Tools for keeping stories straight

In editing Boh’s Abdication, I’ve reached the point of needing to chart my story out to make sure that events are happening when they should. I once again have people traipsing back and forth across three countries, and I have to keep the travel times consistent with those in Alara’s Call, the first book in the series.

So of course this means I need a map and a calendar.

Oh, how I wish I could show you the map. Mary Elizabeth Hall did a fantastic job (squee) on the map that will appear in Alara’s Call. But I’ve been asked to keep it under wraps.

I will probably use the same map for book two as for book one, though I may have Mary add a few new points of interest. At any rate, the map is a great tool, and Mary’s is far better than the one I scribbled on a piece of spiral notebook paper.

For the calendar, I use the Perpetual Calendar Template from Vertex42. This is an Excel spreadsheet set up to look like a calendar. I can type the events of the story into calendar blocks. The merge cells function can be used to show something that will take several days, like “journey from capitol to seaside.”

I use Time And Date’s Custom Calendar feature to help me get equinoxes and solstices on the right dates, as well as full and new moons. I picked an actual historical year for story-planning purposes, though I don’t mention that date in the book. 😉 Time and Date also came in handy recently when I was editing a piece of historical fiction, ensuring that the dates were on the right days of the week. Yeah, that’s the kind of thing copyeditors get picky about.

At one point, I had a character getting from one place to another far too quickly. So I used the corkboard view in Scrivener to shuffle a couple of scenes around. Problem solved.

What tools are helping you solve your story problems?


About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

8 comments on “Tools for keeping stories straight

  1. Aeon Timeline. They were a NaNo sponsor and I tried it. Loved it. While I don’t use them, you can set up your own calendars or use a zero day/hour type thing.

  2. 1) Reverse engineering, so far, may be the biggest tool. It’s just a good thing my main protagonist has the power to change the timelines he’s in.

    2) A map of the major Galactic Powers, complete with distances.

    3) A set scheme of starship speeds, and therefore (unlike STAR TREK), exact times of travel from Point A to Point B.

  3. Reblogged this on Tales of the Undying Singer and commented:
    I could use a few… 🙂

  4. And here I thought you did this out of your sheer madness as a writer! You know the going where no man has gone before theory I have for you? 😛 Didn’t know you used these as a matter of keeping things more organized. Good job my main man and creative genius! In closing Carl Jung said this – ” show me a sane man, and I will cure him for you.”

  5. I used Google Maps (satellite view, especially) for researching a few locations in my NaNo story. I needed a warehouse relatively close to the Portland airport, and found one. I needed a forest within 50 miles of that area, and found one.

    Also found specific areas within the forest that helped me visualize the topography and get the names of specific ridges and peaks within that particular forest. Pretty handy.

    Street view (in Maps) is also great when you want to visualize storefronts or such along a roadway, or get a feel for a particular neighborhood. When my character was walking up the far south end of Las Vegas Boulevard, it was street view that gave me details about bus stops and local architecture.

    Even if no one else ever notices the accuracy of the descriptions, it helped provide details and ideas when I was having a hard time visualizing the area.

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