Friday, July 20, 2012
The Art of Flashing Forward
An interesting question came up in one of my workshops this spring, from a fiction writer. The question was about how to pull off jumps forward in time. "How do you do it?" this student asked. "Is there a trick?"
This is actually a common question, and one that usually comes from someone in my workshop who is writing from "too close" a perspective. It's certainly natural to want to do that, to be right there, up close with your characters. Writers love that feel of "immediacy." The extreme version of this is to place your prose in the present tense, which a lot of newer writers seem to want to do. The problem with this, though, is that it makes the act of moving through time feel very awkward and jarring. If you are firmly rooted in a single moment, it's harder to shift to another time period.
While there's no single "trick" to making leaps forward in time, the best thing you can do is to "back off" a little in terms of your temporal distance as narrator. Gaining some retrospective distance on your material makes moving around through time much easier. In fact, if you are going to be making a lot of long leaps through time, as Alice Munro often does in her stories, you will want to place your narrator (or the teller of your story) as far forward in time as possible, so that the narrator is looking well back upon events of the story.
That way, even if you leap forward ten or more years with your characters, they will still seem to be standing "in the past" as far as your narrative-perspective is concerned. This will make your leaps forward seem more natural, and more like ordinary human memory--where you might remember different events from various past time periods. Munro, you will notice, often uses a deep retrospective viewpoint to pull of her dramatic leaps through time.
Posted by K.S. Davis at 10:00 AM