Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The More You Know, The More You'll Save: Part VI ~ Chronological Order

by Alycia W. Morales

As authors, we're always looking for ways to save money and time. This is the sixth post in a series that is meant to help you save both. On the front end, putting forth the effort to learn these points will cost you some time, but in the long run, it will save you money on professional edits.

Last time, we continued discussing character development and went over Point of View. This week, we'll take a look at creating an accurate timeline.

It would seem obvious, but our stories need to be in chronological order. 

You may be writing a novel where your characters are traveling in time from one era to the next. For example, in the movie Midnight in Paris, Gil travels to Paris with his fiance in modern times, but when he takes a walk at midnight he finds himself in Paris in the 20s, hanging out with the likes of Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway, to name a few.

Sure, the scenes may not happen in chronological order on the dated timeline, but when your character shows up again in 2016, he or she should be picking up where they left off, not jumping ahead two years or falling back three days or even three hours. If they do, your timeline is out of order and you'll need to rearrange it.

Unless your character is Dr. Who and your reader knows he will show up months after he departed with Rose. In this case, he has control of the timeline. He can go back in time to fix things or forward because time has passed since he left. In which case, Rose's life will look different on earth. Her mother is aging, times are changing, and the story continues.

When editing, I have often found that authors struggle with keeping the timeline in order when switching points of view. This is the area where I would caution you to be careful. It looks like this:

Character A is going through the motions and having conversations and moving the story forward.

Author switches POV to Character B. Only, instead of picking up where Character A's timeline left off, the author moves Character B back several minutes or hours or days in the timeline and starts telling Character B's story there.

The two characters' stories should not be happening side-by-side like that. Where one leaves off, the other picks up and vice versa. Otherwise, you're doing what I like to call "time hopping." It's very similar to head hopping. The reader will find themselves all over the place in time and end up confused.

The fix is easy: Keep the stories fluent. When you switch Point of View, don't switch time. Pick up where Character A left off when you start writing Character B's POV. Your readers will thank you.

One way to keep track of timelines is to keep it on paper. Make yourself a timeline like we did when we were in history class. Write down what your characters are doing. If you make two side by side, you can easily track where the characters are in their timelines and where you need to leave off with one and pick up with the other.

Another way is to create that timeline with sticky notes and keep them in front of you. You could even move them around if you found yourself wanting to change the timeline. This method would also help you find gaps in your timeline and easily fill them in by adding another sticky note. No need for erasers or starting over here.

What other struggles do you have with timelines? We'd love to know. Feel free to leave us a comment below!


Tips for Keeping Your Timeline in Tact via @AlyciaMorales {Click to Tweet}

Are your characters time hopping? A few pointers on chronological order. {Click to Tweet}


  1. i had to create a timeline for mine, too much going on, and even though i knew it all in my head, i kept getting certain events mixed up! timeline is INVALUABLE!!!


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