4 Steps to Creating a Timeline for Your Novel
There are many different approaches to writing and unique to each individual when beginning the creation of a narrative. Some known as, pansters, dive right in and simply begin writing. Plotters, take the time to research, plan, and organize a timeline to follow from the beginning of the writing process to the finished product. I began my writing endeavors as a panster and could never quite understand how and why the work would stall, or become cumbersome, too lengthy, and off topic.
Pre-writing strategies and practices may not be a desirable avenue for some writers; however, this methodology can be extremely beneficial to those writing mysteries, psychological crime fiction, generating a series, and other narratives within this meticulous genre. Once I began my graduate studies and took more and more writing classes that emphasized the importance of pre-writing, I began to see the benefits. Making a point to take the time to create a solid timeline generated a focus and strength in the overall story, characters, setting, and narrative arc. The following are 4 of the steps I take each time I begin a new story and use this as a guide to finish the work.
- Initial Thoughts
I generally begin writing down the idea that I have for a storyline. Then generate a list of qualities I see in potential characters, a possible location, and any conflict/resolution ideas that may serve as the primary storyline. Within this initial phase I also keep lists of personality traits, a how, when, where adjective/description pool that I may draw from as I continue mapping out the idea.
The setting in any story is crucial as it creates a foundation for the story to unfold. In many cases, the setting/location can become just as essential to the story as the characters driving the narrative. Typically, based on the first phase I begin researching places, the geography, find images online that help create strong visuals during the writing phase. Additionally, I map out any towns, population sizes, and nuances that might surround my potential story location. It’s all in the details.
Character creation is a multi-layered process in and of itself. From the protagonist and antagonist, to the secondary supporting characters, and the few minor characters that really serve no purpose other than a line or two to move the central characters through the plot. Again, this is another area that details matter. Here is another opportunity to create detailed lists about the characters looks, feelings, attitudes, ages, and any sensory words that can be associated with their individual personalities that create ways of unique interactions and supporting the movement of the story.
- Keep up with Dates
Pre-writing and creating a timeline is one of the best ways to ensure believability within your narrative. The timeline should be both a visual aid to guide the actual writing, keeping the storyline tight, and bringing the beginning, middle, and end together. Keeping a list of birth dates, death dates (if you plan to kill off characters), seasonal shifts, backstory and twists, as well as past events, present conflicts, and future plans are essential to staying focused and ensuring the story maintains credibility.
Creating a timeline is not mandatory in order to write a novel. However, using this pre-writing strategy can prove to make that process much more streamlined and focused. These 4 tips are just a few helpful ideas to becoming a planner or strengthening the pre-writing process that may already be in place.