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

 

 

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Writing Boundaries (1)

In this two-post series I discuss my evolving passion for writing and how it fits in as a component of my life. In a subsequent post I will share how my Writing Boundaries determine what I will write about.

You might have noticed I missed my weekly post last weekend. It was mostly because I was still mulling things over in my mind. Sometimes to rush a post would be worse than missing an arbitrary deadline. With something important to say, it should be said right.

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On Mentors

It’s a classic device in fantasy writing that a mentor will educate the hero or help them along in their journey.

Partly it’s an excuse to explain to the reader the rules of the magic system or society. It’s conveniently feeding them, at the same time as the protagonist, bite-sized pieces of information.

It also dovetails nicely with the protagonist’s character arc, developing competency and knowledge. The mentor teaches, and then stands back and watches, offering correction as best they can. Eventually, the mentor leaves – or is killed – and the protagonist must survive on their own, to show how capable they have become.

In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf is a mentor-archetype. It is he who explains to Frodo the urgency of the mission and points him in the right direction. Gandalf helps to construct the fellowship, leads it and finally protects it when confronting the Balrog. While in some respects Gandalf is hands-off (frequently disappearing on side missions), he’s also a super-mentor. He pretty much knows everything and can be trusted to do the right thing. I don’t think I can remember him having a weakness or character flaw?

I really like what Patrick Rothfuss has done in The Name of the Wind. The lead character Kvothe is a child among the Edema Ruh, travelling performers of great repute with an eclectic mix of talent. After a tragedy befalls them, he lives alone in the forest for the summer, and then becomes homeless for many years in a crowded city. Circumstances occur so he can join the University he’s dreamed about as a child.

Kvothe’s vast range of experience, and the various mentors he’s had in life, enable him to believably possess a wide repertoire of skills. It’s a clever move by Rothfuss – putting him in such environments and contexts.

It is an epic-length read, but I’m greatly enjoying the book. Rothfuss has a great way with words, and I suspect I’ll be forced to read the entire series.

VWC Revision: Renaming Characters

Still learning how to write, I don’t always do the right thing at the right time.

The writing luminary Orson Scott Card has rules for naming characters (here and here). The primary rule is that character’s names should not start with the same letter or sound. A sensible rule.

The image below lists all of the named characters in Vengeance Will Come and highlights the problem.

VWC Named Characters Original

(Those in grey are minor characters who don’t get a point-of-view. Some appear repeatedly, and others are only in a single scene).

Too many names?

There are, arguably, too many names and if possible I’ll cull a few of them during the course of the revision by de-naming them.

The reason for so many characters is two-fold. I admit I find it awkward and unnatural to refer to someone multiple times without assigning them a name. Occasionally I’ll give them a nickname (like “Tuxedo” or “Double Muscle”), but doing that too often also feels unnatural – unless that’s a point of view character quirk. Also, like a good fan of Robert Jordan I plan to take a few of the minor characters and elevate them in subsequent books.

Breaking Uncle Orson’s rule

This is a problem I should have fixed much earlier, but better late than never. You’ll also notice in the original image there are a heck of a lot of characters named with similar letters (S, T and M). So here are my proposed changes:

VWC Named Characters Revised

I’m achieving a few goals with these changes:

  1. I’m de-stacking the heaviest use letters.
  2. I’m strategically changing the gender of Teskan (see upcoming post about gender balance).
  3. I’m structuring names in-world. It’s always bothered me that some characters have two names while others only have the one. This was just how it was and I had no good reason for it. Now I do: important individuals (the elite) in the world get two names, whereas everyone else gets one.

The only difficult, and possibly controversial change I wrestled with was “Three”. My opinion pivoted like a see-saw.

On the one hand some reviewers found it understandably difficult, because it’s a real word with a different meaning. It can therefore trip the brain up for a while.

However some respected reviewers liked it and were upset at my thoughts of altering it.

It does breach Uncle Orson’s rule, and is especially dangerous because another major character (Terefi) use the same letter. I can’t change Terefi because of the origin of his name.

But I was also really fond of the name. It’s so different that I think it helps put an “other world” spin on it. (Which, in hindsight, is kind of ironic because we have some crazy names being used on this planet). As I originally conceived it, it is also more than just a name, though that won’t become apparent until later in the series.

So eventually the see-saw motion stopped and Three remained.

A final warning

The other draw back I’ll warn you about is using words that the grammar checker will work itself into a lather over. Because three is a legitimate word, but capitalising it in the middle of a sentence is not kosher, the grammar checker has a perpetual hissy-fit. Even worse (and I’m not sure I should admit this) “Three” started off as “X”. Just a bad move; I don’t think I could get the spellchecker to ignore the single letter.

