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In the topic titled "Crossing the book boundary", Isaac said "I would love an easy way to associate characters and plot points with a visual time line. A time line helps me maintain story consistency."

 

And Thoth said "A formal, integrated timeline function is a wonderful idea! And I can see it extending for both plot and characters. I've been putting date stamps (and sometimes time stamps) in Plot notes, but I find that it's very useful to have a history (with time and date stamps) associated with each character as well. Unfortunately, the minutiae of each character's life can quickly get out of hand. If you're not careful you find yourself rewriting the entire manuscript in bullet format."

 

I thought I'd break out the timeline discussion since it is a big feature and is probably going to be a longish running thread.

 

There are a couple of possible interpretations/implementations:

 

1) The timeline is a linear strip of boxes (think the iPhoto photo strip) that represents the sections/scenes in your story. You can drag and drop characters, character points, plot points, and settings to the boxes and quickly build up the section notes. Maybe clicking on the box takes you to the section sheet or a 3x5 card representation of the section.

 

or (maybe and?)

 

2) The timeline is a visual representation of the section start time/end time fields. It shows you the flow of the story in "story time" and allows you to see how story events unfold in time, check time time consistencies, etc. With this, it would be possible to create a story calendar and do some sort of consistency check.

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I'd like to comment on Steve's possible implementations of Timeline.

 

1) The strip of boxes reminds me of plot implementation in Dramatica. It looks pretty but in function the virtual index cards are not very useful as a timeline for the story as a whole or for individual characters. The problem is, I think, that plot chunks (or Sections) are simply too big to function this way. (E.g., The event "Sylvia gets diarrhea" could run on for pages and pages.) I think the current Storyist methodology is the correct one. Create an Event sheet (instead of a picture of an index card) that can contain the relevant details (including a time and date stemp, if known) and let its name be a brief description of the event. Then let it appear under Timeline in the Project Pane. Such events could be grouped for a single character or the entire manuscript.

 

2) A timeline as a visual representation of the Sections, with start-time/end-time fields for each Section, is good if you know the start time and end time of a specific event. Sometimes, often in fact, you just know the order in which things happen. Not a big problem, I suppose, but it makes a story calender sonewhat difficult. I would still want to be able to separate one character's timeline from another's. This is particularly important with stories with many characters or flashbacks (think "Rashomon" or even "Lost").

 

-Thoughtful Thoth.

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I'd like to comment on Steve's possible implementations of Timeline.

 

1) The strip of boxes reminds me of plot implementation in Dramatica. It looks pretty but in function the virtual index cards are not very useful as a timeline for the story as a whole or for individual characters. The problem is, I think, that plot chunks (or Sections) are simply too big to function this way. (E.g., The event "Sylvia gets diarrhea" could run on for pages and pages.) I think the current Storyist methodology is the correct one. Create an Event sheet (instead of a picture of an index card) that can contain the relevant details (including a time and date stemp, if known) and let its name be a brief description of the event. Then let it appear under Timeline in the Project Pane. Such events could be grouped for a single character or the entire manuscript.

 

So are you thinking of events that are separate from the story (say backstory or events that influence the story but are not depicted in a section) or are you thinking mostly of sections? If it is the latter, you could use the section start time and end time fields (that are available in the section sheet but not on by default).

 

BTW, in this scenario, I wouldn't consider the virtual index cards to be replacements for sheets, but as a summary that is linked to the sheet.

 

2) A timeline as a visual representation of the Sections, with start-time/end-time fields for each Section, is good if you know the start time and end time of a specific event. Sometimes, often in fact, you just know the order in which things happen. Not a big problem, I suppose, but it makes a story calender sonewhat difficult. I would still want to be able to separate one character's timeline from another's. This is particularly important with stories with many characters or flashbacks (think "Rashomon" or even "Lost").

 

-Thoughtful Thoth.

 

Yes, since time is often fluid, especially in a novel. You have can have multiple epocs, out-of-order presentation, etc... and it does get difficult to design something that will work for the majority of the cases out there.

 

I'd be interested in seeing what you think should be on an event form. If you have an idea of how it should look, go ahead and attach a story file or an rtf file to illustrate.

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My thinking on the Event Sheet isn't all that complicated. Events, after all, are the actions of people or things in a time and place. They may or may not be an actual part of the story (they could be backstory), but they must be connected to a Chapter, Section or range of Sections in the story. An event may be larger or shorter than a Section. Events may even overlap. Tying these things together could be done in Plot Sheets, or even Section Sheets if we avoid backstory events, multi-Section events, and overlapping events. In any case, we are basically tying together time range, characters, settings, event description and Section range. Here's one (abbreviated) suggestion for an Event Sheet.

