Friday, October 12, 2012

The Art of Time Transitions

The past month or so I've really fallen down in the blogging department.  It's almost unbelievable how much time is consumed by the recuperating process.  Though my surgery went well and I'm healing pretty quickly considering I had a complete knee replacement, long hours of my days are consumed by physical therapy, ice treatments, and just plain feeling tired.  I'm not complaining; I know I'm way ahead of the usual healing curve for this type of surgery, but sometimes I feel like I've missed a lot. 

When I entered the hospital on September 17, almost a month ago, the days were hot and felt more like August than September.  I'm home now and suddenly it's October and I go around looking for a sweater to wear or an afghan to keep me from shivering.  Time seems to have taken a giant leap forward when I wasn't watching closely enough.  Sometimes I get that same feeling when I'm reading.  There's that whoa!  What happened?  How did I get from there to here? moment.   Unlike with real life, those moments leave me frantically thumbing backwards through the book to see what I missed. 

Time transitions including jumps in time are not easy to manage, but are often necessary to avoid tedious pages with little to do with the main story taking up space and time.  Getting characters from one point to another or one time to another can be challenging.  In my present work in progress (due out in February) the story covers a span of ten years and I've worried a great deal over whether or not readers will be able to follow the progression of time as I mean for them to do.  Only time and my readers will tell me whether or not I succeeded.  

Recently I read two books with significant time jumps.  One, by a well known author, left me thumbing backwards to see if I missed something several times.  The other by a friend, who doesn't claim to be a writer, but who wishes to record several family stories in a novel format for a Christmas gift moved flawlessly between the present and World War II.  I've no answer to why some writers struggle with moving between times while others do it almost instinctively.  I just know I like to be able to keep time in neat compartments when I read.  I like to know when the past is the past, when children are no longer children, when the action jumps ahead a few years, and when the action is already past. 

There are little clues that are helpful in this matter such as placing a time or date notation at the beginning of chapters, switching to different fonts to denote the different time periods, placing asterisks at the end of one scene and the beginning of the next or just skipping a space to alert the reader to a change in time, place, or point of view.  A few well chosen words can also prove helpful.

I sometimes wonder whether readers or other writers find books with long time progressions or jumps in time sometimes difficult to follow.  I'd love to discover which books you think are examples of dealing with this problem poorly or well.  I've received both kudos and complaints about my own books in the area of longish time progressions and would like to know what works and what doesn't. Though I've never written a book that presents two or more totally different time periods, I've read a number of them and haven't found many to my liking.  Currently there are at least two series underway by well-known and well-liked authors that tell two stories, one contemporary and one historical side-by-side.  I wonder what readers think of this method of storytelling.  Please share your views in the comments.  Also each comment will serve as an entry in this month's Wish List contest.


taylorfamily83316 said...

I have read a few books over the years where there is a transition in time. It is as you mention hard sometimes to keep from looking back over what was already read to see if something was missed. But, as with other books I have read, usually the mysteries. Looking back has got to be better than leaping forward to find out the end before finishing in the middle. The lull in the middle of some books gets to me. As long as there is something to keep my interest I don't leap forward to discover the end. So, I don't really mind looking back. Good luck with your recovery, and I hope that it continues to go well for you!

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Time jumps are really hard to do well in my reading experience and, like you, I find myself reading the last chapters over again to see if I missed something.

Good luck with your book (can't wait to read it!) and I'm glad to hear you're recovering so well from your surgery.

Megan said...

I appreciate it when an author plans to jump back and forth between two times to make some type of formatting change or add dates (easiest).

Glad to hear that you're healing well! Excited for your new book! :)