Novelists tend to view time and space in terms of themselves or their characters, i.e. “I never have enough time to write—and I’m never inspired except in coffee shops,” or “My novel moves my protagonist from childhood to seniordom, and no two scenes occur in the same place.”
All perfectly legit. But these observations circumvent a crucial question: how do readers experience time and space in your novel?
Every novel has two kinds of space. The obvious one of course, is the physical one what we call sense of place. Without that, your characters exist in the ether.
But the one more often neglected is described by Stacey D’Erasmo in The Art of Intimacy:
What’s in that critical space beween in fiction? Of what is it composed? What makes it “work” or not? One way into this delicate matter might be to look not so much at individual characters and their motivations or the outcomes of their yearnings and relationships, or even at their interactions per se, but at exactly what is in that space between them, the linkage.
This is where, if you leave room, your readers experience your novel’s world and characters directly. Sure, if you omit all comments, your readers might miss something. Isn’t that preferable to bludgeoning with clarity? Yes. So, how do you provide that gift?
- Plant clues.
- Use imagery and metaphor.
- Avoid cliché. (Familiar expectations fill space, leaving readers outside.)
- Omit whatever the reader already knows.
- Trust your reader. Trust yourself.
You’re the ruler of every physical law in your novel. This gives you the power to make time slow down for drama and speed up for backdrop.
- Clarify time’s progress.
A reader wondering about sequence doesn’t constitute pleasurable ambiguity; it’s merely confusion.
- Make time emphasize.
In Joan Silber’s The Art of Time in Fiction: As Long as It Takes, she notes that “Slowed time is—or should be— a way of pointing to what’s important.”
- Start where your story begins.
In other words, is the material with which you open the story an arrow pointing toward the unified effect?” ― Julie Checkoway, Creating Fiction
Tip: Make your novel’s world one where time and space never frustrate, only offer endless pleasure.