adam Jump
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    Adam Jump Member

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    I hope one day I finish it so you may be able to :)
     
  22. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    That is a very good beginning. I would turn the page for sure.
     
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  23. Iain Aschendale
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    Iain Aschendale Contributed Member Contributor

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    I'm in once it's published. As for the passage of time, Time Enough for Love by Robert Heinlein and The Boat of a Million Years by Larry Niven both cover... a thousand years or so? In one lifetime, and the loss of contemporaries figures prominently in them, so it's definitely doable.
     
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  24. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Time is one we will never fully comprehend. Seemingly infinite and finite all at once. And for the blink of an eye, am here and vanish. To be nothing more than a infinitely microscopic grain of sand in the vastness of the hourglass, as it slowly drains away. Alas I shall hold each moment dear for it is the only resource that cannot be substituted.
     
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  25. Adam Jump
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    Adam Jump Member

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    Thanks so much, beyond inspiring! I will definitely add the suggestions to my list! :)
     

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