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I write mostly speculative fiction, and use Scrivener for writing and note-taking.

But I'm looking to start crafting timelines to keep track of the exact year and months events in the distant and close past occurred.

In a perfect world: I'd like for the software to be easily manageable, relatively low-maintenance or easy to deal with, automatically "sorting" (or "pinning" the event in the correct place on the line) and easily scalable.

Does anyone know of anything at all like this? If not, what do others use to create time-lines?

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14 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I know some of these posts are much older, but I thought I would respond. I've been on the hunt for some time searching for a software for desktop or cloud-based (cloud was my preference) and was coming up empty until I was completely looking for something else and stumbled on the diamond in the ruff. I wanted a simple yet effective timeline solution that would not break my wallet. I found http://www.preceden.com/ and I will be reviewing it thoroughly in my blog http://myblogz.us/anovelidea. Simply put...this was better than I hoped for and much less than I was expecting to spend. For $29.00 you will receive a lifetime membership. How can you go wrong with cloud-based options these days.

Edit 19/10/12 it is now $14 a month, which makes it expensive.

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Really great find! I might have to try that out. –  oldrobotsneverrust Oct 19 '11 at 20:49
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Other than Scrivener :) I find Excel (or another spreadsheet program) works surprisingly well.

  • First column: Year
  • Second column: Month
  • Third column: Day
  • (Insert more columns as needed.)
  • Last column: event

If you have multiple items on the same Day, repeat the Day data and use a 24-hour clock, so you would have:

1898|July|Holmes and Watson move into 221B Baker Street
1898|October|Adventure of Irene Adler, aka That Woman
1899|March|23|2:47|Holmes and Watson break into C.A. Milverton's house
1899|March|23|3:15|Holmes and Watson escape with goods
1899|March|23|12:22|Milverton discovers the theft
1899|March|23|14:36|Lestrade is called
1899|March|23|17:56|Holmes explains all to Lestrade, Watson goggles anew
1902|June|Watson marries third wife

and so on.

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I was about to say Scrivener =P –  Ralph Gallagher Mar 20 '11 at 15:38
    
Is there a feature of scrivener specifically for this? Or you just take small notes/folders of years & months and file them manually? –  oldrobotsneverrust Mar 20 '11 at 19:53
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Yes, I do exactly the latter: manually organized folders with notes. But I keep the timeline in Excel also for easy sorting and rearranging. –  Lauren Ipsum Mar 20 '11 at 20:34
    
LL are working on a sister program called Scapple. Despite being in beta, initial opinion makes me believe it could work quite well in this. The beta is only for OS X, though. –  Mussri Nov 3 '12 at 13:24
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I have an internal wiki. Best option for me, because the stories are set in a fantasy world, and you can't have a fantasy world without a weird calendar system (which none of the apps support), can you? No sorting, but hey....

But for purely Earth-based stories, I liked the scene arrangement system in Storybook. You can set the dates for specific scenes, then look at the stories in chronological order so that different scenes that happen at the same time are nicely grouped.

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There was a point of time where i was able to use Microsoft Project to do my time line work. Sadly though I no longer have access to it, and the program itself is... excessively priced. Which is to bad, even in the simplest way I found it worked really well to keep my time lines in sync, it made working with a ton of characters a lot easier. I could also make events dependent on each other so I couldn't accidentally invert them.

I've never really looked into other project management systems sense then, but I suspect that any decent one will let you do this sort of thing.

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There is an open source alternative to MS Project called GanttProject (ganttproject.biz). I haven't used it since I left University (about 5 years ago) but it was a pretty solid alternative at the time. –  Adam J. Forster Oct 10 '11 at 7:48
    
Yes we used Gantt a year ago at uni. It is quite practical and almost the same as MSP. –  Joze Oct 18 '11 at 5:03
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I can't find it right now, but I'm pretty sure that one or more of the various free mind mapping tools can support timelines.

Many authors might like them for their mind mapping capabilities alone. Sort of like 2D outlining with graphics and the like.

One example is FreeMind.

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You might like to take a look at PangurPad, it is an online writing editor which has a timeline tool built in.

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Scrivener is available for Mac or Windows, but not all timeline software is cross-platform. Which platform are you using?

If on the Mac, try StoryMill, which has a dedicated timeline function.

On the PC, there's Timeline Maker, TimeLinear, Timeline Studio... lots of choices, really.

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Great suggestions. I'm using Linux, actually, ;) just to put a fork in your response. –  oldrobotsneverrust Aug 16 '11 at 13:10
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Linux, eh? Well, how about sourceforge.net/projects/thetimelineproj? Looks like it's cross-platform and being actively developed. –  mwsmedia Aug 24 '11 at 19:28
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For the Mac, try Aeon Timeline. It's being developed by a Scrivener user, so a key feature is being able to import your timeline into Scrivener. I used a very early version for my last book and it was pretty easy to use and had all the features I needed.

Some nifty features include custom calendars (for those non-Earth settings) and a way to track which events each character is present at.

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I use a plain-text file with a time-line of events, a list of the major people in the work and some notes about them (like, do they drink tea or coffee, do they take milk, how many sugars, noticeable likes/dislike, partner(s), ...)

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A googledoc timeline gadget (it graphs a spreadsheet onto a timeline):

A user-friendly tutorial on how to get one started:

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Ywriter has a time line feature; I'm not sure how it works. Writeitnow also has an event timeline; if I recall correctly, you can create a summary of all events in your story showing the time that they occured.

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I'm a Scrivener 2.0 user myself, and I recommend Aeon Timeline to any writer in need of making a solid timeline for your project.

One of the biggest challenges with the novel I am working on now was the timeline and the order of events. I've been pounding the issue for months, but it wasn't before Aeon that I could get it right. And best of all: Its free :)

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GNU Timeline is a basic timeline building application with some nice features. It is free, and it works on Windows and Linux (Probably Mac also).

http://thetimelineproj.sourceforge.net/

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I use timeglider.com

Only drawback is that it's online, not on your desktop. So if your WiFi doesn't reach all the way to your favorite writing spot down the garden path you're screwed :)

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