Unorthodox Writing Tips 12: It’s About Time
One of the many things I’ve gotten wrong in my books over the years is the amount of time it takes to perform a task, travel from place to place, hold a conversation, pause for dramatic effect
No, really. I’ve written a page of dialogue before and in my mind hours had gone by. When I’ve gone back and read what I’d written the conversation would have taken all of four or five minutes. Heck, Even when I did the podcast version of V&A Shipping I had to correct some timing issues. I had to figure out how long something took because it just didn’t feel correct after going back and reading it.
I have a stop watch. No, really. I have a stop watch. If my character is going to do something, cook dinner, get dressed, build a bomb, tie a knot, I need to know how long that task will take. Now I’ve never built a bomb, but understand the dilemma here. The time it takes your character or characters to accomplish a task needs to feel right. As I mentioned, that one page of dialogue was a short conversation, but in my mind I needed them to be in a different place after the conversation.What did I do?
The conversation took place while the characters were walking from one place to another. I needed a certain amount of time to pass while they walked and talked. This scene needed some fixing not only with the distance traveled, but with the flow of the conversation. What did I do? I took a walk and timed how long it would take at a casual pace to travel a certain distance. Even the walk, not enough time had passed in my story. I needed to figure out what would slow them down.
Okay, color me dumb here. The walk they took was in a heavily-congested, downtown area. Brilliant me I walked in a straight line. Taking a trip to downtown San Diego provided what I needed. I’ve walked with groups downtown before. There are a large number of things that will stop you as you walk. Window shopping, street vendors, street lights, cars, bikes, other pedestrians. Not only did all of these items add a little flavor to the scene I was trying to fix, it provided the length of time I was looking to introduce in the scene. It also helped to break up the dialogue so it wasn’t a long stream of talking.
This scene would have worked as-is, but but stopping myself and timing the event to make sure it had the right feel helped me flesh out a scene that, once I’d re-written it, worked so much better than the original.
Am I suggesting you get a stop watch and time every little thing you do? Well, not everything, but I do recommend you watch the clock when you’re doing something you would expect a character in your book to do. A minute can be much longer than you suspect and an hour much shorter than you know. Give it try. Maybe you’ll discover something more than just the amount of time something takes.
Until Next Time!