I was watching Lady Bird recently. It’s summer in the beginning when the protagonist breaks her arm, and then a whole bunch of stuff happens, including Thanksgiving, and then cut to her cast being taken off, and I instantly had a sense of how much time has passed. Yes, Thanksgiving helped, but, in my opinion, so many movies demonstrate the passage of time via holiday-gathering montages, that it’s become a little cliché for me. The plaster cast going on and coming off, however, that’s clever. I’m not a doctor, and I’ve never had to wear a cast, so I don’t know the exact amount of time the healing process takes, but I’ve seen enough casts on people to guestimate the length of time they’re worn on average. Anyway, this got me thinking about my stories and how I could allude to passage of time in more clever ways—not all the time, but once in a while. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to keep readers grounded in time through concrete details like day of the week, time of day, or other time markers, but as with every technique in writing, varying how you use that technique keeps things interesting.
So let’s spitball some ideas:
- What if I want to summarize that a season is coming to an end without referring to that season or the month?
The dandelions shed their last seeds, my little sister hid under a pile of leaves for a whole day, and then the school bus windows got too icy to swoon over Jim’s motorcycle anymore.
- What about stories that only span a handful of days? Can I show the passage of a few hours without relying on references to time or well-known devices like the school bell ringing or the bartender yelling “last call”?
First the server erased grilled cheese from the chalkboard menu. “We’re out,” he said with a shrug to a couple that came in with a kid. Egg-salad was the next sandwich to disappear. When the meatball panini suffered the same fate, Dionne left the restaurant. She prepared no less than three retorts to whatever excuse Conner had for standing her up.
- What about how Lady Bird showed passage of time with the cast? Can I first set up a passage of time device (like someone breaking an arm and getting a cast) and then use it later (like when the cast comes off)?
Set up: At my school, it’s tradition to bark when the last bell rings. Rumor has it, the whole thing started as a tribute to someone’s dead pet.
Later, to show passage of time: I handed in my test, we all barked, and then I went home.
Care to try one of the exercises above? Do you have any passage of time techniques that you love? Or can you think of any passage of time clichés? Share with me in the comments!
This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click here to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this month’s edition.