Time Barriers

A reader asks if I’ll elaborate on the scenic element of time barriers. Simply put, when you write or read a scene, you need to know the approximate “time” it occurs.
Writing Tip for Today: The reader’s total experience (and by that I mean something akin to cinematic) depends on many things, but after the characters are established, knowing when and where a scene takes place becomes paramount. A time barrier can be as simple as “that afternoon,” or as precise as “At exactly 4:07 PM.” Other time barriers include:

  • The period, year or age, such as Regency, 1942 or Bronze.
  • The season, such as “late autumn,” “Just before Christmas” or “That summer.”
  • A relational time barrier such as “the next day,” “By July,” or “after school.”
  • Night vs. day.

Time is very important to the scene and to the story as a whole. Some novels take place in the span of an hour, others are epic in scope and cover generations. To bridge a gap or lull between pivotal scenes, a short narrative is often a better choice than trying to act out through scenes every moment in a character’s life. It may take a writer hours to craft a scene that might give the reader the impression that minutes have passed, and it only took the reader seconds to read.

Try This! I always end up moving the time barrier to the beginning of a sentence/paragraph. So instead of, “She arrived home late in the afternoon,” I think the reader appreciates reading, “Late that afternoon, she arrived home.” This way, readers aren’t left wondering about when they are until the end of the sentence.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

2 comments on “Time Barriers

  1. Ah! So the tv series 24 would be at one end of the spectrum, and Roots at the other. I can see the need to check each scene for time indicators to anchor the reader to their place in the chronology of the story.

    Thanks!

  2. Thanks, Linda! I actually had to look up sunset and sunrise tables when writing my books! Needed to know when it got dark, so I could make sure my characters were walking somewhere while it was still light (or twilight) and then it got dark for their little “stakeout!”

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