A land forged from the fires of strife, blood of heroes, and touch of the gods.
Where deeds of great valor, vile evils, and blazing passions intertwine
to shape the course of elven and human history within.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Time "Travels"

In honor of my current business trip abroad, I thought I'd ask a couple of semi-related questions:
1.  How long should a story take - in hours, days, weeks, months, or years?
2.  How do you as a writer handle the passage of time in your stories?
My books are epic adventures, spanning at least a couple of years each.  Interludes between books vary; between Books One and Two was a passage of 25 years in which The Purge of Elvenkind takes place in Ardwel.  (Yes, I've been asked several times to write about this, and its in the works, trust me). Other interludes are a year or so, and the one between Books Four and Five will be about 15 years.
OK, let's look at question 1 first:
I've seen many books that take place over the span of a few days to a couple of weeks.  I've read others that go on for months.  The real question is, do writers tend to pack too much action into too small a time frame (hey "24", are you listening???) or do they tend to drag things out to the point where you wonder what the heck the characters are waiting on?  Remember this; depending on your genre and the writer's world, stuff takes time, and the important thing is, the events flow and keep the reader interested and invested in the story.  If you have too much going on at once (in one location), the reader will have trouble suspending disbelief and just keeping track of who does what to/with whom. And if you summarize too much, the reader will feel cheated, that the details of important events (like the aforementioned Purge) are glossed over.  Writers must not only plot the events, but the time necessary for those events to take place in the context of the story, for the reader to get a sense of reality of what is happening to the characters. 
Multiple concurrent scenarios (fancy words for "lots of stuff happening at the same time in different places") can be tough to handle, but in stories where you have more than one group of characters, or have multiple plot lines, it's essential to plot these very carefully, especially if you're planning on having these groups meet up at a specific time and/or place.  Writers should leave a bit of wiggle-room; this is a real issue with some short stories or movies/TV shows where everyone suddenly finishes what they're doing at the very same time.  Within seconds, it seems, on occasion.
The second question is a bit more general and can be looked at more casually.  I had a writer friend ask me once how to handle a situation where a month in the story passed by with little effect on the plot.  I said I'd simply start a new scene by saying "A month passed by", then picking up the action at that point.  Writers don't have to account for every moment in a character's story arc, but at the same time, if a quiet scene is needed for the readers to catch their breath, there's nothing wrong with it, as long as the scene moves the story along or provides some back story or information to flesh out the character or relationships.  As the story progresses, however, these quiet scenes will be more infrequent, as the climax of the tale nears.
Next time I'll go into a bit more detail about this topic and how I handle some of the issues of multiple character groups and scenarios.  Until then, keep reading!
Note: I edited this blog a bit; just cleanup and a little "adjustment".  :o)

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