Saturday, April 17, 2010

Time and Watched Pots

This has been a weird week! Trying to squeeze some computer time in between my kids' studying and assignment schedules is nuts. They're both busy & organized & hard-working - which is great, but it does mean I can't borrow their computer very often. It's only been a week since mine was sent to the laptop homeworld for repair, but it seems much longer :)

Time is elusive. The old adage about the watched pot taking longer to boil is so true. This week has flown by, but it's also been forever since I had my own computer!

Time can also be elusive in our writing. We decide how to make time pass for our characters. We obviously don't want to follow them each and every moment of their day, so we pick and choose which moments to highlight.

We want to have a few of those watched pots moments - building anticipation. We also want unwatched pot moments - where time flies by and the characters are taken by surprise by a sudden event.

Writing both of these types of scenes takes different kinds of skills. I like writing both. I love to slam a surprise into my characters when they least expect it, but I also like to build that tension - to make the waiting unbearable.

Do you have a favourite way of handling time? Do you prefer watching the pot boil or letting it surprise you?

(On another note, I've received a few blog awards from some great people. I'm going to hang on to them for a bit (another time issue!). I just can't hang on to a computer long enough to do the linking required. I'm doing a lot of my blogging on my iPod Touch. I'm glad to have it, but it takes me forever to do anything and my eyes just can't work on the small screen for very long! But I do appreciate the awards and I will do a proper thank you when the computer's back!)

121 comments:

  1. Good question! Maybe a little more toward the pot boiling. My fiction books aren't tense in terms of mystery or action, but tension builds in the relationships.

    Yeah, I've not had much time this week either. Next week is more of the same. And then I'll collaspe!

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  2. Diane - pot boiling is so much fun! I like the relationship-building kind of tension. Should I? Shouldn't I? Fun stuff.

    Hope the trip is going well! You'll need a rest for sure when you're back home!

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  3. Yes, time is elusive. I'd heard time begins to move faster as we get older and I'm finding that to be true. I look back and realize something happened 10 years ago that feels like 10 minutes. It's mind boggling. I'm looking forward to playing with time as I inch towards fiction writing.
    Karen

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  4. Hurry back, Jemi's computer! We miss you! :)

    I'm all for pot-boiling. Let it simmer, let it steam then... explode!

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  5. Think I probably use the surprise method more often.

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  6. Sometimes I feel like I've been watching the pot simmer that is my book FOR-EVAH. Just kidding. I am testy with myself for not finishing yet. As for scenes, I think I write them both ways depending on what is happening.

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  7. Karen - I'm finding time works more quickly as I age too. Amazing!!

    It is fun to play with in writing :)

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  8. Talli - thanks! I can't believe the laptop's only been gone a week.

    The simmering is so much fun! :)

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  9. Alex - surprise is good. One of my favourite scene's I've written involves a big bang out of nowhere. So much fun!

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  10. Tricia - it can seem forever, can't it? When I struggled with the ending, it seemed to take ages and ages to find the right angle.

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  11. Sometimes I feel like the crocodile that swallowed the clock in Peter Pan is following me around. Tick, tick, tick....

    Pot boiling for sure. I like turning the heat up little by little till the whole thing boils over. My characters don't appreciate it but I sure do!

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  12. Interesting, as I was just charting the time line of my WiP. I'm doing the revisions, and trying to make sure the time lines (basically) line up.
    (it is a Justifiable Procrastination Method, whereby I AM working on my novel revisions, doing work that does need to happen, but NOT doing the real research that needs to be done. The BORING research. The kind that makes TIME slow, where each excruciating minute feels like an hour of torture.)

    Time tick-tocking.

    I hope your computer comes home to your awaiting arms soon.

    Happy Weekend,
    Lola

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  13. I really like the sudden surprises and seeing how they will reacte. Sometimes those fast reactions are when you discover an embedded characteristic, a buried vulnerability. But the build up of tension can be a lot of fun too. Hope you get your computer back soon!

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  14. I tend to be a pot watcher, but unfortunately, I'm just not a patient person.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

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  15. At my age, I should be more adept at scheduling myself, but I always struggle with budgeting time. Both in my writing and in life. Great post, Jemi.

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  16. I think I'm a pot boiling writer. My stories tend to involve building relationships and gradual changes, for the most part. Towards the end of stories, I like to throw in something sudden to shake them up. Nice topic!

    I hope your laptop gets repaired soon...

