Reader time.

How long will the reader spend with the story, and is the time spent a reasonable amount for the story being told? A detailed epic rarely works in short fiction, and a second in a protagonist’s lifetime can rarely be drawn out into a novel without losing reader interest.

Time logic.

All the aspects of time in a story must be logical in sequence so that cause and effect is believable.  For barebones examples, a happening in 1994 cannot cause something to happen in 1993, or a character cannot fly an airplane that wasn’t invented at the time of the story.

Author time.

Authors should allow sufficient time for story creation to make the story the best possible.  Deadlines suppress great story creation.

Time condensation—narrative bridge

At times, detailed logical explanations will not fit into the storytelling.  Narrative bridges can be used to avoid logical explanations.  For example, you might have a character in a story who goes from point A to point B.  Story time elapsed is six hours.  The character might take a plane or go in an uninterrupted car trip at eighty miles per hour.  But the character doesn’t have her own car or enough money for a plane.  Rather than work out the details of the character’s solving the problem (assume it isn’t important to the story), the reader will often accept a brief narrative summary of the fact that character went from A to B.  “Hester was determined to meet Harry in New York and she made the trip in six hours,” might be used rather than showing her movement by plane or car and having to solve the credibility problems of how she paid for it.

Tense and time

All stories have happened.  Even stories set in the future have happened in the author’s mind.  This is true of present tense stories, too.  Present tense is a useful device for invoking a sense of immediacy in a story that has already happened.

There is a certain artificiality to present tense in a story, and readers will vary widely in their acceptance of stories told entirely in present tense.  Present tense usage can also create an awkward orientation for the reader in time, including difficult transitions in and out of flashbacks.  It can also create doubt about the narrator and character’s perspectives and authority on story action.

In the moment

When writing in the moment, the reader is provided information filtered for the illusion of being in the time and place of the happening.  This is not related to tense, and either past or present can be used.  In the moment relies on detail, adherence to minute description of the action in logical sequence, and time movement that approximates the pulse of real life.  For example: He struck the wooden match against the side of the matchbox in the dark, directed by habit.  The glow from the flame illuminated the four-foot fuse.  He placed the match to the fuse-end; the spark sputtered, and then the tight flame progressed with steady acceleration toward the bag that held the explosives.