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Time Jumps



Time Jumps

I think if I had a time machine, and went back about ten to fifteen years to meet my older self, I kind of wonder whether either one of us would really recognize one another at all. It’s a weird idea, but I don’t think we would. I certainly don’t think we’d get along. LOL! That was still the undeniable ‘work in progress’ part of me, and me now? I probably wouldn’t come off as being much fun at all. That would be crazy.

The thing is, I know that a LOT has happened in my life since then, but nothing that I would ever think that I could put into a cohesive story that other people could read and make any really sense out of. It wouldn’t have any sort of real linear pattern or entertaining path because, just like everybody else, I was just winging this whole ‘life’ thing and trying to get it as right as I could possibly manage. So, if I was trying to craft the story around just those years alone, and wanted to make them interesting and easy to follow, I might leave out a lot of really good times and great events and experiences...but ones that don’t line up in a way that makes for good for fiction.

Or...I could sort of have an extended preamble for everything that happens beforehand, and then pick up the story from here and now, where I’m paying more attention and life is a bit more focused than it was way back then. And the best way to do that in fiction? Time jump.

Sometimes, it’s best to take your time and try to figure out where the focus of your plot is going to be, and close it off to focus on what’s most important for that particular narrative. Something to concentrate on. Like...let’s say the "Star Wars" movies. There is a lot of time and tons of major events that happens between "A New Hope", "The Empire Strikes Back", and "Return Of The Jedi". So much so that the famous opening crawl became a standard to explain it all. We’re talking about skipping over years worth struggle and triumph and betrayal and defeat...it almost seems as if the series shouldn’t make any sense at all by today’s standards. Hell the entire "Rogue One" movie was based on just one event that was alluded in that thing! Nowadays...you miss one episode of your favorite Netflix series and you might find yourself being totally lost, while your mom’s favorite daytime soap opera can go on for decades without her really much at all if she goes two or three weeks without keeping up with it. Hehehe, it all depends on the time jump and how it relates to the content.

With "Star Wars"...the time jump may last for years and years, but that one opening scroll tells you what happened in between the time you left your heroes behind and are now expected to pick up where they are now. And you know...you really didn’t need to see all of the stuff as far as the main story goes. I mean, it didn’t have to be "Lord Of The Rings". It’s concentrated around a small group of protagonists, and their adventures together. Many of the events do not only really NEED to be shown for the story to work, but some of the crawls actually tell parts of the saga that might actually detract from the rest of the story.

These are from the original trilogy. Read through the scrolls, and pay attention to all that’s going on here...



Can you even IMAGINE how long those movies would be if you had to ‘show and not tell’ through all of those events. Look at how much happened before Luke Skywalker even shows up in the first movie? You don’t have time for each of them to have their own backstories, go on their own adventures, and accomplish their own goals, before they even meet one another. That would have a severely damaging effect on your pacing and character building along the way. Would it be interesting to see? Maybe. But how much screen time would it take to show the rebellion getting into trouble, having to hide out on an ice planet, explore the area, and build a base there? And even if you went for playing the long game...how much interest would your readers have in it? Where is everybody? What happened with Darth Vader? Is Han Solo there? Come on, let’s get back to the meat of the story already.

Sometimes, if done right...time jumps can solve that problem. It allows you tighten things up a bit and get them to work a little better, in my opinion.

When I decided to continue on with the "Shelter" series about the zombie apocalypse (https://imagine-magazine.org/store/comicality/), I really wanted to bring a sense of humanity to each and every individual character that was a part of the main story. But, in order to do that, I’d have to go back and use a heavy dose of flashbacks, or an unbearable amount of long and drawn out exposition that would ultimately drag the entire series down to a crawl. So my personal solution was to go back just a little bit, and create solo stories for each of the main characters to be presented on their own. To show what they’ve been through during the initial breakdown of society in general as the infection first began...and then "Shelter" (my main series) picks up a few weeks to a month later. Meaning that all of the spinoff stories pretty much have their own resolutions and character arcs as they fight to survive in their own way...and then…?

Time jump!

Now, there was obviously a bunch of stuff that happens between the end of their individual stories and the beginning of their presence at the shelter and their future struggles that they’ve got ahead of them...but they don’t really matter much. Not as much as the main story. You don’t want to spend time writing distractions. If you want to deliver some add information or fill in a couple of blanks that would ultimately support the story as a whole, then so be it. But only if it’s necessary, and only if it’s going to have sort of impact on the plot or on the character themselves. Otherwise, use the time jump to your advantage and simply allude to the fact that time has passed, and it wasn’t a complete snore fest. Hehehe! You can do that, you know? Just do it in small doses.

So what is the science of creating an effective time jump in your story? It’s all about how long the jump is, and how much you need to happen within that amount of time.

For example...let’s say that you’re building a post apocalyptic world for your story. Maybe the bomb dropped, maybe the aliens attacked, maybe the demons came up through the cracks in the ground and began devouring everything in sight. Whatever. Now you’ve got your protagonist wandering through a world that has been completely obliterated, with very few survivors, and a heavy growth of vegetation has covered the entire landscape. Well, if that’s what you’re going for...you can’t just pick up six months after the inciting incident took place. The whole world and civilization itself can seem to be pretty fragile at times, but I’d hat to think that the whole thing could be transformed into a barren wasteland in just a couple of months. Hehehe, give us a little more credit than THAT! So, if you’re going for a short jump forward in time, the events that you skipped over should match that in some way. If a nuclear bomb went off while your main character was locked in a bunker...they’re not going to just wake up a few weeks later and go walking around in the radioactive fallout. Not unless you want to tell a very quick and very tragic short story. Those events don’t match up with the time jump. You’re going to be down in that bunker for a long LONG time, buddy! So get comfortable!

However, at the same time...you don’t want to jump too far ahead either unless you really need to. Examples would be like having a young Conan the Barbarian grow up to be a full grown warrior, or have a young Bruce Wayne suddenly com swooping down years later as Batman. As long as such a significant amount of passing time is deemed necessary. Don’t have ten years pass by and your protagonist comes back to the story in the same space and pretty much as the same character as they were before the time jump happened in the first place. If you’re going to skip over all of that time, there should be some changes made. Some growth. Or perhaps a hardening fall from grace. Just have it match up with your earlier depictions of your character in enough ways where it’s easy to see that they’re the same person at their core...but the span of time has definitely separated their early version of themselves from their current version. Always keep in mind that the time jump and the current events or current environment has changed quite a bit since you saw it last. K?

Time jumps can be a helpful skill to have in your author’s utility belt, just do your best to figure out how it’ll best work out for the story that you’re trying to tell. Too short of a jump, and you’ll find yourself limited with a lot of the changes that you may want to make in your story. Too long a jump, and it’ll seem like nothing happened over the last five, ten, or fifteen years at all. Which will make your audience wonder why you felt the need to throw in a time jump at all. Both sides can be equally destructive if you’re not careful. So, like...be careful, then. Hehehe!

Keep these things in mind...and you can’t go wrong.

I truly hope that this helps you guys out with your writing process, and becomes a natural part of your personal magic. Cool? Have fun! And I’ll seezya soon with more! Best wishes! :)


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