Is it a good idea to “split” the action/setting to show actions of other characters elsewhere, or make it flow straight through? Example: My protagonist gets kidnapped. There’s a scene where she is transported, two scenes where she is captive, then the big rescue scene. In a movie, it would break and go show other characters and what they are doing while she’s captive, then return to her. That’s what I’m wanting to do. Put in a scene of the rescue planning and another of her friend going about her day that doesn’t even realize she missing yet. But how does that work in writing? Thank you.

3 Answers 3


Every time you break a scene then come back to it, the natural assumption is that the same amount of time which passed in the intervening scenes has also passed in the first. Chronological time continues to work for the entire world even when we have blinked to another location.

When we return to the scene, we do not flashback in time to the moment we left, unless there are scene indicators: a spoken line is repeated, or a timely action is referenced that "resets the story clock".

Similarly, if time has advanced when we return to the scene, with minutes or hours omitted, some indicator of the passage of time "resets the story clock", but time usually advances between scene changes so it's not unexpected.

A good plotter can create a "tight" story where the natural breaks in one timeline will chronologically fit the story beats in another to maintain a consistent sense of the passage of time: an entire story that fits in 1 day, or a film that plays in real-time.

Don't break a scene just to create a "cliffhanger". Break because there is a natural story drop, or when you need to maintain the urgency of conflict over a span of time where nothing really happens.

  • Excellent! Thank you. The way you worded this helped clarify why it wasn’t looking right. I knew I could bounce back and forth on a limited basis but I was forgetting about the clock still ticking for my entire world.
    – Tony
    Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 21:56

It all depends on how you choose to tell your story. Are you telling it all in first person, as if the main character is recounting what happened to her? Then it would be strange if you suddenly jumped to follow someone else.

If on the other hand, you have an omniscient narrator - a narrator who follows multiple characters, you can leave the protagonist and show the other characters. Or, you might have not an omniscient narrator, but first person, or third person limited, and follow closely two or three characters, instead of just the one. Then, you can jump from the protagonist to a different, already established, POV character.

You can tell your story as seems fit to you, as your gut tells you works better in terms of focus and pacing. If you feel the story is served better by jumping to the protagonist's friends, the writing medium doesn't imply that you shouldn't. It is, however, crucial that you stay consistent with the way you're telling the story. If you start in first person, that's how the story should stay. If you wish for an omniscient narrator, the narrator should be omniscient throughout.

  • Thanks! It is third person omniscient so I can return to the others. I think a couple of things will work but will limit it.
    – Tony
    Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 21:52

It can work. It sounds like you want to avoid the ‘meanwhile back at the ranch’ problem.

We are all different, but I would this handle by staying with the captive as long as possible, but while she is shivering to try and stay warm, exhaustion overtakes her and she sleeps. We don’t expect the author to have us watch her sleep or maybe even shiver. While she sleeps, you can segue back to the others.

Laurie sat in the corner of the dank room, basement probably. No light source she could see other than that bulb, but it was out of reach. Scratching at the door had been a waste of time, not wooden like she thought, but steel. She rubbed her arms, trying to keep warm. Why had she left her coat behind? She could sleep on it now, at least stay warm. Sleep? Dangerous thought. Must stay awake, figure it out.

They would be coming to check on her, must keep track of time. How long was she unconscious? No idea how long she’d been gone. Had anyone even noticed? Can’t depend on others, need to get yourself out of this. The others are probably just waiting for her to return, never go looking for her. Her eyelids drooped and she started awake. Must be alert to danger.

Her strength taxed by the exertions of the previous day, the stress and fear of being taken, she gradually lost her battle with sleep.

Her friends had noticed, not immediately, of course. George had gone looking for her, raising the alarm when he could find no trace of her. Well, not no trace. He had become alarmed when he saw the broken branches near where her footprints ended. He had brought the others to see the branches, Frank thought it meant nothing, but Lou knew better. Signs of struggle.

“We know she’s still alive - no blood. We must work on that assumption.”

“Right, now we just have to figure which direction they went and hope they didn’t get in a car.”

“Thanks for the optimism, Frankie, the nearest road is miles from here.”

“The nearest one on the map, but there are logging roads that no one maps.”

Lou, determined to make progress, said, “According to this map, there are some hunting camps nearby. We should check for smoke, it is getting cold and no kidnapper is going to sit in the cold if he doesn’t have to. Agreed?”

  • Thank you. “Meanwhile back on the ranch” is exactly what I am trying to avoid, especially since it is set in old west USA. I like the sleeping idea and will spin that so it will hopefully work. I need some activities of other characters seen while she’s gone but want to avoid whiplash for the readers.
    – Tony
    Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 21:28
  • Farm and ranch life has many chores that seem to go on and on. Someone could be pulling out a stump and clearing another acre of land. If your characters are more of the ranch type, grooming their horse and checking for stones in his hooves is legitimate. They don’t have to be constantly branding steers. Checking the fence line is another task that is part of the routine.
    – Rasdashan
    Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 21:36

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