Years ago, when I was writing fanfiction, I struggled to create a timeline for my large group of stories that stretched across many years and contained a lot of the same characters. I started on paper, and eventually tried to make something with Excel. I did end up with a format that I have since used for other writing, but it was still a pain to use and especially to make edits.
It gets really messy when the events of the story pick up.
A few years ago, at the end of NaNoWriMo, I noticed amongst the winner goodies a discount for a program called Aeon Timeline. I downloaded the free trial and spent a few days putting several stories worth of information into it. I discovered very quickly that it was exactly what I needed.
There are many settings you can play with, including having the timeline stretch out over thousands of years, or one single day. If you choose the latter, the timeline will show much more detail than with the former. I’ve read that a user can create their own calendar system in the program too, which would be useful for fantasy writers, though I haven’t used the feature myself.
You can have individual sections for different stories, different story arcs, or whatever else you may need. You can also toggle those individual arcs on or off to your liking.
“Arcs” are shown along the left.
And one of my favorite things about the program is that you can add in all of your characters and attach them to the entries. If you set up a birth date, it will even tell you how old the character is at the time of that entry. The feature is called “Entities,” because it pertains to more than just characters too. I used it to remind myself of when a particular device (listed in the picture below as “com-disc”) was introduced into my story world, because I was having a hard time remembering when it was available to be used by characters.
The lines go up to entries. The dots indicate that the character was a participant in that event (the one that’s not colored in indicates “observer” rather than “participant”).
Not every story needs a timeline. Sometimes events only happen over the course of a few days. The story I’m planning for NaNo this year will cover 9 days. I still plan to make a timeline for it as I plan this month. Even if in the end it turns out to be unnecessary, I know I’d rather have it anyway.
Though I’ve been mocked (all in fun, I assure you) for how meticulous I am with my timeline, it is crucial for keeping track of things for my group of stories that include “Pithea,” “Pursuit of Power,” “Outcast,” and other plans that will take place before, after, and during the others. There is so much to keep straight–character’s ages, how long ago a certain event happened, how long a certain event lasted, etc. So whether your writing is as complicated as mine or not, if you’ve ever felt the need for a timeline for your stories, Aeon Timeline is worth checking out.
How about you? Have you ever used Aeon Timeline before? Do you have a program you use for keeping track of a timeline?