 

Event Short Name (for back-linking)

Event Short Description (for display)

Event Time (Start-time/End-time.)

Event Section (Links to the Section(s) involved in this event, if any)

Event Place (Link to one or more Settings)

Event Character (Link to one or more Characters)

Event Notes

 

What would then be needed would be a way to display this information in a way that does not involve looking through sheets. You would want to consecutively list Event summaries between two points in time, between two named Sections, and/or for where specific Characters or Settings are involved.

 

Getting the information into Storyist isn't, I suspect, the real problem. The difficult part is displaying this information selectively in a concise way. This brings up a somewhat larger issue.

 

To be blunt, I see Storyist as a beautiful merging of word processor and database functions. The word processor is pretty strong. The database part is dedicated to story writing (as it should be) but lacks many of the database reporting features to which we have become accustomed. I think you'd agree that full database reporting functionality is unnecessary. Being able to print a list of Characters, Settings, etcetera, (with short descriptions) would be nice but rarely necessary since these lists would be so short that a brief look at the Project Pane should suffice. But a timeline would be a long list of (event) descriptions which needs to be handled with some flexibility. Could Spotlight handle this? Who knows. Not me, anyway. Not without a lot more consideration.

 

Thoughtful Thoth.

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This is all great discussion. Let me see if I can help complicate it. :)

 

I think Steve and Thoth have fleshed out how to use section sheets in a time line. I think parallel plot points (outside the awareness of the main characters), historical plot points, and initial character introductions also need to be noted on the time line.

 

I envision an interface that displays the time line as a series of lines lines and branches (yes more than one line, but I'll get back to that). On a line, there are bubbles with short labels on them (maybe limited to <16 characters to make them fit better). The dates are labeled on the bottom of the chart, and a running date display follows the mouse position on the chart. When I mouse over a bubble, a pop up displays the event title, start&stop times, and summary for that bubble. If I click on the bubble, I'm taken to the section sheet or plot sheet. The bubbles should be color coded based on if they point to a section sheet, plot point, or character introduction. I should be able to easily zoom in and out on the time line.

 

I also said multiple lines. This increases complexity of the feature, but mirrors what I tend to do on the white board. I tend to track events that take place outside the awareness of my main characters as a branch off the main story line. Eventually these events merge back into the main story line when my main characters discover them. I'll totally understand if you say no, but you'll be my hero if you could pull this off.

 

IF

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Isaac has a flare for design. I love the idea of a click taking you from an event on a timeline report to a data sheet. But why a tree structure? I'm assuming that moving down or up the tree represents movement forward or backward in time. But if (for argument's sake) we're abandoning a time-line for a time-tree, then why not go all the way? We could use a time-network. This would support interlaced multiple trees. A still more advanced approach would be to eliminate the inter-event relationships entirely and allow events to be displayed, ad-hoc, by time, character, section, etcetera. (Yes, I clearly see multiple events per section, for small events, and multiple sections per event, for larger events.)

 

Again, I see this as more of a database reporting problem than a database input problem. Plot sheets could be used for events but there is still that problem of linking multiple plot sheets to a section sheet, and (less common) multiple section sheets to a plot sheet. (Same argument for linking character sheets and setting sheets to plot sheets.) The links themselves strike me as a minor problem (but what do I know?). The big (programming) problem is reporting off of them.

 

I still see the "timeline" as more of a concise time-indexed table, culled from the sheets, than a graphical display. A picture (of a tree? of 3x5 cards?) may be more aesthetically pleasing but, I suspect, impractical for a hundred or so events on the limited real estate of a computer screen.

 

Thoughtful Thoth.

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Thoth, cool ideas. I'm all for maximum ability with minimal interface (what I like about iPods). Seems like an M-N relationship table solves Plots->Section and Sections->Plot scenario. Would need a couple more tables to add Character sheets to that mix. Sounds like the level of complexity is going a bit above the reasonable.

 

To answer your question, perhaps I want a tree view because I view the time line much like revision control system. Parts of the story line will branch, and being able to branch the time line with the story will make that very easy to track.

 

As for displaying a really long time line on the screen, I've been wondering how to do this effectively too. I get crazy pictures in my head of having a time line view on the screen that is bound to the section, plot, or character I'm editing, and slides accordingly. Steve, I'll expect this functionality by Storyist 5.0, okay? :) I'm all about planning ahead.

