Man, I think the holidays have compounded with life in order to get me behind on nearly everything. Of course, this happens during November, as Thanksgiving and Christmas arrive, and National Novel Writing Month nears its end.
I’ve managed to “win” NaNo, so while I really have no excuse other than day-to-day writing and plotting, much of my weekly effort has gone to plotting my current fairy tale idea. I’ve been enjoying it so much, and it’s really expanding as I continue to plot.
However, I reached and pushed through a huge burden this week: my timeline.
What I have in mind for this fairy tale series is a three book series (because trilogies are so popular, right? Actually it’s because my idea just happened to require three fairy tale princesses. Including more than that would be entirely more than I want to bite off right now, and less that that would not be complex enough. However combining all three of these storyline into one book would be possible and yet a very long book with so many characters. Therefore, the perfection of the trilogy.)
But because this idea is a series and because it takes place with three mashed up fairy tales, it requires at least three princesses, their princes, and multiple supporting characters, at least another half dozen. So that makes about a dozen characters that I’m juggling before even writing a word of this story.
Whew. I’m exhausted just thinking about juggling that many characters, how about you? I’m sure you fantasy authors out there are finally feeling justified to have someone admit how difficult a large cast is.
But wait, I’m here to tell you a tip I found this past week that made it a lot easier.
First off, I knew I needed to get a timeline. One of my storylines involves sending all the characters at different times into a parallel, future universe. That means that I’m not only dealing with each of their homes as pertains to the present, but at least one future home as well. Then it gets tricky getting each character in the right place at the right time for maximum conflict, character introductions, and the right people to fall in love at the right time, as well as for them to come together at the end with the right person and end up with their own version of “happily ever after.”
So how did I figure it all out?
Come closer. I’m going to tell you a secret.
A little bit closer.
Okay, ready? Here goes.
I hear some of you asking what?
Let me add: Scrivener.
Together, Scrivener and Aeon Timeline have saved my sanity. (And trust me, with a toddler son, what’s left of my sanity is absolutely vital to my life.)
It’s been a long week, did I mention that? I basically plotted out three books. (Okay, two. One of them still needs quite a bit of work, but it’s semi-plotted.)
What I’ve found most challenging has been keeping track of so many main characters. While some characters don’t move out of their original settings, others are kingdom-hopping and time-traveling, and it makes for a very confusing set of data points.
For example, if Prince A leaves Kingdom A on the second day and enters Kingdom B, but the Princess A is still in Kingdom A and a critical event happens (say she’s captured by the Evil Queen), then she moves to Kingdom B, but Prince A leaves Kingdom B to try and return to Princess A, how am I going to get Prince A back to Princess A for the climax? And how can I keep track of this if there are four other Prince and Princesses to keep track of, each with their own travel plans and plots?
Although I “complain” about having this complication, I’ve actually been really excited to work on this story idea, which is why I’ve been able to push through the slump and the frustration and keep going to figure out this puzzle.
Since I’m a visual person, I’ve used a combination of Aeon Timeline and the ability to break the events into different arcs (Books in this case), and look at them book by book. For this, I did a few different things.
1. Aeon Timeline
In Aeon, I uploaded all the events I knew to date. So I added all my characters, events I knew the time of, events I knew had to happen, births, deaths, marriages, etc. If I knew the climax or midpoint, I added it. If I knew who made a certain event occur, I would add that information because that person needed to be present in the scene.
Aeon Timeline lets you add events in a time-ordered fashion. This allows you to keep track of what has happened, when it happened, and, in my case, which characters are where at what time.
Aeon allows you to create tags to better keep track of plot lines, characters, etc. You could label these “book 1,” “book 2,” or “character 1,” “character 2,” etc. I used the arcs for books and kept the default “global” arc, which applies to multiple plot lines. For example, if characters from two or three books (i.e. several main plot lines) met up and stayed together for awhile, I labeled that “global” so that I knew it affected more than just the one story. Any change to that event would therefore affect more than one book.
Okay, sometimes I need to plot long hand. There’s something different about using a pen and paper to create plot lines and keep track of things. While it can be difficult to keep track of your notes this way and a bit messier, it can also unlock creativity and allow you to brainstorm in ways that a computer doesn’t allow.
This time I used an unlined Moleskine notebook, which allowed me to be unhindered. I began brainstorming anything that occurred to me: my character’s personalities, their names, the timelines of each book, minor characters, major characters, ideas for plot twists, anything and everything. I always want this kind of thing in one place, so I tried to transcribe it over to Scrivener when I was finished with it.
In a way, the Aeon timeline became a first draft of events for me, and in doing so, it helped me keep track of events in my mind. But as every writer knows, events are only part of the story. If you took out the events from Harry Potter and tried to recreate it knowing nothing but those events, you’d only have perhaps a third of the story. You’d be missing character personalities, reactions, interactions, dialogue, writing style, basically what makes a story unique to the author who wrote it. That’s why fairy tales can be so fresh and exciting when they are retold–the author lends so much to a tale.
Anyway, Aeon Timeline and Scrivener have the awesome ability (on a Mac) to sync.
There is a special Aeon template you can download and begin your project in, which allows you the fantastic ability to have your events imported to Scrivener.
So, after I finished my timeline rough draft in Aeon Timeline, I headed over to Scrivener and created a project, then synced the two files, thus importing all the scenes I had to this point.
Once in Scrivener, it was time to get comfortable. Here is where the writing started to come in. Instead of brainstorming and planning, I used what I’d already created in order to begin my summaries.
How many summaries did I write? Well, I’m working on one for each main character, so that’s about a dozen. And I’ve written about four or five of them. (I’ve got a lot left to go.)
I’ve found these summaries from each POV to be critical to understanding my timeline and to uncovering more about my plots. Each summary has given me more ideas for the stories, more ways to make a familiar fairy tale my own, and also the mistakes in timeline that I made earlier. These summaries let me really know the stories I want to tell, while acting like a brainstorming event and a character interview. A summary of the same story from a different character’s POV can be completely different from another character, which is why I’m creating a summary from each main character’s POV. And each has been well worth the extra time.
Now, I’m almost certain that I stumbled through this process with more time than should have been required, but so it is. I’m not a fantasy author, nor do I call myself one, even if I write this trilogy. However, I am thrilled that I managed to get a handle on this timeline so that I can start plotting more.
What are some of your timeline tips? How do you plot a complicated timeline?