Timey Wimey, Wibbly Wobbly Stuff

As I distress over the amount of time I’ve been able to dedicate to blogging and writing, I’m surprised by how quickly time flies by. I know, it should be an obvious thing, “how time flies.” But very shortly here, I’ll have been a college graduate for a year. This blog will have been active for a year. Promises made to myself, and memories that seem just yesterday, will have actually been a rather long time ago in consideration to how long I’ve been on this planet.

Perhaps ‘surprised’ is the wrong word. Unconscious in the face of it, perhaps – and suddenly aware as it seems to slip through my fingers like water. Part of it makes me panic. I’m getting old; opportunities will pass me by; I still haven’t figured out what I really want to do with myself. It’s a problem of my generation, I’m told, to be stupefied in the face of so much choice, and left grasping at some sense of security and place in the world.

But I digress. This blog is about writing. And for this post, I wanted to address the issue of time passing.

My first manuscript was written day by day – nearly hour by hour. I plotted out how each day and hour should go, and obsessed over blocks of time that seemed filled with nothing. I felt that every day had to be filled by something, and each day needed to be written. Everything has to be exciting (or at least interesting) in a book, right? So something exciting/interested happening every minute!

Somewhere along the way I realized that I didn’t need to meticulously fill and articulate each passing day. This was probably around the time I realized I was trying to make up for the routine and unchangingness of my days. In reality, many days are filled with the same ol’, same ol’. Life isn’t all wonder and glory, and it’s starkly frightening how quickly time will just zip on by.

Of course,  I’m talking about fiction writing, and no one wants to read about the same thing happening day after day. They can get that in their own life, and it’s boring to read about if you’re not living it (for example – the vast amount of time that we all spend reading. Reading about reading doesn’t sound exactly entertaining for large swaths of passing time, and it might be in danger of straying far too into “meta” territory).

So after I figured out that I didn’t need to agonize over filling every minute of every day for my character, I began to struggle with the whole skipping time problem. How do I make transitions smooth and easy? What do I say about the time that’s just passed? How do I make it seem like something that’s supposed to happen and not just a convenient way to skip to the next exciting part of the story?

There’s a method that I think a lot of us use that’s like an overview, where so-and-so “did this all week, followed by this, all the time agonizing about this,” etc. It’s a useful tool and I think it works in a lot of circumstances – but I’m also afraid it’s a little sloppy. Or perhaps lazy. Really, it’s easy to use sloppily and lazily.

In my recently finished manuscript I have a time jump of three weeks. It’s mostly to pass time, but also to show the stark difference in the mood and attitude of the character over the course of this time. I originally wrote it with an “overview” piece, but then completely changed it, and instead “dropped” the reader right back into the story three weeks later (with the disclaimer, “Three Weeks Later,” of course). Then, instead of overviewing, I dropped the highlights of what happened the past three weeks into the story as current events were taking place – through discussion, internal thought, and general description, spreading out the use of which medium I used to get the information across.

It was rather a lot of work, really. But it was challenging and entertaining, and it was a good exercise in “showing not telling.”

I think “showing vs. telling” is really the issue I’m struggling with here, specifically having to do with time jumps and how to get pertinent information across without needing to info dump.

What are your thoughts on this issue? How do you write time passing? And am I the only crazy one who thinks that time is passing way too quickly in the real world?

About R. K. Brainerd

I've been writing since my pre-teens, mostly in the realm of fantasy and sci-fi. Taking interesting concepts and dropping complex characters into fantastical worlds is my jam. I also raise dairy goats and herd cats, the evidence of which can be found on my Instagram. Welcome to the adventure. View all posts by R. K. Brainerd

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