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IV. STORY
 

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5. Pacing

 
(ii) LETTING TIME LAPSE
 

A break between chapters or sections is like a cut between scenes in a film. The presentation stops, then starts up again. It can start up in the next second, or half an hour, a day, a month or a year later. (Sometimes it can go backwards in time, but that’s another issue.) We pick up the new time as we pick up the story again.

If you need time to pass, it’s very easy to let it leak out through the gaps between chapters and sections. Time moves on in the intervals when we weren’t watching.

For a large lapse of time, it helps if you can make a double break with an intervening chapter or section. For example, the story of Alma and Dorey breaks off in June, we spend a chapter following the story of Dirk and Torri, then come back to the story of Alma and Dorey—three months later. When you have multiple narrative strands for cross-cutting between, it’s easy to let time lapse.

The intervening material principle also works within scenes. Take the journey across a landscape. Arina looks up and sees an oddly shaped rock in the distance; then lapses into her own thoughts about the family she’s left behind, the welcome she hopes to receive at the end of her quest, whatever … when she comes back to the outside world, hey presto! she’s so close to the rock she can see that it’s actually a sculpture in the shape of a gigantic eagle.

The thoughts you gave her wouldn’t actually have lasted for the whole time she’d have taken to walk all that distance. Nonetheless, we accept that time slipped by while our attention was elsewhere.

An interlude of dialogue can work in the same way. After Harry has hammered in the first tent peg, Cath could chat to him talking to him about what to cook up for dinner. Meanwhile, he continues to work, undescribed, and we come back to the action only as he finishes hammering in the last peg.

Again, it doesn’t matter whether the dialogue is really long enough to cover the whole period of time needed for the job.

OTHER PACING TOPICS

(i) MAKING TIME PASS

(iii) TELLING OVER TIME IN CHAPTERS

(iv) TELLING OVER TIME WITHIN SCENES

(v) WHERE TO TELL

Other Story Topics

1.Beginnings

2. Middles

3. Climax & After

4. Narrative Momentum

 

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