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  17. I don't do suspense too well, but I can sit with my characters and watch time flow by.

    Hoping you get computer time back sooner rather than later.

    ~ Rayna

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  18. Great post! As a reader and a writer, I like a boiling plot with some sudden, unexpected surprises to shake things up and keep it interesting.

    I hope your laptop returns in tip-top shape soon!

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  19. That's very true! I appreciate both kinds of time passage, the slow shimmering ones and the ones that jump on me. :)

    Hope your laptop will come back soon!

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  20. Alyson - love the image of the crocodile following you around! :)

    Plot/pot boiling is sure fun!

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  21. Lola - more procrastination ideas - yay!! :)

    You're so right - when you don't want to do something time can be excruciatingly slow!!!

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  22. Lynn - so true! In one scene my female MC finds out she's braver than she thinks when something surprises her :)

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  23. Thanks Stephanie! Patience isn't always easy to find, is it? :)

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  24. Roxy - I'm terrible at budgetting time. I've really got to learn to say that NO word more often. I overbook myself all the time. Not good!

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  25. Thanks Shelley - I hope so too, this is NOT easy!!

    I love the chaos of the boiling over pot at the end of a story. So much fun!

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  26. Thanks Rayna - me too :)

    You're so right - it's easy to have time fly when you're reading about interesting characters in tense situations.

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  27. Thanks Laura - I hope it's in great shape too :)

    I love those boiling plots - you never know when things are going to boil over!

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  28. Thanks Sandy! They are both lots of fun to read and to write - especially when they mix themselves up together.

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  29. Handling time passing is always a challenge. While I was writing my urban fantasy, FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE, an idea for a YA fantasy told through the eyes of a street orphan came to me. It focused on his adventures with my main character during a two week period that occurs in Nocturne.

    I carved that time slot out of my novel with the simple sentence from Samuel McCord, "For two weeks time passed like a kidney stone : days came; nights attacked." And then I went on with Nocturne's main crises.

    Have a healing weekend. Drop by my blog, pull up a cyber-chair, and chat for a bit, why don't you? Roland

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  30. Love the McCord line! :) Sounds like a great jumping off point for a novel!

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  31. I enjoy reading scenes that are written both ways. I especially like when they are mixed. Having somethings happen quickly keeps the pace moving. However, building that tension and making you wait page after page until you can't stand it a minute longer, makes the book that much harder to put down.

    Time never seems to be fast enough or slow enough depending on which way we're going. :)

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

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  32. I'm glad you liked McCord's line. In case you're wondering what my YA novel sounds like, here is the link to my post where I put down the first paragraphs of it :

    http://rolandyeomans.blogspot.com/2010/03/captain-outrageous.html

    Thanks again for replying. Sometimes it feels as if I'm playing to an empty house. Your blog is a welcome place to visit. Roland

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  33. Mason - you're so right! Time rarely works just the way you'd like it to move. :)

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  34. Roland - it takes time to build up a community - but it will come. :) Glad you're enjoying dropping by!

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  35. My novel covers a fairly compressed calendar--most of the events happen in just days. The trick has been to add in the slow build on some plot elements, when others happen suddenly. Once I have that mix right, THEN I'll be done with this book I've been revising for two years. Seems like revising in and of itself has a mix of slow and fast, you know what I mean?

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  36. Laurel - I agree - getting that mix right is so important!

    I do know what you mean. The ms I've got marinating at the moment seemed to take forever. And I know it still needs a bit of work. The current ms seems to be moving at a better pace.

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  37. I do the best I can do and that's all I can do. This is the framework I live and work in. Some days are better than others. But overall I look at the end result, not necessarily the stumbling fumbling rumbling I had to do to get there.

    Stephen Tremp

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  38. You know, dealing with time in a story can be difficult. I think flash fiction writers actually have an easier time because they seem to have a knack for compressing a large amount of time into a few paragraphs. But I struggle sometimes to show the passage of time. I guess my tendency is to let the pot boil. And I don't like summary, which you tend to have to do to show passage of time.

    Anyway, I think you have to have a good mix....

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  39. What a hassle having to be separated from your computer. Hope you get it soon as good as new.

    Sometimes the pot's got to simmer for a while, just so you're there to report when it starts boiling over or the lid blows. Usually don't want to tell about that major occurance unless the distance from the action has some sort of purpose.

