My teacher this semester has a particular fondness for studying the use of time in fiction. It's a fascinating subject and she's opened my eyes on a number of techniques writers use to pass the time, such as the use of many many different writing clocks. In fiction, there are myriad ways to illustrate the passage of time and to give readers clues of how much time has gone by. It's useful to know about these writing clocks so that you can make use of them yourself. And it's important to show the passage of time in a story so that your readers can feel oriented and in the moment, following the motion and pace of your story instead of getting left behind.
Here are just a few of the clocks writers can use in fiction:
Saying it outright - sometimes it's important to orient your reader by stating frankly, "Two hours passed."
A timed event - If your chracter goes to see a movie and comes out of the theatre afterward, or goes to dinner, or attends some other sort of timed event, the reader has a good sense of how much time has passed.
Nature - nature is our oldest gauge of the passage of time. The movement of the sun across the sky tells us about the day; the development of the seasons, such as the blooming of flowers or the falling of leaves, tells us what season has passed.
Historical events - If your story begins with JFK's assassination and ends with Watergate, we know exactly when we are. Smaller historical events whose dates are known can also help, such as the passage of a law or a famous natural disaster, protest, or riot.
Biological clocks - Times shows itself most indelibly on the bodies of our characters. Show your characters aging, and we will know how much time has passed; as human beings, we're pretty intimately attuned to the small physical clues of someone's age.
These are just a handful of the many ways the passage of time can be marked in a story. What are some other writing clocks you can think of? Brainstorm your own writing clocks.