Bee Docs' Timeline + Scrivener integration...?

Hi all,

There have been a number of requests for Scrivener to add a timeline view (StoryMill has one, etc etc). I’ve thought about this, but my conclusion at the moment is that just because Scrivener offers different ways of viewing data - as a corkboard, outline etc - this doesn’t necessarily mean that a timeline fits into it. In fact, I think it doesn’t; a decent timeline - like a decent mindmap - is a massive undertaking, at least if it is going to offer the sort of flexibility and features many users would desire. Trying to shoehorn one into Scrivener seems pointless and self-defeating. One the one hand, would never be as good as a dedicated app, and on the other, it would be very awkward finding a way for it to represent documents in the same way as index cards and the outliner do.

Anyway… As luck would have it, Adam, the creator of Bee Docs’ Timeline, contacted me today about finding some way of providing better integration between Bee Docs’ Timeline and Scrivener. This seems to me as though it could be the perfect solution for those who want to use a timeline with Scrivener.

So, what I would like to know - with no promises whatsoever - is, if you use both programs, what sort of integration would you like? i.e:

• What sort of information would you want to get out of Scrivener and into Bee Docs’ Timeline?

• Vice versa - what sort of information would you like to get out of Bee Docs’ Timeline and into Scrivener? How would that information come in - as a long set of blank index cards, or what?

Basically, any ideas, information or feedback you can give will really help me and Adam find a way of providing some sort of integration between our applications (no timescale, obviously!).

All the best,

See attached.


I just bought Timeline and played with it a little. It’s pretty, and it’s easy to enter data. But I was disappointed that it could not import an RTF file I’d already written for my novel, a simple table showing year dates in the left column, and columns to the right representing three characters and events in their lives.

Instead, Timeline will only import a Tab-delimited file set up in the format of Label, Start Time, and Stop Time. It sets only one time scale, which is not useful when you want to see the lives of characters lining up across a range of years. And if I decide to change a character’s age, I’d hope to see a dynamic change in the data file and display.

If the two developers can agree on some basic templates for input (Scrivener) and output (Timeline), we’d be on to a very useful integration. Timeline does have Automatic Importers, from Address Book, iCal, and the like, but we don’t usually record data there on fictional characters!

At the moment, the timelines appear only in horizontal form. It’s also possible to see time vertically, as a series of years from 1830 to 1920, and then in columns that express events, places, or people. These are early impressions, and I’ll continue to explore Timeline more.

Hi Keith,

I think I would use it in a very straightforward way. I would set out my story beats along the timeline. This would let me see the main plot points mapped by time over the story arc.

I use 30 or 31 beats (Main plot points for a story - film). So I would set those plot points out - named as beats, so they occur at certain times. It is a double check that your story plot points are happening in a proper sequence.

Day 1 - hero gets in the 'nure
Day 1 - (3 hours later) hero discovers his true love is about to be blown up by the villain

Day 12 - hero meets somepne who knows the plan of the building.
Day 12 - that night hero breaks into underground inspection tunnel.

Day 15 - hero … etc

PS I would love to see a real beat sheet layout in Scrivener - I use my own version, which is a bit agrarian. I nice shiny beat sheet table would be spiffing. Yes I know about chapters and so on. It is what my beat sheet is built on - as I said, a bit agrarian.


What I’d really like feedback on is the sort of information that you see go back and forth between these apps, though. As in, how would you see a file from Timeline getting imported into Scrivener (as a single document, as an outline, a list of documents), and vice versa - what should be exported out of Scrivener and taken into Timeline? How exactly would that become a timeline.


P.S. LL - I’m not sure what you mean about beat sheets. If you want to elaborate, could you please create a separate thread? Thanks.

Somebody else might have an ingenious suggestion, but for myself, the only thing I can think of is perhaps stripping all the character names entered into a timeline, their dates of birth/death, and creating a document for each character with this info (maybe include any notes as well, dunno). If there was any intention of importing each timeline event as an index card, for example, I’d certainly want the ability to turn it off :wink: As I could foresee a nightmare of logistics involved.

Honestly, I just want the timeline app. So long as it can produce a PDF that I can then import into Scriv, I’m happy :smiley:

Whoops, double post, sorry. Server was playing up a bit.

Hey Folks,

This is Adam Behringer, the developer of Bee Docs’ Timeline. Thank you for your suggestions so far. I look forward to hearing from more people!

How do you track chronological information in your stories now?
Do you use Scrivener or a spreadsheet or …?
Is anyone using iCal or Address Book to track events and characters?
In general, do you use Scrivener to track this type of research and planning?

Understanding how writers deal with chronological data now may help us develop some innovative ways for improving and supporting the process.

Thanks again,

Adam Behringer

Hi Adam,

Great to see you here. BDT is a great-looking app, and if it only did the stuff I need for fiction timelines, I’d have bought it by now :slight_smile:

There’s a lengthy thread about timelines, and what some of us who are fiction writers would like to see, over here:

To answer your question, I currently just use a plain text file in Scrivener, combined with some hand-drawn notes and charts. I have used a spreadsheet in the past for a very complex timeline that involved 30+ characters over the space of about 200 years, but it was unwieldy, clunky and ugly.

I use iCal and Address Book extensively ‘in the real world’, so I wouldn’t want to risk confusing things by using them for fiction and timelines. Plus, as detailed in the above thread, iCal is only useful for real world dates, and that’s not enough for me :slight_smile:

Fishbone chart.

