Week 2 of my Nurture Email Mastery course is all about the ‘timeline technique’. The timeline is a visual tool to map out the good and bad events across a story. You can see an example here.

The beauty of the timeline is twofold…

First, it’s a visual check of contrast. Good stories take you on a roller-coaster of good and bad events.

Second, you can map out a timeline in 1-minute using a notebook, napkin or loose sheet of paper. It’s highly effective, simple and low-tech.

When I introduced the timeline in 2016 I thought the external ‘happenings’ or events were all that mattered in a story. I now no longer believe this; in a longer story the internal character arc drives the external events.

But for our purposes, tracking the external happenings (and your immediate feelings and reactions) is plenty good enough. You’re not writing a novel; you’re illuminating your message. The timeline keeps the story on track, prevents waffle, and makes sure you finish on your ‘bridge concept’ or ‘one idea’.

In the course I recommend including 5-7 timeline events. Seven is probably pushing it a little. With seven events your story will usually run to 800-900 words, which is harder to write than a story of 400-500 words. (This email is 441 words). So you want to err on the side of fewer events rather than more.

This idea of turning points is fractal. If you’re telling a story in an email to illustrate your message, then 5-7 turning points is a good rule of thumb. But if you zoom out and think about your story as a whole, you might also identify 5-7 turning points across your life that have led you to where you are today.

These higher-level turning points make up your ‘core story’. The turning points in your story don’t always manifest as turning points at the time, often they’re chance meetings or conversations. But limiting yourself to 5-7 forces you to be selective.

Every story picks a path through a forest of information. A good story has shape and structure, which is what the timeline demonstrates. But a good story is also telling in what you leave out, as much as what you include. It’s OK to leave plenty on the cutting room floor.

The first stage in the storytelling process is to pull everything together. The second is to pick a path through the story you want to tell.

It’s easier to do this with a guide than by yourself. For help, take a look at magicmarketingmirror.com.

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About the author 

Rob Drummond

Rob is the founder of StorySelling.biz.

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