Making Timelines

Timelines for stories are often very helpful, particularly in mystery or plot-driven stories where the order of events and who knows what when can be intensely important.

I wrote some time ago about testing Aeon Timeline. I should have followed that post up to say that I found it very useful despite the risk of double data entry: sometimes copying things from one place to another can be a good way of learning about the information being transferred. Even pretty linear stories often benefit from a bit of timelining, since there are often events with specific timescales that need to have other things fitted around them.

My work at the moment is on Song, and its timeline is broken. In rebuilding the story from its origins, I have had to reorder events and change the information visibility that some characters have. Changing the POV to first person has also required me to be very clear about what the MC sees and knows at all times. I am making a timeline for the current version of the manuscript so that I can be very clear about what, exactly, is broken and that will allow me to be clear about how to fix things.

The process I am following goes like this:

  1. create a new timeline – ensure that the zoom settings are down to the level of minutes.
  2. for each scene:
    1. capture the events that occur.
    2. make any new characters needed for the event.
      optional: include character timeline events, such as their birth.
    3. note which characters participate.
    4. note which characters observe or are immediately aware of the event.
    5. don’t fix things – just record what’s in the text.
  3. in later scenes, add events for when a character learns something they did not know before
  4. flag things that are obviously broken as you go but, to repeat, don’t fix it now.

Once I have a complete timeline image of the manuscript as it is now I will be go back to look at the obviously broken things, but also search for more subtly broken continuity errors. Then I will write something about how to fix a timeline.

Leave a Reply