Ideas for "timeline-like" software for story planning?

I’m not sure if this is something I can create in Scrivener or if there’s other software out there that someone can recommend?

I always plan my stories with a scribbled timeline that overlays a couple of layers of information I find useful. My napkin (or more accurately…fours sheets of paper taped together) scribbles usually look like a long "time"line:

ACT I ------------ACT II-----------------------------ACT III-----------END

I plug in major plot points.
I plug in minor plot points.
I plug in estimated page count at each plot point.
I plug in my own “Hero’s Journey” type information or cues to help me remember what should be happening where. For example: “Hero’s Ordinary World - school/home”. or “Hero meets Mentor (James)” or “No Turning Back.”

Juxtaposing all these levels of what I know helps keep my story on track and gives me keys to what might happen next in my story.

This scribble is usually my most valuable story planning tool. By the end of my manuscript, it’s coffee-stained and crumpled or, worse, lost.

I’ve yet to find software that emulates (or makes more permanent) this process. I’ve been looking at project management software like FastTrak Schedule but it isn’t designed to fit my needs. Even simple timeline templates (for Mac), don’t seem to do it (if I could even find a decent one).

Anyone have advice on what I might check out? I would think simple/flexible timeline software would exist out there. If not - can this kind of thing be done on Scrivener? For me it’s a separate document from manuscript development - a very linear approach to my own ‘big picture’ take on storytelling.

I would love to hear any ideas for software, templates, or Scrivener techniquesfor this.

Scrivener can get you started. Add a ‘date’ meta-data element for each plot point and sort by that element in outline view.

And there’s an array of other products that include timelines that you might find useful(listed in order of my personal timeline preference): Timeline 3D (BeeDocs), Aeon Timeline (seems to be stalled in development, though – see included forum under Software for Other Folks), StoryMill (Mariner Software – timeline is kinda buggy), Writer’s Cafe (OK timeline, but kinda clunky interface), Power Structure (hasn’t been updated in eons).

Another that I’m becoming better acquainted as we speak (write?) is Tinderbox (Eastgate Systems). It has an excellent TimeLine feature. It’s pretty pricey (even with Scrivener Discount) and has a pretty steep learning curve, though.

And there are quite a few discussion topics on this matter elsewhere in this forum. Here are a few:

You might also want to take a look at Outline 4D (previously called StoryView) – Windows only I believe.

If the goal is to have a software experience that approximates scribbles on napkins, there’s a free app called MindNode. It’s not timeline software, but it’s simple to use and you can scribble quickly. It gives you the ability to physically move notes around in space to create different relationships. After jotting things down, it is easy to export each node, or “napkin”, into a text or pdf file.

Another product that you might find useful, which I use to make timelines while writing and preparing lectures is Timeline3D by BeeDocuments (

The Story Arc view in Aeon Timeline (recently back with a vengeance after a few months of hibernation) would seem to be close to your needs.

Check out the forum at:

and the current beta can be downloaded at:

Well worth a test drive, even though it’s a bit early in the development cycle.



I like to use the Tinderbox map view for tasks like this.

Tinderbox does have a full-fledged timeline, which is great if you really need to focus on time – for example, if you’ve got a clock mystery on your hands, or if you’ve got lots of interlocking concurrent action.

But, most of the time, I prefer the flexibility of sketching in the Tinderbox map. Each note provides a writing space where you can sketch character notes, location ideas, or entire scenes, and you have plenty of opportunity to annotate your timeline and flexibility to move things around.

Also, the map view makes it easier to move from thinking about story – the order in which things happen in the fictional world – and plot – the order in which you present it. These often differ, and you need to get both right!

storybook is designed around having a time-line, and it’s free software, though if you donate, you get early access to the next version (also you get a copy identical in every way except without new text areas having a, removable, “please donate” message).

