Narrative time

The writing process, writing advice, and updates on your work in progress
Post Reply
stephmcgee
Posts: 210
Joined: August 16th, 2010, 12:44 pm
Contact:

Narrative time

Post by stephmcgee » January 7th, 2011, 3:59 pm

What's y'all's opinions on length of time a book covers?

I'm struggling with this issue right now as I launch into revisions of my urban/contemp. fantasy. The book currently covers a time frame of just over 4 years. The majority of the book takes place nearly at the end of that span. The book starts out with my MC finding out he got into NASA. I show a few instances from his training years (which is 2 years). This is where both love interests for the sub-plot are introduced. One of these women has a secret that leads to the status quo changing moment. I fear without adequate introduction of this character, the moment my MC's world is spun on its head won't have nearly the impact that it currently might.

But then I'm concerned that I do spend time showing a smattering of events from those first 35 months before the actual status quo changing moment happens.

Then it's 9 months before anything else happens. Maybe it would work better if I shortened that 9 month span to something that might make more sense? (I don't show that period. I skip ahead.)

I've had the opposite problem with another project. Too little narrative content and too little narrative time. It worked great for the story as a short story, but not so much when I tried to adapt it out for a full-length novel.

What's the balance? When do you know that you're not trying to cover too much time or too little time?

Sommer Leigh
Moderator
Posts: 1624
Joined: April 2nd, 2010, 11:07 pm
Location: Omaha, NE
Contact:

Re: Narrative time

Post by Sommer Leigh » January 7th, 2011, 4:17 pm

I don't think there are any hard and fast rules and if there are I don't know them. I think some books deal with time passage better than others. Sometimes I wonder if a book that has big jumps wouldn't have been better if it would have been started at a different point and the events that happened earlier would have worked better weaved into the narrative.

One trick I like is when a book is cut into Parts and the jump in time happens between parts. The risk of course is that if you're not carefully it will feel like you're restarting the book with each jump. I don't think you want that, I think it needs to flow.

Another risk in time jump, especially a big time jump, is that there is a distinct feeling that the reader is being cheated by not getting some content. Because surely something happened to the character in those 9 months. People change over long periods of time, and it can be jarring for a reader to come in when a character has changed from off screen action, or not changed at all despite the passage of time.
May the word counts be ever in your favor. http://www.sommerleigh.com
Be nice, or I get out the Tesla cannon.

stephmcgee
Posts: 210
Joined: August 16th, 2010, 12:44 pm
Contact:

Re: Narrative time

Post by stephmcgee » January 7th, 2011, 4:25 pm

I probably don't show enough. I counted. And out of those 4 years, 1 week, 2 1/2 days, I show 43 of them. It's a challenge. One which I don't know how to overcome.

I like the idea of parts, but I do agree that it can be jarring. I will confess I'd never thought about character change in the long spans that aren't shown.

Margo
Posts: 1712
Joined: April 5th, 2010, 11:21 am
Contact:

Re: Narrative time

Post by Margo » January 7th, 2011, 4:25 pm

Basically, what Sommer said. It's largely a matter of execution. I've been trying to find the time to finish Seanan McGuire's ROSEMARY AND RUE, which
Spoiler:
jumps 14 years from the first to second chapter.
I did kind of feel like she could have put that in later, as backstory, and kind of wish she had, but I gave her the benefit for the doubt because of friend recommendations and because I so freaking love her short stories.
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

User avatar
Cookie
Posts: 540
Joined: September 20th, 2010, 11:18 am
Location: Berkshires
Contact:

Re: Narrative time

Post by Cookie » January 7th, 2011, 4:34 pm

Oh dear.
My story spans thirty years. It is a fantasy about a war that lasts for that long. So, it book starts a few days before the war, and ends a few weeks after it is over.

Guardian
Posts: 563
Joined: September 29th, 2010, 4:36 pm
Location: Somewhere between two realms
Contact:

Re: Narrative time

Post by Guardian » January 7th, 2011, 5:13 pm

What's the balance? When do you know that you're not trying to cover too much time or too little time?
There are no rules for this. As the others said, it's a matter of execution.

