The Art of Time in Fiction: As Long as It Takes
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The Art of Time in Fiction: As Long as It Takes

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  175 ratings  ·  51 reviews
Fiction imagines for us a stopping point from which life can be seen as intelligible,” asserts Joan Silber in The Art of Time in Fiction. The end point of a story determines its meaning, and one of the main tasks a writer faces is to define the duration of a plot. Silber uses wide-ranging examples from F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chinua Achebe, and Arundhati Roy, among others, to...more
Paperback, 120 pages
Published June 23rd 2009 by Graywolf Press
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Tim Lepczyk
I really love these books from the "Art of" series published by Graywolf Press. In Joan Silber's The Art of Time in Fiction she explores how time is used and manipulated in numerous novels and short stories.

The chapters are divided into: Classic Time, Long Time, Switchback Time, Slowed Time, Fabulous Time, and Time as Subject. Silber explains what each term means and illustrates how the writer created the desired effect through their approach of time.

How does a novel that takes place over a sch...more
Edan
I'm loving this "Art of" series--one a day keeps the brain aglow!

I wish I'd read more of the books and stories Silber mentions, but since she is as obsessed with time in fiction as I am, I found this so enjoyable and useful. As with Baxter's Art of Subtext, it was more useful as a teaching tool for me, for it articulated stuff about pacing, dramatizaion and compression that I've already considered and presented to students, but presents the material in such a smooth and easy-to-follow way. I wil...more
Richard B
I may be missing something, but this book wasn't what I had expected. I had anticipated a book of tricks, how to create particular effects regarding the passage of time, and techniques for achieving such effects. Some grounds on which to decide how to deal with time in a particular story, to achieve a particular effect.

Rather, Silber discusses many novels (and some stories) and how the authors traverse time structurally and deal with time thematically, its passage and effect on characters' inte...more
David Schlosser
If, as some other raters of this book clearly expected, you are looking for an instruction manual of how to write sequences of time in your manuscript, this actually is the book you're looking for. It is an inquiry into the nature of time and how authors note and manipulate its passage to achieve various effects on the readers.

If you are expecting a simple list of tactics and techniques ("If you want to make it seem like time is passing very quickly, write this way using these words"), you are l...more
Mely
Jun 12, 2012 Mely rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Mely by: Victoria Janssen
Novels and stories discussed:

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Anton Chekhov, "The Darling"
Flaubert, "A Simple Heart"
Arnold Bennett, The Old Wives' Tale
Guy de Maupassant, A Woman's Life
Yu Hua, To Live

Mentioned in passing:
Edgar Allan Poe, "The Tell-Tale Heart"
Katherine Mansfield, "Bliss"
James Joyce, Ulysses
V.S. Naipul, A House for Mr. Biswas
Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake
Carol Shield, The Stone Diaries
Val Killpack
Time of my life (in fiction)

What a pleasure to read. This book illuminates time in fiction in a way I haven't seen done. This should be required reading in any creative writing MFA program. The different categories she creates are interesting, and not exactly what I would have picked, but still completely valid. The only time not talked about completely is fragmented or fractured time, as might be seen in some of the small-press, experimental fiction being published right now. Silber is very ade...more
Kita
Silber's analysis of the way time is treated in several works of fiction (from Fitzgerald to Achebe) was interesting, but not particularly helpful for writing. I read this for a writing workshop I'm taking so I'll be interested to hear what the professor expected us to get out of it.
Emma
Really comprehensive, straightforward discussion of how time works in fiction in all its various ways, including a really interesting chapter on how time is really the subject of all fiction. Each use of time is accompanied by clear examples from other writers--some of the masters, and some lesser-known--and Silber picks those apart so that the reader gains an understanding not just of what these writers are doing with time, but how they're doing it. A really useful book for my own writing, and...more
Erin
I got Silber’s book for Christmas (yes, I opened it early, I know, I know. I think being an adult is delicious because you can do things like that), straight off my Amazon wishlist. Joy! Because, believe it or not, I do think a lot about time in my writing and especially, for some reason, what I have decided to call “habitual time.” When you want to convey things that happen over and over, and yet somehow avoid the trap of summary that fades into the typical, rather than the habitual. In other w...more
Tim
Oct 02, 2010 Tim rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: craft
Until I read this, I don't think I fully realized that every writer, in some way or another, writes about time--its passage, the way it changes, the way it ages, the way we feel when we've run out. Whether you're writing a story that takes place in a day or 100 years, I think this book has great things to say about how time works in fiction.

