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Fiction imagines for us a stopping point from which life can be seen as intelligible," asserts Joan Silber in The Art of Time in Fiction. The end point of a story determines its meaning, and one of the main tasks a writer faces is to define the duration of a plot. Silber uses wide-ranging examples from F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chinua Achebe, and Arundhati Roy, among others, to Fiction imagines for us a stopping point from which life can be seen as intelligible," asserts Joan Silber in The Art of Time in Fiction. The end point of a story determines its meaning, and one of the main tasks a writer faces is to define the duration of a plot. Silber uses wide-ranging examples from F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chinua Achebe, and Arundhati Roy, among others, to illustrate five key ways in which time unfolds in fiction. In clear-eyed prose, Silber elucidates a tricky but vital aspect of the art of fiction.


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Fiction imagines for us a stopping point from which life can be seen as intelligible," asserts Joan Silber in The Art of Time in Fiction. The end point of a story determines its meaning, and one of the main tasks a writer faces is to define the duration of a plot. Silber uses wide-ranging examples from F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chinua Achebe, and Arundhati Roy, among others, to Fiction imagines for us a stopping point from which life can be seen as intelligible," asserts Joan Silber in The Art of Time in Fiction. The end point of a story determines its meaning, and one of the main tasks a writer faces is to define the duration of a plot. Silber uses wide-ranging examples from F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chinua Achebe, and Arundhati Roy, among others, to illustrate five key ways in which time unfolds in fiction. In clear-eyed prose, Silber elucidates a tricky but vital aspect of the art of fiction.

30 review for The Art of Time in Fiction: As Long as It Takes

  1. 5 out of 5

    Justin Tate

    Required reading for my MFA. Feels like a lost chapter from Reading Like a Writer, where we get 70% plot summaries (with spoilers) and then a few sentences of analysis. Some of the examples are good, others aren't. The referenced titles added many books to my to-read pile and the general discussion is deserving. How do writers handle time in fiction? There's some great technique on various approaches. Some moments might benefit from a slower sense of time, for example, while others might benefit Required reading for my MFA. Feels like a lost chapter from Reading Like a Writer, where we get 70% plot summaries (with spoilers) and then a few sentences of analysis. Some of the examples are good, others aren't. The referenced titles added many books to my to-read pile and the general discussion is deserving. How do writers handle time in fiction? There's some great technique on various approaches. Some moments might benefit from a slower sense of time, for example, while others might benefit from non-chronological storytelling. At the very least, it got me thinking more about time and pacing which I've long-believed are some of the most crucial literary devices available. Overall, wish I'd picked it up from the library and not paid full price, but no regrets.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    The Art of ... in Fiction is now my favorite series on the craft of writing. Stop with the more generalized How To books written by bestselling or lauded authors like Stephen King or John Gardner and instead look to this series. There are about ten books in it, and each of them delves deeply into one particular element of writing. This installment was on the manipulation of time in fiction. 100+ pages on a critical aspect of writing.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Meh, which I say in the present, although really the past I guess.

  4. 4 out of 5

    M.

    Silber delivers a concise analysis of the variety of ways storytellers employ time to create narrative shapes and effects. She explores stories to tease out how authors effectively dealt with classic (natural), long, switchback, slowed, and fabulous time. This slim volume should be in every writer's and every serious reader's collection.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Eckstein

    An exploration of different ways the passage of time is portrayed and used in stories and novels. Silber discusses examples (drawn from a variety of times and cultures) that illustrate several categories of fictional time she's identified and points out how the authors skillfully represent long spans, brief moments, multiple time periods, and so on. This is a short book, a small paperback of only a bit more than 100 pages, and my main complaint is that it isn't longer. Silber writes clearly and w An exploration of different ways the passage of time is portrayed and used in stories and novels. Silber discusses examples (drawn from a variety of times and cultures) that illustrate several categories of fictional time she's identified and points out how the authors skillfully represent long spans, brief moments, multiple time periods, and so on. This is a short book, a small paperback of only a bit more than 100 pages, and my main complaint is that it isn't longer. Silber writes clearly and with insight, and I would have happily read far more of her musings about time. In particular, I expected this to be a writing guide, with practical suggestions about choosing the time frame of a story and conveying the passage of time. There is certainly much to be learned from the examples Silber dissects, but I was hoping for a more instructional focus. What is included is thought-provoking, and I would recommend it to readers and writers who enjoy analyzing specific aspects of writing craft. I'd love to hear if there are any other books covering this topic.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Edan

