Managing the Passage of Time

I’ve been re-watching an old 80’s sitcom that recently popped up on one of the streaming services I subscribe to.  One thing I never noticed while watching it when I was a kid was the unusual use of the passage of time.  This probably wasn’t so jarring watching episodes sporadically, but watching them back to back, it feels a little surreal to have a character break a shoulder and be in a cast, only to fast-forward in time at the end of the episode so that that character has healed.  Or the characters will walk out the door to go on a multi-week vacation, just to walk back in, with the assumed time having passed.  If the actual time-jumps were added up, the characters should have aged by at least a decade, but they count time in terms of the season, no matter what the time skips imply.  It works for a sitcom, where it was aired over a huge time span and nobody was much worried about continuity errors.  And it is consistent with itself, so that it feels like a semi-fantastic way of viewing time.

But with today’s streaming services and audience preferences, even series are working harder to eliminate continuity errors and to present more realistic views of time.  (Not to say that a fantastic view of time can’t be done — look at all the alternate timelines popping up.)  And readers expect a high level of continuity in their fiction as well.  However you frame the passage of time in your book or script, just be clear from the beginning about how time works, and keep it consistant.

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