1. #1 by Valerie Howard Books on April 5, 2014 - 7:27 pm

    Thanks for the great article! I get a calendar and write the story’s events on it to help me while I’m writing and outlining so I know what day of the week and what date things occur…and in what order everything happens too. Helps me see it all at once and it keeps me on track.

    • #2 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on April 6, 2014 - 6:14 am

      Hi Valerie! I was hoping someone who used a calendar would comment! I love tools that help me see an aspect of a story at a glance.

  2. #3 by Viv on April 5, 2014 - 8:16 pm

    I am a fan of vague.
    I prefer never to actually nail a location to a specific real world location if I can avoid it at all; but most of the places in my books are not *real* places. I read a novel recently set in a particular city in a particular country in a particular century (I won’t give details) and later I noticed a review for the book that said categorically that a journey mentioned was not possible in the time allowed at that era using the transport of the time. The reviewer was spot on. I’d had issues with other details I happened to have expertise in but it reminded me that if you’re going to give details, make jolly sure they’re precise or someone will call you on it.

    • #4 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on April 6, 2014 - 6:17 am

      Hi Viv! Yes, I’ve opted for places that are made-up but plausible. It’s then easier to add the things they need in order to be a perfect set for my book. But you can’t make up everything. And as you say, we need to be careful with all the detail, whether invented or not.

  3. #5 by Michael W. Perry on April 5, 2014 - 8:48 pm

    If your tale is complex, I’d strongly suggest writing out the chronology in advance, perhaps on a calendar for a particular year, so you the days of the week mesh with those of the month and, if it matters, the phases of the moon. And if your story involves traveling, find a map for a real place or create one for a fictional place. Then use that map to write, changing it only when necessary.

    Tolkien did just that for The Lord of the Rings. He useda lunar calendar from the early 1940s for events and created his own maps of Middle-earth for the journeys. He does a marvelous job. His characters split apart on February 26 in the hobbit calendar and aren’t reunited again until March 25th, and yet the passage of days is the same for each. (Save only a bit of ambiguity when Frodo and Sam are in Shelob’s cave.) I know. I created the only day-by-day, book-length chronology of the tale–Untangling Tolkien.

    Interestingly, Tolkien actually took great care to NOT give dates in his narrative. Check and you’ll find scores of mentions of a next day and second day from some major event but dates themselves are extremely rare and typically only come at slow points in the narrative. It’s a literary tech called interlacing that enhances realism by recreating a character’s confusion in the minds of readers. (I explain the details in the book’s last chapter.) But behind all that, Tolkien was controlling every event and getting his dates exactly right.

    Even more amazing, he was doing all that in a hobbit calendar that’s slightly different from our own.

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books

    • #6 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on April 7, 2014 - 8:18 am

      Good tips – especially about using a map! I’ve made rough plans of towns, or the park in Lifeform Three, but I’ve never thought of using an actual map.

      • #7 by Michael W. Perry on April 7, 2014 - 4:56 pm

        When writing, it’s easy to be vague, referring to a room as upstairs or a town being to the north of another. The problem lies in keeping all your place references consistent. Maps, whether they’re of a home, town or country, force you to actually locate each place. That room can’t just be upstairs. It has to be on the right or left of the hall. That town can’t just be to the north of another, it has to be at a ford on a river or the foot of a mountain. And that map then becomes your standard, to be consulted when necessary and perhaps tweaked if problems develop.

        Maps also show distances, so you can estimate how long journey takes accurately. In her The Atlas of Middle-earth, Karen Fonstad laments that, in comparison to The Lord of the Ring, travel in The Hobbit is ridiculous. On good terrain with ponies the party often only travels two or three miles a day. Tolkien had learned to get that right by LOTR. There, the distances make sense.

        And if you’ve got kids, helping you to create an maintain that map can be something they do. Son Christopher helped Tolkien with is Middle Earth maps.

        A calendar or an old diary is a great way to handle a chronology. Tolkien used a lunar calendar from the early 1940s to get his dates and moon phases right. I got that same lunar data from the US Naval Observatory and put in on a calendar along with a host of other facts. The modern calendar differs from the hobbit one, so I added hobbit dates to my modern one. I added numbers to count from when the journey begin and various major events. If was all quite complicated and left me most impressed that Tolkien managed to get it right.

        And once you’ve got all those events roughed in on maps and calendars, you can start writing the narrative, knowing that, with with them as your gold standard, you won’t run into dreadful problems that are hard to sort out.

        One final but important note. Just because you’ve got all your dates down perfectly doesn’t mean that you have to burden your readers with your great skill. Depending on the plot, it may be far better to leave them stumbling in the dark.

  4. #8 by mgm75 on April 5, 2014 - 8:53 pm

    I tend not to worry about timelines unless they are too obvious but then with my completed novel (which is set in a medieval society) I had to figure out how long it would take to get from A to B on foot, by horse or by ship.

    I am up against a similar conundrum with the novel I’m working on at the moment – a group of Roman gladiators marching out of Rome to beyond the borders of the empire and into Germania. How long will it take to get there? Where will they stop along the way? Which way will they go and how long will each part of the journey take?

    It’s one of the many problems of writing a historical novel.

    • #9 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on April 6, 2014 - 8:19 pm

      Oh, the pleasures of journey times in bygone centuries! I remember advising Dave about a horse’s average speed and range for one of his books. And ship voyages could take months. Also don’t forget travelling by night – modern writers sometimes completely forget that few people travelled after dark before the advent of street lighting!

