Welcome to day 23 – day 23! – of the A to Z Challenge. There are only 6 more days to go – thanks for sticking with me, I hope it hasn’t been boring.
Today’s topic is time. No, not the issue of never having enough of it! Time in fiction, or more specifically, how moving through time is managed.
It’s something new authors often have trouble with, and must make up a big percentage of questions in how-to writing advice blogs and courses. I remember struggling with this myself – just how do you move from one location to another, or from the morning of one day to the evening of another?
There are two answers to this question. The first is: just do it. There’s no need to signpost every time-shift; to show a journey from work to home, for example, or explain the obvious and logical passing of time. If Carol is going on a journey to her parent’s house there’s no need for the following:
Carol walked up to the platform clutching her ticket. She watched the train pull in and looked for the emptiest carriage. She stepped on to the train and found a seat, folding her coat up onto her lap and tucking the ticket in the pocket of the seat-back. The train pulled out of the station and trundled off through villages and towns. Carol yawned and watched the view. An hour and a half later they arrived at the station, but Carol’s parents were nowhere to be seen. She picked up her bag and got off the train, walking along the platform to the grand arched exit. Carol sighed and traipsed the extra two minutes to the bus stop, where she boarded a single-decker bus and took a seat near the back. The journey took another fifteen minutes, by which time Carol was feeling tired and hungry – and wondering if this visit was such a good idea after all. When the bus stopped at the corner of Maypole Street, Carol stepped down off the bus and walked along the street to her parents house. She opened the gate and slipped up the path, raising her arm to ring the doorbell. She pressed the doorbell and listened to it ring inside the house.
Well, I overdid it a bit of course, but you get the picture. In one of my books this would have read: ‘Carol went to visit her parents’ and then had her being greeted at the door. Unless the journey itself is integral to the plot in some way there’s really no need to show it. The very act of showing every little detail here may build up tension, but it would be the wrong type of tension – you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, for something to happen. And nothing does: she arrives at her parents’ house – that’s it. Again, unless there’s a good reason to move someone through time in this way, don’t bother.
The second answer is: however you do it, do it elegantly. It’s fine to say something like, ‘later that day …’ or ‘A week later …’, but there’s no need to over-egg it. Readers are clever people, and they are used to the time-shifting conventions in books. If you end one chapter and start the next one three days later, you don’t have to say it’s three days later. You can just start the chapter where you want to and the passage of time will become apparent by what’s happening in the story.
So, over to you – how do you best deal with time in your writing? And as a reader what are your pet hates?