Avoid a Time Warp

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One of the most difficult things for me to remember when I am writing, is to show the passage of time.

As I work at my computer, the stories flow continuously, so I often need to go back as I edit and insert time “markers” for readers. (This is especially important because most people read a chapter or so at a time. They need reminders as to where they are on the story’s timeline).

So, just how do authors deal with the passage of time in their books?

Well, some authors actually date their chapters, such as “Monday. 9 A.M.”

Some label them by the year: 1942.

Some by the season: Summer, 1950.

Still others use the age of the main character: Eighteen.

However, most often authors simply use phrases (usually in the first paragraph of a chapter or scene) which denote passage of time.

Later that morning, the next day, or the following day.

She glanced at the bedside clock. Was it already seven?

The sun dipped behind the mountains.

He had just enough time to shower and dress before his eight-thirty meeting.

She rushed into the baby’s room. Had he really slept through the night?

You get the point: avoid reader confusion by showing the passage of time where necessary.

Do it subtly. Do it creatively. Use a variety of techniques. 

Put Your Legos to Good Use

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I am sure you have seen scale models of subdivisions in offices of new housing developments. These usually depict lots available for building, green belts, water features, even planned schools and businesses.

While writing a chapter in my “upcoming” book last week, I needed to describe, in detail,  the street on which a character lived. Since this is a book in a series, I recalled doing a similar description in an earlier book a couple of years ago.

It would have made my job so much easier if I had actually sketched the street layout, much like a map, and kept it in a file to refer to at a later time.

And, now that time had come.

But, since I didn’t do that, I had to reread that portion of my previous book and draw the neighborhood, including streets, which characters lived where, and the location in which certain scenes took place. 

No, I will not be building a full-scale model of the neighborhood. (I will leave that task to you overachievers.) But I guarantee that I will save it so that I can refer to it when writing future books in the series. 

Models and/or maps are good reminders—as are notes of characters’ descriptions, facts about their lives–even as detailed as ages, eye color, and so on.

The more information you retain in your files NOW, the more time it will save you in the long run.

Head-Hopping

Even though my posts for the last five years are archived on my website, www.brendapoulosauthor.org, I know that it isn’t convenient for many readers to search around for information. So, for the next few weeks, I am going to be re-posting some of those which generated the most questions/comments from readers.

I hope they are useful and encouraging!

Here is the first:

 

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I love to get freebies, don’t you?

Over the past few weeks, I have downloaded several free fiction books.

Some were absolute jewels. Others … well …

That’s the way it goes in the world of “free.”

One of the books contained a LOT of head-hopping. Although the story and characters were enjoyable (that’s why I kept reading) the intermingled flow of dialogue, description, and emotion from various characters within the same paragraph made the story difficult to follow.

A reader shouldn’t have to constantly wonder who is speaking and whose thoughts are being revealed. Avoiding head-hopping is essential for writers—and it is so easy to do:

  1. In each scene, establish your point-of-view character. Although other characters can be in the scene, can show action, and speak dialogue, only the POV character can share their thoughts and perspective.
  1. Each paragraph should have only one character. When you want to change characters, simply start a new paragraph.
  1. When you want to change POV characters, begin a new scene.

Within the same paragraph (even within the same scene) don’t allow yourself to hop back and forth from one character’s thoughts and perspective to another’s.

If you confuse your reading audience in this way, even the most interesting characters and enjoyable dialogue may not be enough to keep them reading to THE END.