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#FirstDraft Planning Day 2: Basic Story Structure and Timeline Setup

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Today’s story-prep tasks come from what was originally Day 4 in the FirstDraft60 process: Story Structure & Timeline. Yesterday, I posted the progress on all of the tasks in the comments; today, I decided to do it as the day’s blog post itself.

Assignment 1: Create a section in your Story Bible for your story outline and synopsis.

    Have you ever outlined your story before writing? Do you have a favorite outline structure you’d like to share? What are your concerns with trying to outline if you’re a solid seat-of-the-pants writer? What do you think will be the biggest challenge for you if you’ve never outlined ahead of time before? Do you know enough about your story that you can start filling in a structure chart like the Seven Story Beats? If you don’t like the Seven Story Beats structure, what do you think might work better for you?

Have I ever fully outlined a novel before writing it? No. Had more than just a vague idea written down before starting to write the manuscript? Yes. As you probably already know, I like using the Seven Story Beats from Billy Mernit’s fantastic craft book Writing the Romantic Comedy (which, according to Amazon, I purchased on April 11, 2008; so you can see just how long I’ve been using it!). So I set up the page and table in my story bible and went ahead and filled in what I have from my brief story idea. As you can see, it gets into the Rising Conflict (Beat 4) part of the story. I always like to know at least that much before I start writing. I may or may not know Beats 5, 6, or 7 before I get there in the writing process, though. I started out as enough of a seat-of-the-pants writer that I find writing more interesting and fun if I don’t know exactly where it’s going before I get there.

Oh, and I’m already changing the opening from what I wrote in the original story idea. It gets the story moving faster. And I do love a hidden-identity plot!


Assignment 2: Create or find a calendar/timeline format to use to track the timeline of events for your story.

    Have you made a point of tracking (“calendaring”) a story’s timeline before? How did you do it? What method do you think will work best for you with the manuscript you’ve chosen for this challenge? What do you already know about your story’s timeline (such as holidays or historical events that have to fall on certain dates) that you can start plugging in?

Here’s what I know about my story’s timeline: It starts in 1843 and ends by April 1844 (as per the epilogue to Ransome’s Quest). Elle and James will be in Philadelphia through winter/Christmas with James trying to break through her stubborn resistance.

Here’s what I need to research: The length of time it took the steamships of the 1840s to travel from the Caribbean to Philadelphia. How long Elle and James’s engagement will be (because, again as per the epilogue of Ransome’s Quest, there’s somewhere they both have to be in April of 1844).

Here’s what I need to know about my story before I can set a timeline: I need to know some more specific details and scenes that will take place in the midsection of the book (Beats 4, 5, and 6) to know just how long it’s going to take for Elle to fall in love with James and agree to return to Jamaica and marry him. I can, however, go ahead and set up calendar pages in Word (with a link on the Story Chronology page in OneNote) for seven or eight months from mid-1843 to April 1844.

If you’d like to see a much more elaborate example of a story’s timeline tracking, check out the Day 4 post from 2015.


If you’ve never done FirstDraft60 and want to try it, you can see the whole series at the #FirstDraft60 page linked in the header. The tasks do build on each other after the first several days, but you can move them around to best suit your style. Be sure to start with Day 1—Determining Your Commitment and Motivation with Guided Questions.

One Hour of Writing Time per Day
My one hour of writing time is scheduled for each day from 7 PM to 8 PM Central time. I’ll try to remember to send reminders on Twitter, followed by results afterward each day (after all, I do have time for social media scheduled both before and after the writing block).

If you’re playing along at home, you can join me at that time or set your own schedule for when you’ll be writing (or reading, if you’re not a writer!). Be sure to check in on Twitter or Facebook with your results!

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