Do time-breaks in your story ever drive you mad?
do me. My recently completed novel was on a very strict schedule - this event has
to happen on one day, then this other event has to happen at a three-day
delay, and then the next one at the same three-day interval, etc. etc. I
got to a certain point and I realized, "I'm on the wrong day. More time
has to pass than this. How can I get more time to pass?"
I were using a more external narrator, this might be easier. I might
just say, "The next day..." or "Three hours later..." and there we go.
Well, okay, it wouldn't be that simple. The real problem with
chronological breaks is that you have to maintain the story drive in
spite of them, which means you have to create a sort of bridging effect
So what kind of continuity links can make this work? There's quite a range. You can
make an explicit reference to the amount of time passing, but this
works more easily with a distant narrator; with a deep point of view,
there would have to be a specific reason why the character was aware
that this much time was passing. Besides which, I don't prefer to make
direct reference to the amount of time if I can help it. I much prefer
to use a topic link, or a psychological link.
link means that you leave a cue in the last piece before your time break
that you can then pick up again on the other side. I had a case where I
was struggling with a break that looked something like this: Nekantor
and Tagret were talking about their plans to contact the Sixth Family,
and Nekantor said effectively, "No problem, we'll contact them; it'll be
great to do this while father's busy talking to his friend Doret."
Whereupon Tagret said, "Why is he talking to Doret?" I tried to move on
from there to the meeting with the Sixth Family and it felt really
awkward because I was feeling as if I had to show them getting a message
off, getting a message back, sleeping on it (ugh!) etc. I thought to
myself, "What did I do? Why am I feeling obliged to fill all this space
with events?" And then I realized that I hadn't bridged properly. None
of the message-sending stuff, or what happens in between, is actually
relevant to their goals. It shouldn't be in the story. Where I turned
off-course was in having Nekantor specifically refer to what they would do to contact the Sixth Family and when they would do it.
That automatically sets up an expectation that we will see it as it
happens, find out about Doret, etc. Not even explaining the amount of
time passed would feel quite right.
So I went back and
cut everything out that I had written, so that I stopped with Nekantor
saying, "No problem; we'll contact the Sixth Family." The only
expectation I set up there is that their next order of business is
contacting the Sixth Family - and that allows me to hop straight across
the time gap. I can open the next section with "The Sixth Family took
nearly a full day to reply, specifying an evening meeting..." and give
Nekantor and Tagret's reactions to their slowness, thus orienting
readers to the fact that time has passed and making it personally
relevant to the characters and their state of mind. Because of the
bridge, it doesn't feel like anything is missing.
other kind of link that I like to use is a psychological link. Basically
this means that instead of focusing on the flow of external events,
which might make me feel obligated to include them all, I turn inward to
the state of mind that my character is in when the time break is
happening. I have a break of several hours that I made a bridge for, between a morning event where Nekantor encounters a setback, and
an evening event where he is put under significant pressure. I set up that he's got to wait until evening for the event; I didn't want to have him wandering around all day doing irrelevant
stuff. My focus was therefore on how he felt about the setback he'd just
been dealt, and what he felt he had to do about it. The presence of
the later event meant that whatever confusion he was experiencing, he had
to get through it before he was "put on trial"; I could therefore focus on
him trying to find a way forward mentally, and refer to his various
attempts to break his state of mental confusion without having to ground
them in actual external time. He could then make the decision to take
action just at the time when the chronological flow of outer events had
to resume, which allowed me to move back into the outer events at
I'm sure there are more ways to do this, so
feel free to share if you have any special tips. I just thought I'd
mention these methods because they are particularly useful when I'm
dealing with a time break in deep point of view.
It's something to think about.