(To survey other elements and author quotes, visit the Elements of Fiction home page)

“Time is a major component of the novel. I rate it at the same value as story and character. I can think of few novelists who really know, and instinctively know, their craft who do not put time to dramatic use.” Elizabeth Bowen

“Time pins the reader to that immense ‘Now’ which is so important if we are to have a feeling of concern and reality with the novel. The good story is a succession of effective Nows—call them scenes, if you like—and those Nows are link together by intermediate action. We may move backwards and forwards, but the present moment must grip and hold us, so that while we read it is as important—more important—as the moment in the room where we are in our chair.” Elizabeth Bowen

“The novelist, to a certain extent, opens and shuts time like a fan as he goes along—and this is important because every story demands (because of its proportion) some particular sort of timing of its own. There must be an allotment, a proportioning of time: timing gives emphasis, as you will understand. The few moments in which we may stop and stare at some face passing at the other side of the street, or the moments in which our eyes will dwell on some particular line of print in a newspaper. . . . All that demarcates that something important, though maybe only important to us, is occurring.” Elizabeth Bowen

“I would suggest that one reason why some novels, not bad—often making a good opening or a good start—lose their hold on us, is that as plot goes on we feel the author loosing his or her grip on actuality. There is a sort of slurring and we become impatient; we look back; we say ‘Yes, but is this happening on a Tuesday or a Thursday?’ We feel that the focus in which time should be has been lost.” Elizabeth Bowen

“Time management. System for organizing the events of a narrative vis a vis real time.” Madison Smartt Bell

“Plot, suspense, causality, and time are inextricably intertwined, in linear narratives especially. But real time, the time in which our lives are lived second by second and hour by hour, remains a problem, sometimes an intractable problem, for the linear narrative. No story is long enough to actually express time completely, absolutely, moment by moment. . . . All narratives end up having to compress real time in some way or other—sometimes by summary and sometimes by skipping.” Madison Smartt Bell

“Before the twentieth century, the method of compressing real time in fiction was summary. Certain events and scenes of the plot would be given full dramatic rendering, as in theater, while the passages in between them would be summarized—most typically by the voice of the omniscient author. This voice would simply tell the reader—winningly persuasively, and beautifully one might hope, but, failing that, at least economically—what happened between one fully dramatized scene and the next one. Exposition, the recounting of what led up to the scenes to be dramatically rendered, was the provenance of summary. In those days, successful and/or popular writers became very skilled in writing of appealing and engaging summary, because they had to be.” Madison Smartt Bell

“All that was changed for our times by two new features of twentieth-century life: the movies and Ernest Hemingway. Perhaps Hemingway’s most influential demonstration was that expository recitations of the past experiences of the characters could be eliminated entirely from stories, and that these leaner, meaner stories (his own if not those of his hosts of imitators) could be as interesting and even more energetic than their meatier, wordier predecessors.” Madison Smartt Bell

“During approximately the same period, the movies were gradually teaching the audience to unconsciously accept transitions from one scene to another, across widely varying lengths of time, with no explanation whatever.” Madison Smartt Bell

“For film editors, the term for these forward leaps across time is jump cut. This device—the unstated, unsummarized forward transition—has become increasingly popular for fiction writers also. In fiction, the jump cut is usually signaled, typographically, by the space break.” Madison Smartt Bell

“Story events, and the history that leads up to them, must be very clear to you. You must, if not relate, at least have in mind, a firm time track, past to present, on which to build the story and its future. You must know the events that lead up to where you are, and they must be easily told and understood. If they are not clear to you, you will have trouble making things clear to the reader, and things will feel disjointed.” Ulf Wolf

“In any story, time matters in at least two basic ways: 1. Sense of duration—how much story time is covered. 2. Sense of the clock—of time passing, counting down toward an outcome.” Philip Gerard