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I have a ten year time lapse between an event in my first chapter and the second chapter.

The first chapter has an event that takes place during the protagonist's teenage years that lays the foundation for the rest of the story, and the second chapter continues ten years after the event that took place in the first chapter.

How can I let the readers know almost immediately that it is ten years later in the second chapter?

Some additional points:

  • The protagonist does not appear in the second chapter as other characters are introduced in this one, so the solution from This similar question may not work.
  • There was no place to really mention the date in the first chapter so having a date mentioned in the second chapter may not work out either.
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    Very simple, really. The first words of the second chapter are "Ten years later." If you have boxed yourself in with some narrative technique that does not let you say that, then you had better tell us what it is, because otherwise there is no way to know if other suggestions might be compatible with the limited narrative technique you have chosen. – user16226 Feb 28 '17 at 18:20
  • I think @MarkBaker is right. If you can't show us, you have to tell us. It's not a terrible solution. The reader is oriented, it takes half a second, and you get on with your story. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Feb 28 '17 at 18:35
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    The existing comments and answers are quite accurate. One other thing: You might re-phrase your first chapter as a "Prologue." This is not always appropriate, but it is a possibility. If you do it that way, it often helps to have a subtle change in writing style or perspective. – user23046 Mar 1 '17 at 0:17
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    @LaurenIpsum Exactly. The books (a Demon Cycle series, by P. V. Brett) I am reading right now have the year clearly stated after each chapter's title, and the author is switching constantly back in forth in time telling the stories of POV in focus; and yet he also sometimes says things like "during the year which past since they did that and that...". I personally like dated chapters--it's subtle, it not "telling", it's metadata, so to say, and it hints at the time being important part of the story. – Lew Mar 1 '17 at 15:51
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Sometime in the chapter's first sentence or paragraph, simply state that there has been a time jump, either by stating the difference (10 years later...) or by stating the new date (or both).

There's no biggie on this. Stories do it all the time. That's part of what the chapter separation is for--setting a new scene.

  • So would it be acceptable for instance if the first line of the second chapter is "Ten years later..." and then maybe two lines below that actually start the first paragraph of the chapter? – Osiris93 Feb 28 '17 at 19:13
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    @Osiris93, the specifics really depends on your writing style, and the story itself. The important part is to make sure as soon as possible that the reader gets the message that the time setting has changed significantly, otherwise the reader may encounter some whiplash. Think of it in the same way as you'd change the physical setting. – Adam Miller Feb 28 '17 at 19:27
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As Adam Miller says, the most direct way is to begin the chapter by saying "Ten years later", or by giving a date. Lots of books do this.

Some stories try to communicate passage of time indirectly. For example, if chapter one is all about Bill's experiences in elementary school, and then you begin chapter two by saying, "Bill arrived early at his job at the factory that day", the reader should get the idea that bill is now an adult. Or if chapter one is set in a time when people ride horses and chapter two begins, "The cars raced up and down the highway", the reader will get the idea that we are now in an age of automobiles.

But frankly, I think just telling the reader how much time has passed is usually the better solution. It's clear and simple and it takes maybe one sentence. If you try to indicate the passage of time indirectly, you may confuse the reader. Like in my "Bill arrived early at his job" example, depending on the nature of the story, a reader might be forgiven for thinking that the story has turned to the subject of child labor, or that this is some other person also named Bill, etc. I've read many stories where I've gotten confused by the narrative at some point, and I think to myself, presumably the author knew what he had in mind was happening here, but he has failed to communicate that clearly to the reader.

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Showing. Have the character look at a calender, while checking for a birthday or scheduling in a meeting.

Telling. "I can't believe I'm turning twenty-five!"

Showing. Looking though an old photo album, its pages yellowing with age.

Telling. "Ten years later" really is an option (it's not that uncommon to see).

Showing. Slamming alarm, and talking to spouse about their anniversary coming up, or their child's birthday. Be sure to positively identify the person from the previous chapter, or it might feel disjointed.

Telling. "Years fly by", "Oh, but that was years ago now, wasn't it?". Or how about:

"Oh, to be young and foolish again," he thought, reminiscing about how different was back then. These days? Life seems to be a balance between paying the bills, and racking up new ones on his credit card.

Think about your style of writing, see what fits that shows what you want your readers to pick up.

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