How to Handle the Passage of Time in Writing

We arrived in good spirits (and making good time) in Central Florida on Friday. The sun was blazing, and the sky, clouds, and grass seem to exist in bumped-up saturation compared with Texas. While I grew up here, and eventually became a young adult, I couldn’t wait to leave home. So much so that when my plans to go away to college didn’t pan out, I enlisted in the military. But here I am again, 17 years later back where I started more or less. Sometimes I think this was a difficult way to do things. On the other hand, I left, I saw some places, and now I’m back, appreciating where I grew up more than ever before. So there.

I pulled up some examples to study how to handle time lapses in writing. Specifically, I want to know how to handle lapses in time that occur within the same scene (within the same chapter).

As I mentioned in a previous post, time is pushed along in a literary medium through words. In a visual medium, it’s movement that pushes the time continuum (think of the use of time-lapse techniques, for example). So, if I have a chapter in which I want to move from earlier in the evening to maybe two or three hours later, I have to fill the space from point A to point B with words before I can write something like, “later on…” If I don’t fill that space with enough words, the “later on” part will seem as if to come out of nowhere. Here are some examples of what I mean:

In the excerpt above from First They Killed My Father, the author has filled the paragraphs preceding “Later that night,” with dialogue that presents the context for the political catastrophe that is about to occur in Cambodia.

In this excerpt from The Hunger Games, Katniss recounts this lengthy episode with the baker’s boy and some loaf of bread in several paragraphs (not included here) before she says, “By the time I reached home…”

It’s hard to know how much prose is necessary to satisfy the reader with the sense that yes, okay, now enough “time” has passed and we can skip whatever happened in between point A and point B (in this case, Katniss’ trip home from when she received this loaf of bread). I suppose it’s best to ere on the side of more than less, so the time hack doesn’t feel contrived.