In writing, the Ticking Clock is a dramatic device in which some event looming in the near future requires that the conflict reach a speedy resolution (hence, the ticking clock). www.screenwritinginfo.com/glossary.php
While most of us live our lives without a ticking clock that rachets up suspense and means that we will lose love, life, or even the world as we know it, that kind of story won’t cut it in the writing world. Without a device to add impetus to the plot, pacing might slow down, which might make the reader decide s/he needs to fold the drying or watch the ESPN sports news. Not good.
I know that we’re supposed to write the story of our hearts, but what if you’ve written a lovely generational story about everyday people who struggle, love, laugh, and…live? Even if it’s original, thoughtful, and well written, it might not be enough for today’s market. The term “Bread & Circuses” comes to mind, especially seeing how reality shows entice viewers to follow people in antics that, to me, are appalling. We’re told that if we write a good story, editors will buy it.
The reality is a ticking clock enhances the plot and gives the reader a page-turning story. Remember “Speed” in 1994 with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock? The mad bomber rigged the passenger bus to explode if it slowed down to a particular speed. I believe it was 50 mph, which became difficult on the crowded city streets. Also, if the H/H tried to unload any passengers, the bomber would trigger the detonator.
The authorities sought to dilute the immediate danger by directing the bus to a freeway. Just when the H/H breathed a sigh of relief at the respite, it turned out the road wasn’t completed and the bus would fall off the end of the construction. The H/H managed to get out of that problem, only go find out the bus was running out of gas. The stakes continued to get higher and higher for the two hour movie (Disclaimer: I might have remembered some things that happened out of order). I’ve seen the movie at least a dozen times and I love it.
Would I have felt the same way if Keanu was a cop trying to solve a robbery and he met Sandra while canvassing the neighborhood? Maybe he asked her out and they fell in love. He continued his investigation and founded out her cousin Vinny was the thief. That’s some conflict. But, Vinnie was a criminal and Sandra understood.
This movie is a great example of keeping the audience interested and anxious all the way to the end. A roller coaster ride of emotions that has the viewer pulling for the H/H. The ticking clock device was used effectively to enhance the plot.
We have to do that with our novels. Not necessarily using the ticking clock, but to keep the reader engaged. Where do you come down on the question of whether a writer needs bells and whistles to make it today? Do you have a book or movie that used the ticking clock to improve the story?