A well-written story is a well-paced story. It is in the rhythm and flow of events that readers find themselves on a heart-thumping adventure with the characters. And there are only a few stories that occur during an uninterrupted, brief period. Most, however, are spaced out in a span of days, weeks, months, or years. Both fiction and nonfiction harness the magical power of the time skip to avoid the tedium of unnecessary details while maintaining the promise of not missing anything crucial.
If done without so much as a warning, writers can risk not just confusing their readers but also risk their wrath that could make them dump the novel altogether. A time skip should not confuse your readers by making them think they are reading two different stories at once.
Here are 5 tips on how to ace that time skip:
1. The Game of Divisions
To put it simply, there are two types of time skips: a small skip that is generally only a few minutes, hours, or days and a large skip, which occurs over weeks, months, or years.
Depending on how big of a gap there is going to be, the game of division comes into play. Small skips are where scenes or chapters change. It is a writer’s way of avoiding making their story sound like “a day in the character’s life” and keep it interesting.
With large skips, a novel can be divided into sections or the new installment in a series can be picked up after the skip. The large time skip is the hook that grabs readers by the neck as they tear through the pages to see what happened. This is why the game of divisions is important to pace that time skip well.
Example: If Character A is returning home after a harsh hike, a small skip is better after they get in the car and the next scene or chapter can open with them arriving home to find Character B trying to break in through their bedroom window.
However, If Character A has witnessed a life-altering event and now has to reminisce about that years later, a large skip with a new part in the novel or a new installment altogether might not be such a bad idea.
2. Orient the Right Way Right Away
Regardless of whether the time skip is small or large, the next few sentences are crucial. It is almost sinful to not orient the readers’ the right way and right away.
After all, the readers do not know how much time has passed since the last scene, chapter, section, or installment. It is the writer’s job to orient them to the time and place after the time skip.
And if the point of view shifts, readers must be oriented to that as well.
Not doing so will take your readers out from the story as they figure out the mystery when they are (and who is speaking). And unless your book is philosophizing time, it is not a good idea.
Example: Something as indirect as providing a few cues for new location and time or as direct as “later that day” works, depending on the style you are going for.
3. See it Coming
No one likes to be slapped in the face with a time skip they didn’t see coming. Sometimes it works for a cliffhanger. But the reader must not feel cheated or deprived of information that they were hoping to get out of a scene or a chapter. If done repeatedly, the reader might become weary and wary.
Rather than breaking off every scene or chapter, try to give some sort of heads up of an upcoming time skip by giving a good conclusion to the scene or chapter. It doesn’t always have to be direct; readers are smart enough to figure out the subtle hints, too. Just make sure there is one.
Example: It can be as easy as writing the last few sentences of the scene as “Suzy knew change was coming. She just didn’t anticipate it would be tearing her walls down all at once.”
4. Stress the Excitement
If it is hard to figure out where to skip time, here is a simple rule:
Stress the Excitement and Skip the Boredom.
No one wants to follow a character who does bare minimum, just like no one wants to repeatedly see how wonderfully brilliant a character is at something for the tenth time in one novel. Showing either too much becomes dull and repetitive.
By keeping the time skip consistent and natural, the rhythm and flow of the story can work to bring all the excitement to the readers and avoid the dull parts. Remember, if it isn’t exciting, we can avoid it.
Example: If we already know Suzy is an exceptional assassin, there is no need to describe how she does her job a 4th time. Instead, the scene could end with her stepping out of the shadow behind her 4th victim, and the next scene could begin as she watches the detective find the misleading piece of evidence she left by her victim.
5. Timelines: The BFFs of the Time Skip
Sometimes it is hard to keep track of every time skip. Especially if it spans for more than a few hours. To avoid making mistakes that could later come back to bite you as plotholes, employ the time skip’s BFF—timelines.
Timelines are an easy way to figure whether you skipped time or time skipped you. Just pick up a few pages, a pen of your choice, and scribble away the timeline of the plot you are working on. That way, any inconsistencies can be caught and fixed.
The passage of time is as important in a scene as is in the next installment of a series. Remember to guide your readers through a clear transition. Don’t be scared of experimenting. As long as it is clear with the rhythm and flow of the story, everyone would be on the same page!
Disha Walia is a one-part lifelong storyteller, one-part elf helper to those who have trouble putting their thoughts into words, and one-part Labrador pup stuck in a human body. With stepping stones of achievement in the world of non-fiction and fiction alike, Disha loves to spend even her free time daydreaming about what to write next. Connect with her on Instagram (@quillinary), Twitter (@quillinary), or email@example.com.