Time is always a factor and in life, time moves us forward. There are cues and things I can do as a writer to emphasize urgency of a time restraint or deadline. I talk a lot about emotions because we are emotional beings. But how do you ramp up an already emotionally charged moment? Add a little urgency.
Prompting time with dialogue, setting or action is a fantastic way to draw a reader into the frantic moment. Make it edgy and subtle. To do this I try to keep the moment as real as possible. How do people act when under the gun? How do I react when time is a factor? People react differently and the characters in my book are no exception. If everyone did the same thing then the yawns would come out to play and the book becomes a dust collector.
Sasha shifted to the edge of her seat. The acid in her stomach a reminder of how important this advert was. She clicked the mouse and moved swiftly and swore. She had to start over after the client called and changed their request two hours ago.
“Shit.” Taking a deep breath, she undid the eighth mistake and tried again to adjust the watch’s shadow. Her eye twitched in time with the ticking clock on the wall as she bit her lip and leaned forward. The adjustment shifted too far to the left again.
“Why won’t you work?” Sasha stood abruptly sending her chair flying behind her as the door opened.
“Tick-tick Sasha, the client is downstairs already.” Amber grinned.
“Can you stall them?”
“Not a chance Empress Iceberg.”
Sasha turned her frustrated fury at Amber. “After all the dozens of favors I’ve done for you?”
Amber shrugged and left with a smirk.
“Ungrateful, slimy, sneaky little…” Sasha glanced at the ugly round clock. Tick… tick… “Sneaky.” Sasha’s eyes widened as she recalled the change of her desktop wallpaper. “Would she dare?” Sasha rushed to her computer and checked the settings. “Rotten trick.” Pursing her lips Sasha changed the edit sensitivity back to her preferred settings and finished with mere seconds to spare.
How stress is presented, matters. So I ask myself, is it important to have the issue spelled out immediately or can it be slowly unraveled in the moment? Does it fit in the story or is it a side blurb to create tension or character establishment? Either way I try to close my eyes and imagine how someone looks frazzled before I commit it to words. This is the kind of behavior I would add to my character charts. Do they learn to deal better or is it a steady reaction that never waivers?
Cal checked his watch for the sixth time in half as many minutes. “Dammit.” He resumed his pacing and peeked at his watch as if the action would slow time and make her get there faster. He looked back at the double glass doors and ran his hands through his hair.
“Come on.” He threw his head back and when he looked again, Officer Emily Grady came through the doors and jogged down the marble tiled hall.
“Cutting it close.” Cal ushered her into the courtroom. “Judge Mersey is not a patient man. One minute more and we’d be banned from the courtroom.”
“I know, sorry Detective.”
I find with tense moments language slips and actions become harsh and hurried. People often look up when frustrated and pull at hair or clothes. Breathing becomes an accent to the emotion and lips are pursed or bitten. Being frazzled or hurried can cause people to overlook the obvious and keep repeating an error or lose the ability to be rational. Sylvia was too focused on the deadline to examine the source of her problem. She blamed herself and couldn’t look beyond until she was interrupted and angered. Distracted from her anxiety she was able to regroup and move forward.
My advice about time.
Not every moment needs to be rush-rush, bite your nails tense. But when it is, make the most of the moment and put some stress triggers in. Remember to show the reader the moment not tell them about it.