Telling A Story Over The Course Of A Single Day

When it comes to treatment of time in stories, there are several main options:

  1. Over a period of years
  2. Over a period of months (seasons)
  3. Over the period of a few weeks/days
  4. Over the period of a single day

John Truby, in his book Anatomy Of Story, writes of the advantages of stories set over the course of a single day:

  1. ‘The first effect is to create simultaneous story movement while maintaining narrative drive. Instead of showing a single character over a long development…you present a number of characters acting at the same time.’
  2. ‘…the ticking of hours keeps the story line moving forward and gives the story a sense of compression.

It’s worth dividing the ‘single day storyline’ down further into

  1. 24-hour stories
  2. 12-hour stories

If you use a twenty-four-hour clock ‘you lessen the urgency and increase the sense of the circular. No matter what may have happened, we return to the beginning, with everything the same, and start all over again.’ In many ways, the

twenty-four-hour circular day has many of the same thematic effects as the four seasons. Not surprisingly, both techniques are often connected with comedy, which tends to be circular, emphasizes society as opposed to the individual, and ends in some kind of communion or marriage. Techniques of circular time are also associated with the myth form, which is based on circularity of space. In many classic myth stories, the hero starts at home, goes on a journey, and returns home to find what was already within him.’

If you make use of a 12-hour clock, you create a ‘funnel effect’.

‘The audience senses not only that each of the story strands will be settled at the end of the twelve hours but also that the urgency will increase as the deadline nears.’

establishing shot from Courage The Cowardly Dog Dr Le Quack


Anyone who has read books to children will already know which of these single-day stories is more popular in children’s books. Some common clocks in picture books:

  1. The main character wakes up in the morning, goes on an adventure, comes home to safety and sleeps happily in bed. These stories make for good, calming bedtime tales, functioning like a lullaby.
  2. Some books are about a specific time of day. Perhaps the entire focus is about going to bed, and the story is condensed to the bedtime routine. Or it might equally be about getting up and going to kindergarten.
  3. Less common is an inversion of the daytime story, in which the child is put to bed and the adventures begin. Maurice Sendak was fond of this form, evident in his book In The Night Kitchen:
  4. A young boy named Mickey sleeps in his bed when he is disturbed by noise on a lower floor. Suddenly, he begins to float, and all of his clothes disappear as he drifts into a surreal world called the “Night Kitchen”:[Mickey, a little boy] falls into a giant mixing pot that contains the batter for the “morning cake”. While Mickey is buried in the mass, three identical bakers … mix the batter and prepare it for baking, unaware (or unconcerned) that there is a little boy inside. Just before the baking pan is placed into the oven, the boy emerges from the pan, protesting that he is not the batter’s milk.To make up for the baking ingredient deficiency, Mickey (now covered in batter from the neck down) constructs an airplane out of bread dough so he can fly to the mouth of a gigantic milk bottle. Upon reaching the bottle’s opening, he dives in and briefly revels in the liquid. After his covering of batter disintegrates, he pours the needed milk in a cascade down to the bakers who joyfully finish making the morning cake.With dawn breaking, the naked Mickey crows like a rooster and slides down the bottle to magically return to his bed. Everything is back to normal, beyond the happy memory of his experience.- Wikipedia
Rooster, Umbrella, and Morning Glories

The advantage to setting a story over the course of a night-time is that the child will likely find the darkness and night-time spooky and mysterious, so the setting of darkness provides inevitable adventure. Also, the night-time is the perfect setting for dreamscapes and imaginings and all sorts of surreal fantasies.



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