Symbolism Thesaurus Entry: The Passage of Time

Every day we interact with objects, places and sensations that affect the way we think and feel. This can be used to the writer's advantage by planting symbols in the reader's path to reinforce a specific message, feeling or idea.

Look at the setting and the character's state of mind, and then think about what you want the reader to see. Is there a descriptive symbol or two that works naturally within the scene to help foreshadow an event or theme, or create insight into the character's emotional plight?

In Nature:

The seasons
The changing landscape on a journey
Bleached bones lying in the sun
Sun and stars
The changing color of leaves
Birds building a nest, laying eggs, hatching, empty nest
Antler growth
A stream that starts as a trickle, becoming a river
Weather shifts: sunny skies to rain, light snowfall to blizzard, etc
Animal behavior (finding mates, raising family, packs, etc)
Birth and death
A bloom fading, wilting, becoming a papery husk
The height of trees
The quality of light
Hibernation vs activity
Population growth or decline of species
The presence/lack of insects, bees, butterflies, mosquitoes, flies, etc
Flowering trees/bushes vs berry or fruit bearing
The height and lushness of grass and undergrowth
The changing condition of a path (a bare track, well used, overgrown)
Phases of the Moon
Position of the sun
Tide line

In Society:

Meals (breakfast, lunch dinner)
Time cards at work
Stores opening/closing
Birthday parties
Holidays (Christmas, Halloween, Valentine's day, etc)
Summer sports shifting to winter sports (or vice-versa)
Summer recreation shifting to winter recreation (or vise-versa)
Hunting season
Planting, maintaining, harvesting (gardens, crops)
A campfire: raising it, the heat and crackles of flame, coals to cold ash
The gold watch on retirement
Being fired or let go
Paid holidays increasing year over year
Bus/train schedules
Business hours
Matinees, dinner shows, late night movies
School bells/buzzers
Landmark shows on TV (morning cartoons, morning news, afternoon soap operas, evening news)
Oven timers
A growing bank account
Before work, at work, after work
The condition of buildings or vehicles over time
Children or teens changing attitudes, skills, independence
Increased allowance
Rising prices for a staple item, inflation
Bank lending rates
Growth or decline of stocks
Baking (raw ingredients to shaping dough to hot from the oven)
The condition (fresh, stale, moldy) of fruit, bread, meat, or other perishables
A shift in trends, fashion, music, style, idols, interests
A change in illness (24 hour flu, getting over a cold, etc)
Stages of pregnancy
Yearly festivals, celebrations
Potty training
Weight gain or loss
How clothing fits (too loose, too tight)

These are just a few examples of things one might associate with a passage of time. Some are more powerful than others. A journey through a changing landscape is a strong symbol, and likely will not require reinforcement. However, a gold watch may not foreshadow a passage of time on its own. Let the story's tone decide if one strong symbol or several smaller ones work the best.
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S. Paul Bryan said...

This brings to mind the movie Cast Away. There is a point where the movie skips over a considerable amount of time (years?) yet I remember they did such a poor job of portraying it that it seemed at first as if only a day had passed.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Brilliant as usual. :D

PJ Hoover said...

I love it, Angela! These are really awesome, you know that, right?

Christine Fonseca said...

I just LOVE this blog and had to tell you...again!

Angela said...

S. Paul--that's right, I remember that movie. It was rather sketchy, relying on the scruffiness and length of his beard for the most part.

Stina, PJ and Christine, thanks for the kind words. :)

Bish Denham said...

Another excellent post!

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

I just wanted to thank you for this amazing writing tool. I did a blog piece on it a while back, and just retweeted it because--once again--the emotion thesaurus just saved me when I was stuck. It is such a great way to get jumpstarted!

Elana Johnson said...

Excellent advice here. I tend to fall back on temperature. I need to change it up a little bit.

And I love the way the third HP movie uses seasons to advance time. I'm so going to do that in a book one day...

MaryWitzl said...

What Bish said!

Margaret West said...

I cpoied and pasted for future reference. Thanks, great post.

Angela said...

Thanks everyone for the kind comments. I think the passage of time is one we all have to show at one point or another, either as part of the plot or through symbolism. This should provide a few alternatives that would work for any story. :)

Julie Musil said...

Great post, as always!

Chelle Cordero said...

Terrific post, very sage advice.
Chelle Cordero, Author Chelle Cordero Website

Laura Pauling said...

I just helped my son with this as he wrote his mystery story which was getting way too long b/c he was showing too much. I said, just narrate and tell us what happened.

Problem solved. :)


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