How A Timeline Helps You Plot A Novel

History is neither simple nor linear, but when we show events in a line they seem to make sense. We see the results of cause and effect when we show sequences that exist in relationship to each other. We see patterns, turning points, and progressions. One of the main reasons we read is to make sense of the world.

A timeline suggests a past, present, and future. Using one for plotting allows us to see a beginning, middle, and ending. Linking units of time to events allows writers to plot a book in a graphic way. We are able to see the book from the reader's perspective. Is there a pattern? Does it make sense?

A timeline helps us choose what to include in our story. It also gives us a map to follow. It is the big picture of a novel - a place where we get the chance to see the overarching storylines and how they intersect.

Seven questions that will help create a timeline
  1. How old are your characters when the story begins?
  2. Where are the characters in the story?
  3. Why does the story start?
  4. What are your main characters’ story goals? [Read The Story Goal]
  5. Who are their co-stars?
  6. How old are your characters when the story ends?
  7. Where will it end?
Remember that a time-span has nothing to do with the length of a book. We can cover a lifetime in one paragraph. A week, a month, or a year could span an entire book. A timeline helps us to include only events that are relevant to the plot in our novels.

Beginnings and endings
We should never start our novel on the day our characters take their first breaths – unless that moment is important to the story. We are not writing our characters’ biographies. Try not to bore the reader with a factual re-telling of their first years. 

A timeline can help us remove unnecessary backstory. We get to see how much information we tend to dump in the beginning of a book. It can be used as a tool to help us work through where we should start our stories. We can use this part of our timeline to help fill in a character questionnaire.

Start at a point of crisis or change. The reader will immediately want to know what happened before and after that point. Start when the reason for writing the story begins. [Read The Importance of Inciting Moments]

Carry on by inserting the events needed to get us through the middle of the story to the end. We tell a story in (action) scenes and (reaction) sequels. We usually have 60-80 of these in a novel. You can use these to create the events on your timeline. [Read Why Writers Should Always Make a Scene]

Stop when the main character reaches his or her story goal. [Read The Sense Of An Ending]
One of the most useful things that emerges from this exercise is that we begin to see unnecessarily repetitive scenes and superfluous characters.

  1. Create a timeline for your story.
  2. Create separate timelines for your four main characters.
  3. Make sure they all work together.
There are also online timeline tools you could try, including Timeline, Timetoast, and Timeglider.

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

 by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Facebook,  Google+,  LinkedIn,  Tumblr,  Pinterest,  and on Twitter:  @amandaonwriting 

Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

7 Ways To Tell If You Have Too Much Plot In Your Story

When we start to write, we often don’t think about what we’re doing. We pour our stories on to a page and hope for the best. We add characters, viewpoints, settings, and backstory, thinking that it will make sense to everybody because it makes sense to us. 

It doesn’t. The best way to begin is to stick to one plot and one sub-plot in your first books. Use these as practice runs to help you concentrate on storytelling. This will encourage you to focus on creating nuanced, powerful characters who live in their own extraordinary worlds, even if that world is one room. These characters must overcome obstacles in pursuit of a goal. 

This forces you to consider if you have a strong enough story or if you just have an idea for a story. 

Lots of sub-plots may fill up pages, but, if they are weakly constructed, they won’t make any of the story lines stronger. Every sub-plot should have a character who pursues his or her own story goal, encounters conflict, and reaches a positive or negative resolution. When you consider this, you begin to understand how complicated these stories within stories can become. 