    I'm loving this "Art of" series--one a day keeps the brain aglow! I wish I'd read more of the books and stories Silber mentions, but since she is as obsessed with time in fiction as I am, I found this so enjoyable and useful. As with Baxter's Art of Subtext, it was more useful as a teaching tool for me, for it articulated stuff about pacing, dramatizaion and compression that I've already considered and presented to students, but presents the material in such a smooth and easy-to-follow way. I wil I'm loving this "Art of" series--one a day keeps the brain aglow! I wish I'd read more of the books and stories Silber mentions, but since she is as obsessed with time in fiction as I am, I found this so enjoyable and useful. As with Baxter's Art of Subtext, it was more useful as a teaching tool for me, for it articulated stuff about pacing, dramatizaion and compression that I've already considered and presented to students, but presents the material in such a smooth and easy-to-follow way. I will definitely be showing excerpts to future classes as a means to discuss scene and summary and the ways both can be examined, broken apart, exploited and turned on their heads. And if you haven't read Joan Silber's own magical fiction--what are you waiting for? And, also: God, I need to read more Chekhov!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Terri

    This whole series is worthwhile.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

    Probably the most essential book in The Art Of series for any writer to read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    L.K. Simonds

    "All stories, if continued long enough, end in death, and he is no true storyteller who would keep that from you." Ms. Silber supplied this Hemingway quote near the end of the book, and made this comment of her own, "The sequence of any fiction is, by its nature, the path of time evaporating. It took me a while to finish this book because of the time I devoted to each use of time Ms. Silber explored. And though this book clarifies what writers, and readers, should think about where a story begin "All stories, if continued long enough, end in death, and he is no true storyteller who would keep that from you." Ms. Silber supplied this Hemingway quote near the end of the book, and made this comment of her own, "The sequence of any fiction is, by its nature, the path of time evaporating. It took me a while to finish this book because of the time I devoted to each use of time Ms. Silber explored. And though this book clarifies what writers, and readers, should think about where a story begins, where it ends, and the path it follows between the two, it also raises the deeper issue raised by Hemingway. What was important when viewed from the hindsight of death?

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sloane Rittner

    Pretty quick and easy craft book on the handling of... you guessed it... time in fiction. Makes a few wide-arching assumptions that I don't necessarily agree with, but also has different approaches a writer can take to their work and provides fleshed-out examples of those approaches being done right. Super quick read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Pollock

    Required reading for a class. Decent. Not revelatory.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tim Lepczyk

    I really love these books from the "Art of" series published by Graywolf Press.  In Joan Silber's The Art of Time in Fiction she explores how time is used and manipulated in numerous novels and short stories. The chapters are divided into: Classic Time, Long Time, Switchback Time, Slowed Time, Fabulous Time, and Time as Subject.  Silber explains what each term means and illustrates how the writer created the desired effect through their approach of time. How does a novel that takes place over I really love these books from the "Art of" series published by Graywolf Press.  In Joan Silber's The Art of Time in Fiction she explores how time is used and manipulated in numerous novels and short stories. The chapters are divided into: Classic Time, Long Time, Switchback Time, Slowed Time, Fabulous Time, and Time as Subject.  Silber explains what each term means and illustrates how the writer created the desired effect through their approach of time. How does a novel that takes place over a school year (Harry Potter) differ from a novel that takes place over a lifetime (Love in the Time of Cholera)?  How does Alice Munro convey decades in the span of a few pages?  What happens in surreal stories where time seems to exist outside of normal experience?  Silber addresses these questions and many more.  As actions and consequences exist (in most cases) as a temporal experience, it's important for writers to consider time.  While writers who are just starting out may be more concerned with basic mechanics, these questions and discussions are wonderful for people who have been writing for years and thinking about fiction.  Moreover, if the reader is familiar with many of the works Silber references it makes the book even more enjoyable.  The Art of Time in Fiction is a quick read, but worth reading for writers interested in the subject.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lou Britt

