1. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Time wizards wizarding Time

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Andrae Smith, Apr 22, 2014.

    So this thread isn't really about time wizards. I just thought it up because as writers, we must learn to manage time within our stories or poems. In a way that makes us time wizards. :D

    Anyway, I've started this thread because I want to discuss time in a novel. Granted, every novel is unique and can span any length of time, I want to know how other writers have thought about time.

    How do you show time passing? How does it affect your characters and the events in the story? How about the pace?

    Do you go into a project with an idea of the amount of time that should pass within your story? Hours? Days? Weeks? Months? Does time just go under the radar? Does it affect the plot?

    Hopefully this discussion takes off so we can see how time wizards tell time... or rather, show time. ;)
     
  2. Smoke Z
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    Smoke Z Active Member

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    I'm a lazy fan-fictioner. I tend to end chunks when I need to pass time, and gloss over what happened between chunks with some narrative re-establishment.
     
  3. Who
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    Who Member

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    Well, time is a given along the range of the plot. Time is where things take place. Unless there's some sort of Sci-Fi temporal pause in your story.

    Anyhow, how do I show time passing?

    One way is to signify where the sun is in the sky, but that gets old after one time.
    Or, you could measure days by how many times the main character has gone to bed.
    Or, if you don't want to bore people with copious sleep scenes, you could simply state that time had passed.

    However, one creative way to do it is to start the chapter with the promise of at least one thing that will take place later in the day at a certain period of time. When that event begins to take place, your reader now knows how much time has passed.

    If you are writing a scene where people are going through tremendous torture and you want to make use of the cliche 'it felt like hours but was only minutes', then you might want a clock or watch nearby to get the point home without needing the narrator to state the fact. I could go on and on, time fascinates me.

    As far as how time affects plot and how much of it should pass within a story, that can vary widely depending on the story. Some Sci-Fi stories manage to jump entire centuries rather than detail each day for each year that passes.

    This can be significant, for instance, if a single hero is actually alive during this time. Such as how, in Doctor Who, Rory Williams (the roman, not the original) guards Amy Pond in the Pandorica for nearly two thousand years. This really shows how much he loves her and the type of man he is. If, instead, you jump 2000 years for the hell of it... then it can be hard to write a coherent story because a lot can happen in one hundred years, much less two thousand. Even if coherent, it can be a stretch for your reader to care about what is taking place because the events are so far apart.

    Generally, however, short stories should span less than a day. A short story does not have too much room for the transitions between days. Your story will end up being a showcase of transitions more than a cohesive story. The exception is where you only see a moment from a particular day. You could theoretically detail several hundred years in a single short story if you don't detail entire days worth of action.

    I could go on and on, but hopefully this will get the ball rolling here. Maybe some others were a bit confused about what you were speaking of.
     
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  4. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    I do have a good idea of how long the novel will span in fictional time, yes. Sometimes I know exactly how long (my 30 Days manuscript), and sometimes it's more of a general idea (Craft: Aftermath). I have been wanting to write a novel based only in one room for a long time, but I still haven't discovered a plot or characters to go with it. In terms of time passing, I sometimes show it through narrative (i.e. less subtle), but usually it's done deftly through dialogue, or at least I hope so. I don't think I've ever written "Three years later" or anything like that, and I would work hard to try and avoid it, because in my opinion it makes the reader remember they are only reading a book, but the author's task is to make readers believe these characters and events are real.
     
  5. HarleyQ.
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    HarleyQ. Just a Little Pit Bull (female)

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    Well, for me it's fairly easy to imply a change in time, as my MC is extremely paranoid with time wasting by. She's forever asking what time it is, how long will it take, etc. She's transfixed on it. What I mean by imply is that when you're taking info from a crazy girl, you either have to accept it blindly or question it. In that case, I have other, less-insane characters around to help the reader. "No, it's not time to eat. It's three AM. The sun isn't shining."

    But that's telling.

    She (MC) might be talking or thinking about how warm it is this day in December. You know it's day, the sun is at its peak, or around noon, since it's winter, and that it's been either a very cold winter or a very average winter.

    With my novels that don't feature a paranoid, obsessive MC, I'll just have them do normal things. Eat cereal. That implies morning; then I'll usually have another character around to either do the same or remark about how odd it is to be eating cereal at night. Etc.

    Just remember, before you hurt me, I'm just an amateur.
     
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  6. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    A lot of my novels are historical based, so the time frames are usually set by the historical events that I am using as the background and even the plot. For the characters, time passed mostly in "real time" during scenes, and then jumps to the next scene with a temporal reference if necessary e.g. "The sun was low in the sky when they marched out of the burning ruins of Troy"
     
  7. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Hey Everyone, Thanks for the responses!

    @Who, Thanks for the detailed response. Those are all great options. I think of time is much easier to manage in a a sort story because things tend to span no longer than a day. Sometimes you get short stories that encompass more than that. I think if you're righting a story that takes place in a day (or with any story actually), it all comes down to how you make use of summary. One should make use of showing and telling, but I think it may be kind of hard to give the readers a sense of just how much time is passing without explicitly saying it.

    Some writer like to jump into knew chapters, others like to continually put characters to sleep. I think another interesting approach might be to reference things that happened "off-screen" as the action proceeds. By this I mean subtle lines like, "There was that girl again, the creepy one with the braces. Jack fidgeted under her stare. She had been there watching him all week, but she never said anything. Why was she looking at him?"

