Time in novels has been used as a significant central theme for the story and also as a storytelling technique to build the plot of the story. It is one of the most important elements that the author can control. But how can an author manipulate time?
Time can be manipulated using various techniques such as flashbacks, parallel timelines, flash forwards, and forebodings. Unlike in real life, time in a novel can be used, for example, to tell the events of the story in a different order, shorten boring parts, or fill the background with interesting scenarios..
We'll cover many different techniques you can use, but first let's define what time manipulation means.
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What is time manipulation?
Time manipulation is when an author uses various techniques to control the flow of events in a story. It can cause what happened in the past or in the future to affect the present, it can cause events to pass faster or slower than usual.
For example, instead of describing how your character goes through childhood and adolescence before reaching the beginning of the story, you can jump right into the plot to start the story. Then, using one of the techniques we'll cover, insert a relevant short piece of childhood history into an appropriate break in the plot.
Used carefully, it can move important but sometimes boring background information to a later part of the story where it piques interest, rather than dragging the story down.
Why manipulate time?
This control over the flow of time in a story allows you to shift the reader's focus from place to place and from time to time. This way they can experience different moments in the world of your novel. It also allows you to delay or speed up events so that some events happen before others.
Not using time as a central theme improves the flow of the story.
It would be really boring if all the stories took time to play out the same way. Use these techniques to unleash your imagination and enhance your story.
Time manipulation techniques
There are many ways to control the flow of time, so let's look at some of them.
Linear time in a story.
The most basic use of time is to display events sequentially. For example, in a novel, the character might be born, grow up, and reach adulthood. The most basic way of using tenses in a narrative is to present events in the linear order in which they happen.
Some books are written entirely this way, but most tend to tell most of the story in the order of events, so they are written in linear time, using fewer other techniques from time to time.
Nonlinear time in a story
Nonlinear time allows the author to change the focus and order of events in a story. For example, it is common for a backstory to be inserted into the narrative. While the main events can be linear, some parts showing the past can be inserted to show the context of why a character acted a certain way, or details showing the future revealing the results of actions.
acceleration of the action
Another widely used technique is to speed up the passage of time using an accelerated timeline. For example, if a character is taking a long journey on foot, it can be sped up so the story can focus on more exciting events.
You can make a jump cut to go later, maybe do a chapter break. One chapter ends with boarding the bus, and the next chapter begins immediately with the character getting off the bus at the destination.
These time slots can also be used to insert other action tiles that cover the time slot you want to remove. For example, you can use a flashback.
Flashbacks und Flashforwards
A flashback is when a character remembers something that happened in the past. This is good for adding context to the story. For example, your main character might go to an old school and tell the reader through flashback that he wasn't that cool when he was younger. Revealing an embarrassing story about first meeting her love interest in high school would give her an unprecedented perspective on her now-cool and successful modern-day hero.
A flashforward is when you see something that will happen in the future. This can be used to predict events or simply to intrigue the reader as to what will happen next. For example, you might suddenly jump up to reveal that the hero's rival has won an award for inventing an exciting new technology. Back in the current timeline, we can see events unfolding toward this potential future.
The omen gives the reader a hint of a future event, creating suspense and drama or uneasiness. It can give the reader subtle hints of good or bad events to come, and as a writer you can use it to keep the reader browsing late into the night.
It can also be strong, like a character talking about an upcoming meeting or deadline that's referenced more subtly before it occurs so the reader wonders at the meaning.
Story pacing is how quickly or slowly an author writes part of a story. The pacing of a story can create suspense or bore the reader, depending on the impact the author wants to create.
For example, you could write a very long paragraph with lots of details about the small town and farm where the family just moved to to make the reader understand that this is a slow story. Or you could quickly write this description in short sentences with a scant level of detail to convey the family's traumatic experience in need of a last-minute change. Using this technique creates an uncomfortable feeling for the reader.
Different genres often use very different styles of rhythm. A fast-paced crime novel is usually more action-packed, containing less description of the setting and more information about the characters and events.
Parallel or multiple timelines
Parallel or multiple timelines can have different timelines that influence each other. Grandpa died because he couldn't break a speed record in the past. In the second modern timeline, the grandson is determined to accomplish what his grandfather could not. The story can switch between them dramatically to show the relationship of the two ventures and create suspense with the reader as we see the grandson unknowingly repeating some of the same mistakes that led to his grandfather's death.
The reverse timeline is the opposite of the linear storytelling technique. A story is told that begins at the end and goes back in time. Many flashbacks are commonly used in this story style. It can be difficult, but when done well, it can be almost as compelling as a story told chronologically (albeit with its own brand of dramatic tension).
