The time variable from the PMESII-PT Analysis influences the military operations in terms of decisions moments, operational speed, planning, etc. So how can you apply all that lingo to your story?
The time variable in the story is a multilevel analysis. The great thing about written fiction is that a novel can cover a single day, like Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, or it can cover over 5,000 years, as in Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves. How long the time covered in your story is determined a lot by theme, premise, and your character arcs. Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves covered 5,000 years to better display the struggles of social constructs and their affects on worlds combined and separated. How does Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway change the focus of the story versus a lifetime story?
In some of my book reviews, you’ll notice I’ll comment on a stories pacing. Each story differs based on its genre or premise. We expect action stories to have a quicker pacing than a Fantasy Epic with those taking their time in world and culture building. There may be fast-paced scenes, but the general feel of the book is that it’s there for you to lose yourself in. Horror and thriller books like The Takings by Sandie Will keep the tempo up with physical obstacles to the characters while offering moments of respite long enough for the reader to catch their breath.
Pacing extends beyond the action in your scenes and chapters, but also to the structure of your paragraphs. The more white space on the page, the faster your reader goes. You still need to justify the white space, switching views, distinct character’s reaction/dialogue, or changes in the physical environment.
Time effects all things, and the physical environment most of all. If your story covers a single day, then it’s less likely to damage the world you’ve built. Unless your day is fifty hours long. But for storylines that cover years to decades, there will be signs of decay. Where to look for signs of decay? Structures, vegetation, animals, and your characters decay.
Structures: The decay of structures will depend on the situations of the world you’ve created. War will leave destroyed buildings, but also rubble, damaged infrastructure, and limited survivable areas. Whereas an area damaged by high winds in an earlier part of the story can regrow (plants) or rebuild damaged buildings as it didn’t cripple the society.
Vegetation: Long untended vegetation results in wild growths, death of the plants, or crossbreeding of strains. Some of these factors could create unknown plants that could help or hinder your story. Overgrown vegetation can also break down long abandoned structures in its attempts to reach the most sunlight.
Character: While they may not be in a state of complete decomposition, your character will face the physical struggles of prolonged journeying, lack of food or water, or lack of interaction. While such trials can strengthen the character, it doesn’t start out that way.
Look at how time affects the characters of your story.
A character in prison for a few nights may realize their anger issues or other challenges that sent them to the clink need to come under better control. But a character locked in prison and forgotten about for years will cause a completely different story. The time it takes your character to complete the story arc will change what level of arc is required. In a day long story arc, we don’t expect to see monumental changes in the character like a lowly street urchin turning into a cocky billionaire in one day. They may have the money on that first day, but it takes time to devolve out of old habits and build new ones. Your hero in that fantasy epic isn’t just born a hero after the wizard picks them up, they must develop their skills one piece at a time.
So, play with time to see how it changes your story. Even the slightest changes in time can change your entire outline. Imagine Seveneves but set on a shorter timeline. What if Neal Stephenson explored the early settlements of the new world versus showing us the 5000 years after mark? Is your story wearing out your readers because you don’t give them any break in tension or pace? Throw in some characterizing moments that allow your readers to reconnect with your characters long enough to care again.
PMESII-PT Part 7: Physical Environment
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