Fiction Pet Peeves: After Five Minutes

How long is ten minutes? One minute? 30 seconds? If you actually took a stopwatch and timed yourself, counting the seconds without looking at anything, chances are, you won’t arrive at the same figure as your stopwatch.

Unless you practice playing the 30 second game, then it’s a different story.

Most of us don’t have a solid grasp on time. Time stretches and squeezes depending on lots of things. So it gets on my nerve when characters in a book think things like:

After 5 minutes…

I waited for 10 minutes….

One minute later…

I would understand if someone thinks, ‘A few seconds later…’. A few seconds can be anything from 2 seconds to 60 seconds. But 5 minutes… How often have we said that we’ll only need one minute, and ended up using up five?

Of course, the author might be trying to portray the POV (Point of View) character as an unreliable narrator, but in real life, how often do we count the seconds going by?

So, what started this in the first place?

Some time ago, I read a story with some scenes told through the point of view of a 8/9/10-year-old boy. For some reason, if there was a gap between one action and next, there would almost always be an ‘After X minutes’ inserted between the two. Would a 8/9/10-year-old really care so much about accuracy?

Not that being accurate is bad. Characters who have been shown to be very time conscious can pull this off, but it’s hard to believe that a kid would keep such strict track of time. And it gets tiring after awhile. There should be more interesting ways to show the passing of time.


Posted on October 13, 2012, in Writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. That is a problem. In fact using numbers in most fiction for time, units etc. gets annoying and when an author prolongs it, it just puts you off and you want to tell them to just stop. A nice list you have here! I totally agree with most of your points, it really annoys me! I wrote a post about my own fiction pet peeves, it includes some additional ones that you may not have talked about but I hope you will read, comment and tell me what you think 🙂

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