How the creation of timelines can help you plot a novel

When it comes to writing a story, it can be easy to become distracted from your original plan or to get confused about what should happen when.

This is a common problem amongst writers and can result in a story that either doesn’t make sense or isn’t as strong as it could have been.

A timeline can help you unleash your story’s full potential and this blog post is here to show you how.

What is a timeline?

A story timeline is a line on which you plot all of the significant events in your story. It doesn’t need to be a physical line — the layout can be whatever works for you. You may wish to create your own, or there are templates you can download from the internet.

Alongside story timelines, you can also create character timelines, chapter timelines, and so on. Experiment and see which work best for you and your writing style.

Why is a timeline helpful for writing a novel?

Some writers can sit down, write, and produce something that makes sense, but most will struggle when it comes to the details unless they are highly organised.

A story timeline can help you organise the overall novel, while further timelines can help you to keep on top of each character and other aspects of the plot — for example, the backstory of why your protagonist has a particular character trait or a pivotal moment that changed one of your characters lives forever.

You might want to plan each timeline out with a pen and paper before moving to a digital or printed version — or, like many writers, you may wish to stick with the pen and paper.

Post-it notes on a wall can be a fun way of tackling a timeline.

A whiteboard and markers can also work well as this allows for changes to be made quickly and easily.

Others reach for index cards for every aspect of the story — characters, events, and so on — and move them around on a flat surface when required. This method doesn’t suit everyone, though.

If you’d like to go digital, a spreadsheet can be useful. Otherwise, you may find an app that does the trick.

a man writing a story using his laptop and notepad

Questions that can help you produce a timeline

To get you started with your story timeline, you may want to consider the following points:

  • How old are your characters when the story begins?
  • Where are your characters when the story begins?
  • What event occurs at the beginning of the story?
  • What are your goals for each of the main characters?
  • Who are your supporting characters?
  • How old are your characters when the story ends?
  • Where does the story end?
  • What event occurs at the end of the story?

It is important to remember that your story doesn’t need to be set over several years to be long in length; you can write an entire novel on the events of one week if you wish. In fact, there’s a list of 15 novels that take place in a single day.

How do you keep on top of your interweaving stories, characters and times? Let us know in the comments below.

Lucy is our lead editor and has been passionate about stationery since childhood. She has a particular fondness for rollerball and calligraphy pens and is a keen advocate of snail mail.

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