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8 Tips for Plotting the Timeline of Your Fictional World

Anybody Can Write a Novel

Chapter 1 “World-building” – Section 2 “World History”

With Links to Supplementary Material


Once you have established what Type of Story you want to write, you have created the cornerstone of your story—an idea or a blank page of the exact size and shape and color that you want. The next step is to start the sketch by creating a historical foundation for your story. Now, I've already discussed why You Should Use a Wold Creation Sheet, and provided links for some good ones, so now I will go into detail on the first part of that—establishing the History of your fictional world.

Tip 1: Take note of the specifics that you need for the world of your story.

Chances are, you already have some unique and specific ideas for your fictional world. Take “Maze Runner” for an example. Chances are that a justification for the maze was the key feature for which the entire history of the fictional world was built. So write down all of the particulars you need for your fictional world.


Tip 2: Remember that everything in your novel must ascribe to reason or insanity.

Once you have written down the particulars, whether that be magical, technological, cultural, or otherwise (anything that is different from the world we live in real life), you must come up with a valid reason that it exists. For example, why do you need a city-sized maze, when a small room will do the same job while expending fewer resources? Many people, myself included, mix sci-fi with fantasy. You must give a realistic reason for technological advancements being pursued at all, if magic is so much easier. Remember that unless humans live in extreme luxury, their solutions to problems will be the most practical. If this is not the case, there must be a believable insanity behind the particulars in your world.


Tip 3: Decide if you are writing about Earth, Alternate Earth, or a New World.

It is important to note what sort of world you are creating, as well as to create a timeline regardless of which you choose (though choosing Earth will give you considerably less work). I advise to take the path of least resistance—that which will most easily be adapted to your plot idea. The reason is that even though making a new world is fun, it leaves much more room for plot-holes, nonsensical history, and breaks with realism. And remember that all you create must exist to further the plot. If it does not do this, it must be cut—no matter how good or creative it may be. Otherwise, it simply serves as a distraction, and your reader will be annoyed at the irrelevance.


Tip 4: Always start at the very beginning of the cosmos.

In order to create a realistic and uniform world, you must decide what cosmic forces are at work in your world. Are gods frivolous and reward those who are most subservient? Is there a singular deity that rewards good and punishes bad (karmic)? Or is the world free of magic, and the only rewards and punishments coming from the natural consequences of one's actions. This is also important for writing in a realistic Earth, though a bit more tricky; for it, you must establish what forces, if any, control the cosmos as a basis for justifying what happens to your characters through the course of the story.


Tips 5: Always remember that a good fictional world is subject to realism.

This does not mean that you can't create magical or absurd worlds, only that it will be more powerful if it lines up with realism. Take the wizarding world in Harry Potter. It is absurd, the Ministry is run ineffectively, and people are kooky. But it works because these are the realistic consequences of the characters being outcasts of the real world, being thrown into a world shared by other magical creatures, and having spent more energy working on their magic than on building an efficient civilization.


Tip 6: Create a Timeline for the story.

The length of such a timeline will depend on what type of world you are creating. If a completely new world, you may have to go as far as the beginning of time and record the major events (not every battle, birth, and detail, just create a reasonable justification for the world being like it is). If alternate Earth, you will only need to record the differences between your and our worlds. If Earth, you will only need to record the major historical events that relate to your story. For this last one, do plenty of research, as different countries have different perceptions of how events took place. And you will be respected more as a writer if you address those outside your own culture's.


Tip 7: Lowering levels of magic and ability in your world, makes for more interesting characters.

Remember when building the world of your dreams that a high magical energy world that gives lots of power to your protagonist will make the struggles he or she faces less believable and empathizable. Also, that it is possible to make your world so different, that readers won't be able to relate. If you find yourself facing these problems, lower the level of magic and power in your world, and it should fix the problem.


Tip 8: Remember that most of your world building will not be discussed in your story.

Yes, the sad truth is that unless you want to bore your audience to tears, most of this work will never be directly revealed. But there is a beauty in this, as it allows the readers to piece the puzzle together for themselves. Kingdom Hearts is an excellent example of it—as it had fans puzzling and piecing together how the world worked, one subtle hint at a time. And, if nothing else, it will all go into making your world a more subconsciously believable and artfully crafted place, that readers will pick up on at some level.


I hope this article in my chapter on “World-building” is helpful in defining what kind of story you want to create. Next time, I will be focusing on creating an outline for your story. Please let me know if you have any relevant questions on the topic of “World-building” or anything you would like me to address.


Feel free to comment with other suggested resources. Any questions about writing? Things you want me to discuss? Comment or send me a message and I will be glad to reply or feature my response in a later article. If you enjoy my reviews, please feel free to share my articles with friends, add it to your favorites, become a watcher on my page, or send send a llama my way!


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Once you have established what Type of Story you want to write, you have created the cornerstone of your story—an idea or a blank page of the exact size and shape and color that you want. The next step is to start the sketch by creating a historical foundation for your story. Now, I've already discussed why You Should Use a Wold Creation Sheet, and provided links for some good ones, so now I will go into detail on the first part of that—establishing the History of your fictional world.


Add a Comment:
 
:iconsuperiorstory:
SuperiorStory Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2015  Professional Writer
Another great guide.

