Writing Process – Timelines

I’m the first person to toss out an outline. I don’t like them. Reminds me too much of being stuck in school trying to finish a report and then remember that the professor wishes to have an outline. I always did it last.

I am however one for a timeline. To me it’s a different ballpark than an outline and very needed for writing fiction. Certain events happen in a certain order, and if you don’t get down that order, or forget that it’s been a specific amount of time from one event to where you mention that event, is far worse than finding a typo in your story.

My timelines are normally simple. I’m going to use a manuscript that I’m still working as an example. I started it around two years ago and put it away when another story is flowing better. So notes are important.

The story starts with a girl who is seventeen and just about to finish high school and then go to college a semester early. This part of the story is easy. She has a countdown, which is normally her first thought every morning and sometimes throughout the day, until she is out of her father house. 

After she left for college was a little more difficult. I chose to start it off with basic dates for when each semester starts and when soccer starts (hero plays the sport not the heroine). At the start of what I consider Part II of the book, I have all the above information. I used to put everything on post-it notes on my computer, but once I had too many concepts at a time and couldn’t remember what went where.

Timelines are also crucial because you don’t want a  “scantily-clad woman” in December…at least not in Chicago…anymore than a snowstorm in August.

Also, keep your timeline handy for comments in the story. If something happened a week ago, you don’t want to say a few days…even more important the other way around.

Another option on how to store timelines is a excel spreadsheet. Another I have that is over several years time span. I charted the ages and dates of important events in multiple character’s lives. It required far more lining up than when school starts. I put the name of each character at the top and their age in one column and the date in another column. I didn’t want the heroine of a 1940’s book to be too young when she was forced to leave home, nor did I want the hero going to WWII in 1946 after the war was over.

There are too many reasons to list why a good solid timeline is necessary but I hope I’ve helped in a few ways to keep it organized.

Happy writing!


Suzette Vaughn -Overly-Organized (most of the time) Author of Badeaux Knights and Mortals, Gods, and a Muse


Filed under writing

3 responses to “Writing Process – Timelines

  1. mickeyhoffman

    Um, I like outlines. When I was writing my novel I would have been lost without one because I had to keep track of all the clues. But I can see where a timeline would help when constructing certain storylines.

    Mickey Hoffman is the author of School of Lies, a murder mystery soon to be published by Second Wind.

  2. dellanioakes

    I hate outlines! Outlines are an anathema, a pariah, something you hold off with an evil eye!

    That being said, I love timelines. I keep careful notes on each story in a 3 ring binder. I keep a list of chapters, characters and a timeline so I know who is doing what when. I’m having problems with my newest historical because I’m having to follow a real timeline and make the story fit. I just realized that I have to jog things around a wee bit because otherwise things are off by two days. This requires going back to square one, so I might just re-write the last two chapters & see if I can fix it rather than going all the way back. EEK!

    Dellani Oakes is the semi-hysterical author of “Indian Summer”, an historical romance published by Second Wind.

  3. Mickey Hoffman

    Is that a new genre, hysterical romance?
    Sorry, couldn’t resist. You’re funny.

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