 

For now, it would be nice to have a table (spreadsheet like) view of the story time line with automatic links to the appropriate section, plot, and character sheets.

 

Steve, when are you going to have a plugin interface so I can add this functionality myself? ;)

 

IF

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Steve, I'll expect this functionality by Storyist 5.0, okay? ;) I'm all about planning ahead.

 

5.0? :) You sure are!

 

A table-like view is probably a reasonable compromise. I have a strong preference for staying with the page metaphor, which most non-technical users respond well to.

 

Steve, when are you going to have a plugin interface so I can add this functionality myself? ;)

 

Well, you probably noticed that the major pieces are plugins already (manuscript, plot, character, settings) and the file format is made up of open standards. My approach is to use the APIs internally for a while before making them public, which I hope to do in the 2.0 timeframe.

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Well, you probably noticed that the major pieces are plugins already (manuscript, plot, character, settings) and the file format is made up of open standards. My approach is to use the APIs internally for a while before making them public, which I hope to do in the 2.0 timeframe.

 

Awesome. I look forward to seeing the APIs.

 

IF

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Just to add my ideal timeline to the drawing board, I prefer the classic horizontal based timeline, with which you scroll to the right to move forward in time. Since plot points can connect characters to story sheets, the time line could have a card for each event, which would contain the brief summary of the event, and the character's involved. Perhaps it only shows the event name and summary and on mouseover it expands to show each character with the description from the plot point which associates it to that event. The events should all be organized by begin time and end time as previously mentioned in this thread. In addition, events of a single plot thread have a unique color. So I might have my Main Story Line which has a slight tan color and a line drawn to connect the events. Then Romantic Involvement Story Line might be color (prepare for stereotyping) rose red with a rose red line drawn to connect the events.

 

I believe this gives me all the information I would need. For functionality though, I might like to be able to use the timeline to reorganize events and have it automatically change dates or the order in the Story sheets and Character Plot Points. I might even like to drag and drop a character onto an event on the timeline and have it bring up a box to add plot point information. This would be perfect.

 

I am sure this is some extreme functionality to ask for, but I can hope, right? This is just my bit of input.

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Hi BT, everybody.

 

Wow. It's been, what? six months since we've played with this thread? I'd almost forgotten about the proposed Timeline feature. Have you come to any decisions, Steve? BT has taken us in a very interesting direction: a very graphic, very interactive representation. (The color coded line representations are especially intriguing.) And more, he reminds us that, yes, we can hope.

 

My own thoughts lean more towards storage representation than display representation. Given my own M-N relationship table preference I'm now reminded of a Chen Entity-Relationship Diagram (with people and event tables as the entities and relationships).

 

As for a top-most level display, actual lines (multiple and color coded) seem like a good idea (some shorthand would be needed to display generational or even millennial jumps in time). But at more granular levels, and as a purely practical matter, I'd still want to see an overall summary listing (for quick reference and easy editing) and below that the individual Event sheets (which are not the same things as Section sheets). For my work habits the "grainy" levels are more important but why not both? We can hope.

 

Let's pick this thread up, folks.

-Thoth

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I think there can be a great mix of all the ideas here. I like being able to reference information easily, so I wouldn't want it to be too graphical. However, the color coding is the quickest and easiest way to separate story lines, threads, or whatever you want to call them. The idea of using tables is a great idea, but I do think the ideal timeline will keep these tables simple. If you cram too much information into them, it is no longer easy to reference.

 

To give a brief example, my current project has four main characters, each of them equally important. The main story thread is not specific to a single character, as the characters each have their own subplot to work on as well. So while Character A and B are attempting to foil the enemy's mischief, Character C may take a break to do her own thing. For this reason, I would like to see the characters involved in every scene. Also, I usually set up an emotional thread for each character. This thread just covers how the event thread (main story line, subplots, etc.) effects them emotionally. I would link these to the main story line as a character plot point. So, when I mouse over the entity, which initially only shows the quick reference material (entity info, character's involved...), it suddenly gives me the emotional information for each scene character as well. This emotional information is not needed for quick reference, as it does more to create clutter, but I can access it quickly if necessary.

 

Thoth brought up that some shorthand would be needed. I agree. At times not all scenes in a thread truly connect in the way you want. At other times, I find my threads overlapping temporarily, which is good as it helps to tighten the plot. If one scene contains elements of multiple threads, what is the best way to show this? Here is just an idea I can throw out. What if you can create your own relationships between items. The basic parts of a single thread are connected with the thread color. So I may have a Main (tan) and Sub (red) thread. There is one scene toward the end which contain plot points from each thread. Therefore, I click a relationship tool, click the plot point from Main, then the one from Sub. It would connect the two cards, though not merge the info. I can still see that they are separate threads because of color, but I can also see at a glance that they are part of the same scene. I am sure this spur of moment idea can be expanded upon by Thoth, as his posts throughout this thread have struck me as influential, and I imagine he will have some effect on my own writing techniques in the future. (Thanks for that Thoth.)