    Lee
    May 3rd A to Z Challenge Reflections Mega Post

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  40. The 16+ days my kids were here I let my son-in-law work in my office because he was in Colorado working remotely for his Boston employer. I hated to interfere with his real work, so I'd sneak away to the bedroom with my much slower laptop to do essential non-real-work tasks.

    Being back in my own office today with my new desktop is so exciting. I haven't hardly moved from the room all day. Now it's almost time for dear hubby to arrive home from his bridge day and I have nothing thawed for dinner.

    Oh, wait, we were talking about writing, weren't we...I like going with the flow and being surprised by my characters so I like unwatched pot moments the best. I guess that's what darling hubby will find tonight--an unwatched pot (with nothing in it). :)

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  41. Yes, borrowing the kids' computers - little slivers of time.

    As for time in fiction, I compress, then go slowly. Boiling is great...

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  42. Time goes unbelievable fast. Is quite scary at times!

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  43. I planned my first book in a diary working around the moon phases. I wanted the full moon on Halloween but too many other events tied better.
    I draw an action graph before I start to write too.

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  44. My first book took place over seven days. It was a pacing nightmare because while a lot happened with regard to plot, the character arcs had to be subtle. Human beings don't do a complete 180 in a single week!

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  45. Stephen - I like that - focus on the end result - nice :)

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  46. Carol - so true - the mix is so important! I finally became comfortable with skipping chunks of time and just starting off in the next scene - took a while :)

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  47. Arlee - being there when the lid pops off is the most fun! Love the explosion :)

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  48. Pat - lol :) I hope you managed to find some kind of food!! I tend to let my characters lead as well so the surprises are often fun!

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  49. Anne - slivers of time is it exactly! Not always easy - but much, much better than nothing :)

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  50. Niki - it sure does! And the older I get the faster it goes :)

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  51. Elaine -I envy you your ability to plan in advance! Although I do like the surprises my characters have for me :)

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  52. VR - that's a very tight time frame! It must have been tough to complete all the plot arcs for sure!

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  53. You know, I forgot to tell you that first pic of the clock winding around stairs is just pure awesome.

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  54. I love everything about this thing called writing. I love it when my characters surprise me and then I love twisting their arms and watching the pot boil over the stovetop and all over the floor and then watching it all catch fire from a safe distance!

    Good post. You're doing pretty good without your computer!!

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  55. I love to take my characters by surprise, as they often do the same with me! heh

    Indeed, the idea of highlighting the important moments is fundamental to the story's pace, which in my opinion is one important pillar of good writing skills.

    Hope you'll have your computer really soon! Oh, the spiral clock is soooo odd!Love it! heh

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  56. I think the pot boiling slowly is my preferred method. I sometimes wish I could employ the old movie technique of the wind blowing the pages off the calendar :)

    Hope your laptop is back soon.

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  57. Carol - I love it too. Apparently it's called an eternal clock - I think it's gorgeous!

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  58. Thanks Yvonne - it's hard because I'm mostly doing it on my iPod & the screen is far too small for my eyes for very long! But it's better than nothing :)

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  59. Mari - I love the clock too! I agree - it's fun to surprise the characters - a little payback for what they do to us!!

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  60. Thanks Alexa - I'm hoping it's back soon too! Plot/pot boiling is such fun! :)

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  61. Wendy - surprises are so much fun!!

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  62. Time can also be elusive in our writing. We decide how to make time pass for our characters. We obviously don't want to follow them each and every moment of their day, so we pick and choose which moments to highlight.

    Boy, does that ring true. I've had a hard time pacing my current story.

    As for me, I'm a little of both. Sometimes I just like to take it easy and watch the second hand tick away, other times I just want to be surprised and have the day go quickly.

    This was a great post. Really got me thinking

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  63. Thanks Jessica - nice to know I helped you out a bit :)

    I like variety as well - it's always fun to surprise the characters, but I like having the tension mount as well!

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  64. yay for bloggy awards :)
    hope you get the computer back soon.
    xx

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  65. I tend to do both. Sometimes, I'll be writing and a character will surprise me and do the unexpected, but I always have something going on that builds toward the climax.

    Helen
    Straight From Hel

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  66. Thanks Michelle - it's driving me completely batty and it's just over 1 week!!!

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  67. Helen - yes - I like that mix too - kind of one big bubbling mess with mini explosions along the way :)

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  68. Hope you get your computer back soon. I've been there.
    I think it takes special skill to 'make those pots boil.'
    I read a few authors who put the pot on simmer for so long I wonder if anything will ever happen but their writing is so good I hang on and watch.

