Dealing with Time in Scenes, Part 4 of our series

Time is a story element with which many beginning writers struggle. Whether your novel occurs over a period of days or years, you must lead us through that time.

In scenes, time passes moment by moment. This means we see the action as it happens. Let’s pick up the action where Friday’s sequel left off (Marta had reached for the phone).

Example: Marta flipped open her cell phone and punched in the number for Sam Casey, regional manager for Robbins Bookstores. Her fingers drummed the desk as she waited for someone to answer the phone.

“Robbins Bookstore Inc. How may I help you?” the receptionist answered.

“This is Marta Chaplin of Chaplin Real Estate. I’d like to speak with Mr. Casey.” Marta tried to sound official and confident despite her nervousness.

“Mr. Casey isn’t available. Would you like his voicemail?”

“Yes, please.” Marta sat straight in her office chair as she listened to the brief voicemail message. “Mr. Casey, this is Marta Chaplin of Chaplin Real Estate in Classic, Oklahoma. I’d like to arrange a meeting with you to discuss a proposed strip mall to go up here in Classic.” Marta rattled off her phone number and ended the call. With a sigh of disgust, she tossed her cell phone on the desk and returned to her Excel file of investors.

As they read, readers will fill in all the little details of making a phone call—punching in the numbers, hearing the phone ring, speaking with the receptionist, closing the cell phone and tossing it down, the phone likely sliding on the desk, and Marta physically turning to her computer. They may even imagine her fingers poised over the keyboard.

Scenes occur in real time, but it would be excruciating if we were to relate every action and every second. We don’t need to state “Marta punched the five button on her phone, then a three, then another three…” Readers can and will fill in action you do not specifically show.

Next time, we’ll look at dealing with time in sequels.

Debra L. Butterfield © 2013

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