How do time skips effect your enjoyment of a story?


Jan 27, 2023
In my first book, most of the chapters were part of a continuous stream of action. In the second one, most of the chapters were separated from each other by weeks. Some of my readers mentioned noticing this. Is there something negative about time skips that I'm not aware of?
Not knowing anything about this story, I would have to say it's how it's done. Many times as writers we need to write from the readers point of view, but we don't always do so. Is this the case with your second book? I only ask because I am guilty of this myself.
Is there something negative about time skips that I'm not aware of?
One thing I can think of is if the reader doesn't get a sense that anything has been happening to the characters during the gap, that they've been in a kind of stasis, which feels unrealistic. The opposite is if there's been lots happening that the reader would rather you'd shown.

Either way, lots of time-skips can create a sense of the story losing its smooth flow and feeling disjointed.
As always with story telling, the answer is that most unsatisfactory one: it depends.

GRR Martin's saga was the first I had read that divided the chapters into characters, and so time could move in a number of ways. It worked very well - it may not for others. Now, if in his final instalment (if it ever arrives) he goes for the standard format of writing a story in a straight line, readers will certainly notice and will question why.

I would say that if your second book is a continuation of the first, then as a reader I would probably question why it had been written in a different way. I would have bought this second book because I had enjoyed the first, so an unexpected change in the style of writing would at least be puzzling or disconcerting. However if it was done well, then any initial confusion would soon be allayed.

In real life, and even in the most turbulent of times, there are periods of inactivity. In stories these periods are usually brushed over because no-one wants to read about how our hero passes the time waiting for the next action to unfold.
If readers are noticing something about how the story was written, then there is a problem. Something is distracting their attention from the story.

Time skips are a necessary element of any story, so I recommend doing a little bit more analysis about what might be distracting the readers. Perhaps it is a lack of continuity or having abrupt changes? Is there a sense of progress through the chapters so that each seems to build on the others? Is there sufficient foreshadowing so that the following chapters are expected surprises?

Readers are good at identifying area where there are issues, but often not so good at identifying why the issues occurred nor how to fix them. Addressing feedback when everything feels correct from the writer's perspective is always challenging, but I have found that once I do make a change, I find it was the right thing to do. I hope this helps and good luck with your story.
I would ask how many readers you know of and how many of those are in the group that mentioned this.
The smaller the percentage the less likely it is a problem.

Also I see a lot of books that do this; however there are, interspersed between these, other scenes of other things related to the story but not to that specific part of the narrative that makes these jumps.

If these are all strung together with week gaps between each chapter then that could be jarring unless there was some explanation--such as, the characters in the story get together every two weeks for something exciting, then go back to mundane life. Still, even if that were so, I think it would work better to follow and develop characters with chapters between the weekly dead-spots.

It might seem like you were in a hurry to rush through the second book.
Maybe take a look at how well your particular time skips match the expectations you set for reader in this story. Is the pacing not matching what was “promised” to the reader in some way?

For example, did you set the stage for some very urgent problem, such that readers are now annoyed with your characters’ unhurried approach to solving it? Or on the end of the time spectrum, is it implied that character must wait a lengthy time, like a year for some important advancement, and weekly check-ins are just slowing the story in the meantime?
My opinion (informed by my wishes not someone else’s) is that it’s irrelevant.

What’s relevant is how you write. Countless books (and tv shows, for that matter) have weeks months or years between action sometimes.

If it doesn’t violate physics, and you’ve written it clearly, this is a reader’s issue not a writer’s one.

I often wonder who these readers are. Have they always existed? I can’t imagine these kinds of concerns existing (or at least being taken seriously) prior to the internet allowing everyone to air their thoughts on absolutely anything.

Bit grumpy, I know, but I do have a love/hate relationship with the craft of writing ;)
In RE: Clarity

Are you explicit in the time jumps, or do people have to infer it? Are you showing the effect of the time jumps (e.g. relationships changing) or just being like, It's Fast Travel and you skipped the boring bits!

The HOW is as important as the WHY.
I agree with most here that in and of itself, time skips are immaterial. Most of the books I've read that have them are ones that I have no problem with, and sometimes like immensely. What does ring my chimes negatively is when ther is a considerable gap of time or actions which are not accounted for and you are left to guess if 5 min. 5 weeks, or even 5 months have passed. I like clear markers when a period of time is skipped. I very much appreciate chapters headed "two weeks later" or some such.
I'm also okay when you make it clear that time has passed, even if it isn't explicit or exact, but it has to be intentional. End one chapter with something that implies the passage of time and then start the next with something that shows time has passed -- relationship has changed, tv show just ended, etc.

I'm even okay not knowing how long has passed, but a rough small/medium/long period.

