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Moments & Seconds

Are you writers aware of time? More and more often I read about a character staring at another character for several moments. If you mean several brief time periods, try using seconds. It’s much more powerful and precise. For example, “the angry client stared at the well-dressed bank manager for several seconds”. That’s believable and many of us have experience glaring at someone for several seconds. But if you use several “moments” in that phrase it just sounds endless and wrong and inaccurate. Who holds eye contact for several “moments”? Unless it’s a prelude to a kiss, someone is sure to walk away before several moments are up.

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Agree completely. On the other hand, "I watched him for a moment, then looked back at the menu in front of me" works: One moment = a few seconds (2 or 3?).

kestrel December 1, 2009, 1:57pm

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I prefer more vague but understandable (if that makes sense) markers, such as "a while," or "for some time."

d_if_i_do December 1, 2009, 8:37pm

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Two thoughts ~

In my mind, "moment" is more analogous to "minute" than "second." But more important, it carries with it a sense of being indefinite, which you lose by substituting either of the alternative choices.

From my reading of your comment ~ since my own writing background consists of journalistic, technical and creative writing ~ it also seems that you may be attempting to apply the standards and practices of one of those styles (journalistic or technical) to another (creative).

janthomas December 24, 2009, 9:13am

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Jan makes an interesting point: a moment is an indefinite period of time, the length of which is not defined by the word itself. It may be synonymous with a point in time, of no duration, or it may clearly mean some span of time, as in "a moment of bliss" (one hopes, at least, that it does). A moment may be lengthened or shortened adjectivally. Or it may be undefined, as "the moment of truth." Just how long does that last?

To string several moments together risks confusion, as RedFern points out, though sometimes "several moments" may be just the vague interval desired – in prose. That is a matter of style. I don't agree with Jan that a "moment" is more analogous to a minute than a second – it is more situational than that – but I do agree with her second point, which is (essentially) that creative prose differs from descriptive writing, and with it certain usages. It's a distinction not covered by mere rules of grammar. But one of great moment.

douglas.bryant December 28, 2009, 4:30pm

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