Time Exchange

English: timeline example

English: timeline example (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Does your favourite book capture a sense of time? Does time play out slowly or race along? How does an experienced writer catch such an intangible element as time in words?

Pacing is a key element to crafting a novel and wiser people have addressed it much better than I can in this beginner’s blog. However, I can address the lessons that I have learnt in my sporadic journey.

When I first started writing my first novel ‘Spiral of Hooves’, I resorted to simply inserting the date at the beginning of each scene or chapter. But although that works if the writer builds more subtle temporal clues onto this, I think for me it became a crutch. Although I had an initial timeline to guide me, I made the mistake of straying too far from it in order to make incidents occur in sequence. So when I was asked recently by my editor to check my timeline, I realised it was hopelessly out of date. Fortunately the juggling needed to bring scenes and chapters into line with the correct timeline was not too complicated, and the novel benefited.

As for the actual time scale of the story, that went from two years in the initial draft to nine months in the final one, which tightened the pace considerably. Faster pacing seems to make sense for a mystery, although I was never aiming for a thriller-type race against time.

Of course pacing is more than just saying: ‘Next morning’ or ‘Two hours later’ and I have tried to vary what happens in scenes and the words I have used. For instance, over the drafts I made better use of the seasonal changes in weather, vegetation and animal life. Keeping dialogue leisurely or snappy depending on the mood has helped I hope, although that will be up to my readers to decide. Have I been too overt by resorting to characters mentioning how many days or hours before a specific event or deadline?  Hopefully not and the readers will be caught up in the story.

Using beta readers, after about the third draft, has helped assess whether the timeline and pacing worked. Adding an editor into the mix has been invaluable – many thanks Yen, you’ve been great to work with. However, I have had to adapt a few things to an American readership, and explain some of the equestrian terminology. As ‘Spiral of Hooves’ enters the final furlong, I feel that the novel has evolved thanks to the input and the lessons learned. What occurs in the time before publication will be another blog tale.

Animated sequence of a horse pacing. Photos ta...

Animated sequence of a horse pacing. Photos taken by Eadweard Muybridge (died 1904), first published in 1887 at Philadelphia (Animal Locomotion). Animation by Waugsberg, 2006-10-8. (The sequence is set to motion using frames of Human and Animal Locomotion, plate 591, “Pronto” pacing) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For other drafted novels, I have tried to keep a closer eye on the timeline as I work on the plot. However, when I get round to editing them I need to take care that I keep the timeline updated. I also need to evolve the date/day references into more subtle and clever ways of showing the passage of time that work with the pace of the plot.

I’ve just outlined the sequel to ‘Spiral of Hooves’, which has the working title of ‘Tortuous Terrain’. Its timeline was complicated to plot due its background against two different equestrian competitions in the USA. Hopefully, as I write the first draft I can find the right words to capture time as well as the setting and characters. There’s an historical mystery in the wings too, set in both 1812 and the present day – ‘Seeking A Knife’. That presents an interesting challenge, but sometime in the future.

As for the blog title ‘Time Exchange’ that was Inspiration Monday – http://bekindrewrite.com/2013/07/15/inspiration-monday-look-at-me-now/. Not the requirement, but the title seemed to fit this piece: an exchange of experiences from me to you.

Now it’s your turn: what do you find gives inspiring writing a sense of time?