Reasons Why Time Gaps in Books Are Infuriating

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Time gaps: a considerable amount of time that is not shown to the audience. This happens a lot more in movies than in books I think. It is when a character grows from a baby to 13 year old in the matter of seconds. It is when the woman finds out she's pregnant and gives birth two minutes later. It is when a character falls asleep and we watch the clock in some ultra time lapse, waiting for the alarm to ring. Sometimes time gaps are needed. I mean, why would anyone want to watch a character sleep--unless you're a vampire? Sometimes, and most of the time, time gaps grate on my nerves.

I was reading Passenger by Alexandra Bracken recently. It was a fun read (here's my review!). In the book, Bracken gives us a huge time gap that had me flipping back pages. Is this copy missing a page? Did she just skip all that time? I couldn't stand it. Once again, time gaps strike again; here's some reasons why they are super infuriating:

What happened between now and then?

It's understandable that we don't really have to know what a character is doing when they sleep. They are sleeping--that's what they are doing. Unless there is an awesome dream the character is having, it doesn't really matter if we wait around 7 hours for that character to wake up. By all means, a time gap is most definitely wanted. However, aren't we missing some vital information if the time gap is over ten years? You would think that the character we are following is shaping their future with some major choices. 

 later GIF

I understand: not every day is exciting but out of a whole week, I bet one of those days are worth noting. And we missed it because of the time gap! You can't have it jump to 10 years later and have the same character before you. We are missing development and all the things that happened between now and then.

Show, Not Tell Method

I used to take a lot of Creative Writing classes. And, usually, on the first day, the professors would always do a run down of what they expected from you in the class. Each and every one of them expected the show, not tell method. When writing, you are essentially telling a story. However, you do not want to bore your readers with too much description or lists upon lists of character traits ("I'm the villain of the story." "I have blue eyes that sparkle in the sun."). Just no. Instead of boring your readers, show them instead of telling them. Show them how Stacey likes long walks on the beach by having her take a long walk on the beach. Show them how James is evil by slaughtering people with a swish of his hand. This is possibly the most important rule in storytelling.

Time gaps hold absolutely no purpose in the show, not tell method. Time gaps seem like the worst form of a cop out. With a time gap, the writer is telling us that time is passing. They don't have time to write 10 years of character development, they want to get into the juice of the story.

 aint nobody got time for that GIF

Missing a part of a character's life

I mentioned some of this above but it is not only the not knowing what happened between then and now but also the problem that we are missing something vital, especially in the character's life. People change. They aren't going to be the same person five years from now. Several things could have happened. 

Take Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End for example. You can't leave Elizabeth on a deserted island and not tell the audience anything. Then at the end of the movie, you can't drop the bomb that she gave birth to a son (by herself! Since she is still on a deserted island.) Obviously, we are missing some information. How was she able to give birth by herself? Is this island really deserted? Where does she get food or water?

 potc GIF

Also, I know when I get attached to a character, I want to know everything there is to know about him/her. I want to know what they ate for breakfast, what music they listen to, and what are some of their pet peeves. Sometimes, we could have found out more if there wasn't a time gap. However, with the gap, we only have time to keep the plot on track.

Thoughts on time gaps? Do you think time gaps are infuriating? Or necessary?

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