This post is the first in what will be occasional posts about tools that writers might find useful. This week I’ll tell you about software I recently started using, Aeon Timeline. It’s a tool not just for writers but teachers, business people, historians, lawyers—anybody who wants to track anything over time.
I have been drafting a young adult/new adult paranormal series for several years. Book one is written, but will need revision, and book two is being drafted. While I was working on book two last year, I found tons of backstory unfolding. (I’m what’s known in writer circles as a “pantser,” meaning I write by the seat of my pants, discovering as I go. I don’t outline the whole story before I begin.) That backstory warranted its own novella, a prequel to the series. Some of the information affected what I had written already in book one. I desperately needed a way to track the chronology of my story while I worked out changes and revised book one.
I asked other writers what they used. Of course some used pencil and paper, which is fine, but I like my tech. I knew this would be a somewhat tedious task and I wanted some flashy visuals and the speed of typing, with the ability to see a big range of time if I needed. Enter Aeon Timeline. I wanted it badly but hesitated to spend the money without knowing for sure if it would be useful to me. I heard about a discount on it from a writing group on Facebook. Score! I bought it.
So what is cool about this tool?
Cool Thing #1 is that it’s easy to get started. You can choose your purpose for using the software, and one of those options is writing. I was able to learn most of the function by watching a video tutorial, and picked up the rest through exploration. There is a help forum on the website that was useful, too.
Cool Thing #2 (or maybe Cool Things #2-infinity) is that I can add all my characters, settings, events, and plot lines (called Arcs) to a project. Color coding helps organize, and view can be switched between a traditional time line and relationship view (how events, characters, or settings relate to an arc). Aeon Timeline has the capability to track very detailed information about a story. How old your characters are at a given time. Which characters were participants in a scene, and which were observers. What event led to another. I could plot the build-up of tension by assigning a level to each event. I’ll be able to check whether the time frames I wrote actually work on a real calendar and if not, adjust them with a few clicks. Adding the in-progress manuscripts’ events to the same timeline as my finished draft has been helpful—if I need to reference the past to adjust my story’s present, I just scroll to it. If I need to create a calender not based on a specific earth century, I can do that – perfect for fantasy writers with their own worlds. Just choose a generic year 0 to begin your world’s history.
Cool Thing #3 is that Aeon Timeline can sync with Scrivener! I haven’t explored this function yet. I have Scrivener but haven’t migrated my manuscripts to it yet. Maybe I will be more motivated to switch over to it from Open Office now that I can coordinate with my time line.
Aeon Timeline has been useful in organizing my “pantsing” after I’ve already written a draft, will bring order to my future drafts, and even made it fun to do so. At the time of this writing it costs $50 to own. I would recommend it.