• Katja

Multiple Timelines

Hello there lovely friends! How's it going? Are you hydrating? Taking your meds? Being kind to yourself?

a picture from Back to the Future where Doc Brown is explaining how they created an alternate version of 1985

Yeah? Good to hear! I'm super excited for today's topic and this is partially because I know so many writers dislike it. BUT I LOVE IT. How do you figure out what's happening on what day in your story and how do you make your time line make sense and prevent creating a dreaded time paradox?


I seriously love this part of the writing process. When I start a story, I go in with a general idea of how long the story is going to take. I draft it, then before I do my first revision pass, I figure out what precisely happens on each day and what my actual timeline is. Then, once I'm done with all the major revisions and am on to smaller scene level stuff, I make a master list of chapters and what day they occur on.


Fascinating, right?


I see you rolling your eyes. Just hear me out. This not only helps to make sure that you have continuity in your books, but it's also a great way to check on your pacing. Not to mention, that it can help you keep track of character's moods, injuries, and level of exhaustion. So laying out the basic daily schedule of how you plan to ruin your characters lives can be a super useful tool.


A GIF of Arnold, from Hey Arnold saying "Having non-stop, full on action packed fun."

Also, for me, I've come to realize that I tend to write fast-paced stories that happen in a very limited number of days. It becomes a built in ticking clock, there's always a strict time limit on my stories (for the past two stories, it involved phases of the moon. I am proud to say that for Harpy Girls, there are no moon phase shenanigans and it's literally a race against time. Look at me leveling up!)


I'm going to go through two examples, one for my current WIP, Harpy Girls, and one for my currently querying MS, Tarnished Hearts.


First up, Harpy Girls. When I first drafted this last spring, I figured the story would take a few weeks, but less than a month. At the time, I had a very different map from what I have now and I had characters who had to walk everywhere. In my current version, my map is more consolidated and now we have cars! All the essential locations (several different cities) are within a 5-6 hour drives of each other. This really altered my overall time line and shrunk it from several weeks to just ten days.


Since this is only my second draft, I don't have definite chapters worked out yet, just major scenes/beats that need to happen and what day they happen on. I'll figure out the actual chapters after I've done a few more revision rounds. (also, I know, I redacted spoilers. Just let me live in a world where I can pretend like something I write will be published one day. LET ME KEEP MY SECRETS)


Eventually, my Harpy Girls timeline will look more like this one that I have for Tarnished Hearts:

Since this is a finished manuscript, I have a chapter by chapter breakdown for each day, as well as the number of pages it takes. It's dual POV, so I've highlighted the chapters of the main POV in yellow and then just to help me keep things straight, I have some basic notes concerning what the big *plot thing* is for each day.


I really love being able to look at this data for so many reasons. First and foremost, it looks very official and gives me a sense of accomplishment, which as writers, we know those moments can be few and far between. Secondly, it lets me see how I've divided my time between my two characters and make sure it's well balanced. Both in the total number of chapters each character has, as well as how many each character has on a specific day.


Finally, I love looking at the distribution of chapters to key moments and how while most days are given 3-5 chapters, that final day is given 16 chapters. So even though the action is speeding up, as a writer, I'm slowing things down so we can dig into the nitty gritty of the climax of the story. On other days, I could skip from the morning to the afternoon with no loss of important information, but at the end, I am giving you the play by play for every damn second. For whatever reason, I find this breakdown fascinating.

A gif of Homer Simpson looking at a diagram and complaining that it's complicated

Making a timeline doesn't have to be a complicated undertaking, but it can be a super helpful one. And once you make a simple chart you can refer back to it when you're doing smaller edits or looking for continuity errors. On day two of Harpy Girls, one of my characters is badly injured and needs stitches. Her level of pain, movement of the injured arm and how soon those stitches need to be looked at or removed are all things I need to keep in mind. So when I go back to do an editing pass for continuity things, I can google up something along the lines of "basic timeline for someone with stitches" and then match that up to what she does (or purposefully skips because she's TUFF). It's small potatoes, but sometime it's those small details that sell it.


No matter how you choose to organize it, I highly recommend taking an hour or two to make a daily schedule for your story. Future you will thank past you. I'm also guessing that an agent or an editor might dig something like this? Idk. I have no experience with either, but I feel like it would be a simple tool to include with your synopsis once you have a working relationship with either of those professionals.


So, do you use a timeline when you write or do you let chaos reign? Feel free to hit me up on Twitter with your thoughts or share your method of keeping the days organized in your stories.


Happy Writing!


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