Writing the Unreliable Perception of Time | 0.4

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Related: About Dysontopia


“Hey Matt, tell me about your day,” Nikki says literally everyday when I come home from work. I love the question, but I also dread the question. Why? I’m always falling short of making the detailed time-delineated list I aim for. Because, if I may be terribly honest, the life of a graphic designer is not that interesting. I mean it’s fulfilling, but there is just not much in the day worth recounting like some kind of epic tale.

Imagine a TV show about graphic designers. No doubt the special effects and production value would be out of this world, but each episode would be the same thing each time with just minimal tweaks. Hmm, now that I think about it, that could actually be really good. Think Groundhog Day meets Edge of Tomorrow meets The Office. Producers of the world, I demand to be a writer on this show! Anyway, do something for me, if you don’t mind, while you’re sitting here reading this. Close your eyes and think of yesterday. Oh, sorry, definitely keep them open. You actually have to be able to read this to follow my instructions.

Remember back to yesterday. You may have to try a little bit to kick-start that recollection, because unless it was the greatest day of your life, it was probably fairly unremarkable and you’re brain is likely already hard at work attempting to archive it. Still, yesterday was not that long ago, so try to come up with a timeline in your head of what you did. I’ll bet some things stick out in far greater detail than others. Congratulations, you’re witnessing the bumps and curves of your perception of time.

By doing this, what you have is a map of things your brain finds important enough to assemble into your paradigm. The types of things that register as important to our consciousness vary from person to person. Perhaps your focus is on your own emotions or the feelings of others. Each moment you remember may be governed by your interactions and relationships. Alternatively, your focus may be on pleasure, meaning the things making you happy stack like cards in your memory — the ultimate pollyanna.

Chapter Two, Part Two of Dysontopia is the first time I’ve had to use a time-break symbol (the three asterisks), and I’m already racking my brain to figure out a way to get rid of it. This is because Sydney, my flawed main character, is written with a very specific form of recall — she is detail-obsessed to the point where she must provide her own stimuli. Thought spirals are very real with her, however they manifest themselves slightly differently than more classic anxiety we see in other fiction. Indeed, it’s obvious by this point that Sydney struggles with depression, but her coping method involves taking the minutiae of everyday life and re-contextualizing it into her own knowledge. That’s how she can remember detailed information about everything from communication theories to where green falls on the RGB color model. The trouble is she often gets those types of details wrong.

Writing her like this is no accident — I absolutely am going for a unique and troubled character — but it sets up a very happy coincidence. Because this book is about how Sydney perceives herself, it naturally follows that she’ll comprehend time like the flawed person she is. Therefore, I’m able to get away with writing gaps in her stream-of-consciousness and have it still come across as natural. I know that some of her internal declamation can be lengthy to the point of unusual, but a person like Sydney is capable of processing at this speed similar to how someone with anxiety is capable of quickly linking several unrelated events together into either a true or false conclusion.

This type of perception can be very difficult to get away with in some types of fiction, specifically third-person where there is an expectation for the author to explain where and how time transitions. In fact, in the very early phases of Dysontopia, before I had a title or anything, I starting writing in third-person and immediately ran into walls when expressing internal thoughts or perceptions of time. Even in some first-person fiction, explaining the passage of time can be a challenge for a reader expecting a series of cohesive but episodic events. But for Sydney, her issues, flashbacks, and the lengths of her obsession for detail provide the ticking of the clock necessary to bypass constant chronological explanations. Her internal and external experiences carry time forward, even when the words on the page do not.

So, let’s talk! How do you respond to questions about how your day went? Are there moments in your life where there’s nothing of note, or is it packed to the brim with interesting experiences? What media handles the passage of time really well? Let’s start this conversation down in the comments.


<< The Supporting Role of a Pure Hero 0.3Patch Log | Cold Outside, Cold Inside 1.1 >>
Related: About Dysontopia

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Matthew // Normal Happenings

Matthew Estes. STL-based Blogger. Graphic Designer. Happily Married. One day I'll actually complete a book I'm happy with. I love pizza, video games, and using way too many ellipses...

12 thoughts on “Writing the Unreliable Perception of Time | 0.4

  1. Very interesting, Matt. I really like where you are going with that character. I love when characters have a different view of the world and perception of time is an interesting way to portray that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Iseult, and thanks for being so supportive. Sydney is the first character I’ve ever tried to write that I’ve been truly fascinated by. She really kind of writes herself by taking on a life of her own. Is it weird that I’m excited to see where my own character ends up? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The way Syndey thinks is what attracted me to her as a character; it’s different yet relatable which is a hard balance.

    Real life can be more difficult. I lead with emotions most of the time but try to make decisions with logic (which is super confusing). So when someone asks how my day was… Good = a normal/nothing-out-of-the-ordinary day. Okay = standard but I probably had some added stress that day. Really Good = a very happy, low stress day. Last but not least is Poop. A “poop” day is a day where everything went wrong, and I’m gonna need Stargate and a bowl of potato chips.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This was really interesting 🙂 I used to take part in online play by post roleplaying and it was always an issue we had of finding a suitable way to move time. A single hour could take weeks or months of posting depending on how many participants and how often they posted, so it could be a complete nightmare to work out.

    Liked by 1 person

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