Who, What, When, Where, and Why: WHEN


(The fifth post in a five-week, five-subject series that summarizes an entire semester of Journalism 101.)

Time. The Rolling Stones (“Time Is On My Side”) and Jim Croce (“Time In a Bottle”) sang about it. The Bible (particularly Ecclesiastes) waxes eloquently about it. My mother-in-law is in denial about it. (Just don’t ask).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHandling time in a manuscript is an important way to create believability and draw a reader into a story. Here are three ways to use the element of time in your work.

Time and Your Characters—The unfurling of a story is a function of time, one marked by your characters’ behavior. As they go about the business of your story, their personalities deepen, and they should respond to time in appropriate ways. For instance, my protagonist is a middle-aged female. She’s up to her neck in adventure with her twenty-something daughter. By the end of a  day, Mom is ready for a cup of hot decaffeinated tea in her pajamas, whereas Daughter wants to go out for a double espresso. Because of their ages (time!), they react to the passage of time differently. They anticipate (a time function) differently, too. In dangerous situations, Mom remains cool, with a strong sense of the eternal, and decades of life experience to fall back on. Daughter becomes more impatient and slightly manic.

Time and Your Story’s Progress—I’ll admit it; I’m a freak about chapter endings leading into the next. I often use time to do this. I also am a fan of noting time, date, and location at the beginning of each chapter because I think, in our over-programmed and highly scheduled world, directly telling a reader that it’s noon in Amman is easier than expecting him or her to figure it out. The direct approach keeps readers in the story, and in the mindset to understand the chapter’s action.

Time as a Story Element—I love details. Orange leaves and wood smoke are details of time (autumn). Gray light and starlight indicate time (evening and night). There are so many beautiful, interesting, location-specific ways to convey time in your prose that it’s seldom necessary (in my opinion) to cite time within your manuscript. My writing is pretty lean, so I indulge myself in lovely details regarding time, shading my chapters with it. Come to think of it, I shade my characters as well—with wrinkles and gray hair, or smooth skin and tiny hands.

I’m interested in how you indicate time within your work. Care to share?[subscribe2]

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