Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Time Machine

time sequence--the temporal arc of a story or novel; the chronological order of events in a narrative; the arrangement of narrative events to effect the most dramatic result.

Time plays an important role in a story or novel. How long between events? How long has this--whatever this is--been going on? How long before he gets the idea? How long before she asks him if they have a future together? How much times does a Harlen Coben protagonist have before being discovered rifling the files in an office he has no authority to be in? The pacing or beats per minute is another way to measure the way theme and plot establish themselves within the reader's sensibility, helping the reader to remember bits of information as they come forth, We realize also the contrivance behind such manipulation, resenting it if we do not find it.

The skilled writer knows ways to manipulate time, showing an event in progress, exhuming an event from the past, switching away from a character who actually or metaphorically be hanging from the side of a cliff. Nor is it necessary to remain with a time line, instead juggling the various scenes and confrontations like the dealer in three-card monte.

Example of a relatively brief time line, Romeo and Juliet. In more modern times, James Grady's 1974 novel, The Six Days of the Condor, was successful enough to have evolved into a movie in which the time line was cut in half to The Three Days of the Condor. William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson's novel, Logan's Run, had a time-line imposed by population explosion: When a character reached the age of thirty, along came the Sandmen to put the character to sleep, as in the final sleep. Somewhere along the way between the penultimate draft and the draft submitted to the publisher, Nolan and Johnson decided to cut back on the arc of character life from thirty to twenty-one.

The Iliad begins with the story already having been set in action some seven years previously. Tim Gautreaux's 2009 novel, The Missing, takes place largely in the late 1920s but begins in the final days of World War I, then flashes back to an earlier time yet before delivering the reader back to the time the protagonist, Sam Simoneaux, returns from his experiences in World War I France to his job in New Orleans, where the main action sets forth.

Time in story is meant to be manipulated, is asking to be manipulated. Time may be compressed in narrative, frozen within the boundaries of a scene, projected into the future with a cheery "And they all lived happily ever after."

Some stories are about lost or stolen time, others are about travels in time, others yet are about waiting to grow up or trying to forestall the age process, while an entire sub-genre exists in which the focus is on the extent to which characters will go to deny the effects of time. Peter Pan did not wish to grow up, but even more worth further study and consideration is the character Jo Stoyte, from Aldous Huxley's engaging satire, After Many a Summer Dies the Swan. Stoyte, a Hollywood millionaire, at first wants merely not to grow older, but this desire morphs into his not wanting to die

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