    The Art of Time in Fiction by Joan Sibler Is a very short read on the construction of time in fiction and how time alters meaning. “Life... can be led only in small, manageable chunks of experience.” Scenes create these manageable chunks, and it’s up to the author to decide which chunks are important for the specific life-story they want to tell. I would call this book more of an essay. Sibler has opinion on time and how best to construct, but the majority of the book is detailing examples to illu The Art of Time in Fiction by Joan Sibler Is a very short read on the construction of time in fiction and how time alters meaning. “Life... can be led only in small, manageable chunks of experience.” Scenes create these manageable chunks, and it’s up to the author to decide which chunks are important for the specific life-story they want to tell. I would call this book more of an essay. Sibler has opinion on time and how best to construct, but the majority of the book is detailing examples to illuminate her point. I found the book interesting on musing about how time can be used in writing, though I wouldn’t suggest it as a craft book to learn concrete steps to execute these inspirational ideas, more as a thought-provoking read to consider new ways of manipulating time. I’ll leave you with this: “Length is weight in fiction... the longer something takes, the more emotionally important it is.”

  14. 4 out of 5

    Featherbooks

    The Art of Time in Fiction: As Long as It Takesis a craft book for authors, but Silber also has a stellar book list with descriptions of the use of time in fiction. Even without concern for how to use time in a novel or short story, you could read the titles in her bibliography and know what good writing is all about. What a list! From Chekhov's "The Darling" to Henry James ("The Beast in the Jungle"), some Proust and deMaupassant, all the way to Denis Johnson and Alice Munro and Arundhati Roy. The Art of Time in Fiction: As Long as It Takesis a craft book for authors, but Silber also has a stellar book list with descriptions of the use of time in fiction. Even without concern for how to use time in a novel or short story, you could read the titles in her bibliography and know what good writing is all about. What a list! From Chekhov's "The Darling" to Henry James ("The Beast in the Jungle"), some Proust and deMaupassant, all the way to Denis Johnson and Alice Munro and Arundhati Roy. Many short stories are included but novels as well. There are translations from Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, French and Italian. There are books I have never heard of (Ya Hua's To Live) and short stories I've missed, even a challenge or two such as The Diary Of Soren KierkegaardThe Diary of Soren Kierkegaard. I want to jump into a hammock with this list and forget my current fiction pickups at the library. Her clarity and love of literature underlies an informative and helpful discussion of time as it is handled in story, how it is slowed down or speeded up, or circular or fabulously upended but, quoting Kierkegaard, "life can only be understood backward but has to be lived forward." Any which way it moves in time, read Silber's succinct thoughts and explore her bibliography.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    I may be missing something, but this book wasn't what I had expected. I had anticipated a book of tricks, how to create particular effects regarding the passage of time, and techniques for achieving such effects. Some grounds on which to decide how to deal with time in a particular story, to achieve a particular effect. Rather, Silber discusses many novels (and some stories) and how the authors traverse time structurally and deal with time thematically, its passage and effect on characters' inte I may be missing something, but this book wasn't what I had expected. I had anticipated a book of tricks, how to create particular effects regarding the passage of time, and techniques for achieving such effects. Some grounds on which to decide how to deal with time in a particular story, to achieve a particular effect. Rather, Silber discusses many novels (and some stories) and how the authors traverse time structurally and deal with time thematically, its passage and effect on characters' internal lives. There's more plot synopsis than discussion of craft, it seems. I often found myself wondering what whatever she was talking about had to do with constructing or manipulating time. I guess that's because her sense of what we talk about when we talk about time is different from mine. The most useful part is her breakdown and definition of what the different types of time are, ways in which a story can be structured using particular ways of moving across time in the course of plotting a story: classic time (scene and summary); long time (across lifetimes); switchback time (incorporating flashback); slowed time (description as magnifier, for example); fabulous time (discussion is a bit obscure). But I would have liked to see more discussion, again, of the effect of each on the reader.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mely

