How do you know when Summer has changed into Fall? How can you tell? There are a few signs: the leaves begin to change color, the temperature becomes cooler, and pumpkin spice lattes return to Starbucks. Now, someone could just tell you today is the Autumn Equinox, but where’s the fun in that?
Time is something we don’t really think about. You wake up in the morning, maybe because of an alarm clock, or because of your own internal clock. In the afternoon you have lunch, in the evening, dinner. You go to church on Sunday. You watch Thursday Night Football on…well…Thursday. Time almost becomes a ritual that fades into the background. We’re aware of it’s existence, but we don’t really pay close enough attention to it. The same can be said for the use of time in literature. You may read a story without focusing on certain elements of time, unless they are clearly stated. With a statement like “The year was 1965”, you know the year is 1965. What if the time wasn’t so obvious? How would you know when a story was taking place? That’s when minor details come into play. Maybe the characters are wearing bell-bottoms, and using phrases such as groovy and far out.
In her book, The Art of Time in Fiction, author Joan Silber explores the use of time in storytelling. She gives us six different forms of time in fiction: classic time, long time, switchback time, slowed time, fabulous time, and time as a subject. My personal favorite is classic time, and she uses F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby as an example. The story takes place over the course of a single summer, and the events are forced to play out and come to an end, because summer itself has a beginning and an ending. The season itself is depicted through the changing weather: from hot to warm, and cooler. My second favorite is slowed time, which can be found in detective stories and spy novels. An event has already happened; it could be a robbery or a murder. It’s up to the protagonist of the story to dig around and discover what has happened. Time as a subject uses emotions to keep the story moving. The writer uses feelings such as regret, anger, impatience or a longing for the past.
Time doesn’t always need to flow properly. In fabulous time, science fiction and fantasy stories can distort time. Reality can be bent to the writer’s will. Characters can live to be 800 years old, or simply never grow up and remain children forever.
If you’re looking for a new challenge, try depicting the passage of time in your next story with weather changes, seasonal changes, and character descriptions.