Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Romantic Times

The Ruins of the Chateau of Pierrefonds,
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot,
1830's, 1867.
Cincinnati Art Museum.

(The first print I ever bought, somewhere around the age of twelve, was a Corot. A cheap thing in a plastic frame from the local five-and-dime.)

I've just figured out a lateral reason why romance is so popular as a genre these days -- no one has time for it in real life.

Slogging along with my present WIP, I noticed something that made me pause and sit down under a tree to catch my breath.

The time frame.

Within the first twenty-four hours, my Lillie is attacked by a simulacra of her dead husband, detects a trap, confers with Dumbarton (the spectral hound), meets the hero, discovers a ritual murder at her husband's grave, realizes she may be under suspicion for murder, runs into a bean sidhe, and is attacked by a revenant.

Within the next twelve she investigates a desecrated grave, encounters a death messenger, exorcizes a pedophile ghost and probes psychokinetic activity.


And the story is just getting started.

No wonder she's developing a tension headache.

There's calculated fast-pacing -- and then there's head-long stampede.

I wonder if readers subconsciously and consistently graph events in a novel along a regular time frame.

If they do -- unless I spread things out and slow things down -- I'm afraid I may leave the reader feeling they've been swotted on the side of the head. Or suffering from decompression for the rest of the novel. Or just saying WTF?

So what time frames are you inclined to use during a narrative's progress?

How telescoped is your action?

You know you're in trouble when: you need to consult a dictionary to find a synonym for "meet."

Superior Words:
To peel or strip. A word I hope never to see in an erotic romance.


Angie said...

I try to find a balance between keeping things moving and having them go ridiculously and unrealistically fast. Too many repetitions of, "And the next day..." or "The following week..." or "Shortly after the first snowfall..." and readers can start snoozing, even if the actual action-per-page is zipping along pretty well. I don't mind action-packed days so long as there actually is time for everything to reasonably happen. Keeping things jumping the way you described can heighten tension and keep the reader hooked.

But I tend to notice how much time is passing, or should be passing, and what can really bug me about authorial time management is when there's not enough going on to fill the time described.

The classic example is the meal scene. Two people head out to a restaurant, get seated and give their order (drinks, appetizers, salads, entrees) in about ten seconds, then start talking. They have what might be about forty seconds of conversation, if you actually recited it with a stopwatch going, or maybe a minute and a half if the writer has a lot to say. Then suddenly they're finishing their dessert and coffee and getting up to leave. Umm, what? [blinkblink]

I've seen this over and over (and over and over) and it's really annoying. In a situation like that, I'd be fine with the writer showing me what they're talking about as they sit down, then giving me a narrative line or two of them having their meal, and then picking up the dialogue again over dessert to show me the next important bit of the conversation. Or if they'd put all the important conversation at the beginning, then fade to a scene break (while waiting for their food or whatever) and pick up again later when the story actually starts up once more.

But when a writer is in realtime, whether it's dialogue or close narrative, there needs to be enough (of either dialogue or narrative or both) to reasonably fill the time the framing activity would take. Whether it's eating a meal or checking in at the airport or driving between San Jose and San Francisco, it's going to take more than a page or two of conversation.

I don't care whether a writer fills the time or does a time jump, but if they're going to fill the time then they should fill it. If not, I get this sense of timewarp and it throws me out of the story by making me too aware of the mechanics of pacing and how they're not working right at that bit.


StarvingWriteNow said...


"She smiled seductively and decorticated her skin-tight jeans down her legs."

Gosh, how romantic. :)

I find myself wanting a bit more "real time" in romance as I get older. I have trouble suspending my disbelief when the entire love story happens in, say, a week or weekend. Lots of people think, "How wonderful, swept away by love!" I think, "Divorce court, here they come!"

Jaye Wells said...

Lillie sounds like she's in need of a spa day. Of course, given her recent luck, her masseuse will be the devil.

Robyn said...

Hee, Angie. I never fail to be bothered by the character who makes tea. Tea which requires boiling water. Water has a unique ability to boil during exactly four sentences of dialogue, apparently.

I'm very fussy about time; which is why I get irritated with charaters who fall in HEA love after one danger-ridden week of mystery-solving.

Shesawriter said...

I'm constantly aware of the timelines in my books as well as the ones I read--to the point of obsession.

