Use caution when shifting story’s location, time

As a plot develops, you’ll often need to change locations and times in a story. Your characters may be on a journey to some destination or they may need to investigate a matter. You might shift between the characters so that a scene involves the villain who is at a different location than the protagonist.

When making such changes, always ask yourself if it is necessary to further your plot. If the change is merely done because you want to share interesting notes that you’ve researched about a new locale, then it’s probably being done for its “ooh-and-ahh” factor rather than for dramatic tension. This is a problem particularly with science fiction and action-adventure stories in which elements of the story are more about the science or wonder of a place than any useful information that advances the story.

In addition, readers can become confused if you the suddenly shift the story’s location and time. One easy way to resolve this is to leave a blank line between scenes, which experienced readers will recognize as a demarcation between scenes. In ebooks, where blank lines typically appear between paragraphs, instead use asterisks or a typographical equivalent to mark the scene change.

Regardless if a blank line or asterisks are used, most location or time switches likely require describing the new scene’s landscape, if only via a phrase or clause, simply to orient the reader. Short stories due to their brevity can’t waste words on unnecessary description that slows the drama, however. Because of this, balancing the amount of description that must be provided against the dramatic need to do so.

While setting is a powerful element in a number of genres – especially science fiction, fantasy, horror, action-adventure, and westerns – remember that keeping your story’s focus on character and action almost always will yield a bigger payoff.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.