Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Playing with Time

Before we get started today, I want to bring your attention to the bar above, just underneath the title. Home is where you are now. Biography is a little bit about me, with links to interviews and other places you can find me online.

Giveaways is one place I want to bring your attention to. I'm currently giving away 5 signed copies of my book Class 5 on Goodreads.com. I'm bringing this to your attention because time is running out and you only have until February 28th to enter. Just so you know, it may be a while before my next giveaway, so jump in while you can.

The other link above is Class 5. As you may have surmised, it's about my book, Class 5. It includes a look at the cover, the book blurb, where to find it, and a list of several reviews it has received. So check it out!

Speaking of time, that's what I want to poke with a stick today. How we play around with time in our books.

Of course, stories can last hours, days, weeks, months, even span years. If you get into science fiction, you'll even have stories that end before they even begin. It's one of the basics of writing fiction. Stories take time. Just like in the real world, you can't go from point A to point B to point Omega without a progression, and progression takes time. Many times, you'll have a scene that ends in one place, and have the following scene start somewhere else. Now, you can play with time travel in sci-fi, or experiment with things happening simultaneously in different places. But, more often, it's a matter that your characters are going to have to leave the first scene, get in their car, and drive to the next. They may even stop for a snack and bathroom break along the way. The point is, you're not usually (note: usually), going to end scene one at 11:59 AM, and start scene two at 12:00 PM on the dot. 

While we're going over the obvious, let's hit on chapter breaks. People usually use chapter breaks for one of two reasons. Either to note the passage of time, or to note a change in perspective (ie. Chapter one went to John, Chapter two went to Steve). Usually, when these are the reasons for chapter breaks it's pretty obvious; chapters are titled by the time they start or the character they belong to. That makes a lot of sense and makes things much easier on the reader, you need to keep an eye on the specific times you write in though. Make sure you give the characters enough time to do what they need to do, without leaving a lot of down time. Also, make sure that if the time is referenced specifically in the story, that it lines up with the times posted for the chapters. 

The real fun begins when we start getting creative with time inside our stories. Time travel, as I've already mentioned here, is one way we can pull out the clock and spin the hands however we want. But there are other things we can do as well, which I think, are even more fun. 

It's especially effective in Horror and is one of Stephen King's favorite and most powerful tricks. Making a single moment stretch out in such a way that it seems as if an entire universe could be born, exist, and die, before that single second passes. It's extremely useful for building suspense and foreboding, as in King's work The Shining. Little Danny Torrence has stolen the room key for room 217 and is standing outside the door. That small scene actually goes on for 2 or three pages before he even puts the key in the lock. There's nothing specifically said about the passage of time, but you get the sense that despite how long the scene goes, only a second or two actually passes in the time of the story. 

How this is done is actually relatively easy. Look around you. How many things do you notice in the space of a single second? Start with the obvious, what do you see? Then, what do you hear? Smell? What, if anything, are you currently touching? What are you tasting? The five physical senses are always on and taking note of things, even if we're not aware of it in our conscious minds. In a particularly sensitive moment, it is actually possible to notice everything your senses pick up in the space of a few seconds. So part of suspending time like that is simply taking note of the full range of the human experience. 

Then of course, there's all that wibbly-wobbly, timey-whimey stuff that goes on inside our heads. We've all had times where we fallen asleep for just a few minutes, on a bus, in class, or just randomly after a hard day. We dream. We know upon waking that we were only asleep for a few minutes, and yet the dream seemed to last for hours, rushing from one task to the next, evading whatever populated that space with us inside our heads. We've all had the sensation of having thoughts spinning through our heads at light speed. So, it makes sense then that time in a book can be stretched around a character's frenzied thoughts, in addition to the sensations they pick up and process. 

A character pauses for just a moment, having caught a whiff of familiar perfume. Suddenly he's focused on the smell, so much he can almost taste it as the reel of his mind spins and replays the list of favorite memories. Then the moment passes, he continues on his way. Maybe he has a little less spring in his step than before, but otherwise, there is no discernible break in his manner or rhythm. To the average observer, there may not even have been anything to notice. And yet, all that happened still, in the space of a single second of time. 

A little challenge for my readers, if you all will indulge me. Think of a scenario. Anything at all. Then pause that scene. Write out that single moment in at least 500 words. You're welcome to post your bit in the comments section if you like, but it's not required. Think of this more as an enrichment exercise. 

Also, if you have anything else you would like to add, feel free to leave that in the comments too. 

"When you're sitting next to a pretty girl, an hour can feel like a second. When you put your hand on a hot stove, a second can feel like an hour. That's relativity." - Albert Einstein

~ Shaun

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