Timing writing versus the story

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In a session at the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, I learned about the different ways to handle time in a story. Jim Shepard called this the “rate of revelation,” but there’s an even more elaborate way to look at how much to tell, and how quickly.

A story can be either unfolding or infolding. Some stories have both kinds of writing in them. Unfolding stories have actions, events; plot. Infolding stories have little of significance happening, but deliver insights and rely on beautiful language.

In a story’s time, summary pace is when the time spent in the scene is greater than the discourse time. When a story’s event time is smaller than the discourse time, you are stretching, slowing down, moving toward slow motion.

Finally, when the story event time progresses, and the discourse time is zero, that’s a scene break.

With all of this definition, you might wonder what to do, which pace to follow. There’s a note at the end of page in my Molskine notebook:

If you can pull it off, you can do anything you want in writing. Successful enterprise is an indefeasible strategy.

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