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Author Topic: Counting the Moments (The Storytellers Basic Guide to Time) Draft/feedback need  (Read 703 times)

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Offline Reverus Reever Dark

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Hi all

I thought I would put something back to the community by writing up my first ever forum guide to help new people to writing understand the concepts of time within a narrative.

It's not perfect by any means after all I'm not an English Lit major :biggrin: so there will be errors etc, but I just want to impart on to others what I know about writing stories and how they are affected by time. What prompted this was my own research on the subject recently and I thought it would be useful to share with everyone else.

I hope its of some use, please pick out what you want at will, and let me know what you lot think!  :blush:


First up -

Whether it is in a Film, Anime, Book or Manga, script or novel, no matter what it is, if it’s a story, you need to grasp some of the basic concepts of the sort of "time" your writing to.

What is time?

=================

Now I'm not going to bore you to death with a physics lecture, but if you are interested, there are plenty of materials out there!

For the most part all we know about time is that it passes by us; we can't see it, smell it, or touch it. However, we can see its effects on the world, and the rate in which it has this effect also changes.

It might surprise you to know that time does not in fact have a constant rate... although we have clocks that measure the passing of time, it does not mean that for you the rate in which time passes is the same. Time, no matter how we look at it, is just a concept of our own minds, even scientists have said that time is about as linear ( i'll get to what that means in a moment) as a New York pretzel.


Regardless of how unbelievable this may seem, we still can't escape this one truth - "Time flies when we're having fun"


You can't deny it, when we have fun, or when our minds are occupied with stimulus that we don't find boring, time seems to race past us before we even know it. The opposite is also true, when we are bored or waiting for something is feels like time is at a crawl, like when you're watching and wait for the kettle to boil.

What this all means is that Time is firstly a very personal factor, depending on the perspective of the person observing it, therefore no one person's sense of time will ever be the same, no matter how much you try to figure it out.

Secondly time is flexible, very flexible, and although to most people it seems to be going in only one direction, it does not, in fact, have to be that way at all. Time can be fractured, bent and changed in any direction you wish, it’s just that for now we don't have that ability yet... but just remember, Time and reality are linked, one will affect the other, so if your sense of reality is a bit twisted, so will be your sense of Time.


What has this got to do with storytelling?

=================

Part of what makes a story is to understand the flow of Time within a narrative. There are two things you need to consider -

1) To whom is Time subject to? In other words, how is the flow of time affected? Who is observing it? Is it the reader directly? Or is it seen through the eyes of a particular character in which it is then relayed to the reader?

2) Is your story Linear, or Nonlinear? What this means is whether your story is told as events happen in a straight line or are they told in a fracture manner with flashbacks or different time frames.


~~~


To understand the perspective of time and then the structure of what it will take in your story is rather important, as it affects the way you tell it. The first of the two covers how time is carried out throughout the story. It’s a sense of perspective, like the filter places on a camera lens as it films the world around it only this filter is a filter of Time.

They ways in which you write this depends of the way you write the story, whether it is in first person, second or third person perspective.


~~~


In First person perspective Time is through the eyes of the main character who is telling the story or when you are seeing the events that are unfolding through their eyes... How Time is relayed through first person can also be used to add depth to that person’s character. It is also important to keep in mind that in this prospective time can be rather Nonlinear, so for example the character falls asleep or for whatever reason is no longer able to be aware or his/hers surroundings like when then they have been knocked out. Examples of this can be found in stories such as the ones in Call of Duty, which uses this form of Non-Linear storytelling quite often, the most notable to my mind being black ops, in which the main character is forced to recount actions of the past.

In Second person perspective where the story is being narrated by the story writer, a fictional character or even the main character, time is again subject to the prospective of a person outside the reader, but is more flexible as to whether Time could be written in a Linear or Nonlinear format. It is also suggested that the actions or events taking place are more likely to be in the past tense rather than the present. Like in the 90s film Interview with a Vampire starring Brad Pitt for example, the main character of the story is narrating in an interview as to what happened in his life for most of the film.