 

It is a shame that such a wonderful feature went for six months with no progress on the forums, so I'm glad to help bring it back.

 

BT

 

Hi BT, everybody.

 

Wow. It's been, what? six months since we've played with this thread? I'd almost forgotten about the proposed Timeline feature. Have you come to any decisions, Steve? BT has taken us in a very interesting direction: a very graphic, very interactive representation. (The color coded line representations are especially intriguing.) And more, he reminds us that, yes, we can hope.

 

My own thoughts lean more towards storage representation than display representation. Given my own M-N relationship table preference I'm now reminded of a Chen Entity-Relationship Diagram (with people and event tables as the entities and relationships).

 

As for a top-most level display, actual lines (multiple and color coded) seem like a good idea (some shorthand would be needed to display generational or even millennial jumps in time). But at more granular levels, and as a purely practical matter, I'd still want to see an overall summary listing (for quick reference and easy editing) and below that the individual Event sheets (which are not the same things as Section sheets). For my work habits the "grainy" levels are more important but why not both? We can hope.

 

Let's pick this thread up, folks.

-Thoth

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What if you can create your own relationships between items.

A wonderful idea. Assuming the (Section, Plot, Character, Setting, and eventually Prop and Event) sheets are the items, I can definitely see ad hoc links in the sheets creating connections between them. So why not tag the links as we do with (for example) Character traits (e.g., Age, Gender, etcetera). We'd make up our own tags (in addition to any provided). One such tag could be Romantic Timeline, which could lead from a Character sheet through various Plot or Event sheets. The links create (knotted and tangled) threads which could be displayed with color and/or other information types (e.g., an Event Sheet would display a date or time). The display implementation could be a nightmare though. (Just getting the time stamped items to line up is treacherous since nothing prevents a link loop.) Sorry Steve,

Thoth, as his posts throughout this thread have struck me as influential, and I imagine he will have some effect on my own writing techniques in the future. (Thanks for that Thoth.)

You are very welcome.

 

Glad to be of any help.

-Thoth.

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To me, it sounds as if we have just about fleshed out these ideas. I love your idea about tagging the links. I agree about the link problem. The problem is only with timestamped items, though I have an idea of how we could do this. The When an item is linked, the program checks to see where both items are. There are a few facts that we know about the items of the timeline. First, they can each have their own links. Second, all items are placed on the timeline based on their time, or the time of the event they are linked to. So an item like a character essentially become a part of the event to which it is linked. I don't feel we should link one visual character item to multiple event items. So the only read chance of creating a look is if three events are each connected. I could see this happening easily as some writers like to connect points where they are dropping a series of clues. So how do we do this? I think the best way is: if I create a link between Event A and Event C, the program checks to see if there is something in between, time-wise; if there is not, it draws the line; if there is, it draws a silhouetted version of the linked item, which the writer can then click on and it will take him to that item. It's like a ghost of the actual item. That way, when it realizes, Hey, Event B is between them, it places a ghost of Event A just above Event C and draws a line between them. I can see what the Event is, still read all the information about it, and because it is Ghosted, I know that it comes from a different location in the timeline.

 

As for characters, if Event A is connected to Character A, and I decide to connect Event B to Character A, it creates a new copy of the Character A timeline item. This helps keep character plot points separate.

 

BT

 

A wonderful idea. Assuming the (Section, Plot, Character, Setting, and eventually Prop and Event) sheets are the items, I can definitely see ad hoc links in the sheets creating connections between them. So why not tag the links as we do with (for example) Character traits (e.g., Age, Gender, etcetera). We'd make up our own tags (in addition to any provided). One such tag could be Romantic Timeline, which could lead from a Character sheet through various Plot or Event sheets. The links create (knotted and tangled) threads which could be displayed with color and/or other information types (e.g., an Event Sheet would display a date or time). The display implementation could be a nightmare though. (Just getting the time stamped items to line up is treacherous since nothing prevents a link loop.) Sorry Steve,

 

You are very welcome.

 

Glad to be of any help.

-Thoth.

