7 Ways to Pass Time in Fiction

The Time Machine

The Time Machine

One of the toughest parts of an adventure story is traveling.  You can write about it if you want, but something has to happen besides walking.  There are only so many ways to shake things up with a fight before people wonder if you’ve played too many Final Fantasy games.  Random encounters are not your friend!  Insightful conversations can get overdone too.  There’s an old author phrase that you should be writing about the most interesting day of your characters’ lives.  If the adventure spans multiple days then you need to do something about the dull ones.  They can’t all have battles, excitement, and adventure.  So, what can you do?

  1. Fill every day with battles, excitement, and adventure.  Every second counts and the hero needs to bulk up before the finale.  Not physically, so much as having enough experience under their belt that they need to go up a few pants sizes.  Sure, they might get exhausted and worn down quickly.  You might have readers asking why they never stop to sleep.  Maybe you should let them take at least one day off?
  2. Time and space magic or technology.  Need to travel far, but don’t want to write several chapters of walking?  Then give them a powerful caster or a machine that can whisk them to their next destination without losing any time.  They instantly appear wherever they want to go.  No need for horses, camps, friendly conversations, or trail rations.  It isn’t like the townsfolk will freak out when the group appears out of nowhere.
  3. Teleportation can work too.  Same as #2, but with a higher risk.  That risk is the group appearing out of nowhere and one member is trying to share space with a brick wall.  I don’t think it was red before that guy arrived.
  4. Jump to a villain scene while the heroes travel.  Doesn’t hurt to check in with your antagonists and give them some attention.  You can even have them spy on the good guys to show that things are progressing off camera.  After all, the villain isn’t just sitting there waiting for stuff to happen.  Why should he be the only one stuck in the ‘time passes’ phase when he’s actually doing things?  Let the goody-two-shoes suffer in limbo for a bit.  Might do them some good.
  5. End the book and don’t publish an updated version or the next volume until the proper amount of time has passed.  Real-time reading, baby!  Wave of the future.  I swear it isn’t a way to nickle and dime readers out of their money.  It really brings the story together and makes you feel like you’re there.  As long as you go for a long walk for the same length of time as the characters.  Maybe we should sell treadmills or hiking boots with this idea.
  6. Open a chapter with phrases such as ‘a few days later’ or ‘after a long journey’.  Just clears everything up neatly and readers figure nothing important happened.  If minor stuff happened then the characters can talk about it.  For example, continuing to tease somebody about messing up dinner or the group angry at the leader for a shortcut that went through a bandit camp.  Opens things up for some comedy while not wasting time with things that aren’t really part of the overall story.
  7. Just keep writing and let your beta readers sort it out.  Maintain a swear jar that way you can buy all of the apology pizzas.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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29 Responses to 7 Ways to Pass Time in Fiction

  1. Great topic, and one I actually struggle with. I appreaciate the laugh along the way, but this is a place I always second guess myself. Travel takes time, and it can get boring. I’m getting better at skipping ahead, but feel the need to let readers know about the time involved. Livestock move slower than automobiles, and even space travel needs sci-fi engines or it would take a lifetime to go anywhere.

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  2. Jean Lamb says:

    I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve been passing some of your blog entries to the Klamath Writers’ Guild, since you give some very helpful hints.

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  3. I love the dry humor of this post, although I think #4 and 6 are the most workable selections. I use the time skip a lot for first person.

    It’s one advantage musicals have over other storytelling forms. Consider Tangled (if you’ve seen it). Its first number shows Rapunzel’s everyday life, but it’s done as a song, so it’s still interesting. Not an option for us fiction writers, unfortunately. Bare lyrics just don’t convey the same interest.

    It’s great to connect with another fantasy author. 🙂

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  4. Time is a killer for sure. I’m sure Craig can tell you I usually cook a meal. (I cut them, Craig) The idea about beta readers is not a bad one until you run out of beta readers.

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  5. This reminds me of Fellowship of the Ring, where they had to seriously decide which route to take.

    I like your #6, but I also think breaking to other points of view is a good way to go. Even if you have to show the journey for some reason, putting it in another pov an change the reader’s perspective on the characters and setting.

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    • That can work, but it also depends on the writing style. I’m always cautious about suggesting POV changes because people are protective of their styles. I’ve managed to pull it off with chapter sections that focus on a different point and character, but I can never get it to last longer than that one chapter.

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      • Ironically, I very seldom do sections from the villain’s POV. I feel like it gives too much away. But my heroes always seem to be in groups that split up, so I usually end with one POV in each split. But before that happens, they make snarky comments about each other. I enjoy playing with the character’s thoughts and good intentions vs. how they can be interpreted.

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      • Present tense helps me with the villains, but I keep them limited. Mostly to help with foreshadowing and boosting their development. I always find it odd when a villain shows up stronger with no previous explanation.

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  6. Great subject. If you think a trip is hard, try describing stories that span years (or even centuries, as in Pearseus). Now, that’s a nightmare!

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