At the end of a 350 page tome, if the hero and heroine fall head-over-heels in love, want to punch out their 2.5 rug rat quota together, buy the house, the white picket fence and the Volvo ... OVER A TWENTY-FOUR TO FORTY-EIGHT HOUR PERIOD, my suspension of disbelief screams foul.

Sure, a while may have passed FOR ME since I read the first page, but not for them. Two days? Come on. I don't care how much emotional angst and conflict they went through together. It just doesn't seem realistic, but that's just me.

I'm not being a killjoy and I don't lack imagination, nor do I sneer at HEAs. I just don't buy 48hour soul mates. Then again, I DO have issues with love at first sight. Maybe that's the problem. I'm sure others feel quite differently though.

Bernita said...

Too true, Angie.
There are times when an adverb or adverbial phrase or just *** are essential.

I think writers should always keep a real clock ticking as they type.

They'd better not stint on motivation with that time frame, Starving.

Hee, Jaye! Quite true.
The plot I've set up makes that quite likely.
Unfortunately Johnnie doesn't appear to be the type to offer an aromatic oils session himself.

Bernita said...

~checking MS~
It's instant coffee. There's no dialogue and he's been rooting around upstairs and touring the house long enough for the damn kettle to boil.

You are so right, Robyn.
I can see them falling into infatuation and into bed though.

Tanya, I obsess over the passage of time too, to the point of calculating mileage and speed if I'm moving a character from one place to another.

Charles Gramlich said...

As a reader, I tend to like a lot of action right at the start, then the pace slows slightly so I can catch a breath. However, the action at the beginning has to be less, it seems to me, than at the end if you're going to have a satisfactory climax.

moonrat said...

oh no. i'm in trouble.

Bernita said...

Not sure it has to be less, Charles, just different, maybe?

For what, Moonmouse?

Dave F. said...

Guilty, guilty, guilty.
I tend to compress time frames or write episodic chunks of disconnected story.

I've read novellas where a short and fast time frame works but not full length novels.

Bernita said...

Aw, Dave.
My instinct is that time passage must be made clear in some fashion no matter the length of a piece.
I wonder if readers may prefer a short time frame, like a week.
Of course, the natural time space alloted to a story may vary according to genre, story or style.
A busy plot is a different difficulty.

raine said...

LOL @ Jaye. :)

I was just fretting about this last week. Seems the heroine of one of the current wips only sleeps for two nights out of an entire week. But she's not too tired to play. Go figure.

Part of the problem is worrying about whether readers will get too bored during lulls--and trying to fit a story into a plastic frame from the local five-and-dime. ;-)Balance, balance, balance...

decorticate.To peel or strip. A word I hope never to see in an erotic romance.

You know you're tempting me, right?

Bernita said...

Hee, Raine. My problem is keeping my heroine reasonably awake, after all the stress on her adrenalin gland!
It could work with a third person, pompous, professorial-type, I suppose...
Or someone with a previous predeliction for odd words...
But I know what you mean.
All I have to do is read a rant about "it's/its" and the next thing I write has a misplaced aspostrophe in it - even though I know and have always known better .

Julie said...

As a reader and absolute beginner writer, I suspect that the vast majority of readers accept implicit conventions regarding time if the tale is rolling along - and seldom even notice discrepancies that stand out to a professional writer who is trained to look for detailed glyches.

Also wonder if the impact of slow time in seminal films such as the Matrix has given the writer much more leeway in this area to bend time sequences.

As a painter, particularly appreciate the way you are including visual material to enhance the blog.

SzélsőFa said...

When the idea of Copper Moon first popped into my head, I was thinking of writing about almost every day of the protagonist's life. a chapter about each of her years. Seriously, I was living in stupid illusions.

Fortunately, i still have a lot to

Bernita said...

That's an interesting point, Julie. Thank you.
If nothing else, the pictures are a reminder that we paint with words.

There's nothing basically wrong with that as an organizational method, Szelsofa.
(I so like your title)
We all have a lot to learn. It never stops!

cyn said...

my main story takes place within the span of ten days. maybe twelve. you do what works for your story. the important thing is to throw in some "down time" in between the action/scary/hairy scenes. (this is what i'm poor at, down time.)

hey, you're writing an exciting unusal tale. heroine's don't get to go to starbucks and pick their fingernails if they have zombies and shit to kill. interweave it with some moment of "peace" where she can catch her breath (and the reader, too). maybe she can make out with the hero? =D


Bernita said...

