We’ve dealt with our spaces and places, as they relate to story-time, now we need to deal with our time.
This should be a lot simpler.
Imagine a big invisible clock, hovering in the sky of our flat empty space.
It’s not an ordinary clock, showing the hours of the day. It’s a countdown, and the writer can set it to any time between one second and infinity.
For our horror story, how much time do you need to allow the dread of the story-time to be entered most effectively?
Think about it for a moment. Then scroll down.
It’s possible you’ve thought of a time of 24 hours or 38 hours or 72 hours, but I doubt you have thought of one second or one year.
Dread can come upon one very rapidly but it needs more than one second to be really dreadful.
Dread distends time. Minutes lasting hours, hours lasting days. But if it starts to drag out, dread becomes hard to maintain. Dread becomes excruciation.
It also, probably, for the reader, becomes boring. Dread is horrific when distilled.
Most horror stories enter a time greater than half a day and less than half a year. Three days and nights would (in my guess) be typical.
Think about it. The very sentence ‘On the third night…’ builds dread. ‘On the sixteenth night…’ is unlikely to build much of anything, except a yawn.
Similarly, and even more simply, for epic fantasy story-time we need longer. Three days and nights won’t do. A week won’t do. We need long distances in mountainous regions to be journeyed through. A year might be a good time, spring to spring.
Exercise: Take a particular sub-genre of fiction and think about what kind of story-time the reader enters when reading it. Write down the genre and an emotion word or two that define it as dread defines horror. Then think about the typical time-period such a generic story covers.
What I hope you’ll find, as I tried to show with horror story-time, is that generic kinds of story-time call into being – for very good reasons – generic kinds of props and locations, landscapes and atmospheres.
Mr But: Lots of stories take place because one or more of these elements has been changed. For example, not all ghost stories take place in old places. Some adventure stories happen in a single, small room.
Thank you. I could hardly have put it better myself. Genres are constantly trying to break out of themselves. Inventive writers swap the props around, and slightly relocate. But, usually, they stick to creating the generic kind of story time.
Go back to your two lists of five books – the Read and the Not-finished
We generally give up on books when we become impatient with them, when we get bored. We may say this is because Not enough happens or I got confused with what was going on or I didn’t care about anything that went on. All of these mean essentially the same thing – I entered a story-time and found I didn’t want to stay there or, when I’d left it for a while, I didn’t want to return there.
Exercise: I’d like you to write a list of your all-time favourite five stories or novels.
Explanation: These don’t have to be written stories. You can choose a film or a comic if you like. But, again, if it’s nothing but films or comics or biographies you’ve chosen, you may be an aspiring writer in those forms, and not in fiction.
Look at this new list. Now get up.
Exercise: Gather these beloved books together. Put them on the desk or table in front of you. Now think about how long it would take you to read the first ten pages of each of them. If there’s one that’s clearly the fastest read, please it to your left. Put the next fastest beside this, a little to the right, and the next and the next until you get to the book where ten pages take you the longest to read.
This is –
And we will be getting dense soon enough.