A BIG THANK YOU to Mega-Talented Laura Drake for inviting me to be her guest blogger today!
Writers are all powerful. Well, in their fictional worlds they are all powerful.
Two of the 74,386 story dynamics that writers control are expanding time and compressing time. Today we’ll focus on the most fun of the two, and the one writer’s sometimes neglect, expanding time.
When would you want to expand story time?
When scene events justify zooming in on the POV character’s experience, minute by minute, or second by second.
Maybe even picosecond by picosecond.
You’ve got to love that word. A picosecond is one trillionth of a second.
In real life, people can send and receive up to 10,000 nonverbal cues in less than one minute.
Yes. That’s a true statement.
We can process up to 10,000 nonverbal cues in less than a minute. Such a shocking number, and cool too.
When what’s happening in your scene is critical or crucial, decisive or dangerous, life-changing or life-threatening, you want to expand time, big time. Don’t hold back. I recommend writing it bigger than you normally would, then rein it back in until it’s just right.
I’ll share two examples of expanding time, and a few examples just for fun. All examples in this blog are from Margie Grads.
Joan has taken all my writing craft classes online, and she finished her second four-day intensive Immersion Master Class with me in Colorado on Monday.
The Set Up: Alyssa, a radiologist, just completed a scan on a prisoner named Creek.
Joan Swan, FEVER, Excerpt from Chapter 1
The hair on her neck barely had time to lift before heat washed her back. Creek’s hard body closed around her. What the hell? A cool chain cut across her throat. No. She sucked air. No. Her fingers clawed at the metal. No!
“Don’t make a sound.” He spoke soft and slow, his chin on her shoulder as he bent over her and pressed his cheek against hers from behind.
Her brain finally came back online. Air wisped into her lungs and fed the new baseline of fear. When Creek straightened, he rose ten inches above her. And she now registered not only his size, but the sheer strength in all that corded muscle she’d been admiring. His movements controlled, purposeful, almost zen-like in confidence.
“You idiot…” She barely breathed the words, the metal and pressure restricting her vocal chords. “Let go—“
The chain jerked once, cutting into her trachea. “Shut. Up.”
Pain cut off all thoughts but sheer survival. Air. Breath. Air.
She wedged her skull against his collarbone to allow a fraction of relief on her airway. Oxygen wisped through the stricture. In. Out. In. Out. Her gray matter slugged back to work, edged with hot, sharp panic that threatened to invade every crevice and drive her insane.
The officers’ boots were still visible beneath the curtain where they stood in the hall, but she couldn’t draw enough air to speak let alone scream. And the links of metal weren’t cool anymore. They burned, as if Creek’s body heat streamed through the metal.
I SKIPPED A FEW PARAGRAPHS:
- THE GUARDS CHATTER ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CURTAIN
- CREEK GOT SCISSORS OFF HER DESK
Jesus. “Put…those down.” A spurt of terror gushed up her chest. Her fingers searched for a millimeter of leverage between the chain and her skin. “You’re…burning…me.”
Creek’s head tilted down, his whisker-roughened chin scraping her cheek. “Fuck.”
The pressure eased and Alyssa ran her cool fingers over raw skin, choking in blessed air. Her relief was short-lived as the rasp of metal on metal sounded in her ear. A hard blade pressed against her neck. Her eyes squeezed shut.
“Not another sound,” Creek whispered, “or I’ll cut your throat.”
“All right.” The older guard sounded relaxed and jovial as he swooshed the curtain aside. “Are we all done in—?”
The room went completely still. The extended, shocked moment expanded, taking on weight and mass and volume like one of the cancers Alyssa fought so hard to find and fight in her patients.
Kudos to Joan Swan!
What techniques did she use to make expanded time work?
1. Visceral Responses – hair on neck lifted, spurt of terror gushed up her chest
2. Specificity – One of dozens of examples: She wedged her skull against his collarbone to allow a fraction of relief on her airway.
3. Body Language – throughout
4. Dialogue Cues
- He spoke soft and slow
- The older guard sounded relaxed and jovial
5. Power Internalizations – throughout
6. Power Words – cut, fear, strength, muscle, confidence, restricted (airway), pain, survival, air, breath, oxygen, hot, sharp, panic, invade, insane, skull, airway, screamed, burned, terror, pressure, raw, choking, blade, cut your throat, shocked, cancers
7. Backloading – Power words at the end of sentences.
8. Cadence, cadence, cadence!
1. Asyndeton – His movements controlled, purposeful, almost zen-like in confidence.
2. Polysyndeton – . . . taking on weight and mass and volume . . .
3. Simile – . . . like one of the cancers . . .
4. Onomatopoeia – whooshed, wisped, rasped
5. Alliteration – throughout
Wow! Look how Joan powered up her expanded time passage.
FYI: The Kindle version of FEVER is on sale for $3.99 through May.
Our second example of expanding time is from Writer’s in the Storm’s Laura Drake. Laura is a multi-multi-multi-Margie-Grad, and an Immersion Grad too.
FYI: In case you don’t know Laura Drake’s publishing news, in January, she landed a 3-book deal with Grand Central for her series set in the world of professional bull riding. And last week, she picked up another contract for a Superromance! Congratulations Laura!
Laura wrote this zoomed in version of expanding time after Immersion class. It’s from a Woman’s Fiction tentatively titled, A Day Made of Glass.
The Set Up: Harlie saves a Pomeranian from being pummeled by a bull.
Yipping in triumph, the dog shot like a flaxen arrow to the center of the arena and faced Patrice with a panting grin.
The bull stood in front of the gates, snorted, threw his head up and with white rimmed, rolling eyes, regarded the irritant. Harlie watched, frozen. The bull strutted, looking around, deciding. It might have walked to the open exit gate if the Pomeranian hadn’t challenged it with a cascade of furious yapping.
