(iii) TELLING OVER TIME LONG-TERM
I’ve just written a chapter where I needed to cover a whole twelve months. I was dreading it in advance, but ended up enjoying it. I must be getting over my fear of time-passing …
One thing I discovered is that time passes better if you have significant changes to tell. Obvious, really. (Maybe this is a tip that nobody needs but me.) In previous novels, I’ve often needed weeks to go past without needing anything much to happen. Mistake!
In the chapter I’ve just written, I had a war to tell and unusual seasonal weather. But most of all, I had kids growing up, changes in families, new relationships, new group dynamics and new group interests. Twelve months was hardly enough to tell it all!
I guess I had the advantage of a wider village society to draw upon. Big changes involving the protagonist would normally receive dramatic presentation, but big changes involving minor characters and background are suitable for telling.
The beauty of having big changes to tell is that the reader genuinely experiences time going past. (I think, I hope!) When I’ve tried to make time pass with nothing much happening, I’ve always had the nagging suspicion that the reader won’t be convinced. My editor for Worldshaker missed a whole day going past in one part of the novel—I’d mentioned it, but I hadn’t made it real. I did some re-arranging of the story so that there was something important happening on every day.
Another thing I discovered—though not recently—is that little snippets of half-scene can liven up a chapter (or section) of telling over time.
H----- continued with her matchmaking program for E----- and -----, and S----- continued to get twisted up inside over it. But nothing happened.
‘Thinks too much of himself, that one!’ H----- huffed in frustration, after E----- had yet again ignored the opportunities put in his path. ‘Thinks he’s too good for anyone!’
S----- was inclined to agree; there was an air of quiet conceit about E-----, though he never said anything arrogant.
No full scene, just a flicker, in and out—but it varies the monotony of endless paragraphs of telling. Dialogue or a line of speech is perfect for the purpose.