Andrewbee's picture
Andrewbee from Chicago is reading some YA book, most likely April 22, 2014 - 10:29am

Hi,

How is best to handle scenes that represent jumps in years from previous scenes? I don't just want to say "Ten years later... three years later... ten years later..." etc.

Thanks

big_old_dave's picture
big_old_dave from Watford, about 20 miles outside London, Uk April 22, 2014 - 3:12pm

The last story i dropped imto the work shop had time shifts in between tne different parts of the stroy. Way I got around it was not to mention it to start off with. Explane the time or date in others ways, through a newss report on TV, a converstation, places that the characters go to change like local shops or bars, 

As usual it's the old chestnut, show don't tell I suppose

big_old_dave's picture
big_old_dave from Watford, about 20 miles outside London, Uk April 22, 2014 - 3:13pm

Also of course what you can do also depends if your telling your story in the first and third person

melmurphy's picture
melmurphy from Spokane is reading "Julian" by Gore Vidal April 22, 2014 - 4:25pm

Andrew,

this is an excellent thread topic. I've wrestled with this too, with one short story in particular. Still not sure if I got it right.

 

 

She looked up at him. He had one of the budgies perched on his shoulder and the kitten was at his feet rubbing against his leg.
“Where’d the gerbils go?” Jim asked.

#  #  #

“What?” Niki said, staring out the windshield of her Toyota pickup at the Safeway parking lot. Sulfur lights buzzed overhead as dark memories of fifteen years past receeded.
“Honey, where did you put the gerbils?” Beth asked again.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated April 23, 2014 - 6:28am

I just put date and time with the chapter titles, so when this comes up I end the chapter. 

justwords's picture
justwords from suburb of Birmingham, AL is reading The Tomb, F. Paul Wilson; A Long Way Down, Nick Hornby April 23, 2014 - 5:03pm

Does that work with the flow of the story?

melmurphy's picture
melmurphy from Spokane is reading "Julian" by Gore Vidal April 23, 2014 - 5:52pm

"I just put date and time with the chapter titles, so when this comes up I end the chapter."

Duwayne, the first novel draft I wrote in 2002, I used to treat every chapter like a little short story. Beginning, middle and end. Then someone pointed out to me that this is considered a bad idea these days.

An example would be George RR Martin's 'Game of Thrones' series (yes, I read it, no I wasn't real impressed with him). Notice how he ends his chapters on a cliff hanger? That's kind of standard story telling with mainstream/popular and genre fiction these days. Stephen King does it too. Not sure Charles Dickens started this, might have been someone before him.

You want readers to keep turning the page, right? Not stop just because the chapter is done.

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore April 23, 2014 - 6:41pm

Well, it coud be as simple as tense. Present vs past vs past perfect. Etc. Set the jumps up with something obvious the first instance of each, then let tense take over. It could also be evident in the maturity of the characters' dialogue and behavior, how they arc, their priorities, etc.

Otherwise—and additionally—I'm with Dave: I prefer signposts from the era that let you know this without beating you over the head. My last novel spanned a wide range of times, nonlinearly, with the same primary characters, and while I concocted an elaborate timeline in advance visible at a glace for my own reference and it was indeed tricky to execute, I got a lot of compliments on how seamless its nonlinearity read.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated April 23, 2014 - 9:38pm

I'm more likely to keep reading something that mixes things up so it isn't boring, but I think that in general if your work includes a good story, good writing, and is interesting the rest will take care of itself.

If you’re in a situation and you don’t have any clear way forward and want for clear advice, look around and see what everyone else is doing and do the opposite.

- Earl Nightingale

@Melmurphy 

 - Then someone pointed out to me that this is considered a bad idea these days.

I've never had good luck with trying to do, or even be remotely aware of what other people are doing/think.  I've never read George RR Martin, but yeah King does it sometimes, and I've seen other do it.  I'll just go ahead and read past the cliff hanger, never chapters that seem to end at bad/random places make me find my own stopping place, the spot I'd have picked to end a chapter.

