Timelines...those pesky strings which record all the events our characters get into or try to get out of and drive us absolutely nuts with trying to keep straight. Did he shoot the burglar in the garden after dinner? Or was it his wife that did stab someone in the library before dawn? Keeping track of timelines can be as tedious as well, a timeline. (Cue the drum and cymbal) All puns aside, Timelines can be your best friend when you know how to properly craft and utilize them.
This month, we discussed various ways to develop, track and incorporate a timeline into your Work In Progress. Mindy Klasky, a USA Today Best-Selling Author offers several tools to develop a workable timeline in her article, Keeping Time, originally published in the magazine, Romance Writers Report in September 2010.
"As authors, we need to manage timelines for our characters. Whether we’re counting the number of days until the Season begins in Regency England or the number of nights that remain before a werewolf-transforming full moon in contemporary America, we authors must know how long our characters have been in action."
There are ways to do just that. Many are simple, such as using paper, index cards or a white board. Ms. Klasky says, "Some authors simply grab a standard calendar, scribbling in the key dates for their characters. This straightforward method of timeline management works best for authors of contemporary novels, where specific dates and timed devices (e.g., phases of the moon) are not material to the plot. The truly detail-driven author who uses real calendars will need to keep a number on hand; taking Leap Year into consideration, our Western calendar repeats every twenty-eight years. Fortunately, many word processing programs, including Word, include templates for creating calendars." Other authors will use old computer paper, spread out over the floor to record and track their timeline.
If being more technical and utilizing electronics is more your style, Ms. Klasky suggests using spreadsheets and text management software. "While spreadsheets evolved as accounting tools for handling numerous mathematical calculations, they are often used to mimic complicated database management software, tracking multiple “fields” of information in columns or rows. Spreadsheets can be used to record detail about people, places, and dates." Also, "text management software – computer programs designed specifically to assist writers in manipulating large amounts of text – also often include timeline solutions. For example, yWriter is free Windows-based software that permits authors to save “chunks” of their novels as easily-moved scenes. Each scene can be assigned a specific time and date, and the author can define the duration of each scene, in terms of minutes, hours, or days."
You can find yWriter at http://www.spacejock.com/yWriter5.html. Apart from yWriter, the web offers several options for timelines. One such option is "the cloud." Writers are able to upload information onto the cloud and work offline in a variety of computer platforms and storage choices. “The cloud” is available from any Internet-connected computer, without regard to platform; it can be very useful for authors who work in a variety of physical places and for authors who collaborate with others."
The final option Ms. Klasky shares is the Web. Sites such as Google and Dipity offer calendars which can be customized to each writer's specific need.
Of course, once you have a working timeline, the question then becomes, how do you incorporate time into your WIP? Well, there are a number of ways to do so. In the article, How to Effectively Handle Time Shifts In Your Story, Jane Friedman offers several solutions.
"Everything that happens in your fiction should occur at the moment when it will evoke the greatest response from a reader. This means that even if your fiction’s timeframe begins at point A and then moves forward till it ends at point B, the story doesn’t need to progress lineally. Instead, your story should move forward emotionally, building momentum toward its climax."
Building that momentum isn't difficult as long as certain questions are answered.
1) When is a Time Shift Appropriate? Moving from one scene to another can be seamless, even when the scene crosses time. Ms. Friedman suggests, "As any agent or editor will tell you, it’s best to get your story’s “present” going at a good pace before you slip into its past. One of the errors I often see in early drafts of novels is a time shift in the first five pages. A good rule of thumb is to get at least one-tenth into your narrative before you begin going back in time."
2) Why is this Time Shift Now? It's not always a good idea to place a shift into a scene simply for the sake of the scene. Time shifts must always be necessary and must propel the story forward, even when the shift is a flashback.
3) Is this Time Shift for me or my reader? This is self-explanatory. If the shift is only to fill a scene, but has no bearing on the plot, or the final outcome, then it is not necessary and can bog a story down, causing the risk of turning away readers.
Questions 4 and 5 ask, Does the story need this particular Time Shift and Do I need a Time Shift that's not here yet? Ms. Friedman answers them by saying, "Extraneous information is extraneous whether it occurs in the past or present of a fiction. Remember, the most important purpose of a time shift is to keep your fiction moving along while revealing something from your character’s past that colors his present in some significant way."
If you are going to incorporate Time Shifts into your story, be sure to ask these all important questions to prevent bogging your work down with unnecessary and slow-moving information. Learning how to cut the fat will allow you to create a smooth, tension-filled plot that will keep your reader coming back for more.
How to Effectively Handle Time Shifts in Your Story
Our final article addressed a bit more of the technical tools you can use to create timelines. Jamie Todd Rubin's article, Building and Managing Story Timelines in Scrivener offers an in-depth look at Scrivener with step by step instructions for developing your own timeline.
Building and managing story timelines using Scrivener
OWLS members had a chance over the past few months to read through the proposed by-laws for the Ogle-Winnebago Literary Society and this month's meeting was the final vote to either adopt or reject them. After going over a minor change, the by-laws were proposed by Dawn Johnson and seconded by Sharon Boehlefeld. The vote was then taken and carried unanimously by all present. This begins the 2017 fiscal year for OWLS and the beginning of our fourth year!
The final topic to discuss was the "The Only Story" writing contest. Due to the owlswrite.org website being temporarily down, the decision was made to put off the announcement until the website was back up and running. Now that it has been fixed the results will be soon be posted.
Looking forward to the end of the year meetings, the November meeting will be held at the Cardinal Cafe in Stillman Valley on 15 November 2106 at 1:00 p.m. Come early if you want to grab a bite to eat.
Due to the holidays, we will not be having our usual meeting in December, but will instead we will host a dinner at the Thunder Bay Grille at 7652 Potawatomi Trail, Rockford, IL 61107 on 2 December 2016. Cocktails will be served at 6:00 p.m. and dinner will be at 6:30 p.m. Dinner will be dutch treat and spouses and families are invited to attend. We request a firm commitment by no later than November 30th of all guests attending.