Keeping track of timing when writing a novel can be tricky. Using a timeline can help you remember what happened when, and other details that add continuity to writing.
A typical timeline for me consists of the following:
The time of day events occur, including the specific date, day of the week, and the duration of those events or scenes. Even though most of that detail never makes it into the story, I refer to it frequently to make sure I’m not stuffing too much into one day while leaving other days mostly empty. I check the timeline to make sure scenes are occurring in a natural way. It helps when my characters refer to events that have happened in the past, I can easily remember when they occurred. Keeping a timeline helps ground the story in real time and draw the reader in.
The weather. I keep track of the weather so when I’m writing about events that occur at the end of the day, I maintain continuity in the weather.
What the characters are wearing. Again, this is usually a detail that doesn’t make it into the book, but just in case I want to refer to it, I can easily remember. This includes what items they have with them, if they are traveling or something.
Sometimes I indicate on my timeline emotions or paradigm shifts that my main characters have, just to see if the timing feels natural. It also helps when revising a scene to look at the timeline and remember whether this scene is before or after a certain emotional moment.
I find the timeline very useful in writing, but it comes in handy especially during the revising process. It saves me a lot of time when I need to remember what happened when. Keeping track of scenes like this also helps me notice if I have repetitive scenes or if the cycle of events is becoming formulaic.
I know this is basic stuff—writing 101. But if you don’t do this, give it a try. It’s makes a difference.