Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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November 20, 2019

Smart Writers Expand Time

by Margie Lawson

You may have read portions of this blog on WITS in 2012. It’s still a winner.

Writers are all powerful. Well, in their fictional worlds they are all powerful.

Two of the 74,386 story dynamics that writers control are expanding time and compressing time. Today we’ll focus on the most fun of the two, and the one writers sometimes neglect: expanding time.

When would you want to expand story time?

When scene events justify zooming in on the POV character’s experience, minute by minute, or second by second. Maybe even picosecond by picosecond.

You’ve got to love that word. Picosecond, one trillionth of a second.

In real life, people can send and receive up to 10,000 nonverbal cues in less than one minute.

Yes. That’s a true statement.

We can process up to 10,000 nonverbal cues in less than a minute. Such a shocking number, and cool too.

When what’s happening in your scene is critical or crucial, decisive or dangerous, life-changing or life-threatening, you want to expand time, big time. Don’t hold back. I recommend writing it bigger than you normally would, then rein it back in until it’s just right.

I’ll share examples of expanding time from two mega-talented multi-Immersion Grads—Joan Swan and Laura Drake.

My first example is from Joan Swan’s debut paranormal romantic suspense, Fever. Now Joan has over twenty books out as Joan Swan and Skye Jordan.

Fever, Joan Swan, 4-time Immersion Grad

The Set Up: Alyssa, a radiologist, just completed a scan on a prisoner named Creek.

The hair on her neck barely had time to lift before heat washed her back.  Creek’s hard body closed around her.  What the hell?  A cool chain cut across her throat.  No.  She sucked air.  No. Her fingers clawed at the metal.  No!

“Don’t make a sound.”  He spoke soft and slow, his chin on her shoulder as he bent over her and pressed his cheek against hers from behind.

Her brain finally came back online.  Air wisped into her lungs and fed the new baseline of fear.  When Creek straightened, he rose ten inches above her.  And she now registered not only his size, but the sheer strength in all that corded muscle she’d been admiring.  His movements controlled, purposeful, almost zen-like in confidence.

“You idiot…” She barely breathed the words, the metal and pressure restricting her vocal chords.  “Let go—“

The chain jerked once, cutting into her trachea. “Shut.  Up.”

Pain cut off all thoughts but sheer survival. Air. Breath. Air.

She wedged her skull against his collarbone to allow a fraction of relief on her airway. Oxygen wisped through the stricture. In. Out. In. Out. Her gray matter slugged back to work, edged with hot, sharp panic that threatened to invade every crevice and drive her insane.

The officers’ boots were still visible beneath the curtain where they stood in the hall, but she couldn’t draw enough air to speak let alone scream. And the links of metal weren’t cool anymore. They burned, as if Creek’s body heat streamed through the metal.


Jesus. “Put…those down.” A spurt of terror gushed up her chest. Her fingers searched for a millimeter of leverage between the chain and her skin. “You’re…burning…me.”

Creek’s head tilted down, his whisker-roughened chin scraping her cheek.

The pressure eased and Alyssa ran her cool fingers over raw skin, choking in blessed air. Her relief was short-lived as the rasp of metal on metal sounded in her ear. A hard blade pressed against her neck.  Her eyes squeezed shut.

“Not another sound,” Creek whispered, “or I’ll cut your throat.”

“All right.” The older guard sounded relaxed and jovial as he swooshed the curtain aside. “Are we all done in—?”

The room went completely still. The extended, shocked moment expanded, taking on weight and mass and volume like one of the cancers Alyssa fought so hard to find and fight in her patients.

Kudos to Joan Swan!

What techniques did she use to make expanded time work?

1.    Visceral Responses – hair on neck lifted,  spurt of terror gushed up her chest

2.    Specificity – One of dozens of examples: She wedged her skull against his collarbone to allow a fraction of relief on her airway.

