The Ticking Clock and Why it's so Vital in Storytelling

info Nov 26, 2021
story telling this digital space

The ticking clock is a vital part of storytelling because it builds suspense, increases the story's pace, and hooks the reader or viewer. I have been talking about it all week in my Daily Bootup Vlogs Here. So why exactly does this phenomenon work? And how can you use it to your advantage in your next story? Let's find out! (...)

What is the ticking clock?

In storytelling, a ticking clock is a time constraint. This time constraint adds pressure to a character or group of characters, forcing them to decide before they're ready. An excellent example of a ticking clock is turning off an alarm clock after hitting snooze five times. That feeling you get as those seconds tick away? That's pressure.
There are so many different examples of a ticking clock, though. Humans have an internal clock; it's been there since before we stood on two legs. It is about survival built around security, hunger, thirst and shelter. If we are thirsty, we know we have to drink; if we don't, we will die. We didn't need language or reason to feel that it is instinct. In the modern world, an advert creates the need or want (the thirst), we believe we will live (or perhaps have our life made better) if we go and purchase the product, This is our deep instinct within our DNA. Everyone exploits that urge to satisfy a need or want, marketers, writers, program makers. It can almost be as passive as finding out what happens next. But this is the food that feeds engagement.

When do you need it?

Every single story needs a ticking clock, don't read any guru's that tell you otherwise. The ticking clock is the tool that engages an audience compelling them to act, from clicking buy to staying to the end. There's no instance I can think of where a ticking clock isn't at the heart of a story. Our entire life is one big ticking clock. The environment is a ticking clock. Our lives ever ticking away, and we need to fill the hours and minutes with meaningful stuff. The whole mindful movement is designed to lessen the damage of living under the endless tick. We have talked about work-life balance and quality time in recent years, but it all inevitably ticks away. Every human alive, no matter how laid back, is governed by the tick-tock of the clock; we even have an app named in honour of the ticking clock. And don't some people spend hours on that app?

How can I use the ticking clock?

Stories are one of the most potent ways to get your point across, which is why they're found just about everywhere—from sales presentations to TED talks. But did you know that stories also have a psychological advantage over data? One of the reasons storytelling is so compelling is because of what scientists call the ticking clock. When we hear or read a story, we can place ourselves in the same setting as the characters. The tick and tock of life is common to all humans.
Over the weekend, I will be looking at all the wonderful layers of the ticking clock in "Squid Game." It will be on my youtube channel and Instagram.
The ticking clock is everywhere, and one of the first questions you should ask when embarking on any creative endeavour is, who is my audience? followed by what is my ticking clock?
Crime Drama
Try to think of the ticking clock for every drama you ever saw, from the buried alive and their air running out to the runaway train; try to think of the ticking clock for every drama you ever saw.
Who Dunnit
Here this ticking clock is in the form of a question that must be answered. Who committed the crime. Yes, it could be literal in therm of catching the serial killer before he does it again. But it may only be a question that needs answering to satisfy the audience's curiosity before not knowing drives them mad.
Love story
Will the couple fall in love, a will they won't they ticking clock. Love is always on a time frame; before they go off the boil, he goes to war, she takes the job in Baltimore.
Game shows
I minute to fill off the pegs in the holes.
Quiz shows
Just 60 seconds to answer 10 questions correctly/

The list goes on and on and on. Write every example you can think of down, start with your favourite films and TV shows, move on to quizzes and game shows.

Even a documentary has a ticking clock, usually in the form of a question that needs an answer. It creates the same feeling of urgency. Look at when something is on the tip of your tongue, you can't relax until the question has an answer or the puzzle is solved. Why did that man become a serial killer? What makes him different. Will Polar Bears Survive man and global warming. It's all the Ticking Clock; use it!


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