If in a future version of Bee TimeLine if you added a decent FishBone Chart, I’d buy it. Until then, I’m paying $100 for a Java-based outliner that does this. It doesn’t need to be a “mind-map,” just a left to right outline chart that allows for topics and subtopics, minimizes space so it all fits neatly and in as small a space as possible, and division lines for labeling acts/chapters/dates.

Also, I almost bought Bee TimeLine when it was on special for $20 on MacZot and MacUpdate - what a deal! But I missed it, since they were 24-hour specials. Any plans on similar mass-deals in the future?

(What a GREAT way to get lots of new users!!!)

I use Scrivener for research and writing the final or near final draft of work. If we can just get a good timeline alongside somehow, we’d all probably use Scrivener for everything start to near finish.

Exactly what is a fishbone chart useful for? I’d never heard of them until you mentioned them last week, and all I can find on the net is references to their usefulness in science and logic. I’m not being adversarial, I’m genuinely curious - how are they useful for writing and plotting?

I track pertinent dates–birth, death, marriage, events significant to the story–in an Excel spreadsheet, simply because I have Excel sitting there and am minimally familiar with its use. It isn’t graphic, it’s a screen- and resource-hog, it’s probably capable of greater granularity than the broad brushstrokes I’m using now, if I was willing to invest the time in learning how to make a complex tool do something seemingly simple.

But I get the sense investing that same learning-curve time in a graphic timeliner would be far more useful for my purposes. Trouble is, I haven’t found one yet that seems sufficiently deft at displaying many things happening at different times. I need to look at a screen and say, Ah-Ha. So-and-so couldn’t possibly have married such-and-such on thence-or-then, because he was off the coast of Erehwon heaving a harpoon at a Bandersnatch.

Excel can do that, with some piddling. But I feel like an an accountant every time I click its Xy little icon.

Comes from the area of business studies called Organisational Psychology and it is used to map …

Well, take a look at this. … awodgmBtCw


That’s exactly the sort of example I said I’d already found, LL. It still doesn’t explain how they’re useful to the likes of you and I.

In my experience (corporate) they are a more structured process oriented mind map built form asking the “5 whys”. You start with a process on the horizontal and and map its major points on the vertical. Each point has sub points which branch out off the vertical. Sub points can have sub-sub as child points.

How that applies to writing depends on the writing. If we look at the horizontal as time then the verticals can be events. Subs can we points or critical elements of the event.

Alternatively horizontal can be the character over time and verticals remain events (left far past, right future). Subs remain as details.

The fish gets hairy real fast so I am not sure I would use it for exceedingly complex diagrams. We have a rule here (corporate again) that no more than one level vertical sub (that would be a second horizontal). Beyond that we create a second anchovy for that particular node.

As you can tell I use these a bit for process mapping but I feel they have limited usefulness for my creative process. I am known to be “different” so these may be just the tool for someone else or a different type of writing.

Yeah, I’m not trying to pooh-pooh them, I just genuinely don’t see what advantage they give that a basic timeline doesn’t.

Flow charts, with paths that jump all over the place, sure I can see the sense in those (even if I do think they’re a bit OTT). But as far as I can see, a fishbone chart is just a linear timeline drawn differently.

Hi antony,

Yes I just assume people understand this stuff by Ishikawa.

From a writing point of view - and this approach may not work for you - it is all about cause and effect.

The connection is made when you try working backwards from Effect to Cause. Then every story beat will have a cause. So Scene 90 is the result of Scene 89 which is the result of Scene 88 and so on. Every scene is a change because it is the effect arising from some previous cause.

At the critical rewrite stage you will want to fiddle a bit with this arrangement so that some of the effects are caused by moments much earlier on. For example the gun that was used to shoot the sad tramp in scene 63 was actually planted in scene 6. The actual cause that got the sad tramp shot was in scene 58 when he stumbled across the drug trade in progress. So the cause and effect moments are reworked. But they are all there if you work backwards from effect to cause.

The fishbone diagram maps cause and effect - it may relevant to map cause and effect in a story - going from effect to cause or cause to effect. With an Ishikawa map you are not going to get lost.

Would I use it - nope. I just use a beat sheet that I have evolved over the years. Does the job perfectly well.

hope that helps

Surely, in a good story, half or more of all plot points derive from a single action in the first place anyway? How on earth would you chart that on a fishbone? :wink:

Anyway, thanks for the explanation - to be honest it was pretty much what I assumed, but I just thought there must be more to it. I still don’t see how they’re any more useful than a colour-coded timeline. But thanks anyway :slight_smile:

For my historical fiction, I need:

  • ”real“ event timeline – and for this I need to somehow address the wonky dating between most of Europe and England at the time I’m writing (some Russian, as well, but that’s less critical for me)

  • timelines for real historical folks

  • timelines for fictional story events

  • timelines for fictional characters (their arcs, etc.)

And I need all of the above timelines to be able to superimpose over one another so I can also see that when historical event ‘A’ happened, historical person ‘C’ was in Germany, while fictional character ‘B’ is stirring up trouble in Paris, etc.

Right now I’m attempting to track this with a combo of OmniOutliner Pro and Timeline. I’ve also used SuperNoteCard to some degree and Storylines (from Anthemion) as well. I’m still too befuddled by Tinderbox to make that work for me (though I am ever-hopeful).

To be able to provide links to appropriate docs would be sweet.

Since it’s sometimes clearer to view the information in outline view (hence, OmniOutliner Pro), would it be possible to import into Scrivener’s Outline View? Or to export from Outline View to Timeline?