Do you have the time? Do your characters?

One of the hardest elements I struggle with while drafting is the sense of time and its passage in relation to my characters and the events of the plot. If left to my own devices, I tend to condense–plots and stories happen in short, intense, and life-changing periods of “time out of time,” instead of as part of a natural progression at the pace of the rest of a character’s life. And in many cases, this is not a problem–the stuff of stories isn’t about the time we spend (or waste) meandering from chore to chore or pleasant task to other pleasant task–it’s about the events that change us, and those events can be as sudden, intense, and crammed-into-seconds as an accident.

But likewise, those events can also be the persistent ebb and flow of a riverbank smoothing over a character’s old wounds and hurts. The aging of a fine liquor that changes both its own character and the nature of its container. Changes over time tend to have a more permanent feeling to them–as if they are more likely to stick than the changes wrought through compressed-time trauma. I didn’t think much about this until the characters in my latest WIP actually lost time (or rather, they were taken out of time and had to find compelling reasons to fight their way back in).

I tend to fix my time passages later in the drafting process–most of us usually have more problems with propelling a story forwards, not stretching it out, and I’m no different. Although I do tend to write “out of order” and end up shuffling scenes like an extreme couponing party. But being aware of the time passing–or not, as the case may be–can open you up to a whole ‘nother way to increase the tension in your stories.

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