It's got me thinking about what I like and dislike when it comes to how much time a story covers and how the author handles that time. But honestly, I'm not really sure what I like because I feel like I prefer short periods of time, but then I think of examples of books I LOVED that had long periods of time, including the aforementioned 600-year one.
And time skips themselves come all different flavors---there are some that smoothly slide into the story, some that bisect the story into different parts, and others still that... I don't know, do a little jig before settling in? (I could only think of the two kinds, but the sentence sounded better with three parts.)
So is there even a "good" or "best" way of doing things? Is there one way that's more commonly accepted than others? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I'd like to find out what everyone else thinks!
Length of Time Skipped
I think we can all agree that skipping a few days, if they’re uneventful, is always acceptable. For the most part, even a few weeks to a month seems generally acceptable if nothing important happens. But what about when it starts getting longer than a month? Obviously the longer the length of time, the more the reader has missed. And after a long period of time, a character can have changed drastically, which can be difficult to grasp as a reader.
Types of Time Skips
From what I’ve noticed, there seems to be two different types. There’s the type that’s subtly integrated into the story, just kind of casually mentioning how much time has passed and, if necessary, what took place during that time. For example, a character may have spent a month training to fight. For another example, the characters were just going about their daily lives, but two characters started spending more time together or drifting apart. I find these work well enough when done right.
Then there’s the type that stops the story and makes no attempt to be subtle. It picks back up in a new chapter/section/part and tells you what the current setting is. For example, Part 1 will take place, then it’ll stop, and Part 2 of the book will pick back up five years later. These are more blunt, which can pull me out of the story, but they can also be less disorienting and more straightforward with information.
The Amount of Time Skips
I’m sure we’ve all read books that took place over the course of just a few days and therefore didn’t require time skips. And I would say most books don’t require that many. But what about books that span an entire year? A person’s lifetime? Even hundreds of years? Those obviously require a lot of skips, but that can leave the reader feeling distant if there’s not enough one-on-one, in-the-moment time spent getting to know the characters.
My General Thoughts
I suppose they all have their pros and cons, but I still feel like I prefer shorter periods of time in which I get to know as much as possible about everything happening to the characters. Then again, every single event in a story can’t always happen one day after the other, and it wouldn’t be any fun to read about the characters eating lunch and watching TV and brushing their teeth for four days. Even a blunt, x-number-of-years time skip can work if it’s necessary and done well, but that’s a bit hit or miss as it can leave me feeling like I don’t know the characters anymore if not done well. Too many time skips is always a miss for me though because it definitely leaves me feeling detached.