This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
By Anna Bell
One of the things my editor picked up on throughout the first draft of my latest novel, was my time jumps. All too often in the manuscript I’d made huge jumps in time without alluding to it. I find it one of the hardest parts of writing. So, just how do you successfully (and smoothly) pass the time in your writing?
Throughout the first draft of my latest manuscript, I’d included lazy time jumps, relying on section breaks to signal to readers that there had been an interruption in the action. My editor pointed it out and told me that it was jarring as a reader. Sure enough, when I read it back, it did make it confusing and disorientating. I had to go through the entire manuscript making sure I added little linking sentences, to show there had been a break. For example: “I spend the entire journey fuming, thinking of wittier comebacks that I should have said at the time” and “the main course passes in a bit of a blur for me…” Hopefully the little linking sentences I’ve added show that time has passed, but at the same time the description added don’t make it feel clunky or forced.I feel as though time jumps should seem natural to me and shouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb, in much the same way a writer should show and not tell. Explicitly telling readers how much time has gone by can be a little dull and perhaps (depending on the context) uninventive. I’m sure I’m guilty of this, but I try and avoid starting sentences with explicit time references like “two hours later” and “the next day” and instead try and find more original ways to impart that information.
Whilst it’s relatively easy to show the passage of time in the same chapter using little bridging sentences, it’s a whole lot harder to pass bigger chunks of time. Films have it easy. I’m thinking of the many films that show months have passed by the seasons changing or using a snappy montage with music, yet in a novel you don’t have the same visual clues available to you.
In my latest manuscript, I had a three week gap between the first and second chapter. In the first draft, it was only made apparent in a throw-away sentence buried in the second page of the second chapter. It means that the reader would naturally assume that the action takes place soon after the previous chapter, until they’re told otherwise later on.
Rather than open with a sentence that sets the date, I decided to have a Twitter conversation at the beginning, which alluded to the events of chapter one, with the characters tweeting remarks about how quickly the three weeks had passed. It was my way of trying to do the movie trick of changing seasons with words.
The time frame during which the events of your novel take place also has an impact on how easy or difficult the time jumps are. I find it much easier if my events all happen close together. I’ve written two books that are set within a week. I love the fact that if you put your characters to bed in one chapter then when they wake up in the next chapter, your reader knows that it’s the next day.
Do you have any tips for how to manage the passing of time in novels? Can you think of any good examples of how authors have found creative ways to show the passage of time? Do you have any pet hates when it comes to authors expressing time jumps?