In Third person perspective, it is down purely to the writer to relay to the reader their sense of time, or if the writer is creative enough, make it so that it is down to the reader alone to “judge” in their own mind as to the passing of time. As the prospecting is set to a “fly on the wall” type of writing it is as though you could be watching the events on a video with your mind’s eye. This type or prospective can have any time format, be it Linear or Nonlinear.


~~~


Once you understand your point of perspective you then need to understand the way Time will pan out in the story. For this section, I will cover only single character timelines.

No matter the prospective both Linear or Nonlinear can be applied to your story, just be prepared for some difficulties later on if this get to complicated... however that's where the fun is right? Working out a genius way of writing what you want to get across to the reader that makes sense and is I an inventive new way!


Nevertheless, if you're not feeling all that adventurous then sticking to a basic framework as to the ideas behind Time for now and it will give you the cleanest results.

One of the things that can mess up a story is an unclear sense of time no matter weather is it Linear or not. Having a clear idea of roughly how much time it takes up to get from beginning to end of your story will help you a great deal.


Act 1) Linear rules.

This being what it is, is the strictest form of the two. It says it all really. You have to follow the story in a direct sequence of events one after the other, there are no flashbacks, no reverting back on missed details in an alternate timeline... none of it, if you want to write a linear story, you have to stay on track and not falter one moment. This as far as written narrative is also the oldest form of storytelling as relaying information in a Non-linear form has, in the past been considered difficult, if not for the writer then at least for the reader.


Act 2) Nonlinear erm... rules..?

Truth be told, there are no real rules for Nonlinear, as long as the story makes sense then mostly anything can work. However, I can give you a rough guide as to some of the tricks used to write in Nonlinear.

Some of the favourite’s are-

Flashbacks, where a character recounts or remembers/imagines’ the events of a past; we need only look at the likes of CSI for example of this as they use flashbacks to reconstruct for the viewer the possible actions to committing a crime.

Alternate Time Frames are used sometimes as an introduction to a book or film then pushed forward to current events. Parts of that particular timeline are used to help with the story set in the main current timeline.

Dreams are used sometimes as premonitions, recounting lost memories, or just telling a part of the story. There are even dream manipulations when an outside source manipulates the dreamer to having a particular dream... my favourite example of this oddly is Mysterious Girlfriend X, where the intake of the saliva can trigger a physical response, even to the point of hallucinatory dreaming. As one's sense of Time in a dream is non-existent and can change at any time, it can't be put in a Linear format, since the pace of Time in a Linear story remains the same.

Time warping... yes it happens, we have all seen it. Whether in a science fiction or fantasy, where a character is sent to different times, or can manipulate time to their choosing. This does not have to be the main character ether, events can be manipulated by someone else and it is up to the main character to correct them. The speed and direction of time is another form of warping that can be used.


Multiple characters, multiple timelines?

=================

No Problem! Just try to keep everything together in your mind, if things are going to get complicated and you want a nifty way of explaining it to the reader that is simple to understand then plan it all out.

Say for example you have 3 characters that all meet up in the middle of the story, but you want to tell the individual stories of each character at the start before they meet, leading up to it. Now there are two ways that I know if that this could be done (you can invent your own if you wish! Just make sure that it’s easy to understand).

The first is to have one large section dedicated to each character that leads up to their meeting, once character gets to the meeting point of the books you go to the start again only to tell the story of another character that then leads up to the meeting point, and so on. This can also be done in a form of recounting of past events as each character tells there tell to each other as to what led them to that point.

The second and the most complicated of the two is to fracture the major events of each of the characters and have them arranged in order of what happens next, in an almost linear fashion, only the events are meant to happen in some cases at exactly the time frame.

There are some situations where two or more characters follow different timelines and never get to interact directly with each other but their actions have an effect on both timelines. Say like a lead up to a boss fight, one character dies, but their actions affected the character after and assisted in defeating the boss, even though that character is completely unaware of its predecessor and their actions that have assisted them. This can also be done in the reverse, as a detriment to the second character.

These are just some of the types of timelines that can be used in a Nonlinear story. There are many more, and there are always new ones being invented all the time. Feel free to experiment!


Fate?

=================

In stories where the plot or events are foretold, or fated it is important to stick to it, unless it is meant to be false to mislead the character.

