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Editing out time in a story

Robert Zwilling

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Read the last word in the chapter, turn the page and new chapter starts with "Two weeks later."
It tightens up the story, cuts out all the day to day stuff all the various characters are going through. The next important event in the story then starts to take place. I got to wondering about what was happening to the characters during that elapsed time. The most reasonable assumption was that they weren't doing things that were of no interest to most people. Boring things that would only slow down the delivery of the story, diluting it's impact on the recipient. If it was interesting things, some people would appreciate it, others would lose interest because it wasn't part of the story they were reading. The editing makes them pop out from the background of the movements showing how they got from point B from point A.

In the background are things the characters could be doing that could cause readers not to like the character. By leaving out things characters are being built that appear to be more than they are. While seeming to be artificial at first, building up an ideal persona is a common practice employed by people as a way of being able to avoid questions they don't want to be asked.

I'm reading a murder mystery where the good guys are kept in the picture minute by minute. The bad guys, victims, incidental characters met along the way pop up from time to time, with lots of unexplained time in between appearances. This makes makes them appear exactly as they are presented. The good guys are not so good as they travel through the story. They haven't murdered anyone yet but its probably not completely ruled out. Ironically the bad guys could actually be not as bad as they are shown to be by their limited exposure. Its all up to the beholder how the blank spaces get filled in. Is there some kind of ratio of the documented story vs all the information filled in the blanks supplied by the readers preconceptions that can be used to determine what kind of story is being presented.
 

Karn's Return

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I don't think it goes as deep as you're reading into here, pun intended. While it can certainly be with most, if not all, of the top-level authors, for more obscure, under-the-radar stories, I think it's just the easiest way to deal with the thankless monotony chore of info dumping. Writers don't usually like to do it-a certain posthumous author notwithstanding-and I would hazard that most readers don't care for it. I certainly don't. I prefer a story to be tighter and deeper, more emotional. Character depth/twists/etc., can be a byproduct of such a form of writing, but I really don't know if it's at that level of an ego trip for most general, lower-level authors.
 

zmunkz

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I agree with @Karn. I think most authors include no more or less than what is relevant to the characters and the story. If something in those skipped weeks revealed another side to the character, it would have been included.
 

Robert Zwilling

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I should have used a shorter time span example. The time edited out in stories is anywhere from minutes to weeks. I think the time not shown by authors provides characters with a false sense of respectability. The usual reason for leaving out the extra information is because it does not directly relate to the story being told. It could relate to how character's are judged. People can decide whether they feel for, against, or neutral about characters based on the characters behavior. The negative space generally boosts a characters likability, no news is good news. I was wondering about the ratio of unmentioned space in stories compared to the described space. Another kind of negative space for stories seen in a visual sense could be based on the amount of white space on the pages, which could imply short conversations, simple descriptions, and limited info dumping.
 

Karn's Return

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The best authors will find ways of making up for that sort of thing in more subtle ways. I'm not one of them, so I tend to rely very heavily on dialogue and character interaction with one another to reveal more personality of characters I come up with. That said, character development is one of my great weaknesses, so I think I've been going about it the wrong way all this time.

Ultimately it's up to each individual reader to decide their feelings about characters within each story. Again, I feel it is better to just use the time skip, but then, I've never actually jumped ahead so far in time as you had listed here as an example. I generally do it a few hours at most, but then, I'm not a novelist...
 

Robert Zwilling

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Cutting time out can change a story from an event that happens over a relatively short period of time to one that covers a much longer period of time. I read two older stories that used the editing time out process regularly to allow a complete change of scenery, situations and character interaction but still kept the story completely intact. The Universe Maker by A.E. van Vogt and The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. I was trying to keep the time span short in my writing to achieve a sense of continuity but in my latest attempt I am trying to connect scenes by jumping over things that are related to the story.
 

Karn's Return

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I say still go for keeping it short and tight. Leaving the time span ambiguous really isn't all that bad, necessarily. I think readers can generally make out how long something's been and you can drop a couple hints along the way about how long it's been, but like I said, subtle approach to things. Just keep in mind that your readers won't generally believe time has spanned a decade unless it's an epic like ASoIaF, so there's really no need to explain each time how long something has been. And even if you do so, you can state it in just a few words. "...a few hours/days/X amount of weeks" later, like you did so here. That's all you'd really need, not to go into longwinded infodump about the characters' actions in the downtime. "She went to the store each day at noon for lunch, she filed those important documents on Tuesday morning or she drank a liter of bourbon each night and had blackouts." Actually, that last one might be potentially relevant to the story in some way, so you might include that somewhere in a mystery novel...
 

Robert Zwilling

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I started to check out different types of stories, like mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, to see if there are fundamental differences in the way the stories are presented or if it's just a different set of nouns and verbs expanding along similar formulas.
 

Karn's Return

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Well, like I said, epics might take the course of months, years, even perhaps decades, but for the most part, I think that readers would generally realize that a few weeks' time would be the upper limit to time skips. I'd imagine that most would have pretty similar formulas. It's really only if a story spans over years or decades that you'd want to be more specific in telling how long any time skips would be.
 

Cathbad

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Well, the story I;m working on takes maybe two weeks beyond a year. I skip an entire year.

But in this story's case, it would make no sense not to!

:ROFLMAO:
 

Robert Zwilling

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That's a long jump. Does the story pick up with the same character or go on to someone else in the story.
 

