Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How does time pass in your novels?

Paula looks at the problems of time lapses

I’m thinking of time lapses between significant event A and significant event B (or in some cases between Y and Z!). Often you can jump straight from one to the other, with a minimum of words e.g. “By the following morning” or “A week later, she was no nearer to understanding why…” etc. Or you can summarize the ‘in-between’ events with a paragraph which, of course, should be relevant to the story in some way, and not a list of unconnected and/or mundane events! I’ve read some stories (and I’m sure you have too) where the author has taken three or four pages, or more, to tell us everything the heroine did, from a shopping trip to baking a cake, none of which have any relevance to the story or do anything to move the story forward.

However there are times when story line doesn’t lend itself easily to the usual time lapse ‘techniques’ – and I’ve reached one of those times in my current ‘work-in-progress’. I need to get from Monday evening to Friday, but it’s one of those weeks when my gut instinct is telling me I can’t make a simple transition. The heroine finds herself working alongside the hero, and neither I (nor, hopefully, my readers) want them to go a whole week without seeing some kind of interaction. So it’s not one of those times when I can simply say, ‘By the end of the week, she…’ I have to find a way to move the story forward during this period, but not with a ‘big bang crisis’. That comes on Friday – and it HAS to be Friday. It can’t come any earlier, because of what I already know is going to happen at the weekend! Once I get to Friday, I know I’ll be rolling again, but in the meantime, I have to get through the week! And I shall do it – somehow!

I’m reminded of other times when I’ve had this problem. Remember my Nile boatman who sang Elvis songs? He was the result of a ‘time-filler’ when it didn’t feel right just to say, ‘They went across the Nile by motorboat’. I rely a lot on my ‘not feeling right’ instincts! In this case, I needed the hero and heroine to interact during their Nile crossing, and suddenly, as they walked along to where the motorboats were moored, my boatman invented himself! Even I thought to myself, ‘Where on earth did he come from?’ In fact, he went on to play quite a big role in the rest of the story.

Another ‘filler’ came in ‘Irish Inheritance’ when Jenna goes with her friend Charlotte (nicknamed Charley) to a hotel to discuss a themed event the manager there wanted to hold. In truth, I only introduced this ‘change of scenery’ for some variety from them sitting at home, because while they were there, Jenna had an important call from her agent. A small sideline of this scene was Charley meeting the assistant manager, who later became her boyfriend. I had no plans at that time to write another story about Charley –that came much later, but in one sense, this scene was the background to my new story.

There have been occasions when I’ve written time-fillers, and then deleted them. It was a case of having to write them to find out for myself what happened. Sometimes I’ve cut them completely, sometimes I’ve found a way to condense them, but sometimes they have provided me with a real ‘yesss!’ moment when the characters tell me something new, or there’s a development I didn’t expect.

I’ll wait and see what happens as I write about Monday to Friday in my current story!


  1. I tend to make my characters eat when I don't know what to do with them. Maybe I just write when I'm hungry? :)

  2. LOL, Jen - I had noticed that! But with my current time-lapse problem, I can't have them eating non-stop from Monday to Friday!

  3. The addition of secondary characters works well to fill in a gap, like your examples.

    Perhaps just some main character trait building? Those little things that give us a bit of insight into their personalities, but not a huge big bang moment.

    1. Yes, character development is what I tend to do, Debra - which usually involves a lot of talking. Maybe that's because I talk a lot too!

  4. One definitely has to vary the transitions. I like your ideas of relocating the characters and of inventing secondary characters. Weather used to be a reliable transition. Traffic. Introspection is good, as Debra suggested.
    I'm into food, so cooking, eating, sleeping, bathing--these functions are so customary and can be tweaked to show backstory, traits, humor, musings.
    There is always the *** to fall back on.
    I will be interested to see the variations that you use, Paula!

    1. Agree that transitions need to be varied, Ana, and I do use a variety of them. Sometimes a difficult transition takes on a life of its own, and introduces things I hadn't expected (like my Nile boatman!).