A character with memory problems can open up all sorts of possibilities for writing. Sometimes a character has no memory of parts of her life, sometimes only fragments, and sometimes no memory.
Writers can use this to create a puzzle or subplot. For example, a love story of a woman trying to stay in touch with her mentally ill husband and to capture and preserve their life together while he remembers less and less.
Chapter and section length
Another very common technique used by authors to control the reader's perception of how time passes within a story is to vary the length of sections and chapters.
In one chapter you may have several pages covering the detective's activities, while in the next you will have a much shorter description of what the killer is doing at the same time. The much longer descriptive section for the detective helps the reader see that the detective has a lot of work to do to catch the killer. In the killer chapter, shorter sections and faster language help show the reader that the killer moves quickly and is always one step ahead of the detective.
Time loops or Groundhog Day
The time warp storyline, known as the Groundhog Day trope, has been performed multiple times across all media formats and yet remains hugely popular.
Done carefully, you can build a story full of mystery and intrigue based on the idea of repeating the same day over and over again.
Yes, it's covered pretty well, but it could still make an interesting basis for a story, so don't dismiss it if you have an idea.
By far the most popular Star Gate episode is the Groundhog Day style episode.window of opportunity.
As you can see, there are many timing options that you can use in your story. Make sure you take all the perks and use them in combination to create an engaging narrative that will keep your readers awake long after they're asleep.
How do authors manipulate time? ›
The trick is in the word count. To quicken the pace of a book (and make time whip by for the reader), fiction writers can make their chapters shorter. Likewise, stretching out the chapter will make readers feel as though time has slowed to a crawl.How do authors manipulate readers? ›
It's the author's job to manipulate readers, to urge them to feel a certain way: get their pulse racing when the characters are in a crisis – done through short, direct sentences to quicken the pace of the text; to calm them when our heroes finally reach safety – longer, more detailed sentences; and to mislead readers ...What techniques does the author use to tell the story? ›
Common techniques relevant to style, or the language chosen to tell a story, include metaphors, similes, personification, imagery, hyperbole, and alliteration. Techniques relevant to plot, which are the sequence of events that make up a narrative, include backstory,flashback, flash-forward, and foreshadowing.How does time manipulation affect a story? ›
Time manipulation, or timeline alteration, is the concept of altering past events in such a way that it significantly affects the present or future. For example, in the classic Ray Bradbury story A Sound of Thunder, characters travel back in time to the prehistoric era.What is an example of manipulation of time? ›
Think about a fighting scene between the hero and villain in an action movie. Just when they are about to fight they slowly and intensely run towards each other. This is a time manipulation technique that builds suspense and anxiety.What is time manipulation power? ›
Users can control and manipulate time, the indefinite continued progress of existence and events that occur in an apparently irreversible succession from the past, through the present, into the future, in the general area or for a specific target in various ways, with the most basic of acts revolving around ...How do writers manipulate pace in a story? ›
One of the easiest ways to control pacing in your story is through the length of your sentences, paragraphs and chapters. In a fight scene, for example, you want to keep things fast-paced and exciting. To achieve this, use short, choppy sentences and shorter paragraphs to keep readers' eyes flying over the words.What is manipulation of time in literature? ›
Often used to describe in great detail objects/setting/characters, or explore a particular character's emotions/feelings (primarily the narrator in this text) The story events continue but there is no narrative to accompany them. Typically this manifests in 'time skips'.How do authors manipulate tone? ›
A writer has the power to manipulate the tone of the novel by choosing what a narrator/character focuses on throughout a specific scene, detailing the character's changing reactions/responses and the choice of words used in dialogue, and including their internal thoughts and actions.What makes a story powerful? ›
A story needs conflict and resolution; tension and release; mystery and revelation. There should be losses and gains, setbacks and comebacks, peaks and troughs. And, above all, a story should be about people: their dreams and desires; loves and hates; problems and passions.
How do you write a powerful story? ›
- Invoke multiple senses.
- Create intriguing, complex characters.
- Evoke strong emotions.
- Use rich character voice.
- Pull the reader into the action.
Storytelling brings language learning alive and creates a participatory and immersive experience that allows Young Learners to enjoy hearing the language in a dynamic, sometimes stylistic and entertaining way. Participation using key vocabulary and phrases can create an awareness of rhythm and structure.How do authors do time skips? ›
Time skips can be done between scenes or chapters, even within chapters. You can explicitly say something like: "Three months later...". Or you can integrate it naturally into the narration: "Three months passed and I..." Be careful not to have too many timeskips in your story.Why do authors manipulate the pacing of their story? ›
Writers also use pacing as a stylistic technique to create a specific atmosphere, appeal to a specific audience, or manipulate the narrative's tone. Narratives slow down to create emotion and suspension or contextualize the story through description or exposition.