How much time are you going to cover in your novel or short story? Have you given if any thought? Have you ever considered the time-span?
When I first began writing short stories they would all begin with the main character waking up, or having breakfast (early morning always), remembering their problem, and then managing to solve it by bedtime. This was because some of the stories I had analysed, to see how they were written, had done just this. I copied their time span.
It was a while before my confidence reached a point when I could tackle a different length of time but, when it did, my stories could take a week, maybe two, or they might cover an event that took place in all of five minutes.
Short stories do not cover years, decades or generations. I’ve seen several covering the latter and they turned out, as I guessed, to be failed novels which the writers had assumed they could turn into short stories.
Next time you read a short story take note of how much time has been covered in it. The good stories will cover a short span of time. Babies will not end up graduating from university, neither will the main character die of old age and pass the baton to an offspring. It’s more likely that the story will begin when the main character starts a new diet and it will end a few days later, or even one meal later, when her lover tells her he likes her just the way she is.
Years ago, when The Bill became popular, a police inspector said in an interview that recruitment figures had gone up and he hoped that the new policemen realised that not all crimes were solved in half an hour as they were on The Bill.
Real life isn’t like that. Problems can takes ages to work through. Some are never solved, but this is fiction we are talking about. Fiction is made-up. It’s not real. It only has to appear as if it’s real life.
The time span in novels can be anything. Hours or lifetimes. Family sagas are all about lives. The thread of the novel might continue through several generations of a family. But where do they begin and end? Think back to some of the novels you have read. When did the story begin, and when did it end?
Often a novel will begin at a specific time. It might be the day war broke out, the morning an illegitimate child was born, the eve of the wedding of the bride-cum-main character. These might end when the war ends, the child grows up to be successful and confronts his/her father, and the happy couple set off on honeymoon after the most difficult twenty-four hours imaginable.
This content was provided by one of our users, Lynne