Timelines will Save You

Author: Anastasia V. Pergakis // Category:


The Muse Online Writer's Conference had workshop titled "Keeping Track of Characters in a Series" with Jim Overturf.

I'll be honest and say that the workshop was not what I expected, but the information was invaluble. In the workshop, Jim presented us with excel spreadsheets set up for timelines about your characters.

I never thought to use an actual time line, instead I just wrote random notes on the characters' sketches. However, having an actual timeline all laid out is a wonderful tool that I know recommend to anyone who writes a series - or stand alone novel for that matter.

I tried to create snapshots of the excel sheets but they didn't turn out too well, so hopefully you can still follow along with what I say. If I get the snapshots to actually work, I'll post them up in a later post.

The first type of timeline is for a single character. Make one for each of your characters (or give each character their own sheet in the same book if you want.)

Obviously, put their name on the top. There are five columns in Jim's version of the timeline - Year, Age, Education, Primary, and Secondary.

The year column is the years of your character life from birth to death. Like if I did a timeline on myself, I would start the year in 1984, when I was born. The age column marks how old your character during that year. I turned 1 in 1985, 2 in 1986, etc. Now you might think this is a bit reduntant since you already have the years listed, but it comes in handy. I mean, can you immediately think of how old you were in say 1992 without doing a bit of math on it first - everytime? Well, the age column helps with that. I love it because with my faeries and elves being so old, it really helps to keep track of how old they are and when.

The education column is where you keep track of what grade of school they were in, matching up with their age and the year of course. Pretty simple and helps to mark graduations and things like that.

Now, before I get to the last two columns, I want to take a minute to explain that in the timeline I use for my characters, I only have the age column. My fantasy stories don't really mention the exact year for anything. Not only do I not need that column, I wouldn't even know how to fill it in, unless I started making stuff up. I don't use the education column because my characters don't go to kindergarten or things like that. Their school system is set up completely different than ours. They don't have different grades it's just primary school and university, so I don't need that column. You can add or take away from this based on what you need.

Now, the Primary column is where you input the events that they did themselves or happened directly to them. This can include graduating from school, breaking their arm, getting married or divorced, etc.

The Secondary column is the best part of this timeline I think. This column is put those events that affected the character emotionally, spiritually, financial or politically. For example, his parens divorced, mom remarried, little sister was born, recieved an inheritance, etc. Basically anything that other people did, but still impacted the character on some level.

I can already see the value of having such a wonderful tool, especially for those that write series. By the time you get to book four, the timeline will make sure you don't forget that your character broke their left arm in book 2. Sure, you could just make a note of it on your character sketches or what have you, but a timeline is just so neat and organized. Everything is there all in one place! It's fantastic!

The other type of timeline, Jim shared with us in the workshop are multiple timelines or character tracking timelines. This puts your characters actions side by side with another so you can keep track of who is doing what.

I was excited when I saw this sheet! I have a part in Burden of Prophecy where the group gets split up. If I had this multiple timeline sheet when I first wrote it, it would have been SO much easier to keep track of everything.

You can do the multiple timeline in two different ways -- hour by hour (or even second by second if you need to) or by year. The hour by hour one is simple, list the hours that you need in one column and then have a column for each character involved. This will help you keep track of what your characters are doing at the same time - it's great to see it side by side even if you can't put it that way in the story itself.

The other multiple timeline done by year has the year, age, education columns like the single character sheet did, but instead of the Primary and Secondary columns, you list each character involved. What would you need to see side by side for years or even a life time at a time? This form is great for following lines of family generations. This lets you keep track of a few generations - up to the time your novel starts!

You can also substitute the characters for towns or cities or countries even. List major events that happened in those places - king was murdered, plague broke out, etc. Things that may have a major effect on the world your characters live in.

I hope I did this justice without pictures to show you, but like I said, if I get it working right, I'll post them up later for you. I'm so glad I was able to participate in this workshop. These worksheets will greatly help me with all my series. Imagine what they can do to help you too!

Let me know if you use these - any changes you made and how they work for you. Do you already make timelines? If so, what information do you put on them and why?

2 Responses to "Timelines will Save You"

Dawn Embers Says :
October 24, 2010 at 2:53 PM

That's one workshop I probably should have signed up for but didn't. I really should create a timeline for the two mutant series, especially since the YA characters become secondary characters in the adult series. I need to plan out the series, even though i'm not writing the second books until I've at least sent out the first ones.

Anastasia V. Pergakis Says :
October 24, 2010 at 3:50 PM

Yes. In my experience, it's good to have everything planned out even if you know you won't write parts of it until later. This way you don't lose track of details from one book to the next and also, it helps to keep you motivated I think. Great plot idea for book 3 that you are aching to work on? Well, knowing that you do ahead of time through planning and such, will motivate you to finish 1 and 2 much faster! I can't wait to read your mutant series officially!

Post a Comment