Time gaps: How does it affect the flow of a story?

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Time gaps: How does it affect the flow of a story?

#1 Post by Ezmar » Tue Jan 09, 2018 8:22 am

I'm working on a story, and in the interest of brevity, I'll say I want the first chapter to end at a specific date, which gives it a span of 10-11 days. Now, one of the major influences on the concept is Steins;Gate, which details the events of every day, no skips or gaps. However, by the time Steins;Gate has hit 10-11 days, it's already chapter 4 or 5. A similar amount of information density in my story would, quite frankly, be extremely slow.

So I'd like to ask about the value of not skipping time. What does a story gain by detailing an unbroken chain of events as opposed to simply key moments. Would it be worth it to sacrifice some things here and there to make the time span shorter so I can detail each day? What does the narrative lose by incorporating stretches of "glossed over" time?

I'm in the stage where things are a bit malleable yet in this respect. My gut tells me that time skips fit a slice of life type story a bit more naturally, but if I want to try to commit to showing every day, then I may want to do some major restructuring, such as expanding the Prologue I've written into several chapters. This would affect the pacing a bit, but it would be doable. The question is: is it worth it?

I know this is a subtle thing, but I think it can affect the feel of a story in a major way. A montage here and there is one thing, but frequently skipping ahead to when the "next thing" happens may disrupt the reader's flow of time a bit.

I guess I can add more detail if it becomes relevant to the discussion. It's a bit of a bother to go into too much right now, as I'm on my phone. So thoughts? Suggestions?

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Re: Time gaps: How does it affect the flow of a story?

#2 Post by Westeford » Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:42 am

I'm still thinking over this question myself, but here's what I think.
The first chapter establishes the protagonist and the world they live in. You might show the protagonist's morning routine, but you'll probably not detail it everyday unless there's a good reason, like one day his morning routine gets interrupted by stampeding cows.
The first chapter will also be used to establish the main supporting cast. Like the MC's co-workers, friends, family. At least the ones relevant so far.
Every scene should serve a purpose. Whether it's to advance the main plot, to establish character traits, world building, establishing existing relationships, foreshadowing, etc. The tricky part is making each scene seem natural. Basically, there's a reason for each scene, an in universe reason and a story reason. When outlining, you should plan for the main scenes, then fill the gap with scenes with other purposes. But you probably don't want to tell everything right away. I think it's appropriate to use time skips if literally nothing new will happen. It's like when you tell a friend a story, you're going to skip the parts that are boring or serve no purpose.
You also might want to think about the purpose of spending 10 in-game days in the first chapter. Do we need to know what happens in each of those days? If not then you might want to consider cutting down the number. Is a specific date important? Then maybe the beginning of the story could start closer to that date.
The first act of any story will be the slowest due to all the setup necessary. You'll probably spend the most time on the first few days of the story setting up.
Anyway that's what I think. Like I said, I'm trying to figure out something similar. I hope my ramblings could be useful.

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Re: Time gaps: How does it affect the flow of a story?

#3 Post by Ezmar » Wed Jan 10, 2018 12:48 pm

Yeah, without going into too much detail, the first day of the story is North American DST, which given the events of the prologue, puts the end of the prologue at the latest 10 days before the end of March/the beginning of April. I'd really like to work April 1st in there somehow, but I'll be doing some restructuring in any case at some point. I do have a time skip in the prologue where I skip a week, I suppose I could just make that two weeks and it would fit better.

All that said, what started as a prologue has sort of become the first chapter in function. I'm mostly writing to solidify the ideas I've had floating around, so I'm focusing on getting a well paced story written, while not straying from what I'd like the end result to look like. Basically seeing if there's a way to make things happen the way I want them to.

I'm probably going to err on the side of brevity, since it's easier to add more writing than to decide what excess to trim. Also less work to rewrite/rework sections if there's less writing. The "prologue" is at 23,000 words, so it's not exactly too scant at this point.

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Re: Time gaps: How does it affect the flow of a story?

#4 Post by Katy133 » Thu Jan 11, 2018 10:22 pm

For me, I'll follow the rules of conservation of detail and "only show the important bits" (because I like brevity).

You can even be creative and use time skips to add comedy.

I'll use my all-time favourite transition, ever. It's from the TV series Jeeves & Wooster:
(Scene set-up: Bertie Wooster, from a theatre balcony, is watching a live musical. Unfortunately, Bertie's friend climbs from the balcony, onto the stage, because he recognises his long-lost girlfriend onstage.)
Biffy: "Mabel! I've been looking everywhere for you!"
(This causes some stage props to bump into part of the stage backdrop, which causes the whole backdrop to start falling.)
(Camera cuts to: The stage backdrop is about to fall on the audience. They're comically screaming.)
(Cut to: A point-of-view shot from an audience member, showing the stage backdrop falling straight towards the camera. Right before it connects and smashes the lens, we cut to...)
(Cut to: Bertie sitting up in bed, with a drink in his hands, talking to his valet/butler, Jeeves. Judging from the sunlight, it's the next morning.)