Thousands of years can be presented in few pages and sometimes a day must be presented in around hundred pages. You must feel which is serving the best interests of your novel. In storytelling, time is truly relative. :)

User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

Re: Narrative time

Post by polymath » January 7th, 2011, 5:15 pm

I wrote a thousand-word short-story exercise that spans a hundred years. I managed time transitions in a traditional way, open narrative distance, narrator commentary transition setup, jump transition, narrator commentary, close narrative distance. And a nontraditional way, abrupt jump transitions set up by prepositioning and projecting future events. And combinations of both ways. The narrator only reported those events that most stood out in the viewpoint character's mind related to the main dramatic complication.

I imagine spans of thousands of years might pretty much follow similar methods. A thought exercise that might prove helpful is imagining a narrative about the life of a sequoia from seed to felling. What events in a long sameness procession of days, years, centuries would most matter to the tree? Using the five W question method of developing the concept, who, what, where, when, why, and maybe how is the tree's life complicated? The same five W question method then might be used to connect the events. Who connects a seedling complication to a sapling complication, or what, where, when, why, or how? To a pole tree? To a mature tree? To an old, lichen-bearded tree scratching cloud bellies?

A writer may rely on some reader capacity to bridge gaps.
Spread the love of written word.

Guardian
Posts: 563
Joined: September 29th, 2010, 4:36 pm
Location: Somewhere between two realms
Contact:

Re: Narrative time

Post by Guardian » January 7th, 2011, 5:36 pm

I imagine spans of thousands of years might pretty much follow similar methods.
Yep. There is no true difference between the presentation of one week, one year, hundred years or thousands. Here is an example...
Example #1: "Timeframe" description, then... it was the moment when her species redeemed mankind thousands of years ago.
But if I change the "thousands" to "hundred"... or better, to "weeks", you, as the reader is already going to imagine this little part on a quite different way (Regardless what the backstory description is.). Let's try it...
Example #2: "Timeframe" description, then... it was the moment when her species redeemed mankind weeks ago.
And when you're reading this, you already imagine this part on a different way, because I changed only one, single detail. It's an illusion, where you're playing with the perception and the imagination of the readers.

Louise Curtis
Posts: 88
Joined: September 24th, 2010, 7:48 pm
Location: Canberra, Australia
Contact:

Re: Narrative time

Post by Louise Curtis » January 7th, 2011, 5:45 pm

Most YA or kids' books have a very short time span - like a year or less (think of Harry Potter). This is mostly because there's a huge difference between a 5 and a 7 year old, or a 13 and a 15 year old - so which age are you writing for? (The rule of thumb is a couple of years older than your target audience - eg ten-year olds read about 12-year olds and 16-year olds read about 18-year olds - but don't write about major adult events such as marriage, children - unless it's a teen pregnancy book - or buying a house.)

On the other hand, sometimes four years' worth of emotional change is similar to one year - eg falling in love, falling out of love, finishing school/training. So I think you'll be okay. All of these can happen to a fourteen or an eighteen year old. Your time span is not a fatal flaw - and skipping several months or years is just necessary, so don't worry about it. Focus on the events that matter, because that's your story.

With adults (or, I think, semi-experimental short stories), any time span is fine. Covering a whole lifetime or a whole war tends to be an epic-ish thing (which can be very powerful).

Short stories are often extremely short - hours or days - and that usually works best, because it adds to the immediacy of the form.
Louise Curtis
Twitter Tales @Louise_Curtis_
Writing Tips, Steampunk, Baby Talk, and Daily Awesomeness http://twittertales.wordpress.com

stephmcgee
Posts: 210
Joined: August 16th, 2010, 12:44 pm
Contact:

Re: Narrative time

Post by stephmcgee » January 7th, 2011, 8:10 pm

I should say this isn't YA. There are definite relationship issues, but they're more related to adult relationships. I figure an older audience could handle the larger time span. But I'm still worried about it.

Thanks for all the input everyone.

User avatar
cheekychook
Posts: 685
Joined: May 26th, 2010, 8:35 pm
Contact:

Re: Narrative time

Post by cheekychook » January 7th, 2011, 9:01 pm

Sommer Leigh wrote:I don't think there are any hard and fast rules and if there are I don't know them. I think some books deal with time passage better than others. Sometimes I wonder if a book that has big jumps wouldn't have been better if it would have been started at a different point and the events that happened earlier would have worked better weaved into the narrative.

