A way with worlds: 15 - Timeline-Based Writing
by Steven Savage of Seventh Sanctum
Page 1 of 1
It's a nightmare.
Your world is forged and
designed, documented and mapped. You have characters and
histories and mysteries and ecologies. Everything's perfect,
right? It's time to write, and . . .
. . . what are you going to
write about? Wait a second, you've got a world, but where the
heck's the story? It was there when you started this . . .
Or, you have your world, and
you've written a story and . . . the well is dry. You know your
world, but there aren't any tales to tell! What happened?
A strange paradox in
well-designed worlds is sometimes you stall on story, at least in
my experience.. This seems to happen for several reasons: the
focus on world design supersedes writing, an initial idea drives
the design and an initial story that plays out, or your focus on
worldbuilding changes your perspective.
(Then again theres
just plain burnout. It happens.)
Me, I have a writing style I
use with a designed world to help overcome these blocks and
burnouts, and one that keeps stories involved and continuous - a
rather obvious one, but one I've found isn't as obvious as it
seems. I just call it Timeline-based writing, but I found it
helps me, and it and variants seem to work for people I know.
So, lets role up our sleeves
and get in line . . . Timeline that is. (And hopefully, that'll
be the only stupid joke of the column).
Timelines are your friends, I'm certain your world has
them - and if they don't, then you didn't do a good job of
fleshing out your setting. Timelines are history, and writing, in
a way, is telling about that history. No history, nothing to say.
Timelines are largely how I
write my own continuing and original work. It's not for everyone;
its more for people who want to do a serious continuing world.
However, for me, it works quite well.
What I do is keep a
continuing timeline for events in my world and that happen to my
main characters. I plot events by week, and keep a list of
continuing "plotlines" that are currently active. I
examine and revise this as I add new ideas, going down and up the
plotline to see if new ideas have affected anything.
As I tell stories, I move up
the plotline, and locate the following:
- Events that are
important for readers to know about to follow overall
- Events important to the
characters whose lives I'm writing about.
- Events that coincide
with the above 2 and tie them together.
- Events that will be fun
to write about.
I take these elements as
they form "clumps" (I don't have a better term for it),
and use these as seeds and guides to stories. Each
"clump" (I want to call them "convergences,"
but "clump" stuck in my head) becomes the framework for
Taking that clump, I work
out any reactions, new occurrences, etc., and put them in the
timeline, determining any repercussions in the future by moving
up the timeline to see what may effect or create future events.
In this way, I have a
win-win situation - my timeline gives me stories, my stories
enrich the timeline, and this ensures more stories and richer
stories in the future. As I move down the timeline, the story of
the world and my characters tells itself - and I have a reference
for what I've done and what I'm about to do.
If you use this technique, I
do advise reviewing your timeline every few stories. I myself
find an arc of "clumps" that have related events, write
that, then spend a week reviewing the timeline instead of
writing, just to make sure I know what's going to happen.
I find working with the
timelines so intimately also helps you get a better feel for the
world and remember important events. Eventually, youll find
you can do more and more with less and less reference to your
timeline notes. This is especially nice for writing rich
characters (by referring to past events) and avoiding mistakes in
writing (by miswriting or forgetting events).
For strong continuities, I
advise using this technique at least partially, and quite
frankly, I recommend giving it a try for any original
If you're not doing a long-term story like I am,
timelines are still useful to helping you write:
- If you're bored and
want to write, review your timelines and history for any
- If you're stalled on a
story, review your history/timeline to see if anything
suggests itself. (It also helps to review your notes on
- If you can't get
started, reviewing your timeline can energize you and
help you see patterns.
Timeline-based writing, at least to me, is the perfect
way to write in your complex continuity. It helps make it richer,
helps the stories display important events, and keeps you in
touch with your world. Even if you don't use this technique, make
sure you know your world's history its invaluable.
Once again, let's take a look at noteworthy sites to
help the aspiring world builder and writer!
"promotion/connection" theme, A few more sites to
register your original on-line work with.
Redjack.net - An sf site thats
utilitarian, but growing. I think they have a future, and the
extraneousness-level is low.
Cyber-books to explore - OK, now this
is cool. Author Ace
Starry, a character in himself, uses this site to promote his
book, and promotes other cyber-authors. Take his lead and help
out your fellow authors.
Free Novels Online - Have an original
Register it here. New and growing, but a very nice site, run by a
nice guy who takes time to make personal contacts.
And thats it for Steve's Sites. We'll see what's in the grab
bag next week!
Take a trip to my own alternate world, the Crossworld of Xai, at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/xai/
Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Steven Savage, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.