Success only flourishes in perseverance -- ceaseless, restless perseverance.
--Baron Manfred Von Richtofen

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sand Through the Hourglass

First of all, I have to thank Anna C. Morrison for the Splish-Splash award for a dazzling blog. Wow. I don't know if I deserve it, but thanks so much! I'd like to pass that award along to Bethany and Suzette at Shooting Stars and Elana at Elana J. Author whose blogs continue to dazzle.

Now on to the post:

One of my pet peeves when I'm reading is when a character thinks something along the lines of, "Was that only three days ago? It feels like years." Um, no. That feels unauthentic to me. Just because for the author it was, in fact, years in between those three days does not mean that's how it feels to the character. It certainly doesn't feel that way to me as the reader. My perception of time is usually quite the opposite. (It's September already? What happened to August?) I suppose this stems from a desire to illustrate the great changes in the characters life during the course of the story. I'm not sure using time is the most effective way to do that, however. My most recent unexpected and life-changing event was the birth of my last child, over a month early and while on vacation in Vegas. I do remember thinking, "Gee, our other boy's birthday party was less than a week before the baby was born." I didn't feel like the party had been years before, but I was surprised at how fast everything had changed.

Anyway, it's got me thinking. How do the characters perceive the passage of time? I know children see time differently than adults. Young children have no concept of time at all. My five year old still has trouble with "today" and "tomorrow." She usually refers to tomorrow as "next day." For me, time is always flying by way too fast, but then there are other times, like the two weeks that my preemie baby spent in the hospital, that drag on and on. Is it worth thinking about how the characters feel about time? I don't know if I ever consciously have, except to avoid the temptation above. I think the passage of time, or the perception of it, is worth considering. Not that it needs to be deliberately included, but it seems to me one more way to add depth and realism to the story. Any thoughts?


B.J. Anderson said...

I know what you mean about time! I think mentioning time in your book brings attention to it, which isn't always a good thing. :) But sometimes it's warranted if weeks or months have gone by, and I think a small mention usually suffices. Great post!

Linz said...

Thank you! That always bothers me while I'm reading too. Time is such a personal thing (weird thought?). It wasn't until I had children that I realized how incredibly short a year is. Great post and interesting topic.

Novice Writer Anonymous said...

I'm running into this problem in my current WiP. My characters were on a journey looking for something that they weren't sure what. This took them over a month. Like six weeks, I think. I only realized toward the end of it all that they began their journey in their world's equivalent to our August but it's now their equivalent to October. I'm realizing I may need to go back and sprinkle in some physical descriptions to elucidate that passage. (i.e. frost, turning leaves, etc.) But I think it's only rarely necessary to put in a distinct time frame reference like what you talked about.

Dawn VanderMeer said...

I think about the way time passes probably more than I should--I watch my kids growing, and I don't want to miss anything. I liked your comment about how long those three days might feel for the author. Hee!

I printed out a calendar so I can write events from my book on it. This allows me to track time and not have a Friday after a weekend! Still, I try not to put too much of that in the manuscript; it's stuff I need to know as the writer, but the reader doesn't have to be conscious of it. I also want it to feel authentic to the reader. I hope it's working!

Dawn VanderMeer said...

One more thing: Novice Writer Anonymous, I think it's a nice idea to add frost, turning leaves, etc. :)

Angie said...

Oh, yeah. I am keeping very careful track of time in my current novel. I have to know what's happening what day and what time of day. I have several different people and locations, and I am keeping track of the time zone differences as well as the days, the weather,etc. I think that's important as a writer. I just want to make sure that the passage of time for the characters seems realistic. Thanks for all the comments everyone.

KM said...

I think everything about a character is important, even their favorite ice cream flavor (or how they perceive time). I think younger people usually see time as slow, while older people see it as faster. Or at least, that's what I've been told and have observed.

Yeah, I know what you mean about the "That was only three days ago?" thing being annoying. I read a book that the entire plot took place during a week's time, and I HATED it. I like some time to pass. But that's just me.

Michelle H. said...

I think physical descriptions work better than having the character contemplate time. It seems jarring when out of the blue they mention it.

Hey, stop by my place for your award!

Nisa said...

Congrats on the blog awards.

Xander is so funny about time. Anything that is in the future is tomorrow even if it's just an hour away. lol! It's so cute!