First the backstory...
I'm working on a mystery novel for a workshop in May of next year. I need a ready to pitch manuscript so I've been working like mad. It takes place from Halloween to Thanksgiving so I don't have that long of a time frame to keep up with.
To keep things sorta straight, I printed out a calendar of Nov. '95 (year novel is set in) and then added the major events to the day they happened. It worked out pretty good. Until I lost my calendar page and decided I really didn't need it anyway.
Today I realized I'd managed to screw up the timeline of events and spent most of the morning cutting and pasting scenes into the correct order and then having to tweak things to get back on the right track.
I've got a hole in the middle now that I have to go back and fix though.
So, the lesson I've learned is...keep the timeline handy and check it ever so often.:-)
There are several ways you can do timelines. I did the calendar page but if your novel spans a longer period of time, you might want to consider using a roll of butcher paper and making a scroll type timeline.
Some writing programs have timelines too. At one time, I had Liquid Story Binder which I really liked but lost it in the puter crash. I'm not sure about the others so if you use a writing software, how about letting us know.
Remember, this doesn't have to be a formal timeline. And it can change and grow as needed. It isn't a rigid guideline you'll be held to at all costs.
It's a tool to help keep the story on the right track.
For practice, timeline your favorite novel or movie.