      • #10 by mgm75 on April 6, 2014 - 9:30 pm

        <—– this archaeologist cannot forget that the Romans did not have street lights ;-)

        It's all still in my head and luckily I saved some of the best source books I was using as an undergraduate

  5. #11 by Fantasy Angel on April 5, 2014 - 11:24 pm

    Reblogged this on Avid Reader and commented:
    Love this! So needed this…..

  6. #14 by Ozherm on April 6, 2014 - 3:11 am

    One of my favorite novels had one flaw that still bugs me… the timeline in each book and across the series made no sense. When I began writing my current book, I remembered that lesson and created a spreadsheet to relate plot events to a timeline. Then I put dates into each chapter.

    Then I found myself wondering if it really would take that amount to time to do something…

    This article is a timely (pun intended) reminder that some things are best left to the readers’ imagination. Our job as writers is to make the illusion seamless by not making obvious mistakes. That can mean NOT referring to specific dates within a fantasy novel… provided the SEQUENCE makes sense.

    • #15 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on April 6, 2014 - 8:12 pm

      Some great points here, Ozherm. We learn such a lot from books that have these glitches. We certainly need to keep the reader suspending their disbelief, and trusting in our authority (I rather like that concept as it includes the word ‘author!’)

  7. #16 by Danielle M. on April 6, 2014 - 4:13 am

    Reblogged this on FemCandee and commented:
    Plotting Tips

  8. #17 by Robert Scanlon on April 6, 2014 - 4:51 am

    Yep, have had some complex timelines occurring between parallel worlds, and making sure important events in both worlds fit together, and one of them also had regular school terms to span.

    I definitely timeline my outline as tightly as possible =- but then (plug for Roz’s Beat Sheet method), after the first draft, I make the beat sheet (effectively now a reversed engineered ‘real’ outline) with the elapsed timeline in a right-hand column, which has been invaluable for this noob.

    Certainly gives me confidence to construct a ‘ticking clock’ scenario (hopefully one day soon).

    Don’t know how the pantsers do it, but they obviously can!

    • #18 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on April 6, 2014 - 8:07 pm

      Hi Robert! A ‘reverse-engineered outline’ – that’s a great description of the beat sheet! Another reason I don’t establish the timeline until the revisions is that I change such a lot. Really the first draft is feeling my way and getting familiar with the book and the characters. Then the real discipline begins.

  9. #19 by Alison J. McKenzie on April 6, 2014 - 6:27 am

    This is super helpful. I suspect this is a problem I’m running into with my current WIP, and now I feel better armed to tackle the second draft when I get there. Thanks!

  10. #21 by Candy Korman on April 7, 2014 - 12:21 am

    Thanks for useful tips. I find that timelines help with continuity and prevent HUGE mishaps.

  11. #23 by kali on April 7, 2014 - 5:32 am

    I always hated reading a book with no point in time. But with that said, I have been trying to write a novel for sometime now and I keep getting caught up on this concept of time because I know how much it bothers me when it isn’t used. These are some great tips to help me move along in my writing. Thanks!

    • #24 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on April 7, 2014 - 8:19 am

      Glad they helped, Kali. Love the name of your blog, BTW – full of promise…

      • #25 by kali on April 7, 2014 - 6:04 pm

        Oh thank you so much! I really appreciate it.

  12. #26 by Mary McCauley on April 8, 2014 - 12:06 pm

    Great article, Roz! You are so right about timelines being one of the stumbling blocks for authors (and editors!). As a copy-editor I rarely work on a manuscript that does not have some timeline inconsistency. In my blog a couple of months ago I shared my personally designed tracker tools that I use to help me keep track of timelines, characters’ details, etc. when I’m copy-editing a manuscript. They are available for free download by editors and authors alike! Visit http://www.marymccauleyproofreading.com/blog

    • #27 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on April 8, 2014 - 7:10 pm

      Oh what a useful resource, Mary – I’m heading over there now! Authors often don’t realise how pernickety editors have to be, and the things that can slip past. From being an editor myself I’ve learned to be very meticulous about the details in my own novels because sorting out the queries is so painful.

  13. #28 by Karen Lynne Klink on April 11, 2014 - 3:15 pm

    You should see the notebook I have on my novel It’s a historical novel, so the timeline has one color for what happened in the U.S. that might affect my story at the time, another color for what happened in Texas and the region and town where my story takes place, and another color for what actually happens to the characters, their ages, their families, etc. This is all divided into years, subdivided into months and days. All this is under a Timeline tab. There’s another tab for characters, one for maps, one for research, one for . . . , well, it’s a good thing I like to be organized. I’ll check out those tools for my next project.

    • #29 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on April 12, 2014 - 7:08 pm

      Karen, I love inventing systems! Colours, tabs, maps. What fun. You could almost publish your notebook in itself, it sounds like a thing of beauty.

  14. #30 by jumpingfromcliffs on May 27, 2014 - 12:36 pm

    Now I need to create a beat sheet! And, not being the organising type, I’m going to have to buy your book!! Grrrrrr ;) Seriously though, this is a great tip – I massively need to do this, as I’ve re-shuffled the events in my book several times. I *think* I’ve kept track of the timeline, but I bet I haven’t.

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