1. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    Ways to handle timing problems?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by PeterC, May 4, 2014.

    I'm getting close to having the first draft of my first novel finished. I'm cleaning up the last third of the story now. However, I have timing problems: certain events are happening too quickly after other events. It hurts believability and it makes the story feel rushed.

    I've done a couple of things to address this problem already. First I simply deleted one of the scenes that was causing timing problems. I liked the scene but it wasn't critical, and with it gone the timing is more non-specific and that part of the story no longer feels as rushed. In another case I added a couple of minor scenes to help space things out. That worked out well because the added scenes also added value. They gave me a chance to show some character reactions and update the reader about some important "background" activities.

    My problem now is that I still have some remaining timing problems that I'm not sure how to handle. I'm thinking about adding another scene but aside from it being a space filler, I'm not sure what else to do with it. That doesn't seem like a good thing. Any suggestions for things I could be thinking about to help get my timing right?

    Thanks for any advice you might have!
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Hard to say without seeing it but I do suggest, never put something in as 'filler'. Elements should all move the story forward.

    If it feels rushed, are you sure there aren't other reasons for that feeling than just the time frame? Is part of the story missing in some places?
     
  3. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you look at the scene as having a goal that gets hampered by conflict which generally tends to end up in some sort of a setback, which the character needs to battle in order to advance towards the overall story goal, and each scene ends up either in a setback or minor and inadequate success (sometimes even in a complete disaster), you can see how if you just focus on the goal-conflict-setback-goal-conflict-setback etc, you will end up with a fast-paced manuscript, even excessively so.

    However, what also needs to be written are the in-between bits, not necessarily transitions, but the pov character's emotional reaction to the each setback. This is where the character gets to reflect on what happened, analyse his or her feelings, analyse the situation, formulate a new goal or a course of action and decide to act on it (even if it's doing nothing, or attending a party the next day, whatever the next scene involving them will be about). Bickham calls these bits 'sequels'. Then you can start the new scene, goal-conflict etc. followed by a sequel emotional reaction-analysis-decision and so on.

    So, when you want fast pace, this in-between content can be condensed in as much as a sentence, or omitted completely, so you have back-to-back scenes on purpose, keeping in mind you have to show the reader your character's reaction and decision-making process at some point, or they'll feel like it's been 'glossed over'.

    You can also slow down the scenes themselves, by having internal monologue, description, flashbacks, focusing on characterisation (like when you go off on a tangent for a paragraph or a page, recounting some past event or a situation which helps the reader understand the character or a scene better, or you philosophise a bit about a quality they have) etc. In any case, good writing skill lies in being able to control the pace, and change it at will to suit your story.

    ps. No matter what you do do not add 'filler' anything. The only things that belong in a novel are things that advance the plot or significantly characterise the characters or a milieu. You can even get away with some social commentary, but 'fillers', ie. not very relevant or interesting, you didn't really need or want to write them, are totally toxic to any story. Avoid at all costs, imo.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2014
  4. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    Thanks for the advice. There may be some other important bits missing from the story. Two of the new scenes I created made it clear there was at least some material missing. I'm going to start, I think, by really examining my outline. I may be able to fix the last timing problem by just reorganizing a little. Not sure.

    In any case I understand that raw filler is bad news. That's exactly what I'm trying to avoid. The scene I feel a need to write is, I think, a scene that doesn't belong. I'm going to look for another solution.

    Thanks again!
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    what do you think is a problem with the 'timing'... what are you doing/not doing that you think needs fixing?

    is it seguing from one time frame to the next in the same chapter, or from chapter to chapter?... or something else?
     
  6. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    Well, for example I have an event A in one chapter and then an event B in the next chapter. Based on what happens in the two chapters it "feels" like only a few days have elapsed... maybe a week at most. Yet events A and B need to be separated by a few months if they are to make sense. Also just the flow of the story isn't quite right. The reader should feel like event B happens a fairly long time after event A so a significant amount of plot needs to happen between those events. At the moment that's not true.

    I could, of course, try moving A earlier or B later in the story but that causes other problems of a similar nature with earlier or later events. In one case I was able to delete event A from the story entirely and let the reader just assume that it occurred at some unspecified, but appropriately distant, previous time. That actually worked well in one case. However I still have another case to resolve.

    I spent a little time today reorganizing my outline and the corresponding text. I feel like I've made an improvement but I'm not 100% satisfied. Now I have one rather critical event happening much later in the story than I originally intended, and I'm not sure it works at its new position in the timeline. I don't want to make the reader wait so long to learn about it.

    I guess this is what comes of not doing much planning before writing!
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would say that you don't need a significant amount of plot, just a line or three of transition, referring to the length of time that you're trying to communicate--days, weeks, months, years.

    Jane worried over the incident for much of that winter, but springtime and the needs of the garden drove it out of her mind. By August she'd forgotten it entirely, so the sight of the bright yellow envelope in her mailbox was a shock.

    If it fits the story, you can also have some time cues in the environment and the character's situation. Maybe the last time Jane ran into the Yellow Envelope Gang she was prepping for Christmas, and now she's getting her daughter ready for school. If the gap is years, maybe last time Jane had just met a man, and now she's married and, again, getting her daughter ready for kindergarten. If it's decades, last time the Yellow Envelope adventures interfered with Jane's studies at high school, and now they're interfering with the weekly meeting that she has with her staff at the firm where she's a law partner.

     
    Last edited: May 4, 2014
  8. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    Hmm. I see what you're saying. I'm not sure that will work in my case because such a transition will push the entire rest of the story forward as well, which isn't right for me. However, thinking about your post has made me realize that fundamentally my timeline is inconsistent. That probably explains why I'm having trouble with it!

    I wonder if I can just sweep it under the rug and let it be inconsistent without the reader noticing. Or maybe I need to work over my outline some more.
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm confused. I thought that you wanted a lot of plot because the story was forward in time? (Edited to add: You mentioned "a few months".) Are you saying that it's a short period of time, but you want the events to no longer be uppermost in the character's mind?

    You could do that with a similar few lines:

    Weird. Just weird. Why would someone freak out over a yellow envelope? Jane wondered about that as she left the garage, but the usual evening routine blotted it from her mind. Day care, to pick up Janey and apologize for yet another biting incident. Takeout at the store, and another apology for Janey's tantrum. On the elevator upstairs, she apologized, once again, when Janey grabbed Mr. Well's impeccably tailored cashmere trousers with a candy-sticky hand. Finally, finally she got herself and Janey into the apartment, shut the door, and closed her eyes for half a moment to bask in the lack of judging eyes. Was she really the worst parent in Nebraska? She opened her eyes as Janey tugged at her skirt. Her heart jumped; Janey was holding up a yellow envelope.
     
  10. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    I'm saying that my timeline is inconsistent. Certain events need to be moved forward, but others should stay where they are. It seems like the only fix is to move an event relative to the others (change its location in the story). Or, alternatively, gloss over the issue in some way.

    This is a good insight, though, that I didn't have before starting this thread!
     

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