Bertie: "--And it fell right across the orchestra pit!"
Here's the scene. The time-stamp you need to skip to is 44:38

This is funny because, even though we don't see what happened, nor the events that happened between the fall and Bertie talking to Jeeves, we can figure out exactly what happened. We have to use our imagination to fill in the gaps, and what we picture is funny.

Another way you can show a passage of time in a comedic way is with jump cuts. This is a series of jump cuts from The Iron Giant:

Jump cuts are achieved through location shifts, time of day shifts, and character location shifts. You can achieve these effects in a visual novel by instantly changing the background (or changing the lighting of the same background--for example, from day to night) and changing the position of the characters.

Another way is to use a Gilligan cut. It follows this basic formula:
Bob: "We are not going to the theatre!"
Alice: "But--!"
Bob: "No! We are not going, and that's final!"
(Cut to: Bob and Alice at the theatre.)
Again, you don't see the events between the cut, but you know what happened.

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Re: Time gaps: How does it affect the flow of a story?

#5 Post by Mammon » Fri Jan 12, 2018 6:26 am

The question whether you want to make your story verbose or too paced. A good question, one I usually answer in my own projects by going for verbose. Is it the right choice? Sometimes and maybe. Some stories work well if you just skip over a lot of stuff that people can already imagine, and in others it doesn't. In a shojo for example, despite people being well aware of the thropes and cliches, rushing a new transformation, a fight or a training scene will not carry the weight and seriousness that the action needs to be the importance that the author wants. In a hollywood movie however, a training montage to skip to a more powerful and capable MC is needed because it will otherwise drag out too long and be too boring. And that's just a very overgeneralised and easy example.

If there were to be a significant factor that always applies, it's the author themselves. If you believe that the filler scenes carry weight or importance, or believe that they can be skipped, that's the answer. Otherwise you'll end up with disappointed readers because the climax carried no weight or because there were so many uninspired and dull scenes in between the real story. But there's the matter of capability as well. Any story can be good, if done well. Take for example anime and US series in general. Assuming both to be 12 episodes, there are anime that can feel boring and dragging on forever with only 20min/ep while the US series hvae 50-60minutes/ep that don't drag on. Or the US series can still be confusing and without a properly established or hyped up conclusion while the anime managed to do so in only a third of the time.

It's all a matter of what you can do, if you can do it well, and if the story needs it. Like Westeford already said, every scene should be relevant. But how to define what this value should be? In a slice of life, isn't every scene by default actually pointless and thus to be scrapped? (Not a literal example.) Sometimes, a scene is important because it's a scene between two scenes that merely serves to cool down the plot and establish the time skip, and that's fine. I myself usually determine whether a scene is neede simply by whether I want to write it and if I have something to write in it. I'll of course have to correct the pacing so it won't be all over the place once I'm done, but having a few scenes that only serve to re-establish what's already said or to define the character of the LI's further is enough value.

One last tip: NEVER take commercial japanese visual novels as the model for what your scene's pacing should be. The writers there are paid per word and can do something called 'skygazing'. This can sometimes literally spend an entire scene describing clouds as they're watching at the sky. They're sooooo slow and verbose, don't take them as inspiration.

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Re: Time gaps: How does it affect the flow of a story?

#6 Post by Zelan » Sat Feb 10, 2018 8:36 pm

Westeford wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:42 am
It's like when you tell a friend a story, you're going to skip the parts that are boring or serve no purpose.
I've never thought of it in these words before, but this is pure brilliance.

To add a bit of my own opinion, I think it partially depends on your story. Slice-of-life is typically a slow-paced genre, because it is meant to depict a potentially realistic situation. And, for most people, things don't happen to them all at once; the events are spaced out.

However, sometimes people are unlucky enough to have a lot of misfortune all at once. For example: Maybe your protagonist loses their job, and the new one that they get to replace is has less pay and longer hours. This additional stress, combined with less time at home, causes them to break up with their partner. It also happens to be flu season, so the protagonist falls ill, but now that their partner's income is gone and they have nothing to fall back on, they can't afford to stop working. This means that they only get sicker and sicker. Things are looking pretty grim... oh, their dog's dead, too, by the way.

You have to be careful that something like this doesn't end up being too much, though, or your audience will be tired of reading about someone who just has so much dang bad luck. In my opinion, the best way to make sure it's not too much is to make sure all of the events are justified, maybe stemming from the same original event. For what I mean, I would cut the dog's death out of the example above. All of the protagonist's other problems were direct consequences of the protagonist losing their job. The dog was just an extra thing to kick the protagonist while they're down, not really related to any of the other drama going on in their life.

You could also do the opposite and have lots of things go right all at once, but this would mean your story has no conflict; the only purpose that I can think of for doing this would be to knock the protagonist off their high horse later.

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