I write mostly speculative fiction, and use Scrivener for writing and note-taking.

But I'm looking to start crafting timelines to keep track of the exact year and months events in the distant and close past occurred.

In a perfect world: I'd like for the software to be easily manageable, relatively low-maintenance or easy to deal with, automatically "sorting" (or "pinning" the event in the correct place on the line) and easily scalable.

Does anyone know of anything at all like this? If not, what do others use to create time-lines?

16 Answers 16

up vote 7 down vote accepted

We are currently working on Plotist, a timeline software created for writers. It's still a beta, but anyone can sign up and try it out.

The main feature is that it connects notes and visualization, so you can check and edit your notes while building the timeline.

Timeline screenshot

  • 1
    I just stumbled on Plotist from a Tumblr post, came back to mention it on this thread, and saw that it already had been. This is the best option I've seen out there and I want it to succeed! – oldrobotsneverrust Mar 21 '16 at 18:15
  • I'm glad you are enjoying it! – JayC Mar 23 '16 at 16:41
  • Can it deal with multiple heavily intertwined, parallel, self-crossing, reader-confusing, infinitely recursively looped timelines of a story about a time travel gone awry...? – István Zachar Oct 23 at 18:33
  • It's quite flexible and we are going to add features to handle recursivity, so in the end is going to be limited by how you use it. Time travels might be tricky though, are they going to be "read-only" time travels or can you actually change history? Is the timeline chronological and branching or narrative and sequential? The first case is not supported (yet) but the second should be possible to do :-D – JayC Oct 25 at 7:56

Other than Scrivener :) I find Excel (or another spreadsheet program) works surprisingly well.

  • First column: Year
  • Second column: Month
  • Third column: Day
  • (Insert more columns as needed.)
  • Last column: event

If you have multiple items on the same Day, repeat the Day data and use a 24-hour clock, so you would have:

1898|July|Holmes and Watson move into 221B Baker Street
1898|October|Adventure of Irene Adler, aka That Woman
1899|March|23|2:47|Holmes and Watson break into C.A. Milverton's house
1899|March|23|3:15|Holmes and Watson escape with goods
1899|March|23|12:22|Milverton discovers the theft
1899|March|23|14:36|Lestrade is called
1899|March|23|17:56|Holmes explains all to Lestrade, Watson goggles anew
1902|June|Watson marries third wife

and so on.

  • 1
    I was about to say Scrivener =P – Ralph Gallagher Mar 20 '11 at 15:38
  • Is there a feature of scrivener specifically for this? Or you just take small notes/folders of years & months and file them manually? – oldrobotsneverrust Mar 20 '11 at 19:53
  • 1
    Yes, I do exactly the latter: manually organized folders with notes. But I keep the timeline in Excel also for easy sorting and rearranging. – Lauren Ipsum Mar 20 '11 at 20:34
  • LL are working on a sister program called Scapple. Despite being in beta, initial opinion makes me believe it could work quite well in this. The beta is only for OS X, though. – Mussri Nov 3 '12 at 13:24

For the Mac, try Aeon Timeline. It's being developed by a Scrivener user, so a key feature is being able to import your timeline into Scrivener. I used a very early version for my last book and it was pretty easy to use and had all the features I needed.

Some nifty features include custom calendars (for those non-Earth settings) and a way to track which events each character is present at.

  • 2
    Aeon Timeline is now available for windows. What an incredible program for authors! – Praesagus Dec 26 '15 at 19:30

I know some of these posts are much older, but I thought I would respond. I've been on the hunt for some time searching for a software for desktop or cloud-based (cloud was my preference) and was coming up empty until I was completely looking for something else and stumbled on the diamond in the ruff. I wanted a simple yet effective timeline solution that would not break my wallet. I found http://www.preceden.com/ and I will be reviewing it thoroughly in my blog http://myblogz.us/anovelidea. Simply put...this was better than I hoped for and much less than I was expecting to spend. For $29.00 you will receive a lifetime membership. How can you go wrong with cloud-based options these days.

Edit 19/10/12 it is now $14 a month, which makes it expensive.

