Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ask O: The Boring Stuff

Happy Wednesday, writing friends. I hope you're enjoying fall as much as I am!

Today's question is: Why do I have to write a timeline? It's so boring.

This one makes me laugh, because I relate!

Novel creation is exciting, isn’t it? I love snuggling up to a fresh story idea, uncovering the depths of recently created characters, imagining awesome plot twists, and envisioning new ways to add conflict and stakes.

The problem? Sometimes the fun parts delight me so much, I slack off on the boring stuff. This happened the other day. The first chapter of my new novel flowed from eager fingers, and I happily trotted it to my critique group (with my fellow hostesses Dawn and Annette), expecting them to burble with excitement.

Instead I received confused stairs. “Uh, where are they again?” “Um, sorry, but I can’t figure out when this happens, is it before or after this?” “Who is this person? The sister? Maybe you could say that earlier?” Etcetera, etcetera…

Bummer. (Have you been there?)

They were very kind, carefully sandwiching confused questions with compliments, but I got the message. I had skipped one important task—laying out a timeline. And because of this, nothing made sense.

Why had I skipped this step? Well, let's be honest, probably because it’s boring and feels like math to me.

I know. Pathetic. And because of my laziness, even though my dear McCritters (we meet at McDonalds so that's what we call ourselves) admitted they felt something for the characters and even liked the story, stumbling over unfinished basic structures led not only to confusion, but frustration. Not quite the response I hoped for.

Yet, as always, constructive criticism is a blessing. It forced me to go back and work harder. So the first thing I did this morning was pencil out a timeline. Some use an Excel Spreadsheet, Word, or other writing software options, but I always start with a blank piece of paper and a line. Here are the three steps I follow:

1. Pencil in the main events and when they will take place. For example: Mary arrives in Chicago—July 1914. She meets Roger—August 29 1914 and so on.

2. Fill in the spaces in between, being careful to keep all your POV characters in order and remembering cause and effect.

3. Don’t stop. As I did this, the creative juices began to flow—AKA the fun stuff tempted me to stop this drudgery and start writing. Rather than give in, I resisted by keeping a notepad handy to jot down ideas. Then I always refocused back on the important task of timelining.

After meticulously detailing the dates and events for the first act of the book (about ten chapters), I went back to writing. My new timeline made maintaining the logical progression simple and quick, adding that precious clarity. Was it worth it—even though a tad boring? Yup. And I’m sure my McCritters will think so too.

Happy writing, friends, and don't forget to leave your questions for Ask O in the comments or on my website,


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