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I'm working on a branching narrative kind of story, and the entire story focuses on the reader uncovering a mystery in the house that they're in.

There's only one ending where they survive. In the other ones, the loose ends remain unknown, since they're dead, but to tie them up in this ending, I would need to jump several years in the future (it's written in present tense and second person, which will probably affect the time jump too).

What are some conventions or devices I can work with to make the jump less abrupt and out of place?

(My epilogue isn't a lot of info - think "You've been doing x for y years, Villains #1 and #2 are currently doing z, Innocents #2 and #3 are much better, Innocent #1 is dead". The main point of this epilogue is to let the reader know that the "good" ending comes with collateral damage)

  • Do you have a book with multiple endings? Do you have designated POV characters for those endings, or it will be "third person omniscient"? – Alexander Jun 13 '19 at 17:25
  • @Alexander all the endings are in second person. It's an online interactive fiction story with multiple endings. – tryin Jun 14 '19 at 5:23
  • Both the answers are pretty good, but I feel like I need to elaborate - I've already written this, and presented it to a writers group. They suggested (almost unanimously) that I show (instead of tell) the ~5 year gap, instead of just summarizing. The time jump was made pretty clear, and they still didn't feel comfortable about it. – tryin Jun 18 '19 at 9:09
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Tense and second-person aside, you should handle this just as you would any other transition. Set the scene, reflect on the past, and then summerise the outcome.

I'd do something like this:

You put your tools back into the bag and look out over the yard. The twins are giggling at some secret joke. They remind you of Alice and Jane. For a moment you wonder how Jane coped with the death of Alice. Your guilty conscience tugs at you. Its been ten years but it seems like yesterday. Should have caught up with her long ago.

You wonder for a moment if Jane knows that Zack and Benny are up for parole soon; you doubt it. You carry your bag inside, vowing to phone her when the twins are asleep. As you set the bag down, you realise that you never make that call.

What I am aiming for with that randomly cooked up example, is connect with the past and thus show that time has passed. Because only moments ago, your reader was "living" the story, it should be easy to play on that sense of "it does not seem so long ago that...".

Time jumps in published fiction

One of the techniques that writers often use to prepare a reader for a time jump is to make one or two shorter jumps at transitions (part one to part two, chapter six to chapter seven, etc.). That's more difficult here as you are already wrapping up. You just want to pay off the outstanding elements and wrap up the loose ends.

One way to have a single multi-year time jump is to simply have foreshadowed within the main story. So in my example, if the story had "you", Alice and Jane agree to phone each other at least once a year, the pay off here is that you are showing the reader that this never happened. I would probably foreshadow that by introducing themes of childhood promises broken in adulthood.

Make it clear

Other than that, it really doesn't matter how you do the jump so long as the jump is clear quickly. Don't let your reader assume that this is the next day by letting them understand that time has passed.

I would seek to allow the reader/character to reconnect with "the past" - this is so that this jump feels like a continuation of the same emotional journey.

Smooth the bump

Time jumps can be disconcerting. Which is why I made a point of talking about connecting the new present with what is now the past. Anything you can do thematically, narratively, or stylistically that smooths over the bump will help keep the reader engaged.

Keep it short

A time jump - especially a long one - can disconnect a reader from the story. As this is your swan-song, so to speak, keep it short and that disconnect will work for you. The epilogue will feel like that moment when you are waking from a dream. You know you have been dreaming but until you are fully awake the dream still lingers. That feeling can be used to make the epilogue feel like a satisfying conclusion that wakes the reader from the story but only if it is short enough.

Conclusion: Just tell the story

In case you have not guessed, my conclusion to all this is - just tell the story. It should be fine. If the end does feel too abrupt, then you can work on it in editing. Cross that bridge if and when you come to it.

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    Because only moments ago, your reader was "living" the story, it should be easy to play on that sense of "it does not seem so long ago that..." - Good point! I'll try to use that aspect a little bit more – tryin Jun 18 '19 at 9:04
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There are multiple ways to approach this and any of them can work. The important thing is that it's very clear to the reader.

My novel is structured as follows:

  • Prologue set in 1939.
  • Body of novel set in 1995 (with time travel to 1350 BCE).
  • Epilogue set in 2020 (or so).

For my transition from prologue to the main novel, I have a couple paragraphs at the end of the prologue showing the child from 1939 growing up and marrying, and mentioning her children and grandchildren. One of her grandchildren is my main character. We figure this out because the grandma is in Chapter 1.

The prologue opening has a tag giving the date and location. As does the chapter 1 opening.

The epilogue will also have a date stamp but the transition is abrupt. Any information about the intervening years is implied, not shown.

For your story, choose the method that works best for you, just label it as a time jump in some way. Either with a date header, or a line like "30 years had passed" or showing a character in her 20's now greeting her first great grandchild.

Abrupt is fine if it's obvious to the reader what is going on. You can either show the characters as their future selves or you can use a text version like some movies do, where each major character gets a short paragraph like:

Selena was accepted to Harvard Law and went on to become a successful insurance lawyer. After 10 years, she sold all her possessions, bought a boat, and sailed around the world with her wife and 5 children.

Suzie spent 8 years in prison, when she was released early for good behavior. She now counsels teen addicts.

You can also do a "reunion show." Some reason for all the characters to get together and catch each other up on their lives (with them reminiscing about those who died or couldn't make it).

There is no wrong method. Just be clear and don't draw it out too long.

  • "don't draw it out too long" - I think this may be one of the problems with what I wrote, I should try to summarize – tryin Jun 18 '19 at 9:05

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