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Okay, so it's kind of a silly question, I think, but the idea is to design an effective timeline leading from present day to roughly one hundred and fifty years into the future. I have a pretty good idea of what I want the world to look like (setting is science fiction/cyberpunk/dystopian/apocalyptic), so that really isn't the question.

I am trying to figure out, if I were to build a timeline for the purpose of worldbuilding, what factors would I have to take in to account at each step of the timeline?

I am presuming

  • political
  • sociological
  • geological (Earth level/disasters and stuff)
  • technological,
  • time passed between events

would all be reasonable things to take into consideration.

Please let me know if the question needs more clarification.

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  • $\begingroup$ The only thing that experiences the most changes with time is technology, it is the best indicator or clue that a reader can find out about which timeline a particular event belongs. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Aug 20 '15 at 12:42
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If you want a realistic timeline, you need to first start with the end result. What is life like in this dystopian future? Are the residents of this world familiar with the timeline or only a select few? Is there democracy or dictatorship? Is there a caste system?

Once you have a good idea about what you want the world to be about, you rationalize in ways to explain why it turned out that way. If it is a dictatorship when did the dictator take over? Has it been like that for generations or did it happen recently? If the world is a democracy, what are some of its flaws and why does it have them? What caused the world to turn to democracy?

Now that you have a few questions, you should start being able to come up with answers. There should be many things that would have had to happen for this to be the case. What people/groups were involved in the event? Were there any heroes/villains in the event? Where are they now/What happened to them?

Sprinkle other events in with these that might follow in line with the mentality at the time. If two countries had a period of tension, then it would follow that there would have been moments similar to that of our own timeline such as during the cold war. You can use actual events like this as inspiration for similar things happening in your timeline. Were there any natural disasters? Any other noncircumstantial wars fought? Breakthrough technology that changed everything?

Your last step should be determining precise dates for these events. Keep them reasonable and make sure that these significant events in the timeline also make sense with other events in your timeline. For example a revolution didn't take place after the switch to democracy unless the democracy was a farce. For the sake of consistency, I would advise you to write down exact dates rather than general rules as you can refer to them later in your story. It also makes your timeline read much more like a history lesson like something happened.

Hope that helps!

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This process is what I use and is essentially a "Start with the big questions and work down to the details type of effort."

What is relevant to the story/What needs to be created?

  • How far back do I need to go and why?
  • Am I working with Earth history (real or alternate) or a completely made up history?
  • How much impact do past events directly play in the story being told?

These basic questions help define your goal, an answer could look something like this:

I need to go back to creation, because the deities that created the world, and how the world was created play a role in the story being told. The world is completely fantasy, and while the planet is it has a completely different history. Past events play a major role in the story being told.

From this sort of thesis statement you can then refine things further.

  • How was the world created and (if relevant) by whom? If there is a whom you can also ask why?
  • What past events have had the greatest impact on the world, and who were the key players?

The world was created by xxxxxx deity as a deific science experiment to see if the gods could create life. As a test for creation deities occasionally release (once every two or three millennium) giant destroyer beasts. These beasts are fought by the great heroes of each age.

And then you keep going down the rabbit hole

  • Why do the gods feel the need to test mortals?
  • How many destroyer beasts have there been? What were their names? When were they released?
  • Who defeated the beasts and how?

There have been three monsters, monsters A, B and C. They were released in the years x, y and Z. Monster X was defeated by Bob the Builder with a hammer to the left nostril, Monster Y by Dora the Explorer refusing to stop talking and Monster Z by Indiana Jones chucking a glass skull down its throat.

And again (I could keep going more and more layers down but I am stopping here)

  • What happened in the world during and after each of the monster's rampages?
  • Where did the heroes come from and what did they do after their victories?

Notes:

  1. This method keeps you on task and helps avoid wasting time on superfluous information as you follow the items most important to your effort down to the level of detail necessary

  2. You can do this multiple times, if you want to do something like the one above and then do it again for something more specific, like a continent, or a nation a city, or heck if you need the detail even a single person (your main character perhaps).

  3. How spread out? How many years have passed between major events is important to consider. In the example I used lets the author wants the population to think the destroyers are myths to scare people, well you are going to need lots of time (note the higher the technology level the more time will need to pass between events)

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On thing that you really need to take in consideration for the next 150 years are the climate changes, especially since you mentioned it was a dystopia. People might invent technologies to suppress it but I suppose it's not a compatible option with your scenario. We can already feel it's impact but it is going to have a tremendous impact on the people living on Earth on the long run even with an optimistic scenario.

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As Neil said, a good way would be to decide what your future would be like and take the steps leading up to it.

What I'd say is have a look at what life was like 150 years ago compared to now. Think about how things have changed, what important discoveries were made in that time and how it's impacted us today. It would be exactly the same with social and political beliefs which have changed a huge amount since 1865.

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  • $\begingroup$ Don't forget the starting point is now, so your timeline should not have France turning into a Hindu caste dictatorship in 2017 or similar drastic changes in the short run. Events have causes. OTOH, the most common mistake is to think trend lines are linear, there will be breaks in trends, often for unexpected reasons (new technologies, natural disasters). $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Aug 20 '15 at 11:36

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