44 Ways to Show the Passage of Time

time passingTime is a big deal in writing. You can’t show night turning to day or a person aging over time, or even clothes going from fresh and crisp to rumpled–nice visual cues that time marches forward. In a novel, it’s all the words you select that tick that clock forward or back in your head.

Here are 37 ways to show the passage of time and create a workable transition through events that don’t need to be seen in scene, just noted:

A note: These are for inspiration only. They can’t be copied because they’ve been pulled directly from an author’s copyrighted manuscript (intellectual property is immediately copyrighted when published).

  • By the middle of Sept he had changed his name three times and was in a new place every night. Today was Room 338
  • ten minutes later, top down on the Corvette, Hootie blaring from his car’s speakers, he cleared Candlestick Point and twenty minutes after that was parking in the courthouse lot 25 miles south
  • If she left now, she’d still make it to St. Camillus to light that candle
  • Frank sat on the tailgate of his glossy new Ford pick-up, watching the men in the trench work
  • After some light-hearted banter about the craziness of the music business and the foibles of the various artists, dinner arrived.
  • Steered the conversation toward innocuous subjects
  • Rainie was missing. How could he be sitting in a luxury sedan?

  • At the best of times, I’m a slow reader, this wasn’t one of those times
  • After hanging up the phone, I ate a solitary late-night snack, did some reading, climbed into bed and eventually got some sleep
  • Led him through greening hills and valleys, but he was only dimly aware of the scenery
  • The subtext is…
  • He stirred powdered milk into the dark liquid until it turned the color of caramel
  • They’d covered some of this territory before
  • She sat for a moment, organizing her thoughts on how to proceed.
  • Stromsoe was in high school when he met the boy who would someday murder his wife and son.
  • I waited. The rain came down hard on the roof of the car. A station wagon with fake wood sides pulled in beside us and a man and woman and three children piled out and scooted through the rain. I could hear the running lines of a power boat as it edged along toward where Hog Island would have been had the day been sunny and clear. I waited. Me and Carl.
  • I was going to be late for Susan if I didn’t close this off
  • I was just sitting here wondering what I could do to be nice to you, and now you call
  • One scene with a character. Next scene on the same topic, but with different characters. Ie, Glitsky interrogating a suspect. Next scene, in his car on the phone, relaying the information to someone else for analysis.
  • Carrying a tray with coffee and cups and cookies, she set it down on the table in front of Abe
  • Kind of guy you wanted out of the gene pool
  • While I waited, I read the vulgar graffiti on the phone box
  • what’s any of this got to do with…
  • just couldn’t get the image of her odd blue eyes out of his head, and he had been dazzled by the firelight shooting burnished copper glints through her luxurious hair
  • Reminded him of his age, his descending career path and his developing sense of isolation
  • I walked all the way around the truck and pondered Weebe’s hypothesis. If I had…
  • Standing under the hot water, trying to punch holes in his plan
  • Diane was in early the next morning. After a workout at home, she jogged the museum nature trail and took a shower in her office suite. She felt invigorated. Her arm was healing nicely. She did some museum business and had put all the finished papers on Andie’s desk by the time her assistant arrived. They spent a few minutes discussing museum business, then Diane went upstairs to the crime lab.
  • more surprising than the crash was that she was dying in English (LOVE this one)
  • She’d be landing in about an hour. She’d stop at Heney’s, get Pearl, and go home. She’d feed Pearl, unpack and hang everything up carefully, iron things that had wrinkled, take a bath, put on the pajamas she usually wore when she slept without me, get in bed with Pearl, have a half cup of frozen chocolate yogurt sweetened with aspartame, and watch a movie. Pearl would burrow under the covers and then Susan would fall asleep.
  • I ate in the silence and drank my coffee and looked occasionally at Susan’s picture on my desk
  • The lt wants to see it, too. Ten minutes later, Bosch was standing with the remote control in front of the AV equipment…
  • Well, I believe that about covers the situation
  • Ten hours later I was in the coach section…
  • I spun my wheels for a couple of days until I finally met with …
  • Finding Jonathan Parson’s former wife ate up another ninety minutes of his time.
  • I was sitting in the front seat of a patrol car talking to a cop named Cataldo. We were cruising along
  • The song was running through his mind twenty-one years later when the bomb went off
  • “Good, I’m good!” he shouted. We all looked over to see what he could possibly mean.
  • It was dark when I got there, and my head was so clear as to be empty. I check in, unpacked, went to the bar and had a sandwich and a couple of beers, went back up to my room and, exhausted from the excitement, went to bed
  • Long gone, despite what Hollywood would have you believe
  • if that’s all you know about Jack Murtha … you don’t know Jack
  • He stopped completely, standing, apparently distracted, outside the hotel, looking at his watch, checking the passersby, watching for someone who hesitated, someone who might slow down and stop.
  • The wine helped me to go to sleep but not stay there. I woke up at 3:30 and lay awake and thought disjointedly about life and death until dawn

More descriptors:

How To Write Descriptions People Want to Read–Dogs

How to Describe a Genius Character

How to Describe a ‘Hacker’

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor in tech ed, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

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32 thoughts on “44 Ways to Show the Passage of Time

  1. Pingback: 70 Collections to Infuse Your Writing | WordDreams...

    • I have piles (and piles) of books with dog-eared corners, where I’ve marked these passages. Every once in a while, I go through them and add them to my spreadsheet. It’s a mindless task, perfect for certain days.


    • That stumped me too–and kept me reading past the first line. She was a native Italian, had gotten in a car crash, and knew she would be dying. She found herself thinking her last thoughts in English rather than Italian. Interesting, hunh?


  2. By the time I finished pondering your list someone was reading my eulogy. I lay there for what seemed an eternity until they were finished, pondering whether I had made the right choice to be buried rather than cremated . . .

    Sorry to get carried away, but YOU ALWAYS INSPIRE me . . .


  3. I take what you say about intellectual property, but I really fancy working one of these in, namely, ‘The song was running through his mind twenty-one years later when the bomb went off.’

    Liked by 1 person

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