Creating a timeline for your novel
Life makes more sense when you understand where you’ve come from and where you’re headed. We all have a past, present and future. Writing is no different.
That’s why, whether you’re a plotter (you plan ahead) or a pantser (you write as you go), a timeline can give you the direction you need.
The process of creating a timeline will help you decide what to include in your story. You’ll then have a clear idea of where you’re headed and the key events you intend to take place along the way, meaning you’ll be less likely to write yourself into a black hole
Find your track
Many writers struggle to stay on track with their works as they navigate plot, characters, dialogue, themes and more. It can be hard to find direction when there’s a lot going on.
A timeline makes your destination clear and enables you to see the key ‘stops’ along the way, helping to keep you in motion as you journey along the grand railway of your story.
Taking time to put together your timeline before writing is a good habit. It’ll keep you focused and will also ensure you hold your storyline together at all times.
Map out your route
Depending on what level of planning works for you, you may decide to create a detailed timeline or a basic outline of the ‘stops’, for example the essential dates, days and times.
Award-winning crime writer, Mari Hannah, begins every project by finding the sunrise and sunset times for the period in which her novel is set. Burying a body in daylight would bring a host of plot twists for any crime writer to deal with!
Your timeline can have various formats:
- Calendar – download a blank calendar document and print it off so you can fill in the areas of importance.
- Post-it notes/index cards – each note or card can contain a specific date and be displayed on a table-top, scrapbook, or wall.
- Excel spreadsheet – create as many columns and rows as you need and keep all the information in one document.
- Specialist software – Timeline software such as Aeon offers writers the chance to create timelines using specially-designed programmes.
Ways of using timelines
- Organising a story – Creating a list of the main events in your story in chronological order helps you to see the overall arc and identify any potential plot holes. It’ll help you be sure you can reach the end.
- Recalling events for a memoir – A timeline is a handy tool for any memoirist to use as a checklist to ensure no essential events are missed out. Creating a timeline allows you to group all the information collated for the period covered by the memoir.
- Merging backstory – Timelines are a fabulous way of keeping on top of your backstory and plotting your characters’ goals, achievements, and failures. It will help you decide how to merge this with present day events if your story is told in a non-linear way.
- Integrating multiple viewpoints – Some of the best novels I’ve read are told from two or three character perspectives. Having a timeline for each character will help you find the best way to integrate alternating viewpoints.
If you’re working on a story and the plotline has run away from you, there’s a strong possibility that you need to create a timeline to get you back on track.
Play around with the best way to create your timeline. I’ve discovered, in time, that I work most effectively as a Post-it planner. Experimentation will help you find your way.
Think about the complexities of your piece and choose how you want to use a timeline that not only keeps your events in order but holds your entire story together.
A well-planned timeline gives you confidence and your readers a seamless experience.View 1 Comments
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