1. pseudonoma

    pseudonoma New Member

    Jan 27, 2020
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    Jumping from the past to the present

    Discussion in 'Novels' started by pseudonoma, Jan 27, 2020.

    Hi all,

    I have been working on a novel for a while now, and I always had the issue of how to tackle the following issue:

    I want to start my story (first 4-5 chapters) sometime in 1995 and then come to the present, i.e. 2020 and continue my story from there. What is the best approach to do this in a novel? What is the correct way to indicate that the first 5 chapters are in 1995 and then that we enter 2020? An important part is that I am writing in the 3rd person.

    A few solutions I am thinking about right now are:
    1. Clearly have one page before chapter one saying: 1995 and move forward with my first 5 chapters, then another page stating 2020 (or present) and continue my story, or
    2. Start my first chapter by saying clearly that the year was 1995 (i.e. "It was a warm summer in nineteen ninety five..." and then at chapter 6 "Twenty five years passed..." (this is just a very simple example)
    3. Use a prologue (even though I dislike this option - some readers tend to skip the prologue, and for my story it's very important)

    I am struggling to decide what is the best approach as I have not seen this in a book before. Any help would be appreciated or any actual book examples.

    Thanks in advance.
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2020
  2. Cilogical

    Cilogical Banned

    Oct 29, 2019
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    As a reader, I would prefer option 1.

    Or have the year as part of each chapter heading
    Chapter 2

    I don’t want to spend time guessing or working out where I’m supposed to be so the clearer it is the easier I find it to concentrate on the story itself.
    Fiender_, J.D. Ray and Richach like this.
  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

    Jul 5, 2010
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    California, US
    Option 1 works best for me as well.
  4. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

    Jul 24, 2017
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    The great white north.
    I would personally probably go with option 2. Having it in the prologue seems problematic and I'm not a huge fan of timestamps. Whatever you do, though, just make sure it's apparent to the reader to avoid confusion.
  5. Richach

    Richach Contributor Contributor

    May 21, 2019
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    Birmingham Uk
    I would go with option 1. Just be careful mentioning time so that you don't catch yourself out at some point.
  6. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

    Mar 7, 2013
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    I take it you won't be jumping back and forth BETWEEN these two time frames? You can't go wrong with titling the chapters or section with the time period. However, starting the chapter that begins the section in 2020 with some kind of introductory sentence or two wouldn't hurt either (as some people don't pay attention to Chapter headings much.) Take a bit of time to re-orient your reader.

    If it starts with a familiar character or setting 25 years later, just make sure the reader knows it's 25 years later. Best way to do this is to incorporate the change in the opening paragraph of the new section. Don't be afraid to make a big point of it—maybe detailing some of the changes, etc. Just a mention of the date can get missed and/or forgotten by the reader.

    Maybe the reader has forgotten the starting date was 1995, so a chapter heading or even a separate page with the new date on it might not be enough. Don't make them go back and do the math! I'd recommend being clear in the prose as well. It's 25 years down the road, and lots has changed. (Or hasn't changed, depending on your story.)
    Fiender_ and J.D. Ray like this.
  7. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody Comma (x5) Chameleon Contributor

    Feb 5, 2018
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    I'm sort of doing this in my story. I just wrote the 5 chapters from "the past" without any indication of the year (mine is set in a fantasy world). And then after those chapters, I began the 6th one with "18 years later". I'm still playing around with it tho, but for now, it's how I have it.
    Since you have specific dates in mind, what about beginning the chapter with something time specific. I can't remember the book I read in elementary school, but the author began it with the protagonists seeing Snow White in theaters and how he was excited because it was the first of it's kind (teacher had to explain when Snow White first came out... But we were kids. I'd imagine if you were writing for an adult audience, they'd get the reference, or at least know enough to look it up)
    jannert and J.D. Ray like this.
  8. J.D. Ray

    J.D. Ray Member Supporter Contributor

    Oct 15, 2018
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    Portland, Oregon, USA
    To echo what J.T. said above, are the years of particular importance? Can you disassociate your story from a particular time period, and make it just about the characters (and how many years have passed for them)? If so, do it and use option two. If the years are important, use option one. Readers (including myself) are forgetful, as @jannert suggested. Be explicit where you can.

    In my WIP, which involves a lot of time jumps, flashbacks, and other non-linear mechanisms, I put datelines in like this:
    May, 2285
    Marko Horvat watched the landscape go by as the train wound its way through Slovenian farmland outside Koper, listening idly to his traveling companions chatter away. He tried to focus on the farms, the river, and the hills that rolled by his window as they climbed out of the relatively lush valley into the drier, scrubbier forest that made up most of the Istrian upland. He did his best to meditate away the excitement he felt, and wished for a view of the sea, which always calmed his mood. So much careful planning had gone into this trip, and he couldn’t help but feel some sort of trepidation around finally undertaking it. The sun warmed the skin of his arm, and he rubbed an old scar that tingled in the heat, the result of a long-gone wound.
    Elsewhere, a character makes a diary entry, and that's very explicit:
    June 23, 1384 — If my reckoning is right, today marks the third year since we arrived, lost and without resources on Brijuni. As I look around our cozy apartment here in Rovinj, I can’t believe how short the eternity has been by the calendar, and how far home is by the same measure.

    But if your story is a prelude (different than a prologue) followed by a linear story, I'd try reducing the call-out to starting the second part with "Twenty-five years had passed..." and go from there.
  9. Bentley

    Bentley Member

    Dec 10, 2019
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    Option 1 is a good way to go. But the most important thing to consider, is being consistent. Pick one and stick with it.
    J.D. Ray likes this.
  10. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

    Sep 30, 2015
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    Option 1 seems to be the standard way to break up sections in time or space.
  11. Fiender_

    Fiender_ Active Member

    Jul 25, 2017
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    As long as you're not jumping back and forth, I think #2 is the best. Readers generally understand to progression of time and will grasp that the story has performed a time jump forward if you make it very clear. It might also help if the 1995 chapters reference whatever the big starting point of the 2020 section will be. Like, "we won't be able to pay off our debt for 25 years" or "My brother has a contract and won't be free to return to the family business until 2020". This could prepare the reader for the time skip before it happens.

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