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How can you put a lot of time-skips as soon as possible in a story? Because of certain restrictions, I am forced to put a lot of time-skips at the beginning of a story, but how do you do that effectively while keeping your readers engaged, not confused, and causing other negative impact? I tried to spread them throughout the story, but the best parts are at the end of the story, and I need to get people hooked to the story, so because of that I need to put a lot of time-skip scenes at the beginning of the story. Rewriting the whole story is not an option due to deadlines and budget.

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  • Read Iain M Banks' Use of Weapons. Two stories each related to the same character in alternating chapters. One starts 'present day' & moves forwards, the other starts 'in the past' & moves further backwards in time, chapter by chapter. The denouement is how these two stories meet up eventually. [no spoilers, but there's nothing initially that really tells you this is how the timelines are structured;)
    – Tetsujin
    Jun 20 at 10:47
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    Just write the (relative) date and location there. This was super common in 80s series and I don't know why people just stopped doing this at some point. Totally ruined The Prestige and The Witcher for me.
    – AndreKR
    Jun 20 at 13:46
  • Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. (Vonnegut) Jun 20 at 19:07
  • Putting a lot of time-skips as soon as possible, suggests you want them. Can you either drop or explain "certain restrictions"? Time skips usually, by definition, leave readers confused… else, why not Post examples where a writer avoided that? Spreading throughout the story might be desirable to you but how does that suit the story itself, or the readers? That you need to get people hooked on the story does not say where you need to put a lot of time-skip scenes. Rewriting the whole story seems to be necessary, whatever your deadlines or budget… which is how writing works. Jun 21 at 0:01

3 Answers 3

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Now, I don't know if you would consider my suggestion within the 'rewriting' domain, but if "the good stuff" begins later in the story, perhaps the story itself should start closer to those parts.

One way to do this, if you still want (or need) the 'early parts' included in your story somehow, is to present them through flashbacks, or, as I personally prefer, through dialogue or 'showing' when following your characters - or through material otherwise being presented in the story.

I haven't worked with flashbacks myself, so I will focus on the other options.

Through dialogue (and behavior), we learn a lot about your characters; what they're like and why (what they've been through and how their personality and abilities played into this).

This could either be through dialogue with other people who were present at "the important earlier parts"; People have a tendency to visit past shared experience as a way to maintain their identities.

It could also be with people who weren't there; When we get to know people, what they mention about themselves, and how they present this, how they react, what they choose to tell and not, shapes our impression of them, becomes their identity to us. Your characters doesn't even have to explain these things themselves - We could 'overhear' a fellow character explain "why X character is like this..." e.g.:

"Oh, and btw., don't ask about the scar.. long and sad story, not enjoyable for anyone here."

'Really? What happened?'

"Some horrible war stuff, lost a lot of family.. Gruesome shit."

Perhaps your characters interact with enough known/foreign characters that the "important earlier parts" can be presented in a way that doesn't force us to experience them 'live' if it isn't actually that interesting.

Alternatively, we may be presented with "footage" (e.g. from cameras) actually 'showing' parts of the past. Here we may also have the opportunity to experience other characters reacting to or discussion what is being shown or presented.

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Time skips exist to cut out any information that either does not benefit the plot or that the audience does not need to know at this point.

Let's say this was a superhero story, for example. The hero gave up their crime-fighting and went to work at an office job for three years.

Unless there's something important happening in those three years, no one wants to read about the boring office job. It makes perfect sense to cut it out.

Alternatively, the skip is intentional to keep the audience in the dark. Perhaps the character was knocked unconscious. The world was fine when they were awake, but it went into absolute chaos and now they have to figure out why. That adds some intrigue. The audience will want to know what happened in the interim.

Time Skips need to take into account three things: Quantity of skips, Pacing of the skips, and Length of time being skipped.

Quantity-The more time skips you have, the more confused your audience will be. If you are constantly jumping through time things get complicated and the audience loses a sense of grounding.

Tommy starts as a smiling, goofy eight-year-old but...snap He is now a moody teen. snap He is now a depressed adult. snap He is a bitter old man.

Do you see how that would give an audience whiplash?

Pacing-The faster these skips are the more confusing they are to the audience.

Imagine eight-year-old Tommy riding his bike with his mom, having a good time, and then...Welp, now he's eighty.

No preamble. No preparation. He's eighty now. Deal with it.

Abrupt and jarring changes are fantastic (she said with sarcasm).

Length-An audience is generally more willing to buy smaller time skip. If it's a simple jump of a day or maybe a week and there was plenty done in that time, it's perfectly understandable.

But skipping a whole month? A year? A decade? Then things start to get crazy.

Massive time jumps also leave lots of room for author slip-ups, plot holes, and excuses.

Authors can and will use time jumps to excuse almost anything, and it's usually not a good sign.

Why is the character acting wildly different? Time jump. Why are there new characters we never got introduced to before? Time jump. Why is the plot completely derailed? Time jump.

Always blame the time jump for all your problems...If you want the audience to dislike you, that is.

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    Long time skips aren't always bad. Case in point: Pixar's Up. Starts off with a young man, the love of his life, her tragic demise, and then SKIP SEVERAL DECADES he's a bitter old man. That whole sequence was one of the most effective openings to a movie in recent years and was generally positively received. Jun 20 at 16:55
  • True. The time skip in Up is masterful, but that's where my point about timing comes in. While the change is abrupt, each individual piece has enough time to breath that every moment has impact. We see the gradual process of him becoming the man he is, and it's heartbreaking because while it seems quick as the audience, to him an entire lifetime of love and loss has passed. Up's time skip is intentionally jarring to build an emotional gut punch. Though, you make a good point. Up is a great counterexample of everything I've said done correctly. Jun 20 at 19:48
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If they really are at the start of your story, put the earlier material into a Prologue which can be a series of earlier short scenes (one per main character maybe, to show what each was doing when they first heard about the magic McGuffin). By definition a Prologue is an introduction so covers something the Reader needs to know, but that may not really be part of the current action (or the "best parts" OP refers to).
See https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-fiction/4-approaches-for-the-first-chapter-of-your-novel

As a reader, I know a Prologue is often followed by a giant time-skip so it doesn't disrupt my reading at all.

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  • Something to be aware of with the prologue option is that most readers skip prologues, so this isn't a good option if it has content that really is vital to understanding the story. Also, there has been a lot of backlash (from agents/editors) against prologues in recent years, depending on genre (fantasy prologues are still very much accepted for instance).
    – levininja
    Jun 20 at 18:28
  • @levininja I know there is a lot of sites that claim readers skip prologues, but do you have a source for the claim of "most"? There are just as many sites with readers protesting that they always read the prologue. And it is still an option the OP should consider.
    – Dragonel
    Jun 21 at 15:17
  • no I don't have a source, it's just something I've heard anecdotally from people in the pub industry as well as conversations I've had with readers. Yes, some always read the prologues, myself included. My point is NOT that you shouldn't use prologues; I think prologues are a great way to introduce supplementary concepts, like revealing worldbuilding/history. But you don't want a plot-critical thing to be ignored by any portion of your audience, even if it's not everyone.
    – levininja
    Jun 22 at 15:57

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