Timelines Over Outlines

I am what is referred to in the writing world as a “pantser”. This means that I am typically not likely to plan out a whole book before I write it. I loathe outlining. It is the word that dare not be uttered by any but Pot (because she can get away with it and while I may bitch, moan, and complain, she’s usually right when she utters the dreaded “O” word). Outlining feels too ploddy and contrived to me. I prefer to discover my characters as I go and write out the plot that develops from their interactions with each other. Which means I wind up with a lot of stuff on the cutting room floor when I’m done, usually. However, given that my chosen genre is romantic suspense (mostly), there is one thing that I find most useful. That would be a timeline. Timelines, at least my timelines, are not anywhere near as detailed as an outline would be. Outlines in my mind are chapter by chapter affairs, detailing what’s to happen from beginning to end. Timelines, though, are the high points of the plot–and in my case the investigation. These I do generally know from the front end, or at least fairly early on in the book. I have to know when certain events occur, in what order, and what’s happening at the same time. For the longest time I kept a Word file with a sort of list of those points in the right order with each bullet labeled “Day Whatever”. Then yesterday, I discovered Google Calendars. I’ve actually used Google Calendars for my day to day planning in my real world life. But what I found out as I was attempting to print off a blank calendar page, is that you can create multiple calendars. So yesterday I created a Houses of Cards calendar. Now granted, I am, at this point, saying that the story is taking place in 2007-08 (normally I don’t mention specific years in a book and I still don’t, but for the purposes of the calendar, this fundamental assumption worked nicely). But I took all the information from my bulleted list and transcribed it (and a lot of future stuff that had not yet been put on the timeline) into this Google Calendar. And it’s great! I can, at a glance, see how all the plot stuff fits together. And the bonus of this over a physical, written calendar is that if I decide to change when an event or plot point occurs, all I have to do is drag and drop. No white out. I was able to use this tool to map out the events for the rest of the book yesterday (hence Pot’s belief that I could have a finished draft in a month…I’ll sure as hell try). It’s also useful for working with my critique partner. I can add her as a user on it, so she can view everything I am, which makes it easier for her to make useful suggestions or ask pertinent questions. This is not intended to be a plug for Google (though you’re more likely to see me make one for Google and its products than for Microsoft…but that’s neither here nor there), just an observation of something that I have found eminently useful to my writing process.

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