Plotting for epic stories gets muddled fast. Simple stories with a few characters and a straightforward narrative … eh, well, I don’t write those. I like massive worlds with large casts of characters and intricate, interweaving arcs. For this reason, I find timelines useful. Until recently, however, I had not found an effective tool for creating them; I’d been consigned to clunky lists written in spiral-bound notebooks and the like.
Winning the NaNoWriMo 2014 challenge gave me access to some great writing tools at discounted prices. One of those was Aeon Timeline, a timeline-creation tool created with the writer in mind. I’ve only started using it, but it’s already been helpful.
Fantasy writing is appealing in part because you get to create a world from whole cloth. I take the worldbuilding aspect of writing fantasy (and other speculative fiction) seriously. Correction: I might enjoy it more than creating the characters and narrative. But I get around to writing the story sooner or later.
Along with my zeal for creating geography, cultures, languages, and the like, I have a passion for extended backstories and long, momentous histories. Even events that will never make their way into the written story get sketched out into detail because they inform the lives and motivations of characters, and add color and detail to locations. A good timeline assists in the visualization of those through lines that intersect important moments and tie characters to the important events. As you can see from the image, Aeon provides an impressive level of exactness.
It’s also great because you can customize the calendar to suit a fantasy world with its own days, months and eras. So, if instead of B.C. and A.D., I want the years to be broken into the “Age of Serpents”, the “Septumbran Age”, and the “Second Scattering”, I can do that. I can have three months in a year or thirty. My week can have days named “Thursday” or “Kingsday” or “Ralph”. (I’m still trying to come up with a good setting where a day named Ralph makes sense.)
I guess this is where I tie this post in with my previous one about maps: the visual and linguistic crossover makes some sort of synergistic hokum that induces some full-brain nonsense. In reality, I think the appeal of visualization tools is as simple as the fact that writing is wholly conceptual (that is to say, words on a page require you to create your own images of things described), and any way I can make concrete those ideas—even if only as a reference for myself—facilitates the process of writing.
Which reminds me … I should be writing.