Cathbad

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Yes, same character. There are only two main characters and one brief appearance of another. It's a fantasy, and if you've played any D&D, you might already make a guess. :)
 

farntfar

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Tomorrow night I will see an old friend who I meet more or less on a bi-monthly basis. We will have something to eat and then we may possibly go bowling.
I have liked him for several years now, largely on the basis of such encounters.
In the time in between our meetings, he could be a mass murderer, or super villain. I don't really know. He doesn't speak of it.
I don't speak much of my own evil-doings to him, but we remain friends.

I see my siblings less than once a year, generally.
We live in different countries. But I love them unreservedly, despite really knowing little of the detail of their daily lives.

What I'm getting at is that life, as well as fiction, is full of these blind spots, and we are similarly forced to make assumptions on the basis of what we do know.

Allow your reader to fill in the blanks.
 

Brian G Turner

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I got to wondering about what was happening to the characters during that elapsed time.
Anything worth mentioning between time periods can be reflected upon through exposition.

Otherwise, the danger is that of writing just to mark time passing. I did that in my first draft, and then made the situation worse by trying to add little events to make it all more interesting - when all I was actually doing was delaying the start of the story.
 

Robert Zwilling

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The 'murder mystery handled by police' story I am reading is pretty close to clocking in every minute that goes by in the story. The main character is carrying most of the load but when they are not appearing in the story the replacement material is following the clock. It even feels like the main character checks out what was happening when he wasn't in the story. Each character the story spends time on can almost be set to the pattern, 5%, 10%, 15%, 20% up to 80-90% for the main character, maybe not 90% but it seems pretty high percentage. Almost all single character appearances are of the main character, and then the main character is also sharing scenes with most of the characters which keeps up his exposure. When the story isn't about solving the crime it is showing things that can be done in Las Vegas, eating, gambling, screwing, via the characters actions, still keeping close track of time.

It is almost like watching the gears of a clock working. I have read other stories where the characters paths are more like parallel paths where you follow one path at a time for a period of time. It doesn't back track to what other characters were doing at the same time.

Is it just when a character(s) is solving a serious problem with an endless stream of clues or a chase story where a minute by minute accounting is employed where this format is most useful?
 

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For the most part, I'd suspect that it doesn't matter all that much usually. In other words, you starting a new chapter with 'It was two weeks later when...' probably leaves most people with the impression that nothing of note happened. For most I suspect, that's not an issue, they just move on.

That said, if you were clever about it, you might be able to add in a bit of mystery, leaving the reader with the impression that something big happened, but, no character knows what it is except 'Bob,' and "he ain't tellin'!" That big thing to be revealed as the story plays out.

I've written in massive gaps (like two years). Whatever the reason for those gaps, I've always tried to show that the story has progressed, the characters have all evolved, time has moved forward that much (which can mean dramatic changes keeping things fresh and new) yet, I then fill them in as little as possible.

As an example, in the western I wrote, the protagonist has what we'll call some 'minor ;) psychological issues.' Because of that (and which made it very easy), she would have these bouts of amnesia she would call 'stutters.' When she'd come out of them, she had aged and would have new injuries, her possessions, location, and so on had changed dramatically. I then wrote in a means where she would remember fragments. So, she'd remember 5-seconds here, ten seconds there, I'd make note of those moments as she tried to remember... and *poof* 2-years later.

That's the tough part, showing that change yet keeping them connected. However, if you show it well, it's almost like a hybrid character now... not quite like before but having progressed. It also can help explain acquiring new knowledge, skills, whatever.

Past that I'd not sweat it too much. If it's not that interesting to you, it doubtfully will be to someone else.

K2
 

farntfar

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Well personally, I think...
Oh sorry. The kettle's boiling.
I must make a cup of tea,
which involves 14 steps to the kitchen
1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 (I think you get the idea),
reaching for a mug and a tea bag,
pouring in the hot water and adding milk
and 16 steps back (so as to avoid the cat who has followed me and tries to trip me up)
sitting down again and...
I think?....
(Oh yes.) It's all a just matter of how detailed you think you need to be.

Also many crime stories are more about the copper than the case, and thus follow him or her about and the crime solving is almost peripheral.

I have read other stories where the characters paths are more like parallel paths where you follow one path at a time for a period of time. It doesn't back track to what other characters were doing at the same time.
The last 2 (or 4 if you like) books of the Lord of the Rings would seem to be a perfect example of that.

Whereas they all have vaste swathes of time which pass almost unmentioned. (from Rivendell to Moria for example.)
 

Robert Zwilling

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Over time, watched 8 hour mini series, the ending was very predictable. The bad good guys died, the bad bad guys survived and the good good guys survived. Can I edit out the first 7 hours, then radically change the ending where bad good guys win instead of bad bad guys winning and publish it as a short story? The bad good guys were playing catch up the whole time based on their past experiences, and the only reason why they lost was because it was time to end the story, so they made a series of really stupid blunders which did not fit their performance in the first 8 hours. How much of it can be the same? Can the same battle scene be used but at each point where the heroes stumbled they instead make the type of successful moves they had been making all along?
 

Robert Zwilling

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Editing out time in real life. This did come out of talking about writing. Sometimes time becomes divided into periods where we know where we are and sometimes we don't know where we are. As the time span of we don't know where we are increases, some people grow concerned, others don't notice. Question is does the exposure of situations were noticeable gaps are not mentioned increase one's ability to travel through longer periods of time where one is not sure where they are. Not sure of where they are, can be physical, mental, ability, type situations.
 
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