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Managing the Passage of Years

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Babayaga321, Nov 1, 2019.

  1. Babayaga321

    Babayaga321 Acolyte

    Hi all... I'm just returning to a novel I have pretty-much half completed and have a question about how best to deal with the passage of time? My protagonist is an 11 year-old girl, daughter of the previous ruler of the World, who was spirited away to safety as a baby by a trusted witch as the ruler's palace was sacked by the evil host. The child was kept hidden with adoptive parents and has now been retrieved by the witch who intends to teach her how to use the secret powers she will ultimately be able to use. I was thinking of having her learn her skills over 7 years and then she eventually passes her tests when she is 18. At this point she would be ready to use her powers and skills to fulfill her destiny. I've written the beginning and the ends but am struggling with how to deal with this potential 7 year 'slot' in the middle of the book. Has anyone else had to do this? Assistance would be appreciated of course! :)
    CelestialGrace likes this.
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    One way would be to start the novel when she's eighteen. You could make references to her training and her early childhood. Memories, maybe even nightmares, but without the need to chronicle or to summarize.

    As for summarizing, that can be anything from devoting whole chapters to just paragraphs or even sentences. One thing you might try is to write the narrative just for yourself. Try summarizing her entire childhood in a single paragraph. Hey, you just did that, above! Yay!

    OK, then expand that to a page or two. The one paragraph summary doesn't give us any details save that she was learning skills from age eleven to eighteen, and that a witch tutored her. What were three key events in that learning? What were the big setbacks or failures? In the summary, you just identify them, with maybe a sentence as to what each meant to your MC.

    Then you can write a longer summary, in which you actually describe those key events. A further expansion might add some humorous events, friends made (and lost) along the way--this is the age for making and losing friends. And so on.

    Somewhere in there, you'll gain your own sense of how much needs to go into the story itself, and how much can remain as author background. Especially if this is your first novel, making these kind of judgments is *really* difficult. Just like with learning magic, the only way to learn is in the doing.
    CelestialGrace and Babayaga321 like this.
  3. Babayaga321

    Babayaga321 Acolyte

    Firstly, thanks for the prompt reply! :)

    I was actually thinking of doing something similar to this, using dreams / retelling of memories to fill in some of the gaps. I have another novel in the series with a different MC who has already experienced two dream sequences-- in this case he has lost his memory. However; my MC here knows all the details of what she's been doing during the preceding years, I just need to make sure the reader learns about this as well.

    I'll take a crack at what you're suggesting here and see how it pans out. :)
  4. The difficulty with answering this is that pretty much everything is possible. You could start the story when she's 18 or you could write 7 books to cover the 7 years that passed or something in between those options. It really depends on the book(s) and what's happening in them.

    If nothing happens in between then you have to ask yourself how important the part where she's 11 actually is to the story. Does the story really start there or is it just backstory and world building? You should in this case definitely consider either turning the time when she was 11 into either a prologue or skipping it altogether and just weave it in as backstory.

    The other extreme is basically Harry Potter. Book 1 starts of with him being orphaned and left at his relatives home. Book 7 is basically the climax of the tale where he faces off vs Voldemort. However, the bits in between were interesting enough to get complete books (well, except for parts in books 5, 6 and 7, but that's a personal opinion...). So, Rowling has written complete books about those years.

    If the part where she's 11 is crucial and covers half the book you could consider "splitting" the book in 2 parts. This doesn't actually have to be a physically split. But just have "Part 1; 11 years old" and "Part 2; 18 years old". Or just start a new chapter with a couple of lines about the stuff in between. If it's only boring stuff in between, go for short: "at her 18th birthday the witch showed up and..." If lots of important stuff happens in between dedicate one or two paragraphs to what happens: "For the next couple of years she lived in relative peace at her foster parents. She battled some ninja's when she was 14 and met an interesting guy when she was 16 ... " That sort of thing.
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  5. CelestialGrace

