Imagine you wanted to draw a portrait but you couldn’t see your paper, didn’t know the top of the page from the bottom, or how narrow or wide it was. How could you even begin to sketch it out? 

Today I want you to consider your novel’s equivalent to that sheet of paper: The beginning, the end, and the space in between. Before those of you who never plan your endings panic, I’m not saying that you need to know what happens at the end, nor do you need to determine your characters’ fates. But I do want you to know when the ending takes place in relation to when the story begins.

A novel that begins at a character’s birth and lasts until her death is very different from a novel that begins in the morning and ends on the evening of that same day. Plotting a novel that spans one week is a much different process from plotting a novel that spans years. And preparing to write a novel with huge leaps through time is quite different from preparing for one that follows a character closely and consistently through a shorter period.

Know that nothing you decide now is set in stone. It is your best guess for your story based on what information you have at this early stage. But making a decision—even if it changes later—will give you that sheet of paper with all of its edges so that you know where to place your pencil when you start to sketch.

Here are your questions.

1. Where and when does your novel begin?


2. Where and when does your novel end?


3. Does your novel move consistently and chronologically through time, or take big leaps, or play with chronology?


*Note: Victor LaValle has some fascinating insights to share about the beginning of his novel The Changeling and how he altered the timeframe in order to get the story right. You can read it here: