TIME! Time is the hidden element in all storytelling. When I was a child I watched a lot of old movies on TV — old monster films with Boris Karloff, musicals with Fred Astaire or Ruby Keeler, comedies with Claudette Colbert or Rosalind Russell, mysteries with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and so many more…
A lot of classic Hollywood films, of all genres, relied on obvious indicators of time to condense or elongate time in the storyline. The pages of a calendar flying by, the branches of a tree quickly rolling through the seasons or the words “Ten Years Later” made time fly by. The hands on a clock, or sands through an hour glass, usually slowed time down, stretching out each minute and milking it for every emotional opportunity.
Real time, a minute for a minute, is much less common. Hitchcock used it in ROPE with James Stewart. He shot this cat and mouse style mystery, loosely based on the famous Leopold and Loeb murder case, without cut-away shots and edits. If you look closely, you can see when one can of film ends and the next one begins, as the camera lingers on an inanimate object in order to end/start filming. This is the opposite of Jack Bauer’s split screen days in 24. I’m not a fan of 24 (too much torture for me) but I can admire the way time is both elongated and compressed in order to pack every one of the character’s days to the max.
When I write, I often set a story into a specific time frame — a night, a weekend, a week, a month, a summer. It helps me focus the action and control the character’s responses. Right now, I’m working on a novel that extends over a period of years — in one timeline; a period of months in another; three generations in a third; and a little less than a year in still another. Juggling the various storylines is about managing the passage of time for the characters.
No wonder this book is making me crazy!