My journey in calendaring my manuscripts did not begin with a calendar. It began with a list—a lengthy, elaborate document I had created to cross-reference dates, settings, and activities for my main character Yasmeen in my debut middle grade novel, Wishing Upon the Same Stars (HarperCollins, 2022). I thought my list was perfect. I thought my method was fool-proof and had yielded a perfectly constructed timeline. I thought the final revision I turned into my editor at HarperCollins for our first round of copyediting was polished. Was I ever wrong.
She responded with several much-too-kind notes that went something like this, “So if Yasmeen was at church on the second Sunday in October and she’s in her room going over her dance moves on Wednesday afternoon the next week after her Magic Is the Night practice, and then she has three school-week dinners with her family and we skip a week and also the next Wednesday dance practice, wouldn’t we now be in the second week of November? Just double-checking!”
I was mortified and embarrassed by my timeline mistakes, and worse, I felt terribly unprofessional. My editor was doing the work that I thought I had done but had not done well. I needed a better method for double-checking my timelines. I needed a better craft tool. Of course, I—and my manuscript—needed a calendar.
Luckily, free printable calendars are readily available on the internet. But I wasn’t sure which calendar to choose—Wishing Upon the Same Stars is a contemporary novel that could take place this year, last year, or even ten years ago. I agonized over the choice, but in the end, I just picked a calendar and went with it, knowing that the fictional events of my story occur during generalized hours of a day, days of the week, months, and the cycle of a year. And it worked! Calendaring my manuscript resulted in a more realistic and mistake-free timeline.
For my sophomore middle grade novel, The Puttermans Are in the House (HarperCollins, 2023), calendaring was even more essential because my story follows real-life events. There are two historical timelines in addition to my characters’ fictional ones: that of Houston’s Hurricane Harvey and the Astros 2017 World Series-winning baseball season. These events are important and well-documented, so I knew couldn’t make sloppy mistakes. I had to get it right! Thankfully, an Astros fan assured me during my Houston book launch, “I checked all the 2017 season details and I think you’re good!”
Now, I print a calendar for all my manuscripts from the get-go. Sometimes, I print more than one and enter the early plot points of my story into each calendar to see which timeline will work best. I’ve also re-calendared my manuscript during the revision process to double-check details. And I’ve discovered something exciting along the way: in addition to eliminating embarrassing timeline mistakes, calendaring offers other craft benefits for our stories.
▪ Calendaring can help vary story settings. If you enter your settings for each plot point into your calendar, it’s easy to see where you need more physical movement of your characters. Varied story settings in your timeline can lead to opportunities for new and exciting scenes.
▪ Calendaring can help deepen characterization. We all have daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly routines and so do our characters. Including these in your manuscript’s calendar will help you create more realistic, whole characters. It can also help you find opportunities to break your characters’ routines for tension and plot twists.
▪ Calendaring can help pace your story. Seeing your story laid out in grid-form can instantly help you identify its holes. Is your action bunched into a few days of each week? Are you skipping too many days or weeks in your timeline and de-pacing your story? Can you add scenes to create a more realistic timeline for your characters? Asking and answering these questions can help you drive your story forward.
▪ Calendaring can help identify plot redundancies. Perhaps you’ve calendared too much of a good thing into your story, resulting in the opposite of a hole-y calendar. Your characters’ actions may seem too similar or repetitious once you see them laid out, and this is your opportunity to vary your plot points and make your story less predictable!
Finally, and most importantly, calendaring lends intentionality to our writing process and our work. It’s just one more helpful craft tool to help us create our best, most-polished stories. I hope you try it, and it yields the same great results that I’ve experienced. Good luck!
Jacquetta Nammar Feldman is a children’s author and lives in Austin, Texas. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Advertising from the University of Texas at Austin, and her Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the author of middle grade novels Wishing Upon the Same Stars and The Puttermans Are in the House.