Move through time fast, with jump cuts! (exercise included)
The quickest way to move story through time is to jump over it. This is a convention readers recognize, not only from print fiction, but also from visual media like movies. One scene jumps to another without segue. The reader is alerted to the change by the insertion of a line break that looks like this:
That’s right, just hit the return key and the reader knows they are about to enter a new scene.
Fiction usually contains a balance of scene and summary. All the emotional weight in the story resides in scene. Summary is used to cover ground quickly and to impart information in as concise a manner as possible. The line break takes the place of summary. The simple act of inserting a line break informs the reader that a change in the timeframe, and often the setting has taken place.
Turn the page for the exercise.
Tell a story in three jumps.
Example: (note: because of the way WordPress formats I will insert the words jump cut to show where the time shifts occur)
She was staring at him. He could feel it; staring and wondering why he didn’t pump the gas. “Flip the handle up,” she suggested, her voice small.
“Thanks honey.” He should’ve thought of that, but this new pump looked like it worked different from the one that’d been at the Speedy as long as he could remember. As he held the trigger down, the surge of gas vibrating his hand, he avoided looking at the words on the shiny metal plate. There weren’t many, but they mocked him: if you could read you wouldn’t stand with your hands in your pockets while your daughter about pisses her pants over being late for her fourth grade play.
Damn, it was cold. The wind cut through his thin jacket as the numbers ticked up. He felt a little better when he stopped their roll at five bucks on the nose.
“You think mom will be at the play?” she asked as he climbed back in the truck.
“Maybe.” Not a chance in hell, he thought. Denise had only been gone a couple days, but she had a history. She’d come back when she was good and ready and two days wasn’t half enough—by now Lily should know that too.
“Soup again?” Lily asked, lifting the pot lid.
“Yeah, soup again. Sorry.” He’d held up heating it till the day cooled off some. Hottest August he could remember, but he couldn’t afford to crank the AC.
“That’s okay, Daddy.”
He hadn’t told her, but it seemed like she knew he only had twenty hours lined up this week doing yard work on the island.
Bowls in their laps, they sat in plastic chairs on the concrete pad in front of the trailer, hoping for a breeze but there wasn’t any.
Moths swarmed the light over the door.
“Remember Mom’s chicken salad?” she asked.
He remembered. Vaguely. Denise had never been gone this long before.
He washed up after supper. Not much to it: one pot, two spoons, two bowls. Lily was in her room with the radio on low. He’d watch a little TV, kick back. The radio got louder as she opened her door.
“Read to me, Daddy.” She was holding out a library book.
A cold sweat broke out on his forehead as he watched the water in the sink drain. “You’re too old to be read to,” he said.
“Mom still read to me.” Her lips quivered.
When Denise used to read he’d listen too, then feel stupid for getting all excited about Milo and his phantom tollbooth.
“Come on, Daddy. I’ll read a page, then you read page.” She bent back the cover of the paperback and read fast in a high-pitched voice. She was done in about the time it took him to hang the dish towel on the stove handle and straighten it. “Your turn, Daddy.”
He stared at the striped pattern on the damp towel. He had a choice here. He could let her think he didn’t love her enough to read to her or he could tell the truth.
“Come on,” he said. “Chop-chop.” She sure looked nice in the first-day-of-school shorts and blouse he’d bought her.
“Chop-chop,” she repeated when he swerved into the Speedy.
He grinned at her, the truck door squealing as he opened it. “You wanna get there don’t you?”
She leaned across the seat, pointing at the metal plate on the pump. “What’s it say?”
“Flip handle and pump.”
“Thanks teach.” The little sign didn’t intimidate him anymore—it didn’t have all that much to say for itself anyway.
He’d just stopped the pump at five on the nose when he noticed the newspaper rack next to the soda machine. “Lily? Snag a couple of quarters out of the cup holder,” he said, keeping his voice calm. “Fetch your Daddy a paper.”
She didn’t tell he was going to make her late for the first day of school. She didn’t roll her eyes. She hopped out of the truck and fetched her daddy a paper.