Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

The Story Ladder or Novel Timeline

If writing an outline before you create your story is not for you, perhaps a story ladder would be a good choice.

Keeping track of where and when things happen can make sure you don’t end up having Monday happen twice in one week in your story. It also can help you strengthen endings and beginnings of chapters. Plus when you make a change in a story that necessitates a change earlier on, it makes it easier to find the appropriate scene or place.

You may want to write a few chapters before creating it. Or you may use it as a mini-outline to write from. Following are several samples.
story ladder
Going back over my story ladder for one novel, I added a column for main plot and subplot, which let me see how balanced the story was. I’ve also added codes or columns so I can see how often I mention a character trait–this helps me not forget some mannerism or habit that should be ongoing. Or perhaps it helps me keep track of something in the character’s setting which is important either to the plot or to the character.

Sometimes the summary shows me that not much happened in a chapter. I can then ask myself do I need this scene? Is it moving the story forward? Do I need to strengthen it or combine it with another chapter? Is it in the wrong place?

Page numbers and/or word count show the lengths of my chapters. If most of them are a consistent length, except for this one long one, perhaps I consider breaking it into two chapters.

Use a story ladder as a tool for what YOU need to keep track of in your story. For a mystery, you might want a column for clues, so you know when you’ve revealed what. If you’re writing a novel with multiple viewpoints, you may need a column to indicate whose viewpoint each chapter or section is in.

A story ladder or novel timeline can be helpful when you have to create a synopsis, too, since the basics are already gathered in one place.