52 Weeks of Editing: Week 6—Finding Out How to Use Plottr and World Anvil's Timelines and Chronicles Together

52 Weeks of Editing: Week 6—Finding Out How to Use Plottr and World Anvil's Timelines and Chronicles Together
Photo by Arseny Togulev / Unsplash

I'm writing this while being interrupted at regular intervals by the workers replacing our roof. It's been a week. A real week. I've had teaching, a sudden avalanche of marking, partner-job-drama, cat drama... You name it, it happened this week.

As a result, it's been really hard to keep on top of editing and doing anything with Amnar. I started well, I can tell you that, so I'm going to back over what I did during the weekend instead. In this exciting episode: an introduction to Plottr and exploring World Anvil's Timelines versus their Chronicles module.

What are we even doing here?

The reason I'm writing about these specific tools is that they're useful for working out plot events. I've spent years trying to find some system or tool that helps me work with plot events. There are so many out there, some of which I've used and others I haven't.

I landed on Plottr partly because it works across platforms (what a 2023 kind of a sentence that is), so I could use it on iPad and my phone. Since Amnar is a special interest thing for me, I wanted to have something where I could put notes while out and about and not lose them when I got home. On top of that, I rather liked the way it allows you to work with templates from a range of models both for plots, scenes, and characters.

I do not get money from Plottr for saying that, by the way. In the past, I've tried the Save the Cat software but found it clunky and hideous to look at, and I think Novel Factory too, but it didn't sit right with me either for reasons I've now abandoned to the mists of time. I do have that horrible neurodivergent habit of picking up the new fun thing at the end of Nanowrimo then abandoning it a few weeks later when it doesn't solve all my problems.

Plottr came along at the right time and it also allowed me to change the colours so I could make everything look the way that worked well for me. I've set up a file for the Amnar series, and I've been trying to find the right structure for the plot for a while now, without really settling on anything yet. Some days are good, some days are not so good.

Editing Plot Events in Plottr

If you remember a few weeks ago, I spent time going through the first book identifying what happened in every chapter of the original draft. Once I'd done that, I decided to make some changes so that the majority of the action is based in Amin Duum.

Although initially I thought I'd work with Story Grid for this, that got to be too overwhelming. I might come back to Story Grid, but the first book is in such a state that it needs a simpler framework to start with. I like the Snowflake Method for getting to the heart of a story without getting lost in the minutiae of every beat. It's especially helpful if you want to build up from an uncertain starting point.

I used the Plottr template system to design a Story Grid template, but I also added a Snowflake Method template. Now I have to mention the other reason I like the Snowflake Method. It's not so much the idea of starting with a tagline and working up to the actual novel, it's the concept of the three disasters. It's a way of employing the three-act structure in a meaningful way that emphasises the constant rising conflict essential to writing well.

Then I stopped. I ran into a block getting events into the right positions. Not a block with the software—that's fine—but with my head. I need time and space to sit with the major and minor events, figure out when they happen, get timelines right, and how this affects the characters involved. I have started to place some major events in their positions, but it's something I need to come back to.

World Anvil, tho

Then there's World Anvil, and the Timelines and Chronicles systems. These are designed for world-builders, not just novelists, although they have literally just posted this article on how to use their Chronicles module to plot out a multiple-POV novel.

I've always seen these two facets of the whole World Anvil system as more of an opportunity to consider the broader events of a world, rather than anything specific to "plot". This is where I think it might be helpful to consider what counts as "things that happen" and "actual plot events". I mentioned a few posts ago that these two aren't the same but then didn't explain what I meant.

Various experts on plot and structure mention this, and I'm sure it's come up in a few of the courses I've done in the past too. It's probably a foundational mistake, like overpowered author-inserts, which are common in early works, including my own. It boils down to this: not everything that happens is a plot event. Some events are just... things that happen.

Editing is usually partly about finding the irrelevant events and weeding them out so only the plot remains. Some events are obvious, but others aren't. Some are just minor things—I have this habit of constantly writing characters interacting with doors when I don't need to mention this—and others are larger. Plot moves the story forward, in the sense that it causes a change in a character's viewpoint or emotional attitude and takes us another step on the journey toward the outcome.

That being said, there are things that happen that doing drive story forward in an obvious way, but do contribute to a reader's understanding of a character, setting, and their relationships. Katniss Everdeen going hunting at the beginning of the first Hunger Games book serves as a good example of this. It gives us a lot of information about her situation and the world. On the other hand, there are definitely a lot of points in the Amnar books where all I'm doing is having fun, but not necessarily driving anything forward or revealing anything new.

But what does this have to do with World Anvil? I've been using it to build a proper "bible" for the world, but I haven't really used either the Timelines or Chronicles feature. At least, not until this week. This is where it can be really useful to do research and not just jump in like I did—but I get too much technojoy and want to get started straight away, so...

Character Lives, World Histories

I had a vision in my head of what I wanted to do. I could possibly use just World Anvil for this, but I don't think I could use just Plottr. If you don't write fantasy or science fiction, you don't necessarily need to have world histories, but I do. Plottr is designed for novel planning, not world-building.

On the other hand, I could use just World Anvil, but I have this desire to treat World Anvil as a kind of "real" repository of information on Amnar and Five Empires. I want timelines of people's lives to feel like they belong to real people, not individuals constructed purely for the sake of a story. So I started with a timeline for the history of Amnar (to include Five Empires), and a timeline for Io's life.

I did a dumb thing: I made an assumption. I assumed I needed to create timelines then add them to a Chronicle. Turns out it's the other way around. Fortunately, I didn't have many events in either of these timelines, but I've started fitting them together into a working Chronicle.


Aside from "Yay, this is so much fun!" I want to get clear about significant events that led up to the Stomish colonisation of Amin Duum and how that unfolded. Having a sense of that history will help me understand what the world Io inhabits looks and feels like, what she does, and who she interacts with (or avoids) and why.

All of this plays into the need to make sure that this all has adequate (or more than adequate) depth of realisation. I've mentioned a few times that the original books fall into that Terrible Evil trope, where people and things are evil Just Because, without ever considering why or how they come to be that way. In order to solidly develop the motivations of individuals, I want a sense of the motivations and structure of these interacting worlds.

But also, why not? World-building is fun and it is taking my mind off a lot right now. For that, I'm very grateful.