Planning with a new tool

Timeline, showing separate arcs and how they link to the entities

Timeline, showing separate arcs and how they link to the entities

I’ve been using Scrivener for a while now to plan out the structure and plot, but with tables galore with multiple columns, I was looking for a tool to help me keep the timeline straight. Someone in the nanowrimo group suggested Aeon Timeline, so I downloaded the software on trial. It’s usually 20 day trial, but in honour of nanowrimo it’s currently available to last through until mid-December, so well worth looking at. The full version is $40 (After trying the free version I ended up buying through paypal and paying £31 including VAT, as I could see the value of such a tool in many different projects).

It looks wonderfully complicated, especially when you look at the sample file (for Murder on the Orient Express) but I suspect that for any project you’re very familiar with it’s much easier to understand. Certainly I watched the ten minute introductory video and very quickly started to build up my own project, using the global arc to keep track of the historical background of my story and creating three sub-arcs, one for each main character.

I have a choice to view each arc separately or see the timeline as a whole with the arcs interwoven, the colour scheme I’ve set up making it easy to tell which events belong to which story arc. Each event has a start and end time (I’ve mostly just put them in as single events rather than having any duration) and you assign them to an arc and can add tags and notes. I’ve created entities for each main character and for their children, and by associating events with entities I can easily keep track of how old the babies are. The Mac version will export to Scrivener, which I assume creates the structure and files ready to flesh out, but the Windows version doesn’t have that facility yet.

I’ve currently got as far as mapping out the background so I can see the global attitudes and laws, and introducing my characters, setting up their situations, then having everything go sour on them.

Timeline with arcs interwoven

Timeline with arcs interwoven

Now I need to figure out the ending, in the process interweaving the three arcs that until this point in the story have been mostly separate. I suspect a lot of that will get worked out when I get down to actually writing and closer to the point where I need it, but I’ve got the first half to two-thirds mapped out nicely. I haven’t included every single episode on the timeline, but I do know how the main points are related and I can use it as a handy reminder when working further in Scrivener, where the intention is to have chapters set up with episodes/events divided between them, and to flesh everything out as I go. I’ll have the facility to play around with order a bit, but I’m trying to get it set as much as I can before writing because I’m sure it will save time later.

Then I’ll reach the end of the planning, I’ve decided the rest of my planning is going to be a Wallace and Gromit Wrong Trousers train chase scenario, where I’m frantically planning each bit as I go along, slamming down the tracks just in front of the hurtling train and praying that I don’t run out and crash.

I like the idea of using the beginning of each session to go through the previous section and note any problems, as I feel this helps with continuity, but what I mustn’t do is allow that to derail me from moving forward. It’s a tricky balance, and in nanowrimo the focus is on the extreme of moving forward and not reviewing, rather than constantly editing and rewriting and failing to move forward at all. There has to be a middle ground, where progress is made at a good pace but not at the expense of having something usable at the end – my nano stories so far have suffered from this trying to pull the ideas out as I travel fast, and eventually I’ve ended up in some very strange places, because I can’t slam the tracks down and watch where I’m going at the same time.

The biggest benefit of this new tool is that it provides another way to work through my preparation, as I’ve been lagging for a while; having done the basic planning, there’s seemed little more to be done when what I really want to do is get stuck into writing but am holding off for nanowrimo. The trouble is that novel number 2 is starting to get jealous and nudge at me demanding its turn, and I keep shoving it back in the box and telling it to wait until number 1 is finished.

Roll on November!

 

 

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