As we have seen, time at the level of story moves only in one direction: forwards in an orderly and objective progression. Time as orchestrated by plot, on the other hand, can move in any direction imaginable: forwards, backwards, sideways, and even to-and-fro. It can do so, moreover, quickly or slowly, consistently or inconsistently.

Each of these alternative configurations of time has implications for how we understand the way in which each of the individual events a narrative contains relates to the other events it contains. If we think of time as something that moves forward in a straight line, for instance, we might be tempted to think that even if every new event follows on from (and is perhaps actively caused by) one that came before it, they are nonetheless two separate, distinctive and thus unrepeatable events. By the same token, if we think of chronological time as something that moves around in a circle (especially if we associate chronological time with the circular movement of the hands of a clock), we are more likely to see individual events as repetitions of events that occurred before. Similar assumptions can be made about the relationship between one event and another from their participation in any other configuration of time as well, whether that configuration is chaotic, full of flashbacks, flashforwards, or whatever.

This is one of the respects in which the way in which a plot is structured, and the orchestration of time this involves, shapes our understanding of the events a narrative contains. It gives those events a frequency (or, just as importantly, a lack thereof), wherein we recognise that certain events are not to be interpreted solely on their own but as part of a larger pattern in which they participate. Strictly speaking, frequency is not a property any event or sequence of events can possess at the level of story, which merely involves a dispassionate or objective setting out of those events in the order, and according to the duration, in which they occurred. The moment we start to attribute additional qualities to those events, such as repetition and frequency, we are already beginning to emplot them (i.e. organise them into a plot).

That is one way in which frequency can be discerned in a narrative and identified as a feature of its plot. Another is to consider whether the same event is narrated several times or if multiple events are told together all at once (thus indicating they form a sequence of frequently recurring events). Both kinds of frequency greatly affect our interpretation of the events they contain and should thus be considered carefully in any analysis.

You can find some practical exercises to help you establish and interpret the way in which time is presented as a sequence of iterations or repetitions in the narrative you are studying here.

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