Back to the future: Making timelines

You could use one of these, but there are better tools out there.

You could use one of these, but there are better tools out there.

As I work on the revision of my WIP, I often find myself wishing I had developed a timeline as I wrote the draft. While I did note important events in various places — character notes, scraps of paper, in Scrivener docs — I didn’t have one place where I kept track of all of them. This has resulted in some inconsistency, which means more work for me.

I’ve found that I need to think about two kinds of timelines: one for the actual events of the novel, and another for what happened before the events of the novel. The latter is important for character development: How did my characters get themselves into this mess?

I can only imagine how much of a headache this would be with historical fiction. Lucky for us, there’s some help out there:

  • Jamie Todd Rubin explains how to use custom metadata fields in Scrivener to build a timeline.
  • British writer Wendy Clarke has a wonderful character-style timeline available as a free Excel download with built in formulas for calculating character age and other info based on event dates.
  • Kerry M. Given has a great rundown of timeline software on her blog.

One of the tools Given mentions is Aeon Timeline, which is available for both Windows and Mac. It’s not cheap at $40, but if I were writing book-length nonfiction or historical fiction, it would be very tempting. It’s worth checking out just to see the examples using events from Murder on the Orient Express.

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2 Responses to Back to the future: Making timelines

  1. Thanks for the very helpful post, Chris. I look forward to checking out the various sites/software you suggest.

  2. Wendy Clarke says:

    Thank you for mentioning my timeline (Wendy’s Story Timeline) – I hope your readers find it useful.

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