Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Passing Time in 500 Pages

Ever get to the end of a book and feel breathless? Maybe even a little in awe of all that happened in 500 pages? Ever wander to the kitchen after finishing said book and realize everything happened in 3 days? Suddenly all the awesome adventures seem highly....suspect? Improbable? Somehow less satisfying?

I've been guilty of not paying attention to the passage of time when I write.

If aging my protagonist isn't pivotal to the plot, it's too easy to forget that time needs to pass off the page for certain motivations, emotions, and conflicts to realistically develop. And for learning to happen. And for healing to occur. I have one CP that lives to call me on Time Fails, and I absolutely deserve the ribbing that comes along with them.

"One does not find the obscure ancient spell hidden among stacks of books in three minutes.
Not even with Google."

Incorporating the passage of time into a story isn't hard, but it is necessary. Fortunately, alerting the reader to the passage of time can easily be done in an early editing round. Figuring out where to add off-page time is driven by logic. You know, things like:
  • Maybe recovering from a spear in the shoulder ought to require two-to-three weeks instead of an overnight. 
  • Maybe hiking across the desert ought to take three months instead of three days. 
  • Maybe enlisting the aid of the assorted underground guilds takes years to negotiate not one pint at the local pub. 

Yep, logical things. By the time you add it all up, your protagonist has been working toward her goals for months if not years.

What do you do if you need to jump decades? How about generations? Dunno. Since I don't write sweeping epics, my stories don't span hundreds of years. I'm dealing with a handful of years at most. Many of my plots are quest or test driven, so the passage of time is deliberately limited. I like my stories to have a sense of urgency pushing the characters into situations and forcing questionable decisions. To do that, I employ the "If X isn't done by Y, then Z will happen" aka: The Call & The Consequence.

But how, oh how do I let the reader know that "stuff has happened for a specific time off the page"? Simple sentences. Usually just one line. Sometimes at the opening of a scene. Sometimes buried in the scene, particularly if the actions happening off page are repetitious.

Here are a few of my favorite Passage of Time statements:

  • "After weeks of ..."
  • "Hours became days that became months..."
  • "And the ritual repeated for years."
  • "Secondary Character had more grey/wrinkles/blubber/children since last they'd met..."

There you have it, dear reader, how to Pass Time in your novel. Do you have favorite (or least favorite) Passage of Time statements? Do share!

Image Source: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/vintage-antique-typewriter--the-passage-of-time-kathy-fornal.html

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