Disrupting the Space and Time Continuum
I’m willing to suspend reality in much of what I read. I know that most real-life relationships don’t end as happily ever after as they do in chick lit. I’m pretty sure dragons don’t exist (though can we ever really be sure?) but I can enjoy reading a story about them. Time travel? Could be possible. Definitely could be interesting to read about. The hunky neighbor next door inviting the shy, dorky girl over for an afternoon of steamy... well you get the idea.
I’m willing to buy into a somewhat unlikely premise as long as it is well-developed. I’m along for the ride and am trusting the author to take me to my destination.
There are a few things I just can’t suspend reality on, though.
Time Passing Inconsistently
This is best illustrated through a (made-up) example:
John held Eileen’s hand as they began the easy ascent on the hiking trail.
“Isn’t it so pretty this time of year?” Eileen asked, turning to John with a smile.
“Just wait until we reach the top of the mountain,” John replied, grasping her hand more tightly. Not only was a gorgeous view waiting for them, but John had a certain little ring stashed in his pocket. He’d been waiting months for the right moment and figured now was as good a time as any.
“Does the path get much harder near the top?”
“Nah, it’s not too bad.” He’d purposely chosen an easy trail so he wouldn’t be a sweaty, disheveled mess when he asked the woman of his dreams to be his wife. The same couldn’t be said for his palms, though. He hoped she couldn’t detect the salty sweat dripping from his hands.
“You’re right, this isn’t too bad.”
He stopped walking, which in turn caused her to stop, as they were still holding hands. “Um, Eileen, I...”
“What is it John?”
OK, let’s stop right here. How did they get to the top of the mountain so quickly? I wish workouts would be over that quickly (and hikes in general, though I’m not the outdoorsy type) but they had just started the ascent and now they’re at the top? I see this all the time. Or characters stroll along the Seine in Paris, starting at Notre Dame and then after five minutes of conversation they’re in front of the Eiffel Tower. Unless they hopped on a hoverboard when the reader wasn’t looking, that’s just not possible.
I understand you don’t want to narrate every little step. But you can’t expect me to believe that people climbed a mountain in the time it took to say “Nah, it’s not too bad.”
To make sure your story doesn’t suffer the same fate, I recommend two things:
1. Read the dialogue out loud to see how long it really takes to say the lines. Could your characters have traveled/made dinner/murdered someone in the time you allotted them?
2. If not, add a sentence or two to indicate the passage of time. In the above example, I would insert the following paragraph after “He hoped she couldn’t detect the salty sweat dripping from his hands.”
They held hands the entire way up the mountain, John’s heart racing with the exertion of the hour-long hike as well as the anticipation of what was waiting at the top.
Then change “You’re right, this isn’t too bad.” to “You’re right, that wasn’t too bad.”
Unrealistic Use of Space
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve read about characters sticking items in their pockets that would never fit in a pocket! The two biggest offenders are books and sandwiches. Have you ever stuck a sandwich in your pocket? What kind of pocket are we talking about? For me, I assume a pocket on a pair of jeans because not everyone wears shirts with pockets (and even then, would a sandwich or book really fit in one of those?). Two quarters and maybe my keys are about all I can fit in my jeans pockets.
Did they mean the pocket of their character’s coat? The outer pocket of their briefcase or purse? The interior flap of a messenger bag? If so, then SAY SO.
“John stuffed the sandwich in his pocket” makes me picture a squished peanut butter and jelly sandwich heating up in John’s jeans, and when he goes to eat it later I’m going to gag. It takes me out of the story and makes me wonder about John’s eating habits. But “John slid the sandwich in his satchel and dashed out the door” keeps me in the story and ready to move on to the next part without paying too much attention to his sandwich. Unless there’s a reason for someone to have a sandwich in their pocket – “The stab wound would have been fatal if not for the sandwich in John’s pocket that absorbed most of the shock” – try to avoid doing weird things with space. Keep sandwiches (and books and pockets) where they belong – in the background of your story.
What pet peeves do you have? What egregious errors of the space-time continuum drive you crazy when you read?
About the Author:
Vicki Lesage is an IT Director by day, writer by night. And a full-time nerd. She loves fondue, wine, math, and zombies. She lives in Paris with her French husband and rambunctious son. Her first book, Confessions of a Paris Party Girl, is a humorous account of the ups and downs of her life in Paris. She's currently working on a baby-focused sequel, in between chasing her son and downing massive amounts of coffee.