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Thread: How to fix the passage of time in fiction?

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Maria Ale Barrios's Avatar
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    How to fix the passage of time in fiction?

    Hello everyone!

    One of my biggest weaknesses I think is the passage of time in my fiction. Yesterday, I wrote my first flash fiction ever, and I noticed that there are some problems that I'm not sure about how to solve. For example, the character is telling a story about how on that day she's going to cook something for her dad that was just released from prison. However, while she's cooking, she's also remembering what her mother used to cook for them and how that cooking influenced their family life.

    How do I make it clear that she's remembering and that's not happening right now? I don't want to confuse the reader!

    Help! I always mess up time in my story.

    Thanks, everyone,

    Every tip is appreciated it.

  2. #2
    Moderator AW Moderator Maryn's Avatar
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    I wrote about this somewhere here at AW in the last few months. Let me see if I can find the post and give you a link. Basically, it's in the verb tenses and a few transition words.

    Maryn, who'll edit this post if she finds it

    Edit: Wow, that took some hunting. I only found it because it dawned on me that I'd used Home Depot in my silly example and searched for it. Here's the link to the thread. My post is the second one. http://absolutewrite.com/forums/show...s-Perfect-Past
    Last edited by Maryn; 12-29-2017 at 06:54 PM.
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  3. #3
    Ni. Peng. Neee-Wom. edutton's Avatar
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    Hi, welcome to AW!

    Is the rest of your story being told in present tense or past tense? If it's present, then you can easily shift into past tense for the memories ("As I sautee the onions, the familiar smell takes me right back to childhood. Sometimes it seemed like Mama spent half her life in this very spot, as she gave us all her infinite love in the form of food. I'm yanked back to the present as the smoke alarm goes off.")

    If the story is already in past tense, then you can use a brief transition via the past perfect. ("As I sauteed the onions, the familiar smell took me right back to childhood. She had spent half her life in front of the stove (or so it seemed to us kids, anyway), giving us all her infinite love in the form of food. I was yanked back to the present as the smoke alarm went off.")
    Write the change you want to see in the world!

    Writing exposition is like putting red pepper flakes on your pizza - the occasional burst adds depth and flavor, too much in a lump can burn the reader out.


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  4. #4
    practical experience, FTW TellMeAStory's Avatar
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    Verb tenses will help there, I think, plus other words that help to set the time. For instance, assuming your story is told in past tense, it might go...

    Suzi Q used the big iron pot. [simple past for used.] Mama had used that same pot years ago [past perfect had used for more distant past, plus those helpful other words "years ago."

    If Suzi Q's reminiscence about Mama's cooking is very long, you shift into simple past after a few sentences--your reader's ear can tell you when--because that extra "had" can get annoying after a while.
    Mama always cut her carrots crosswise. [simple past for cut] The flashback goes on and on in simple past until...

    Mama never had cared about the mess it made. [past perfect for had cared because you're getting ready to return to the "now" of your story] But today, Suzi Q cared very much, so she scrubbed and scoured and waited for Jimmy John to return.[all verbs in the simple past of your story's "now."] Also note, those helpful words "but today."

    A friend of mine likens the dip into a more distant past to getting on the freeway. There's an on ramp where you use past perfect with all its annoying "had"s, then you tool along in simple past until you take the off ramp of past perfect again.

    All that's assuming the body of your story is told in simple past and you're making a dip into a more distant past which I think might be the problem you've run into. For most new writers, that is the trickiest bit.

  5. #5
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Maria Ale Barrios's Avatar
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    Thank you, everyone, for the amazing advice! I'm going to experiment with all your tips and see how I can fix this second draft, so it's more clear than the first one.

  6. #6
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Maria Ale Barrios's Avatar
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    I can't still my post stories here, so that's a bummer, but do you guys have any favorite flash fiction authors that I could read? I'm doing this for a specific submission that has to be under 1,000 words, but I usually read/write longer stuff.

    I think reading more flash fiction could make this story way better.

  7. #7
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maria Ale Barrios View Post
    I can't still my post stories here, so that's a bummer, but do you guys have any favorite flash fiction authors that I could read?.
    While you can't yet start a thread in SYW, you can read and comment there. You'll find some short fiction in "Other," but there may also be some scattered through some of the various genre folders.

  8. #8
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Maria Ale Barrios's Avatar
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    Thanks, Beths!

    I'm going to read and comment some.

  9. #9
    Ni. Peng. Neee-Wom. edutton's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maria Ale Barrios View Post
    Thanks, Beths!

    I'm going to read and comment some.
    It's a great way to learn, and also to help out!
    Write the change you want to see in the world!

    Writing exposition is like putting red pepper flakes on your pizza - the occasional burst adds depth and flavor, too much in a lump can burn the reader out.


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    WRITING: Stoyanovich and the Princess (MG historical fantasy/suspense, kind of)
    PONDERING: Lion of Andalus (historical)
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