Saturday, August 29, 2009


It seems boring and tedious, but readers need to know how much time has passed since the previous scene. They need to immediately know where new scene is located. Ground them. Right away. Otherwise, while reading, they are also trying to put together pieces that aren't on the page. So even though it seems like boring writing, you need markers. The next day. Two days later. Four hours later. If you don't want to start scene with marker, begin with the scene, maybe dialog, but soon you will need something like It had been two days, or two days had passed.

About those two days...

Large passages of time slow the narrative. Sometimes kill it dead. Even a time jump of two days, because reader is once again distracted. Why two days? What happened in that two days? Anything? Even though it's unrealistic for important things to take place hours apart, you have to condense. You should avoid realistically boring dialog, and you might want to avoid realistic passages of time. While you are framing a story, time should be a part of your foundation and plan. If for some reason you need a large passage of time, you'd better figure out how you are going to deal with it and explain it without killing the pace and flow of story.

And that brings me to me. When writing my memoir, passage of time has been the biggest problem. I deliberately avoided time markers because I wanted 20 years to appear to take place in a single season. But without the markers, we have confusion. But with the markers, we have a large span of time, something I detest. So I'm trying to solve this problem. The story itself is very condensed and distilled, very sparse, so it doesn't lend itself well to broad and epic time sweeps. Thought I'd solved the whole problem with the single season idea, but it's just not working. Structure, structure. I will figure this out.


  1. Wow. I can see how big a challenge that would be in your memoir. But on the other hand, memoirs often have to deal with jumps in time, right? The planting, growth, harvest itself is a structure on the farm. I'm wondering if that could tie things together and passing time between wouldn't be jarring. Like planting near the beginning of the experience, tending in the middle years (when bad mojo is building), and harvest in the later years.

    Anyway, just a thought. For me, I want to avoid stories with breaks for now. I like natural flows of action. It's best for me when both me as the reader and the author can agree to forget about the mundane in-between.

  2. jason, i think that's an excellent idea. i was definitely using the seasons, but more to emphasize the drudgery and repetition of farm life. but it could also be used as a broader arc in relationships and life span. that's kind of what i was trying to do with the one season idea, but i don't think it needs to be that concrete. it would probably help if i think of the book as a season rather than the actual progression of season-driven scenes.

    that might work!