Showing the Passage of Time

In a perfect world, your story will take place over a very short span of time.

The reason being, the faster things happen, the more exciting the narrative will be.

This is why shows like 24 work so well. The clock is ticking and A, B, C, and possibly D have to be done within the next hour, if the catastrophe is to be averted.

However, not every story can be bent to that formula.

You may have a lengthy road trip or an adolescence to get through, before you reach your goal.

Sometimes it’s as easy as “three months later”, or “later that year”, or “when school started in the autumn”, or “when she turned twenty-one,” etc.

Provided it’s clear to the reader, anything goes.

One thing to avoid is putting a date in the title of the chapter. While that may work for section breaks, readers tend to ignore headings, in general, because it slows down the reading of the text. That is why many authors do away with chapter titles, opting instead for numbers. I find chapters titles handy (at least for myself) in keeping track of where changes are needed, while in the editing stage, and possibly for giving a hint of what the chapter contains (gone are the days of the Faerie Queene, where you could sum up the chapter action before beginning the chapter). “Cody gets dumped by his wife and takes to drinking.”

One final word on passage of time: make sure your story reflects the stated passage of time. If ten years has passed, everyone is going to be ten years older, even that venerable aunt who was ninety-five when last we checked in on her. If she’s still alive and well twenty years later, your readers are going to wonder whether she found the fountain of youth or a writer who can’t count.

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