Jul

12

2012

time

Filed under: RNA, writing

It occurs to me (and has occurred to me before) that when you’re writing a novel, you’re dealing with several different types of time at once.

There’s author-time, which is how long it takes you to write a novel. I average about 1000 words a day when I’m writing, and my first drafts (100K) take about seven months. I know that maths doesn’t add up, but I do take weekends and the occasional day off, and sometimes you just have to delete what you’ve written.

Then there’s story-time, which is the time scale of the story itself. The book I’m working on now covers about ten months, from March to the following January, but a book can cover several years or decades. Or the events can occur over the course of a few minutes. (One of my favourite pieces of fiction occurs within the space of about fifteen minutes or less, with most of it occurring simultaneously).

Finally, there’s reader-time, which is the time it takes the reader to read your story. Whilst author-time can be a year or so, and story-time can be several years, reader-time might be an afternoon, or even the length of a bath.

Story-time is entirely illusory, whereas author-time and reader-time are not.

Essentially, as you’re writing, you’re using your author-time to create the illusion of convincing and lifelike story-time so that the reader is fooled into thinking that the reader-time feels more intense, and usually much longer, than it really is. A good novel can make you feel as if you’ve lived an entire lifetime in an afternoon.

(Fiction, and drama/film/television which is also written story, are the only art forms which are made up of these three distinct types of time. Music and dance are experienced in real-time; visual art is experienced over a much shorter timescale and doesn’t usually create an illusion of time passing. Of course, in drama, you also have the time spent by the actors and directors and producers etc to create the drama/film.)

I don’t have anything particularly useful to say about this; it’s merely an observation. I’ve spent the last three days writing a single scene which takes less than half an hour of story time, and which will be read in about ten minutes or less.

That tends to make you think about time in a different way.

I’m off to the RNA conference in Penrith tomorrow, to see all my romance-writing mates. I’m giving a workshop on learning story structure through Pixar films. I’m also going to learn as much as I can about writing and the writing business. I’m going to talk and laugh and drink far more than I should and wear my new snakeskin heels.

It will all seem to go by far too fast.


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  1. Whee! see you tomorrow!

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