3.    Body Language – throughout

4.    Dialogue Cues

  • He spoke soft and slow
  • The older guard sounded relaxed and jovial

5.    Power Internalizations – throughout

6.    Power Words –  cut, fear, strength, muscle, confidence, restricted (airway), pain, survival, air, breath, oxygen, hot, sharp, panic, invade, insane, skull, airway, screamed, burned, terror, pressure, raw, choking, blade, cut your throat, shocked, cancers

7.    Backloading – Power words at the end of sentences.

8.    Cadence, cadence, cadence!

Rhetorical Devices: 

1.    Asyndeton – His movements controlled, purposeful, almost zen-like in confidence.

2.    Polysyndeton –  . . . taking on weight and mass and volume . . .

3.    Simile –  . . . like one of the cancers . . .

4.    Onomatopoeia – whooshed, wisped, rasped

5.    Alliteration – throughout

Wow! Look how Joan powered up her expanded time passage.

Our second example of expanding time is from Writers in the Storm veteran, Laura Drake. Laura wrote this zoomed in version of expanding time after Immersion class. Now Laura has eleven books in print.

Days Made of Glass, Laura Drake, 2-Time Immersion Grad, and Cruising Writer’s Grad

The Set Up:  Harlie saves a Pomeranian from being pummeled by a bull.

Yipping in triumph, the dog shot like a flaxen arrow to the center of the arena and faced Patrice with a panting grin.

The bull stood in front of the gates, snorted, threw his head up and with white rimmed, rolling eyes, regarded the irritant. Harlie watched, frozen. The bull strutted, looking around, deciding.  It might have walked to the open exit gate if the Pomeranian hadn’t challenged it with a cascade of furious yapping.

The bull wheeled to the center of the arena, dropped its head, and with a heavy snort, charged. The dog held his ground, barking at the charging one-ton animal like a drunk with little-man syndrome.

Why isn’t anyone doing anything? Besides Patrice, who shrieked from the bleachers.  Harlie’s hands jerked from the pole fence. The dog was a pain in the ass, but it was about to be pummelled to a bloody rag under the bull’s hooves.

She didn’t think. Ducking between the poles, she judged the bull’s trajectory and ran on a diagonal that would allow her to scoop up the dog without getting stomped.


She barely heard the shouts of the onlookers. Instead, she focused on the speed of the bull, gaining, gaining.

No way she’d make it to the fence.

The sweet rush of adrenaline hit her like a heroin-mainlining junkie. Just as strong, just as welcome. It sang through her veins, lifting her, making her impervious -- superhuman. She sped up, heart thundering in her ears -- or maybe that was bull’s hooves.

Everything seemed to slow. Details stood out in perfect focus: the shine of spit on the dog’s bared teeth, the whorl of hair at the center of the bull’s forehead, a small scar next to its white-filled eye.

In full stride, Harlie reached the center of the arena, snatched the now cowering fur ball by the nape, and kept moving. The ground shook with pounding hooves. She tensed her muscles for impact, but felt only a sliding rub of horn on her butt and the rush of air at her back as the bull passed. Clutching the suicidal mutt in a death grip, Harlie sprinted for the fence.

She’d only taken a couple of steps when the panicked yells of the onlookers penetrated the swelling chorus of the adrenaline song in her head. Harlie didn’t have to look. She knew bulls. The animal had wheeled, and from the vibrations in the soles of her fancy cowgirl boots, was bearing down to gore her.

No time. She heaved the dog toward the open-mouthed, red-faced men on the opposite side of the fence.  Harlie’s brain registered a stop-action photo of the little dog, hair blown back, flying through the air, mouth open. She hadn’t known that dogs had an expression for terrified, but this one sure did. It hit the ground running and streaked for the line of boots at the fence.

Harlie spun on her heel. The bull was farther away than she’d guessed, but closing fast. She shot a glance to the fence. It seemed as if she were seeing it through the wrong end of a telescope. A bull will beat a human in a race, every time. She’d never make it.

No choice.

Tension zinged through her. The timing had to be just right. Failure would come in the form of lunging horns and bone-snapping hooves. Head down, the bull came on.

Decision made, the fear in Harlie’s chest lay down before a rising exaltation of knowing. Crouched in a marathon runner’s stance, she shook the jitters out of her hands and gauged the bull’s closing speed.

One more step –

Harlie exploded, launching herself straight at the bull.

