Thursday, September 6, 2007

Transitioning through Time

by Heather Moore

Recently PEG was asked what is the best way to mark the passage of time while writing a novel.

You don’t want to confuse your reader, so it’s important to make clear time transitions. Some ways to do this:

1. Epigraph—Use a heading at the beginning of the chapter that states the year, date, or time. If you are writing about a specific time period, Annette Lyon points out that if you say “The U.S. Civil War” rather than 1860, it will hold more meaning.

2. In the opening paragraph of a chapter or scene, casually insert what time of day it is or how much time has passed:
a. The following afternoon . . .
b. Jess looked at the darkening sky and reminded herself that the mall closed in less than an hour . . .
c. The days passed quickly as Rhys dreaded the meeting with Jack on Saturday. But Saturday came all too quickly . . .

3. If you are skipping months or years, you can use an epigraph that says, “Two Years Later” or “Six Months Later”. This provides a way for the author to skip through time.

4. In New Moon by Stephenie Meyer, the character Bella mourns the break-up with her boyfriend for several months. The single word “October” is written on a page. The reader turns the next page, and only the word “November” appears, and so on. It’s clear that the character is passing the time, but the author wants to skip to where a change in her life is about to happen.

5. Vary the way you show the passage of time. You don’t want each scene to start with “The next day,” or “Three hours later,” but you can do this periodically. I’m working on a novel where chapter two takes place five days before chapter one. I elected to use an epigraph that simply says: Five Days Earlier