By Steven Savage
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It's a nightmare.

Your world is forged and designed, documented and mapped. You have characters and histories and mysteries and ecologies. Everything's perfect, right? It's time to write, and . . .

. . . what are you going to write about? Wait a second, you've got a world, but where the heck's the story? It was there when you started this . . .

Or, you have your world, and you've written a story and . . . the well is dry. You know your world, but there aren't any tales to tell! What happened?

A strange paradox in well-designed worlds is sometimes you stall on story, at least in my experience.. This seems to happen for several reasons: the focus on world design supersedes writing, an initial idea drives the design and an initial story that plays out, or your focus on worldbuilding changes your perspective.

(Then again there’s just plain burnout. It happens.)

Me, I have a writing style I use with a designed world to help overcome these blocks and burnouts, and one that keeps stories involved and continuous - a rather obvious one, but one I've found isn't as obvious as it seems. I just call it Timeline-based writing, but I found it helps me, and it and variants seem to work for people I know.

So, lets role up our sleeves and get in line . . . Timeline that is. (And hopefully, that'll be the only stupid joke of the column).


Timelines are your friends, I'm certain your world has them - and if they don't, then you didn't do a good job of fleshing out your setting. Timelines are history, and writing, in a way, is telling about that history. No history, nothing to say.

Timelines are largely how I write my own continuing and original work. It's not for everyone; its more for people who want to do a serious continuing world. However, for me, it works quite well.

What I do is keep a continuing timeline for events in my world and that happen to my main characters. I plot events by week, and keep a list of continuing "plotlines" that are currently active. I examine and revise this as I add new ideas, going down and up the plotline to see if new ideas have affected anything.

As I tell stories, I move up the plotline, and locate the following:

  1. Events that are important for readers to know about to follow overall arcs.
  2. Events important to the characters whose lives I'm writing about.
  3. Events that coincide with the above 2 and tie them together.
  4. Events that will be fun to write about.

I take these elements as they form "clumps" (I don't have a better term for it), and use these as seeds and guides to stories. Each "clump" (I want to call them "convergences," but "clump" stuck in my head) becomes the framework for a story.

Taking that clump, I work out any reactions, new occurrences, etc., and put them in the timeline, determining any repercussions in the future by moving up the timeline to see what may effect or create future events.

In this way, I have a win-win situation - my timeline gives me stories, my stories enrich the timeline, and this ensures more stories and richer stories in the future. As I move down the timeline, the story of the world and my characters tells itself - and I have a reference for what I've done and what I'm about to do.

If you use this technique, I do advise reviewing your timeline every few stories. I myself find an arc of "clumps" that have related events, write that, then spend a week reviewing the timeline instead of writing, just to make sure I know what's going to happen.

I find working with the timelines so intimately also helps you get a better feel for the world and remember important events. Eventually, you’ll find you can do more and more with less and less reference to your timeline notes. This is especially nice for writing rich characters (by referring to past events) and avoiding mistakes in writing (by miswriting or forgetting events).

For strong continuities, I advise using this technique at least partially, and quite frankly, I recommend giving it a try for any original continuities.


If you're not doing a long-term story like I am, timelines are still useful to helping you write:

  1. If you're bored and want to write, review your timelines and history for any untold stories.
  2. If you're stalled on a story, review your history/timeline to see if anything suggests itself. (It also helps to review your notes on your continuity).
  3. If you can't get started, reviewing your timeline can energize you and help you see patterns.


Timeline-based writing, at least to me, is the perfect way to write in your complex continuity. It helps make it richer, helps the stories display important events, and keeps you in touch with your world. Even if you don't use this technique, make sure you know your world's history – it’s invaluable.


Once again, let's take a look at noteworthy sites to help the aspiring world builder and writer!

Following my "promotion/connection" theme, A few more sites to register your original on-line work with.

Redjack.net - An sf site that’s utilitarian, but growing. I think they have a future, and the extraneousness-level is low.

Cyber-books to explore - OK, now this is cool. Author Ace Starry, a character in himself, uses this site to promote his book, and promotes other cyber-authors. Take his lead and help out your fellow authors.

Free Novels Online - Have an original continuing story? Register it here. New and growing, but a very nice site, run by a nice guy who takes time to make personal contacts.

And thats it for Steve's Sites. We'll see what's in the grab bag next week!

Take a trip to my own alternate world, the Crossworld of Xai, at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/xai/