The Lady Bird way to show passage of time #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

The Lady Bird way to show passage of time

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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. The Lady Bird way to show passage of timeWhat 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.

57 thoughts on “The Lady Bird way to show passage of time #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

  1. Definitely some interesting examples. In some ways it all centers around creating a 1-2 activity that either audiences already know (approximately) how long it takes, or the story has established how long the activity takes. I’ll admit, not something I’ve thought of in writing, but it really does mimic the cinematic montage, and that’s rather remarkable, particularly since most tend to propone that cinema and writing have very distinct strengths, and don’t perform well when they try to emulate each other’s strengths.
    I’ve definitely encountered instances where people will limit themselves in other ways (no using the verb to be, all dialogue but no ‘he said/she said’), but I’ve never encountered anything quite like this. In some ways it’s a great example of how rewarding it can be to ask “okay, how can we accomplish this without using the tried and true methods?” Definitely interesting food for thought.
    Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great examples 🙂
    I’ve often used leaves changing colour and falling to signify the change of seasons. None of my worlds have Christmas (or Thanksgiving) so I have to think of other ways to show the passage of time! To show a few hours passing I’ve used the position of the sun in the sky, shadows, or something melting or defrosting. This gives me a lot to think about, especially how much I’ve used the same techniques.

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  3. This is something that I’ve been trying to figure out as well. One of the ideas I had was a city bus schedule. My characters had to do their thing but at the same time be aware that they had to jump on the bus when it came through.

    Changing seasons, catching a bus, a cast coming off…’s fun and cleaver to think of ways to tell the reader how much time has passed without actually saying it.

    Dan Brown’s stories are consist of 24 hours. I need to go back and see how he did it.

    Fun topic!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love this post! Very fun, insightful ideas here. It doesn’t hurt that I love Lady Bird – as it takes place in my home town of Sacramento, and the protagonist graduated high school my year AND she does theatre (like I did). Basically, as soon as I read the subject line I was in. Not to mention, your suggestions for creating unique ways to show the passage of time were very thought-provoking. Great post, RG!!

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  5. This passage of time thing is so true. My people live around the equator so not much help from seasons so I use shadows, sun placement (they also live pre-civilization). But I do struggle. Thanks for these thoughts.

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  6. I think passage of time is specific to what we are writing. I like to use the outdoors to indicate time, especially the weather. What a thoughtful post. I love your examples as I hadn’t thought of the rapid succession quite like these show. Thank you Raimey.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for your thoughts on this, Raimey. It’s timely since my current WIP is spread over a much greater time period than previous ones and I was wondering how best to handle that.
    Ps. Hope you feel better soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Truly great methods for showing time elapse, Raimey. I’ve shared your post online. As for trying a quick time passage, how about:
    I sat at my desk, trying to make the words work, until the teapot grew cold.
    [I’m sure it needs work.] Thanks for all you do, Raimey, to help your fellow writer.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I do like to experiment with different ways to show passages of time.

    I had a cast on when I was 5 for a fracture. I don’t remember exactly how long I wore it, but I know it was for several months. Maybe 4-6.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great tips! I had to chuckle a bit. I recently went through critique group and one guy was trying to help me better relay the fact that two scenes were happening simultaneously. He’s all “you could put 30 minutes earlier at the beginning of the next scene” and I pointed out that my world doesn’t have minutes or hours or clocks for that matter. He then shouted “damn you and your lack of time!” I did resort to just an “Earlier”. We’ll see in a couple of weeks if it does the trick. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m not sure about the barking (lol), but this post was very insightful. I absolutely love the movie Lady Bird, but I hadn’t recognized until your post how the cast/removal of the cast does show the passage of time. Interesting. And I loved reading the other ways you suggest that time can be showed. Now to remember your post the next time I want to write about the passage of time and think creatively about it…

    Liked by 1 person

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