How to Manage Time in Your Novel’s Plot

When you write a story, you have time passing, whether it’s just a few moments, a few hours, or a few days. Frequently, you have events happening that require you to stick to a particular time table, and if that time table isn’t included in the story, readers can object to the plot, feeling that it isn’t realistic or that something is missing.

Say you have two characters who just met. How much time needs to pass before they believable feel a certain way about each other? Logically, you can’t expect them to be ready to defy danger and sacrifice a lot if they hardly know each other, but how can you give the impression of time passing without bogging down your plot?

Providing a Strong Foundation before the Time Jump. If you provide a rich platform in the scene that forms Point A, it will help you jump to Point B more believable—whether it shows a lot of potential for romance, for fighting, for uncertainty, or whatever it is that builds and grows between the beginning and when you next pick up the story.

Showing the Highlights. Obviously, you can show exactly how the characters go from new acquaintances to a couple, with every date, every look, every gesture included, but this is bound to get tedious. However, if you highlight their feelings by selecting certain things that represent the overall process—perhaps including a pivotal date scene where they go from “liking” to “serious about each other”—you can connect the dots for readers and give them a feeling that they aren’t missing any links.

This works just as well if you’re dealing with different kinds of relationships. If two friends are becoming enemies or two enemies are learning to trust each other, you need time to pass. If you just show Point A and Point B without any of the points in between, readers will feel a bit jerked around.

Incorporating the Relationship/Growth into the Plot. Obviously, if you can meld the plot and the timeline at the same times, it will make it seem like time passes just fine, but that’s not always possible. Sometimes, you need things to move along before you can “seriously move on” to certain elements of the plot.

However, you might explore backing things up and separating the story into components. For example, the story where two friends become enemies might need to be explored in a story by itself, to where you turn what could be one book into two or separate the book into sections—the falling apart portion followed by whatever “required them to be at a certain place.”

Sprinkling the Content in Other Scenes. You can give the impression of time passing by including references to “time passing” in other scenes. For example, if you have Point A and Point B, with an indication at the beginning of Point B that “two weeks passed,” you could give readers evidence of the time spent in between the points by the way the characters reference what happened in between. For example, one of the characters might bring coffee for the other and they note how this has happened for a long time, ever since “Point A.” You could also orchestrate the second scene to contrast with the first scene, to where we can see just how things have changed by how different the characters are (provided the difference isn’t too great to be “swallowed”).


Whether you have a major event happening at the beginning of the character’s life and then need to jump a few years or just have a boring few hours, time jumps are going to happen, and you can make them work just fine if you spend the time considering how you handle them and giving the readers enough information to make sure they feel like they’re getting the “complete story” instead of being expected to jump all over the place.

Happy Writing!

Copyright 2019 Andrea Lundgren

Image courtesy of Gratisography

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