My Take on Writing Part 3: Plotting and Time Lines

Plotting and determining time lines are two other essentials when preparing to write a novel. The plot lays out how the story will develop and progress, and the time line helps you determine when that will occur.

I’m not going to get into the nuts and bolts of how to plot such as rising action, climax, and falling action. I leave those up to the experts and strongly suggest that you read a couple of good books on developing fiction. But I do want to share some items that I’ve learned over the years.

1. Think about the entire course of the story you want to tell, from beginning to end. It’s okay to know how things will progress.
2. Don’t worry about thinking linearly. Some scenes may come up early in your thought process that would be more suitable toward the end of your novel than the beginning. Plotting the whole novel allows you to plug in the scenes where you think they go.
3. Jot everything down, either on a notepad or on the computer when they come up. Everything. Even if you think it’s too detailed. And if you’re getting ready for bed or out somewhere when these ideas arrive, write them down somewhere lest you forget them.
4. Be open to change. Plotting is definitely not a done deal. If things change after you draft your plot, that’s okay. Work it into the novel.

On to the time line. This too was a concept that was drilled into my head when I took my writing course. Additionally, I’ve come to see that it is an essential part of planning out a novel. Time lines help you figure out how the plot will unfold. A good time line will also keep you from making errors that knock the reader out of the reality of the book and into their reality. For example, a character may be adopting a child where there is a waiting period of six months. If you’re not careful with the plot, then only four months might pass.

So how is the best way to avoid this? I actually use a calendar. I go to my Outlook and print out blank calendars for the months when my plot will occur. Then I literally pencil in when dates will occur for all aspects of the plot and sub plots. A suggestion I have, especially when sub plots are involved, is to group them on common days to save yourself confusion. That’s hard to explain, and if you have questions, I’ll be glad to entertain them. Just comment on my post, and I’ll respond.

Like the plot, time lines should be subject to change. If something comes up and you need to adjust it, do so. Nothing is set in stone.

One last bit of advice that I have, which was passed to me by someone years ago, was to not stretch the plot/time line over many years to turn your novel into the epic novel. Instead, as a beginning novelist, keep it relatively compact. I try to keep mine to within a year. That being said, if you view placing something in the distant past to set the stage, or into the distant future, to end the novel, then do so. A good way to do that is to use headers at the beginning of the chapters (e.g., 2008 for the past and Present Day when the present action starts). And if you have something at the very end of the novel that is way in the future, you can use an Epilogue and again denote the same thing (e.g., 2017). Just don’t stretch the entire plot over, say, ten years or so.

So that’s plot and time line from my point of view. Next up: Free write!

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