Seven Questions That Will Show You If Your Story Is Cleverly Layered Or Clearly Over-Laden 
  1. Do they understand? Explain your story to five strangers. It is better if these people are not writers or even regular readers. If you confuse them, or worse, yourself, you have a problem. Once you have told your story, ask them to tell you what they think you mean - in their own words. If they can’t, or if you hear something you don’t recognise, you have too many plots.
  2. Can you tell a sub-plot as a stand-alone story? If you can, you should probably do it. Sub-plots are there to support your main plot. They have three functions: (1) They are there to show a different perspective of the central conflict, (2) They test your protagonist's motivations and abilities to achieve the story goal, and (3) They show different aspects of the protagonist’s personality. [Read 6 Sub-Plots That Add Style To Your Story] If your sub-plot does not do this, or does much more than this, it deserves to be removed or written as a separate book.
  3. Has your protagonist changed? A primary function of plot is to force the protagonist to change on the way to achieving a physical story goal. [Read The Story Goal - The Key To Creating A Solid Plot Structure] This internal change occurs when they recognise their strengths and overcome inner demons to achieve this goal. If your character has not changed, it means that you’ve cluttered the story with noise instead of meaning.
  4. How many characters matter to your main plot? If you have more than four, you have a problem. Remember that each of these four characters is a possible viewpoint character and looking at a story from more than four perspectives in one book is crazy. [Read The Awesome Foursome Fictional Characters]This does not mean that there won’t be other characters; it simply means that you need to give prime time to a few characters who are crucial to the story.
  5. Do your supporting characters have their own sub-plots? You know the answer should be no. If you love the character this much, consider writing a novel about him or her.
  6. Is your book filled with events that do not move your protagonist towards the story goal? Avoid including conflict for conflict’s sake. If events happen that spin the story and the characters in many different, unrelated directions, you will struggle to keep a reader’s attention. It takes a skilled storyteller to keep this going. Long, complicated books are published by authors who already have an established track record, for example, one of George R.R. Martin’s first books, Dying of the Light is only 288 pages long, and Stephen King’s Carrie, published in 1974, is only 199 pages long. [Read Word Counts - How Long Should Your Novel Be?]
  7. Can you write a one-page synopsis for your story? If you can’t, you have over-plotted. This synopsis must be about your protagonist’s journey, from the inciting moment, creating a believable story goal, putting a worthy antagonist and obstacles in place, to the end where the story goal is reached. How you deal with this ending – negatively or positively – is your choice. [Read How To Write A One-Page Synopsis
Remember you can tell a story any way you want to, but it may make your life easier if you accept that too many plots can spoil a book. Why not see if you can plot a great book with one plot and one sub-plot before you embark on a potentially messy marathon?

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.

 by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Pinterest,  Google+,  LinkedIn,  and on Twitter:  @amandaonwriting

© Amanda Patterson

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Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

December Writing Prompts

I hope you enjoyed your October and November prompts. December is almost here and we're looking forward to some time off, which is good news because more time means more time to write. Or procrastinate. 

Even if you take a break from your novel, try to spend 10 minutes a day on a prompt. It's good for the soul and great for writing practice.

Happy writing. 

Remember that you can send an email to with the words DAILY PROMPT in the subject line. We will add you to the mailing list and you will receive a daily prompt.   

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. Please email for more details.

 by Mia Botha

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  1. The Pros And Cons Of Writing In Second Person
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  3. A View To A Skill


    Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate

    November Writing Prompts

    So, it’s November already and it has been for three days. Apologies. The Christmas trees are up and the end of the year is in sight, but we still have a few things (like an entire novel) to finish before we kick back for a few days. 

    I hope you enjoyed your October prompts. I have included the November prompts below. I hope they inspire you. Remember to use them for NaNoWriMo, and you might get a few words to add to your novel. 

    Remember that you can send an email to with the words DAILY PROMPT in the subject line. We will add you to the mailing list and you will receive a daily prompt.   

    Happy writing. 

    If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. If you want a full brochure with venue details, times, and costs, please email

     by Mia Botha

    If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

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    2. Don’t Get Stuck! Use Our NaNoWriMo Brainstormer Worksheet Instead
    3. One Goal To Rule Them All – Five Things To Consider Before You Write An Epic Fantasy


      Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate

      A View to a Skill - Viewpoint Made Easy

      Who the heck is telling your story?

      “What a story is about is a question of how it is told. You can’t separate the tale from the telling.” Ken McElheny

      Source for Image

      Join us for Viewpoint Made Easy, a Writers Write workshop on 22 June 2014.

      Did you know there are more than 10 viewpoint techniques in first and third person? You will learn about which viewpoint will work for your story and why.

      The workshop covers:

      1. The evolution of viewpoint 
      2. First person viewpoints, such as interior monologues, unreliable narrator and memoir
      3. Third person viewpoints, such as single character viewpoint, multi-cast storytelling and biography
      4. Examples of every viewpoint
      5. Engaging and fun viewpoint exercises
      When? 3 September 2014
      How long? 08:30 - 13:00
      Where? Dunkeld, Johannesburg
      Need more information? Email

      The workshop will be presented by Anthony Ehlers


      Anthony has facilitated courses for Writers Write since 2007. Published both locally and internationally, he was twice a runner-up in the Mills&Boon Voice of Africa short story competition. 
      In 2013, his crime short story was included in Bloody Satisfied, an anthology sponsored by the National Arts Festival SA. As a scriptwriter, he has written three television features. 
      In 2014, his short films were short-listed for the Jameson First Shot competition, as well as the European Independent Film Festival. Follow Anthony on Twitter and Facebook.


      Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. If you want to learn how to write a book, write for social media, and improve your business writing, send an email to for more information.

      Writers Write - Write to Communicate