Longtime readers (Hi, Beth!) know that I’ve written a Big Fat Fantasy called SAGE that has a bazillion or so characters. One of the tools I used to keep things tidy is a timeline. This was particularly important in SAGE, since some of the action is presented in stories that people tell one another, and the people in the stories are (obviously) younger than they are at the time of the telling.
Timeline of SAGE
The straight line is marked off in years, as the main story takes place over the course of twelve years. The scribble at the upper left is “A dies + 17 years to Cameron’s death/coup, K 16, S 14”. That means that, in the year the old ruler, Ada, dies, her elder daughter, Karol, is 16 and her younger daughter, Sorcha, is 14. It’s seventeen years later that the major action begins.
The lists (V 14, A 13, M 11, B 9) are the ages of various characters at various stages of the timeline. Didn’t want someone taking up arms only to later realize he hadn’t been born yet.
The curvy bits encompass years in Kinnan’s life: Where was he and what was he doing when other characters’ stories were in the forefront?
Other notes remind me of the stages of Guthrie’s rise to prominence, when Andrin was dismissed from royal service, when Brady came to work for Devona, and other fiddly bits.
This is by no means an outline, or even an exhaustive timeline; its purpose was not to be a map but a memorandum. It was just enough to keep the characters, some of whom grew from infancy to pre-teen self-sufficiency during the course of the story, from being the wrong age from chapter to chapter.
If you’re having trouble getting the timing of fiddly bits right, try making a timeline to hang the bits from. It can be amazingly useful.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Are your main character’s parents still living? If so, what is his or her relationship with them? If not, how old was he or she when they died?