Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Why timelines are vital for writing stories

I've been busy plotting book two of the Books of Caledan series in my spare time this past few weeks. 

It was easy to begin with; I already had lots of ideas recorded in bullet point lists for each main thread of the plot, which I transferred onto Scrivener's corkboard feature (each thread being one corkboard).

I compiled the three main threads (each made of a group of closely linked character viewpoints) and then... promptly hit that brick wall we call writers' block.

I scratched my head whenever I returned to the project for a few days until it hit me. I'd been putting it off, but really it was time.

It was time for a timeline!

This is exactly the same process I went through with book one; with exactly the same results. The hardest thing was making the first pen stroke on the page. After that, it flowed beautifully! (Frankly, I should have started a timeline sooner... Oh, hindsight!)

First, I drafted it roughly on paper. I found that, over the ten viewpoints I listed, I could group a large bulk of the ideas together in time as characters met, separated, or as certain plot events had to meet at the same time.

That made things much easier. I now knew which characters were chronologically behind/in front at any given point. I could marry up those events that had to tie in together and work backwards to link up the beginning of book two's timeline with the end of The Tainted Crown (book one)'s timeline and forwards to meet book three.

Importantly, the timeline was pinned down on paper; it's much harder to visualise mentally!

Today I typed it up in Excel, which allowed me to play around with rearranging things as needed. There's no dragging or dropping on a piece of paper; alas! But that was, for me, a useful "first draft" if you like. Get anything down, and then it can be revised. (That reminds me of an Anne Lamott quote regarding crappy first drafts! It's the second one from the top.)

The main advantage of a timeline for is that it allows the threads of the story to be plaited together and connecting the ideas brings them to life. Suddenly, by looking at the bigger picture, the sequencing problems I'd been having vanished.

I can see the next steps. As it is, I just found the convenient point to stop book two and start book three that had totally escaped me 24 hours ago!

If I'd tried to carry on without a timeline, I would have failed. I genuinely don't know of any more valuable tool when it comes to sequencing and arranging your stories than a timeline.

I hope this pursuades you to try a timeline approach if you haven't before.

Ciao for now,


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