Maintaining your Novel’s Pace-Time Continuum

Hours, days, months or years

While it is possible to write one, I have never personally read a novel in which the events took place in a matter of minutes, but I have read novels in which the action took place over several hours or a couple of days. Franny and Zoey, the novella by J.D. Salinger, is comprised of two events that happen over the course of a few hours. Bright Lights, Big City takes place over the span of about three days. The World According To Garp is a novel that spans the entire life of the main character, T.S. Garp, moving from the events of his birth all the way through his life and his death, followed by a descriptions of the remaining lives of just about every character in the story.

Pick a Pace

The way you teat time in your story should have a fairly consistent approach. For example, if you write one scene in great detail, with each moment discussed at length, then you should consider that approach for most of your scenes. It would be odd to have a scene written to that level of detail followed by scenes that happen much faster and are far less descriptive. There might be reasons why you would make that choice, but for the most part you want the pace of your novel to say fairly steady unless there is a specific result that you want to achieve by changing the pace.

Jump With Care

Moving forward and backwards in time is also a tool that should be used with great care. A flashback can add value and perspective to a story, but it can also jar the person out of the narrative or leave them confused about the sequence of events. Sometimes, for the sake of continuity, it is better for a character to discuss the past events than for there to be an actual shift in time. It a choice that should be made carefully.

Watch Your Place

Be careful when it comes to the sequencing of events. If your story is supposed to take place over the course of a week, for example, be sure that the events could logically happen in that time frame. Also, especially if you write your novel out of sequence, make sure that when the finished product comes together, everything happens when it is supposed to.

4 thoughts on “Maintaining your Novel’s Pace-Time Continuum

  1. A good post. Nothing annoys me more than continual flashbacks. I’m not saying a novel should be absolutely linear, but too many jumps leaves me breathless.

    Well done.

    Anthony James Barnett – authors last blog post..Essential points of dialogue in a novel

  2. In high school I had to study a novel that jumped all over the place. Present, past, letters, and who knows what else. It was interesting because I had never read anything like it before, but I still found it rather confusing and even a little dizzying. However, it was terrible whenever I tried to locate a passage that I needed for the assignment!

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