You might consider this the boring part of the tutorial and quite frankly, there was a time where I would have agreed with you. Nonetheless, the things we cover in this portion are equally, if not more important than the things we talked about in the last two chapters. And I promise, I’ll try to keep it all interesting. In fact, you may even enjoy it.
Writing timelines is a skill I always recommend people develop if they’re going to tackle a story, and especially one that is told in multiple parts or will otherwise be quite long and detailed. I don’t always save doing this for the end, and will often start timelining in the same instance that I pull my first story concept together, and work on it throughout the whole process. In general, my timeline isn’t finished until I’ve put significant work into my story, already, so there’s never a bad time to do one.
For a decent timeline, you’ll want to lay out major events of your plot, theme(s), and the actions of each of your major characters, in parallel lines along a span of time – the beginning and end of your story. When starting out, you may have a timeline that looks as simple as this:
But more than likely, you’ll finish with one as big as or bigger than this:
Whatever you end up with, your timeline has one purpose – to keep complicated plot points in line with one another. As you write your timeline, you will begin to see things line up in ways which may lead you to a theme, or two, which could help tie your story together.
Themes are sometimes credited as the glue of a story, since they do such a nice job of unifying things. At its core, a good theme is simultaneously the lesson and inspiration we get through reading and one of the best ways a reader can make a connection to our real world from one of fantasy. The main theme supports the plot. As with many things, themes are best if kept simple and able to be described in one sentence. A good theme may be as simple as “If we work hard and stay optimistic, we can achieve anything.”
The best way to define your theme is to read through your writing and see what kinds of ideas have already tied themselves together. It’s very likely that you’ve placed a theme into your story without even realizing it. Working with the above example of working hard and being optimistic, you may choose to emphasize a point in your tale when a character achieves something through hard work, in an especially poignant fashion. If you find an instance where a character does not get what they want through hard work, you may keep it as a conflict or re-work it so it better fits your theme.
There are artsier themes, as well, and you may choose to keep them secondary to the main theme. Themes revolving around the rising and setting of the sun, change of seasons, and other such things are in this vein. For example, you may choose to align each of your characters with a season, and when your summer character has her moment of glory, you may choose to depict it happening on a hot day in July. Themes such as this are wide open, and serve as nice little extras your audience will appreciate if done well.
Your final phase of writing will come with the editing process. As we’d discussed in the last entry, you will want your story to be moved along in a way where each scene is set up to show off a character trait, move the plot, or both. Everything else is fluff and should be discarded.
Let’s think of an example scene where two characters are conversing. One character may reveal she’s looking to have more adventure in her life, thus revealing something about her character and setting up a major plot point where it is assumed she will soon be on some epic journey. Her companion may state that he’s traveled to a place full of wonder and excitement, revealing something about his character in turn, as well as taking the next step into the plot. It’s very tempting for beginning writers to start a scene such as this with the two characters talking about the weather and what a nice day it is, but unless the weather is a factor in the plot or a character’s future actions, our audience doesn’t need to know too much about that stuff and it can be left out.
Finally, as you review your writing, you want to make sure you’ve done a good job of showing and not telling. What I mean by that is, it’s easiest to simply state that major plot points are happening as they happen, and give away the objective of characters by equipping them with dialogue which states specifically what it may be – but it’s hardly interesting.
Check your work and read over it. Are things too obvious? Do you leave room for your audience to imagine once in a while? Did you find yourself writing more of “the full moon was out” and less of “faint rays of light glinted off of broken glass, providing the only illumination to the ground”? Now is the time to fix little nuances such as these and make them more interesting.
One last word on editing – if you’re doing a professional job, pay for a professional editor. You will be glad you did.
So that wraps up our little course on creative writing! I hope you’ve enjoyed and I hope you’ve learned something in the last three weeks. There is so very much more to cover on this subject than what I’ve given you here, so I recommend you look into books and other articles on the subject as you continue to grow as a writer.
Remember – there’s no better way to learn how to write than to start writing. Stay creative, until next time!