One trick I like is when a book is cut into Parts and the jump in time happens between parts. The risk of course is that if you're not carefully it will feel like you're restarting the book with each jump. I don't think you want that, I think it needs to flow.

Another risk in time jump, especially a big time jump, is that there is a distinct feeling that the reader is being cheated by not getting some content. Because surely something happened to the character in those 9 months. People change over long periods of time, and it can be jarring for a reader to come in when a character has changed from off screen action, or not changed at all despite the passage of time.
It's true that readers can feel cheated or wonder what happened, so you have to make sure your transition allows for that and helps ease them in---keep the timing clear and straightforward. Movies do this all the time. A few moments with a subtitle that says 2 years later.... If you're doing major jumps in several sections of your book you could always consider breaking the book into sections. Start the jumped-ahead time as Part II---two years later (or whatever). I think the main thing to keeping readers comfortable is making sure they know when and where they are. If you can do that, they'll be fine.
Image
http://www.karenstivali.com

Passionate Plume 1st Place Winner 2012 - ALWAYS YOU
Published with Ellora's Cave, Turquoise Morning Press & Samhain Publishing

trixie
Posts: 311
Joined: January 4th, 2011, 12:35 pm
Contact:

Re: Narrative time

Post by trixie » January 27th, 2011, 1:41 pm

Steph, as a science nerd (especially all things NASA), I think your story sounds very interesting. I also think the time question would make sense. You have to make sure your characters are "trained," but understandably, you don't want to spend so much time on those two years because that's not really when the story happens. (If I misinterpreted this, my apologies.) Reading that this is more of an adult book, I don't see this being a problem.

Someone brought up the HP books, which leads to something I'm trying to work around right now.

I have a mental block that tells if a MG or YA novel involves the MC starting at a new school, then the events must happen over the course of an academic year. The Percy Jackson series was able to work around this by having summer camps, which is another option.

What are your thoughts? Do books in the MG/YA genre that involve a school need to work on a Sept to May calendar system? The book I'm working on is set in this day and age with elements of fantasy/imagination.

stephmcgee
Posts: 210
Joined: August 16th, 2010, 12:44 pm
Contact:

Re: Narrative time

Post by stephmcgee » January 30th, 2011, 12:59 pm

I would suggest you use whatever narrative time best fits the story. I read Mandy Hubbard's You Wish a couple weeks back and everything in that book takes place over a two week period, yet it's YA and much of it takes place at school. The Percy Jackson books do take place at summer camp, yes, but I don't view it as a way of getting around the traditional school year time frame. Go with your gut. If the narrative scope of your story requires those months and months (a la HP) then go for it. But if your gut says a shorter time frame would better serve your story, then that's what you should do. The villains in the HP books, especially early on, took it slow. Yes, they were continually working toward their goals, but they realized when the need to lay low had come up. Which then leads to the span of 1 school year for each book. The fourth book was the turning point. The events of the book were necessarily drawn out. But then after that book, the time frame became Harry's enemy. The fact that he had to go to school, had to attend classes, and couldn't be out in the world fighting against Voldemort became a major source of tension. Leading to Harry leaving school in book 7 to do what he'd wanted to do since he learned about his parents' true death.

User avatar
sierramcconnell
Posts: 670
Joined: August 23rd, 2010, 10:28 pm
Location: BG, KY
Contact:

Re: Narrative time

Post by sierramcconnell » January 30th, 2011, 9:44 pm

I haven't really thought about the time frame...I start at the end of collecting the items Carmine's searching for and start with a war...and I don't really mention any time I don't think...there's seasons though...I think the only time I mention is when the battle at the end is about to happen...Carmine says he's exactly 12 and one half.

So it's sorta skipped over so people can lose themselves into the book. XD

That and I didn't want to be locked into a time frame because I suck at keeping time tables in books, but over all time frames I has it!
I'm on Tumblr!

The blog died...but so did I...and now I'm alive again! OMG.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Majestic-12 [Bot] and 1 guest