She took two long-jumper strides.

The bull charged in, lowering its head to hook her.

On the third stride, perfectly timed, her foot came down in the center of the bull’s broad forehead. He threw his head up and she was launched, flying over the beast’s back

It seemed she rose forever, her stomach dropping, shooting the sparkly fireworks of a roller coaster’s first hill. A quiet, high-pitched sound escaped her lips. It might have been a giggle.

When the arc finally began its downward tail, Harlie looked for a place to land.

Wow. Pacing. Pizzazz. Passion. Power.

That’s the kind of writing that earns contracts.

Kudos to Laura Drake!

What did Laura Drake do to make her expanded time piece work?

Review my deep editing points for Joan Swan’s passage – and fill in content for Laura’s excerpt. Consider your WIP. Where could you add power by expanding time?

POST A COMMENT AND YOU MAY WIN a Lecture Packet or an online course from Lawson Writer’s Academy valued up to $100.

We’ll have two drawings, one for each prize. I’ll post the name of the LUCKY WINNERS on Friday night.

Online Classes offered by Lawson Writer's Academy in December:

1. NEW CLASS: Building from the Ground Up: Character Development and Story Structure, Instructor:  B. Dave Walters

2. NEW CLASSIt’s a Wonderful Writer’s Life, Instructor: Lisa Norman

3. NEW CLASSJust for You: A Two-Week Intensive Mentorship, Instructor: Rhay Christou

4. Lights, Camera, Tension; Instructor: Sarah Hamer

5. Kid-Lit Crash Course: Writing and Publishing Your MG-YA Novel; Instructor: Michelle Schusterman

6. Two-Week Intensive on Revision, Instructor: Shirley Jump

* * * * * *

About Margie

Margie Lawson Photo

Margie Lawson —editor and international presenter – teaches writers how to use her psychologically-based editing systems and deep editing techniques to create page turners.

She’s presented over 120 full day master classes in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and France, as well as taught multi-day intensives on cruises in the Caribbean.

To learn about Margie’s 5-day Immersion Master Classes, full day and weekend workshops, keynote speeches, online courses through Lawson Writer’s Academy, lecture packets, and newsletter, please visit: www.margielawson.com

Interested in inviting me to present a full day workshop for your writing organization? Contact me through her website, or Facebook Message me.

Interested in attending one of my 5-day Immersion Master Classes? Click over to my website and check them out.

Registration is open for Immersion classes in Atlanta, Denver, Poulsbo (WA), Pittsburgh, San Jose, Jacksonville, and Milnathort, Scotland!

I’m adding three Immersion classes in Australia too. Email me if you’re interested.

Thanks so much for reading this blog. I’m looking forward to your comments!

53 comments on “Smart Writers Expand Time”

  1. What a great post. This is so helpful with tips for me to remember how to improve my first draft during rewrites. And since it's Nanowrimo, I'm sure I'll revisit it again next month! Thanks.

  2. Excellent post! Expanding time is a great way to draw the reader in and make her experience the moment along with the protagonist,—which means increasing the bond—and that's why we keep turning the pages 🙂 Naming some techniques we can use, and then showing us how they are employed in specific passages, is the perfect combination of "tell and show!" Thanks so much for this!

    1. Hello Barbara --

      Thank you. I'm all about showing examples, sharing deep editing techniques, and helping writers create page-turners.

      Hope I get to meet you someday!

  3. "Write the fast parts slow and the slow parts fast." I think it was Lee Child who offered this advice at a conference. Love the way you've expanded it here.

    1. Hello Terry --

      You're right. Lee Child said to write the fast stuff slow and the slow stuff fast. Smart guy.

      Lee Child was smart to use a pen name too. Jim Grant isn't as catchy as Lee Child.

      Thanks for chiming in!

  4. Another fantastic post. These fabulous techniques never get old. Love the new example.
    Miss you lots, Margie.

  5. I know exactly a scene that would benefit in my story. And now as I revise, this post will be read again. So, I was on the edge of my couch reading the examples of Laura and joan. Thanks.

