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I've been working on a story that follows the progression of a couple. The two were arranged to marry as young children, and meet again in their teens. I've been using quite a few time skips to shorten the period where they're first getting to know each other, but it seems splotchy. It's important to the story's setup, but I want to spend most of the time focusing on their marriage, since that's where most of the character development occurs. Any tips on how to condense that first period without it seeming sloppy?

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Like any story, you skip the boring parts (where nothing is really changing) and describe the scenes when something happens. If their marriage is arranged, both accept that, and eventually marry, you need two scenes: They meet. 12 years later at 18, they get married.

The only issue is if anything happened in-between. Did one of them fall in love with somebody else? Is one of them opposed to the marriage but culturally unable to get out of it?

Did something else happen in those 12 years that will cause problems after the marriage? Say, the girl lost her virginity and the guy expects her to be a virgin on their wedding night.

In short you need to describe any plot points of the story that develop in the gap between "marriage arranged" and "marriage complete".

You don't really need to develop much else; you might not even need the "marriage arranged" scene.

Typically you will open the story on your main character's (MC) "Normal World". About 1/8 through the story, you present the first plot point: Some sort of problem that will immediately or eventually force the MC out of their normal world. The first Act ends at about 1/4 of the way through the story, with the MC deciding to leave (or being forced to leave) their Normal World, and embark on an adventure or mission. "Leaving their Normal World" may be literally leaving, or metaphorically leaving, like say an employee, due to the inciting incident, realizes her boss is a violent criminal plotting a crime, and she must figure out how to thwart him; but she isn't leaving her job or town to do it, she is just no longer dumb and content.

You condense a period without losing it's meaning by showing only the scenes within that period that have meaning.

In fact, the entire story is this way, every scene you show should have some purpose or meaning, and should have some inherent conflict within the scene, and result in some change for the MC; plus or minus. Don't write the scenes in which nothing changes.

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    Thank you! That's really helpful! Jul 21, 2022 at 15:08
  • Do you write from both points of view? If not, you skip some of the important points that happened to the other character, to be revealed later. It's also possible to summarize important events from the character's point of view, because what's important is their impact on the marriage.
    – Mary
    Jul 22, 2022 at 0:33
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    @Mary Who are you asking? The OP? I personally am strictly a one person POV throughout the book; but I have enjoyed writers (like Stephen King) that are one POV per chapter, and skip around to different characters. Personally, I prefer as a reader to identify with one character and see the entire story from their POV. Movies can work the same way; one POV, or several POV. It just depends on the effect the author wants to create.
    – Amadeus
    Jul 22, 2022 at 16:54
  • I've been swithing betweeen two POV. I find it better, given that each charicter knows themselves better. Jul 23, 2022 at 0:30
  • @HollyHarper That's fine; the only issue with that is you need to be honest with the reader: If you are in Alice's POV, and Alice lies to Bob, it should be clear to the reader Alice is lying to Bob. So when you are in Bob's POV, Bob may not know Alice was lying, but the reader does. Then Bob may be shocked to find out Alice was lying, but the reader is not. Author's manage this, but one reason I like single POV writing is that my main character may get betrayed; and my reader will be just as shocked as the main character when this betrayal is revealed.
    – Amadeus
    Jul 24, 2022 at 10:04
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You can manage your story's setup by making good decisions about what you show in-scene and what you share in narrative.

For the moments you want to show in real-time (in-scene), decide what details are important for the scene to work effectively. Your question talked about this couple been promised to each other when they were very young. While this may be very important to the story, is it important enough to what is happening in the first or second pages that it needs to be declared?

You can strip down your setup by outright ignoring or only implying your character's background. An effective mindset is to only have enough setup to explain the actions or events happening on the next page or two -- especially at the start of a story.

By limiting your setup to the bare minimum to share only what is immediately needed, you force yourself to use other story elements like setting and dialog narrative and actions to communicate the important aspects of your character and your story. And, it makes for lively technique because the story is focused on the story's here-and-now about why you, the author, are sharing this point in time or narrative.

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Start at the Wedding or Reunion

The couple getting married / meeting after an absence is the "inciting incident," right? Start there.

It's a great first chapter - lots of tension. Are they both going to show up? Will the couple fight first thing? Have they changed in the interim?

Reference Important Backstory As Needed

If there are important childhood scenes you can just reference them when required. The husband makes a joke - the wife recalls the backstory that makes it funny. It could be just a simple sentence.

She smiled as she remembered their first kiss, stolen behind the oak tree in her parent's yard.

Or it could be a full on flashback if there's more to it.

Adding the backstory "as you go" like this forces you to include only the necessary parts. It helps make it obvious what is important enough to interrupt the flow of the narrative, and what isn't needed.

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