In the end, I planned my plot the old-fashioned way – with pen and paper.

You can see that I’ve drawn a timeline for each of my characters. It’s not obvious here, but the timeline of all the background events is the one titled ‘Rabble’. I’ve also added extra events for characters as necessary – these events are then added to the timeline of all other characters. Oh, and the first event that’s covered by a spoiler box? It’s the same event for all. This is a major plot point that affects all the characters in some way.

The last column has a dotted line around it – that’s the next major plot point, where everything and everyone is shaken up and left to fall where they will.

It’s not the most high-tech way, but it works for me because I managed to scribble it all down in ten minutes without the need to fiddle around with any programs or elements, and I can see what my characters are doing at a glance. I can also see how something that a character is doing at any given time would affect another.

But although this gives me an overview of what a character is doing, there is no indication of how the characters grow (or need to grow). You could always just add this into the timeline, but I find that it clutters it up. In the next post, I’ll explain how I decide where the characters are at emotionally and get that down on paper for reference.

The beginnings of a plot outline

So I’m stuck with the problem of planning out my plot. I know how I want it to start and to end, but as for what happens in between, I’m still working that out. In the end, I decided that I would need a timeline of sorts, but I wasn’t quite sure where to begin.

One of the first things I tried was using Microsoft Project for my timeline. You enter the action, a start date and an end date (or a start date and a duration). You can also link events that are dependent, so if the time of one event is moved back, all dependent events are moved back as well. Also, events can be grouped together under headings. Here’s what mine looked like – with the important plot points hidden, of course!

The beginnings of a plot outline

I found it had limitations pretty quickly. I can’t have linked events that happen on the same day. I can’t specify if something happens during the day or during the night – the smallest block of time is one day. I have to put each against a date, and that date has to be a standard date (an Earth date, to be precise!) In the end, it was also just a bit too complex for me. I’m usually the kind of person who prefers scribbling on a blank piece of paper.

Of course, that’s not to say that it wouldn’t work for everyone. If you had a plot stretched out over a longer period of time, if it was set in this world, if you like seeing pretty timelines and it helps you with your plot, then by all means give it a go. It doesn’t have to be Microsoft Project – that’s just what I had on my computer. Any project management software should do something similar.

In part 2 I’ll explain what I used in the end, so stay tuned!