Posted On May 22, 2017 by Print This Post

Tracking Time in Your Novel – by Laura Drake

Good morning! Today, RU Contributor Laura Drake discusses how to establish your story’s time line.

It seems I’m always confessing in my blogs. I’m not sure I want to know what that says about me, but I know wherever my mother is, she’s proud that she had some influence. But that, as they say, ‘is a different meeting.’

I suck at tracking time in my novels. You know — how much time passes between scenes, and the time span from the beginning to the end. A year? A decade?

I had a huge revision for my ‘biker-chick’ book, Her Road Home. I got busted by my editor. I kind of hoped she wouldn’t notice. She did. Here are a few actual editorial comments:
• How much time has passed since the last scene?
• What month is it?
• I’m a little unsure of how much later this scene takes place . . .

Good questions. My answer? “Damned if I know.” I’m a Pantser. I just wander along, and somehow, one day, I get to the end.
I do know that the inciting incident, the motorcycle wreck, happened in February, and the closing scene, a Christmas party, happens in early December. I’m always clear about the beginning and end – it’s the middle that gets fuzzy.

The embarrassing part is that I’m anally organized (no, not that I organize – oh never mind, you know what I mean.) My library is in alphabetical order, as are my albums (yes, I still have them.) I can lay my hands on anything I own in the dark — if Alpha Dog hasn’t moved it. I have a white marker board full of to-do lists, and my calendar is color-coded, for cripes sake!

But for whatever reason, my mind doesn’t want to track time in my novel.

I needed tools.

The first I found is cool. It’s an Excel Template (yeah, like you’re surprised.) It’s easy to use, and gives a great overall view. You can snag it free, here.

Here’s the one I made up for my RITA winner, The Sweet Spot:

Click on image to enlarge.

It worked great as a starting point – a macro view. It allowed me to see my obvious holes, and locate gross ambiguity.

But not everything will fit. My biggest problem was in the scene-to-scene details. So I needed a micro tool. Excel to the rescue (again.) As you may know, I use Excel to track my scenes, chapter page count, word count, and much more. If you missed that post, it’s here.

So I just added a page to that Excel Sheet.

But I found that I needed two micro views:

• One for before the book began, so I could keep the backstory timeline for the two main characters, and reconcile their ages when the book began.
• One for the book itself; scene by scene time management.
Here’s a portion of the one I did for the biker-chick book, Her Road Home:

Click on image to enlarge.

I sent it in with the revisions, so my editor could visualize the entire book at once.

PROBLEM SOLVED! And the accountant in me loved creating it.
Now I just have to be sure to use it on the novel I just started – it’ll save a lot of time and confusion later!

Do you have a time tracking problem? I’m always looking for new tools – how do you track time in your novel?


Available on Amazon


Laura Drake is a city girl who never grew out of her tomboy ways, or a serious cowboy crush. She writes both Women’s Fiction and Romance.

She sold her Sweet on a Cowboy series, romances set in the world of professional bull riding, to Grand Central. The Sweet Spot won the 2014 Romance Writers of America® RITA® award in the Best First Book category.

Her ‘biker-chick’ novel, Her Road Home, sold to Harlequin’s Superromance line, and has expanded to three more stories set in the same small town.

Laura’s first women’s fiction, Days Made of Glass, released January, 2016.

In 2014, Laura realized a lifelong dream of becoming a Texan and is currently working on her accent. She gave up the corporate CFO gig to write full time. She’s a wife, grandmother, and motorcycle chick in the remaining waking hours.

Connect with Laura via Twitter, Facebook, or on her group blog, Writers in the Storm.

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20 Responses to “Tracking Time in Your Novel – by Laura Drake”

  1. Thanks for this, Laura! I’m not great at tracking time in my stories either. I realized in the one I’m working on I had lost track of time. Boy, that was one super long day! 🙂 And now that my debut book (The Marine’s Surprise Daughter, Harlequin Special Edition 2/18) is part of a series (Small-Town Sweethearts), I really need help with a timeline. I can’t have the girl in book 1 eternally 5. 🙂

    Love your Excel idea. But, FYI, the links didn’t work.

    Posted by Carrie Nichols | May 22, 2017, 8:24 am
  2. The first novel I worked on I didn’t think much about time. And that resulted in an epic romance that took place in about a day and a half. My beta readers had a field day with that one. They still tease me.

    After that, I worked in PowerPoint to create timelines. They looked much like your Excel document, but my boxes were color-coded so I knew the POV character in each scene.

    Now I write in Scrivener, and I use the project notes feature (in the inspector) to keep my outline visible. I have cues in my outline telling me when days or weeks have passed, and that keeps everything in line for me. (And Scrivener also color-codes, so I keep my POV straight scene-to-scene.) Now instead of having several docs to keep straight, everything lives in that one Scrivener file. It’s worked great for me.

    Posted by Staci Troilo | May 22, 2017, 9:28 am
  3. There doesn’t seem to be an active link for the Excel Template. Could you please give me one?

    Posted by Donna | May 22, 2017, 9:37 am
  4. Thanks so much for this post, Laura! I’m always scribbling notes to myself to help me keep track of time passing in my stories. I don’t have trouble with seasons so much as days of the week. It’s only to be expected, I guess, since half the time I don’t know what day it is in real life. 🙂

    P.S. Just ordered THE SWEET SPOT. Looking forward to reading your books!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | May 22, 2017, 1:07 pm
  5. I don’t have a problem tracking time in my mystery novels but I do in my romances. Isn’t that weird? I guess mystery needs to stay on a track where a romance can meander about. Thanks for this and glad to know I’m not alone!

    Posted by Anne Hagan | May 22, 2017, 1:38 pm
    • Anne, that doesn’t surprise me – I’m in awe of Mystery writers’ ability! I’d love to write a mystery, but I don’t plot… so that could be a problem 😉

      Hope this helps in your romances!

      Posted by Laura Drake | May 23, 2017, 6:34 am
  6. Hi Laura,

    Thanks for this. I usually just use a calendar for the timeline, which is usually a month. But this is far more elaborate and useful.

    Posted by Heatherly Bell | May 22, 2017, 2:30 pm
  7. Hi Laura,

    I establish a timeline when I outline a story. My timelines have details that will never make it into the story, but it’s a huge help when I’m working on connected stories.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | May 23, 2017, 1:19 am
  8. Yes Jennifer! That’s it! Especially backstory – 98% never gets in, but you have to track it to be sure the characters are the right age at the time the book opens.

    My WIP involves 3 generations, and I wanted the grandma to be growing up in the hippie era, so I had to do a timeline to figure out how old each generation was, and when they had their kids!

    Posted by Laura Drake | May 23, 2017, 6:38 am
  9. Hi Laura,
    I also have issues when it comes to timelines. I have been big at wanting weddings at Christmas in my books so I tend to work backwards from that point. What I usually do is print a calendar (I created one long ago in Excel) and actually write on it what is happening and when. I have been known to have my character grab a sweater in July or go outside with nothing in January! Gotta plan!

    Posted by Pamela | June 4, 2017, 7:55 am


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