Can your character gain crucial knowledge off-screen? Let's say your character is a young adult and doesn't know anything about geopolitics, and then there's a 2 year time skip and he's a ruler with a lot of geopolitical knowledge gained off-screen, and knows exactly the political working of a country. Is it ok to do that, or should you somehow show how he gained that knowledge or how he came to learn this? When is it a bad idea to do that?

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Sure. It's a well established "trope" in much the way you describe it. There are even shorthand methods for it.

Consider the movie The Lion King. At the start, Simba is a cub with a few friends and pretty much a total lack of knowledge. Then there's a scene in the movie where we see him and his two best friends walking along. And it goes into silhouette for a while, and the outline of Simba gradually gets bigger. Then it comes back to full color again, and we've got a young-adult Simba with his two friends.

Consider the movie Contact, written by Sagan and starring Jodie Foster. We have an established thing that the young Ellie does, a thing she does with her hair while she is using her shortwave radio. Then we get a transition where the young character is doing this, and a fade out then in, and it's the adult character doing it.

Or, for a much older example, consider the New Testament. We get a few little glimpses of Jesus's life before He is grown. His birth. A couple little incidents while He's a kid. Then He's fully grown and going around healing people and recruiting His disciples.

It's tough to make the transition interesting and not cliché. It's also possible to lose the reader. You need to have some strong indications it's the same person. Lots of little kids, after Simba was suddenly grown up, turned to their parents and said "Where's Simba?" They had grown to like this happy little cub and suddenly this adult lion is there.

You can use tricks. A couple incidents to bridge the gap can help. Maybe there's some event where he marks being part-way through the transition, a party or a ceremony or a graduation or something. Some things that don't change over the bridge might help. Maybe he has some physical appearance that stays the same. His scar from crawling through that barb-wire fence or something. Or he has mannerisms that stay the same. Some phrase he uses.

You can tie it together by having the adult character recount some formative experience or some such. They remember when they learned some important wisdom they will use now, or what they were doing the last time they referred to this book, or something like that. Or they meet somebody they were close to during the missing period and talk about a shared experience.


Probably, if you set it up properly. If we know he's going to become a ruler, and be educated for it, it may be wise to hint that it will be a long and tedious process, and then, after, that it was a long and tedious process.

Blindsiding the reader, however, is hard to carry off properly. Even if the character is ignorant, some foreshadowing is usually wise, down to having the character laugh off the notion that he would be ruler.

Much depends, of course, on why he is depicted before the time-skip. Beginning the story in media res as a ruler would have many advantages, though the earlier story might be necessary.


It is a bad idea to do it cold.

What you can do, is "show" a scene in which the hero discovers an ancient book, or a mentor, or some other trove of knowledge, and begins to train.

Then timeskip over the boring "learning" part to the good parts: "Four Years Later" -- They win their first local election.

Then timeskip again; "Four Years Later", they win their first national election.

And so on. The book Roots could not have been written without huge timeskips, it covers more than a century of descendants. We see people born, and in the next chapter they are adults facing a decision.

What you try to include are the critical character-forming scenes from somebody's life. Their struggles and successes and critical life-changing or character-changing choices. The first time your leader orders soldiers to their death, or the first time they have to personally kill somebody.

Even in the first Harry Potter book, from the first chapter to the second is a timeskip of 10 years. Nothing important happened to Harry in his life before then; he was rescued as an infant, placed with his aunt and uncle, done. Skip forward 10 years, he's about to have a birthday and be whisked away by Hagrid to a new world of magic.

Only include the scenes that change your character or reveal new information about your character. Even if those scenes are years apart.

Your character starts learning. Then timeskip to when your character finishes learning or otherwise changes.

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