Fixing a Timeline

Sometimes, instead of thinking outside the box, I have to find an old box to think in. My primary project at the moment is editing Riparia’s Bk3. I love the story, but I’m not sure I’ve written anything quite so bloated. That, though, is a topic for another time. Right now, I want to talk about my secondary project, the one I work on when I want to take a break.

At the moment, that project is Talma’s Loyal’s Case of the Deadly Stroll. When I drafted it last November I knew there was one glaring issue: the timeline.

Cover: CA Hawthorne

How the problem occurred is so silly I’m hesitant to share…

Okay, I will.

Last week, I finished filling-in the Pannulus calendar I created in Scrivener. I love the calendar for displaying my finished product. Last November, though, I plotted a five-week timeline for Talma’s novel on paper. I thought that was long enough.

It wasn’t.

Rather than fix it, I crammed the story into five weeks (lazy!).

That was in November. Until I opened the project last week, I hadn’t looked at the novel since drafting.

*I reread her scenes with Chief Flint the night I opened it. They weren’t as funny as I remembered … they were funnier. Especially after Cinder the Barska cat is introduced. My stomach cramped.

When I entered all the major moments into the Scrivener calendar I saw what I’d suspected. The pacing is breakneck, the number of events occurring on certain days ridiculous.

To fix, I had to stretch the timeline, but my Scrivener calendar is a little clunky for that purpose. I wanted to be able to slide around possibilities fast, to experiment.

The project has been on my mind for four months, but until this last weekend I didn’t have a solution—until I did.

The first step was a physical calendar I could reuse in the future. I drew three months (one season) on newsprint paper, one month per sheet. The days in each season in Ontyre are the same so if a future novel spans two seasons I can just move the third month ahead of the first. It wasn’t planned that way for that reason, but it works.

I’ll take it.

It took me less than an hour on Monday to draw the months (yes, I used a straight edge).

For the second step I wrote key events on index cards and cut them. Some couldn’t be separated, thus they’re on one card. If moved to a different day, they had to be moved together.

Version-1. Photo: CA Hawthorne

I didn’t use post-its because I was worried that sticking/unsticking them on the flimsy paper would cause tears. Too, I needed varying sizes. In the end, sliding cards around was faster.

Keep in mind that this had nothing to do with my chapters. Some cards represent multiple chapters and vise versa.

Once cut, I laid them out as they presently appear in the novel and in the Scrivener calendar (Version-1). I’m well aware the picture isn’t legible… no spoilers here! Besides, the details don’t matter to this tale. As you can see, a number of days are choked with events, several to the point of absurdity.

Day Two is a good example. Talma races around in her beautiful roadster at a manic pace. From a reader’s standpoint, there’s little opportunity to catch their breath. I was exhausted while writing it.

The third step was to actually move the scenes. The easy (and wrong) solution would’ve been to simply stagger them more. Add an extra day between every so many events.

It wasn’t that simple:

  • Certain events had to occur on certain days of the week. They could be moved a full week one direction or the other, but couldn’t shift within a week.
  • Some events couldn’t be separated from others, but there were varying lengths of time I could allow.
  • The middle month (Moon Season) is when the moon, Ryzer, is present. Its presence was important for certain chapters.
  • There was a point in the third month when the events in Zepthtasha’s novella, Choices For Zephatasha, would interfere. There was a little wiggle room, but not a lot.

All of this brings us to the second picture (Version-2), the finished timeline. It’s the same three months displayed. What’s important?

Version-2. Photo: CA Hawthorne

I added (in red) two events important to the novella at the bottom so I could see my limitation in that direction. There’s one scene (it has a big red dot on the right) that was moved to later in the story. Where it appeared originally made no sense. I also added red dots on the left side of two critical events that couldn’t change days of the week.

Even blurry, it’s easy to see that no one day is choked with events. Those with the most are ones where the moments listed are brief.

To a degree, I ended up stretching the story in both directions from its middle, though more so towards earlier. The second card up on the far left was my anchor point. That was one I refused to move.

Here’s the amazing part. All the drawing, cutting, and staging aside, when I actually moved the cards around the changes only took me twenty minutes. Maybe because I have a talent for seeing patterns, I could see the story happening in front of me when I looked at the cards. Once I started, I instinctively knew what to do. I had most of it arranged quickly, then agonized over a few decisions.

In the end, the timeline went from 5.5 weeks to almost 8.0 weeks. I’m overjoyed about that. The story can breathe. It also makes more sense. When I edit, all these changes won’t amount to a lot of work, including the one chapter moved.

Case of the Deadly Stroll will continue to be my secondary project, but I’ll now shift my focus to the backstory tales that are so vital. Meanwhile, I’ll still have my newsprint months in case I need them. Sometimes a more physical approach is the method I need to take.

And the cutting and drawing was fun.

About Christina Anne Hawthorne

Alive and well in the Rocky Mountains. I'm a fantasy writer who also dabbles in poetry, short stories, and map making. My Ontyre tales are an alternative fantasy experience, the stories rich in mystery, adventure, and romance. Alternative fantasy? Not quite steampunk. Not quite gothic. In truth, the real magic is in those who discover what's within.
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