Timelines, Timeframes and Timetables.

This week I want to talk about surrounding your characters with their own personal timelines and placing them in a specific time and place.

Just a note, most of the examples I will be using in this post will be from my novel, which is 70,000+ words of (hopefully) well planned war literature.

For the two main characters in my novel I created timelines as a way to map their lives before the story started, so I could keep track of dates and ages for back story purposes and to hopefully avoid continuity errors. For example, I didn’t want a character to say that they went to a certain place when they were 20 and then in the second half say it happened when they were 19.

The timelines read something like this brief excerpt. (There are two separate timelines but I cross-reference them, so the births of both characters are on both lists)

Timeline L.

(Monday) 18 Aug 1890 K.E.C is born
(Sat) 7 Nov 1891 L.E.L is born
1909 A.L is born when L. is 18
4 Aug 1914 England declares war on Germany7 Nov 1914 L. turns 24
19 July 1915 start of book

and so on for most events in the book.

Another advantage of these timelines are having a definitive list of dates so that as I mentioned before I don’t forget important dates and “life events”.

Using a time frame to build a story around (a year, two years, once every year on the same day…) can be helpful to try and keep structure but I don’t rely too much on this. Having too rigid a time frame can also trip you up if you don’t plan every single month of the story line. There’s the chance you could say which month you are in and then say two months have passed and then it’s not the right month! If this makes sense. Planning, if the novel is going to be really specific about when and where things are happening is really important.

I tend to get a bit willy nilly with weeks and days so I try not to mention exact dates or days of the week, just in case I say “It was Monday. Three days had passed and tomorrow was Saturday” or something stupid like that. My novel only has three exact dates (to my knowledge) throughout the whole thing. One of them is in the first line, the other is the mention of a character’s birthday and the third is a very vague hint that it is the armistice. Because of the nature of the book and the state of mind that my main character finds himself in, I found that for half of the book it doesn’t matter what day/date it is as my character wouldn’t know or care anyway. How much or how little time passes in that section of the novel is irrelevant, but I’m sure if you squint hard enough there is some clue.

That’s all for now,



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