    Here we know at least a few days have passed without falling into the trap of summarizing too much. Although, I think this only works best when coupled with other techniques. Another example could be something like, "Three weeks and still no phone call from Katelyn. Was she busy? Maybe she just didn't like him. Jim's doubts pecked at him to the point that concentrating on work became a chore."

    @Thomas Kitchen I like that you mention dialogue. Another good idea might be noticing newspapers and setting up periodical events that mark time. I don't think jumps like "three years later" work well unless your story is split into parts like that or you're writing an epilogue of sorts. I mean it can work, but it's a huge summary and as was mentioned, a lot can happen in that time. ha ha. Speaking of novels based only in one room. Have you read "A Long Day's Journey into Night" by Eugene O'neil? It's a play, but all of the action takes place in one day in one room. I think that's ind of interesting.

    @HarleyQ., you get a handful of Drae points for that. That sounds like a neat story and a great way to handle time at that level.

    The biggest reason I asked the question is to see if other writers actually think of how time functions in their worlds, especially at the macro level. In my first "book" I had a lot of things happening, but there was hardly any sense of how much time was really passing. I relied heavily on characters waking up and going to sleep, but that can and does get worn out quite quickly. Here's an example. Say you're writing a story that happens in about 2 years worth of time. How do you handle that?
     
  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Or, if you're Isaac Asimov in "The Last Question", you start your short story in 2061 and end it with the end of the universe, many billions of years later. ;)

    It's been mentioned in this thread that casual mentions of seasons can convey time passing. You could, for example, state that a character is ice-fishing in once scene (meaning it's winter) and swimming in the same lake in the next (now it's summer).

    You could keep track of years by having a parent measure their child's height on a given day each year, marking the growth on a wall. "Wow, son, you've grown six inches since last year!" Or you could mention how a parent has to buy a child new clothes because he or she has outgrown everything in the closet. You could mention big events in the kid's life (even if the kid isn't the MC): "Billy would be entering high school in the fall..." and in another scene, "Billy got his driver's license that week..." or "Billy left to serve with the Army in Afghanistan that week..." etc. In other words, keeping track of the events in a minor (no pun intended, but go ahead and accept one if you must!) character's life can be used to mark large changes in time.
     
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  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Seasons, weather, and summer break from the university show the time passing in the current time part of my novel. For the flashbacks the age of the characters comes into play.
     
  10. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    @minstrel, @GingerCoffee, those are some good suggestions. How important is keeping track of time to you?
     
  11. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    It's not my paramount concern, frankly. I'm a good enough proofreader of my own work to be able to tell if time gets confused, and I straighten it out in revision. My novel has a couple of big leaps in time (months, I mean) and I think I handle them all right. I'm writing short stories and novelettes right now that don't take place over long periods of time, so the issue doesn't really come up. When it does, I just say something like, "The next morning...", "Two weeks later...", etc. A leap in time always means a scene break for me, so it turns out to be easy.

    I don't think about it much. It just happens.
     
  12. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    This makes a lot of sense. Scene breaks seem to be the best strategy for leaps in time. I think it is something that writers just pick up naturally, especially after reading widely. I suppose it's related to pacing, too, in a sense.
     
  13. EllBeEss
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    EllBeEss Contributing Member

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    I generally have some idea how long a story will take if just by the position the characters are in in the end and the beginning. In my current WIP the characters needed to start out as preteens/young teenagers and end up as adults or older teenagers for the plot to make sense. So I know that novel will take place over at least four years, probably more.

    I generally just use seasons or time of day or jump to an event that the characters were just starting the preparations for. I don't think time matters exactly, as long as the reader can gauge the amount of time that has passed (under a day, a few days, a few weeks etc) and understands the new setting (it wouldn't matter if the reader knew twelve hours had passed but they would need to know that some time has passed and it is now night)
     
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  14. HarleyQ.
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    HarleyQ. Just a Little Pit Bull (female)

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    Hit the nail on the head, Ginger.
     
  15. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Not important except that certain things take fixed amounts of time. One of the characters can come stay in the forest for the summer in between school quarters. The main character has to get back from the city before her boyfriend comes after her. When the hunting party is out it takes 1-2 weeks to get to the hunting grounds and back. So time only matters where one event is relative to another.
     
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  16. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I've got two different POV characters doing things in different places, which both involve some time skips. At some point I need to make a timeline, so that I can make sure that when they meet up again the same amount of time has passed for both of them.
    What's more, one of the main variables is travelling times. If I want to change them about, I might have to warp the layout of my map.
    I feel that George R R Martin must have to do quite a lot of time juggling to keep all the Song of Fire and Ice characters coordinated.
     
  17. EllBeEss
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    EllBeEss Contributing Member

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    If you make the time-skips vague I don't think having continuity between two groups would be much of an issue. If you exactly specify all the timing people may pick it up if the groups meet up at different times but otherwise I wouldn't worry too much about it. (Unless it's like three years to seven weeks, then readers may pick it up)
     
  18. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Probably true. Then again call me OCD, but I'll likely still make a timeline to get it straightened out for myself, even if readers don't get to see all the details.
     
  19. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I do this too. Though I also get constantly confused about the time that has passed... T and I write together, so we usually comprise timelines where we mark the events that are shown in the story and how much time passes in between. Some of the techniques to show it have already been mentioned, but sometimes e.g. mentioning the length of someone's hair in comparison to what it used to be or if a woman is pregnant, mentioning the semester or just how huge they feel, or how far away or close the first b-day of the baby is can help give an impression of the story's timeline.
     
  20. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I hadn't considered how time might only be relative between events in the story... That's an interesting idea.
     
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