Creating a Timeline
Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 1, 2013
How do you map your protagonist’s family tree? Who are your characters’ relatives? What are their birthdays? And how much should they age from book to book if you’re writing a series?
Creating a Timeline is crucial to a series. Keeping records of your recurrent characters in this regard is essential. Currently I’m beginning work on my next Bad Hair Day mystery, tentatively titled Peril by Ponytail. Marla and Dalton take a delayed honeymoon to an Arizona dude ranch owned by his cousin, Wayne Campbell.
Well, guess what? Other than Dalton’s parents and teenage daughter, we haven’t mentioned his family members before. Suddenly I’m at a loss as to his family tree.
Not so with Marla. I created her family tree for Dead Roots, when Marla and Dalton spent Thanksgiving weekend with her extended family at a haunted Florida resort. Where can I find this record? With a sense of urgency, I searched my computer files. Nope, not there. So I pulled out my notebook for that particular title. I breathed a sigh of relief when I discoverd a handwritten diagram of Marla’s family tree. With newer technology at hand, I scanned this paper into a file so it doesn’t get lost.
Thank goodness I have extensive notebooks for each title. What I keep in them is subject for another blog, but suffice it to say that I have lots of rich material on character backgrounds, research notes and articles, and more.
Now I have to create Dalton’s family tree. I know his age and birthday and how it’s progressed from book to book because I write it down for each volume. Ditto for his daughter and what grade she’s in. When his parents came into the picture, they got added, too. But who else is there? How is cousin Wayne related to him?
I’ll need to work on this by drawing out his family tree. I don’t know how to do it on the computer without accessing complicated programs, and they’ll take too much time to learn. But considering my experience, here are some items you might want to add to your notes for each book you write and/or for your overall series bible. The timeline can include:
- Time of Year each book takes place, i.e. Season and Month
- Day to Day Progression of Plot per story title
- Family Trees
- Proper Names. This might be a separate file or you can put them here. This means the name of your person’s housing development, favorite restaurants, type of cars people drive, pet’s names, etc.
- Maps of the town or neighborhood where your character lives and works
- Diagrams of a particular locale. Here is Sugar Crest Resort from Dead Roots.
Your needs may differ with each book as to what your timeline requires. Peril by Ponytail is the twelfth book in my series, and yet I’ve not had to create Dalton’s family tree before. So what you need for one volume might not apply to another. Whatever you do, make sure you record the material in print and on your computer files. Back it up so you don’t lose it. If I hadn’t found Marla’s family tree in that notebook, I would have been at a loss should I need it again.
So stay attuned to your timelines when plotting your story and lay down the necessary groundwork. And now, tell the rest of us what else we might include in our Timeline folder.