    Novels and stories discussed: F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby Anton Chekhov, "The Darling" Flaubert, "A Simple Heart" Arnold Bennett, The Old Wives' Tale Guy de Maupassant, A Woman's Life Yu Hua, To Live Mentioned in passing: Edgar Allan Poe, "The Tell-Tale Heart" Katherine Mansfield, "Bliss" James Joyce, Ulysses V.S. Naipul, A House for Mr. Biswas Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake Carol Shield, The Stone Diaries

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kita

    Silber's analysis of the way time is treated in several works of fiction (from Fitzgerald to Achebe) was interesting, but not particularly helpful for writing. I read this for a writing workshop I'm taking so I'll be interested to hear what the professor expected us to get out of it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    William Adams

    I bought this book on the recommendation of a writing instructor when I was having trouble presenting backstory. The book was not very helpful. Like the others in this series (The Art of X in Writing), it’s a short (120 smallish pages) essay, strictly an overview. The success of the format depends on the writing skill of the author and his or her degree of insight into the topic. Silber spends most of her essay on “Classic Time,” where the story is told from beginning to end in a straightforward I bought this book on the recommendation of a writing instructor when I was having trouble presenting backstory. The book was not very helpful. Like the others in this series (The Art of X in Writing), it’s a short (120 smallish pages) essay, strictly an overview. The success of the format depends on the writing skill of the author and his or her degree of insight into the topic. Silber spends most of her essay on “Classic Time,” where the story is told from beginning to end in a straightforward manner. This is the least interesting, most obvious, and least problematic time structure for writers, although I did appreciate the insight, taken from Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse,” that one nifty technique is to contrast the inexorable and mindless time of nature (tides, seasons, decay and rebirth, etc.) with the sharp intentionality of human time, which is outside of nature). There is insight to be had from this book, but Silber spends most of her word count reviewing plot and characters of various example stories, usually not drawing out a clear lesson on fictional time. From a long consideration of Proust’s “Recherche,” we learn that “Time, in fiction, is infinitely flexible.” You would have to be an extremely naïve writer to not know that fiction can compress and elongate time. The other “kinds” of fictional time covered are even less useful. My particular concern, how best to represent backstory, is covered in a short section called “Switchback Time.” There I discover that flashbacks and other time cuts are possible in fiction, something I was quite aware of. Examples given show that, but don’t make any particular point. Hemingway eschewed the past, preferring to stay in the present, “without dawdling in the lyrical.” Lots of examples are cited for each of these points, but the points themselves are superficial. Fabulous, or non-realistic time, is not even defined. The main example is Marquez’s famous opening line from 100 years: “Many years later, facing a firing squad, A. would remember X from childhood.” (A crude paraphrase, I apologize). What is fabulous, or magical or nonrealistic about that? It’s a remarkable sentence, and a remarkable phenomenology, but what I want to know is how to tell a story in forward gear while providing context from the past. Recall simply jumps from the firing squad into the deep past. That's obvious. Are there better ways? In the final section, “Time as Subject,” we learn that all stories (logically) end in death, that everyone is surprised to get old, and that death ends subjective time. Examples from The Death of Ivan Illyich are apposite, but, offer no insight. Overall then, I extracted some crumbs of insight, but I didn’t get much out of this book that isn’t covered in great detail in any generic how-to-write book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    R.C.

