I'm setting up my new novel's timeline tomorrow, starting with an event that happened 700 years ago. The novel won't begin with that event, or the others that occurred over the subsequent seven centuries, and there will be no flashbacks. Still, I need to impose order on one character's lengthy backstory, and chronicle it in major events before I wrestle with the present (this is all part of my practice of knowing a lot more about my characters than the reader does.)
If you think of a novel as simply a series of events, fortunate, unfortunate or otherwise, you can map out a basic structure that will help you create your scenes. Here's the first part of the original timeline for StarDoc.
1. Cherijo packs her things and leaves Earth for a new world.
2. En route to the new world, Cherijo broods over her situation.
3. Cherijo arrives at the new world and insults her new boss, Dr. Mayer.
4. At her new job, Cherijo makes mistakes and questions her decision.
5. Cherijo clashes with Reever, the colony's telepathic linguist.
6. A slaver forces Cherijo to deliver his mate's quintuplets.
This was my initial plan for the opening chapters, and when I wrote the book, the timeline gave me a story roadmap to follow. I decided to open the book a little differently, because the solitary packing-to-leave scene I had in mind provided too much info dumpage temptation, and that's the reason the novel opens with Cherijo in the shady part of town, hiring a pilot and ending up in the middle of a bar fight. This change in plans didn't alter things, and I find that if I timeline only off significant events that affect the protagonist in relation to the central plot, setting changes generally won't cause a problem.
Timelines allow you to move through the novel plan without a lot of unnecessary information or the cast of characters cluttering your view. I find the hardest thing about working off a synopsis is that it reads in story form. I'll break up a synopsis into one or two paragraph chunks when I use it for creating chapter sumarries, but even then it's too wordy or not orderly enough to really be useful.
What most helps you all when you're working out your novel plan?
Holly Lisle's Scene-Creation Workshop -- Writing Scenes that Move Your Story Forward
How to Plot When You Can't
How to Make a Timeline