Writing: The Passing of Time

sundial-3692590_640One of the tricks to master in writing is how to show the passage of time in a story. For example if Chapter 2 occurs two weeks after Chapter 1, how do you show that? It’s one area I’m still honing in my writing.

I first highlighted these lines in book 11 of the Wheel of Time series:

“…the sun more than halfway to the horizon, by the time he saw what he was looking for.” (Page 151)

“In a morning ritual, his fingers made another knot mechanically, then slid down the cord, counting. Twenty-two knots. Twenty-two mornings since Faile was kidnapped.” (Page 156)

The first obviously makes use of the position of the sun, and the second describes in a clever action-oriented manner the time that has passed. I decided to exclude these two quotes from my upcoming highlights post, because I wanted to examine the topic further.

Of course the crudest way to show time is simply to tell the reader “10 days later…” I’ll admit earlier drafts of Vengeance Will Come had this a lot. There were two reasons for this: I didn’t know any better  and I was also using the prompts to aid my own keeping track of time. It is a crude approach which pulls the reader out of the story. There are still a few instances of itin the book, but it’s something I use rarely now.

A better way, as the old adage goes, is to show the reader instead of telling them. The goal, I think, should be to show the passage of time through the setting and/or character.

Here are some of the ideas I brainstormed. If you have any other ideas, please add them in a comment below.timescale




An Explanation of Time

I am impressed by the following words contained in the opening pages of the classic The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.

“Nor, having only length, breadth, and thickness, can a cube have a real existence.”

“There I object,” said Filby. “Of course a solid body may exist. All real things- “

“So most people think. But wait a moment. Can an instantaneous cube exist?”

“Don’t follow you,” said Filby.

“Can a cube that does not last for any time at all, have a real existence?”

Filby became pensive. “Clearly,” the Time Traveller proceeded, “any real body must have extension in four dimensions: it must have a Length, Breadth, Thickness, and – Duration. But through a natural infirmity of the flesh, which I will explain to you in a moment, we incline to overlook this fact. There are really four dimensions, three which we call the three planes of Space, and a fourth, Time. There is, however, a tendency to draw an unreal distinction between the former three dimensions and the latter, because it happens that our consciousness moves intermittently in one direction along the latter from the beginning to the end of our lives.”

“There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it.”

“For instance, here is a portrait of a man at eight years old, another at fifteen, another at seventeen, another at twenty-three, and so on. All these are evidently sections, as it were, Three-Dimensional representations of his Four-Dimension being, which is a fixed and unalterable thing.

In these few words Wells succinctly explains the concept of time. What charm there is in a simple explanation of a complex matter.