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I have a character that I want to have live for 200 years. I've used the beginning to fill out his backstory with events that are critical to the story, including how he became immortal. How would I write a time skip ahead? I do have events kinda planned, like I want him to master the piano and master painting during these 200 years and get educated, but how would I fill up these giant periods of time?

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    Just to clarify: are you asking how to organically write "X years passed", or are you trying to figure out what your character has been doing during those years? Or something else? – Galastel Dec 1 '18 at 8:55
  • If your events take place 200 years after your backstory and you do not plan on writing everything in between, either you explain beforehand by telling your character wishes to learn these things later, either you take time to set his workplace before the actual events happens, showing him painting or studying, or just resting in a house full of his own creations. There is a lot of ways to show it without saying it out loud. – kikirex Dec 1 '18 at 14:21
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    And he practiced and practiced while the world continued revolving around the Sun. People were born and died, empires rose and fell. Even the hardest of monuments, those carved in the black granite of Mountain, started showing the wrinkles of passing time, when he finally lifted his fingers from the piano and thought he had learnt enough. – NofP Dec 1 '18 at 16:09
  • Watch the movie 'Highlander' for one writer's example. – IchabodE Dec 3 '18 at 23:04
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Start with the present

It's common practice (for good reason) to introduce a long-lived character into the actual story you're actually interested in, and just gradually fill in what's necessary about the long history.

Less-defined history gives you flexibility

I'm not saying don't foreshadow - but a character with hundreds of years of only vague history can organically "grow backwards" (if you happen to be the kind of writer who writes organically). This is not so much an invitation to give radical shifts like, "yeah, he was a pacifist, but I just decided that he's always been a warrior and loves fighting." On the other hand, you might realize partway through a story that it would fit for a pacifist immortal to have acquired his pacifism in some horrible civil war. If you've left room to elaborate on his history, new ideas are easier to incorporate. Plus, one-off jokes of "I remember; I was there," become possible. And maybe he's not even lying that he was there. (But don't make him have been everywhere.)

Mystery is good

If you're dealing with a long-lived character, don't feel like you have to define everything. Does the character play the piano? Great! Does it matter where and when that skill was acquired? Only if it adds flavor now.

Also, don't cram all the excitement of who and what this character has been into the opening chapter, and then feel like you have to awkwardly skip a bunch of time. Again, start where the present story begins, and sprinkle a few interesting details about the character here and here, with the reader having plenty of room to imagine that there are many more interesting details which just haven't come up.

Defining a thing to death makes it dull.

When necessary, use flashbacks

When all else fails, have your exposition... later, when you've got the reader hooked. You don't have to put that scene of him learning technique from some great painter at the BEGINNING of a novel. Put it in after some other character remarks how his style resembles Monet's work.

  • One alternative to flashbacks is for past events that precede the opening to direct the plot. – J.G. Dec 1 '18 at 16:49
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Show the finished character and have them remember details of their story that are relevant to the current scene as and when. Nine Princes in Amber does this quite well, the protagonist has had a very long and eventful life, much longer than your story requires. He remembers incidents from it as certain situations bring them to the fore, like sword training when he picks up a blade in self defense, and meeting Vincent Van Gogh when something nasty strikes him as picturesque. These touches slowly build up into a rich backstory as the tale goes on and provide a framework for his current actions.

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Tell What Happened Vaguely

Do not go on too much. Also, no one has a perfect memory, so he shouldn't either. For example, Joe practiced art for 2000 years but pretty much ignored the world around him. He knew of some wars and some countries falling, but he didn't pay too much attention, else he would be confused by the present day.

Start With Right Now

Don't tell about Joe in the past, tell about him now. Drop his backstory in bits and pieces, like, "Oh," Joe said. "You like my art? I've practiced for an eternity, almost."

Other Advice

Also, a website for handling immortal characters (for DnD, but still relevant): http://rollforfantasy.com/ideas/immortal-characters.php

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If you want to write these scenes, you could always put them in past tense. For example, 100 years ago...piano, nest chapter 75 years ago... etc. or you could just have him playing the piano during the story and say he’s 200 years old. Your readers aren’t that stupid. They will assume he’s provincially learned how to play piano unless he totally sucks. Give the reader some credit. They understand how knowledge works

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