As your series grows in the number of books, it becomes critically important to keep track of your timelines. This came home to me recently when writing my latest work, tentatively titled Easter Hair Hunt. Hairstylist Marla Vail’s stepdaughter Brianna will be leaving for college soon. I wrote that she was a senior in high school but then realized I’d better check to make sure. The story takes place in March. The last one, Trimmed to Death, took place in October. Brianna was only in the eleventh grade in that story. She wouldn’t have graduated yet. Whoops. I went back and made her a junior for the current WIP.
So what sorts of things do you need to keep track of from book to book? Here’s a handy list:
Grades for any school-age children
Notes on secondary characters regarding their current status
Dates for Holidays
For Easter Hair Hunt, I determined the holiday would take place in late March. I set Passover a week later. But was this plausible? I looked up dates on the Internet and found this:
Easter Sunday can fall between March 22 and April 25.
Easter is March 23 in 2008 but then Passover is April 20
Easter is March 27 in 2016 but then Passover is April 23
Easter is March 31 in 2024 but then Passover is April 23
I picked one of these dates for Easter in my story and had to remove Passover since it didn’t come until a month later.
Marla attends the egg hunt on a Saturday. She celebrates Easter with her interfaith family on Sunday. Monday is her day off, and that’s when she begins her snooping into the latest murder mystery. So for each individual book, you also need to know these factors:
Month your story takes place
Days of the week for each chapter or scene. Using one of those free calendars you get in the mail might be helpful.
Special events you mention in the story that will be coming up, such as a bridal shower for one of Marla’s friends.
Here’s an example of my timeline notes for Trimmed to Death:
Marla is 38 (BD Feb.). Royal Oaks, her housing development in southwest Palm Haven, is four years old.
Dalton is 46 (BD Nov.)
Brianna is 16, is in 11th grade as of Sept., and has her driver’s license (BD March). She takes acting classes to help with public speaking, belongs to the drama club and debate team at school. She’s aiming for college in Boston. Mentions a boy named Jason in Trimmed. Jason has an older brother who plays in a band.
Tally’s baby Luke is 14 months. (BD Aug. 3). Tally is 38 (BD Aug. 28)
Arnie, deli owner and Marla’s friend, is 42. Married to Jill.
Robyn, Marla’s neighbor and salon receptionist, is 36 (BD is August)
Nicole, a hairstylist at Marla’s salon, spends weekends at her boyfriend Kevin’s place. His parents and siblings live in Miami. Nicole meets them in Trimmed and then Kevin takes her to the Bahamas before Thanksgiving (Nov).
What you want to do with each installment is add to this list and then copy and paste it to your next book’s files. It’s easy to get lost unless you keep detailed notes regarding these timelines. You could say the same for family trees. Figuring out who is related to whom gets even more confusing if you don’t draw a diagram or make notes.
For the writers out there, what else do you include on these timeline lists?
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