On Scrivener, Storymill and the value of Timelines

In another topic there was a very interesting discussion about adding timelines to Scrivener. I thought it appropriate to start a new topic in order to provide my insights between the two products, specifically the Timeline feature. I hope, Kieth that this is helpful to you if you decide to implement a timeline in Scrivener.

I take an academic approach to my fiction writing, which means I do a lot of research. What is particularly important for both writing modes (academic and non-academic) is the nature of change that is usually associated with an event. In this regard the value of a timeline view for academic writing cannot be underestimated. (its all about change, and why). So, all writing is a narrative surrounding a spatio-temporal event, specifically conditions before and the resulting change. It is just the operative choices of presentation that differ.

I tend to think that the structure of the “story” universe is more important than the stories contained within, but it is precisely the points of change that give the opportunities to tell stories, hence the utility of the timeline as a visualization tool. This is equally true in both academic and general writing.

Storymill focuses on a fictional narrative metaphor (timeline events, characters, chapters and locations) but Scrivener seems more research oriented in that structures emerge as part of the research. I develop my stories by inventing a world around characters that have extensive biographies, and then develop sequences around the thematics that I wish to communicate. While structure is important, keeping track and developing the “bible” is what allows new story structures to emerge and remain coherent.

So, I see Scrivener more for developing the bible for a TV or movie series but it does little to help visualize a global story arc (think 9 Star Wars movies or 7 Harry Potter books). Storymill is great for its narrative structure and timeline feature but is weak when it comes to developing a universe with complex interdependencies that might contain pre-existing narratives.

The main insight is that there are many semantic structures to choose from as well as ways to visualize them. Personally I think the more there are available the better, and I would like to see not only a timeline but a Tinderbox style zoomable map view!

I agree that if something should still be added to Scrivener, it is a timeline feature.

It is funny that I just bought a license of StoryMill from MucUpdate, just to use the Timeline function, and I’m not sure I couldn’t have done the same things in OmniGraffle…


Agreed, a time-line function might be handy. Useful, in fact. Hmmm…

But why stop there? Why not sophisticated data-base management, and image manipulation – not just stills, of course, but real video editing. And if it could all fit onto an iPod, of course, why, ultimate handiness. And a phone, yes, don’t forget communications features. (Won’t be long before blogging and IM are yesterday; I mean, they’re already so last night.) And GPS, so I can work on the MS while driving through a blizzard (if the nitwit behind me can carry on a phone conversation at 85, I should have no trouble tossing off a short story, or an op-ed piece, or maybe a sonnet or two). We could call it Scrivenerissimus, the Swiss Amy App, which would retail for…

… sorry, lost my place. What was I saying?


I can see where this might be useful from within Scrivener, though I’m happy with the new version of Timeline from Bee Docs. On the plus side, there’s the ease of tracking a storyline, while on the downside there’s the bloat factor, and the need for KB to maintain it.

Anthemion, which puts out Storylines goes with the bundling method and includes it in their Writer’s Cafe package (currently free, I think, for Mac users - until the next update; haven’t been tracking it so I don’t know if that info is up to date).

The standalone apps include the above mentioned Timeline, plus Timeflyer and Temporis from Bartas (the folks who put out Copywrite).

I find it easy to hit cmd + tab to switch between Scrivener and Timeline, so it feels pretty seamless to me. There are ways to tweak the screen realestate so it almost looks like one app.

Too bad there isn’t a way to add an “independent” window in Scrivener which would allow us to load whatever app we wanted. (I am clearly clueless about programming, so laugh all you want. :laughing: )

Young Philip…behave! :open_mouth:
LeD :imp:

What I would like to have - whether in a dedicated stand-alone application or built-in in Scrivener - is a tool where I can create the timeline of a character along with his or her age at given moments. This is what is missing in all timeline applications so far.

Let’s say I have my character John Doe, born 1959. I want to see he’s 27 in 1986 when Challenger explodes. And I want to see that his son Jim Doe, born in 1982, is 4 years old then. And should I come to the conclusion (for whatever reason) that this is too young for Jim Doe, I want to grab a handle and move the timeline in order that he is, let’s say, 10 years old at the time of the disaster, which creates a character with different experiences. And then I would see that his father was only 17 when he was born, which might tell a story of it’s own or has to be changed if needed. And so on…

M. LeD:

As one of my students said, ever so many years ago, when I urged the same lesson on her, “I’m being have.”

… so anyway, there must be information in the standard biographies. Just what kind of software did Dickens use? or Tolstoy? Must have had some real kick-ass app to keep tabs on all the people, all those places, all those events.


