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B Plot

Wednesday, March 23, 2022 time writing passage of time pacing
Steampunk clock courtesy 3209107 on Pixabay
Steampunk clock courtesy 3209107 on Pixabay

 

I struggle with time jumps in my writing. My characters travel from point A to point B on a mission. Watch any movie based in large metropolitans such as London, New York, or Tokyo, and they show the characters in a car or on a subway. They get to their destination in no time while commuters familiar with those cities laugh or cry at how easily the MC moves around. Writers engage in time jumps to speed up time. The one exception to this was the show 24, where events were portrayed as they occurred.

Earlier in my writing journey, I wrote every detail of my MC’s journey, which was mind-numbing for readers. No one wants to read about how every meal is hunted and prepared or how the MC didn’t sleep well because they slept on the ground. Okay, okay, okay. You can write about every little detail if you’re Tolkien. I, however, am not Tolkien, and my readers aren’t as tolerant of slow pacing.

It’s okay to put details in if it advances the plot. If you spend time (words) describing a meal, how does that meal deepen characterisation or highlight a conflict? If your MC eats something new, do they have an allergic reaction or get food poisoning? How would those situations advance or hinder your MC’s ability to work towards the book’s goal?

There are many shorthand ways to speed up the pacing of your story. There’s the dialogue slip-in where one character mentions it’s a two-hour drive or a month-long boat voyage. The reader has a sense of the length of travel without being burdened or distracted by it.

Another shorthand is to deepen the POV. Show your MC’s blistered-covered feet and the hole in their shoe from a three-month hike across the country. There are other creative ways of showing the passage of time—adding or losing weight, greying of hair and/or presence of wrinkles, changes in the terrain (the last time the MC was home, there was a river running through the property, now the river has dried to a creek), changes in season, mentioning a character’s birthday (the story starts with a three-year-old-MC and there’s a jump to their tenth birthday), and so on.

All these approaches to the passage of time can be boiled down to one sentence or expanded into pages of details (provided they advance the plot or deepen characterisation).

Here’s an example of a time jump from my western historical romance, Jaded Hearts.

Bertram’s POV and these are the last sentences of chapter 2:

 

Bertram grimaced. Da’s past threatened to rob his future, and it wasn’t even noon.   

 

 

These are the opening lines of chapter 3 in Ruthanna’s POV:

Ruthanna sat in a high-backed chair in the dining room of the Anderson Hotel. The dust from her travels washed from her face, but the fatigue of her journey still weighed on her body. 

 

I used a chapter closing to have a half-day time jump.

 

Here’s another passage of time from Ruthanna’s POV:

Sucking in a large breath, she dug deep inside her to the little Ruthanna, who was dragged from mining camp to mining camp on a moment’s notice without a proper breakfast or full night’s sleep. Twenty-six-year-old Ruthanna found the strength of five-year-old Ruthanna always had and pushed herself to her unsteady feet. Her heel caught the hems of her skirts, and she stumbled backwards, crashing on her shoulder and bashing her head on a boulder.

Something cracked. Bone, brain, both.

Her tongue rolled back in her throat, and she choked. Her mind fled to somewhere dark and throbbing and senseless, but her body rushed to the rescue, rolling her to her side, forcing a sputtering cough from her lungs.

Time passed.

Minutes. Hours. Geological.

Agony dragged her away from death to awareness with a steady pounding beat against her skull.

 

 

Here’s an excerpt from Seven Points of Contact:

Dad grunted, the same grunt when he was onto something, but willing to keep it a secret—for now.

By the end of the first game, the colour of Dad’s cheeks had drained to a sickly pallor reserved for dead fish. He hadn’t touched his can of Ensure, but he had settled deeper into his chair and closed his eyes.

Jonas was three years old again, wanting but unable to help with adult problems—offering a cookie when surgery was needed. “You want me to stay?” 

 

I could have given a hand by hand (they’re playing cards) description of how Jonas’ father is waning, but that didn’t serve the plot.

 

Another example from Seven Points of Contact:

 

Miranda finished her reports for the day.

 

 

*

I could have gone into the minute details of a car loan application, but it didn’t deepen characterisation, advance the plot, or add conflict.

 

Shorten moments (fewer words) when nothing of significance happens. Expand moments of time (give them word count) when they demonstrate conflict, strong emotion (characterisation), are a key learning point that the MC might not yet learn or present an obstacle. Well-crafted time jumps ensure good pacing and reader engagement.

 

Thank you, @LouSchlesinger, for the topic suggestion.