I'm a relatively inexperienced writer with a small, boring repertoire of "time techniques" ("A year later...The next day...When she woke up...After dinner.....more
Sarah Stone
Joan Silber is an astonishing writer. I constantly recommend her work to people, including her “ring of stories,” Ideas of Heaven (the National Book Award finalist); her new collection of linked stories, The Size of the World; and her writing about writing. I’ve even interviewed her, both because I wanted to know more of her secrets and because I wanted other writers to have access to them as well. The Art of Time in Fiction: As Long as It Takes exceeds even my (high) expectations.

She explores a...more
Thaisa Frank
Time is the dark horse of fiction. Without an artful handling of time, the reader is reading *about* events rather than immersed inside of them. Joan Silber's book is by far the best sense of various ways of handling time in fiction that I have ever read--and the only book I've read that discusses time as a vital part of craft. She writes, among other things, about classic (linear narrative) time, and time that loops back and forth, done artfully by Alice Munro. Readers who simply like to read,...more
David Williams
The subtitle of Joan Silber's book is 'As Long As It Takes', and in this case the answer is not very long; not much over 100 pages, about novella size. Not that I weigh my books to see if I'm getting my full dollar (or £8 in my money), but it's a consideration. Much more importantly, how much value is there in those 100-odd pages? How much insight? How much originality? How many times did I nod my head and smile; or take a note? Well, here and there, but less than I would have liked. The writing...more
Bucket
This is one of those craft books in the vein of How Novels Work and How Fiction Works--an academic, critical look at the passage of time in fiction, using various excerpts, most of which were from books I hadn't read or even heard of. All well and good, I was just hoping for practical advice and I didn't get any here.
Cheryl Klein
Thank goodness for the assigned reading for the online classes I teach, or I would probably never read any craft books. But there are good, non-hacky ones out there, and Joan Silber's extended essay on how and why fiction is concerned with time is one of them. Like Jane Smiley's 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, Silber's analysis of various texts made me acutely aware of how poorly read I am. It made me want to read more and write more. And most importantly, it reminded me that there's no such th...more
Lawrence Lenhart
Not a comprehensive look at what you can do with time in fiction (as she admits), but it sure covers a lot in such a short book. Silber is a great candidate for this topic as her stories are mutant decades-long summaries of characters' lives without a bit of exposition. Towards the end of the book, Silber offers an interesting anthropological look at how different cultures experience time with a particular focus on Buddhism. For more on Silber and Buddhist characters, see her ring of stories, Id...more
Alyssa
This was a short, quick, yet dense read with a lot of helpful information. Silber discusses many of the ways in which authors deal with time by choosing excellent examples from classics as well as lesser-known works of literature. Easy to read and follow and very informative and inspiring as well.
Kelly Lynn Thomas
Reading for Thesis Seminar. This was an uneven book. Some chapters were excellent; others, not so much. In general there was far too much plot summary and not enough discussion/examination of craft or technique. Sometimes the point wasn't even time, and I'm perfectly okay with that, but there was so much plot summary (like three or so pages per book/story examined compared to two paragraphs of discussion) that I got easily frustrated with it.

