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In a story that I am writing, due to some time travel issues, the protagonists will have to wait a number of years before the next stage of the story happens. Things that happen between then and now might be very boring (settlement building, general life).

For example, if Bob is stranded on an island, and in three years a ship will come to save him (which is the point of the story), how do I "skip" the potential story of him living on the island and surviving, without it seeming like I've cheated the reader out of content.

I don't know how to convey this without it seeming like I'm jumping around and rushing the story.

  • "This year left intentionally blank. Seriously. Nothing happened" – GordonM Jun 30 '17 at 7:40
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Your example is kind of a bad one for this situation. If we did this, then, the movie like castaway would only be about 20 minutes long. Shows him being stranded, skip his surviving on the island, and then he is saved. You still want to designate time progression and time skipping without killing the important parts.

Make each chapter an event that happens. Start out with his struggles to do something basic like make fire, find a shelter, catch/find food. Next paragraph SHOW that time has progressed. Have it be him waking up the next morning and he scratches on the rock his next tally of dozens already there. He walks to the ocean to wash himself off. He notices he has a full facial beard in the reflection of the water. things like this designate that time has passed. Everyone knows a full beard does not grow in a day. After you do some time prepping like that, make the next event happen. Maybe this chapter he starts his first attempt to get off the island. Maybe a storm comes and ruins his last month's worth of foraging. End chapter, pick up or fast forward again. There are now hundreds of marks on the wall, he notices his hunting and tracking skills have significantly improved and then lead on to the next event of what ever you want to happen.

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    Thanks for these ideas. You have a great point about showing how time has progressed instead of just saying "six months later, blah blah blah". I guess I just didn't want to bog down the story with parts that I didn't originally want to include due to a logic error in the story line. – curt1893 Jun 28 '17 at 18:49
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    @curt1893 yea I mean pick and choose what points you decide to stop and talk about. If truly nothing important happens in 3 years, then skip those 3 years but don't just say 3 years later... have him reflect back a few years ago and summarize how his life changed. Wife... kids... house... job... and then pick up from there. Just make sure that you don't leave out key plot events for the sake of skipping forward. – ggiaquin16 Jun 28 '17 at 20:01
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If truly nothing happens, then it's natural to elide it --stories do this all the time, and we even do this with our real life memories. Life is "lumpy," an hour can feel like a lifetime, a year can pass in a blink of an eye. Just give it a quick sentence and move on:

"What with one thing and another, three years passed" -- William Goldman, The Princess Bride

On the other hand, if this feels rushed, maybe that's a sign that something important to your storyline or characters needs to happen in that blank space. Often this comes down to "emotional believability." If your characters are growing, changing, working out their differences, or gaining new skills, your readers may demand to see at least some evidence of the work taking place --not every moment, perhaps, but one of them. Readers have a sixth sense for laziness in an author --your own discomfort with quickly skipping over this time elapsed suggests you feel like you're avoiding needed work.

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    I really liked your point about readers having a sixth sense. I've felt that when reading some books, like it is obvious the author forced something to work the right way. Perhaps I need to go back and really examine why I feel like nothing should happen for that period of time. – curt1893 Jun 28 '17 at 20:08
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    @curt1893 Thank you! If you find an answer useful, please vote it up --you can vote up as as many answers as you like. – Chris Sunami Jun 28 '17 at 20:35
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If there's very little going on, just skip - and perform introduction of the changes as a reminiscence, observation, discussion, at the new point of the story.

Say, a day before the ship arrives, Bob takes a stroll through his "fort", making routine repairs of the fence, bringing a few more branches for the huge stack of wood on the hill top, to be lit in case he sees a ship, milks the goat, waters the carrots, checks traps, finding a rabbit, cooks the rabbit in a clay oven... stands for a minute over the grave of his faithful dog on the shore where three years ago they were both washed out with debris of his ship.

Generally show the past as its effects on the "now".

If there's too little to fill the period normally, but too much to just skip, as above, a good method is a change of the format: A journal, a log, a memoir, a set of newspaper clippings. You can skip between events, show tiny slices of life and write longer stories on major events.

Day 342. The bend of the stream is a motherlode of clay, just under a thin layer of sand! Meet Bob the Builder! First project: a furnace, which will be used for firing clay items and double as an oven and stove. Finally end of burning my hands when trying to cook pieces of rabbit stuck on a stick over the fireplace!

Day 348. I'm awesome. My furnace is awesome. And my brick house will be awesome! This morning I was planting tree saplings on the slope of Fort Bob. And the side effect is that I pushed the jungle back another twenty yards.

In this format you can take great liberties both on time skips and on size of slices of time you show.

  • "Three years later, the ship arrived." – Ken Mohnkern Jun 30 '17 at 13:06
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You are writing a story, not a history. Were the characters of your story real people (which they are not) many things would happen to them in their day to day lives that are not in any way relevant to the story. Your story is not going to tell us how many times they went to the bathroom or brushed their teeth. It is going to focus on story relevant incidents.

This is just as much true on the large scale as it is on the small scale. Days, months, or years may sometimes pass without a single story relevant incident, and there is no more need to account for those day, months, or years than there is to account for the daily brushing of the teeth.

If a great deal of time has passed between one story relevant incident and another, you probably need to indicate this somehow, if only so the reader can age the character a little in their mind's eye. So say it and move on to the next story-relevant incident.

  • Yes this is very true. The Lord of the Ring trilogy took over a year in universe time to do. Everything seemed to happen within a couple months until the very end when frodo reflects how long it's been since he saw the shire – ggiaquin16 Jun 29 '17 at 13:51
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You use a subtitle: "Three Years Later." That way, you show that three years of calendar time has passed, even though it is more like three seconds of story time.

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