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Interesting approach. I must admit to being a bit more simple minded. I see only items with time stamps as being displayed on a timeline. I envision the display as a 2-dimensional grid with vertical lines used to demarcate linear time. Icons representing the sheets (Events, Plot, Section, etc) are distributed horizontally, with sheets having the same start time stacked (vertically) in a column. Color or shape could identify the sheet type. The color of arrows (not lines) connecting the sheet icons would help differentiate between different threads (i.e., link tags). Obviously the window would have to scroll both horizontally and vertically.

 

Perhaps limiting timelines to Events alone would be sufficient. Clicking on the Event sheet icon in the timeline could bring up the Event sheet and its associated Character, Setting, Plot, Section, etcetera) links.

 

Again, I'm just throwing this out there for comment. I really have no idea what Steve actually has in mind for this Timeline idea. Frankly, I wouldn't mind hearing some of his thoughts about what's reasonable and what is not.

 

-Thoth.

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Again, I'm just throwing this out there for comment. I really have no idea what Steve actually has in mind for this Timeline idea. Frankly, I wouldn't mind hearing some of his thoughts about what's reasonable and what is not.

 

I've been following the thread and appreciate the ideas. Give me a day or two to take care of some tedious stuff and then maybe we can start mocking up some screenshots.

 

-Steve

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Limiting the timeline to events could work just as well, because it keeps it simple, yet still allows you to quickly navigate to see the associated characters and such. If the timeline works as you propose, I would be content.

 

BT

 

Interesting approach. I must admit to being a bit more simple minded. I see only items with time stamps as being displayed on a timeline. I envision the display as a 2-dimensional grid with vertical lines used to demarcate linear time. Icons representing the sheets (Events, Plot, Section, etc) are distributed horizontally, with sheets having the same start time stacked (vertically) in a column. Color or shape could identify the sheet type. The color of arrows (not lines) connecting the sheet icons would help differentiate between different threads (i.e., link tags). Obviously the window would have to scroll both horizontally and vertically.

 

Perhaps limiting timelines to Events alone would be sufficient. Clicking on the Event sheet icon in the timeline could bring up the Event sheet and its associated Character, Setting, Plot, Section, etcetera) links.

 

Again, I'm just throwing this out there for comment. I really have no idea what Steve actually has in mind for this Timeline idea. Frankly, I wouldn't mind hearing some of his thoughts about what's reasonable and what is not.

 

-Thoth.

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Write Brothers StoryView does a nice job of timelines. Something much simpler would be great, that showed characters and settings in relationship to pages or time would be cool.

 

carve

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Write Brothers StoryView does a nice job of timelines. Something much simpler would be great, that showed characters and settings in relationship to pages or time would be cool.

 

carve

Writers Café has a program called Storylines (currently free for Mac users, although they plan to charge for version 2), which you can download here. It's a standalone, although the download includes the full Writers Café (a notebook/scrapbook/journaling program--so far it looks like the Notebook function of Storyist without the rest of Storyist's features).

 

I haven't done much with it yet and so can't vouch for it, but some folks may find it useful while Steve is figuring out how to create an integrated timeline.

Marguerite

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Here is an example of a timeline feature:

 

http://www.marinersoftware.com/sitepage.php?page=125

 

It allows multiple plot threads to be mapped out across time.

 

Is the timeline feature planned to be added to Storyist this year?

 

Matthew

Nice. I wonder if that could be done in the Storyboard? We have an Outline View and a Grid View and a Search Results View, so why not a Graph View? Steve?

 

Curious about you have in mind,

-Thoth.

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Here is an example of a timeline feature:

 

http://www.marinersoftware.com/sitepage.php?page=125

 

It allows multiple plot threads to be mapped out across time.

 

Is the timeline feature planned to be added to Storyist this year?

 

Matthew

 

On a practical note I use Storymill for some story planning and there are better timelines for that out there. (or rather better implementations)

 

It is a good try for the MAC platform, but power structure has some things over it that make it far better

 

It is just that the power structure program has some serious problems under mac, mostly readibity

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On a practical note I use Storymill for some story planning and there are better timelines for that out there. (or rather better implementations)

Has anyone else even looked at StoryMill's timeline feature? I have some screenshots here for your convenience (even though there is also a link above). Pay particular attention to how a vertical Events line can intersect plot portions. Not too shabby.

 

Trying to inspire,

-Thoth.

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It's time to poke at this again. I was just sitting here thinking, man, how long have those guys been sitting in hotel? And I'm not sure. I've got paper all over the place. I'm going to start taping it up to my walls.

 

I want a little time line in a panel above my character pictures. Just for reference. :D

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