I'm writing a ficional story about a historical figure. My MC takes twelve years to achieve a major success. But the bulk of the work takes place in three stages: at ages 17, 23, and 29.

I have divided my book into three parts... but no matter what I do, it feels jolting skipping the time gap.

The quirks that the reader will find endearing when the MC is 17 suddenly vanish when we skip to when she's 23. The things important at age 23 are meaningless at age 29.

I tried writing chapters to fill the gaps, but adding a chapter at age 20 made it worse. Beta readers hated it even more. The reader would fall in love with the MC at age 17, skip to age 20 and feel like they don't know her, but not spend enough time to grow to like this "new" MC before we were off to age 23.

I also tried to write one chapter for each year, and this was also bad. The reader spent too much time in limbo before they could settle down a MC they could connect with.

So, I feel like I'm having to choose between writing an entertaining story and rewriting history. If I made this complete fiction and less history, I could speed up time and make the MC accomplish an impossible feat in a span of 2-3 years. It would be more pleasing to read, but it would lose the lesson I wanted to teach in thr first place: sometimes, you have to labor for twelve years to achieve success.

What can I do to fix my story?

  • 2
    Find and read a copy of Arthur Clarke's The Wall of Darkness. It follows the life of one character from youth (about 17) to late middle age, with a single goal and thread connecting all the pieces. It is a short story, but it successfully does what you are having trouble doing in a novel.
    – JRE
    Apr 23, 2021 at 13:11
  • I just found it and read it. Thank you!
    – Caspian
    Apr 23, 2021 at 21:56
  • 1
    Use the 'Nike Method', just do it! Show, don't tell. After a few pages, the reader will realise this is a different version of the same character.
    – Neil_UK
    Apr 24, 2021 at 14:14

3 Answers 3


People change as they grow and gain experience. That's part of life, and part of any story that covers a long time span.

You have to bring your character to a point where your readers will expect changes, and imply that those changes are coming - and most importantly, that a long period of change is in the works.

Say your character decides to be an astronaut. At 17, your character goes through the difficulties of deciding to be an astronaut (as opposed to, say, a salesman in the local used car dealership) and convincing parents and school officials that, yes dammit, I really am going to be an astronaut.

After surmounting the difficulties involved (proper prerequisites, proper course of study at a university level, applying to universities, getting accepted, clearing up the problem of finances, etc.,) your character sets off to the adventure of getting a bachelor's degree in {some difficult STEM subject.} The end of the chapter is your character heading off to college, or meeting a new friend at the university. You imply changes coming.

The next chapter starts with the view from a character that your readers don't quite recognize. New traits, new ways of doing and being. As things go on, your readers slowly realize that this isn't a new character, but rather an older version of the first character.

The trick is that transition. Imply great changes coming, then skip the boring stuff and start with the changed character in a new chapter.

You character doesn't have to lose all the old traits or quirks, though they'll usually subdue them as they get older - or not, if your character develops in a way that makes them get more immature as they age.

  • 2
    Thank you! I think my biggest problem is not preparing the reader for the changes that are coming. Then, I need to look back on all the changes that have happened.
    – Caspian
    Apr 23, 2021 at 21:57

If the reader doesn't recognize the character anymore, it's because he missed a change or development. Which means that unlike what you are thinking, important things did happen in those years. You need to write about those things. Your reader needs to understand how 17 year old friendly Joe became 23 year old grumpy Joe (to pick a random example).

The transitions can be short, focus only on the vital parts. A few sentences can be enough - something like

"During his six years in the military, Joe was hit hard with the realities of life, shattering many of his dreams. Without his friends, he slowly grew less joyful and it started to show in his demeanor. When he left the army, he had turned into a grumpy man far beyond his 23 years."

  • 2
    The concept is fine, but your actual example is a good demonstration of why "tell don't show" is so boring to read. A one-page snapshot of "life in the army" would be much better.
    – alephzero
    Apr 24, 2021 at 14:37
  • 1
    @alephzero "Tell don't show" isn't inherently boring, but this might be a good demonstration of why people are told not to do it. Apr 24, 2021 at 17:50
  • 2
    I'm illustrating a point, not writing a novel. ;-)
    – Tom
    Apr 25, 2021 at 6:13

I have an idea on how you can write both an entertaining story and rewriting history. My idea, is that before you start the main plot you could have a flashback sort of device. What I am saying is that you could write about struggles and achievements and etc. that your character had in the period between the two ages. You would have to figure out a way to make it 1-2 pages, enough for the readers to connect to this new age of your character, while still not boring them. I would support you writing 1 1/2 pages, the middle. Hope I helped!

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