@Gordon - I want a tattoo that says 'beat me over the head for life'.  Virtually every person I've ever meet has a different idea about what is and isn't easy for others to gather from art.  Signposts sound great in theory, and I know you have to give readers a chance to be smart, but this seems like a time to keep it simple. I've seen too many cases of falling out of the story to do word problems like it is a middle school math test. "Okay if the baby is 5 months old, and the last time we saw the mother she was 8 months pregnant, and she went to a full 9 months which women in this series seem too, it is 6 months since the end of the last chapter." Harry Turtledove is just horrible about that.  And I'm not saying you didn't make it work in your last novel, because I didn't read that one honestly although I was meaning to ask if that other one was all 2nd person like the Amazon blurb, I've never heard anyone complain that they wish they author had left out a time stamp.

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore April 23, 2014 - 10:11pm

Nah, I've never written anything in second-person except for one short story. I just did the synopsis that way because I was really struggling to make it (my first novel, in first-person) sound compelling when the element that makes it unique requires spoiling the twist. Lesson learned there: start with a marketable synopsis, then write the damn book.

It's tough. Early on, I was so focused on being clever that I maybe asked too much of readers, and I've since learned to choose my battles and generally simplify. Basic stuff like establishing time and place shouldn't be where you ask readers to expend their energy; save that for the plot or how they identify with characters. It drives me crazy when I'm three paragraphs into someone's new chapter and I have no idea yet who's speaking or where it's taking place. There's a reason filmmakers use establishing shots whenever changing locations.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated April 24, 2014 - 8:04am

That is too bad, 2nd person would be interesting.  I'm not sure that you can write the synopsis first, but hey, best of luck.

We all make mistakes, but clever people learning when to be not be clever is a hard one. 

Andrewbee's picture
Andrewbee from Chicago is reading some YA book, most likely May 5, 2014 - 1:17pm

Basic stuff like establishing time and place shouldn't be where you ask readers to expend their energy; save that for the plot or how they identify with characters.It drives me crazy when I'm three paragraphs into someone's new chapter and I have no idea yet who's speaking or where it's taking place.

 

I'm totally with you there, Gordon. What I'm thinking is that I'll just use those time shifts to introduce new information about what happened in the lives of the characters over that time, and not be shy about saying how much time it was. For example: "The next six months were hard for Natalie, as..."

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal May 5, 2014 - 8:50pm

I just finished Damned, and Chuck/the narrator points out that things written in second person tend to be prayers.  That's really where second person works the best, I think.  

That said, I think I wrote a short second-person and posted it somewhere...  It was really short, and I don't see how 2nd couldn't be super short and not get tedious.

melmurphy's picture
melmurphy from Spokane is reading "Julian" by Gore Vidal May 5, 2014 - 9:57pm

"It drives me crazy when I'm three paragraphs into someone's new chapter and I have no idea yet who's speaking or where it's taking place. There's a reason filmmakers use establishing shots whenever changing locations."

Gordon, ever read DeLillo's "Libra"? It drove me crazy. LOL One chapter was Oswald's internal voice then, bang, next chapter it's his mother's internal voice, then the CIA agent's wife. No intro, nothing to establish that narrative has just shifted from one character to another. And DeLillo is considered the creme-de-la-creme of serious, male authors alive today.

Speaking of top-drawer, I'm a huge Cormac McCarthy fan but his final book in the Borders trilogy drove me nuts for this very reason. "Cities of the Plain" just bounced from cowboy to cowboy, no intros, barely any names and I spent half my time flipping pages trying to figure out who was speaking.

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore May 5, 2014 - 11:33pm

Exactly. And that's reader-energy that would be better devoted to other aspects of the story. Don't get me wrong, I admire when a writer can skillfully make these transitions without needing the obvious signposts, can just jump right in because the character voice is so distinct, or they've established a pattern or whatever. But they're really the exception.

I feel the same way about authors who don't use quotation marks in their dialogue. Is that really what they want me scratching my head over: trying to decipher such a fundamental storytelling device? I've seen very few examples (and almost none from young writers) where they pulled this off. Will Christopher Baer comes to mind. His is seamless; then again, it almost doesn't even matter whether those lines are spoken versus thought the way his first-person narratives read. Using lots of attribution becomes even more important, too. But hey, that's another thread topic.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 6, 2014 - 4:55am

I admire when a writer can skillfully make these transitions without needing the obvious signposts

Unless they are doing that on sheer talent, it seems like it would be better to develop the skill on other stuff.

I feel the same way about authors who don't use quotation marks in their dialogue.

Leads me to this thread. http://litreactor.com/discuss/books-unfinished