time management in life & narrative

When I was hard pressed for time – and there can be many reasons, most often a day job and/or small children, an ailing parent, etc. – I learned to write in 10 minute increments. I know writers (and am most emphatically not one) who get up at 4 am to write for two hours before their family is up and everyone has to go to work and school. That’s dedication. Not everyone can manage that. I say trust your body and your method. If you don’t work well when you’re tired, get some sleep and learn to work in 5 and 10 minute increments because it is possible to get a lot done in less time than you think. That kind of time management is successful based on what works best for you.

Now, about time in your narrative…. If you really want to learn about both time and a strong narrative arc in one pass, write a screenplay. It’s a highly disciplined form of writing in which time management is vital. My Dinner With Andre aside, no one wants to sit through long slogs of conversation or backstory. (note: I have mixed feelings about Certified Copy, but I’m still thinking about it hours later so it is thought-provoking, particularly about marriage and what happens over years) Anyway, if you have one of those long conversations, it had better be riveting or there’d better be a good reason for the effect (boredom) if it’s not.

When you’re constructing a narrative, you are also manipulating time: scenes lengthen it out and summarizing shortens it. Within scenes, adding sensory detail draws out time in a scene, allowing you to relate to the character in a different way, get inside their skin or allow time for the audience to catch up if there’s been a lot of emotion and/or action. Put some thought into when and why it’s best to detail a scene and when you can have the literary equivalent of a match cut (like the candle smoke into train steam in Schindler’s List) or a jump cut as Steven Pressfield noted from The Hangover: “from the guys clinking glasses on the rooftop—”This is going to be a memorable night.” CUT TO: a floor-level shot of the villa in which our four heroes are staying; dawn light streaks in; a chicken waddles across in the background. Then we see Stu (Ed Helms) face-down on the tiles, passed out, with his eyeglasses lying askew beside him.” Those scenes whether for the screen or in a book allow the viewer or reader to fill in with their imagination and audiences enjoy the opportunity. Give it to them.

And if that isn’t enough to consider, take a look at how language influences the way we see the world.

Jerry Seinfeld offers a strategy to keep writing.

There’s a bonus on procrastination if you click on the photo above. 🙂


2 thoughts on “time management in life & narrative”

  1. Great suggestions on ways to be aware of time in narrative!

    It’s awesome that you refer to screenplays as well. There’s a popular notion that screenplays are super easy to write, that there’s little to no skill in it, but the good ones are just as crafted and literary as any novella. Plus, the general population has grown up immersed in the storytelling formula of films, so there’s an expectation for stories – fiction or nonfiction prose – to follow that formula. Looking to screenplays for literary techniques just makes sense.

    Great post!

    1. Thanks! Yeah, screenplays aren’t so easy are they?! Narrative without all the tools you can use in a novel or short story.

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