Articles / On Writing

Divas on Writing: Keep it Consistent—Timelines


So you’ve been through developmental editing or a content editing. That involved a whole lot of rewriting, didn’t it? And though that’s good for your novel, it also can cause a whole host of problems—especially with consistency.

There are several areas where continuity can be disrupted after a big edit. As this is a big topic, I am going to write a series of articles on how to keep things consistent while revising. The first big baddie on our list is timeline issues.

It takes a diligent individual to keep the timeline straight when revising. After all, it’s been months since you wrote your book. How are you supposed to remember when a character did something? The best way to keep the timeline straight in a novel is to track it via comments in your word processing program. It’s a trick that we editors use.

Before I sit down to edit, I use the search function in word to map out all the days of the week and words like month, day, year, tomorrow, week and yesterday, and then I use comments to write a short description of the day or time and what is happening at that point in the story. Then I highlight the comment in a bright color. If things are especially tangled, I may also map out times of day such as: morning, noon, evening, night, p.m., a.m., and numbers that refer to time.

After I have finished this process, I scroll through the comments and read them in sequence. Issues will immediately pop out at you. For instance, if you have marked the day of a party as “a week away, June, 7, 2:00 pm at John’s house (it is May 31 at this point in the story)”, but later your characters are talking about the upcoming party and state that it is “two weeks away and at 8:00 p.m. at the Fairmont Hotel (it is June 4th at this point in the story)”, you know there is an issue.

If you would find it helpful, it is okay to ask your editor to map the timeline via comments while doing a content edit (they may do this automatically if they see a problem with the timeline). If you do this, it will help you keep things straight as you revise. Just make sure that you comment on any timeline changes you’ve made in your additions. I recommend that you highlight these comments in a different color so you can see how your additions fit in with the existing text. After you have completed this process, scroll through the timeline comments again and look at them in sequence. Does anything stand out at you as off or out of order?

If so, fix it now. I do want to add that it is a good idea to sit down and give your story a thorough reading before you send it to an editor for further editing—especially if you are only getting a proofread. Proofreads do not cover issues with consistency and continuity. You can catch a lot just by reading things in context.

Okay, next time I’ll cover consistency issues that involve characters.

Now back to writing. 🙂


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