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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I really don't have much of an opinion about when a book jumps time, as in: 2 days earlier, 1 year earlier, etc. However, when it is too frequent I tend to lose interest.

Never thought I'd use the mechanism, but now have an opportunity.

Wanted to gather some opinions before I commit.
 

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It can be jarring, but I think it's much like changes of point of view. If it's clear that it's done for a reason, and consistently, it's easier to take as a reader. In "Phoenix", Deon Meyer does it very well - every second chapter is about a decade earlier, so that the book rocks back and forth between the present and the past, and each chapter in the relevant time follows on the previous one, if that makes sense. If there are many changes, it would need to be something regular like that, so that I'm not left hunting around for when it's supposed to be.

Over in the reader's board I asked how people felt about time indications in chapters and sections. For myself, I often ignore them and rely on the writer to cue me in on when something is happening. I don't like having to glance up at the chapter heading to orient myself.  But several people said they found those sorts of things essential.

You know -- "Two days later" or "June 22, 1954" or whatever.

In my own writing I try to be very careful not to jump around too much. Can be tough if you have parallel story lines going and you need to jump backward to show what has been happening "in the mean time".

 

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Masha du Toit said:
You know -- "Two days later" or "June 22, 1954" or whatever.

In my own writing I try to be very careful not to jump around too much. Can be tough if you have parallel story lines going and you need to jump backward to show what has been happening "in the mean time".
yes! at one time i considered it clunky and boring to use these information lines, but i now believe they are essential. especially for ebooks, where you don't often have formatting clues.
 

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In general, I'm partial to stories which plop you at or near the end, tease you a little with what's to come, and cycle back to the background story. Maybe I just saw Sunset Boulevard a few too many times as a youngster.

When there's frequent jumping, I'd agree with Marsha that consistency and purpose are critical to making it work effectively. Sometimes a story works better and is more intriguing when backstory is revealed progressively as the plot thickens. So long as the author helps me keep track of where I am and is using the mechanism to keep me at the edge of my seat, rather than in the dark, jumping in time can be an enjoyable ride.
 

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It's not a problem as long as it's obvious, and disclosed.

I tried reading a book once and every section was, apparently, a different person and/or a different time. . . . It was confusing and the writing wasn't good enough to make me want to stick with it. I'd probably not have been half as confused if there'd been a short "Martha, June 10 in the morning" or "John, April 8 at noon" or something at the start of each chapter.

OTOH, I've read books structured the same way but the writing was such that you knew within a couple of lines specifically which person and/or time period you were reading about. Better writing made it not confusing at all.
 

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i only recently realized that all of the scene breaks/spaces close during formatting. i do a LOT of cutting back and forth between characters and locations, sometimes within a single chapter. i don't know how any reader could have possibly known what the hell was going on. just spent a couple of weeks going through everything to add these: * * *
 

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Depends on the story. If it fits the story-like the listing of months in New Moon-then it's fine. If it's there's no apparent reason for it, not so fine.

Speaking as someone who's written time jumpers… (My short story "Romeo & Jillian" is perhaps the worst offender.)
 

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I also think it depends on why you are using the time jump. I have seen plenty of bad reviews on books from readers who felt that an author "cheated" by using a time jump to get out of a sticky plot section.

I've read plenty of well-written novels with time jumps that didn't bother me at all. I've also read a few that were clunky. I think the author was just using time jumps in lieu of well-written transitions.
 

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It depends on how it`s done. Two great examples of it used well are Stephen King`s It, which is told in two different time frames, and Audrey Neffinegger`s The Time Traveler`s Wife, which jumps around all over the place. When I first heard about that book, I thought telling the story in a strange order would be just a gimick (like Pulp Fiction) but it`s integral to the story.
 

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Brian Spangler said:
I really don't have much of an opinion about when a book jumps time, as in: 2 days earlier, 1 year earlier, etc. However, when it is too frequent I tend to lose interest.

Never thought I'd use the mechanism, but now have an opportunity.

Wanted to gather some opinions before I commit.
Do you mean a jump in time or a flashback? Your description of "2 days earlier" would be a flashback.

A flashback better have a good reason imo. I will tolerate them ONLY if they have a good reason.

If you just mean putting at the start of a scene or chapter when it is taking place, I do it on pretty much every chapter and get a lot of comments saying thanks for doing that. It might be more accepted in historical fiction though.

ETA: If you are talking about going forward in time, why not? It would be silly and bad story telling to describe in detail a period of time when nothing interesting happened. Should I describe every time they make coffee (or drink a mug of ale) and go to the potty and sleep while the reader waits for something interesting to happen?
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
JRTomlin said:
Do you mean a jump in time or a flashback? Your description of "2 days earlier" would be a flashback.

A flashback better have a good reason imo. I will tolerate them ONLY if they have a good reason.

If you just mean putting at the start of a scene or chapter when it is taking place, I do it on pretty much every chapter and get a lot of comments saying thanks for doing that. It might be more accepted in historical fiction though.

ETA: If you are talking about going forward in time, why not? It would be silly and bad story telling to describe in detail a period of time when nothing interesting happened. Should I describe every time they make coffee (or drink a mug of ale) and go to the potty and sleep while the reader waits for something interesting to happen?
In my case I have an event and the want to jump back to an earlier time and build the backstory that leads to the event. Quite a few shows do it. Shows like Lost were more about backstories which is a little different.
 
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