RedPen Editing
Passing the time

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It’s rare to witness anyone doing just one thing; we all multi-task.
  • While sitting on a bus travelling to work, we take in the view – the other passengers, the traffic – and think about what we see and what’s on the agenda for today.
  • While talking, we move not only our mouth but maybe our arms and hands, or we might be pacing up and down.

Yet, writers can only describe one action / feeling / thought / decision at a time, from one person’s point of view, as time passes.

The aim then is to show a chain reaction: one thing triggering the next, and the next, and then the next.

It’s the writer’s job to sequence these events so that the reader passes the time, in concert with the characters as your story unfolds.

Sometimes, I call this task ‘Cart Before the Horse’ – something to be avoided if you plan to move forward!

Here are just three tips.

TIP #1 Adopt a need-to-know basis

Don’t mention anything before the reader needs to know, or before it’s physically possible to deduce the fact.

For example, don’t disclose the fact that it’s raining before your POV (point of view) character has a chance to look out of the window and see for him/herself.

TIP #2 Follow the eyes of your POV character

Be aware of the moment-by-moment experiences of your characters, and present them in the same order as they would actually happen.

If, for example, your POV character opened the door to a visitor, what does he/she notice first, second, third? Aim to describe the view in the same order such things would register with your POV character.

TIP #3 Choreograph the actions, dialogue and internal thoughts

Think of the sequence of events within any one scene as a dance. There’s a mix of exposition describing actions within a setting, dialogue from your various characters and internal thoughts of the POV character.

Ensure they happen in an order which allows the reader to witness the dance, step by step, turn by turn.