A. and I were talking about Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy last night (she’d read it the day it came out, I’m about three-quarters finished), specifically about how we really enjoyed the many and varying characters in the series. One thing that came up was that we were both fascinated by a specific twenty-year gap in the lead character’s history that happens early on in the first book (Ancillary Justice). What happened between the fade-out and the fade-in? Where did she acquire the certain things she now owned? Do we ever find out? Is it important to the main story arc, or is it simply a passage of time between important moments?
I’ll tell you a writer’s secret: us authors love doing that.
There are many and varied reasons for it. Sometimes a rose is just a rose: the character lived their life doing things that had no important bearing on the story. Maybe they just needed to lie low for a while. Sometimes it’s a big secret: it’s a specific gap of time that the narrative will return to much later on, when it’s important to the story. Sometimes we never find out exactly why.
Me? I love doing it because it’s part of my world building process. For me, it gives the character space to breathe in their own privacy for a bit. In A Division of Souls, there’s a space of five years between the time Caren and Denni’s parents are killed in action and the present time of the book itself. I did this for two reasons: for the two sisters to come to terms with what happened, and to show that the current events actually started manifesting themselves a lot earlier than anyone thought.
I call these gaps hidden stories. The main arc doesn’t focus on these events, doesn’t need to. But just the same, they’re part of the framework of the whole. There’s usually a solid reason for this time gap (such as in Ancillary Justice, where Breq is basically keeping off someone’s radar), and it can be extremely useful and malleable. This is where the writer can say “this is what happened between [Novel X] and [Novel Y].” Another good example of that is the previous Naruto movie The Last, which takes place between the time gap between the final chapters of the series, 699 and 700. We find that there’s a gap of time that we can use as a bit of a playground for new and/or related stories if we so choose to write them.
Which, of course, means that the seventy years between The Balance of Light and the new (and still untitled) Mendaihu Universe story is chock full of mystery! A lot could happen in an average human life span. I’ve given myself quite a bit of space for hidden stories in that stretch of time.
Maybe sometime down the road I’ll tell you a few. 🙂