    The main thing that caught me about this book was that a lot of it wasn't so much about time as it was about plot structure and not so much about plot structure as it was about focusing the reader's attention. Which it did well, discussing examples of how to deal with long stretches of time and also how you can focus attention by slowing time down. None of this was particularly new to me, but it was done well. Also, spoiler alert, if you don't want to read a lot of synopses of tragedies befalling The main thing that caught me about this book was that a lot of it wasn't so much about time as it was about plot structure and not so much about plot structure as it was about focusing the reader's attention. Which it did well, discussing examples of how to deal with long stretches of time and also how you can focus attention by slowing time down. None of this was particularly new to me, but it was done well. Also, spoiler alert, if you don't want to read a lot of synopses of tragedies befalling women, might want to skip this one. The examples given, remind me why I haven't read more "classic" literature: almost all the books mentioned were about tragedy (the author states that misspent, ruined, and unled lives are often more interesting, which ahahahahahahaahaha is not a comment that has aged well to this Plague Year, but then again, I have always found tragedy boring), and the overwhelming majority of examples are about tragedies that befall women: they drift through life powerless and miss out, they marry wrongly and are unhappy, they do not marry and are unhappy, they marry and are happy but then their husbands die and they are unhappy, they never marry and become ugly and abrasive suffragists, they die young, they are "ruined" and left in disgrace....:sigh: (This isn't the author's fault - these texts exist, but perhaps she didn't realize the common thread that leapt out from all of her examples.)

  20. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    The various techniques writers utilize to tackle the passing of time in works of short and long fiction are often so intrinsic to a work that we don't notice them--unless badly executed (I'd argue Sophie's Choice is an example where bad pacing and over-summary stand in the way of an otherwise brilliant plot). Silber, examining a variety of classic works, asks us to focus on time as the foundation for or executor of plot, and demonstrates how time informs and enriches plot through scene, summary, The various techniques writers utilize to tackle the passing of time in works of short and long fiction are often so intrinsic to a work that we don't notice them--unless badly executed (I'd argue Sophie's Choice is an example where bad pacing and over-summary stand in the way of an otherwise brilliant plot). Silber, examining a variety of classic works, asks us to focus on time as the foundation for or executor of plot, and demonstrates how time informs and enriches plot through scene, summary, etc. Craft books often offer general or vague platitudes without enough specificity--however, this book hones in on one important area and provides the reader with specific techniques to employ in his or her own work. A helpful read for writers of both short and long fiction. At the very least, it will cause you to deconstruct your own fiction and to begin to think about time as a silent character or foundational building block.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Matt Sautman

    As a person who is enthralled with portrayals of time in society across numerous texts, Joan Silber's The Art of Time in Fiction appeared to be right up my ally. Yet as a text whose purpose is, in part, to help creative writers conceive ways of incorporating time into their works, The Art of Time in Fiction is not necessarily remarkable. The terms Silber provides in her study of time: Classic Time, Long Time, Slowed Time, Switchback Time, and Fabulous Time are all fascinating in regard to how sh As a person who is enthralled with portrayals of time in society across numerous texts, Joan Silber's The Art of Time in Fiction appeared to be right up my ally. Yet as a text whose purpose is, in part, to help creative writers conceive ways of incorporating time into their works, The Art of Time in Fiction is not necessarily remarkable. The terms Silber provides in her study of time: Classic Time, Long Time, Slowed Time, Switchback Time, and Fabulous Time are all fascinating in regard to how she articulates these concepts. However, the analysis of texts that Silber provides to build on these concepts are not necessarily stirring criticisms. These analyses' foci are relatively narrow, serving more so as tangential examples of how these concepts of time work as opposed to also providing critical analyses that would allow this book to better engage with these other books intertextually.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Agar