The bull wheeled to the center of the arena, dropped its head, and with a heavy snort, charged. The dog held his ground, barking at the charging one-ton animal like a drunk with little-man syndrome.
Why isn’t anyone doing anything? Besides Patrice, who shrieked from the bleachers. Harlie’s hands jerked from the pole fence. The dog was a pain in the ass, but it was about to be pummelled to a bloody rag under the bull’s hooves.
She didn’t think. Ducking between the poles, she judged the bull’s trajectory and ran on a diagonal that would allow her to scoop up the dog without getting stomped.
She barely heard the shouts of the onlookers. Instead, she focused on the speed of the bull, gaining, gaining.
No way she’d make it to the fence.
The sweet rush of adrenaline hit her like a heroin-mainlining junkie. Just as strong, just as welcome. It sang through her veins, lifting her, making her impervious — superhuman. She sped up, heart thundering in her ears — or maybe that was bull’s hooves.
Everything seemed to slow. Details stood out in perfect focus: the shine of spit on the dog’s bared teeth, the whorl of hair at the center of the bull’s forehead, a small scar next to its white-filled eye.
In full stride, Harlie reached the center of the arena, snatched the now cowering fur ball by the nape, and kept moving. The ground shook with pounding hooves. She tensed her muscles for impact, but felt only a sliding rub of horn on her butt and the rush of air at her back as the bull passed. Clutching the suicidal mutt in a death grip, Harlie sprinted for the fence.
She’d only taken a couple of steps when the panicked yells of the onlookers penetrated the swelling chorus of the adrenaline song in her head. Harlie didn’t have to look. She knew bulls. The animal had wheeled, and from the vibrations in the soles of her fancy cowgirl boots, was bearing down to gore her.
No time. She heaved the dog toward the open-mouthed, red-faced men on the opposite side of the fence. Harlie’s brain registered a stop-action photo of the little dog, hair blown back, flying through the air, mouth open. She hadn’t known that dogs had an expression for terrified, but this one sure did. It hit the ground running and streaked for the line of boots at the fence.
Harlie spun on her heel. The bull was farther away than she’d guessed, but closing fast. She shot a glance to the fence. It seemed as if she were seeing it through the wrong end of a telescope. A bull will beat a human in a race, every time. She’d never make it.
Tension zinged through her. The timing had to be just right. Failure would come in the form of lunging horns and bone-snapping hooves. Head down, the bull came on.
Decision made, the fear in Harlie’s chest lay down before a rising exaltation of knowing. Crouched in a marathon runner’s stance, she shook the jitters out of her hands and gauged the bull’s closing speed.
One more step –
Harlie exploded, launching herself straight at the bull.
She took two long-jumper strides.
The bull charged in, lowering its head to hook her.
On the third stride, perfectly timed, her foot came down in the center of the bull’s broad forehead. He threw his head up and she was launched, flying over the beast’s back
It seemed she rose forever, her stomach dropping, shooting the sparkly fireworks of a roller coaster’s first hill. A quiet, high-pitched sound escaped her lips. It might have been a giggle.
When the arc finally began its downward tail, Harlie looked for a place to land.
Wow. Pacing. Pizzazz. Passion. Power.
That’s the kind of writing that earns contracts.
Kudos to Laura Drake.
Blog Guests: What did Laura Drake do to make her expanded time piece work?
Hint: Review my deep editing points for Joan Swan’s passage – and fill in content from Laura’s excerpt.
I’m sharing a few more examples. SHORT examples. I want to spotlight examples from unpublished, not-yet-contracted Margie Grads too.
Diane Wied, Immersion Grad – Haunted Memory
“Where would you like for me to start? The part where we ran off the road? The part where the psycho chased us? Or the part where I lost a six year old child?”
Diane used anaphora to pick up pace, deepen character, and give the scene a cadence boost.
Alex Ratcliff, Immersion Grad – Undercover
Cooper’s mind skidded to a mental stop. The Sheriff. What was he doing here? Cooper heard the harsh rap of knuckles on the glass over Ella’s head. There was a five second pause that seemed as long as the Jurassic period.
Alex gave the reader a cliché twist, and an uber-fresh pause.
Kimberle Swaak, Immersion Grad – Shadows of Doubt,
Two fresh dialogue cues, amplified.
1. “Well, laa-tee-daa.” She stretches out her words, loads them up with an extra serving of Tennessee twang. “Don’t that sound fancy.”
2. Her tone takes a serious turn, matching mine, and her voice and vowels soften into the more generic timbre she perfected in college. Less country hick, more Southern belle. Unlike me, Lexi can turn her accent on and off like a faucet.
Note: Perfect cadence throughout.
Bronwen Jones, Home to the Lake
NOTE: The POV character is in her mid-eighties, still lives alone. Lyn, her niece, the old woman’s only relative, shows her a pamphlet.
It’s a pamphlet, and she smooths it out on the table, leans on the back of the chair again. There’s a picture of a smiling silver-haired couple, a woman dressed in a beige jersey frock and pearls, and a man in a knitted cable jumper the colour of the sky on a clear winter’s day. I’m greatly taken with the contentedness that shines in their handsome faces.
I look to Lyn for a hint and am thrown by what I see there. Something akin, I’m sure, to what Jesus saw in Judas. Something dark moves within me and my own expression changes—I feel my face moving—to that of an old bitch who knows she’s to be put down.
Bronwen’s short expanded time excerpt is loaded with power, including description, eponym (what Jesus saw in Judas), a POV character’s changing expression, and a power internalization. And the whole piece is cadence-driven.
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