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Today I have a question about writing a long period of elapsed time.

I have three main characters who each get their own chapters from their POV. Two of those three characters do not need much attention in my book for some time. I'm talking about 4-6 months here. The two characters have settled into a routine, and it is only important for me to show only a couple of their scenes during the 4-6 month period for update purposes only.

The obvious thing to do would be to say "20 days later this and this happened," at the beginning of each update, but I want readers to remember that while the two characters are out of the spotlight - they are still contributing to the story.

For example, one of my characters is healing from wounds. By saying "20 days later", I fear the readers will assume that the healing has made no progress. I want to remind the readers that the characters are still alive and doing stuff even if they are not in a particular chapter.

It would also get redundant just to say, "Character 1 has healed some more," every time we pop back into Character 1's life for an update.

So I guess my question is: How to write a long period of elapsed time while also reminding the reader that while characters are out of the spotlight - they are still contributing to the story?


Just in case someone says that this question and this question are similar to mine, I already have my case:

The first link is to a question that is asking about a much smaller time period where the character does nothing significant, with irreverent to my question answers. Also, my question will appeal to a much larger group of people. The second link is about showing characters aging throughout a time period.

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    Personally, I wouldn't assume that "20 days later", the sick character's status hasn't changed. However, I would like to know whether he has recovered or gotten worse.
    – Llewellyn
    Dec 18 '20 at 14:21
  • @Llewellyn "20 days later" is just an example
    – Nai45
    Dec 18 '20 at 15:50
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    Sure, but I still think that readers are unlikely that time has stopped simply because the characters don't appear on screen. If, after however many weeks or months or years, nothing has changed at all, I'd be disappointed.
    – Llewellyn
    Dec 18 '20 at 17:58
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It's done all the time:

I wouldn't worry too much about this. Characters leave the main story all the time and pop up later - sometimes whole books later. At that point, you need to be sure they are tied back in (especially if they had a mysterious death or the like). But readers accept it. That's not your question, though.

If you want to emphasize that the characters are relevant, some of the same strategies from this question will apply equally well to yours. Have the existing characters discuss how critical the side-mission is to everything, and how the missing character must succeed. Have discussions about missing those who are gone. If long-range communication is possible (by letters, phone calls, or dream sendings or premonitions) a discussion is always a mail drop, telephone or crystal ball away. Even a false premonition will bring the missing person into focus (so it doesn't even need real magic).

Flashbacks bring a character back into attention even when they are gone. They don't need to be long. Just enough to give a reminder. You could have a chapter (or even an occasional separated block of story) where we briefly focus on the other story line

Ted felt a cold chill. Unknown to him, at that very moment his beloved hung over the edge of an icy cliff.

Physical mementos or ties work as well as talk and feeling. A necklace given by a missing person brings the missing person back to attention every time it comes up as slipping out of the present character's shirt. Visiting New Hope city when it's know to be the home town of the missing character brings them back as easily. Or meeting other people who know the missing character works similarly, like meeting their mother and getting help, or rescuing their sister who then asks about where the missing character is.

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This is really a POV question. Are the updates to character B's life known and important to character A, the current POV character? If "yes," you report on them, if "no," you don't. If character A is self-centered, or if character B is not a significant person in their life, then they might not care. If character B is very important to them, they might be checking in frequently.

But what about when you return to character B's POV? Again, is it something they would be thinking about? If so, it's easy enough to include: "After thirty boring days healing in bed, B was overjoyed to be up on his feet again." Or, "having kept busy for three months spying on the enemy, B now had the info he needed to...". If it's not something they would be thinking about, don't force it in.

What if you have a true, third person omniscient narrator, who is not closely watching over any particular person's shoulder? Think of them as an invisible character in the story, and see if it would be of interest to them. If not, don't include it. Fiction is not life, we as readers generally want the highlights, not the grind (unless the grind itself is the point).

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