Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ten Timeline Tips for Tuesday

Good Tuesday, people of the blogosphere! Today I'd like to talk a little bit about those pesky problems we all run into from time to time called inconsistency. I'm gonna give you a handy dandy way to eradicate that problem by giving you ten tips to creating a timeline in MS Word that will help your story (or series) stay the course.

  1. When you decide on a year your story will take place in, write it down.
  2. Make a quick list of your characters' ages and put their birthdays on your timeline.
  3. Use sequential time (don't put 1988 down, follow it by 1992, then jump back to 1964).
  4. Be specific - use a calendar and reference months and days.
  5. Don't move or change dates while writing (you can add, but that's a different animal).
  6. Use a type size that's easy to read (I recommend 12pt or larger).
  7. Italics and bold are your friends.
  8. Bullets can be used to call out a list of events that occur on the same day.
  9. It's okay to have a year where all that happens is a birthday.
  10. Color code your characters' names.
Now, for a more in-depth look at each of those tips and why they're important.

#1. You want to have an idea of what the speech was like in the era you're writing about. You also need to know what the world was like. If you're writing a novel set in the 1960's, you won't have someone chatting on a cell phone.

#2. You need to know your character from birth to death even if you don't kill them off during the story. Life events have a way of shaping us into who we are. Know them all.

#3. You don't want to hunt through ten pages of time to know when a character fell down and scraped her knee. If you want to make it when she was nine, you'll be able to look up the year by following the timeline.

#4. Just do it. Your story will be more believable if you do and will help you find pertinent information later with ease, keeping you in the flow of writing. If you have to stop and figure out what Saturday in May little Alice had her twelfth birthday party, you're going to break your concentration.

#5. I don't know how Scrivner works, but if you're hashing out a manuscript in word, changing the date something happened is a PITA. You may have referenced it elsewhere and forget. Make decisions!

#6. This is so you don't suffer eye strain when looking back and forth or searching for something.

#7. Italics and bold can help you call out emotional or life-changing events; eliminating the need for searching through your entire timeline to find out when the character's friend called him ugly.

#8. If you have a particularly stressful day lined up for your character in the past, bullets will help you reference the list quickly and call it out on your timeline for easy spotting.

#9. Even if it's just a 9th birthday party, put it down. You may decide later to have someone drown in the pool and it will prevent you having to look up what day of the week it was on. See #4.

#10. If Margot and Alice both had an event on the same day, color coding will help you see what happened when and to whom as soon as you find the date. Easy peasy.

I hope this list helps you prepare to write using a timeline. For a series or a work with specific dates already set in stone (like the birthing of children in a Historical Fiction novel), it's a must-have tool.

I used one religiously when writing Yassa so I could keep the dates of Genghis Khan's son's birthdays in order. Is it just me or was that a lot of s use?

Do you keep a timeline? Have you ever thought about it?

Well, that's all for today, folks! If you haven't picked up a copy of Yassa yet, it's on sale everywhere for the month of October at just $2.99. Go get one! You can find the links here. Until next time, WRITE ON!



  1. This is a really helpful post! And I love the alliteration of the title =)


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