In the first post in this series, we saw how bestselling authors use five special techniques to massively leverage story time. Here they are again, as a reminder:
- Time Warp
- Time Stop
- Time Wrap
- Time Jump
- Time Check
If you missed the first post on Time Warp, read it here.
This time, let’s look at the second time tactic, Time Stop.
You can think of Time Stop in a number of ways:
- Slowing down the story
- Magnifying the story
- Shifting Genres
From this list, let’s co-create a quick definition of Time Stop.
“Time Stop is manipulating story time by intentionally slowing down the pace, magnifying a story element or shifting genre focus.”
Now let’s deconstruct each part of the definition so that you can apply this advanced time tactic to your own writing.
Slowing Down The Pace
Slowing down the pace may seem like a bad thing. I mean, it sounds totally counter productive to good storytelling.
Or does it?
As a general rule of thumb, most stories benefit from an overall faster pace. However, when a story is all lightning quick scenes, spitfire banter dialogue and action scene after action scene, the reader can get story exhaustion.
Story exhaustion happens when a reader is overwhelmed and unable to process the story. There is a reason God rested on the 7th day. There is a reason the body is designed to rest and recover.
Stories simulate life (the most dramatic parts, at least!)
Give your reader moments of pause to rest and recover, to process the events up to that point. Consider them mini rest stops on the Autobahn. Sure, when it’s time to kick the story into high gear, do it in spades. But occasionally slow down so that you don’t out-write what your readers can bear.
Consider using Time Stops:
- Right after a big, heavy, emotional scene
- Between action scenes
- Right before an action scene
- When characters need to process
- When characters need to plan
- When characters have to make a difficult decision
Magnifying Story Elements
Another way to apply Time Stop is to magnify story elements.
In short, you choose to freeze-frame a particular element in your narrative, such as an emotional decision, fight scene or the death of a favorite character.
Story time doesn’t actually stop, it just decelerates enough for readers to hone in on something specific in the story. The text can run long, as might the number of pages in a Time-freezed scene. There might be action going on – fighting, cars exploding, goblins falling from the sky.
The idea here is akin to slow-motion in film.
You slow your story time for the briefest of moments. It may take 5 or 10 minutes to read something that happens in 10 seconds in the story.
Instead of writing “He swam to the other side of the river,” you break down each arm stroke, each kick of the legs, each emotion-laden thought, stretching the action over several paragraphs or pages.
Magnification is a versatile tool for storytelling. This is just one of many uses.
One of my favorite bits of writing advice comes from William C. Martell, screenwriter and author of the “Blue Book Series” on Amazon.
“Don’t see these as low moments in your story. View them as high moments in other genres.” (Paraphrased)
If you are writing a thriller or action/adventure, a romance subplot scene might seem like a “low moment” in your genre. However, it’s a “high moment” in a romance.
When you time-stop, you shift genre focus (briefly) to highlight emotion, action, choices, romance or that hidden room in your house nobody talks about (I’m looking at you Mr. Grey).
If you haven’t read any of Martell’s how-to books, you are seriously missing out.
Here is his most popular: The Secrets of Action Screenwriting (affiliate link). Don’t worry that the title says “screenwriting”. It is an exceptional tool for any fiction writer.
Want to read more about pacing? Check out this excellent blog post from Writer’s Digest: 7 Tools For Pacing a Novel
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