This is a continuation of Brainstorming 2: Relevant Writing
It All Paints A Single Picture
I may be providing this information a little later than I should have but there’s one thing you should take note of when reading these Brainstorming articles:
All three articles discuss the various aspects of a single process and the advice provided should NOT be considered as advice that should be followed in any kind of chronological order. You should consider all of it throughout the entire brainstorming process. When you brainstorm an idea for a story, you should be considering how the story will be structured while constantly reminding yourself to keep it all relevant.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about Timelines.
So What’s A Timeline?
A timeline is the easiest way to summarize what happens during a set period of time. Rather than offloading a ton of information, a timeline usually only provides the necessary details for someone to understand the primary events that occur during that time period.
Usually a timeline is portrayed with a horizontal line portraying the passage of time. On that line, there are several points marked with dates or times that are considered relevant within that timeline and are often accompanied by a piece of text summarizing what key events occurred during that time. (see image above)
How Does This Translate Into Fictional Writing?
You often see timelines summing up historical events but preparing your own fictional timeline is an excellent way to lay out the path your story will follow before you begin writing. This way, you have a set journey to take your readers on and a clear end in sight.
I tend to write out the events of my timelines as bullet points on a simple word processing tool like Notepad. This allows me to clearly separate the key points of a story like so:
“The Forgotten Seal” Chapter 1 Timeline
- Introducing the main character (MC), a village boy on his way to work.
- He is stopped by a group of boys who beat him.
- The MCs employer fires the boy for coming into work all beaten up.
- The MC returns home and fights with his parents over losing his job.
- The MC runs off into the fields in a fury.
- The MC discovers a strange seal half buried in the field.
This outlines the beginning of a potential story. There is little detail provided but the key points are in place for the writer to follow. Since the timeline is only provided as a guideline for the writer, there’s little need to explain the finer points of these events for anyone else. So long as you understand why these events are happening, you can use this guideline to help maintain the solid pace of your story.
At the same time, you may wish to include extra details to answer some of the smaller questions that justify the events taking place. Where does the boy work? Why was he beaten? Why aren’t his parents supportive in his time of need? How does he come across the seal?
Whether you wish to answer these questions in the timeline or not is entirely up to you. It’s essential that you understand everything unfolding on the timeline but it’s also important to keep the timeline summarized and to the point. The more time you spend writing down information you already understand, the longer it will take to finally get writing the story itself.
What Kind Of Timeline Will Help You Most?
There are two main timeline styles that are commonly used and how useful they are is really dependent on your individual writing style.
The example above is a Chapter timeline and is the most detailed timeline I would consider using when preparing a story. As the name implies, it is used to plan out the events that unfold in a single chapter. It excludes any dialogue but paves out the route on a moment to moment basis.
This timeline is a great support to ensure you maintain the pace of your story but it can cause your writing to be a little rigid. The best writing can come to you while you’re in the moment and the events you wish to write in those moments can contradict what you have written in the timeline. It can even shake up the entire timeline, rendering the next points you’ve prepared useless.
It’s helpful to have guidance ready when writing the story but not as helpful as your own flexibility as a writer. If you adhere too strictly to your timeline when you write, you may not always bring out your best work.
On the other end of spectrum you have the Summary timeline which covers the entirety of your story from beginning to end. You may think this will involve a great deal more writing but this is actually the easiest timeline to prepare. It’s also usually the first timeline you need to consider when brainstorming a story.
Rather than listing off every minor event like you would for a single chapter, the aim for this timeline is simply to outline the key events of the story in it’s entirety. At this stage you have the freedom to work out the direction you want the story to progress without the need to fully answer why it progresses that way.
In all other aspects however, the timeline can be structured the exact same way as before:
“The Forgotten Seal” Summary Timeline
- Introducing the MC.
- Discovering the Seal.
- The village is attacked by mercenaries.
- The MC flees with the seal.
- The MC befriends a warrior.
- Some mercenaries catch up to the MC, seeking the seal.
- The warrior reveals his skills, joins the MC.
- The MC and the warrior arrive in the city of Tihras.
As you can see, there are much larger gaps in information for this timeline but it covers a lot more of the story progression than the previous timeline did. It’s clear that the MC’s journey with the Seal will lead to the city of Tihras and he will befriend a warrior on the way but it doesn’t delve into any of the finer details of that journey. There is no indication of how he befriends the warrior or what the mercenaries want with the Seal.
You can choose to plot that out in another timeline or you can allow your writing to flow freely. So long as you cover the key points of your timeline and answer any questions that are raised by the timeline then this allows for much more creative freedom in what you write.
There are, of course, downsides to having such a vague timeline as your sole reference when writing. There is nothing to indicate how long it takes to proceed from one of these events to the next and there can be plenty of minor (but meaningful) events going on between that may slow down the pace of your story. So long as you ensure that the additional events are still relevant to the story however, this shouldn’t cause you any problems.
Other Timeline Styles
Chapter by Chapter Timelines summarize the events of each chapter in a single sentence while Character Based Timelines can be helpful for stories with multiple protagonists, covering the events of a story from their individual perspectives. There’s a variety of other styles you can take on when preparing timelines for your story but these four are the ones I’ve stuck with over time.
That’s not to say there won’t be other styles that are better tailored to your thinking process. Try a few out for practice to see what fits you.
At this stage, you should have the essentials to think up a nifty fantasy or science fiction story. I may come back to brainstorming sometime in the future as well as covering the things to consider when preparing stories in a non-fictional setting.
Keep an eye out for whatever I cover next!