Oui M`sieur PbeingJhaveS

Trois apps: crayon, papier et mémoire :wink:

Le D :smiling_imp:

Don’t know about Dickens, but apparently the answer re: Tolstoy would be his wife. According to Wikipedia, she handled a lot of things about War and Peace, including copying it out seven times. It’s telling, I think, that, in later years when he had a ‘conversion’ and was giving away the copyrights to his works, his wife demanded and got the rights to W&P and (I believe) Anna Karenina.

Would love to have seen the character/timeline for W&P. 580 characters! :open_mouth:

The “software” of many 19th century writers was a personal journal, and sometimes also a commonplace book. The latter was for quotations and passages to use in a work, and the former was for original thoughts, accounts of experiences, and fleeting ideas. American writers in New England (Emerson, Thoreau) were habitual journalizers, a habit that came down from Puritan days. British writers with their roots in Calvinism and Quakerism also kept journals (Bunyan, Fox). Journal-writing tends to sustain nonfiction, especially sermons and essays. Writers of fiction sometimes kept notebooks (Hawthorne, James). Not sure about Dickens or Tolstoy, but most likely they did some sort of “pre-writing” in notebooks or correspondence.

So, we conclude, the use of software might do harm to our writing instead of supporting it.


Unless you are like me and can’t read anything that you wrote on the paper. My handwriting is so bad that I have given up and either dictate to a person, voice recorder or type it in the mac. I still keep 3x5 (have 3 pockets filled now) but I keep them short and sweet, write slow and big.

For me software has enabled me to be creative. I still envy those who can do with a pen and paper what I need $US3K worth of hardware and software to accomplish.

That’s a brilliant idea, but definitely a whole new application.

That why Scrivener should be plug-in based in the future.


Yup. This is another example why I suggested a plug in architecture in the thread below.

literatureandlatte.com/forum … php?t=3404

Hello Andreas
I spent two hours on this… may be your idea would be a great addition to OmniGraffle or another system.
You will find it here:


One man. One life. Timeline? Plugin architecture? Append to index cards? Printable index cards? Split at selection in index cards? Mind-mapping? The one thing Scrivener really needs is for its developer to write his bloody novel. End of!!!


I will just point out again that given the hierarchical nature of Scrivener’s files, it would be VERY HARD to implement a timeline feature in such a way that it would integrate with everything else. Look at Story Lines (which I think does this sort of thing wonderfully) - exactly how would that integrate with the current Scrivener document structure? If you juggled around parallel events on different timelines, er, where exactly should they be moved to in the binder? Is someone else going to work all of that out?

AndreasE - I think your idea is BRILLIANT. If I ever go full-time developer, do I have your permission to steal it and make that app as a side-project?

All the best,

First of all, let me say I was horrible with sixth-grade math story problems and the passing years have not improved my comprehension of them.

AndreasE, am I understanding you correctly that you want the man/son/father timeline all in one timeline as opposed to having a separate one for each of them (lining them up, of course, so the dates are aligned)?

You can sort of do this in SuperNoteCard (an app I should have mentioned earlier with the others, though it isn’t a timeline app, per se). Some of the newer timeline apps allow more than one timeline per project.

I think Timeline might do this as well with multiple event rows.

I’m just wanting to be able to distinguish between OS and NS in the same timeline other than in the notes. Right now I have to calculate and then note the “real” date separately.

You can, of course, print to PDF and pull that in, so you can have the reference of the timeline but would have to pull up the original app to change it.

Ok, I’ll stop stating the obvious now. :wink:

:blush: Thanx…

You’re welcome. I really would like to have this tool, and it’s very unlikely that I will ever be able to develop it myself…

Yes, of course. That’s the whole point of it. You would have a timeline of years and several lines of growing ages - John Doe is born 1959, is 1 year old in 1960, 2 years old in 1961… and the point is to have side by side how old every important character of your story at any given time. This is of huge importance for creating believable backstories.

Plus you should be able to add events of importance for all characters - most people of my generation still know where they were and what they did when they heard that John Lennon was shot; the generation before remembers the assassination of Kennedy in the same way, and so on - there were wars, events like 9/11, Tchernobyl, Challenger… All this is important as well, because it makes a huge difference whether a person is 4 or 14 or 41 years old when such things happen.

Unfortunately, only “sort of”, but unsufficient for what I have in mind.

Yes, but that’s not the point. The point is age.

It’s in fact not necessary to have that built into Scrivener. Stand-alone would do. The only connection with Scrivener is that Scrivener was designed with the idea of being a tool to help emerge a story out of a collection of ideas, snippets, thoughts, reference materials etc.