Posted on January 2, 2014 I hope everyone had a great kickoff to 2014. Did you make Hoppin’ John, or follow another tradition for good luck? If so, I hope you’ve signed up for my newsletter, because I’m giving away a Nook Simple Touch, and some author friends who have been supportive and helpful in my writing endeavors are offering their books as prizes as well. If you haven’t, click here. Don’t wait; the newsletter will be going out soon. And, no luck needed to get 50% off on Dangerous Connections and Deadly Secrets at Kobo. You need to enter the code 50COUPON at checkout. Good through January 5th. Also, I found some more audio book coupons for all of my live titles: What’s in a Name?; Finding Sarah; and Hidden Fire. Just ask.
I’m not talking about pacing, but rather about how readers get the feel for elapsed time in books. When I started writing I was afraid to leave anything out, and had to learn that sticking with my characters every minute of every day wasn’t necessary. What happens on the page has to be there for a reason, and although it took a lot of effort on my part, I learned that the skies wouldn’t open up if I typed, “three days later.”
Some authors even use headers at the start of chapters to establish time and place. I’ve never been fond of that throughout a book—probably because I skim over headers, or I’ve already forgotten where/when we were in the last chapter.
Other ways to clue your reader in might be characters checking the time (fairly obvious), internal thoughts (Wow, had it only been three days ago when…?), visual cues (noticing the sunlight filtering through curtains, or needing to turn on the lights).
I know one of my critique partners (the computer programmer) will call me out when I have a short scene with three lines of dialogue and say a half hour has passed. While I doubt he takes out a stopwatch to time how long it takes to deliver those lines, if you’re trying to fill a specific amount of time, make sure you’ve given enough hints to the reader to show it. Of course, this presents new problems. Is what you’re showing merely ‘filler?’ It needs to advance the plot, or show character development, or add depth.
In a scene I was working on recently, my character was reconstructing a timeline as it related to a crime. I needed to show enough action to fill that timeframe. When I re-read the scene leading up to that one, I realized that I’d been with the characters, so things were playing out in ‘real time’ on the page, and there was no way it could have taken as long as it needed to. Perhaps I’d been in too much of a hurry to get to the “excitement” at the end of the chapter. The scene showed Gordon going to Angie’s apartment, where she’d said she had something to show him. In the first draft, it was some scented candles. Rather than have my critique partner jump on me, I went back and filled in some of that time. I’ve noted those changes in italics.
What made me use this particular scenario? I’d been seeing a lot of repins on Pinterest for one of the recipes I’d posted on my Wednesday feature, and thought, since Angie’s a cook, and since readers like recipes, I could include them with the book, or for marketing promotions. Whether they actually advance the plot or show anything about the characters—well, that remains to be seen. What do you think? Filler, or interesting?
Angie opened her apartment door before Gordon had a chance to knock. The first thing that hit him was the aroma. Not cooking, though. Not even cinnamon. He saw half a dozen candles, which he assumed were the source of the smell, flickering on the coffee table. Not flowery, not spicy. Nothing he could attach a name to. Other than the candles, there were no lights in the room.
“Smells nice,” he said and hoped there wasn’t going to be a quiz about the fragrance.
“I thought so. Megan and I have been sampling different scents. Subtle, but they lend an atmosphere to events. These are mountain spring.”
“A little early, wouldn’t you say? Spring up here is months away.”
She laughed. “We’re not going for realism, just a mood. I’d say they smell fresh.”
“Fresh it is, then. What did you want to show me? Or is it the candles.” His hand rested on the box in his jacket pocket.
“No, there’s more,” Angie said. “Some things I’ve been working on for the party business. I need a guinea pig. In the kitchen.”
Gordon shrugged out of his jacket and hung it on one of the pegs by the door. He trailed Angie to her tiny but efficient kitchen and sat at the counter. “I’m game. Feed me.”
She giggled—damn, he loved it when she did—and went to the fridge. “Try to stop being all manly-macho and have an open mind. We’ve booked a lot of ‘ladies who lunch’ events, and we thought we’d try some less-predictable offerings than chicken Caesar salad, or boring pasta salads.”
She placed two small bowls in front of him. “What do you think?”
“What am I eating?” he asked, choosing one dish and poking through what looked like tiny, shiny white discs. He recognized tomatoes and cucumbers, red and green onions, but wasn’t sure what the rest was.
“Just taste it,” she said. “Giving it a name shouldn’t matter.”
He took a tentative sample. Lemony. Herby. And then an follow-up kick of something spicy. “Okay, this is good. Now will you tell me what it is?”
“It’s a quinoa salad. With basil and jalapeno.”
That explained the kick. He listened as she explained what quinoa was, about how she wished she could expand the menu at Daily Bread, and all sorts of other recipes she wanted to try. He knew enough to nod and agree at appropriate moments.
He sampled the second offering, which Angie explained was couscous. “It is a pasta salad, but not your everyday macaroni. This one’s got pine nuts and currants.”
“I got the pine nuts, but I thought the other stuff was raisins,” Gordon said. “And it’s good, too.”
“We could add a protein to any of these depending on what the client wants. Or change the spices, or different dried fruits—lots of possibilities.”
“I’m sure they’ll love it no matter what you do.” He forked up the last bites of his samples. “So, candles and food-tasting. Anything else you need of me?” He thought of the box in his pocket, wondering if this was the right time to give it to her.
She gave a suggestive grin. “Not everything. I wanted to give you your Valentine.” She swirled around and disappeared into the bedroom.
Was he supposed to follow? Visions of a negligee-clad Angie on a bed covered with rose petals danced through his head. Seconds later, she emerged, still wearing her jeans and Daily Bread polo, carrying a flat box wrapped in red and white polka-dot paper. She grinned, her eyes sparkling as she proffered it. “Happy early Valentine’s Day.”
He reached for it. From downstairs the shrill whoop whoop of a smoke alarm pierced the air.
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society