Wednesday, July 15, 2015

It's About Time!

So HWMNBMOTI and I watched Gone Girl on Saturday night and it got me thinking about something that I actually think about a lot when I read, and think I want to think about MORE when I write.

You guessed it. Time.

Now the thing about time is people seem to have really strong opinions about how time plays out in books. Some people really want time to flow in one direction. Other people (like me) love a story that does some wonky backward/forward stuff, provided it is done well.

James Michener

The first book I remember really noticing this done elegantly is The Source. This was the first of Michener's location novels where he goes through time in one place to give us a sense of history. The clever thing I loved though, was that it traveled backward (archeologists digging down) and forward (from the first civilization built at the water source).

Tom Robbins

Tom does some of the bendiest stuff with time I've ever seen. He slows it and speeds it and makes it a character and it's fantastic, but his novels are all on a sort of surreal plane—the reader knows he's playing. It is just our job to enjoy the trip.


I've seen some mysteries jump between the solving and the happening of the crime—I can like that a lot, done well. Harry Dolan's latest, The Last Dead Girl, does a bit of this and I love it.

Done Wrong

I've seen a lot of books with flashbacks or “finding papers or a journal” that manage to pull up the old story, but I find them clunky a lot of the time. Not always... if done as a mystery I can get along with it—learning with the MC. But I've seen it done badly enough to know to BE CAREFUL!

But What is RIGHT?

This is the trick, right? I know I've seen it done well and done poorly, so how do I make sure I fall on the right side of this?

The reason I'm asking as, after watching Gone Girl, it occurred to me that Medium Wrong, which so centrally heads toward Amanda's mother's story, MIGHT best be told in a bit of parallel... I think... But I want to make sure I am not clunky and awkward about it.

So do you like stories that mess with time?
Not counting specific time travel, what are your favorites?
Any words of wisdom as I think about doing this?

ALSO, if you are near Ann Arbor and write mysteries, Aunt Agatha's is hosting a writer in residence day at the Ann Arbor Bookfest for a few lucky authors to get one on one feedback.  Check here for details.


L. Diane Wolfe said...

I tend to get confused when a story jumps around in time. Maybe that's just because I've read books where it wasn't done well. One that did work was The Man Who Folded Himself.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I don't mind bendy time stuff as long as it's easy enough to orient myself in the story. If it takes a lot of time to figure out where/when I am, I'm going to lose the flow then lose interest.

Yolanda Renee said...

I had an issue with time hopping while writing my last novel. i hope i solved it and the readers are intrigued and not put off. It's a difficult thing to do well - fingers crossed.

Christine Rains said...

If done well, a story that messes with time can be fascinating, but otherwise, it is confusing. I can't think of any off the top of my head. All I think about when time travel is mentioned is Doctor Who! :)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I think you're so right that it is tricky and a writer has to be careful. I've seen it done well on TV and in movies but not so much in books. Good luck with that.
Susan Says

Chrys Fey said...

I don't mind going backward in a story as long as I can keep up and the story doesn't get jumbled in my head. I'm not sure if I could pull this off in my own writing.

Andrew Leon said...

I don't know if I have a problem with messing with time so mush as messing with space. For instance, Martin moves people around in his stories like picking up game piece and moving it somewhere else. On the surface, he's messing with time, but, really, he's disregarding distance. I actually hate that kind of manipulation in a story that's supposed to be bound by actual physics.

Helena said...

I still haven't seen Gone Girl but I read the novel, and it was written so well that for me there was no confusion in the way the story moved back and forth in time and between the husband and wife. The novel Eight was very good for having two parallel stories: one in the present and another in the eighteenth century. And A.E. Byatt's (sp?) possession also had a couple different timelines that fused together very well. But then these are well written stories; in less sure hands time switches can seem clumsy.

Liz A. said...

As long as I can keep up with what is happening when, I'm okay with it. There was this series of fantasy novels (the Deverry novels by Katherine Kerr) which did a fascinating thing with time. All the characters were reincarnations, and for long passages we'd go back to their previous lives.

Anyway, I reread the books, and there was this ring that I noticed moved backward in time during those flashbacks. It was fascinating. The end of the ring's story was in the first book, but I didn't realize that until I read the books the second time. (Kind of a River Song thing.)

Denise Covey said...

I'm just reading a Man Booker Prize novel which does the time slip all the time and my head is spinning. I don't really enjoy this style. Love Michener! :-)

Jan Morrison said...

If you want a serious mind bender on time (and space) then read Kate Atkinson's Life After Life. Anything Kate writes is fabulous - from her literary award winning fiction to her great mystery series. In Life After Life she does something I've never heard of and won't explain. The book that follows that one is called "A God in Ruins" and while she doesn't do the same time bendy thing - she follows the same set of characters. The main protag of that one was a young WWII bomber pilot. Since that was what my dad was, I found it very touching.
Why not bend time and space when you are a novelist? Learn to do it well and it just goes along with making up worlds full of people that only exist in your (and your readers') head.