Sunday, February 18, 2018

Time It

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.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Hard-wired for Story

The organic world is mostly phototropic. Like plants and moths, people gravitate toward the light. In fact, the longing to stare at the sun can risk sunburned eyeballs, even damaged retinas. 


Without the deleterious side effects, storytelling has always wielded similar magnetism.

 Since humans have been humans, they’ve told stories. That’s because
According to Uri Hasson from Princeton, a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience. — Leo Widrich,“The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains”
You’re a novelist in a world crowded with obligations and distractions competing for attention. When children—and grownups—beg “Tell me a story,” they want to hear a great one. How can the storytelling instinct help you attract readers and keep them engaged?

~ Tension.

It’s no accident that any writing coach will insist that it’s needed on every page. Interrupt the story, and you interrupt reader connection with it. That connection, of course, is why readers care about characters and why fiction has always been a means for cultural instruction: 
in order to motivate a desire to help others, a story must first sustain attention–-a scarce resource in the brain–-by developing tension during the narrative. If the story is able to create that tension then it is likely that attentive viewers/listeners will come to share the emotions of the characters in it, and after it ends, likely to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviors of those characters — Paul J. Zak, “Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling”
~ Causality

Unless each—each rather than some or most!—event in the novel determines what follows, the novelist offers the randomness of life rather than the meticulously shaped progression of story.
A story, if broken down into the simplest form, is a connection of cause and effect. And that is exactly how we think. — Leo Widrich
~ Universality

Different cultures certainly express human emotions differently. But the emotions themselves remain constant. That’s why stories let people vicariously bleed under the lash of slavery, recoil at the stench of a dragon’s breath, shiver in the trenches of a battlefield, or bask in the awe of a kiss from the spouse you’ve loved for fifty years.


Tip: The greatest stories spring from capitalizing on the human instinct for narrative.