Monday, September 12, 2011

Timelines and Timewarps

THE READER by Fragonard (1732-1806)
I was reading a review of one of my books the other day and the reviewer mentioned that the shortness of the timeline in the story bothered her. She had a point, in the first half of the book, there was a lot of story condensed in a very short number of days, but at the time I couldn't see a way to make it different.  I'm not sure even now that I'd be able to, but I acknowledge the speed with which things happen in the crucible of a romance novel can make the reader (even this reader) stop and think.

This whole concept got me thinking about the dichotomy between author time, book time and reader time.  Think about this: an author takes several weeks to months to write a single title.  In those months, she may cover only a few days or weeks in the life of her characters and then when the reader picks up the story, she may spend mere hours devouring it.  Of course my story didn't feel rushed to me...I'd spent months writing it, but it felt rushed to the reviewer because not only had the actual events spanned only a couple of weeks overall, but she'd only spent a few hours reading it from start to finish.

She'd been in the pressure of the crucible and found it wanting.  If we're honest, we've probably all read books where this kind of timewarp has sent our brains reeling a bit.  Readers who take a week or more to finish a book may not experience the same sense of whiplash, but the truth is - no reader is going to spend as much time with a book as the author does.

Which was one of the early lessons in my craft for me - and one I needed the reminder of this review to pay heed to.  When crafting our stories, we all must make sure the author sense of time does not make the reader's sense of time too jarring.  It doesn't matter if I spend an entire year writing a book, I need to be aware that my reader is going to give it hours, or at most - days.

It's your turn:  can you remember the shortest (in character time) romance novel you read, or the longest?  What struck the most about the story and did it end up on your keeper shelf?

I will admit to avoiding saga length stories like the plague.  Seriously...if I discover a story is going to cover several years, much less decades, I have no interest in reading it.  Which may well be why the crucible of my stories are often comprised of fewer calendar days for my characters. :)  We write what we love to read. :)


marybelle said...

I tend to find most romance stories are about the same length. I do want evens to unfold in an appropriate time space. Unlike you I love grand epics. I grew up on James Michener.

girlygirlhoosier52 said...

I can't remember reading anything in particular that seemed to be wrong in a time frame sense. However, I'm also like Marybelle I love epics.. Michener, Wouk, Gabaldon for example... In one way, you could say that romance authors who do 3 or 4 book series are doing epics in another form?

Judy said...

It's frustrating when the couple has a five minute conversation and somehow it magically lasts all through dinner, but I also have trouble with books where I know that everything written couldn't have possibly happened in the short amount of time given.

I don't care if a full length novel takes place in a few days or weeks, as long as the time-frame makes sense. I loved Lord of the Rings and Twilight, but those are my exceptions. I love related series, where each book focuses on a different couple. I have no limit on how many of those there are. For example, I've noticed that Royal Brides now has nine related stories. Not complaining at all. :-)

Virginia said...

I kind of like books to come together in a timely matter. With a series of books I perfer them to be no more then three or four. Any more then that I usually give up on the story. I not sure if I get bored with it or what.

catslady said...

I'm thinking I don't mind the length of time as long as I am involved and care about the characters. I'm pretty easy about anything the author wants to do as long as I feel connected. I will read anthologies and/or the longest epics (I too grew up reading such authors as Michener, Wouk, Caldwell and agree that now they make a series of it).

Anne said...

I know I've read Harlequin or Silhouettes that have taken place over a couple of days. Dating myself, the long ones have probably been Mario Puzo's books or Sidney Sheldon's. I think Dune covered a lot of time, I know I didn't remember half the characters by the end.

Maria said...

I've read a couple where the action takes place over a couple of days and there's lots of it and it does bug me because the couple are complete strangers at the beginning and then by the end they are getting married - they are virtually still strangers - and it probably wouldn't happen that fast in real life but on the other hand if I wanted real life- I wouldn't be reading romantic think the shortest timelines happen in ebooks though -there was one I read recently where everything took place in one day- book title is Thrill of the Night- it's less than 50 pages in length but the author has now written a sequel to it which I want to read to see what happens next

Jane said...

I think Karen Rose's books often takes place over a few days. I don't mind reading books that span a few years.

Lucy Monroe said...

I've read Michener, but not Gabaldon - though I tried and couldn't get into her story. The Dragonriders of Pern series often covers lengthy periods of time in a book and I didn't mind that, perhaps because the focus of those stories is *not* the romance. I get quite frustrated when it takes too long for the protagonists to get a clue and knapsack to go with it. ;-)

I adored the Lord of the Rings series when I was young, but have not reread them in more than a decade.

Girlygirl...I think you're right - authors like Janet Evonovich and Josh Lanyon who take several books for their protagonists to admit to and submit to love are in a sense doing exactly that, writing an epic novel over a series of stories. :)

Judy...that's exactly what I'm talking about here, though...that sense that the timing doesn't work for, or within, the story. I'll find myself writing a scene and asking does this make sense as it stands? It's easy to give a transitionary phrase to make it work, but the author has to realize she needs one.

I love my Royal Brides, so I'm really glad you enjoy them too!

The difference between them and an epic is that each story can stand on it's own and has a start, middle and happy beginning (I don't believe in endings, right?). I'm way too impatient to wait for Book 29, or something, before my central couple finds happiness together - both as a reader and an author. LOL

LOL Anne...same thing happened to me with Dune and the movie din't help much. ;-) Hubcap loved both.

Maria...your comment got me thinking. See, Hubcap and I were in love after our third date, engaged after 3 months and married two weeks shy of 11 months from when we met. It would have been sooner if I wasn't a full time student working multiple jobs to get myself through university. We've been married now for 23 years and are still very much in love. And what your comment did was make me realize that we often write what we know and I know fast and furious and *right for each other*. LOL

LSUReader said...

Gone With the Wind is the longest time frame I can remember--10 years. There is a whole lot of growth there, emotional and otherwise. It is on my keeper shelf.

I know I've read books with short time spans, though none readily come to mind. I'm okay either way, as long as the characters are fully developed.

Sherry said...

I'm not sure time length is the issue for me as much as character developement. I do read some of the shorter series books, usually by authors I already know and like, and I am not really into epics.

Couldn't get into Gabaldon, not a fan of Michner, and the Thornbirds by Collenn McCullough was painful.

I did however like Gone With the Wind and have a copy on the shelf. Also the last book I read that covered a span of years (10-12) the first one or two chapters gave snap shots of the relationship over that 10-12 year period and then most of the book took place over a few weeks.

I don't mind books that take years in a series though. S.L. Viehl's Star Doc series and J.D. Robb's Roarke and Dallas books are two that come to mind.

glittergirl said...

I don't care about the time span a book covers if the story works. I've read books that just covered a few days BUT I do have a problem if the romance proceeds TOO fast. They have to connect on an emotional level and have some sexual tension before it proceeds. I also don't care for books that are too simple. I like a story line that I can't write myself (and I'm NOT an author). If I can pretty much see where this is going I won't buy the author again. I love surprises and twists in the plot. The lovers have to really "not be able to live without each other".