1. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Writing an entire story in "real time"

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ben414, Mar 31, 2014.

    I'm brainstorming ideas for my next story, and I started thinking about a story that would be told completely in "real time" without skips. I can think of visual media where the approach has worked wonderfully, but I'm unsure if it would be well-received through a novel. What are the pros and cons of such an approach? Does it even matter whether the story is in "real time" or not?
     
  2. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Honestly, it all depends on what happens. Gimmicks in literature don't work. It needs to serve a purpose. So no, it wouldn't matter.
     
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  3. pinelopikappa
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    pinelopikappa Senior Member

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    Ancient greek plays (tragedies and comedies) are written in real time. The protagonists' lives are ruined in 2 to 3 hours of actual time.

    Try reading Aristotle's Poetics. He was brilliant and he makes you feel clever too, he gives excellent practical advice on storytelling, plot, characters, the works. Avoid huge books that "explain" his work, just read him.
     
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  4. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Hmmm, now I'm interested in reading him. You're not the first one to recommend, but I'll add him to my list of must read authors ha ha

    To the OP, @Ben414, I think the idea could work, depending on how long your story is. Everything could happen in a day or a few days. Much more than that and it could become exhaustive. The idea sounds very interesting, but might become tedious. The reasons we find jumps in time in longer works is because the stuff that happens in between is not important enough to show to readers.

    For example. You've just written a full days worth of event in story-time. Now it's time for your character to sleep. Do we fade into his or her dreams? If so, how do you handle time in the dream sequence? We certainly won't care unless the dream has something important to add to the plot and/or character development. You' would hve to have a lot of foresight into the kind of life your character will be living if everything is happening in the moment.
     
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  5. pinelopikappa
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    pinelopikappa Senior Member

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    You could avoid the awkward moments by taking turns describing the actions of the several characters. Of course, by itself this takes time. Dialogue is one thing, but when it comes to prose...

    You could simply decide to tell the story of a memorable/important/disastrous/whatever day in a person's life, or even just the couple of hours that changed his/her life. Don't care about length exactly, but just focus on that brief stretch of time, doing what you have to do in order to tell the story right.

    I am sure it has been done before though. Nothing is new in the world of literature. But that doesn't matter, what matters is that you do it well.
     
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  6. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    How about an epic literary work with no words? ;)
     
  7. FrankieWuh
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    FrankieWuh Active Member

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    My view is that a story is a story whether it's set over years, months, a day, or an hour, or real time. You need to ask yourself why real time? If it's purely a gimmick without any narrative reason you may find you are fitting a story around a gimmick rather than devising a clever setting around the story. The priority should always be the story in my opinion.

    But it can be done. If you are following various characters around for a short time and then converging them at the end, then given the story is an interesting one, it could work. The problem is whether your characters need fleshing out beyond and before the real time events and you start writing pages and pages of exposition, which will sabotage the entire story.

    So my advice is that there are always restricting obstacles to negotiate when writing a story. Try not to come up with unnecessary ones if you can help it.
     
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  8. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    The answer lies in your last question: does it matter to the story? Deciding to tell a story a certain way, just for the sake of doing it that way, renders the story itself secondary - the story ends up serving the method, rather than the method serving the story. My initial reaction to your idea is that it would severely limit the time frame over which your story could exist. That's a severe limitation to begin with. What do you, as the writer, get in return? More to the point, what does the reader get?

    Keep in mind that the various means writers use to "telescope" time - summary narrative, chapter breaks, scene changes, etc - allow the writer to spare the reader the minutiae that must exist in reality but which does not serve the story.
     
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  9. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Can you do that?
     
  10. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    @Andrae Smith. No, but at least it hasn't been done before! :p
     
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  11. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    The ultimate 'choose your own adventure.' A book full of blank pages.
     
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  12. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I motion that we try publishing @Selbbin's idea! We might sell plenty of copies. It'll be like a journal, but enticing people with the idea that they are some part of some grand writing ad venture. As if their story is finally being told. Yess! Making money on the white space! :D
     
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  13. JetBlackGT
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    JetBlackGT Contributing Member

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    The Harry Dresden Files books by Butcher are generally one- or two-day affairs. Sometimes his books happen within a few hours, even though the book takes days to read.

    Write your book. :) Don't worry about anything else.
     
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  14. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Whether or not it works depends on your skills as a writer. In Ivan Goncharov's novel Oblomov, the main character spends the first 100 pages (or is it 200?) or so just waking up and getting out of bed! That's about as "real time" as you're going to get.
     
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  15. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    That's not real-time at all! That's hitting the slow-mo pedal if ever there was one.
     
  16. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I suppose it does depend on how fast the reader can read. If we estimate a page a minute, that's over 1.5 hours of lying in bed. Based on my personal experience, that sounds about right. :D
     
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  17. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Well that makes total sense, then. If they can read at a page a minute. Let's just hope it's not so dense that a page can take a lifetime. It's got to be smooth. And a person would want to read 100 pages in 1.5 hrs.
     
  18. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    I'm printing out my own cover for my notebook now!

    Dear diary,

    Today begins the greatest day of my life; after breakfast, I killed a dragon. :D
     
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  19. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    OP here. Thanks for the advice everyone. I agree that using it solely as a gimmick would be fruitless, and I just wanted to see if it is possible to be done in a way that is effective. It sounds like everyone is in agreement that it can be done under the right circumstances. The idea I had is still vague, but the story would focus on a short amount of time (most likely one day or less) wherein a life-changing event would happen to someone. I'll have to brainstorm some more to make sure it isn't too mundane, but the story I wanted to tell seemed very well-suited to a real time narrative. Thanks for the encouragement!
     

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