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  69. Susan - I hope it's repaired quickly too!

    I love that description - you're right. Some authors can keep me reading just through the wanting the other shoe to drop!

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  70. I can't imagine getting through the day without my laptop! Which is funny, since just a few years ago I didn't even own a laptop. I hope yours is fixed very soon!

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  71. Thanks Susan! It's amazing how quickly laptops can become an essential part of our lives! I can't wait to get it back :)

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  72. Your post made me stop and think about how time is handled in fiction. How do we as writers stop and give consideration to conveying the concept of time passing for the reader without boring them? It's difficult. And then there is always the concern, when we are dealing with multiple characters, how to keep the time logical and consistent. And don't get me started regarding flashbacks.

    Hmmm....seems like I need to sit down and give this more thought for a posting on my own blog. Thanks.

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  73. What an interesting blog. I love the way you've got us all thinking about how we get our characters to handle their time. It must be frustrating to be without a computer all week but at least you have the kids around still. All too soon they leave home and you might gain a spare computer but... anyway before I become maudlin I'm going to go away and think about time and characters.

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  74. For me, it totally depends on the needs of the scene. If it's the climactic scene or any other scene with unusually high stakes I slow it down. Otherwise, I tend to favor brisk writing.

    I think pacing is a tough thing to master & is something I have to approach very consciously. It doesn't come naturally for me yet.

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  75. I love this post. I am definitely a pot watcher when it comes to time. I can't breathe freely when I am waiting or anticipating something. It's kind of scary how much of our lives are just based on time and clock-watching.

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  76. I can't watch! Everything slows way way down. Sheesh! I hope you get your comp back soon!

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  77. I watch that pot and it always boils. Unless I forgot to turn the burner on.

    Jemi I always read your blog but when I go to comment my computer browser crashes. I don't know why. I just wanted to let you know since you always comment on my blog. You Are Being Read!!! Every once in a while, like now, it works...

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  78. Stewart - I'm so glad I could make you think! It's interesting to see what everyone's thoughts are. Time is fascinating in the real world and in fiction :)

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  79. Rosalind - lol :) you're so right -I'd rather have the kids here than a spare computer!! I'm not looking forward to them leaving!

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  80. Kristen - you're so right - the pace depends so much on the situation. I tend to write by instnct then fix up what's needed later :)

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  81. Julie - you're so right!! Waiting happens a LOT - I'm not a big fan of waiting in the real world but the building tension is such fun in fiction :)

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  82. Tamara - I hope it comes back soon - I miss it!! Watching and waiting are so hard! :)

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  83. Lisa - that's really odd - I wonder why that's happening?? I appreciate you letting me know. Unfortunately I don't have a clue how to fix that - I'm not very tech savvy!

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  84. Both are great methods, I think! I do have more tension in my books than actual action...and then moments of humor to relieve the tension...so hopefully I'm reaching a balance.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  85. great question jemi! i think sometimes i'm *capable* of waiting, while other times i just can't help but do the manic inbox refresh thing.

    i really WISH i could be surprised by wonderful news though. but then again, who doesn't?

    hehe another fab post, thanks!

    <3333

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  86. Since I specialize in flash, I find I don't do transitions very well now that I'm writing a novel. I tend to jump from scene to scene. I think I need to watch the pot boil a bit more. :)

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  87. Interesting topic to think about Jemi. I try to strike a balance. It can be tough sometimes. In the screenplay I'm writing right now, I show passing time in a montage of shots that are over several days. In a novel I try to do something along the lines of "the past weeks seemed to fly by in torrent of activities..." Something along those lines. Then you have those scenes where every second matters. :)

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  88. This is a good topic. When I read a book I like to see how the author handles time. I've learned some new methods this way.

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  89. Good topic. I have trouble with time - in real life and in my writing life. Sometimes I handle it really well and other times I just can't get the pacing right. I don't want there to be a lull but I don't want to overwhelm the reader (or the characters!) with action. There's a certain balance that needs to be struck so that it all falls into its appropriate stroke of the clock.

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  90. Elizabeth - I like the mix too! I also like the way you've interspersed the humour throughout your books - I think it works :)

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  91. Sooo, it's payback time! LOL

    Hey, this computer must arrive soon, so you'll have your fun back! :)

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  92. Tahereh - yeah - waiting can stink!! Sometimes a very small time can seem like next to forever :)

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  93. Simon - changing the way you write isn't easy! Transitions can be so tough. I don't mind a quick jump from scene to scene - but you're right - you can't do it all the time. :)

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  94. Thanks Lisa :) I'm so impressed you're trying script writing - I've never done that. I like introducing a new scene with just a few words to indicate time passing or major scene switch. It can work well.

