• Grietje Y. M. François

Behind the Writings 7/9

The Timeline

Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash

The title of this post refers to three topics: the time it takes a writer to write a story; the story told, which is the time it takes a story to unfold from beginning to end; the chronology of a story.


HOW LONG did it take you to write your novel?” is about the most popular question writers get asked. If you’re the writer, I would say, as long as you want. As long as you think is necessary to get the job done. “How long does it take to polish a story, to attain a level suited for publishing?” The same answer applies. Are you looking to have it published? Then I suggest that at some point your story needs to enter a final stage, otherwise it will remain a nicely organised bunch of paragraphs that will never see the light of day as a novel.


I’ll enter more into the details about my writing project(s) in my next post, for now I can say that working on different stories for over twenty years – most of them never got out of their draft phase – my latest manuscript “Naar de haaien” will be the first to be published as a physical book, thus, being the most substantial, thought through story I’ve written so far, although there is another one that comes close.


imagination time + drafting time + writing time + I take a distance from my writing time + rework cycle time = writing a novel.
I left repetitive actions out. It’s not that linear in real life.

THE STORY TOLD can be as short as a day or as long as a few centuries. Once again, it all comes down to the writers’ purpose, why does he/she want to tell this story?

Just like a business strategy, a story has a goal, and tactics to achieve it. How substantial the context and how much effort the characters need to put into it to get results is entirely up to the writer. As is grabbing and retaining the reader’s attention. That takes another couple of editing rounds to get that right.


Although you write the story for yourself - unless it’s commissioned work - when you choose to go public, you need to start telling it to others. This requires a specific set of skills that can be learned through writing practice, thorough feedback, reading and contemplation.


As mentioned in my previous post "The Elements", settings and characters are subject to the plot. If everything happens in a day, it doesn’t make the story easier, it’s how much the characters are involved and how complex their journey to a solution is, that determine the length and thickness of the book. Next to the weight of the paper and the number illustrations that add pages to the whole.


THE CHRONOLOGY of your work is crucial and subject to trend. Modern day authors tend to spice up the events of their stories by adding flash backs and flash forwards. Just like any dish – here I go again with a referral to cooking – careful on the spices! Too much, and you’ll be left with untouched plates and a waiting line at your bathroom door, not enough, and you’ll find your table guest searching for spices in your kitchen.


Ask yourself if jumps in time make sense. Do they explain certain events or decisions made by your characters? If it’s just to add spectacle, don’t do it. A flash back or forward should be part of the story puzzle, it serves a purpose. When it comes to the exclamation “Show, don’t tell!” flash backs and forwards can be very helpful, if applied correctly.

A story can be told chronologically. It doesn’t make it dull or simple, the story events are just consecutive.


How do you know your story is “mature” enough to make it as a novel?

You don’t actually get to tick that box. It’s mostly a feeling of satisfaction that overcomes you, because you’ve started to write this story with a specific purpose in mind. Your writing was driven by an urge to tell, it wasn’t something you felt like doing, like going for a walk.


When you feel that several story elements are aligned, applied and told in a way you would want the story to be told to you, you get to give yourself a thumbs up! You have found peace in the stage your work is in. That’s probably also the time to have someone else have a look at it. “Will they understand the story the way you designed it to be understood?” becomes your main focus point.


You can trust industry professionals with it, loved ones, friends or acquaintances, just make sure that the people who read your story at this stage are frequent readers, harbour a love for language and are willing to give honest feedback.


author: Grietje Y. M. François

There are nine episodes in the "Behind the Writing" series, the last one will be published on Thursday the 27th of August. The content of these posts is about my personal experiences as a writer, writing my first young adult novel "Naar de haaien." (Dutch).


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