Time Transitions in Fiction

Time passes in our stories, but communicating that to readers can be tricky.

Not acknowledging the passage of time can leave readers confused about “when” they are in the story.

But bogging down your narrative with every blessed minute of a character’s life is a freight train to Dullsville.

How do you help your readers follow the timing of your story?

First, create a timeline of events. You can do this before or after your first draft, depending on whether you’re a pantser or plotter.

I can’t stress the importance of this enough if you’re including flashback scenes or your novel plays with time in more complicated ways.

Think about ways to show the passage of time.

1. If your novel hops around to different time zones and there’s lots of action to track, or a race against the clock, consider a time marker at the beginning of the chapter.

Thursday, 2:27 p.m.

2. Use a simple phrase to cue the reader into the passage of time:

two weeks later

an hour ago

next month

3. Use setting to show the passage of time: day to day.

A sunrise cues the readers that it’s morning. Stars out show it’s night.

4. Use setting to show the passage of time: seasonally.

Snow falling in a scene is a different cue than sweating poolside. Set your scene with appropriate seasonal weather (or complementary character clothing) to show readers that time has passed.

Be sure to build in time-passage cues to make your reader’s experience enjoyable.