  6. This was really interestig and helpful! I am working on stepping up the intensity in some scenes in my WIP and this is really helpful. Thank you!

  7. Wow, Margie! I'm glad I paused in my NaNo-ing to have a read. I'm about to write a dramatic and dangerous scene that needs expanding. I'll get extra word count and the words will count!

  8. Thank you Margie - greating timing for me, since the two ms's I've used in all your classes are getting a final a self edit. With the hope of moving them on. I fell in love with Laura's piece the first time I read it and Joan's makes the expansion of time such a visceral experience.
    Thanks Margie, and Laura and Joan.

    1. Hello Wendy L --

      It's been four years since I've seen you. Waaaaaaay too long.

      I'm planning a trip Down Under in March. Hope to see you then!

      Glad you're on final passes. Time to let the world enjoy your writing and your stories!

  9. Oops, think I lost my comment before posting. This blog is so helpful! I've taken a few classes and loved them. I seem to get 30,000 words in and give up. I would love to win a lecture packet or class, especially now that my soon to be ex husband left me bankrupt.

    1. Hello Danielle --

      So great to cyber-see you here. Loved working with you in Immersion in 2013. That's been a l-o-n-g time!

      Thanks for chiming in. Glad you love playing with time.

  10. Going over this in Immersion produced one of the writing bits I’m most proud of! It seemed daunting at first, but breaking it down made it totally doable and it transformed my moment into something so much better!

    1. Hello Cheri --

      I remember the expanded time passage you wrote in Immersion. Powerful writing! Guaranteed to WOW every reader.

      I bet you'll get that book finished in 2020! Glad I get to work with you in another Immersion class next year. Miss you...

  11. I constantly remind myself to expand time after doing 3 of your courses! I always remember Harlan Coben examples (and have read a lot of Harlan Coben since). While it's often a fine line between expanding time and spending too much time on the yellow highlights, of which I thankfully no longer have meadows, it's such a valuable thing to learn to master! As always, reading the examples you select really grounds me in my writing, and what works, and how to inspire myself the next time I hurricane into my documents 🙂

  12. OMG, Joan Swan's example scared the crap out of me. I always find expanding and compressing time to be so difficult but I have two scenes I can think of right off the bat that need to be expanded.

    Thanks for this post, Margie. I always appreciate your examples. You are amazeballs. 🙂

  13. Margie—yet another WITS post that proves why you are the best. This post came at the perfect place for me in my current WIP. Thank you!! I look forward to being in an immersion soon!!

  14. Hi Margie. So happy to see you sharing at WITS. It’s bed time here in Australia, but you snuck in, expanded time. Now it feels like morning. Sunshiny hugs ?, Jay.

  15. Hi Margie. I loved these stellar examples of expanded time. Both chock-full of tension and fresh writing. I especially enjoyed seeing the extended version of Laura Drake's wonderful scene - so much fun to read!
    Thinking of you, and hope to see you next year!
    Big big hugs, Becky

  16. Great stuff, Margie! I am considering trying my hand at a romantic suspense, so your reminders are timely as ever. Hugs to you!

  17. Your posts are so full of practical advice. I loved the examples and the way you deep edit them is so helpful. xx

  18. Powerful writing!! Love the post! And I looove Margie's fantastic breakdowns of the language. She is the first person I've read that explained in such amazing detail the HOW and WHY behind effective writing. ( :

  19. I'm a HUGE fan off everything Margie. One of the first people I ever read that explained the "how" behind those NYT sentences!! ( : another great blog post, thank you!!

  20. I'm late but here! (I was a little busy with my own book release on the same day this post came out. 🙂 ) You and I have talked, Margie, about how this slowing down really happens in the midst of a traumatic event, like a car crash. It's such a powerful technique within a story!

    My own favorite example from another author is probably Elizabeth Essex, where in one of her books she spends 1 1/2 pages on the moment the heroine sees the hero. The heroine sees him, time stops, and all the details and her feelings rush out. It's captivating!

  21. Picosecond. It rolls around in my mind as I write this.

    The detailed dig into these passages is a valuable guide for revising.
    Thanks for these examples! I look forward to more of your posts.

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