Bending the Timeline

Bending the Timeline

Don’t mess with your reader’s sense of time

Time marches ever forward, and so should your story, but too often writers unintentionally bend the reader’s sense of time. In deep POV, these mistakes create distance by jarring the reader’s connection with the character’s experience. Watch out for these micro-time trips.

Future casting

Words like presently, soon, etc. are often used to indicate things that will happen in the near future. One of the rules of deep POV is keeping the reader’s and the POV character’s experience in sync. This means the reader cannot know something before the main character experiences it. Using words like soon and presently to indicate actions that will happen in the near future bends the reader’s sense of time.

Auora shifted in her saddle. An entire day lost in the forest, but she would soon stumble across the castle.

The reader cannot know something before the main character., If you mention something that will happen in the future, make sure your POV character also knows it at the time.

The “When” Trap

I fell when I tripped.

“When” is constantly guilty of putting the consequences before the actions. In deep POV, the reader and the character must experience everything simultaneously. The character tripped and then she fell. Make sure you write it that way.

Wrong: I gagged when I smelled the flowers

This creates distance because it gives the reader a sense that this happened in the distant past, rather than at that moment, and that the information is being related through a narrator rather than being experienced first hand.

Right: The heavy floral smell made the air too dense. My throat clenched, and I gagged.

Here, we have the cause and effect back in their proper order. The reader experiences these two events just as the character did. There sensation of a third party narrator is eliminated.

Conclusion Before Evidence

Bending the timeline-www.themanuscriptshredder.comHopefully you aren’t the sort of person who will make up your mind before you’ve examined the facts. Your character shouldn’t be either.

wrong:

The room had been ransacked. The sofa cushions were sliced open, stuffing flung around the room. Tables, lamps overturned. Books lay everywhere, mixed into the glass and wooden debris.

The thieves had gotten what they came for. The door of the wall safe hung open. The contents missing.

The character has already made her conclusion before seeing the evidence. Characters must take in information before they can react to it. Now, reread the same passage with cause and effect back in their proper places.

right:

The sofa cushions were sliced open, stuffing flung around the room. Tables, lamps overturned. Books lay everywhere, mixed into the glass and wooden debris. The door of the wall safe hung open. The contents missing. The thieves had gotten what they came for.

You may have noticed I deleted a sentence in the rewrite. Showing all the evidence and allowing the reader to come to the conclusion is more effective than “telling” the reader what happened and supporting that later with details. I could even delete the last sentence to further tighten the prose.

Bending the reader’s sense of time will break the deep POV illusion

The purpose of deep POV is to create the illusion of being in a characters head, watching the story as it unfolds. Anything that breaks that illusion creates distance. Don’t force your reader to time travel. Keep her and your character’s experience in sync.

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