Telling time

“How do you tell time?”

This was one of the questions in a workshop I attended. Of course, my mind went to images of a clock, both digital and analog, a calendar, the usual. But that wasn’t what the presenter meant. It was about memories associated with a time in our lives.

Then I started thinking about it. One incident was when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. I don’t automatically say “January, 1986”.  No, my mind instantly says “Mr. Moyer’s science class, eighth grade”.  Same as when President Nixon passed away. My mind doesn’t think “April 1994”, it recalls “That happened three month’s after Mom died.”

See what I’m getting at? I never really thought about it when writing until that point. I’ve tried to work things into my writing, but it’s sometimes difficult because I don’t want to date my novels and have them only be relevant to the here and now. And I’m trying to convey time when the reader is just getting to know the characters.

What made me think about this was the audiobook I’m listening to. A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon. It’s set in North Carolina in the early 1770’s. The American Revolution is in its infancy. The instance that got me thinking about time was the start of the battle at Lexington. Gabaldon doesn’t just give the reader the date and current events. It’s more involved than that.

Paul Revere's Ride - Source
Paul Revere’s Ride – Source

The character, Brianna Randall MacKenzie, wakes and realizes what day it is. She nudges her husband and says “Yesterday was the eighteenth of April.” She then begins to recite the Longfellow poem about Paul Revere’s ride warning that the British Regulars are planning an attack on the Colonist rebel militia. What makes the entire passage fascinating is the fact that Brianna was born in 1948, went to school in Boston during the 1950’s and 60’s and learned about the history of how the nation came to be as a child. During her recitation of the poem, the reader is subtly reminded of not only the current time (1775) but of Longfellow’s time when the poem was written (1855) and Brianna’s childhood (1950’s/60’s) and how the current events are literal history for Brianna and her husband Roger, a historian born in 1940.

What brought it even more to life for me this time around reading it was having been to Boston and seen both Old North Church and walked through Paul Revere’s house in the North End of Boston. Now that I’ve visited where these events happened, they come to life a bit easier for me.

Gabaldon’s illustration definitely gives the reader a fuller appreciate of the time and what is happening to the characters. And, I admit, as Brianna (voiced by Davina Porter) began reciting the poem, I found myself chiming in.

"Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere"

What instances of time telling have you read that made you stop and think about how you tell time?

Have a great week everyone!

OH! Don’t forget to check out the Goodreads giveaway for Renaissance Wench. Open until 7-27-14, click on the cover on the right side at the top of the page. It will take you straight to the giveaway!!


Old North Church (and other Freedom Trail sites in Boston) –


3 thoughts on “Telling time

  1. Great post. Yes, we remember things better when we have some kind of emotional connection to it. I remember the first landing on the moon because we were taking a family friend to the airport and we were able to watch while we waited for his flight to leave. He was there because he’d come to my mother’s funeral. I was 14.

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