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 Leaving your reader guessing that one day has been superseded by another, and that the hours of daylight have passed to bring night, is poor form.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!