Thursday, September 10, 2009


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.


  1. I don't have writing software, so no easy ways to track time in the stories I've written. What we did with "The Sisterhood" is write an outline of events and placed the timeline within it because the story spanned a year from one Thanksgiving to the next. And since family and holidays were important, we had to have some sort of timeline to keep it all straight. That, and one of the characters was going for a series of chemotherapy treatments, so we needed to keep track of time for how long and when she was going.


  2. I agree that a calendar is CRITICAL. On both of the novels I've written, I've found that it was the most important tool I had. The timeline in both novels spanned several months. On the first novel, I had to create the timeline after the fact (good discipline when revising, but I wished I'd done it on the first draft). I'm being smarter now on the second novel and keeping the calendar up to date as I go. I've simply created a seven column Word table, one column for each day of the week, and I put the major incidents of the day in the box for that day. It looks just like a wall calendar.

    I use WriteWay Pro writing software. It was inexpensive ($60 I think) and has been great for keeping research notes and planning scenes -- very handy note cards on plot, characters, etc. I don't use the word processor in it, because I think Word is more flexible. But I can see the value in using the internal word processor, because then your text would move as you reorder scenes.

    I'm very curious to hear what other people are using.


  3. I need to try this. I keep a vague idea of time when I work on larger pieces. Most of the time, i don't have continuity issues, but when I do, it's bad.