As I was writing today, I was thinking about how sometimes, time must pass. Sometimes, time must stretch, and sometimes it must be skipped or summarized. Story time isn't proportional. A minute can take two pages; four months can take a single page.
We all know we can skip every detail. (Do forgive my off-the-cuff examples, please!) We don’t want:
He walked across the room. He put his hand on the doorknob. He turned the doorknob. He stepped back and pulled open the door.
Boring! (Note how good I am at coming up with a boring example, LOL!)
On the other hand, sometimes we can use that sort of exaggerated telling of every detail to stretch out time. Sometimes making a mountain out of every second can build suspense:
Someone pounded at the door.
He closed his eyes for a moment, wishing this didn't have to happen now. He checked his watch, even though they hadn’t made an appointment: they weren’t the type.
His daughter wouldn’t pound, and--thank God--she was at a friend’s house. His wife was gone, gone for good. What would she think?
Knock, knock. More curt this time. Almost polite.
He stood, glanced at the window. Reminded himself he couldn’t jump ten stories and survive. Reminded himself he wanted to survive.
He wished, for a moment, that it could be an old friend. Maybe Danny, still young, still fresh-faced and mischievous, still asking him if he could come outside and play. But he had no friends left, not since--
A single, harsh knock splintered the wood.
He walked to the door, put his hand on the cold, sharp metal of the lock. Even as the pins tumbled, his mind searched for an escape. He moved his hand to the doorknob, but he was too slow.
The door crashed open.
Sometimes, passing time must be summarized. It wouldn’t make sense to be in a scene like that, and then say, “Four months later, he got the money."
Time needs to pass. It can't be perfectly proportional, but I can't spend two pages on one minute and then one line on four months.
It went on like that for weeks, again and again. They came. They knocked. They demanded the money he didn’t have. They always beat him until he submitted, until things went foggy and he passed out.
He could run. Hide. Disappear.
But it was better this way, better for his daughter. If he ran, he’d be running for life. He’d never get to watch her dance in The Nutcracker, never get to see her squeal when she got her toe shoes for Christmas, never get to kiss her boo-boos and make them all better. Not that she'd let him do that anymore. She was too old for that, she'd say. He thought she was too old for her age, too brooding for one so young, too street-smart to enjoy her time of childhood. It was all his fault.
So he opened the door every week.
At first, they were content to yell, throw a few punches, knock him out. They had a pattern: first one cheek, then the other, then a few good ones to the stomach. They made a wreck of the knee he'd messed up playing football and gave him more than his share of concussions.
Then boredom set in.
They got creative, had some fun taunting him, humiliating him, threatening him with that damned fancy Santoku knife his wife had spent a fortune on. It didn't take them long to enjoy its versatility: just a little cut here, a little slice there…
Um, okay, I’ll stop there. I have to write real stuff, LOL. My point is that sometimes we need to summarize time rather than just cut to four months later. That whole “four months later” thing in italics at the beginning of a new chapter doesn’t really do it for me.
I don’t know how to think of the proportions except to feel them. Am I passing time and boring a reader? Am I not passing enough of it? Is it passing too quickly? Am I missing moments to make a mountain out of? Am I making a mountain out of one boring molehill? Where should I summarize? Where should I jump ahead? Where should I draw out the suspense?
How do you know that sort of thing without just feeling it?
How do you pass the time?