Hopefully these changes will help to balance out name-usage and make it easier for my readers. Now it’s just a matter of retraining my brain and muscle memory to type the new names instead of the old.


Help over the fence

Want a beta-reader? I’ve been helped in my development process by other beta readers and now it’s my turn to ‘pay it forward’. Each month I’ll read a chapter of someone’s story and comment on it. To be eligible, just comment on one of my posts with “*Review*” in the comment and you’re in the running.

There is No Excuse

When you use your real name as a domain name you’re making yourself something of a public figure. (Possibly in the loosest sense of the word, just go with me for now). When you’re a public figure you have to be very careful how and what you say, so as to not unintentionally offend.

If you want to be a writer of fiction and you haven’t listened to the Writing Excuses podcasts then you’re flat-out crazy.

It needed to be said.

And perhaps you needed to hear it. You’re welcome.

As an amateur writer when I insert a character into a story I’m aware of their motivations and how they’ll interact with the other characters and situations. (At least I try to be).

When one of the Writing Excuses podcasters puts a character into a story their aware of so much more on a fundamentally deeper level. When it comes to constructing stories, while I build a lean-to in a slum they build a Palace fit for a King.

In a recent podcast (s9) Dan Brown talks about how his main character is a sociopath. The problem with sociopaths is they’re not really very likable people. So Brown puts in even more  unlikable characters around the sociopath. Relatively speaking therefore the reader likes the sociopath. He also gives him a healthy dose of gallows humour (pun intentional).

Just a small example of how they’re thinking way beyond the sentence structure. When you have to take some time out from writing, you’d be wise to listen to Writing Excuses. It’s fifteen minutes of informative conversation interspersed with humour that will have you laughing out loud. Probably best not to listen to it at funerals.

A Writer’s Error. Again.

On the long weekend just passed I’d intended on getting a good chunk of writing done. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

(Sidebar: In On Writing Stephen King wrote, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” If I may take literary license, I believe King was close: the road to hell is paved with good intentions, which are described in adverbs yelled by the travelers on the road).

The derailment of my writing weekend began innocently enough. For months the beautiful Mrs Ezard and I had been discussing the need to re-mulch our garden but had been either busy or the weather had not played along. However on this weekend, the fine weather and the empty calendar dovetailed together perfectly: This wasn’t an error. Even though I had planned to do writing on Saturday (after a few other errands) the garden did need mulching, and I like to look after what I own. So we called in the truck and shoveled mulch, spreading it far and wide. (Too high, it turns out I was told by a well-meaning but ill-timed piece of advice). Too late now; fight-to-live or die, garden.

Even though the work was done in just under 2 hours (an epic job), I was exhausted. The remainder of the day was spent recovering on the couch. No choice there; the body was sore and weary.

Sunday afternoon was also slated for writing; it didn’t occur. Due to laziness, I admit. It was, I realise now, a fault of thinking: I considered that I had a choice whether or not to write. Writing, however, for me, should not be treated like a hobby but a job. If I want to write full-time, then I must take it seriously. There is no choice, just like my Monday to Friday job. You must turn up to write, no choice involved. There is always Monday I thought, I can write all day Monday, I promised myself.

The brain, I think, is like any other muscle: you must exercise it. If you let it be lazy, then it likes to be lazy. All of Sunday on the couch watching TV meant my brain wasn’t in any shape to work creatively on Monday. Sure, I squeezed out a few hundred words – but my brain has been trained to be lazy. I’ve unwittingly shown it how. Being lazy for one day, can mean more than one day is lost in productivity.

My next mistake was trying to be too focused on a single project. I was trying to write chapter 2 of The Hostages. I did some of it, but then I persisted trying to do more when it wasn’t flowing nicely. What I should have done (earlier) is switch projects. So, if writing The Hostages hit a wall, I could have swapped to revising The Rebel Queen. Ordinarily I like to focus on a single project at a time plot threads don’t mix or character motivations don’t muddle. However, progress on any writing project is preferable to a complete lack of progress. Also I might have tried to skip ahead in the story; there is nothing to say a story has to be written chronologically. I knew this, of course, but the knowledge was different to explicit internal permission to do so.

The final lesson is the need to learn lessons. I’m sure if I trawl back through my blog I will see the same themes, if not exact words. On my to-do list since January has been to extract the key lessons from my 2016 posts onto some of my other resource pages. I haven’t done that yet, but I need to if I don’t want to repeat the same mistakes again. And again.