Killer Timing: Scene and Global Time Control for Stronger Narrative Flow

Killer Timing


In a previous article, I went into some detail on the subject of pacing. I mention that because I don’t want you to be confused about the meaning of this article, which is not about pacing but, rather, timing.

And, yet, pacing can affect timing, so pacing has a part of this discussion as well. So what do I mean by the difference between the two terms?


Pacing: The rapidity of narrative flow. Action sequences tend to have somewhat more rapid Pacing than dialogue-heavy, environment-exploration, introspective, and suspense-building scenes. The speed at which actions and events seem to the reader to occur is a matter of Pacing.

Timing: Timing is the behind-the-scenes clockwork of the story. Timing is what the writer uses to keep track of elapsed time during a story so that the protagonist doesn’t wake up at noon, progress six hours into his day, and then it’s still only two in the afternoon when the protagonist finishes that six hours worth of work.

Why would that be a problem?

I don’t know that it *is* a problem for most writers. Maybe it isn’t. It does tend to slip my mind from time to time, though (see what I did there? 😉 So I figure if I slip on it now and then, maybe I’m not the only one.

Why do I slip on it? Because the action, the traveling, the suspense, those are all changes in the pacing of the narrative, and if a writer isn’t careful, that “time dilation effect” can wangle your sense of where the hands of the clock are for your character in any given scene — unless you keep an eye on it.


So how do we keep an eye on it?

Well, if you’re like me and using Scrivener — or any other text content-generation app that allows you the indispensable tool of scene metadata — you do it by simply adding a “SST” or “Scene Start Time” metadata field to each chapter or scene. Just like this:


Scrivener Timing SST

Right there, we have all our metadata for this particular chapter. The primary protagonist and antagonist, the nature of the conflict, the emotional arc (recognize those from Blake Snyder’s “Save The Cat”?) *and* the SST.

And setting the SST is all it takes. If you set the SST at 0545, you’ll have grist for the mill, even, because you can have your characters react to sunrise — or ignore it. Up to you. But you’ll know how the environment should be changing based on time of day.

If you set SST for 1230 or so, you can have your characters reflect that with stomachs that start rumbling for lunch. Just a couple quick examples there.

In short, timing is important for introducing cues into the story that immerse your readers in the sense that your characters are real, mortal people living in a real, dynamic world.


Thanks for reading; and, as always, be good to yourselves and each other.

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