ENG210: Wk 7

Time as Structure

This week we look at time as a structuring principle in writing.

Steps to Follow

Step 1: If you have not yet listened to Lecture 3: Memory and Time, do so now.

Step 2: Do the readings for this week

Step 3: Complete the Writing Exercises for this week


Every piece of creative writing, whether a story, a poem, or just a scene, positions the reader to understand when events are occurring – or have occurred, or will/ might occur in the future. It is essential to understand how the time frames the reader experiences must be shown clearly in writing you do.

Representing time is not only to do with the grammatical tenses in the writing – past, present, future. The time frame is where the reader is positioned to understand the story – is it being narrated in the present about an earlier event? What is the dominant time frame of a story? or a poem? Time frames can shift – a character in the present may remember events earlier in her life, but her actions are occurring in the ‘present’ time of the story. See Malouf’s story: here the woman moves through events in her day (one day, written as it happened in the past, but still the one day) and she is remembering events earlier in her life even while the ‘present time’ of the story, the day’s events, follow sequentially. In Mears’ story, the character also moves through ‘real’ time and remembers earlier times.

Look carefully at how these writers have conveyed time – how have they done this?


Malouf, David. “The empty lunch-tin” in Antipodes, 1985, 36-42

Mears, Gillian. “‘Bird O Circle'” Heat , 11: , 1999 , 46-61

You can also read ahead to:

Hodge, Merle. “Inez” in The Faber Book of Contemporary Caribbean Short Stories, Morris, Mervyn, 1990, 81-85. This story is on point of view, but the events move through the time frame of one day.

You can go back to the poetry based on fragments of time, and perspectives on time in Freiman, McGough and Herrick, from Week 6.

Writing Exercises

Write a short narrative which is structured using at least three time frames, or fragments of time (not necessarily the same thing in terms of narrative effect and writing technique). The Malouf story illustrates time frames; the poetry on memory and time illustrates the use of fragments of time as well as time frames, useful for memory writing. Gillian Mears’ story moves back and forth from past memories to the present. You might use flashbacks, ‘flash-forwards’, or move back from, or around, an incident.

*A narrative is a story – events relate causally to each other in some way, and they are represented in relation to the time in which they occur.


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