How much time passes in Fiction - Average time per page???

Cthulhu.Science

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In 2017, for instance, I started to wonder how much time passes, on average, across a page of a novel. Literary-critical tradition suggested that there had been a pretty stable balance between “scene” (minute-by-minute description) and “summary” (which may cover weeks or years) until modernists started to leave out the summary and make every page breathlessly immediate [1]. But when I sat down with two graduate students (Sabrina Lee and Jessica Mercado) to manually characterize a thousand passages from fiction, we found instead a long trend. The average length of time represented in 250 words of fiction had been getting steadily shorter since the early eighteenth century. There was a trend toward immediacy, in other words, but modernism didn’t begin the trend [2].

The table in the article suggests averages that have gone from a week in Gulliver's Travels to a few minutes in the Old Man and the Sea to about 6 hours in Midnight's Children.

The Hobbit -- Isn't it a year and a day from An Unexpected Party to "The return of Mr. Bilbo Baggins created quite a disturbance, both under the Hill and over the Hill and across the Water; My Ballantine paperback copy is 272 pages. So, by my count 32 hours a page.
-- This might be a cheat on my part because over the next 2 pages several years seem to have passed before the final words: "'Thank Goodness!' said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar."

Where do your stories stack up?


 
The first time I ever heard of one of my favourite books (Last And First Men by Olaf Stapledon) the bit that got my attention was when I was told that after a chunk of the story, it would suddenly say something like “over the next ten million years”
- that was over forty years ago, and I’ve been jumping all over the place time wise ever since
 
I doubt that much SF was considered because timelines of 100s even 1000s of years are not that unusual in a single novel. (I haven't read enough Fantasy to know, but my guess would be the same would hold that long timelines are not that unusual.)
 
Maybe you could explain the thinking behind this metric? I'm not sure what the average (mean?) time passed on a page indicates. I would guess that most pages would cover a couple of minutes of time (median). Given that there are likely very few long time jumps, averaging pages covering short time periods with those that have a longer time jump doesn't seem to be very meaningful. A more verbose story teller might have a significantly lower per page average than a less verbose writer.
 
It seems to vary a lot, and is down to the caprices of the writer - I seem to remember a section in The Belgariad where Eddings spends about seven or eight full pages at the end of one chapter telling us how the group camped for the night, set up the tents, cooked and ate the food, etc, etc, and then started the next chapter with something like "Five days later..."
 
There's no set formula. Two examples:

"He left his quarters, arriving on the bridge a minute later."

"They finally reached the coordinates. The two month journey had finally ended."

Learn by doing. And, of course, reading.
 
I'm curious, how does one determine the time lapsed on a single page? How long does a section of dialog take? A fight scene? A description of the environment?

How does one treat a flashback? Is going back in time canceled out by returning to the present?

I find I am having a hard time grasping the utility of an average time per page measure.
 
Maybe you could explain the thinking behind this metric? I'm not sure what the average (mean?) time passed on a page indicates. I would guess that most pages would cover a couple of minutes of time (median). Given that there are likely very few long time jumps, averaging pages covering short time periods with those that have a longer time jump doesn't seem to be very meaningful. A more verbose story teller might have a significantly lower per page average than a less verbose writer.

Truth is: I saw the article, thought it was interesting, and thought members here would think the article and idea was interesting also.
 
I'm curious, how does one determine the time lapsed on a single page? How long does a section of dialog take? A fight scene? A description of the environment?

How does one treat a flashback? Is going back in time canceled out by returning to the present?

I find I am having a hard time grasping the utility of an average time per page measure.

You may have noticed that I quibbled with The Hobbit by excluding the last 2 pages from the math.
 
I suppose it depends on the genera and time period in which it was written. A novel may deal with a human life time, such as A River Runs Though It, or may deal with different perceptions of time, for example, Pushing Ice's use of Time Dilation, or incredibly large periods of time, such as sub-light travel paired with Cryogenic sleep (cold sleep) of A deepness in the Sky. It would be interesting to see if there was a connection between larger periods of time being discussed in fiction with advances in knowledge via science. However, my water still takes too long to boil when I'm watching it ...
 
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Seems a strange thing to wonder about. Rather like asking how green the greens are in a book. Or how many times a character laughs across all characters and all books. Even if a number could be derived, I don't think it would tell us much.
 

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