How to pass time in a book?

The ways to pass time in the book without making the characters do pointless things.

Any novel, novella, story, book, you name it, needs a perfectly described time, location and overall setting. Without these main parts, a reader is most likely to suffer the white room syndrome—when you know what’s happening, but you just can’t imagine the place or time.

There are ways to describe time. 6 AM. Six in the morning. The rays of sunlight slowly spread across the pavement, etc.  It’s better, though, to describe with the last example because that looks more professional. So, how do you pass time? When you start the chapter from six in the morning, and you have to end it at six in the evening, with only two main conflicts, each of one hour, what do you do? You can’t make your characters do pointless things, or even describe what a normal person does in everyday life, because that’s boring. Nobody wants to read about the characters’ daily routine. They want action.

So, what do you do to pass the time?

Different people say different things. Some say to use transitions. Some recommends three stars between two paragraphs in which the time has been changed. Some praises the change of weather, to describe how nothing changed in the next few months except the color of leaves. Some goes off saying that one should show the time changing instead of simply saying it, that In each scene you can leave clues—how much daylight is left, how tired the characters are, which business is open or closed. When the time has passed, show how much changes have occurred since the last time.

It’s more difficult in present tense but very easy in past tense. If it’s within a scene, as said in the first example, you can use transitions. For example, ‘Exhausted, Sarah slept with shoes on, promising herself that she’d wake up at three in the afternoon. Later that evening, when she woke up, panic sat in realizing that she had missed her flight to Paris.” So if it’s within a scene, a transition is the best choice.

What if it’s the new chapter? Easy! Establish the time as soon as the chapter starts to prevent from white room syndrome, to orient the reader. Same goes with Location or POV change. Establish it soon, so that the reader isn’t thrown out. I once made a mistake and wrote, “Eva folded her petite arms and towered over Tristan.” It was later when I showed that Tristan was sitting on a sofa. So, making the reader familiar with a situation as soon as possible is the best idea.

Now to discuss a passing time within a chapter. If it’s a new scene within a chapter, it’s sort of like the combination of the above two. Introduce it soon, and transitions are good enough.

Whatever you do, don’t have the character do pointless things. If something doesn’t move the plot forward or help build the character, delete it.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

– Antoine de Saint-Exupery


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