    CelestialGrace Minstrel

    I'm working on a comic and as part of it the MC undergoes a period of intense training which will take several years. Obviously I will want to reference some of that - but I don't want several years of training to be detailed moment-by-moment 'cause that would bore everyone. So I'm using highlights, flashback sequences, plus she travels through time and realms, so she will occassionally step out of the noew to go back to training. The training montage is important, which is why I'm including it and not picking up the story several years after we are first introduced to her. Stepping between the realms also allows me to have her undergo her training in the past, while setting up a current life in the now; so that the story doesn't halt for several years.
  6. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Inkling

    If you have significant events take place during that time, such as showing her acquire new skills or knowledge, it may be good to have in the story. Perhaps create an event during the time period to demonstrate their new abilities or level of power. This can be done by jumping to those times by having the date as the first line in the chapter, in a type of Law and Order style. Maybe the characters travel to different locations during this time for certain aspects of the training. You could even create an unique method of training for a particular skill to showcase its importance. This jumping can help the reader feel like they have been part of the characters growth and not simple seeing their before and after.
  7. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

    I think an interesting way to approach this is to introduce the character when she is about to undertake her final test/skills acquisition, so not quite age 18.

    What this "test" actually is will be up to you, but I suggest something VERY complex: like a magic-infused "puzzle room" challenge only stretched across miles of remote wilderness with varied terrain. That way, the character could naturally reminisce and reference back to all of her childhood training because it would actually be necessary to complete the challenge.

    Whether the witch is with her or not for guidance/clues ( or at minimum survival monitoring ) would also allow for more conversation about her past, but that may not be necessary if you either have the character talking aloud, or let the reader know what she's thinking internally. Maybe she's given a book of clues and tasks and the witch will be waiting for her at the end, should she get as all of the tasks done and interpreted all the clues correctly.

    For example, (not the best but work with me) maybe she has to combine two lesser skills, like physical balance and levitation, to walk on water (not swim because maybe hyperthermia is a risk, or the challenge stipulates no boats, no swimming) into the middle of a lake to retrieve the clue/object for the next challenge. If she never tried to walk on water before, she could maybe remind herself about how she figured out how to balance on a thimble when she was seven and bored, and later when she learned to splash around in rain puddles without actually getting wet and muddy. Magically combining these two seemingly trivial childhood abilities adds up to a truly impressive feat.

    You could write about actions as they are happening (with or without a second character to bounce ideas off of for her to figure out the clues and complete the challenges) all without huge awkward blocks of info-dumping. And because there is action and plot happening, the reader gets infomation about her past in contextually relevant ways. There's wiggle room to add in comedy, danger, nostalgia, etc.

    At the end of all of this, she is at your age requirement, completed her training to the witch's satisfaction, etc. If her origin story has to be secret to strangers around her (she's actually a princess, etc.) then you can either 1. write this portion knowing full well who she is, trying to keep it a secret or 2. Not knowing who she is, and the witch reveals everything on her 18th birthday after completing the challenges. Between the two, I'd prefer writing the first scenario because while she technically knows her origin, she may not fully understand all the weight and future implications.

    She could maybe fantasize about what could have been an alternate childhood: raised by her biological parents, living as a princess in a castle, etc. It doesn't mean that her foster parents were bad or that childhood was adverse, but I think there would be some natural curiousity and 'what if's' she could explore inwardly; allowing further details for the reader. Especially if the witch knew her biological parents very well, the witch could also speculate on the 'what could have been'.

    I think that this approach would allow for plenty of material to explore and fill out your "point A to point C" rather nicely.
  8. If you want a well written example that does exactly this, you could check out "Pyramids" by Terry Pratchett. The book itself isn't his best (in my opinion), so don't read it for that. But the book starts with the protagonist starting his exam to become a fully trained assassin. We follow him around, and as he moves through the challenges, we have flashbacks about his training period. An important part why this works for me is that the flashback episodes related directly to the action happening.
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