Timelines are handy little tools. You often have to develop them in school (at least I have) with all the different birthdays of famous people and special events marked out and whatnot. But what use do they have in fiction? What can you do with writing timelines? Well, a couple things. (And that’s not counting historical fiction.)
Accurate Character Ages
Have you ever watched a TV show or read a book in which a character is either too old for their parent(s) to have had them at a normal age, or they say that a character was x many years old when a certain event happens and that was x many years ago, but that makes them the wrong age? Avoid making the same mistake by keeping a writing timeline and a calculator handy. Easily keep track of when characters were born and when special events happened and just add or subtract as appropriate when you add a new event.
Keeping Multiple Story-Lines Straight
If you have multiple story-lines it helps immensely to have the events of each on a timeline so you can see what happens in comparison to what. I like the basic idea of the POV tracker in Ink and Quills’ story binder printouts, and it probably works well for people who plan out their stories down to the detail. Since I’m looser with my outlining I converted it into an Excel spreadsheet so I can insert rows, have an easier time color-coding things, etc. This helps you know what other characters are up to at an integral point of the plot and helps you appropriately line up things that need to be lined up. For instance, this character needs to be trying to assassinate a king in the next few days? Well then we’ll have to figure out how that still works now that she’s gone and gotten herself severely injured. And that other character can’t still be in Kaloris if she has to be in Mandoria in two days; she’s not that fast. It helps you easily see what problems you have and sort out ways to fix it. It’s a really handy-dandy little tool.
So this has been a really short post (I don’t outline my posts most of the time and by the time I realized I didn’t have any more points it was too late to change the topic… Learn from my mistakes. Outline.), but I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you use writing timelines for? Do they span across whole universes and worlds or just one story? Do you have a simple linear timeline, two side-by-side, or something else?