by Jill Amadio
Having celebrated the New Year a few days ago I am still curious about one of its major symbols, Father Time.
Appearing in books, paintings, music, film, television, and even as industry logos, Father Time is often depicted as a character with his murderous scythe and/or an hourglass. Such images have been used to remind a reader that Time is a potential murder weapon with the hours running out for a victim, or signifying an imminent arrest.
It rolls along inexorably despite any means we employ to stop it. But wait! Writers sometimes change Time not only in their fiction but even in non-fiction that one expects to be factual and pure.
How often have you read, “Within three short weeks the memoir was finished.” or “It was the longest hour she had ever spent in his company.” What do these Time phrases mean? What is a short hour, 44 minutes? Or a long year, 15 months? How about this recently published mystery wherein the author blithely bent the passage of Time with: “She knew the hours would pass more quickly if she went to a movie…” How could this be? Obviously, it was her perception in play but seconds, minutes, weeks, months, years, and decades pass at their own pace despite anything we can do to speed it up or slow it down.
In his Rubaiyat, Omar Khayyam wrote one of the most dire warnings about Time: “The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on. Nor all the piety nor wit can lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all they tears wash out a word of it.” However, a clever writer can give the reader an impression of a faster or slower passage of Time through tension, the building of a scene, or a change in writing style with short sentences, even a single word.
In my favorite, faithful much-thumbed 1,350-page Roget’s International Thesaurus, of which I receive the latest edition every five years as a Christmas gift, there are pages and pages devoted to definitions for Time including Duration, Instantaneousness, Perpetuity, Interim, Anachronism, Infinity, Transience, and, rather oddly, Regularity of Recurrences, and a section devoted to for Previousness (Roget’s heading, not mine, which my Spellcheck rejects), plus many more. In fact, a cornucopia of ways to express how Time moves along at its prescribed pace in any situation and circumstance.
How do we live in borrowed Time – what does that mean? We cannot borrow, stretch, shorten, nor cut Time in its literal sense yet we bandy about this commodity as if it were taffy.
Shakespeare took liberties with Time in dozens of plays and called it a “common arbitrator” and, “a bald cheater’ which I prefer to read in its literal sense although he didn’t intend it that way. The Bard was also the first, I believe, to coin the phrase that Britain’s prime minister, Neville Chamberlain borrowed centuries later when he intoned in 1938 there would be “peace for our time.”
How about this one: ‘Time is of the essence.’ Taken verbatim causes one to wonder, which essence? Frankincense, rose water, or perhaps orange peel? Or do we wish to convey that Time is urgent? If so, why not say so with description to match the action.
Metaphors are wonderful but sometimes they can convey a meaning that the author did not intend, or missed an opportunity to raise the stakes. How often have you read, “Time and again she pulled on the chain/rope/handcuffs.…” Would the reader enter into a precise Time frame more personally and feel the victim’s agony and persistence more clearly if the sentence read “after six desperate attempts pulling on the chain, she…
All of which reminds us to remain disciplined because – Time is honestly and truly running out! Do you have a secret method for trying to cheat Time?
Happy New Year, everyone! Do not waste a minute of this brand new year. Write!
Jill Amadio is a mystery writer, novelist, journalist, and ghostwriter. She writes a column for the UK-based Mystery People magazine. Her standalone thriller, “In Terror’s Deadly Clasp,” is based on a true 9/11 story, and her memoir of Virginia Bader chronicles the pioneering of the aviation art movement in America. Amadio co-authored a posthumous biography of the singer Rudy Vallee, and ghostwrote a crime novel. She was a reporter for the Bangkok Post, Gannett Newspapers in New York, and the L.A. Daily News, and has written for Conde Nast, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, Motor Trend, Air Classics, and other publications. Her award-winning mystery series features an amateur sleuth from Cornwall, UK, Amadio’s former residence before relocating to California and Connecticut. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the Authors Guild. Visit Jill’s Website