You may know when your novel starts and when it ends. In fact, you should have a clear understanding of how much time is passing in your novel. Does it occur over a summer vacation? During a weekend? Within 24 hours? Do several years pass?
If you want to pace your novel appropriately, you need to know how much time passes. But how much does the reader need to know? And how do you signal to your reader that time is passing without it becoming cumbersome?
It is equally as important for the reader to understand that time is passing as it is for you. But you don’t want to progress time in a way that detracts from the story. You don’t want to show time progressing too often, or too obviously. It should aid the reader without becoming overbearing. By reading a few novels with the purpose of studying how time progresses, I’ve compiled a list of THIRTEEN ways to progress time.
10+ Ways to Progress Time in Your Novel
How to Progress Time
- Progress time with events that will happen.
- Use holidays to show time progressing.
- Show time progressing with events that happened in the past.
- Progress time with phrases such as “later that night,” “the next day,” “after lunch,” or “after a while.”
- Summarize the events of days, weeks, or months if they are routine.
- Use chapters to progress location and time.
- Don’t worry about always explaining how much time has passed. Occasionally, just let it pass.
- Use space or dingbats to progress time.
- State the exact time something happens.
- Use a method of progressing time in the middle of a paragraph.
- Use the weather to show time progressing.
- Tell the duration of an event.
- Use dialogue to progress time.
Some of these methods may seem more obvious or cumbersome than others. Those can be used sparingly. Sometimes they are necessary. If you only use one or two of the methods, the reader will know how much time is passing, but they will be more aware of how you are making time pass. Using a healthy mix of the 13 ways to progress time will make some of the more obvious ones less noticeable and less jarring to the reader. Using a variety of these methods will help your readers know how much time is passing without it being obvious enough to interfere with the story.
How do you signal to your reader that time is progressing?