How to Write a Time Skip in a Story : A Writer’s Guide

how to write a time skip in a story

A time skip is a crucial narrative device for long form fiction, such as novels, novellas, and can even be used in some short stories. Learning how to use time skips in a story is vital to their success. If they are written poorly it can easily cause confusion in your reader and disrupt the flow of your story. Conversely, a well written time skip can open your narrative up for plot twists, creative storytelling, and can help you develop your characters in unique ways.

Today, we’ll delve into the time skip and explore ways in which you can weave your time skip into your story naturally and effectively to enhance your storytelling.

What’s the purpose of a time skip?

Before we can take a look at how best to use a time skip, we need to understand their purpose. Usually, a time skip is employed for a variety of reasons, but the most common are when:

  • The story needs to move forward for narrative reasons
  • The writer wants to cut down on details of a setting, place, or situation that aren’t crucial to the narrative
  • To move the story along to another scene

The Narrative Time Skip

Addressing the first point on that list, a narrative time skip is used to move the plot along for the purpose of storytelling. For instance, if a character suffers a wound to their leg that immobilises them, a time skip to when they can walk again can be useful if the narrative requires it. Unless the recovery from the wound is important to the overall story, going into detail about the character’s recovery wouldn’t be needed. To avoid adding this detail that doesn’t really serve any narrative purpose, the time skip is a good solution.

The Cutting Time Skip

This is the name I like to give to the time skip that cuts out unnecessary details that don’t add anything of value to the narrative. A prime example is if a character takes a taxi cab ride from one side of the city to another. Every (or any) details of the taxi ride can be cut and a time skip added from the start to the end of the taxi fare. This only applies, for instance, if the taxi ride doesn’t hold any significance to the overall story.

The Scene Time Skip

This is by far the most common and easiest to use. The scene time skip is as it sounds; a time skip that takes place between two distinct scenes in the plot. This has the same purpose of both the cutting time skip and narrative time skip, in that it can both be used to cut down unnecessary details and move the narrative forward. However, it can be used to progress character development, for instance, without moving the narrative forward. A great example is a time skip back in time to a character’s past that expands on their current decisions.

How do you show a time gap in writing?

There’s various ways to show a time gap when you write. For the simplest methods, you can:

  • Show via context
  • Show via formatting

For instance, you can demonstrate a time skip via context through characters. Bodily growth of characters is a great way to do this. If you have a character with short hair, you could write them with long hair which would demonstrate the passage of time. Staying with this line of thought, if you have a child in your story you could write them to be more mature or larger physically.

Another main way to show a time gap in writing is by using formatting. Every writer and publishing house will have their own rules for this, but generally, you can show a time gap or skip by:

  • Adding in asterisks between paragraphs
  • Adding in a double space between paragraphs
  • Time or date stamping chapters

Just to name a few common formatting methods of accomplishing a time skip.

How to write a time skip for a story, then?

If you want to stray away from formatting rules or time and date stamps, then how you choose to write will determine how obvious (or not obvious) a time skip will be. If you choose to write a time skip, you’ll want to consider:

  • What has happened in the time skip? 
  • How will the time skip impact the characters, plot, and environments of your story?
  • Will your characters have mysterious new traits from the time skip that’ll be explored? Such as scars, new skills, or new personality traits?
  • How long has the time skip been? Are we talking a few hours or a few years?

Answering these questions will help you establish why you’re implementing a time skip (which will determine how you write it).

For example, if you employ a time skip and your character has a facial deformity, your reader will naturally gravitate towards wanting to know why. The same goes for any new personality quirks you introduce. All these subtle clues are a great way to write a time skip, keep it relevant, noticeable, and retain your reader’s interest.

A simple but effective way is by simply stating the time jump within the context of the story. A story told from the first person could easily use something such as:

‘It’s been a few months since I saw her last, and not much about her has changed in my mind’s eye.’

The third person equivalent of the above sentence could read:

‘Several months had passed since he’d last laid eyes on her. Not much had changed as far as he could recall.’

Remember to keep your time jump simple and straightforward. That doesn’t mean you can’t be creative, it just means don’t overcomplicate it!

Time Skip Examples

Some great examples of time skips you can read up on or into are:

  • The time skip between episode 5 and 6 of The Walking Dead’s 9th season. While this is a visual medium, it employs many of the tactics discussed above including younger characters now appearing much older, the environment being more overgrown, and several characters harbouring new traits, scars, or beliefs.
  • Semper Fidelis, while it is a flash fiction, is a great example of formatting your time skips clearly and concisely in a way that moves the narrative forward but keeps it interesting.
  • The TV show Roots is a spectacular example of how time jumps build a cohesive and emotional narrative. The show features the entire life of a character, and the generations after them, by using time skip tactics such as age growth and environment changes but keeps core personality traits of the characters alive to drive an emotional narrative.

There are plenty of other examples, but these are all great to study for inspiration as to how you can write your own time jump.

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