The Infamous Time Jump

Prince of Persia Quote

Prince of Persia Quote

Well, I believe I survived my first day without a blog post.  I’m writing this on December 12th 2014, so who knows.  Anyway, I’m going to cover a writing tool that gets used in series and I’m just learning how to utilize.

A ‘Time Jump’ is when you skip a modest length of time between chapters or books.  This can range from a day to a few years depending on the story.  Many times there are events that occur during this time and the characters operate a little differently than they did before the jump.  This tool gets used for several reasons, which include:

  • Moving the main story along to avoid filler sections.  These skipped events can be handled in short stories at a later date.
  • Altering characters to rejuvenate them to the reader.  For example, a positive hero goes through severe loss and is reintroduced as a broken figure.
  • Build mystery as you discover what happened to the characters and maybe even set up for a side switch.  Heroes can go villain and vice versa.
  • Change the world and return to an exploratory mentality.

It’s a fun little tool that can be great for a lengthy series or to skip over traveling sections during an adventure.  I’ve used it gradually in my books such as Luke’s remaining time at the academy, the heroes’ last few weeks in Haven, and the passing of months between The Compass Key and Curse of the Dark Wind.  Things happened during these moments and characters talk about them, but they really would have been nothing more than a chapter or two of filler.  Still, things had to happen during the ‘break’, so it helps to acknowledge this.

Even better, these jumps reveal something to the readers.  They are following a living, breathing world with evolving characters.  Just because the adventure is over, doesn’t mean the heroes are sitting around waiting for the author to cast them into danger again.  They have lives that operate when the big story is not going on, which gives them more to fight for in a way.  Luke Callindor is not just a wandering hero, but a warrior who is still training and will take time to help with mundane tasks if he can.  Nyx is big into researching when she can get her hands on a library while Delvin Cunningham is still trying to convince her to let him cook for her.  They ‘exist’ even when you have closed the book and the ‘Time Jump’ can help bring that to the readers’ attention.

This is not to say that it is a perfect writing tool.  As usual, you have to be careful with how you use it.  There is a double-edge sword in this. While you can push to big events quickly, you can create too much that happened and some readers will feel like they’re left out of something.  For example, some may really want to read about the gambling problem that one of the heroes fell into and is now struggling to get out of.  This is where a short story can help, but there are other things to consider.

  1. Try not to go too big with the missed events.  For example, a leader of a resistance movement, who is also the POV character, being unconscious for the biggest battle of the war can easily be met with disappointment.  Many readers who are invested don’t want to get that through secondhand accounts.
  2. Explanations of missed events should be brief and concise.  Too much complication can make it sound like a juicy story was skipped.
  3. Don’t skip explanations either.  If Timoran shows up with a missing hand then there should be a point where somebody mentions the event.

I say this about a lot of writing tools, but I think it’s important to say again.  You need to find balance between explanations, skipping time, and believable character development if you plan on doing a ‘Time Jump’.

So I open the floor to the audience’s opinion . . . unless I lost everyone during my day off.  🙂

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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27 Responses to The Infamous Time Jump

  1. Leona says:

    I have always been nervous about using time jumps, thanks for clarifying and giving such great tips on how to use it. Great post as always!

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  2. I have never attempted a series, so this is interesting. I learned something new today.

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  3. I reckon that time jumps are brilliant to avoid days and days – and then more days – of the tedium of daily life I’ve read in some books – stopped reading. Then on the other side of the coin I’ve often wondered where the hell I was, thought that the author was just being lazy and stopped reading that book too. My internet banishing has allowed me to get stuck into my TBR properly, so I’m looking forward to reading yours soon – they’re on my read for pleasure book list, which because of my new years resolution to read for pleasure every week have been bumped right up.

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    • It’s definitely that double-edged sword. Some people think they missed something important while others enjoy moving on to the real story. I guess it depends a lot on what the reader is interested. Those that want to see the characters grow might be annoyed to see them return with unexplained scars.

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  4. Sue Vincent says:

    The scale of the plot has to dictate it for me as a reader… some stories really are about the personal journeys of the character and those I might want to see unfold. Others tackle a larger landscape and time jumps work well. Either way, as long as it is done with conviction it works for me.

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  5. L. Marie says:

    Great topic! I have a three-month time jump in my WIP. Usually I don’t, since my stories take place over a short period of time (about three weeks). But this time, I’m going from the start of winter in one chapter to the start of spring in the other. Still figuring out how to do it gracefully. It’s like you said, I shouldn’t skip the explanations.

    In other stories, I skip ahead hours or even days, especially if the action during the skipped time period doesn’t move the plot along.

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    • I try not to do them within a book unless it cuts out traveling. I’m doing jumps between books that are ranging from hours to months, which is kind of hard to balance.

      Good point on the skipped parts not moving the actual plot along.

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      • L. Marie says:

        I love a travel story, so any amount of time spent during the journey is fine by me. However, I noticed in my own writing that I sometimes include scenes that really don’t go anywhere–like when a character stops to look at something magical while running for his or her life. I constantly decrease the tension that way. So I’ve had to cut those scenes and skip hours ahead.

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      • I guess it depends on what happens. I’ve been tempted to goof off and do a page or to of ‘right foot, left foot’ as the characters walk. Don’t think that would go over well.

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  6. Jade Reyner says:

    Well, I don’t know about you having a day off but your post appeared nice and timely in my reader. AND miracle of miracles… I got round to reading it! Yay! Thanks for the explanation about time jumps. Like many writing tools, I know of them but I am lax and knowing their correct terms or their proper uses. This is part of my learning which is still ongoing so posts like these are great for me. Hope you are enjoying whatever you are doing that means you are not blogging Charles! 🙂

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  7. A great explanation and good tips on how to use it. I have only used minor time jumps myself. I do like the result though; for me, it allows the story to flow without getting too caught up in filler details. It’s a good tool for me to remember to use, because I could probably write a whole book on a week in the life of a character. Not good when you need to get through a year’s worth of events (or more).

    I’ll be reblogging via pingback in my next week Wednesday Reblog post :-).

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  8. Ths was a good explanation on how to time jump and that it is okay. Thanks.

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  9. Ryan M. Church says:

    Reblogged this on The Way of the Storyteller:.

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  10. Jack Flacco says:

    Nope. You did not lose anyone on your day off.

    Nice list. Love how Star Trek handled travel under the time continuum.

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  11. I think a great illustration of this is the Harry Potter books, each of which take place over the course of a school year but doesn’t cover every single class on every single day. Rowling time-jumps a lot, as you say, and keeps the story moving.

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  12. Pingback: Wednesday Reblog / Indie Around the Web | Leigh Michaels

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