Bookish Musings: Time Skips in Books

 
 
Just in the past year alone, I've read books with stories that took place over the course of anywhere ranging from a few days to a few years. In fact, I even read one that took place over the course of 600-something years.

It's got me thinking about what I like and dislike when it comes to how much time a story covers and how the author handles that time. But honestly, I'm not really sure what I like because I feel like I prefer short periods of time, but then I think of examples of books I LOVED that had long periods of time, including the aforementioned 600-year one.

And time skips themselves come all different flavors---there are some that smoothly slide into the story, some that bisect the story into different parts, and others still that... I don't know, do a little jig before settling in? (I could only think of the two kinds, but the sentence sounded better with three parts.)

So is there even a "good" or "best" way of doing things? Is there one way that's more commonly accepted than others? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I'd like to find out what everyone else thinks!
 

 

Length of Time Skipped

I think we can all agree that skipping a few days, if they’re uneventful, is always acceptable. For the most part, even a few weeks to a month seems generally acceptable if nothing important happens. But what about when it starts getting longer than a month? Obviously the longer the length of time, the more the reader has missed. And after a long period of time, a character can have changed drastically, which can be difficult to grasp as a reader.

Types of Time Skips

From what I’ve noticed, there seems to be two different types. There’s the type that’s subtly integrated into the story, just kind of casually mentioning how much time has passed and, if necessary, what took place during that time. For example, a character may have spent a month training to fight. For another example, the characters were just going about their daily lives, but two characters started spending more time together or drifting apart. I find these work well enough when done right.

Then there’s the type that stops the story and makes no attempt to be subtle. It picks back up in a new chapter/section/part and tells you what the current setting is. For example, Part 1 will take place, then it’ll stop, and Part 2 of the book will pick back up five years later. These are more blunt, which can pull me out of the story, but they can also be less disorienting and more straightforward with information.

The Amount of Time Skips

I’m sure we’ve all read books that took place over the course of just a few days and therefore didn’t require time skips. And I would say most books don’t require that many. But what about books that span an entire year? A person’s lifetime? Even hundreds of years? Those obviously require a lot of skips, but that can leave the reader feeling distant if there’s not enough one-on-one, in-the-moment time spent getting to know the characters.

My General Thoughts

I suppose they all have their pros and cons, but I still feel like I prefer shorter periods of time in which I get to know as much as possible about everything happening to the characters. Then again, every single event in a story can’t always happen one day after the other, and it wouldn’t be any fun to read about the characters eating lunch and watching TV and brushing their teeth for four days. Even a blunt, x-number-of-years time skip can work if it’s necessary and done well, but that’s a bit hit or miss as it can leave me feeling like I don’t know the characters anymore if not done well. Too many time skips is always a miss for me though because it definitely leaves me feeling detached.

 
 

Talk to me!

What are your thoughts on time skips?
Do they make you feel distant or detached from the characters?
Is there a certain length of time when it becomes too much?
Do you prefer the subtle kind or the blunt kind?

 

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Your Thoughts

 

13 thoughts on “Bookish Musings: Time Skips in Books

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  1. Bookworm Brandee

    I read a book last year where there were time jumps and if I remember correctly, they were labeled “4 Weeks Later”, “6 Weeks Later” and it took me quite awhile to figure out that it meant 6 Weeks after those 4 Weeks. I was confused thinking each time jump was from the starting point at the beginning of the book, not from the place where the previous jump happened. So once it got to years, I was like ‘how did they get here?’ *haha*
    So, time jumps…yeah, they don’t bother me as long as they’re done well. ;) As long as it’s clear how it’s being done, they’re fine. But I think you’re right in that character development is better if not as much time is covered – or jumped.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I’d probably be confused by that too. I hate when things are vague like that. But I agree that, when they’re done well, I tend to be ok with them, however they’re done. I guess certain methods are just harder to do well though, and I do get disappointed when there’s not enough character development!

  2. Greg

    Time jumps are funny. I just finished a book where a girl arrived at a boarding school and then 2 weeks passed. That kinda threw me but it worked and everything after that was a few days, maybe a week or two. I think it all depends on the book. If it’s done well it works, either way. For me though I I kinda like it when a story takes place in a relatively short period of time…

    Then there’s books like Game of Thrones where the narrative is mostly linear, but there are lots of POV’s and a bit of jumping around time wise. It works for those books (kinda has to) but I wouldn’t want to read that kind of thing all the time.

    Greg recently posted: A Dance with Dragons

    1. Kristen Burns

      Oh, I read something similar. It was near the beginning of the book, and then suddenly a month or two was jumped because the character was just training for the summer in order to attend a certain school. But then the rest was a short time period. So I get what you’re saying about how it threw you. I haven’t read GoT, but that’s one of the reasons I don’t really want to. It seems like too much jumping around and POVs for me, makes me feel disconnected, but clearly it works pretty well since there are plenty of people who do love those books!

  3. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    This is so interesting because I’ve dealt with this in books that I’ve edited. I’ve even encouraged authors to put in time jumps to prevent instalove – I can’t stand it when characters grow super close in two days when you could easily add in a bit of time passing in between where you show that they’ve interacted a lot more and tension has been building between them. The author can’t necessarily spend fifty pages on that, but you can usually show it in a page or two, and it goes a long way toward making the reader feel like the characters could have built up a stronger bond in that time. So it’s really interesting to see perspectives on when this works and when it doesn’t. I’ll have to come back and check out the comments again later to see what others say!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction recently posted: To the Stars by Molly McAdams – Review & Giveaway

    1. Kristen Burns

      Honestly, half the reason I chose to do this topic now is because I’m struggling to make some decisions regarding time skips in my own writing and wanted to see other perspectives on it, so I totally get why you want to see what everyone else is saying!

