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Hate Outlines? Timeline!

By On Jan 28 2012, 1:15 am

Keeping the plot of a novel-length manuscript can be a challenge for the most organized of writers. If you, like me, aren’t naturally left-brained sequential, then it can be more of a headache because your mind doesn’t organize information in a stepwise fashion. Have you ever looked at your story and realize that everything is happening in one day? or two different things are going on in the same night?

Reading a manuscript that is disorganized is no fun, for obvious reasons; but what do you do when you don’t like or can’t write to an outline?

One tool is a timeline that simply tracks each chapter and includes a simple sentence or two as to the action that takes place. I find that I have a bad habit of putting all my action on one or two days, and using a timeline helps me straighten all that out and figure out the flow of the action.

Here’s an example from Rachel and I, the timeline from our recent Samhain release, BURNING BRIGHT:

I don’t start using a timeline until I’m about 10,000 or 30,000 words into a project.  Once I have enough material to have a clear picture of the story, then I’m able to write down what I have and see where I am trying to go.

Another tool is to build a literal calendar:

This is from an earlier draft of the book, when we first worked on sorting out when things happened.  It’s important for the flow of the story that the action ebb and flow, rather than clot and spurt.  The calendar can help you sort out who does what to whom when.

I hope whatever you use works for you.  Every writer is different.  But if you need some ideas for how to play with and reorganize your plots, I hope this generates some solutions for you.

Write on!


6 Responses to “Hate Outlines? Timeline!”

  1. Kimberley Troutte says:

    This is really great! I just finished writing a book and realized that I had the dates all out of whack. I’d skipped a day somewhere in the timeline and for this specific book the timeline had to be historically correct. This would have been a good way to “see” that missing day.

    • I know what you mean, Kimberley! It’s frustrating to get all done with the hard work of writing, only to find you left something really key out of your calculations. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  2. LOL I am so left brain, building the timeline is my idea of a first draft. The key, whatever method you use, is to keep “showing” vice “telling” all the things you know about your story.

  3. CT Goodson says:

    Awesome use of a timeline. Sometimes I forget that a real time life tool will work for my fictional world. Thanks for the reminder. The timing was excellent for me.

    • Thanks, CT! I agree, it’s weird to consider ‘real-world’ tools for our fictional worlds, but I’m finding the more that I can make my worlds ‘real,’ the better they read for the reader and the more internal sense they make.

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