Who wants to snap the photo after the sun’s risen or the gull flown? Whether photography or proposal, wrestling or writing, it’s all about finding the moment.
At its best, fiction gives both writer and reader the astonishing power to control time. Boring moments whizz by while anticipation becomes thrill instead of anxiety.
But like everything else about storytelling, time management requires a deft hand. Here’s why:
A work of literature can be thought of as involving four different and potentially quite separate time frames: author time (when the work was originally written or published); narrator time (when the narrator in a work of fiction supposedly narrates the story); plot time (when the action depicted actually takes place); and reader or audience time (when a reader reads the work or sees it performed). — Beth Hill, “Marking Time with the Viewpoint Character”
Of these categories, audience perception matters most. So if you want readers to grasp significance, proceed as if
Length is weight in fiction, pretty much. —Joan Silber, The Art of Time in Fiction: As Long as It Takes
~ Don’t linger over detail that contributes only to this moment rather than the big picture.
Ideally, that big picture divides the characters’ journey between time collapsed into summary or savored within scenes.
Time perception refers to the subjective experience of the passage of time, or the perceived duration of events, which can differ significantly between different individuals and/or in different circumstances. Although physical time appears to be more or less objective, psychological time is subjective and potentially malleable. — “Exactly What Is Time” Blog
~ Manage pace by speeding or slowing to maximize suspense and emotion.
How long events last matters as much as how quickly the plot proceeds.
~ Always start the scene at the last possible moment.
The best scenes and chapters begin when something’s at stake—immediately at stake.
And control of fictional time also involves when scenes end. Too soon, and readers might feel bewildered or disappointed. But too late, and neither writer nor reader has the oomph for what’s next.
~ End every scene except the final one with the next obstacle the protagonist faces.
Tip: In fiction, time should offer the opportunities that reality lacks.