      I agree that it can work really well to prevent instalove. Seriously, just give me a little something about how the characters spent the past two weeks talking about their lives, cuddling by the fire, feeding each other nachos, whatever it is they do for fun, and I’ll be so much more understanding when they do eventually confess their love. Time skips definitely have their uses, especially in building relationships gradually, though there’s also the risk of putting *too much* into the time skip, as Lola mentioned in her comment. I guess it’s all about finding a good balance, though I’m sure that’s easier said than done!

  4. Jen @ Books That Hook

    I’m okay with a big time skip between a prologue and the first chapter. Otherwise, I don’t like it, because it shows that the story goal wasn’t that important if the author can skip big chunks of time with no consequences to the characters. I’m reading a book now where the author summarizes the events of entire months in a sentence or two. This makes the problem lack urgency, which makes me wonder why I should care at all about the problem.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I never thought about it that way, but you make a good point. If the author is going to skip a whole bunch of time, maybe the story would’ve been better off starting later. Now that I think about it, I find that I don’t like when I don’t know fairly early on in a book what the goal is because I feel like I’m meandering, and I think it has to do with what you said—lacking urgency. I wonder if the books that don’t have a clear goal are the same as the ones with longs time periods and lots of skips. I’ve never really paid attention to that before.

  5. Lola

    Overal I think time skips can be handy and valuable, but it depends on how they are written and also what takes place in a time skip. For example if we get a time skip in which a couple in a romance novel get’s t know each other better and we don’t get that part it feels like I don’t feel they get to know each other better as I didn’t read that part. I want to read those scenes where they get to know each other better. But as you mentioned a time skip of a few days or weeks is okay if nothing eventfull happens. I do like to know how much time passed as else it can get a bit confusing.

    I mostly encounter the subtle time skips in books and usualy prefer that, although if a later book in a series starts off after a time skip it can also work. It’s just a bit more jarring and sudden I guess? And with longer tiem skips it’s hard to fully appreciate how much time has gone by and what happened in that time. I guess that’s the thing i dislike most about long time skips, it’s hard to account for how much time passed.

    It also reminds me of a time I played a roleplaying game with some friends and we did a time skip in game, which meant our characters should’ve gotten to know each other better in that time even though we skipped it, but it was hard to play your character as if that time has past as we didn’t play that out, so it was hard to determine how much more they now knew. On the other hand if we started out the game saying some of your characters already knew it other we could prepare for that and it usually worked out well.

    The same goes for books, if a long time skip goes by and the characters don’t act different it’s jarring. It also can be difficult for the reader as the time skip can be a bit jarring. But if well written I think time skips are okay. For example with the Star Wars prequels movies there are big jumps between the movies and even while the characters act different it’s still hard to grasp how much time exactly went by and how that influenced the characters and what did happen in that time. I’ve watched The Clone Wars animated series which fills in part of such a time skip and so much happens that it feel almost impossible to fully grasp how much happened if you just do a time skip. Sorry going a bit off topic and rambly now.

    I think a book shouldn’t have too many time skips or if they have time skips, enough time in between to get a feel for the character and story again and what’s going on now. I like it when you don’t fully notice the time skips, like you said when they brush their teeth or go to bed we don’t get to know that and often I don’t really notice those time skips as they are so normal and usually done well.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yes! I know exactly what you’re talking about. In one of the books I read last year, a romance, my biggest issue was that we didn’t actually get to see the characters getting to know each other, it basically just happened in a time skip, and I was disappointed that I didn’t get to experience it with them. I did make it hard for me to feel their connection. And what you were saying about the roleplaying game, it’s interesting that it turned out that way because that’s how I feel with books too. If the characters meet but then the getting-to-know-each-other is skipped over, I have a hard time with it. But if the characters are already close or in a relationship when the book starts, that I have no problem with.

      But, on the other hand, as Nicole said, smaller time skips can be useful is avoiding instalove. I noticed in the books I was just reading that the author kept the time skips fairly short and would often throw in a little detail or two, and I think it helped keep the balance. Then again, the characters already knew each other, so I don’t know if that’s quite applicable.

      You’re right though, jarring is a good word for how it can feel if too much time is skipped. Though I actually find it even more jarring when the next book in a series is suddenly jumped forward in time than if a jump happens during book. I think it feels like, when it happens in the book, I’m still kind of *there* with the characters. But when it happens between books, I feel like I completely missed it. That probably makes no sense, but whatever lol.

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  7. Vlora

    Have you read Vicious by V.E. Schwab? I feel like that’s one of the most unique handlings of time I’ve come across in a book.

    Generally, I prefer subtle time skips and uuuusually I don’t want the book to skip ahead too much, because people change over time and I won’t know the characters as well anymore (though it’s usually fine if the book starts with a chapter when the protagonist is a kid to make some sort of point and then skips ahead). I gueeeeess I prefer shorter periods of time to, say, century long family sagas (though I guess those can be good too), but it shouldn’t be too short, because then I will also feel like I don’t know the characters that well and there will be no room to develop the relationships between the characters (like e.g. books that only span one night). I think it all really depends on the writing though. Interesting topic!

    Vlora recently posted: How to Finish Your Project

    1. Kristen Burns

      I have not read Vicious, but I want to. I didn’t know it had a different way of handling time.

      I agree that I don’t mind if the MC is a child in the first chapter just to show us something important and then it jumps to her as a adult. I’ve never actually thought about a book being too short a period of time though. I mean, I’ve read books that were only a few days… but now I’m trying to think about how much the characters and relationships developed. I think a lot can happen in just a few days (in book worlds at least lol), and I can accept that going through crazy shit can really bring characters together and/or change them quickly. But of course it always depends!