Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock

Ticking Clock

Good morning fishy friends!  I’m actually going to blog about “writing” today on my group writers blog and not cute boys or cute boys or cute boys.  And that is because it’s contest judging time for my local writing chapter’s annual unpublished writing contest, WRW’s Marlenes.  This is my second year judging and the entries I received this year were very impressive.  There wasn’t a single head hop which stood out to me because I can admit that was my biggest mistake when I first entered my own submission.  More positives were that the characters were all well written and likeable.  The premises were all genuinely unique and interesting.  And there were some really good synopsis’ included at the end.

If the stories I read lacked anything, it was a clear understanding of the Ticking Clock.  I pulled this definition from Mary Buckham and Dianna Love’s power plotting book, Break Into Fiction.  The Ticking Clock is “an internal or external element in the story that creates a limit to how much time the character has to complete his or her immediate external goal.”

Have you ever been reading a book or a contest entry and everything is going just fine.  You’re enjoying the story well enough, but pretty soon, you start to wonder why is it so important that this is happening?  The material is good, but it’s not exciting you to keep turning the pages.  It could be because of that missing ticking clock.  I’m going to go ahead and refer to this little guy as Tik Tok (Return to Oz).

What Tik Tok does for your story:

-Gives your story purpose, urgency & excitement

-Assures good pacing, making it a page turner

-It doesn’t have to be “in your reader’s face”

That last point is important because I got to thinking that for a contemporary genre writer, you may not have exploding bombs to diffuse or kidnapped victims to rescue before time runs out.  Maybe your Tik Tok is a high school reunion the heroine has to be ready for or maybe your heroes are rockstars and you have a band about to go out on the road and tour.  My current WIP’s Tik Tok is the pending birth of a baby–the hero and heroine want to be free of their demons before this new life enters the world in two weeks. See, completely normal life events but important enough to get one’s butt in gear!

Whatever the element creating that time limit for your story is, it MUST be essential to your character’s pending goal.  It has to be detrimental enough to ignite them to do whatever they have to do to meet that end.

Often I think the author probably has this in their head but fails to weave it into their story early on.  Most contest entry lenghts I read this past week took me to about the third or fourth chapter.  As the reader, I should feel the pressure urging your characters on by that point.  The earlier the better in fact.

To find your Ticking Clock, ask yourself why it’s so important for the characters to be accomplishing whatever it is they are doing in a timely manner.  The Tik Tok is the motivator to this happening.  They have a goal.  It’s essential that they accomplish it.  Now what candle are you going to light under their butt to move them to action?

Fishy kisses signed, sealed and delivered, on time!Mermaid Carlene




14 thoughts on “Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock

  1. I love the idea of a ticking clock to avoid the meandering pacing. Dennis LeHane does a great job of tight pacing. I get his books and cannot put them down. Mystic River is one of my favorites. The movie was good, but the book will suck you in – in no small part because of the tight pacing.

  2. Carlene,
    Great post. It’s funny that you should mention this because I was trying to figure out that allusive something that was missing from both the entries that I judged and (I have to admit) the ones I submitted. I’m just as much at fault at this! Thanks for sharing. I’ll have to run and throw a little fire under my characters. LOL.
    Off to find some matches.

  3. Hi Avery–I haven’t read that book or seen the movie but I’m jotting Mr LeHane’s name down to check out. Thanks for the tip!
    Hi Kim–It took me a couple days to figure out what it was about the entires I really seemed to like but just weren’t blowing me away. I think it’s always easier to see issues in work that isn’t your own. But then you learn and apply it to your stories as well.
    Thanks ladies, I’m just glad I contributed to something a little more writerly today! Woo Hoo for Craft!

  4. I start writing with a time frame in mind. My characters have goals and need to achieve them or all is lost. Tick Tock made me think you were going to talk about Gwen Stefani.

    1. Hi Mary Jo, I love Gwen Stefani so that would have been a very likely reference for me to make 🙂 I like that you start your writing with a time frame for your characters in mind. That has to help keep them on track and the writer too. Good tip. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Great post, Carlene! I once heard that you should have some reference to the ticking clock on EVERY PAGE. I’m not sure if I do that, but it is certainly a great way to keep the tension and pacing high! Thank you for the reminder, and have a great day!

    1. You know,that would probably make for one high octane reading experience. I think that it’s nice to give the reader a moment to catch their breath, especially in romance 🙂 Thank you for saying hi!

  6. I think I need to add ‘mind-reader’ to your list of superpowers! This post came at a perfect time on two counts – the entries I’m judging and the WIP I’m working on – (which you’ve seen some of:)…

    A story I’m reading now and loving has a hero with a job that requires he relocate in a year – not the “point” of the story at all, but just enough of a tick-tock that it is always in the back of the reader’s mind – if this relationship is going to last it better start happening ASAP! Off to add a ticking clock to my WIP. Thanks Carlene!

    1. See, that’s what I think is the challenge for the author. You need the reader to know and feel the pressure is there but I love the clever writer who can do it so that it’s just in the back of the reader’s mind. Welcome Denny!

  7. Hero, I can not believe you referenced Return to Oz!!! That movie scares the living bejesus out of me!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Great post, Carlene! Gotta find my own Tik Tok in my various projects, and see if i can send those stories moving along…

Comments are closed.