Thank you, Cyn.
This is shaping to be about the same time frame.
She definitely will make out with the hero - though that sort of down-time is not "down-time" - I just don't know when!

Gabriele C. said...

My novels all take place over several years, so the only way to deal with time is to have spotlight sequences and leave lots of time where not that much happens in the dark.

My chapter headers set the time - much like Sharon Kay Penman does.

As for the time in thos sequences I think I've found a balance between action and calmer scenes. There were moments of rest even in the Varus battle that lasted three days - the Romans were able to build a proper camp with entrenchments and all the first night. Time for talk then.

Church Lady said...

This is an interesting and complex topic (imho!)

I'm pretty sensitive to time coverage in writing. I think there is a way (and bestselling thriller writers are great at this) at presenting and escalating tension/conflict and allowing the character enough breathing room to react.

The Jack Reacher novels that I've read are too fast-paced. I don't get to see enough of Reacher's character/persona. It's not for me. But apparently, a lot of people like this style.

Bernita, I'd love to see a breakdown of this topic and more in-depth discussions!!

Chumplet said...

I lived in a suburb of Montreal called Pierrefonds. Cool.

I don't know whether I do it on purpose, but my first two novels have bursts of action alternating with breathing spaces.

The one I'm working on now is only twelve hours into the action and she's been shot at, shoved in a truck, rolled down a mountain, hiked for hours and found refuge in a small hotel (accompanied by the hero, of course). There are two spots where they have a decent conversation: in the truck and at the hotel room.

The night should pass quickly (and uneventfully), then the action heats up again in the morning.

I don't want it to develop into a "Dan Brown-style Mach 4 with your hair on fire for thirty-six hours". When the hell did the guy eat or take a pee, for goodness sake?

writtenwyrdd said...

So now I am figuring out how I can use decorticate in a striptese or other erotic scene...

Pacing is situational and therefore tricky. The artistry is in deciding how much and where. Perhaps it might help to liken it either to cooking (2 cups of this, a tbsp of that) or interior design (couch under the window, rug to anchor the seating arrangement)...

It's a good thing you realised you compressed too much into too small a time period, but you can make it work, I am sure. Perhaps you might have to trim out something you can use elsewhere, later, though. That's hard!

As I tend to go too slowly in the pace department because of a severe case of overfondness for worldbuilding and colorful details, I haven't yet found that I've overbooked the characters. Oh to trade portions of our habits and make ourselves perfect! ;)

Bernita said...

I think readers accept the logic and sense of that, Gabriele.

Hmm, the Reacher novels I've read didn't give me any sense of a corrupted time frame, Chris.
How would you break down the topic?

It sounds as if you're working on the same principle as I am, Sandra.
The action/reaction of characters determines some of the timing.

Bernita said...

"Pacing is situational"
Ah, thank you, Written. That better describes the concept I was looking for.
Once an event happens, certain other events will follow naturally within a certain time frame.
I'm nor sure yet if I have compressed too much or not - though the list certainly gives me pause.
Perhaps I merely need to expand my account of the individual events.

Vesper said...

Time is important to me and I'm very aware of it when I read a story or watch a film. Certainly, I can tolerate some artistic licence but, if it goes too blatantly beyond physical or emotional limits, then that particular work loses its credibility for me. There are means of showing the normal passage of time without making the read boring.

Julie said...

- Spouse made an aside while we were discussing this post last night.

From dim and distant memory, Othello contains a time compression scene near the beginning where a character runs an errand at the start of a soliloquoy and returns at the end - (impossible timing); however the content of the intervening speech - concerned with world travel - puts the focus on the wide horizon rather than local activity.

Though this is not directly concerned with the novelist's craft, deduce its not so much the contraction that's significant as where the focus is during it? Form of sleight of hand?

Bernita said...

"Certainly, I can tolerate some artistic licence but, if it goes too blatantly beyond physical or emotional limits, then that particular work loses its credibility for me."

And that pretty well sums up the crux of the matter.
Thank you, Vesper.
My concern is mainly credible "emotional limits," since I usually pay strict attention to reasonable physical time.
"Emotional limits" is a very good term to describe the integral that must also be considered in time-line.

An excellent example of artistic licence, Julie, and an interesting observation about techniques of compression. Please thank you husband for me.