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Show, Don’t Tell, How Time Is Passing

“Show, don’t tell.” Novelists know this mandate. But there are many different ways to “show,” and now that we’ve spent the better part of a year exploring how movies “show” scenes, you have a much wider and deeper understanding of ways you can show your story unfolding. In last week’s post, we took a look at the quality of time, and saw how it’s all about the perception of the individual. And so characters in a novel can also have moments in which time seems to slow down or speed up, or take on some odd or surreal quality.

Just How Do You “Show” Time Passing?

An unimaginative novelist may say something like “for Jane, time slowed to a stop as she waited hour after hour to hear news of her son” or “Time seemed to speed up as Ralph kept glancing at the clock, worried he’d never finish that report on time.” Telling a reader what time feels like to a character is ineffective and lacks power. It also doesn’t show what it looks like. How would you show time slowing down? Well, think about what it feels like to you when you are waiting anxiously for something.

We all know the expression “a watched pot never boils.” It actually does, but if we stare at it for a few minutes, we start noticing lots of little things, like the way the bubbles form at first slowly on the bottom of the pot, then grow bigger and start rising faster to the surface. We might notice when the steam starts forming like wisps of ghosts and hovering over the surface of the water. We might hear the clock ticking in the background, the neighbor’s dog howling. The golfers across the street laughing and whacking at golf balls (well, I live on a golf course, so this is what I hear from my kitchen). Continue Reading…

Altering Time and Perception in a Novel

Films have so many fascinating ways to alter time and perception. They can use techniques to make action slow way down or even freeze (or even have only part of the frame frozen in time while other elements are still moving). They can make time appear to be moving at wild speeds. We’ve all seen time-lapse images of flowers opening or the sun arcing across the sky. Such is the milieu of filmmaking. So we’re going to take a look at how filmmakers do this, and then explore ways novelists can accomplish a similar effect in their scenes. Continue Reading…

Shapes to Shape Reaction in a Novel

Shapes are probably the last thing on a novelist’s mind when constructing a scene or an image system for a novel. Most of us probably pay little attention to shapes. Shapes of what? Well, everything has a shape, and even if you don’t think about shapes consciously, there are universal feelings that tend to go along with certain shapes, and throughout time and across cultures, shapes hold meaning and often symbolism. Continue Reading…

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