Organising a Book’s Timeline

As I’m coming to the end of writing my eighth book I’m reminded again of the author task that I find the most difficult of all – the dreaded timeline. It seems that no matter how many books I write, I still haven’t mastered an easy way to deal with the timeline issue.

So, what does it involve?

Each time I write a book I draw up a timeline relating to each chapter and scene in the book. It’s important to have a timeline so that you can ensure that everything fits in sequentially. This can avoid situations where, for example, someone gives birth to a full term baby when they have only been pregnant for five months. There are many other howlers that can occur because of the lack of a timeline but I won’t list them all here.

Why is it so difficult?

My problem is that I always produce my timeline at the end of writing a book. This is because I don’t want anything to spoil the continuity while I am writing. I therefore have to do a search of all mentions to weeks, days, months, seasons etc. Other things to watch out for are the clothes that someone is wearing, whether it’s sunny etc. as this can be indicative of the season. I then add the timeline to my list of chapters from the book, indicating if a particular scene came before or after another and, if so, what the time span was between each.

I know this is a long-winded way of doing things and it also means I often have to switch things around to make sure I’m not contradicting myself. Fortunately, I didn’t have to make too many changes in this latest book but I have had previous books where I’ve had to make a lot of changes to make sure everything fits in sequentially.

What’s the solution?

The answer I think is to keep a note of the timeline from the outset so that I can make any necessary changes as I go along. I keep a document, which I call a ‘Sequence of Events’ for each novel anyway. It’s basically just a list of chapters and scenes, which gives a brief description of what happens in each so that I can easily recap each time I return to my work and take a quick overview of how the plot is progressing. I also review my previous days’ work every time I return to my desk. I therefore think it wouldn’t be too much trouble to add an extra column for the date/time in my Sequence of Events and fill it in each time I review my work.

If anybody has any other ideas of how to approach the timeline issue I would love to hear them. Please feel free to post your comments below.

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