12 March 2012

As the World Turns

Jan GrapeTime continuum. Time Marches On. Time to Go. Time To Live or Time to Die. There's A Time for Everything.

How do you envision time? Sixty seconds, sixty minutes, twenty-four hours. Thirty or Thirty-one days, excepting February with its twenty-eight days. Three hundred sixty-five days in a year, except for 2012 when we had 29 days in February.

As long as I can remember I seem to have somehow envisioned time as a sort of elliptical or oblong shape. Maybe when I learned the earth revolved around the moon, and I didn't want to see time as a circle. And as time passes and we reach each season it does somehow seem to be oblong and not a circle. More of a chance for there to be room for four seasons if time is elliptical.

But how do we define time when we write? Often to denote the passage of time a writer will title each chapter with a week-day name or a month's name. Or if they want to show something that happened in the past they might write, March 12, 1989 as the chapter's heading. What about if you're just wanting to show time passing throughout a day? You could put "Morning or Evening or Midnight."

Often a writer will just end a scene with a small climax and skip a couple of extra spaces, make putting *** ellipses to denote the scene change involves time or place. There are many ways to show time in our writing.

But don't forget there are different aspects of time. There is the chronological passing of time but there is also the emotional passing of time. An emotional clock so to speak. Albert Einstein once said when a guy sits with a beautiful girl for an hour it can seem like only a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it's longer than an hour."

Remember when you were little and waiting for Christmas to come? It took days and weeks and hours. When you had your first child you turn around twice and he or she is starting to school and you have no idea where time went.

What factor comes into play with emotional time having such a huge range for your reader. Tension or fear are the obvious ones. When your character is relaxed time moves almost quicker than you can believe it. When your character is tense, time stands still.

You can and should incorporate the emotional clock in your writing always. I remember one writing teacher who told my class when your character is involved in an action scene you want to write short, action words and sentences. People punch, jab, smack, slap, or explode. You don't want to drag out a fight scene. Unless you've researched some good karate moves and want to add them so it's more realistic.

At the same time, if details are important to the story and you are building up the tension you probably want to give long descriptions that lead to the action. That lets your reader know that something important is going to happen. Something significant.

If you gloss over things then the reader won't attach any importance to that at the moment. And sometimes that's a good place to hide a clue or a red herring.

Just don't ever use words because you LOVE words and want to use a lot of them. Words need to show in a clear and concise way that your character is going to experience fear or tension. You need to show that your character is going to have to choose a course of action. If he or she chooses wrong it might mean death for him/her or someone he/she cares for.

Words need to move the story along not slow you down. However, after some significant tension is met but it's not yet the climax of the story, that's when you need to slow down to allow your character and your reader to relax, to reflect. Maybe discuss the problem and see if a solution can be found.

I hope I've made a case for you to use a emotional clock when you write. The hour and minute and second hands of your clock are spinning and days are getting longer now so make every moment count in your work.


  1. But don't forget there are different aspects of time. There is the chronological passing of time but there is also the emotional passing of time.

    That's brilliantly put, Jan!


  2. Like the post, Jan. Usually, I think of the past and the now time of the story events. Thanks for reminding me of the emotional time.


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