A way with worlds: 28 – Timeline-Based Writing: The Critical Axis by Steven Savage of Seventh Sanctum

First of all, I’d like to announce that “Way With Worlds” just picked up another distributor! It’s available at the re-launched! was a cool site for RPG, writing, comic, and sci-fi enthusiasts, and was just relaunched by its creator. Check it out – and they need contributions, so see if you can pitch in!

And now, on with the show . . .

A few columns ago, I wrote about “Timeline Based Writing, which works in the following way:

Keep a timeline of all major and relevant events, transitions, etc. in your setting.
Locate “clumps” of events that are important for you to tell the story of the world and its inhabitants.
These “clumps” become outlines for you to use for your stories.
Thus, you tell all the important elements and the Timeline helps create plot outlines. You tell the story of your world through stories focused on the important elements.
Review the timeline regularly to keep it fresh and tight.
Well, I’ve been streamlining my technique of timeline based writing, and found cases where I had all “clumps” but no story. So, I figured I’d share my experiences and my solution with you.

As mentioned above, I recommended keeping a timeline of events in your world, and locating places where major events and ideas “clump” together, and developing these as stories. But having “clumps” that don’t make a story is a real pain.

Even if you don’t use Timeline-based writing, you’ve probably had an experience like this – ideas, ideas within similar timeframes and settings, but nothing brought them together.

At first, your option may be to tell several stories. After all, sometimes things work better that way, and you can focus on extra detail. However, sometimes you may wish to cover the events together, or you can’t get a story from one event. Worse, there may be that irritating feel that there’s some way to tell all your “clumps” together.

So, when facing this, I found myself looking for what I’ve nicknamed the “Critical Axis.”

In examining the elements of the timeline you wish to tell together look for one with some (if not all) of the following traits:

A clump of events that starts around the same time or before the other clumps.
A clump of events that ends around the same time as the other clumps.
A clump of events where other clumps interesect – even if they don’t intersect each other.
A clump of events that either tells or involves broad events or has a focus that allows people to intimately experience details.
This “clump” becomes what I call the “Critical Axis”, and the Critical Axis is going to help you get some order in this story without compromising the importance of keeping your reader informed as to what is going on.

The Critical Axis becomes the core of your story. It may not even be anything epic. For instance, one critical axis for me became a character needing to learn a particular skill.

The Critical Axis becomes the theme to launch your story, a certal reference point to which the other “clumps” of events can refer. It can be used to:

Launch the story, then end once things get going.
Have a reference point for other “clumps” to intersect. In other words, a plot the other semi-plots or side plots or subplots intersect.
Have the Critical Axis launch the story, then fade into the background as you focus on the other “clumps” once you’ve gotten to them. Just be sure to resolve it.
Have the Critical Axis start after the story begins and things are established, and use it as the end point.
Have the Critical Axis start events off or lead into events that may then cohere together into a plot.
The Critical Axis, in short, becomes your way to tell a coherent story around, or lauched by a specific “clump.”

I’ve also found that being aware of Critical Axes may help you find ones you’d missed, noticing points and plots and elements that intersected events that you hadn’t seen.

Be aware that you can tell tales of seemingly discordant events if you find a thread that will help people follow them and relate. You’re likely doing something like this already, but being aware of it can be quite helpful.

When you’ve got clumps of events you need in one story, find one that’s a “Critical Axis” to tie them tighter to produce a coherent story that still show important events.

I’m open to suggestions, because I really haven’t found anything more appropriate without sounding pretentious.

Yes, “Steve’s Sites” is back for the important reason that I located some resources worth discussing. Remember to send me sites that you’d like to share with your fellow writers and worldbuilders.

Retrofuture – Get a look at what people in the past thought the future (and today) would be like. Very, very informative.

Religion Selector – A quick and dirty way to find out what religions fit what ideas. Good for character design.

A Way with Worlds is hosted at,, and
It is archived at the Way With Worlds archive.

Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Steven Savage, All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.

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