Something that can always pull me out of a story is the unlikely passage of time. It’s something that probably shouldn’t bother me, and I try not to let it, but logic often taps on my skull and it snags my brain. This is what I’m talking about:
They paused and stared at each other for a few minutes. “Ok, you can drive,” she finally said.
A few seconds can sometimes feel like an age staring at somebody in silence in the middle of a conversation or action. Imagine how creepy and weird a few minutes must feel. Have you ever actually timed, say, three minutes, paying attention to how long you’re silent and counting? Yeah, it’s a long, long time. Time enough to go make a cup of tea. Or a sandwich. While Character A is gawping at you for “long minutes” in shock, you could have popped to the supermarket and resupplied your cupboards or started catching up on the latest Blacklist.
When I’m trying to show the passage of time in my stories, I generally time how long something could take. So a character staring at another in shock might only be three seconds before somebody speaks or takes action. Three. Seconds. Not three minutes. There is a big ol’ difference.
To be fair, it’s not always easy to keep track of these things, especially if you’re powerhousing through draft after draft of a story – it’s easy to go unnoticed. I bet I could find a few in my own stories; those pesky details that slip through all the nets because, until you stop and think about them, they aren’t obvious. But it might be worth logic-checking the passage of time, just for the unfortunate people like me who tend to stop reading to boggle at how incredibly awkward that three minute “shocked pause” must be.