Edit May 30, 2014. It is back to $29 for a lifetime.

Edit Sept 1, 2017. It is $29.99 a year for single use"

  • Really great find! I might have to try that out. – oldrobotsneverrust Oct 19 '11 at 20:49

Scrivener is available for Mac or Windows, but not all timeline software is cross-platform. Which platform are you using?

If on the Mac, try StoryMill, which has a dedicated timeline function.

On the PC, there's Timeline Maker, TimeLinear, Timeline Studio... lots of choices, really.

There was a point of time where i was able to use Microsoft Project to do my time line work. Sadly though I no longer have access to it, and the program itself is... excessively priced. Which is to bad, even in the simplest way I found it worked really well to keep my time lines in sync, it made working with a ton of characters a lot easier. I could also make events dependent on each other so I couldn't accidentally invert them.

I've never really looked into other project management systems sense then, but I suspect that any decent one will let you do this sort of thing.

  • 2
    There is an open source alternative to MS Project called GanttProject (ganttproject.biz). I haven't used it since I left University (about 5 years ago) but it was a pretty solid alternative at the time. – Adam J. Forster Oct 10 '11 at 7:48
  • Yes we used Gantt a year ago at uni. It is quite practical and almost the same as MSP. – Joze Oct 18 '11 at 5:03

Ywriter has a time line feature; I'm not sure how it works. Writeitnow also has an event timeline; if I recall correctly, you can create a summary of all events in your story showing the time that they occured.

I use timeglider.com

Only drawback is that it's online, not on your desktop. So if your WiFi doesn't reach all the way to your favorite writing spot down the garden path you're screwed :)

I have an internal wiki. Best option for me, because the stories are set in a fantasy world, and you can't have a fantasy world without a weird calendar system (which none of the apps support), can you? No sorting, but hey....

But for purely Earth-based stories, I liked the scene arrangement system in Storybook. You can set the dates for specific scenes, then look at the stories in chronological order so that different scenes that happen at the same time are nicely grouped.

I use a plain-text file with a time-line of events, a list of the major people in the work and some notes about them (like, do they drink tea or coffee, do they take milk, how many sugars, noticeable likes/dislike, partner(s), ...)

  • Simple, free, effective, and requires you a bit of an effort, gotta love it. – Mephistopheles Sep 2 '17 at 20:23

I can't find it right now, but I'm pretty sure that one or more of the various free mind mapping tools can support timelines.

Many authors might like them for their mind mapping capabilities alone. Sort of like 2D outlining with graphics and the like.

One example is FreeMind.

You might like to take a look at PangurPad, it is an online writing editor which has a timeline tool built in.

I'm a Scrivener 2.0 user myself, and I recommend Aeon Timeline to any writer in need of making a solid timeline for your project.

One of the biggest challenges with the novel I am working on now was the timeline and the order of events. I've been pounding the issue for months, but it wasn't before Aeon that I could get it right. And best of all: Its free :)

GNU Timeline is a basic timeline building application with some nice features. It is free, and it works on Windows and Linux (Probably Mac also).

http://thetimelineproj.sourceforge.net/

Here is an app that tries to make plotting out your story very easy: Plottr

It's got a timeline that is a very graphical way to show each story line (main plot and subplots) and each scene. Across the top are the scenes and along the side are the story lines. You aren't held to specific dates on the timeline. It let's you put in whatever description you want across the top.

The nice thing is that you can flip it so the scenes are down the side and the story lines are across the top. It's better for some people to see it like that.

Where the scene and story line intersect you can add a card which is just a place you can write a description about what happens at the intersection of those two.

You can even drag and drop cards easily anywhere around the timeline.

It also has a place for general notes, a place for characters, and a place for settings. For characters and settings you can add custom attributes which is really handy.

And the notes you can tag with your characters or places.

I use it for my stories and it's been invaluable

A googledoc timeline gadget (it graphs a spreadsheet onto a timeline):

A user-friendly tutorial on how to get one started:

protected by Standback Mar 9 '16 at 14:58

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.