A Story Spanning Lifetimes… or Days?

I’ve been thinking about time frames lately. I’ve read books detailing the lives of entire families, and I’ve also read a book that took place in the space of one day. (When I say “time frame” I’m talking about the main events of the story, not including any flashbacks.)

Most of the time frames for my novels span about 10 months’ time. That’s because they usually include a little romance, which takes time to develop. Romance feels unrealistic if you rush it. Since they’re YA, most of my novels take place within a school year, which usually runs from August to May – another reason for that 10-month time frame.

The shortest time frame I ever used in a novel was one month. I can’t seem to write a novel with a time frame shorter than that. Perhaps those kinds of time frames lend themselves better to short stories. I’ve read one particular short story (Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain”) where the main events took place in the space of a few seconds, which was genius.

The length of time it takes for the events of the story to take place is apparently dependent upon the story, but I find myself comfortable with one certain time frame.

So my question for you is… do you find yourself using one set time frame? Are you comfortable with longer ones or shorter?

9 thoughts on “A Story Spanning Lifetimes… or Days?

  1. I like it to be realistic as you say falling in love in a day doesn’t happen in real life – well, mine anyway 🙂 I find leaping through time hard like “the weeks past”, I need to work on smoothing it out and letting it flow better !


  2. One of my novels spans 15-16 years.
    Another will be just a few months.
    Perhaps time is not as important as the change that occurs in the characters.

    One of my favorite books, A Christmas Carol, happens all in one night ~ sort of. There are flashbacks to Scrooge’s childhood and early clerkship, and a glimpse into the future . . . but it’s basically from 7 pm to 7 am on Christmas Eve and Day.


    • “Perhaps time is not as important as the change that occurs in the characters.” < Very true. Sometimes change takes a long time and other times, it occurs virtually overnight – as in A Christmas Carol.


  3. Hi Maggie,
    First I like to introduce myself. My name is Walter and I found you at Nancy’s Spirit Lights the Way blog. I am an artist and amateur writer (I have spent some years in desktop publishing). Please stop by my art blog and check it out.

    I found your post “A Story Spanning a Lifetime….or Days? fascinating. The question you proposed caused me to think about how I manage time when creating art. Does the theme dictate the amount of time I spend on a piece? And how does time translate into a work or art. Not sure what I am thinking here, just want to say that you question is leading me to ponder the creative process.

    It is nice to know you have a knowledge of what is best time-wise for your writing.

    Nice to meet you and I will spend some time on your blog in the future

    Peace and Light


    • Hi Walter! I’ve never thought about that question in an art context before (because I’m horrible at art), but I’m glad I could spur you to think. I’ll be looking at your blog pretty soon. 🙂


  4. My first novel (which is quite short) covers about two days, though most of the chapters are flashbacks to days, weeks, and years earlier. My second (which is quiet long) covers about two weeks (more or less, I don’t have the timeline in front of me). The last third of the book happens a few years before the rest (covering a couple of days).

    What it does do is “circle around” (as I think of it), showing significant events from different points of view, drawing the “camera” back each time to show more and more of the scene. I talked about that on my blog:

    My WIP covers about a week, all in a forward straight line. No circling around, no flashbacks.


    • “quite” long is obvously what I meant. I’m writing a story called “The Mystery of the Quiet People,” and apparently my fingers have the habit of typing “quiet” whenever possible. 🙂


  5. Very interesting subject! Short fiction usually only spans over a very short period of time for me (minutes or hours), but my novel length stories really vary. My latest one was a couple of months. The one before that around 160 years (does it count if it’s a trilogy? Otherwise the first part is about 80 years). Earlier I think I’ve been leaning towards stories of between six months and a couple of years.


    • I don’t like to keep time frames too long because then I tend to get lost… Thanks for commenting!


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