There are some really great ideas in this book about w...more
Sasha Martinez
I’m not quite exaggerating when I say that Silber’s short story collection, Ideas of Heaven: A Ring of Stories , changed my life—and helped educate me on expert manipulation of time in fiction. This book, however, was lifeless. Like an elaboration on a little section of Wikipedia entry on time-techniques. It was just so dead. Blech. I’d rather read any of the pieces Silber mentioned to see how those authors accomplished it, and then there’d be goddamned art going on. Even Silber herself, who so...more
Donald Quist
Joan Silber’s The Art of Time in Fiction is about quality not quantity. Barely 150 pages it is both an intelligent study of the role of time in literature and an example of superb essay writing. Her criticism is concise, focused, and her citations are perfect. There isn’t a wasted word, or useless filler. She loves literature and the passion for her subject really shines through. The writing feels casual but there is nothing relaxed about Silber’s approach. She is thorough and specific. It is a...more
Jenn Mar
I recommend this book to creative writing students who've already taken fiction 101 and have a bunch of loose baggy novels they don't know what to do with. Silber goes through the different time structures that writers can use to organize their stories. Intelligent, clear, fun to read actually.
Katherine
Really cool little book. Silber surveys a few different ways time passes in fiction - from straight-up linear time to circular time to ultra-slow time - and demonstrates, quite convincingly, that the passage of time in fiction is always a choice on the part of the author. The authors she includes are a wide and diverse lot, from Proust to Nawal el-Saadawi to Denis Johnson. I'll definitely never approach my work without an understanding of these principles again. I wonder what the rest of the "Ar...more
Linera
What a fine book this is. I've read a few others in the series, one by Charles Baxter and one by Sven Birkerts, and this lives up to their high quality. Silber has a way of making craft points interesting. I mean, I read this with as much delight as I would a novel. Which is not always the case with craft books. She chooses good examples, and her examination of The Great Gatsby is worth reading again. I might have to buy this book. Oh dear. Just when I thought I had my book buying under control....more
J. Morgan
Silber is well read, and she makes sure you know it. Instead of a book giving practical insights to the various ways “time” is used in fiction, she introduces a concept and then proceeds to give a summary of a work she believes exemplifies the concept. More space in the book is given to retelling other stories than anything of real value for writers. Reading this book is like meeting a person at a party who can’t go thirty seconds without name-dropping. Very frustrating read.
Brett Anderson
Oct 16, 2013 Brett Anderson added it
Shelves: writing
"The sequence of any fiction is, by its nature, the path of time evaporating." For this work, the author designated a handful of ways in which fiction writers can address time (classic time, long time, slowed time, switchback time, and fabulous time) and then discussed them with a number of examples. I enjoyed it. Worth reading if you are into fiction writing or interested increasing your reflective awareness of the fiction you read.
Michael
I found this to be a quick, absorbing read that I couldn't put down; I finished it in two sittings. Joan Silber covers in beautiful and easily understandable prose how time unfolds in different works of fiction. The book's chapters cover Classic Time, Long Time, Switchback Time, Slowed Time, Fabulous Time, and Time as Subject. Recommended for aspiring writers and for anyone who wants to think deeply about time.
Selina
This book was alright. It relied heavily on snippets from other books, but didn't fully explain the concepts or what we were supposed to be looking at. Some helpful tips, but not great.
Laurie
This is a very concise but thorough discussion of the use of time in novels and short stories. This book focuses slightly more on short stories than novels. I'm not sure if I'd classify it as a how-to since it's more academic than instructive, but as a writer, it's one of the more useful books I've read on writing. I strongly recommend it to writers. It's a quick read.
Sonya
I wish I'd read this book back when I was studying literature. It provides a clear explanation (with literary examples) of how writers can use the constructs of time, and would have made my own reading better. This is a wonderful use of the literary essay to help readers and writers alike.
Jeb Harrison
This little gem will likely end up as dog-eared as Strunk and White on my bookshelf. Silber's explanations, along with the examples, of the various uses of time as tools to pace and place a story are clear and immediately applicable for any writer looking to add dimension to their work.
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Joan Silber's Art of Time in Fiction 1 11 May 27, 2009 02:02PM  
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  • The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life
  • The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction
  • The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Writing
  • Story Structure Architect: A Writer's Guide to Building Dramatic Situations and Compelling Characters
  • Writing from the Inside Out: Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within
  • From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction
  • The Writer's Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House
  • A Writer's Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life
  • Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life
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Joan Silber is the author of six previous works of fiction. Among many awards and honors, she has won a PEN/Hemingway Award and has been a finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in New York City.
More about Joan Silber...
Ideas of Heaven Fools The Size of the World: A Novel Lucky Us Household Words

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“A story is already over before we hear it. That is how the teller knows what it means.” 1 likes
“Slowed time is -- or should be -- a way of pointing to what's important.” 1 likes
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