Below is from the storybook website:
Screen shot 2011-01-24 at 14.48.33 PM.png

oops, sorry, I’m a Windows (and occasional Linux) user.
Because Storybook is FOSS I assumed someone must have compiled the code for OS X so I didn’t check, after all I know there’s a Linux version, so it can’t be too hard to port for Mac.

If you do decide to put the effort into compiling the Linux version it’s a great little application, otherwise, sorry… :frowning:

I’ll go back to waiting\bug hunting for WinScrivener now. Can’t wait for it!

Thanks for all the great suggestions, everyone!! I’ve been checking out each of them. I created a SORT-of version of what I wanted in Storymill. The program is simple enough for my (lame) brain but complex enough to show me what I wanted. The resulting time-line is about 15 feet long and printed through a compilation of screenshots, though!!! Annoying but still useful.

The steep learning curve of Tinderbox put me off although it looks like a fantastic program. Aeon also looks great but not quite percolated enough for me. Timeline 3d originally looked great (I bought it) but then the information it allowed for was too minimal.

I did bump my way into Countour (a Mariner program like Storymill) and it’s been great to use. It a great program for story planning and is a good “container” for comparing what I’m working on to other story-creation-type information like Hero’s Journey or other stories I like. It’s designed for screenwriting but works really well for novel development I think. The iPhone app is fun for adding thoughts whenever/wherever.

Thanks again for everyone’s suggestions - it’s been a great education in all the fun (and useful) stuff that’s out there.

Not having a Mac, I can only judge by the screenshots but can anyone recommend (preferably free) Windows software that looks/acts like the Timeline view in StoryMill? (I already have Outline 4D (aka StoryView).

Writer’s Cafe has a timeline view.

Now that’s interesting to me. It looks like they ripped off scrivener’s corkboard interface, and modified the free form view to have a meaningful scale on the corkboard thereby facilitating a timeline.

The scale could really be anything though, time or other change in the story. The catch here is that the arbitrary horizontal position of the card is recorded as a value on the axis and scaled to the user’s specified scale value.

Hmmm. Looks like an interesting idea. The free form corkboard in scrivener could do this if the relative horizontal position of the cards was readable.

It looks like they ripped off scrivener’s corkboard interface

Writers Cafe and Storylines had been around quite a while before Keith came out with Scrivener.


Actually, their emergence was nearly concurrent. I didn’t realize that until you said this so I checked both sites.

Keith had a public beta out when they did. According to Keith’s own post from 2006 regarding the other writing software at the time (blog post #40) neither writers cafe nor storylines were on his radar.

Zdnet reviewed writer cafe in 2007 and mentioned the story line feature.

So, it’s not right to say it was around longer nor is it accurate for me to say what I said without recognizing the concurrent development.

Nevertheless, my idea about transforming the free form index card into a timeline (horizontal) and secondary (vertical which could be location or character or both) meta data scale is valid.

We just need to clone Kevin several times over so he can make my one button sync feature and timeline by free form index card layouts as well as the other brilliant feature requests floating around.


Actually, their emergence was nearly concurrent. I didn’t realize that until you said this so I checked both sites.

“Nearly concurrent”? I bought a license for Storylines 1.x for Windows in 2003. The LitLatte forum started in the second half of 2005 (I registered in November). That may be “nearly concurrent” for the General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park (about 2500 years old) but not for me :slight_smile:


Hah! well, it still looks like they ripped it off! :stuck_out_tongue:

I was looking at writers cafe and didn’t realize that the previous incarnation was called storylines. By what they have on their website, writers cafe and scrivener emerged in 05. Thus my comment.

Doesn’t the free form card view being adapted to have a scale sound like a good idea?


In fact, the software you referred to in your initial post was Storylines. And that has been around at least since 2003. Writers Cafe originally was a collection of several writer’s tools, including Storylines. Now, Writers Cafe Desk and Storylines seem to have been integrated into one package.

Maybe you should look up in a dictionary what “rip off” really means before making such a defamatory statement.


Look. I’m sorry. I thought it’d have been clearer that I was being facetious but I failed to make it plumb obvious. Please excuse me.