    I found this book to be more of an essay than instruction or guide to writing ‘time.’ The author talked mostly about particular pieces of writing as examples, which is fine, but I felt that unless I had read and knew the story she was referencing, I wasn’t following quickly enough. Probably to combat this, she gives a lot of detail which is why it felt a lot like a book report. Not a huge fan. I ended up skimming much of it just because I was uninterested about Daisy and Gatsby’s relationship wi I found this book to be more of an essay than instruction or guide to writing ‘time.’ The author talked mostly about particular pieces of writing as examples, which is fine, but I felt that unless I had read and knew the story she was referencing, I wasn’t following quickly enough. Probably to combat this, she gives a lot of detail which is why it felt a lot like a book report. Not a huge fan. I ended up skimming much of it just because I was uninterested about Daisy and Gatsby’s relationship with each other. I wanted to know more about how to write time successfully and I did not really get that.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jenn

    I picked this up because I struggle with passing time when writing. I thought the concept of this craft book would be helpful. It’s a quick read and I took some decent notes. The book mainly examines time using some famous works as case studies but the greatest impact is if you’ve read the works discussed. I enjoyed writing down the stories to read and examine how the author employed the use of time. The strongest section was classic time as the author used numerous examples from Gatsby, which I I picked this up because I struggle with passing time when writing. I thought the concept of this craft book would be helpful. It’s a quick read and I took some decent notes. The book mainly examines time using some famous works as case studies but the greatest impact is if you’ve read the works discussed. I enjoyed writing down the stories to read and examine how the author employed the use of time. The strongest section was classic time as the author used numerous examples from Gatsby, which I’ve read a couple times. While I enjoyed the examination and reading list, I’m not sure I have a solid understanding of how to implement all that in my own writing.

  24. 5 out of 5

    DeMisty Bellinger

    Accessible and smart, The Art of Time in Fiction is a great craft book for creative writers. I would have loved to have something like this during my MFA years, or even during my PhD program. Joan Silber offers diverse examples for the types of time in fiction--both short stories (and short-shorts) and novels. Also, the book is broken up into short essays that explore how writers handle the passage of time. And it's short: 112 pages! I am definitely considering adapting this book when I teach up Accessible and smart, The Art of Time in Fiction is a great craft book for creative writers. I would have loved to have something like this during my MFA years, or even during my PhD program. Joan Silber offers diverse examples for the types of time in fiction--both short stories (and short-shorts) and novels. Also, the book is broken up into short essays that explore how writers handle the passage of time. And it's short: 112 pages! I am definitely considering adapting this book when I teach upper level fiction again.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Katia M. Davis

    A little too literary for me. Made me realise why I dropped English Lit at university. Whilst the analysis and writing was sound, it still remains one person's opinion. I see too many different things in writing to be tied down like that, and sometimes interpretation is just so much waffle. I would recommend this to someone interested in literary works, but for others who may be interested in writing popular fiction, this will not be your cup of tea.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Emily Irish

    Not quite as practical as I'd expected—don't get this book expecting much direction or advice on how to use the element of time for various effects in your storytelling. However, the discussion of the uses of time in fiction and the numerous examples from classic works of literature was still very interesting and is still useful for the writer who wants to expand their knowledge of various fictional techniques.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ann Douglas

    A really thought-provoking look at how authors handle time in fiction. Do the events in this novel take place over the course of a couple of generations or during a particularly noteworthy day or week in the lives of these characters? These are deliberate choices that the novelist makes and, as Silber explains, "All the dilemmas in organizing time are grounded in this first decision about how long it takes." Fascinating stuff.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Woolaston

    This was more informative than I thought it would be. It made me think about time, and better ways of expressing the passage of time in my writing. Simply stating the day of the week or the year in which a story is taking place is boring. I'm going to focus more on demonstrating time through the changing of seasons or weather conditions, as Silber mentions in her book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Pearse Anderson

    An awesome introduction and quick overview of how time can be used in fiction. I would've appreciated for focus on techniques, with more clear takeaways that say "Oh, I'll keep that line written down beside me as I write a new slow time piece." But overall a really nice Graywolf guide.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Janine

    A short and sweet little book of literary criticism that takes time as its subject. Would have benefited from a stronger exploration of “fabulous time”, where magical realism and the postmodern were taken up. The intro and first chapter on “classic time” are worth the time.

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