Why Should the Author Create a Timeline for a Memoir?

Timelines help the author plot a novel or a memoir. Amanda Paterson wrote on Writer Writewebsite April 27, 2019: “We see the results of cause and effect when we show sequences that exist in relationship to each other. We see pattern, turning points, and progressions.” A timeline suggests a past, present, and future. We can see the beginning, middle and end. A timeline helps us include only events relative to the theme of the memoir. 

For my memoir about my life on Guam, the timeline begins before I moved to the island. I can refer back to the reasons for the move and what was happening at that time. Then The line jumps to the day I arrived. The timeline ends the day I left the island. As I write, I add or subtract from that line. I can see relationships as they develop. I can better understand the cause and effect of that time in my life.  

Life happens in sequence; one thing follows another. But when those events are stored in our memory, they tangle together in chaotic piles. Jerry Waxter posted on February 5, 2013, More Tips about Constructing the Timeline of a Memoir. He wrote, “To construct story we must extract snips from memory and arrange them into chronological order. We also must find their “psychological order” to convey the dramatic tension that drags the reader as well as the author through a chain of causes and effect.” The author uses different writing techniques such as flashback and backstory to show this timeline to the reader. World events, also on the timeline, can be used to further explain the actions of the main character.

Jerry Wexter concluded: The timeline of my first memoir Unsung Herobegan at the point where the family emigrated from the Old World to the New. As I wrote, I saw relationships, and values develop in a cause and effect manner from the past to the present and into the future. I added, eliminated, or changed entries as the writing continued.

After attending several classes in memoir writing, reading books and articles about timelines, I have developed the following suggestions I’d like to share with other memoir writers.


Why do I create timelines for my memoirs?

  1. Timelines are easy to create
  2. Setting up a timeline keeps all information in one place
  3. Timelines create an outline for my writing
  4. I can add or subtract information as I write
  5. I can put my information in context with world events

How do I create my timelines?

  1. Using notebook paper, I draw a vertical line down the page
  2. I place my beginning date for that particular memoirAt the bottom of the line
  3. I place my ending date for that particular memoir
  4. I leave enough space between dates to write a few words about any scene
  5. I refer to the timeline as I write