Monday, March 8, 2010

The Calendar

Remember how I posted a while back about the Hero's Journey plot construct? (no? please see. )

Well, similar to that graphic is how I visualize the year. I have drawn a little diagram so you can see what I mean. I always picture the year in an oval, like a racetrack, with Christmas at one end and July at the other.

I use this visual of the calendar year for a lot of things, including my story timelines. Oh yes, story timelines may seem a bit detailed, but if you're an outliner then I think you'll like them. And even if you're a "panster," then you will like them because otherwise you'll find your characters getting engaged in July and mysteriously breaking up in late July, and even more mysteriously getting married the second week of June, and then the story ending in the beginning of July, but only after two weeks have gone by.

So what I'm saying is, a calendar helps you keep your story timeline straight. I particularly needed this with my current story because I very specifically wanted to end the story in snow. However, the book started in cold weather. I wasn't sure if I wanted a whole year to elapse in the story. In the end, after I diagrammed it, I decided that I did want about a year to pass--only after I added the major events and gave them the appropriate space and time to happen. So take a look:

I begin the book in March and end it the following January (year unspecified). There are things I need to have happen and I've marked major plot events in the months they happen. This will help me get my mind into the setting so I can tell if it's hot, cold, or rainy or whatever when I'm writing about an event. You can do all kinds of things with this like add in plot points, plot structure, word count, whatever you want.

Does this make sense? Have you ever seen anything like this before? What do you do to timeline your story?


Lt. Cccyxx said...

Absolutely this makes a lot of sense. My novel took place over 2-3 months, and it had to occur in the summer. So I got myself a calendar from a couple of years ago (the precise year wasn't all that important - the book takes place 15 years ago or so) and approximately plotted out my scenes on it. More detail about the scenes went onto numbered index cards, and after a couple of iterations these were eventually matched up with days, so if you asked I could tell you on precisely what date each scene occurred. This kind of work - like both you and I did - seems really critical to getting it right most of the time. The level of detail/anal-retentiveness necessary no doubt depends on the story and the author's personal style.

Travener said...

My novel takes place over a space of about ten days. I had to keep careful track of them to make sure they added up. It was harder than I thought to keep straight so I had to write myself out a timeline, an abbreviated version of the thing you have up there.

Julie Dao said...

This is a great idea! I don't usually plan out my stories' timelines as well as I should, but now that I think about it, they usually only take place over several months at the longest.

Anonymous said...

Well, depending on the story, I might need more than one wheel. :D

I tend to do very loose timelines if I do them at all(pasnter).

But I really like the idea of the racetrack. Something that would be really cool for a story that takes place over a longer period of time would be to make it into a spiral.

Normally, I do a chronology as opposed to a timeline, but I might have to rethink that now. Just in terms of setting the season, this sort of mind-map could be really useful as a reminder of what the weather/climate should be like at a given time.

Lindsey Himmler said...

That's a really interesting way to do it. You must be a visual person!

I use yWriter and SWEAR by it. For each scene, it allows you to put in the date and time, but more importantly how long each scene is supposed to last. Then you can see all your scenes on a timeline that you can't print out. Easy to see, easy to track while drafting.

LOVE that program, and it's FREE!

Tina Lynn said...

This is awesome! I use a spreadsheet myself, because I'm stupid. This looks so much easier.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Glad you guys like this! Indeed it is a visual tool, I am very very visual. Atsiko hits the real use of it to me on the head: this wheel helps you track seasons, which I didn't mention in the post. Seasons to me are as important in my stories as the space of time, as I tend to use the sight, feel, and smell of the seasons as detail.

Lindsey, is that program for mac or windows or both? I'll definitely check it out! I've been looking for software to help with plotting and keeping track.

Tina - I wouldn't say using a spreadsheet is stupid at ALL...more like, I'm so low tech that I draw my crap out (and then lose the scrap of paper).

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

I love this, and I have definitely never seen anything like it before. What a cool idea!

My current WIP takes place over several years (currently about 25 years...) so I might need two clocks, and might need to make each one a year instead of a month. Heck, I might need more than two clocks.

Awesome tool, though. In my next WIP, I plan to condense the time frame, and will certainly use this helpful ideer!

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