RedPen Editing
Time of day

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One of the challenges for every writer is to convey a sense of time to the reader.

The passing of time is a perception; it can appear to go fast or slow. Achieving that in your writing is an art!

Here though, I want to focus on the actual time: the time of day, the time of year, the era even. Knowing when things happen provides a context within which your story sits, and absorbing this information should enrich the reader’s experience.

Aiming to show rather than tell, a short cut like  ‘It was the nineteenth of September in the year 1901.’ is not recommended. Instead, refer to what your character witnesses: something that illustrates it’s mid September in the early 1900s.

Time of day

Avoid being too specific – unless the precise time is essential to the plot. Instead, give a sense of the time of day, using what the character sees.

  • The time of day is most easily described by the position of the sun.
  • A reference to a constellation can ‘show’ the reader it is now night time.

Use what the character hears: the dawn chorus, a clock alarm, the hooting of an owl.

Time of day might also be indicated by scheduled events: meals, or going to or returning from work.

Time of year

Depending on the location for your story, seasonal changes are usually well understood. My Safari Supper novel is set in a small seaside town, not unlike Salcombe in south Devon, so I can benefit from what I know of local conditions.

  • In winter, it’s cold and there may be frosts. Snow is unlikely.
  • In the spring, the hedgerows that line the sunken lanes are bursting with spring flowers: primroses and daffodils.
  • In the summer, it can be hot, but it’s also most likely to rain!
  • In the autumn, the colour of leaves change.

If your story is set in Australia, for example, there will be different seaonal changes.

Things that are constant are not so helpful in giving a feel for a time of year. In Salcombe that would be the wind, and the sound of sea gulls.

Festivals clearly indicate a time of year – without the writer having to spell it out.

  • In the UK calendar, for example, there’s Valentine’s Day, Pancake Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Bank holidays, Bonfire Night, Christmas and so on.
  • If your story is set elsewhere, research will quickly tell you what dates are important in the calendar year.

If a writer mentions a world event – a war, the death of a famous person, a natural disaster – the majority of readers will be able to recall the circumstances and understand the historical context of the story.

Artefacts can also indicate era. Basic domestic arrangements – like the provision of electric lighting, or siting of WCs indoors – can give a sense of an era. Be sure to research carefully!