A timeline is an invaluable tool for the novelist. Using a timeline as you write your novel allows you to keep all your events in a logical and coherent sequence, and it prevents you from making silly mistakes. Some of those mistakes include having the main character in two places on the same date in different scenes, having time move backward from Friday to an earlier day in the week, or even the blunder of using the wrong year.
Before I begin writing, I map out a story arc that has the dates, times, and years marked on it. When I do this, I sometimes find that my story timeline doesn’t cover a wide enough span of time, or it drags out too long. I can change that with a stroke of the pen, before I ever set a word on paper.
As I’m writing a novel, I keep my timeline story arc next to me. I mark the date and time on each scene as I outline it. While writing, if I feel that I want to make one scene take longer, it’s simple to move the date in the next scenes.
Doing this helped me find buried errors. For instance, in my latest novel, with my timeline, I realized that I had gaps in my time that were unrealistic. The story takes place over a period of about two weeks, yet as I wrote, time began stretching out. I had to revise and tighten the writing to keep the story real.
There are writing programs that will create a timeline for you. You can use graphics in an Excel spreadsheet, Word document, or other program. You can simply draw it on a piece of paper. The low tech way seems to work best for me. Finding a timeline you’re comfortable with will help keep your story progressing smoothly.