Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Ticking Clock of Timely Thrillers

The ticking clock is a plot device that I love to use when outlining my novels. Not every time, I must admit but if it lends itself to the plot why not use it?

For one thing it gives urgency to a thriller plot line that adds to the suspense for the reader. For another it is quite a useful aid for the writer too as it can provide a kind of framework which helps to keep the plot on target. Thirdly for me it is quite exciting and indeed, fun to do…

There are as many different ways of adding the time element to a story as there are for actually writing the story. The time element may mean that a future event is driving the story line and readers know the story is heading there. But, most importantly, they will not know the twists and turns of the plot along the way and it ma7y be that there are penalties that are time linked. For instance, the use of the ‘what if’ element as in ‘what if a protagonist doesn’t get to the scene on time?’ or what if he can beat the odds and rescue something before….whatever hyappens.

Another way I have used the timeline is delineating chapters and passages to show that one plot action is happening at the same time as something else.  I find the use of switching from point of view helpful in using this one.

I think it is very important to keep mentioning time if it is a plot device in the story. It subliminally reminds the reader that time is important and the ticking clock is a great way to raise the stakes and keep suspense going page by page. In my own writing I try to use shorter sentences and paragraphs to try to keep the sense of urgency and as the story reaches towards the climax, it should be mostly action and little information giving, meandering or asides.  Short sharp plot points resolved as time tacks relentlessly by.

I guess, in its broadest sense, it is the pace of a story that counts but that does not always mean it should be at breakneck speed – just the pace to suit the timeline.

Do you work time elements into your stories?


  1. Hi Pat, that's a great idea, it adds suspense, definately. I'm half scared already. Reminds me of the mouse going up a grandfather clock in Agatha Christie stories.

  2. I'm fascinated by time. Time and money. The two big things that motivate nearly everyone.

  3. I haven't yet but I would love to. I think it really ratchets up the tension! Great post!

  4. The ticking clock - that is clever! I don't have any special tricks or tools (yet)...

  5. Must admit, I'm rubbish at establishing timelines. I always leave time etc to the very end to sort out!

  6. Excellent post Pat. Great idea. Something to work with to create suspense. :-)

  7. Thanks to all for your comments. Really appreciated..