When looking at Fate in the context of Time, you need to think clearly as to when and how the events are meant to unfold. This is particularly important when everything else has been predicted in the story.


How dose Time Affect Character development?

=================

This will just be a small section as there is another far better guide regarding and dedicated to character development; however I just want to explain here the affect time has on it.

Depending on what you want your character to do, or how you have your Time set out, will affect how your character develops. In Fractured stories you have to show your character at different stages, some points where there development is at a peak, may it be emotionally or physically, and in some cases, how they have deteriorated then later on show them at a lesser state of this development as a lead up to their peak.

Certain fragments of different time frames that only come to light later can affect a character's development, as new information is given to the character that they have to deal with.

There are also cases where having Time itself warped around the character can become a source of instability within that character's mental state. This can be a common occurrence with scenes depicting some form of drug induced dreaming or mental manipulation if Time itself isn't the thing being manipulated. Groundhog Day is a good example.


Tips, planning and endnotes.

=================

Well we are coming to the near end of my knowledge on the subject; however I still have a little wisdom to impart if it is at all useful.

Before writing your story, think clearly as to how you want to write it, what information you want to get across and in what order... one of the things I do is make a planner of events in a Linear fashion, with only the bare minimum, that explains important details, no dialog at all, then if the story is Nonlinear, use the Linear planner to reorganise the story to how I would like to tell it.

Other important points are to getting to grips with the prospective of your character if you are in either first or second person perspective, time can be a tricky thing if you're not on your toes and it can lead to making your story a complete mess. I've been there and I still do it, so I know it can be difficult.

Just don’t worry too much, if you're someone who likes to be spontaneous and write what you want there and then, just remember to put your head down afterwards, take note of what you have written and make sure you reorganise it to make perfect sense.

If your someone who likes to plan, then also be careful, sometimes you can over plan a thing, and lose sight of the aesthetics of your character or the fame of time in which they exist in, this is particularly true for third person perspective when you're relying on the reader's imagination the most to try and get them to feel the passing of time within your story. Don't force it to much or it will be noticeable.

All in all if you're wanting to create a story that isn't meant to be groundbreaking in the style in which you tell it, then remember things need to flow naturally and come to a conclusion in their own time in the right way, and not in what feels to be the most convenient to rap it all up. I don't mean to say that in life or in stories that this sort of thing doesn't happen, but in general there is always some sort of lead up or suggestion that a knee jerk turn around could happen, like in a fast paced action narrative where anything could happen, and it could indeed end abruptly. If your story has a naturally occurring pace then stick to it, don't change it without a progression. Good story telling coaxes you into a change of pace, unless, say at the start, a life changing experience occurs that your character as to deal with.

So to conclude, don’t treat Time lightly when you write, it needs to be considered even if it doesn't play a large role in your story, it is still part of its framework... it give the world you are depicting its pace, its feel. The pace and structure of your story are all dependent on Time


=================

Thank you for reading, if you have any questions, corrections, and general feedback, please feel free to post! Especially if I've made mistakes or errors, the last thing I want to do is mislead you all!
>>My novels and stories... you must read!<<
Never surrender! never compromise on your own creations, not even once! Even if it hurts, or you just wont be true to yourself! What you create is your child, so take responsibility for it!

Offline legomaestro

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Hm i skimmed through it but to be honest it was a bit much for me to go through. It felt really academic which is something i like to get into only on certain moods, and in this respect i think i can handle time well enough. I think i'll worry about something like this when i become a much better writer than i am and want to top off my skills with such technical knowledge. For now, i'm still flexing my muscles

Offline Reverus Reever Dark

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Ill takes that you said it was academic a a compliment lol, my english teacher when i was growing up and said that i wasn't very academic and that i was never going to be; needless to say mum was very angry...

Thank you for proving my teacher wrong! tee hee...

But anyhow, the main point of this is a reference for anyone who wants to know more about time in writing, and to give inspiration for any who want to play around with time.

i hope it covers all the basics and some more advanced topics... other than that, i hope its not too boring :)
>>My novels and stories... you must read!<<
Never surrender! never compromise on your own creations, not even once! Even if it hurts, or you just wont be true to yourself! What you create is your child, so take responsibility for it!