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How to show and not tell a passing of time


My protagonist met a character in the last chapter to begin a journey together. I want to show that three weeks have passed between chapters without saying 'three weeks had passed'...

Any suggestions?


toujours gai, archie
First, why do you want that?

But let's presume there's some necessity. How soon do you want to say it? Right away in the very next scene? Some time later? When does it become necessary for the characters to know and say aloud that three weeks have passed?

In addition, has the previous date been set? That is, in the last chapter, did someone say today is May twelfth, or something like it? Someone could say, we need to reach X before the Summerfest. In the next chapter you could say Summerfest had come and gone, but our heroes were still on the road. Or they arrived in the nick of time. Or whatever. But without establishing the first temporal position, it's going to be hard to communicate how long till the next.

Also, why three weeks? Why not a month? Or twenty days? Or a fortnight? Or four nundinae? <g>
I’ve read many books that are split into parts, so there is often a sense of an ending before the next part begins, and that next part might be set ahead of time in the future, or in the past. Conversely, you could just start the next chapter or break with a new time period, but I’d say you’d still have to give the reader a sense of an ending with the last bit of writing, perhaps a culmination of action, a death scene or something else cataclysmic like the ending of the world. You get the idea.


Myth Weaver
One of the characters grows a beard. Or he laments his increasingly slender coin pouch. Or how they endured three storms.


Article Team
There's nothing wrong will telling. Every story has parts where you tell. It's about knowing when to show and when to tell and figuring out how to mix the two so they flow naturally into one another.

Specific to your issue, there are many ways to do it. It's just basically about segueing from one point in time to the other naturally.

One approach is you end the chapter with them setting off together, and then, you start the next chapter three weeks later with them on their journey someplace else. There's nothing wrong with stating in the text or implying it via cues like skip described.

You can also write a short summary of the three weeks and use that as the segue. You can do something like this.

Bill and Bob headed down the road. Where they were heading, they weren't sure, but it didn't matter. They were always in good company. In all the passing days, they were constantly laughing. They laughed when Bob stumbled on the uneven road. They laughed when Bill took a piss on a bush, not realizing another traveller was sleeping behind it. Though, they didn't laugh when a bear crept into their camp at night and ate their food while they quivered in their bedrolls. But once it left, they laughed. They laughed and laughed and before they even realized, three weeks had passed, and they found themselves in the town of Centralia

And then you can start into the next scene.
As the others said, nothing wrong with simply saying "three weeks passed".

How important is it that the reader knows that exactly 3 weeks passed?

If it isn't important at all, then you can just handwave it. The characters leave on their journey at the end of chapter X. They get to a destination at the start of chapter Y. Time has passed. Readers will assume time has passed. It's just unknown how much time has passed to anyone but the writer.

If it is important because they need to get to Y before a certain event happens in 3 weeks exactly, and the reader knows this then just have them arrive before the certain event happens. Chapter X ends with them mentioning they need to get to Y before the start of harvest. At the start of the next chapter they arrive in Y and tomorrow harvest starts.

Otherwise, indeed, summarize what happened on their journey and include times that took. Though that's still telling, just in more words.


Myth Weaver
There are several places in my story where time jumps ahead. I find I just put it right in the opening of the section where it jumps. A simple line like, 'It had been three weeks since she met with....'. Otherwise, the reader will be lost, and when it comes out, readers may be like....what...now I have to read that again.

In a recent book. I had something happen way in the past, and my first alpha reader completely missed it. I thought the clues were there, cause for two book I had fairly well stated that events of the past had happened, and so, when they were shown to be happening, I thought that would be enough to clue them in to ....these are those past events. Now I am wondering if I should not leave it to be inferred.

As an extension of my comments. I am also a believer that its not bad to have some places where the time is vague. Did that take two days or three? It makes lining up the story events easier, and helps prevent impossible travel. Specially if there is more than one character having scenes in the story. If one takes three days to get to the mountains, than the other one cant get there in one, kind of thing.


You could mention a change in the weather or the vegetation ("Even the early mornings were warm now", "All the blossoms had been replaced by green leaves"), or the phases of the moon ("Gnarth looked up at the moon, now in its third quarter").

Ned Marcus

I think it's fine to just say it. Starting the next paragraph with three weeks later... seems totally normal to me. I wouldn't notice it if I was reading. It's just like saying he said or she said.


I think it's fine to just say it. Starting the next paragraph with three weeks later... seems totally normal to me. I wouldn't notice it if I was reading. It's just like saying he said or she said.
By the time I read this post, 16 minutes had gone by.


There is another way, which I have seen done and used myself a couple of times. It's a technique used in the cinema- more and more lately it seems to me. It's called flashback. In other words, in your next chapter, you describe where the characters are after three weeks. As much description as you can manage, especially how tired and footsore they are, or how changed from the way they were when the journey started. Then one or the other starts to remember what had happened, eg-'They had been relative strangers as they set out, and it had seemed that each new day revealed more of what sort of person each was. Danger and hard work were the best ways to know someone (one of the characters thinks), remembering that flood on the second day when it had seemed as though their journey was over before it began...' Note the way imperfect and past tenses can be combined in each sentence to give a feeling of remembering each separate happening. There are lots of ways to do this, depending on your main pov- one character remembers, or both do, or they go into one of those 'Remember when that rockfall nearly wiped out the path?' As much detail as you please, of course- it could be a long memory or just the memorable high points.


Still just waiting to see if the OP responds to any of these posts.
Hello, sorry - please don't think that i'm ignoring the comments. I am extremely busy at the moment and wanted to sit down and give the comments the attention they deserve when I have sufficient time rather than rush them. I will get back to you asap


toujours gai, archie
>I am extremely busy at the moment
Thanks for taking the time to reply. I posted my mildly snarky comment because we very often see people post a question and never follow up. It irks me to see Scribes taking the time and trouble to write thoughtful responses with nary an acknowledgment. As long as you're checking and involved, we'll all wait. Plenty of other threads to farm! <g>