I’ve had my fair share of using a timeline creator and I can say there are things that need to be taken into account when using such applications as they aren’t all created equal or function the same way.  So here are some tips for those who may be considering what software to use when creating timeline for your historical fiction or historical non-fiction novel.

DO create a detailed character list and keep it up to date.

A newer timeline maker will allow you to include a character list in your book, but if yours doesn’t here’s some tips on creating one (and keeping it updated) that works for me.   I use a spreadsheet for my character list and create a new tab for each book I write with the character’s name, a brief description of them (in case they appear in another book), their date of birth, death, etc.  Then I copy and paste major events from the timeline into the appropriate column.  

This way as I write each chapter I can go back and update the character list as needed.  This is helpful if you decide to change a character’s name or gender, for example.

Venngage

DON’T make timeline that doesn’t match your book.

Many people who start writing their first novel without any prior knowledge of where to begin often end up with something like this.  A timeline that spans hundreds of years instead of the likely 50-75 in historical fiction or 35-100 for historical non-fiction, with an average of around 10 years per generation.

I’m not quite sure why people think their family tree should look like this when it doesn’t even remotely resemble what you’d find in a history book either.  For example, William the Conqueror, King of England from 1066 to 1087 was likely born sometime between 1028 and 1030…not 1009-1010.

In any case, if you have a family tree this extensive creating your timeline will become very difficult if not impossible. Your best bet would be to create a timeline template for each generation.  I’m sure you can see by now that it’s just not possible to include every one of your characters in the book within one single timeline.

DO break down larger chunks of time into smaller more manageable ones.

For example, if you were writing about World War One try to avoid creating a timeline that spans 1914-1918.  Instead, create 4 to 5 timelines one for each year or chunk of time so it’s easier for yourself.

DON’T include every single event you write about in your book on the timeline.

Yes, I know I just talked about how important it is to be detailed when creating your timeline but it’s equally important to know when not to include something.  You don’t want your timeline to get so bogged down in the minutia that no one wants to read it. Before starting your timeline, you may want to map out events you want to include using a mindmap online from Venngage.

For example, if two characters fall in love and get married, do you need to include every date they saw each other and every date and detail of their wedding?  No, you don’t.

DO create a Storyboard timeline if your book is non-fiction.

I’ve made the mistake before of creating an extensive timeline for my novel that doesn’t end up in my final draft because I spend so much time on it that it becomes such a nuisance.  A timeline generator that allows you to include images and videos can take much longer than just a text-based one.

If your book is non-fiction, consider creating your timeline as a storyboard.  You can create it using paint or other image editing software and then place pictures, drawings, screenshots of youtube videos, etc., into specific places.  Having everything in images makes it easier to go back and edit later on if you change your mind about how something should be displayed or want to add more details.

Venngage

DO share your timeline with others for feedback before publishing.

Just like anything else, sharing is both good and bad when it comes to timelines.   The good is that if someone reads your book and was confused about something you had written on the timeline they can point it out to you so you can fix it.  Also, if someone wants more details than what’s on the timeline for things like dates of birth, death, marriage, etc., then you’ll be able to provide it.

The bad can be that if they didn’t like something such as the way you depicted a certain character or event in your book, you’ll either have to change it for them and possibly others who ask about it…or set some people off.   Always remember: if someone doesn’t like what you wrote on your timeline then that’s their problem, not yours.

Bottomline

It’s really up to you how detailed your timeline is, just keep in mind that the more details you put on it, the harder it can be to create.  If your timeline goes beyond what you want for your book then I suggest creating another one with fewer details or splitting it up into different periods. Your choice!

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