If you’ve sat through even one writing class, seminar, or critique group, you’ve probably been advised to make an outline. The outline folks insist it’s the best way to keep your thoughts organized and your story moving forward because you have an idea where the story is headed.
“Pfft!” I roll my eyes and shrug my shoulders. I’ve never been that organized. I lack the ability to move forward in a straight line. I don’t like rigid rules. I want the characters to take the story where they want it to go. I explain a lot of decisions I’ve made in my life by telling people I’ve always been a bit of a gypsy. I don’t necessarily want to settle down and I’m not a fan of anything becoming so routine I can complete it in my sleep. I was about as excited to write an outline as I would be about facing a guillotine.
Imagine my surprise when my inner writer decided I should make a timeline for my character’s life. I needed a visual representation of what was happening in the south and around the country during the course of her life so I would have an easier time tying everything together. How old was my character during the Civil War? When was the great fire again? I even wrote down when the telephone was invented. You never know when a detail like that might come in handy.
Black is the character’s life experiences, yellow shows things happening in South Carolina and blue highlights what’s going on in the nation.
Now I can re-read what I’ve written so far and make sure everything lines up. I’m most concerned about making sure she’s aging at the right pace for historic events taking place during her lifetime.
I still don’t love the idea of writing an outline, but I think for my historical fiction story, it’s my best option. Before my timeline, I was running uphill in an avalanche. Now I’m riding it out on a sled.