Not sure if you cover this in another section, but when writing the timeline it is important to write the timeline going through the story you are telling.  Tolkien does this in the Silmarilion by going over the events in Lord of the Rings.  This also helps for characters that are not constantly in the forefront of your story to avoid odd geographical phenomenon.  It breaks the BST (yeah I'm using it already) if a non-essential character who is supposed to be across the continent arrives at a faster rate than the protagonist without good reason, which would than make the reader wonder why the protagonist didn't use such methods to begin with.  I tend to timeline every notable character in my stories, and I timeline separate lines for the protagonist going through the story.  I do separate lines for growth, romance, and any major changeable aspects to their experience.  If there is a lot of traveling I would use one timeline strictly for traveling, and I keep them on the same sheet of paper so I can see the different aspects of the story in a cleaner format.  This doesn't mean you have to tell the story in this manner, as you can jump around during the telling, but it is easy to to know when you are, if there is a timeline of events to guide you.
Reply
:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2015  Professional Writer
That sounds very reasonable to me. I covered this topic a little bit in my Mapping article, but with more of a focus on building your plot while measuring how much space and time it would take you to move through your created world. And this also reminds me that I need to start doing research on character archs, and see how I can link them to an established Outline. 

Nice use of BST. 
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:iconsuperiorstory:
SuperiorStory Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2015  Professional Writer
I would use a whiteboard for that. It makes it easy to erase and move things around.  When I am done I copy it on paper.
Reply
:iconerosnightleaf:
ErosNightleaf Featured By Owner Jun 8, 2016
I hope you don't mind if I ask what BST is? Sorry if it's really obvious or something. Tried googling it and only got British Summer Time", which is obviously the wrong abbreviation.
Reply
:iconsuperiorstory:
SuperiorStory Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2016  Professional Writer
    Suspension of disbelief has been morphed to include everything that basically caused a reader to pause and wonder at the authenticity of a story, but the original usage of the word was only referring to the process within a readers mind. It only means that when someone reads something they open themselves up to something that is normally unbelievable. It is far from the concept that people currently using that phrase as anything that is too over the top within the story. In short it is phrase that does little for the author and simple means readers are willing to believe what you write.
    The Believability Standard Threshold ( BST) is the term that directly refers to the standard that the author creates within their story. The Author adjusts the standards within their world intentionally to create a new threshold that is considered believable relative to the world they made and the term can be used to directly address what the author did to create, modify, or break their standards. The BST basically makes it easier to address the craft of world building and not breaking the rules the author creates.
Reply
:iconerosnightleaf:
ErosNightleaf Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2016
Thanks!
Reply
:iconkushami-aru:
Kushami-Aru Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2015
I really can't even describe how useful these tutorials are. I've been creating a world and I've got stuck so many times I considered giving up because I didn't have any idea what I was doing wrong. Now it seems I started at the end of the process... Hehe... Whoops. I wouldn't like to start again and right now I'm thinking of a way to fix this problem. 

Again, thanks for an awesome tutorial! And sorry for my poor grammar. :XD:
Reply
:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2015  Professional Writer
I've had all the same struggles :) And most of my tips come from advice people have given me that worked, and from my own trial and error. 

I'm very glad they're so helpful! 
Reply
:iconshaudawn:
Shaudawn Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
I really like how you take a systemic approach to your worldbuilding.  I see so many haphazard worlds thrown together, thinking that just a map will do, but you dig deeper.  I've also seen a lot of tutorials and writing books that delve into character and plot, but hardly touch the setting.  Although not as necessary when you're writing in this time and place, it is essential when writing speculative fiction--including horror and even alternate history.

Thank you for sharing your excellent tips, and also for linking back to some of your other articles.  I think this is a "must have" for folks interested in spectacular worlds their characters get to play in.  :D :earth:
Reply
:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2015  Professional Writer
Thank you very much :) I hope to cover every topic that I can possibly think of in the topic of writing over the next year or two, going from topic to topic in the most organized way I know how. If you notice that I've missed a certain topic in one of my sections, or have a topic suggestion, I would be more than happy to hear it at any point. 
Reply
:iconparalelsky:
Paralelsky Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2015
This has been very helpful. Thank you once again for the good advice. It comes to show just how much work goes into writing a story. 
Reply
:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2015  Professional Writer
A good amount :)
Reply
:iconanonimum:
Anonimum Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2015
Thank you so much! This is going to really help my stories really flesh out. I hope you can get some recognition for this!
Reply
:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2015  Professional Writer
I'm glad it was helpful for you :)
Reply
:iconshaozchampion:
ShaozChampion Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2015  Student Digital Artist
helpful ^^
Reply
:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2015  Professional Writer
good!
Reply
:iconservine000:
Servine000 Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2015  Student Writer
Interesting enough, I'm struggling with the eighth point. Thanks for making this; I'll try to keep that in idea. :D
Reply
:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2015  Professional Writer
No problem! :) And yes, point 8 is a tough one. For me, it's usually a matter of erasing exposition in later drafts, after I've over-explained in earlier ones. 
Reply
:iconservine000:
Servine000 Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2015  Student Writer
Thanks and yeah; I totally agree with you.
Reply
:iconkinola14:
Kinola14 Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2015
I've done a couple of timelines already.
Reply
:iconspartans300:
Spartans300 Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
Very interesting. I'll keep these in mind as I further write and develop my own stories. Thanks for the tips. I'll also check out the ones that you linked. 
Reply
:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2015  Professional Writer
Great :) Glad you enjoyed. 
Reply
:iconalbevallon:
AlbeVallon Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Ît's great, it seem I already ind of have all these elements, even if I didn't finish to establish them yet. :D
Reply
:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2015  Professional Writer
awesome! :)
Reply
:icondaniisinnowhereland:
daniisinnowhereland Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
awesome! thanks!
Reply
:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2015  Professional Writer
no problem :)
Reply
:icondaniisinnowhereland:
daniisinnowhereland Featured By Owner Mar 18, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
:)
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