A Peek at Book Two’s Plot Timeline

At a certain spot in every story, I get to the point where I can no longer remember which day it is (in story—happens out of story, too, but that’s a whole different problem). When I hit that point, I sit down and create a story timeline.

I usually use paper and a pencil because I’ve yet to find a digital solution that I like as well. If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears.

This morning I hit that point because my characters were switching planets and timezones. And if I don’t write it down and keep track, it’ll be Thursday for the whole book.

Here’s a peek at the beginning of the timeline, before I wrote anything too spoilery. Click to see a bigger version.

PR2 Story Timeline

The bulk of my stories tend to take place over a fairly short amount of time, so my calendar is laid out for three weeks. That’s what fits on the page and it’s usually enough, although when I rewrote the end of Polaris Rising, it wasn’t. :)

P.S. I shared this on Twitter this morning, but then I realized it might be interesting to non-Twitter people as well.

25 Replies to “A Peek at Book Two’s Plot Timeline”

  1. Jessie,
    I have to do exactly the same thing when working on a history project. You can use Exel with greatly enlarged cells (makes a search really easy if you included the bit you wanted to find in the first place), but I find I still come back to an 18×24″ piece of paper, because I can see everything at a glance. Otherwise, the screen size means I am havingbto keep a good chunk of the spreadsheet in my mind anyway, so what the heck?

    1. Yeah, this template is from a Numbers (Apple’s Excel) file. I just don’t like using Numbers itself—I like writing in the details by hand.

  2. I’m not sure if I should admit this in public or not, but I have been known to go back through a book and plot a time line and often find discrepancies so its nice to know that you are being so organized beforehand!

  3. I would never notice if an entire story took place on a Thursday the whole time, but I do notice that characters never seem to run out of toilet paper in the bathroom. (Or other annoying minutiae from daily life -my current one being a car smelling of mold thanks to a teenager, an open window and a massive rain storm) Now that you’ve brought it to my attention, I’m likely to start looking for story timelines. Thanks? lol

    1. I don’t know about other authors, but I tend to leave those little annoyances out unless they are needed to make a point. I read for an escape; I don’t want to be annoyed on the character’s behalf.

      1. So true! Sometimes I wonder why the trivial annoyances never get written in (like why did the heroine never have to pee, or never has bad cramps). I, too, read for escape, but never really thought about escaping from the minutia too. I wonder if it would be refreshing or annoying to read about those things?

        1. If every tiny annoyance was detailed, it would probably be annoying or hilariously funny depending on the context. All at once? Totally a bad day. Bits and pieces? That annoying co-worker who would find a wart in heaven. I can see Jessie’s point about it being essential to the story being told, but I still wonder about it sometimes. I wondered about toilet paper during history class too when the teacher started discussing the graffiti on Pompeii’s walls. People are people and some things are universal. Hence the t. p. curiosity.

  4. I’ve never actually noticed errors when it comes to timelines in a book I’m reading, but I’ve noticed them frequently when it comes to people.
    I was reading a great book not too long ago, and one of the bad guys was described as the only son and heir, and in the next chapter his 18 year old brother was called the heir by their father.
    I always notice those sorts of things, but days, months, and years, I guess I just don’t pay enough attention, I’m too busy following the story line. :-)

    1. Ha! I know what book you are talking about! I just re-read them, and have both sections highlighted and noted in my kindle. Still 1 of my favorites though.

  5. What is thing you call Twitter?

    And as a very wise man told me a while back: if it’s not necessary to change, then it’s necessary not to change. Keep doing what you’re doing. We like it just fine.

  6. I like to see your writing process, I am always impressed by writers. Wish I could write!
    When I am reading, I notice grammatical errors the most, then plothole type things like days of the week.
    Thank you for writing the stories I love to read!

  7. I like how you do that! Thank you for sharing. :)

    In my case, I seem to hit the “I need to track this” about 4 stories in. I sometimes use Numbers, sometimes use Aeon Timeline.

    I find Aeon’s better when everything’s on only 1 calendar, and though there’s some work in the setup, I can track events in various stories and even who knows about them or can’t know about them yet, if I need to.

    My epic fantasy series, though, is in Numbers. That project has multiple calendar systems, and characters use different ones.

    My dystopian series jumps plays games with timelines and alternate universes. I still haven’t figured out a good method to track that. Might have to focus on tracking linear-by-character experience and then pull in subtables.

    Writing by hand can be great for working to get thoughts organized, but for records to save for later? No. Not for me.

    1. Yeah, the worst is when I really need my timeline while I’m out and it’s at home. I’ve looked at Aeon in the past, but a written timeline is just so easy. I may have to check Aeon out again.

        1. Believe it or not, I’ve done this. Unfortunately, the picture is inevitably out of date by the time I need it. :/ The struggle is real.

    1. For The Queen’s Gambit, the answer is hopefully very soon. For Polaris Rising, I’m not sure. Likely after TQG, just because the release isn’t until early next year, but it’s up to the publisher.

      You can be sure that whenever it happens, I’ll shout it from the rooftops. :)

  8. I like this idea for project planning at work, and maybe use different color pencils for different ones. I do it in xlsx now, but I get frustrated w/it.
    Thank you

  9. I used something like this at work. It’s called a Gantt Chart when used for project projections, but I’ve also used it for completed projects as well.
    I’ve used spreadsheet programs to create and print blank templates or simple graph paper when I’m in a hurry.
    The top row are used to designates time periods. (Hours, days, weeks, etc.) The first column can be used for people, places, events, etc. Coded color blocking time frames allows you to incorporate more than one designation.
    For example, if my first column is people, the color codes can reference a place that person is at during a timeframe.
    Wikipedia has a pretty good description of it’s uses.
    Hope this helps.

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