A MATTER OF TIME
“The same thing we do every night, writer. Try to take over the writing world.”
Our senses tell us that time flows . . . passing from the right here and right now into the undecided future, every moment ends up in the same fixed past. The perception of time is one of -- if not the most -- basic of human perceptions. We tend to think the concept of time can be proven by things like clocks or age spots. We 'experience' ourselves living from one moment to the next.
Yet, the deep (and devastating) truth is that nothing in known physics corresponds to the passage of time. It's true. Neither scientists nor philosophers understand what time is or why it exists . . . or appears to exist.
But don't panic! It's probably just that scientists haven't 'discovered' the key quality that gives time its sense of timeliness. Yup, we'll go with that one. Time is legit. Scientists just haven't figured out the science behind it yet.
So what's the nonexistance of time have to do with writing? I though you'd never ask.
NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT
Even though time has definite intagible qualities, for readers reality is associated with the present moment. So, how do we write about something -- that may or may not have happened right now -- in the past or present or future tense that someone in the future will read in their 'now'?
The trick is to stop thinking of time as linear. As humans, we divide daily life into the past, the present and the future. And our grammatical structure revolves around this distinction like the moon floating faithfully around the earth.
As writers we focus too much sometimes on forcing the flow of this thing called time by using every time-related word we can get away with: last summer and next fall, this week and the previous month, after midnight and before noon. Focusing on chronology, instead of what's happening right now, robs the reader of the their present reality experience.
Stop telling your readers when things are happening and just let them happen.
Too linear . . . . Howard licked the ice cream cone, then smiled.
Better . . . . Licking the ice cream cone made Howard smile.
Too linear . . . . Before she went to bed, Alice flossed her teeth three times, as usual.
Better . . . . Flossing her teeth exactly three times, Alice could relax enough to go to bed.
JUST IN TIME
"The past, present and future are only illusions, even if stubborn ones." Albert Einstein
Perhaps there are quantum processes that lend the impression of time passing moment by moment. Perhaps not. Either way, the writer who can break free from using the past, the present and the future as a presentation format, has a better chance of engaging readers right now.
As writers we can let go of our horizontal ideas of time and -- for the sake of literature -- borrow from Eastern philosophy which subscribes to the idea that all things and events are mutually interrelated. There are no seperations of then and now, there are only different manifestations of the same reality. If you begin to consider time as something that is present and unformed yet vibrating with energy and purpose. If you let time become what it truely is -- an inseperable web of space and life -- then you may be on your way to writing prose that will make time fly!
“Are you pondering what I’m pondering, writer?”
“Yes, Julie, but I'm not sure if Bert and Ernie were childhood friends before becoming room mates.”