Okay, bear with me. Think of it like this: My character is stuck in an situation whereby every time he sleeps, he wakes up at a different time (as in the past/future, not 8:00am), in a different environment.

He may close his eyes and open them in a future where human civilisation is no more, then sleep once more and open his eyes when dinosaurs are roaming the earth.

I don't immediately want to give away where he is or what time to the reader, because I want the reader to feel as lost as the character, but I do want my writing to reflect from the offset that he's now in a different place.

How can I do that without giving away crucial points about the environment itself?

Is this something I could to subtly through adjusting my pacing/writing style in addition to differently structured/worded descriptions?

  • Friendly plug: this question and its answers qualify for our Genre Q&A Contest!
    – Standback
    Commented Nov 14, 2013 at 19:58
  • Caveat: I'm not a writer so I don't have the vocabulary to explain it (hence not writing a proper answer) but as a reader, the first half of The Magicians Nephew by CS Lewis handles this type of thing very well indeed, from both narrators perspective and from characters' perspective of others' subject to change in scenery
    – BenLanc
    Commented Nov 14, 2013 at 20:47
  • @Standback cool. Do I have to do something specific to be in the running?
    – Dan Hanly
    Commented Nov 14, 2013 at 22:54
  • One more upvote here gets you your first two tickets :)
    – Standback
    Commented Nov 14, 2013 at 23:05
  • Read "Slaughterhouse Five" by Kurt Vonnegut, for an example of a main character who is flashing back and forth in time and space. (Or is he?)
    – dmm
    Commented Nov 16, 2013 at 10:02

3 Answers 3


Get down inside the character's head and focus on sensory details.

Write what the character sees, hears, smells, feels, tastes.

Write what he thinks about those sensory details. Pay particular attention to any details that the character has an opinion about.

  • 1
    Yes, and emphasise the difference in his or her perceptions. You can even stimply state that the character perceives a change: "Waking up, John was confused, but couldn't immediately place the reason for his confusion. Something was different, as if you wake up with your head at the foot end of your bed: everything looks familiar, but turned around." Well, not great writing, I know, but you get the idea: Have you ever woken up in a new home after moving and expected to be in your old room and felt confused for a few seconds until you remembered that you are now in a different home? Similar.
    – user5645
    Commented Nov 14, 2013 at 12:14


It's amazing how much and how little one can tell about their environment from observing the little piece of ceiling above their head. It's the first thing you see as you open your eyes (while sleeping on your back), and combining with Dale's answer, will give a clear and obvious sense of difference: while you can hear birds that weren't there, or your roommate started working on a soundtrack for a movie, it's damn hard to replace your apartment roof with a canopy of giant ferns and horsetails, or a dome with view on ocean from below. Additionally, after waking up your eyes focus slowly, and your brain goes up to speed slowly too, so you may skimp on detail or expand them (mentioning glaze on eyes and haze in mind) as you see fit, to differentiate between just "different" and describing what place that actually is.


The waking trigger could be different each time. Present: annoying alarm clock buzz. Past: Cuckoo clock chiming. Way Past: Blacksmith's anvil. WayWay Past: Giant dragonfly buzzing. Future: Talking robot.

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