Creating a Timeline

Wait, I can’t die yet! I have to give birth to the leader of the rebel alliance in chapter 18.

From personal experience, I found that once I’d decided to write the novel, I made my first mistake when I neglected to consider the importance of a properly planned out timeline.

I wrote myself into a corner when I discovered that I had taken my ragtag group on a journey that lasted six days through a harsh desert. This completely messed up a scene that was running concurrently with this one. And then I realised I had never checked exactly how long a desert trek on foot would take, considering the time of year and distance across harsh terrain. The journey to their location would take a bit more than a month. The fact is I had to research a little and my timeline became a little more detailed. It didn’t stop there however, I underestimated the harsh cruelty of Siberia and the fact that my characters had no access to transport. More research. Another rewrite and another adjustment to my timeline.

By this point, I was beyond irritated with myself and so I decided, spontaneity be damned. In order to facilitate the speed of my actual narration and make sense, I would have to write a concisely researched timeline for each as part of the novel. Try and skip this crucial step, and you will be left with an implausible mess that no one wants to read. It’s hard work, but well worth the effort and your novel will be all the richer for it.

From constructing my world, the events that take place in my novel, the characters, the cultures, to the attitudes of the people, everything which takes place should be rooted in history, a timeline.

You have to consider that all your characters are the product of all they have experienced before you even began your story and they will react accordingly.

Establishing a timeline for all the different aspects of your novel, will not only make it rational and consistent, but realistic as well.

In the case of my dystopian tale I had to ask myself how did the world as we know it, change and how did situations and people have to adapt to survive. Whether through nuclear warfare, being hit by an asteroid, climate change, alien invasion, chemical warfare? Whatever the option is that you choose, carefully research the repercussions of each, as this will definitely influence your timeline. The effects of fallout, radiation, how long would it take for human habitation to take place once more, pestilence. What changes took place and how did survival reforms occur, such as socio-economic/political and religious elements. If a massive EMP disrupted all technology, how would this affect communication, and what would people do to resolve it? What alternative devices do you introduce to overcome the problem? Some real research comes into play here.

If you decide to introduce different warring factions, you must create a fictional timeline in which there is both a reason for the war and the aggression between the factions. In the case of fiefdoms for example, why was the regression needed? Carefully think of the why, the how, the what, the motives? In the absence of a monetary system, would bartering be used, slave trade?

If you incorporate an especially villainous character, remember that people don’t become good or bad in a vacuum, they have a pre-history and you need to consider this in your timeline.

When working on your timelines you must decide on what cosmic forces are at play in everything that happens. The role of God, your character’s perceptions of nature, will all be dependent on your own philosophical, religious, observed perceptions of the world around you.

Remember, that although a great deal of your work goes into drawing up your timelines, they will not be directly revealed to your readers.

This will give your readers the opportunity to figure it out for themselves, while you provide clues, revealed mostly in the nature of the world you describe.

All your work will go into making the reader’s journey through the novel an unconsciously believable and skilfully crafted world.

In one chapter one of our characters receives an artefact and then magically a second artefact appears with another character establishing a link between the two characters that had not been obvious up until that point. I had to rewrite the earlier part since the link that would be created needed to be established in the earlier part of the tale, thus providing the vehicle for the link in later chapters. It is essential to establish continuity since it helps you to anchor the timeline and prevents endless rewrites and plot mismatches.

My advice to you would be, to create a “Research” file containing any and all research. Clearly, mark each category so that it is easily accessible if you need it. Create another file called “Timelines”. You will find yourself often referring back to this file, especially if your novel is long and intricate and facts need to be checked and rechecked. I have found this to be very helpful when it comes to continuity, how the incorporation of events across a timeline is skilfully carried over across the chapters.

Author: Nanieve Groenewald

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