Other than your characters and plot, the timeline of your story is one of the most important factors that makes good fiction work. If your timelines don’t make any sense or you’ve left most of it to chance, it could tank your entire story – and set you back months worth of writing time.
Reedsy has a more comprehensive article on how to write a novel, but here are a few handy tricks that can help to make timelines a lot easier for your story.
Set a Time
Set a time for your story. Is your story set in the sixties, seventies, current time or future? Pre-historic times? Deciding on the time your story is set in (and why or how this is important to your story and its characters) is one of the most vital things that help a story to make sense. From there, you should research your story’s time as much as possible and double-check to make sure that your research is right.
What songs were on the charts then? What was popular fashion? Language of the time? All of these things can help you to add to the time setting of your story – and skipping these details can lead to leaving major flaws in your story that you didn’t spot beforehand.
Sometimes you can even go a step further than this and interview people who were alive during the time in which your story is set. Where there are things you aren’t sure about or things you would love to know, asking a human source is one of the best things a writer can learn to do.
Use Online Tools
There are many online tools that will help you to put together a timeline for your story. Many of these (like time.graphics) provides you with a visible graphic of your generated timeline after. This is a great storytelling tool when it’s used by writers – and it can ensure that planning and writing your plot is a lot easier.
It’s the equivalent of storyboarding for fiction writers, and it really does help. If you don’t do it, you could find yourself stuck on a simple plot point for weeks or months before you’re able to move your story’s time forward.
Tenses: Keep Them Constant
Remember which time your story is set in – and remember if you are using past or present tense to tell it. With the exception of some scene breaks, readers can be annoyed and distracted if you keep shifting through story-telling tenses in your book. Keep tenses the same throughout your story unless there’s a good reason you’re using something else for that particular chapter, part of scene.
Keep Track of Where You Are Now
Always outline your timelines, and always be sure to keep track of where you are in your story during the current scene. If it helps, make notes using your word processor and remove these notes from your manuscript later on.
How can the reader of the story be expected to keep track of what you’re doing if you as the writer lost track yourself? Proper outlining and the use of a few easy tools to outline your story can be a huge help for not getting lost.
Don’t Jump Too Much
Stories with far too many time jumps for no reason are usually terrible ones. If your story uses time travel as an element it has to be carefully approached or you’re going to entangle yourself in a web of confusing by the second or third chapter. Don’t use too many time jumps or skips in your story unless you have good reason to do so (and unless you’re completely sure that readers and the writer can both keep track throughout the story).