Timelines in Fiction

For the past two months, I’ve been working with the author of a noir-style 1940s suspense novel. The timeline of events in the 300+-page book is complicated—even down to exact minutes.

How do authors keep such intricate details straight? Plot them out in the beginning and keep track of them as you go along.

There are so many ways to do this:

Plotting out the events of your novel not only makes its timeline clear but can also help refine its story arc. How? As you coordinate what happens, you’ll inevitably find places where the action drags or a scene doesn’t fit (a lengthy but unnecessary stop at a grocery store, for instance). Seeing everything laid out will tell you exactly what needs to be rearranged, shortened/lengthened, or removed entirely.

The time to make sure the details of your timeline are straight is before you start writing, but if you’re in the middle of things and find yourself more and more confused, it’s never too late to get organized.

Write down the details, type them out, or even draw them—anything that helps you clarify where your characters have been and where they’re going.

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