Time-Skips in Writing

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Time to Say Goodbye by Jeff and Casey Lee Williams)

Here’s a real whiffler for you.

I’ve been working on a project for the past few months (I think I finished the first draft last year, but the second draft is decently more hellish) and one of the things I had considered was the idea of taking what was supposed to be a full-length novel spanning two years and condense it into a 50,000-word portion of a novel spanning about a year. (And yes, I know that 50,000 words is a novel in its own right, but this is high fantasy, baby.)

One of the nice things about the rewrite is that it’s helping me establish what needs to remain in and what can be taken out. I’ve found that the book can’t – despite my earlier idea about a relentlessly paced fantasy novel – leave out certain amounts of character development and exposition; otherwise, things happen far too fast and the audience isn’t allowed to acclimate to the world.

On the other hand, I’m learning that a lot of cool little details can come out in the woodwork instead of being forced into their own chapters of exposition, which makes it feel more like the reader is discovering the world and not being lectured on it.

Let’s get to the point, shall we? In my first draft especially (but still occurring in my shorter second draft) is the problem of how to fit a year’s worth of activity into 50,000 words. When doing something like this, a writer has to balance between the mundanity of an entire year’s passage – not every moment of that year is going to be the action-packed plot-forwarding character-developing moment the audience wants to read – while still making it seem like actual time has passed and actual growth has occurred.

In other words, you can’t just skip over the whole year (too jarring), you can’t make every single chapter saturated with action and development (too improbable and exhausting), and you can’t put in too many mundane chapters (too boring).

Because my manuscript is intended to be kind of like an adult Harry Potter, I want to examine that series in the context of time skips. And let’s be honest here, the Harry Potter series is one of the best at putting an entire year into a book and making the gaps feel natural, almost imperceptible.

You have a few of those mundane chapters that still manage to accomplish moments of character development and plot forwarding – Harry, Ron, and Hermione in class talking to one another as they mix potions or practice charms, moving the story along as they discuss what to do, but also showing the daily life of a student at Hogwarts. You’re interested in what they’re talking about, but also what they’re doing in class – which makes it all the more exciting when that same spell or potion comes up later in the book, as it always seems to.

You also have passages where Rowling describes the change of seasons in Hogwarts, signaling that a decent amount of time has passed without it feeling like we’re skipping ahead entire months and losing out on part of the story. The accelerations through ‘boring periods’ and the decelerations to interesting snapshots and moments feels perfectly smooth and realistic.

So that’s what I’ll be going for in my book. It’s probably not going to work out as well as expected, but hey, that’s why it’s called Journey Into Writing and not Reed is a Writing God.

Yours, considering rereading The Sorceror’s Stone for research purposes,

-R.R. Buck



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