Posted in Writing

How To Create a Timeline for Your Novel

Maybe you created a brand new world and need to give background on its history. Or maybe your novel switches back and forth between the past and the present to get your plot across. Maybe, like me, you have a string of crimes to follow.

No matter what genre you’re writing in if you’re writing a series chances are you’re going to need a timeline of events.

how to create a timeline for your novel rachel poli

There are many different ways to create a timeline for your novel. Everyone works in different ways at different paces, so some of these ideas may work better than others.

1. Excel Spreadsheet

I think using a spreadsheet would be easy enough, well organized, and easy on the eyes. You can create a graph-like timeline using the columns and rows. List your dates in a column and then include what happens on each date in the rows.

You could also list the dates in the first column and list the characters in the first row. Then you match up the character to the date and write in what happens to them.

2. Word Document

This is similar to the spreadsheet, just a little less organized. Just create a long list of dates in chronological order and write in what happens on those days.

Sounds simple enough and it’d be easy to add in dates in the middle in case you forget something.

3. Calendar

Get a planner or download/create a calendar template on the computer and fill in the dates as needed. If your novel takes place from May to December, then only create a calendar for those months.

4. Index cards

Make an index card for each date and then string them together or tack them together on a bulletin board. This would be a lot of work, but it will look cool at the end–especially if you decide to string them together in order.

5. Poster

Create a cool-looking timeline just like in your old history textbooks with the horizontal line and the dates sticking out of it. If you’re like me, use pretty colors to highlight significant dates.

I wish I had a picture of my poster to show you, but I have yet to finish my timeline. Math is my arch nemesis.

That I spent my weekend playing video games.

How do you keep track of the dates and events in your novel?

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Author:

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Rachel Poli is a writer and blogger. She has an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education and a bachelor’s degree in English Studies. She enjoys writing young adult novels, middle-grade, and children’s picture books. She is currently working on her first novel.

27 thoughts on “How To Create a Timeline for Your Novel

    1. Thanks. I tend to do that when I outline my novels. When I have too many dates from the past and present, I try to organize them like a timeline. It’s fun, but time consuming.

  1. I actually attempted a one of those line graph things to figure out where all of my series came about in the timeline. Since I don’t really put any dates in the books, I couldn’t make any sense of it. Shame since fantasy books tend to have lengthy histories that require such things. To be fair, dates were always the bane of my existence in social studies.

    1. I agree. Dates were never fun to keep track of remember. With my series I need to remember specific dates and times for investigative purposes. Plus, there are some links to the past. It’s a lot of information to sift through.

      1. That would make my head spin, which is strange since I can handle world building and characters without a problem. Guess all our minds are wired for different strengths.

    1. It’s definitely helpful when you have a series I think.
      I’ve always been a planner though. I’ve tried to wing some novels and it never worked out well for me, lol.

  2. I’m currently using a spreadsheet both as a timeline and a general plot outline. It’s simple enough and easy to adjust (since I tend to flip sections around as I write).

      1. I love it. I haven’t purchased it yet. I’m still using the trial, and they’ve updated it since then with a new version that I’ve heard is just as awesome. I’d try it out, see what you think, and go from there.

  3. I just saw Skye’s comment. It meant I don’t have to tell you about Aeon Timeline.
    I have two series on the go. Both start with the same set of circumstances. Series 1 tells a tale from Max’s POV, series 2 from Hannice’s. Half way through The Orphans, Max starts working for Hannice, and although they work independently, Max is CFO of Hannice’s company, so there are multitudinous crossovers. Without strong timelining, control of continuity would be a nightmare. As it is, the timeline becomes my top-level, time-aware outline. Aeon Timeline does it brilliantly!

    1. That sounds so confusing! Yeah you definitely need a timeline for your series. I’m glad Aeon works well for you. Again, I have to check it out. 🙂

  4. I use a mind map with lots of different colours. I am a panster and this is the only thing that works for me right now. These are all great ideas!

  5. We provide a writer’s tool for creating story timelines at plotist.com
    It also has functionality for multiple characters following different paths in the space of one timeline, and creating multiple timelines within one story.

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