On occasion I read a book where suddenly the plot does not seem feasible because the author has ignored a proper timeline. Maybe the editor missed it? Or maybe they neglected to plan out a logical sequence to the events that take place in the story?
It comes down to how you write – your process. If you are a pantser and just go with the flow, assigning a timeline is most likely going to stifle the creativity. But if you are a planner, then this is probably a step you already include in your process.
For a pantser, I’d add this after you’ve nearly finished your manuscript to help fine tune everything. If you are a planner, adding another vector to your plots direction is invaluable.
For me personally, I’m a combination of the two. I like to free-style until I get a meaty chunk of prose to look at. Is it a solid concept? Are my characters interesting? It there enough of an idea for a novel? Usually the content I’m working with is a collection of scenes equivalent to about three to five chapters. From there I start to weave a more intricate plot. That way I can remove anything that is dragging the pace of the story, see if my character is working, ensure the antagonist and challenges my protagonist faces are introduced in the right points of my hero’s journey.
It usually takes the form of pages of hand-written scribbles that I transpose into an Excel spreadsheet. Broken up into chapters, I detail what happens (story); how each chapter drives the story forward (plot), How each chapter increases the stakes (pace & tension); and the amount of time that passes (timeline.) I began to introduce this last column because after sending my first novel out to beta readers and edits, I discovered that on two occasions my weekends lasted three days, and the main characters – high school students – had to stick to a class schedule… which was all over the place. Urgh, how embarrassing! Such a glaringly obvious faux-par. And so that extra column became invaluable. It helped me keep track of the days passing in my story, but also decreased on the amount of money I was paying to a professional editor by limiting the errors (thus time spent) on my manuscript.
It also enabled me to keep a realism in my story… and remove superfluous scenes.
Writing is creating art – we all have our own way of doing things. Creation is a personal journey. I like a structure to work to, but the freedom to write what I want. Therefore the guide of an Excel spreadsheet keeps me in check, in context, and on point. Without strangling my creativity. Some writing applications have this inbuilt within the software (like Scrivener,) but I like a one page summary that I can refer to instantly, usually pinned to the wall in front of me while I’m writing.
This chart allows me to see where my story is at, write a future scene, or jump to an entirely different project (with its own spreadsheet.) A great tool to get you into the headspace needed to write. And with the added element of having things timed properly – both in sequence they happen in your novel, and in the amount of time that passes – you are fee to work on whichever scene you want to without getting too mentally jumbled. So when you get stuck somewhere, to avoid writer’s block, jump to a different point in your story and keep writing.
What methods do you use to structure your story? Do plan the whole thing or a few chapters at a time? Does your character guide your story? Is knowing how many days pass in a chapter important to you? Have you seen a better method for plotting that works for you?
And in the meantime – happy writing! 🙂
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