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I am planning a series of fantasy novels which will be told in linear time with relatively small time jumps. One novel in the collection, however must span several generations while keeping the same protagonist.

This novel will need to have several large time jumps and I'm worried about readability. I believe I have 3 options:

  1. Linear narrative with large time jumps (Resulting in several large gaps)
  2. Linear narrative with much exposition to explain past events (Resulting in roughly 1/3 of novel being exposition or historical conversation)
  3. Non-linear narrative

My question is which is generally regarded as easier for the reader to follow? Also if I missed an option it'd be nice to know of others.

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Option 1 will probably be easiest. Create a Part or Section break and give it a name: Part II, Rivendell, The War. You indicate the passage of time with some kind of identifying text at the beginning of the chapter (Ten Years Later) or within the name itself (After the War), or just have the character muse that it had been five years since some event at the end of the previous chapter.

The gaps are okay. In graphic design, we often say "Don't be afraid of white space. The design needs to breathe." Same here with the narrative. You don't need to cover every minute of every day. It's fine to jump ahead of the quiet parts to get to the meat of the story.

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You are telling a story, not a history. There are times in the history of the character when the arc of the story is not progressing. That really does not matter as long as the story arc continues smoothly.

Where the time gap will seem disconcerting is when it creates a story gap. (The same would be true if you did not jump ahead when the story arc was not progressing. There would be action without story movement, and that would confuse the reader.) Trying to fix the time gap is probably going to create a story gap. If you absolutely need to fill in the history, do it briefly. But the real key is to make sure that you pick up again at the point where the story picks up again.

In other words, don't focus on historical continuity. Focus on story continuity. If there are time gaps in story continuity, that really does not matter. In fact, if you read with attention to this, I think you will find that it happens all the time in novels, often without you really registering it.

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