4 Steps to Creating a Timeline for Your Novel

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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.

  1. 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.

  1. Location

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.

  1. Character

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.

  1. 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.

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About Author

I am an avid lover of creating fictional stories, poems, creative non-fiction, and recently, reviews, and blog content. Professionally speaking, I am new to the community of Inkitt Writer's Blog. I have a growing collection of cherished stories that really evolved when I began my graduate studies. I am eager to share the tips, techniques, and practices that have helped me create what I hope will continue to be strong, solid, creative work. I hold a Master's in Creative Writing with a concentration in Fiction Writing. I never shy away from an opportunity to step outside my own comfort zones to seek new and effective writing practices that help strengthen my own writing, and love sharing that knowledge with my fellow writing community. I believe that we all begin our journey from an ambiguous place. As we traverse the many paths our stories will take us, is where we will find our voice and a growing wisdom to continue evolving as successful writers. It’s the experience, the hard-work, sacrifice, and striving to create something better than the last story, poem, or article that allows the fortitude to continue progressing along our writing journey.


  1. My weak point is my timeline in my stories because they have been now amassed into 26 and going into 27 novels and they are huge because I taken too long the thing is I have got lost in them. I start from the 18 century and then to the future into the 20th century and then into the 19th century and then lost the narrator when the narrator appeared in the 21st century.
    So now I don’t think I have done anything about plot or anything the characters are alright but what to do with many people saying this and the other stuff when the stuff does not seem to belong anywhere but in the pathos of the moment?
    To make matters worse I wrote that poetry book which now everyone thinks is a story.

    • Kimberly Powell on

      I had a very similar issue prior to taking writing classes. It has been amazing to look back at the stories I first began writing that were lofty, lengthy, telling, and really had nothing pushing the story-line. Taking the time to prepare myself through pre-writing and seeing how it really helped to keep my focus and the story organized. I think that some may see it as a deterrent to the creative momentum, but I actually think it intensifies it. I write psychological crime thrillers. This particular genre relies very heavily on the timeline-plot-twists-surprises-flashbacks. It sounds as though the series you have created is geared much the same relying on all these aspects to coincide clearly and concisely as each story progresses. I’m not sure if you are looking for advice, but I can totally relate to feeling lost in it all and the despair you feel losing your narrator. It’s an overwhelming feeling that seems hopeless and/or daunting to get back on track. Personally, when I found myself in that place I went back to the beginning and created a timeline off of what I had initially made. Even learning to create pre-writing techniques is a work in progress. But, once I started pulling the work apart I found my story-line and voice again. I also found what wasn’t working and needed to be removed. So, try going back and asking what is the primary piece that is reoccurring in all 27 novels? Who are the primary characters in the first novel that need strengthening and must be a part of the rest? How do the flashbacks between eras coincide and what purpose do they serve to the overall theme of the story? Maybe (this could already be the case) the first novel should begin and only take place in the 18th century then subsequent novels take place in the 19th and 20th but flashback to the first? Maybe eliminate certain things from the first that you can plant throughout the series to keep the overall story alive, but also keep a central theme to each novel that is it’s own? These are merely suggestions that I truly hope help you find your plot, strengthen your characters, and focus on gearing up the action/momentum from piece to piece! -K.M.P.

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