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Example:

That's when the thought hit me: I had to find out. I had to solve this mystery.

And so, I decided to call off my suicide plan.

At least for the time being.

(Next chapter)

The first place I decided to visit was the Forensics Department / I decided to visit the Forensics Department in February, as soon as the semester began...

Or:

Destiny, however, had another plan for me.

The gods would hear my plea and send the help that I'd been waiting for all along. The help that would revive the flame that almost died inside me.

(Next chapter)

My morning classes had just ended, and I was eating at the university's cafeteria / Two days had passed after the incident in the Forensics Department. My morning classes had just ended and I was eating at the university's cafeteria...

I worry that, if I don't specify the day/date, the reader will wonder, "OK, how, is this a day or a year after the previous chapter?" On the other hand, the 'dateless" version seems to flow better. So I'm confused about which one to use.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Saying "In the end of June" is a form of telling instead of showing. That is, you've told us time had passed, but it's not meaningful to us in terms of what it means for the character, setting, or plot. With just a little more information, it does flow well with the time information:

I had finals to finish and an apartment to pack up, so despite the urgency of learning more it was nearly the end of June before I finally made it to the forensic department.

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1  
In terms of telling and showing, some writers just all out tell in as simple a way as possible. Eg. "Chapter One [carriage return] 14th May, 10:00" –  Mac Cooper Aug 28 at 9:52

Please please please PLEASE use date/time of day references. Please. With chocolate on top. It's way too easy to get lost in the flow of narration and not have a damn clue when we are.

Is it morning? Is it night? Shouldn't the moon be out? How can the narrator see the cows jumping off the cliff if it's the middle of the night? Why is daylight slanting through the blinds if it's noon?

Also, as an editor, I pay close attention to all the pretty details which the writer adds to give the scene flavor, and sometimes missing the time of day, or the day of the week, can entirely snarl up a plot if the character is supposed to be at work on Tuesday morning but the writer forgot that it's Wednesday.

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I would say that you should definitely include time/date, but as was mentioned above, you should show, not tell. If you have to tell, I would use the chapter header mentioned by Mac Cooper. But actually stating that information within the body of the text itself might not be a good idea.

The most important thing is to have a very good sense of time, date, and place yourself, while you are writing. If you do, part of that sense will come across. It will also avoid mix-ups like Lauren Ipsum mentioned.

The other thing I would do is use descriptions (also mentioned by Lauren) that show what time it is. If the moon is out, the reader will probably conclude that it is night. We usually don't need to know the exact minute of the time, though novels will of course vary.

You can also usually get away with a very brief amount of telling. For example, you could say, "early in the morning," or, "a few minutes later," or, "around dinner time."

I hope that helps.

EDIT: I've had plots where I couldn't keep track of what was happening on which day. I found that actually putting a label (day 1, morning; day 3, night) for myself on each scene really helped while forming the plot, and later helped me know 'when I was' while writing.

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