One of the most underused tools in a writer’s toolbox is the time line. This can be a very elaborate creation or just a simple list of scenes and dates. It can be a detailed as chronicling events hour to hour, or as broad as year to year. That is up to the author of the piece and how detailed you want to go.
That is the first decision you need to make when you are constructing a time line whether you are using software or just paper and pen. What day and time (if the time is relevant to your action) does the story start? How long does the action take? Will it wrap up the same day? Or will it continue for days, weeks, or months? Once you determine that, it’s time to actually create the time line.
Put your starting scene at one end and then the time that it occurs. From there, put in the next scene and it’s time. Continue putting in scenes and times until you get to the end. This is your basic time line. You could stop here, but there is more information you can include in your time line. You can add in the characters. If you choose a point of view character for your story, they will need to be there for each scene, write their name on the time line under the scene, if you have room. Then you can add the names of the other characters in the scene as well. Numbering the scenes can help you to create a list of the scenes with this information. It’s good to have that information listed on the time line or a companion list to the time line.
For that matter, you time line could be a simple list with dates and times. It could be a series of index cards with scene descriptions and characters who take part in the scene. You should include all that in your time line to make it more useful. This method lets you see the action as it progresses over time. If you have the characters listed for each scene, you know where each character is during the times the action is taking place. It ensures that you don’t have someone vanish mid scene with no explanation. A time line helps you control the action as well as your characters.
All that said, time lines may not work for all writers. Some who are strict pantsers will not find this particularly useful. Those who favor outlines may choose this method of plotting their stories as it grounds the story in time. Sometimes it is helpful to see where your beats fall over the course of time within a story and that is where time lines excel. Play around with it. See what works for you and then run with it. You will be happy with the results you get.