Example: it'll be weeks to travel from A to B.
End of Chapter n: we're leaving!
Start of Chapter n+1: B came into view.

Explicit is good, but not every character/culture/person thinks of time in days or months -- Traveling in space, what is a "day" other than an agreed upon amount of time? Pre-calendar society, they have days, mid-day, night, equinox/moon phase, etc.

tldr: passage of time is fine so long as it's clear time has passed and roughly how much time has passed.
I agree with what's already been said and you said it yourself; If your readers noticed and said boo about it, then somethings up. Maybe asking them what specifically about the time jumps is jarring could be a start, or asking if after time skips if the narrator or a character took a moment to mention how much time had passed and why now is more important then the time that passed could help too? I'll be trying the latter myself, because I deal with some small time jumps in my own novel i'm working on.
Time jumps can be jarring for the reader if you don't handle transitions well ... or if you keep skipping them altogether.

Say you left off with a group of characters as they were starting a journey to a distant city at the end of one chapter, and now with the next chapter they are arriving at that city. Nothing of interest happened on the way, you didn't want to invent something just so that something would occur if it wouldn't even be relevant to the plot, you aren't a fan of big lumps of worldbuilding slowing things down, so you want to simply cut to the chase and show the party just as they reach the city gates.

Nevertheless, you could well afford a paragraph or so to smooth out the time jump, to provide an actual sense of time passing, and to give the destination a little more dimension than a stage backdrop that's been whisked into place at the last moment. Something like:

The weather had turned bad with snow and sleet and hail slowing their journey. Progress was difficult, with many stops along the way. But now, finally, they approached the city. Travellers had increased on the road. Ahead, a pall of coal smoke lay heavy on the horizon. And when they came to the gates, they found a long line of carts, horseback riders, and even pedestrians, waiting for admittance.

If you are already doing this sort of thing (although, one hopes, with more grace and skill than the above example produced off the top of my head), then I don't see that there is a problem. Or if there is, it's not the quality of the writing, as such, but the fact that skipping abruptly ahead so many times is a habit that has worn out its welcome with your readers.

If you've been consistently leaving out this sort of transition, then I suggest that you look at the beginnings of some of your chapters and devise something appropriate to your characters and their situation. Like I said, a simple paragraph or two should be enough to avoid jerking readers suddenly into a new situation, without slowing things down or boring them with too much worldbuilding.

On the other hand, if your characters haven't gone anywhere during the time gap, then, as HareBrain says, you don't want to give the impression that they've been in stasis all that time. Say they are waiting for someone else to arrive, or to receive news, before doing whatever comes next. Then you might write a few sentences describing their edgy impatience while they wait, or saying how anticipation makes the time seem to stretch on forever (or both). You might devote a sentence to some of the activities that fill their time, or how they break out into quarrels when the smallest things go wrong. If you choose the right details to describe, it will have the added advantage of revealing your character's personalities and filling out their backgrounds just a little.

The idea being that you use the transitions to do more than just smooth out the passage of time, but also to accomplish other important things. Sure, you might be planning to accomplish some of those same things in other ways later in the chapter, but this way you manage to do two or more things at the same time, briefly and effectively.
What the readers noticed was not necessarily how you handle time, but that your writing style changed between the first and second book. If the joy of a sequel is continuing the experience from the first novel, then changing stuff is going to screw with that.

Look at all the people who seemingly can't enjoy any of the later Dune novels because they are too different from the first, despite how well written they are.

I like when the author changes things up.
I only care if the skip cuts out something I would have like to read about. For example - a conversation that would pit two characters against each other in an interesting way happening off-page. A fantasy novel completely omitting any description of an important journey that would allow us a good look at the world. The most egregious was the Alaister Reynolds book in which a battle between humanoid pigs and deep-space adapted cyborgs for control of a mile-long starship happened entirely off the page!
I only care if the skip cuts out something I would have like to read about. For example - a conversation that would pit two characters against each other in an interesting way happening off-page. A fantasy novel completely omitting any description of an important journey that would allow us a good look at the world. The most egregious was the Alaister Reynolds book in which a battle between humanoid pigs and deep-space adapted cyborgs for control of a mile-long starship happened entirely off the page!
Oh, and see, I liked that! It wasn't the focus of the story and (it's been a minute since i read Revelation Ark) the stakes, characters and plot were personal and focused. The story was about why and what's next. I don't mind a Greek Chorus saying, A thing happened and the important part is the impact/outcome.

I dislike when an important character is killed off-page or when the story skips an important scene, shows the impact and then circles back to show the important scene. It rings false--like the author is stealing mystery and tension by forcing the reader to skip fulcrum point. Unearned, might be a good term. I'm blanking on a good example but I feel like it was a regular narrative technique employed in later seasons of Battlestar Gallactica

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