On Writing: Timelines

When I began my writing venture, I never really studied on how to go about it, taking with me only my fervor for the story and a basic understanding of creative writing from a middle school course. I never dreamed about taking into account the technicalities of the art, at the time it hardly even crossed my mind. I started out with a basic plot of events I wanted to take place and then delved right in. For me, everything kind of just came together as I went, and that first draft proved a massive learning experience on so many fronts. So, so many. With so many things going on, I developed a deep and lasting appreciation for timelines.

Timelines are vital, whether your story spans a few hours or a few centuries. Listing everything that happens in chronological order is monumentally helpful in keeping track of the goings on; it keeps you from getting bamboozled and making mistakes that will cause the very bloody murder of your story. For lack of it, my own would have perished in a most piteous mess of inconsistency.

I once read a blog post somewhere listing a few different ways in which to timeline, and there really are an infinite (okay, maybe not infinite, but there are a lot) of ways you can do this. One is to simply list the events with bullets or numbers, and another is to set up a timeline on the computer. What I have done is something perhaps a little more eccentric. My bedroom has ample ceiling space, so I took a spool of twine (it was on hand) and strung it up there from one end to the other and then clothespinned note cards with dates and what happened in that year. It spanned well over a hundred years and recorded the big points of my characters’ lives (color coded, even) leading up to the actual story itself. (I only took it down so my awesome new windows could be put in).

And that’s just the one timeline I made. The other, which records the events of the story itself, is laid out in an old calendar from ’09 that I never used and had on hand. It’s great because it has the day-by-day layout that I needed to keep track of, along with the seasons. It also helped me see better the events of the sub-plots so I could rearrange everything so it all flowed smoothly.

So, setting your world in order is a golden nugget of the profound wisdom of the word sages from past ages. And in addition to all its usefulness, timelines are also a great way to see your progression, and that is a huge boost in confidence and morale. Sometimes writing is a rough road of rocks and sinkholes, so it’s always good to have something to show you where you’ve been and all there is to look forward to.

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