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.

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.


  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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