Knowing when and where everyone is can save so much heartache
I have also written a more complete tutorial on mapping Here.
Recently, I have increased my note taking and planning hugely and to my surprise I am rather enjoying it; I always used to find it got in the way of the joy of writing the story, especially the dialogue.
At least part of the pleasure is that I am taking a little extra time with both timelines and maps, making sure I know not just where my characters are, but when too. This has taken a huge amount of guesswork out of my writing and allows me to think about other elements that might effect my story like the weather, the topography, the architecture, even the state of the grass - anything that might effect the mood or actions of a character.
It is not always a direct reaction. If the last time we met the character was six months before in winter, then it is now summer. Apart from dressing differently, they might simply mention that at least it is not cold now. It is a throwaway aside, but it has shown movement and fluidity.
How you handle your planning is up to you, but I use Adobe Illustrator for the basic map and OneNote for the timeline.
My method is very, very simple.
On illustrator I make sure I am viewing the grid. You can change how the grid is displayed (you can put it in the background or have it always on top, which is sensible) and you can also change the size. For the book I am working on at the moment I am using one major square to equal ten leagues, so each baby square is one league.
Next I then decide how big my land is (for a fantasy) and draw it out roughly with the pencil tool - it takes seconds! If you are using a real world location, then find a map on the web, drop it into illustrator and stretch it or shrink it to match your grid size so that it makes sense. I would then suggest you make it semi-transparent, lock that layer, and use the pencil tool to trace out the bits you need very roughly.
This is not meant to be an art work, just enough so you understand your environment.
On the example above you can see that I have then typed in place names, found some mountain vectors on the web and pasted them in, drawn in borders and so on. None of this is very techy or artistic at all. To be honest, you could also do this on a big sheet of graph paper if you wanted - actually, that would be fun!
Timelines and Notes
Once you have your map you now know where you are, quite literally. The next important step is to keep track of WHEN you are.
I plan my books in OneNote as I have talked about before, but that is just my personal choice.
When I am planning out my story I first create a page called Timeline. On this page I create my own little calendar. For my fantasy it is in years and months, primarily, with an option to add week numbers as extra rows if I wish. You can see an example on the opening image of this article.
But you can break it down however you need - I imagine that the writers of 24 had a very detailed timeline!
On the timeline I keep notes very simple. Primarily, I list WHEN my chapters are set. But I might also put in the odd thing like a characters birthday, if that is important to a story - if your character is a teen at the beginning of the story, they might be in their twenties by the end and that could make a radical difference to how they react to life! (or not....)
You will notice that I have our twelve months in my example above. In fact, in this particular story, they do not use our months at all - indeed they never mention months, but rather they will say "winter" or "the dry season," and so on. I have used our months on the calendar however simply so I remember what season it is in very parts of the world.
The timeline is a good starting point, but this also needs to relate more directly to the notes. On my planning pages for chapters, therefore, I always start my notes with the date. It is amazing how that focusses the mind! I might also make a reference to how long it has been since we last dealt with this character or location.
So now I know when and where my characters are and what is waiting for them round the corner.
I even sometimes create a big red X in illustrator and if my chapter or section is about a journey, I will move the X along just so I don't forget where they are. When I then run down the pub, I will know that the X corresponds to where I stopped writing. It took moments and for once I haven't lost my place.
I do have one very strict rule for all of this, however - I keep it rough and simple. If it is complicated to do, I would get lazy and might end up in a bigger mess than I started. I have a basic working knowledge of Illustrator, so this is a good way for me to work, but if you are happier working on a blackboard or graph book or in some other drawing programme, you choose whatever you find easier. Remember, this is not going to be published with the book, this is just for yourself - do it however you like, but make sure it is very rough and simple.
That will also become crucial if you suddenly realise you have messed up and need to change your dates!