Tying up your timeline

I recently read a very good blog post by Mari Hannah in which she talked about the benefits of sticking to your book’s timeline.

I didn’t have one when I wrote my first book – in fact, I didn’t even know what a timeline was back then – and now that I’m into the final stage of editing I’m really wishing that I’d known this sooner.

I’m fortunate that I now have my novel on Scrivener so I have a sort of timeline in that I have a list of scenes but that isn’t quite what Mari meant.

What she’s getting at is much deeper than just knowing the order that your story runs in, it’s knowing exactly what the characters are doing and when. What I’ve found to be important is knowing the specific timescale, as in the progression of days, and also what the characters are doing when they’re not on stage. For instance, having a character go missing, being reported to the police as missing and being found dead, without working out how much time elapsed between the three events has left me in a bit of a pickle. When I started to add in new scenes as part of the edit, it was difficult to know the right order. A timeline would have saved me from having check facts time and time again during the final stages of editing.

So, once again I’m realising that a sophisticated writer has a process. They don’t just haphazardly throw some words down on a page and hope for the best. Instead they use a tried and tested system of planning.

Mari has written lots of books and clearly her way works. Her Kate Daniels novels are brilliantly plotted with twists and turns and just the right amount of tension to keep you gripped. That doesn’t happen by accident. Yes, some of it comes with experience, but it’s clear that a written timeline helps to not only keep things in order but also to make sure you keep the plot moving along at the right pace.

Either way, it’s definitely something you can and should learn. I’m learning it the hard way, so take a tip from me. Get that timeline sorted before you start writing. It may change once you start writing, but initially you should spend some quality time on it.

Yes, I know you’re desperate to get started and the words simply want to burst out of your pen onto the page but stop and take a deep breath. Think through your story, analyse it, really scrutinise it. Write it all down on paper, move the bits around, do whatever works until you know what order your story goes in.

Done that? Right, if you’re sitting comfortably, then begin.

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