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  95. Carolyn - it's amazing how much we can learn when we pay attention to the writing of our favourite authors! Time is an intersting challenge.

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  96. E - you're right!! A balance is important in both real life and in our writing :) Too bad it's not super easy to do!

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  97. Mari - LOL :) I'm hoping it's back really soon.

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  98. Sometimes, I like to have the reader have a vague idea about what's probably going to happen, but the characters are oblivious to the danger. Then the reader is rooting for the character, and the suspense is in how things will unfold.

    Hope your computer is fixed soon!

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  99. Layinda - yes! I like that little bit of foreshadwoing while keeping the characters clueless - so much fun!

    I hope it returns soon - they really didn't have a timeline for me but I'm crossing my fingers :)

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  100. I wouldn't have been in such a hurry to grow up if I'd known that with each passing year, less and less of my time would be my own.

    Great post!

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  101. Thanks India :) You're so right - we waste so much time wishing we're older when we're young - and then time speeds up!

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  102. After reading up on quantum physics for research, the concept of linear time (AM to PM, Sunday to Monday, year to year etc...) starts to crumble.

    Of course, thats no excuse for missing a deadline heheh

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  103. When you can claim the computer again, I have an award for you at my blog. :o)

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  104. Great post, Jemi.

    I like your analogy of showing the right moments to our readers. I envision it like this:

    I show the moments when steam first rises, when the first tiny bubble appears on the bottom of the pot, when the bubbles multiply but haven't quite let go of the bottom, when they gently undulate the water as they take turns reaching the surface and finally, when they whole pot pops and hisses as the water boils up and over the sides.

    And yes, I have even shown the scorched burner!

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  105. 1) I LOVE that picture of the clock you have! So cool, with the swirls!
    2) I am TERRIBLE at time management. I always let things run to the last minute and do it all at once.

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  106. Ee Leen - I love that linear time is a theory when so much of our lives are built around it. It will be interesting to see what the future brings - maybe we'll be able to loop around again - or warp time and travel through it.

    But deadlines will never change! :)

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  107. Thanks E! I'll get over as soon as I can!! :)

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  108. Cat - lol :) I do like all the stages of watching that pot boil - so much fun! Great description of yours!! :)

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  109. Beth - the clock is gorgeous, isn't it?

    I tend to start projects quickly, but I'm still always rushing at the end!! :)

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  110. I am terrible when it comes to dealing with time in my writing, Jemi. I have this tendency to keep writing through every second of time that my characters are going through - those are all the parts that ultimately get snipped during the edit!

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  111. Belle - thank the mighty writing gods there is editing! We can delete all the stuff we knew didn't belong, but had to write anyway :) I know I tend to write more than I need so that I have the right picture in my head. I cut it later.

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  112. I'm like you, Jemi, I like a mix of both. Sometimes I prefer to build and build that tension and then other times I like to let that surprise conflict fall like the proverbial ton of bricks. I let the story tell me which one it should be.

    And We miss you! (Here's hoping that you get your computer back soon!)

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  113. Thanks Jackee! That's so kind of you to say :)

    I do like that mix. It's so much fun throwing an unexpected event at them, but I also like to let it simmer and have them worry!

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  114. I do my best to share my time between blogging, writing, and family. Since my husband has been working overnights for the past 2 months I've had a ton of me time which is nice, but sad since I'd rather have him home.

    I blog some in the morning and then after work and then I make a point to work hard on my revisions!!!

    Great post and I love the clocks!!!

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  115. Thanks Jen! It's so hard to squeeze in time. And you're right - the solo time would be nice, but I'd rather have him home too :)

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  116. Hmm I like the surprises ;o) Hope your computer is back soon! Great post ;o)

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  117. Mary- lol :) I bet you've repressed those horrific memories for sure! I don't think the laptop's terminal - I think it's just a disconnect somewhere. I hope!! :)

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  118. Thanks Erica! I like surprises too - in real life only if they're good ones. :)

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  119. I enjoy both types of scenes, watched pots and surprises, whether I'm reading or writing.

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  120. I'm with you there, Medeia! It all makes for some interesting writing :)

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