Time and the Author

I was pondering on how authors use time in their works.  Why?  Well I’ve encountered a couple of works which seem to apply no logic to the passage of time, for one thing.  For another, I read a complaint about the unrealistic speed with which relationships often begin in fiction.

The Need For Temporal Logic

Yes, it’s true!  I’m going to say that something really is necessary – something that demands the following of a principle.  Time moves in a very definite manner, and there can be no denying that fact, though our perception of time may be rather strange at times.  The simple fact is that you need some kind of timeframe indicators in a story.  Leaving your reader guessing that one day has been superseded by another, and that the hours of daylight have passed to bring night, is poor form.  Leaving your reader thinking how astonishing it is that your characters cab achieve so much in a single day, because you haven’t actually indicated the passage of time, is equally poor.  You really need to let your reader know when a significant change in time period has elapsed!

Oddly, those who write about time travel, or some other quirk of time, often do a better job of maintaining a clear temporal logic.  In their case, however, the important thing that might slip badly is being consistent.  It isn’t fair to your reader to suddenly change the rules, even if they need to change to allow some new development.  If that happens, you have to backtrack to ensure that the altered rule is applied consistently from the very beginning.

Unrealistic Event Timeframes

This is actually a case of arguing for allowing a literary device!  An author has to move their story along at a reasonable pace.  Giving their characters realistic timeframes for relationship building is simply not on, unless you’re talking about a saga that spans years, and probably several books.  So authors cheat!  We let our characters fall in (or out) of love faster than normal in real life.  We permit them to become loyal followers or great leaders at an express rate.  We do so to allow our stories to actually progress without waiting around for nature to take its course.  We are also prone to being romantics!  To us, love at first sight, or an instinctive trust reaction, are perfectly reasonable.  We actually believe that these things can and do happen in real life!  You mat find us guilty of other unpardonable sins (according to modern thinking) such as genuine platonic love or powerful relationships between two men that don’t have homosexual undertones.  Some of these dreadful faults are a consequence of the things we’ve read.  Some, whether you choose to believe it or not, are the result of personal experience!  If you don’t like characters falling in love quickly, then I suggest that fiction probably isn’t really what you should be reading!

If you complain about characters scaling a mountain like Everest in a day, fair enough.  If you don’t like the total collapse of Civilisation in a day, you can count on my support.  But the acceleration of human interaction and relationships?  That’s fair game, and there are sufficient examples in real life to support the behaviour of our characters.  I also like to think that we’re allowed to make our characters intelligent and perceptive, in touch with their instincts and their feelings.  And no, this doesn’t go against what I’ve said about temporal logic!  Human behaviour is what it is.  It has a delicious illogic attached to it.  That, in fact, is the foundation of what makes life interesting, and humans so fascinating.  Without that illogical behaviour, the vast majority of fiction, and a surprising amount of non-fiction, would be the poorer!

~ Steve

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About Steve

An author since the age of 13 years, writing again dominates my activities. My "Imagineer-ing" blog is my primary site. Also: Beginner knitter since November 2010. Favourite knitting techniques: cable and lace. Beginner cross stitcher. Beginner jewellery maker. With the promotion of self publication and all the other work that has been going on here, Dad decided around 2am this morning (22/11/2013) that it was time to begin his next adventure. He was seen off earlier the previous evening by myself, my brother, my sister in law, and my sister, as well as his wife (our mum), and an enigmatic being known only as A Lorraine. After this time of story telling, laughing, crying, joking and mickey taking, we saw how tired both mum and dad were, and we decided to leave them under the (sometimes) gentle care of The Lorraine. When Dad found the timetable for his travels, he let Mum know gently, which woke her from her drowsing, then, with the same gentleness he showed in this universe, he boarded his favourite mode of transport, the Interdimensional Steam Train, and set off with a smile and a wave. For those of us closest, that smile was a reminder that his pain has ended, and the wave, an indicator that he will pop in to all those that knew him, from time to time. Usually at the most inconvenient and in opportune moments he can. While we are sad that he is no longer here, we are happy he now has no pain, and is experiencing more extraordinary things that his writers mind will be frantically weaving into a new story. Posted by Son Damien

9 thoughts on “Time and the Author

  1. Within your article lies a fundamental problem with how some people view stories today. I get the feeling that there are a lot of people who feel that a story should be written for them and them alone. It’s to do with the ‘ME’ generation.

    If some people don’t like a story, it’s because it does not fit with how they see the world. And then they have the lack of understanding to call you a bad writer.

    The writer is the only person who can write her or his story the way it should be written. And that’s the way it should be. If you have lived, experienced, it’s your words, in your way that will last. Listen to other people, but do not add their thoughts into your story. Add your words, your way.

  2. Everything you say here, Steve, is right on. Fiction writers have to accelerate and dramatize to a certain extent, because readers (especially in today’s culture) prefer more action and activity than real life provides. A true life scene at the post office, for example, with standing in a dreary line for 10 minutes and listening to a whining baby; is not going to be enjoyed as much as someone tripping on a package and breaking their collarbone.

  3. I agree with you, Steve. Time does move differently in a story, certain things have to move more quickly than in real life, however the writer should keep some consistency in the timelines of the story. It was one of the first issues I had to tackle in my writing as time moves at different rates in various realms. I still get confused, too! Usually, a quick re-read helps me set it straight should something seem out of line.

  4. The question of time is an odd one… the reader has to buy into the fiction. That includes the time frames. When I’m watching a cartoon I don’t ask how the rabbit could fly…I go with it.
    Loved your post!

    • Very true, Patrick :) We’re all at the mercy of the reader’s ability to “suspend disbelief” ;) LOL love the comparison – I’ll never forget a cartoon where the critter was forever running off into open air, no problem, until given a book explaining gravity :D Thanks :)

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