Sunday, January 12, 2014

12 Question of the Week: What's Your Favorite Method For Making Timelines?

Hey everyone! It’s Clara Kensie, back with a new Question of the Week! Pretty much the only thing writers love as much as writing is talking about writing. So each week here at Adventures in YA Publishing, I post a question for you to answer. The questions cover all topics important to writers: craft, career, writers’ life, reading and books. Together we’ll become better writers by sharing tips and discussing our habits and practices.

January 12, 2014

What’s Your Favorite Timeline Method?

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, at some point you will have to make a timeline of your plot. How do you make yours?

A very impressive timeline
photo credit: juglar del zipa via photopin cc

I do my timelines by hand, with a pencil, on a printed calendar. I’m a plotter, so I like to have a general timeline before I start writing my discovery draft, and I get more detailed with each subsequent draft. Since I write YA set in contemporary times and my protagonists are high school students, I go online to find a high school calendar from the US state my book is set in (so far, my books have been set in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana), so I know all the federal, state, and local holidays that schools would be closed. I note any school events that occur: homecoming, spring break, etc. Then I fill in my plot events. Once I have my printed calendar filled out, I transfer the dates into Scrivener, which is my writing software. I still keep my print calendar on hand for a “big picture” reference.

There is software called Aeon Timeline that is supposed to be excellent, and it syncs with Scrivener. I’ve downloaded the trial version. It looks very complicated. One of these days I will have to learn how to use it.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? How do you make timelines for your manuscripts? Do you make a chart? A calendar? Do you keep it simple, or do you make it elaborate? If you use timeline software, what do you use, and why do you like it?


  1. This is a good question, and I'm interested in people's ideas as well. I just finished my first manuscript and the timeline became an issue because, like you, I set it during contemporary times in a high school. I realized reading through an early draft that I'd managed to put Remembrance Day before Thanksgiving (but I'm in Canada and it doesn't work that way) and was struggling with how much time was needed for events like a pregnancy. After getting very frustrated, I did what you did--I printed a calendar, then walked through my MS and made everything match. It took forever.

    When I decided to write a second book, I started with the calendar. Now I fill it in as I go along. I know I'll still need to make changes but at least it will be linear.

    With Scrivener, are you simply making a list of dates? Or do you have it there in some sort of graph?

    1. Crystal, first of all: Hooray for Canada! I love Canada. My brother lives in Toronto, and I love that city!

      Okay, back to business. Regarding putting your dates in Scrivener: I have the Windows version, but I'm sure this works in the Mac version too. On the right column you have the General Meta-Data box. There are two categories: Label (for Chapter, Scene, Notes, etc) and Status (To Do, First Draft, Final Draft, etc).

      You can edit the Labels and Statuses to say anything you want. Just scroll down to the bottom of the category's list to where it says "Edit." For example, my RUN TO YOU books are serialized, so I added a Label to identify Part 1, Part 2, etc. You also customize the category's name itself. I've changed "Status" to "Timeline." Then, instead of "First Draft," I have a date (for example: Mon Feb 13). I add all the pertinent dates and assign each scene to their corresponding date. In Outline view, you can see all of your scenes listed along with their dates. It's not elaborate, but it's enough to keep me on track.

      I believe the Mac version of Scrivener has even more customization capabilities.

      I hope this method works for you!

  2. I wonder if it would make sense to say I do a sort of post it not plot line or something that sort of works as storyboarding. I'm thinking.

  3. I am getting ready to do a major rewrite of a middle-grade historical novel and know that I need to make a timeline. I am intending to print out a 1926 calendar and mark it as I go through the book. Of course I should have done it as I wrote, but it's not too late now.

  4. I'm a 3X5 card plotter - love my 3x5 cards! Never been very good at timelines, but when I start mixing up my seasons/months/events I'll just grab a sheet of paper and write it down chapter by chapter. :-)

  5. When I'm plotting, I type up the events in a Word doc...I can shuffle them around. I've used note cards too. As I'm writing the rough draft, I draw (on paper, so I can leave it by my monitor as I write) a rough calendar for the month the ms is taking place, a specific year or just a general "hey, I want this ms to start on a Saturday" kind of thing.

    Then I write the events that happen on each day in the proper square. Gotta start making bigger squares though--at least for my WIP, I'm having to write WAY too tiny! LOL Anyway, it helps keep my days straight, so I'm not wondering, "now how many days has it been since that happened?" :)

  6. Clara, I also use a paper calendar and pencil. Comes in handy when juggling what happens when!

  7. Well, I was a pantser until literally the end of the year. Suddenly, I started struggling with my story by not having a plan. So, now I'm learning the fine art of outlining my story, which has been a big help! As for timelines, I like to use an actual line, with the dates marked of all of the important events on it.

  8. I've never tried one, but it sounds like a good idea. Generally, I don't nail things down around events in my story that deal with the "real" world but I can see where that could come in handy. My stories happen more outdoors, while school is usually out. Lol.

  9. While editing my first draft (a high school contemporary), I noticed lots of season/ month/ day mistakes. I used post-its to clear up the mess, but I like the calendar idea. I tend to forget where I am seasonally while writing. I think plotting the storyline on a calendar could really help me. Thanks for the idea!! =D

  10. I do a very rough timeline as I go along, then confirm it by hand during edits. So far, I haven't used any specific software.

  11. Thanks for writing this-- a real eye-opener for me. I had never even considered a timeline in conjunction with my outline. You probably just saved me a lot of time and plot holes :)

    -Christine @ Better Novel Project


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