8

I'm looking for a writing software that's user friendly and doesn't require endless tutorials to figure out.

Plotist seems to be a good start, but their timeline is too simple and doesn't even have actual date or time on it... Also there character profiling could be more organised and interactive with their system.

This would be perfect:

  • beautiful timeline with dates and time and clear overview of events for all the characters

  • a custom character profile interactive with the timeline (like a setup page with age, race, eye colour, hair colour, ext...)

  • clear separation in type of events (birthdays, deaths, marriage, own creations,...)

  • advance search engine within the system

  • not online....

.... and a lot more but let's start with this :-)

  • 1
    I fail to understand what a "costume character profile" would be. Mind clarifying? Did you by any chance mean custom? I fixed some other typos for you, but am reluctant to change what I don't understand the intent of. You can Edit your question yourself. – a CVn Apr 17 '18 at 7:41
  • yes i did mean custom, sorry about that... and with "custom character profile" i meant a custom made starter page where you can fill in details about your character like age, race , eye colour, jobs, schools,... – Nora De Weyer Apr 18 '18 at 10:15
3

In the past, I've used Aeon Timeline and found it fairly straightforward. It does have a lot of customizations so it took me a bit of poking around to see what all it could and after that I was able to add multiple timelines, characters, races, dimensions, etc. and surprisingly it can handle very large date ranges in the millions of years, which may be useful for some.

Aeon Timeline integrates well with Scrivener, a popular writing software.

Hope this is close to what you're looking for.

3

Patchwork is a specialized writing software created by Austrian programmer Martin Danesch. It has the same functionality and document structure as Scrivener (invcluding "scrivenings", "corkboard" and outlining view – I'm using the Scrivener terms here). On top of that it has an integrated timeline functionality that is, in my opinion, superior to using Aeon Timeline with Scrivener, as well as a nice character development tool.

Patchwork has two major drawbacks, though: it looks ugly (like an old Windows program) and it is only in German (although I think you would be able to learn and use it even if you don't know the language). For German, it provides the best spell and style checker the planet has seen.*

The same spell and style checker is available in Papyrus, another German language writing software.


The Patchwork timeline feature is well explained in two videos and two blog posts (one and two) by the creator of the software.

I'll try and give a rough overview, using images from the blog.

Timeline Feature in Patchwork, image 1

Similar to Scrivener, a story in Patchwork is divided into parts, chapters, and/or scenes. An overview of (in this case) the chapters is on the right. Each chapter is represented in the timeline on the larger left-central window (1).

In Patchwork, there can be an unlimited number of storylines (2). Weekends are represented in a different color (here skin color and pink). (By the way, you can change all the colors in Patchwork, including the background color (and font) of the windows. You can store different preferences as "skins".)

Periods without events are collapsed (here: the three brown lines) and show a count of days (here, in yellow: 1 month 29 days). These periods can be "unfolded" (8).

You can use the default Gregorian calendar or create your own "fantasy" calendar (5).

enter image description here

In Patchwork, you can begin brainstorming a story in a mindmap tool (1). Items in the mindmap automatically appear on a freeform corkboard, where you can add a synopsis etc. (2), in the chapter overview (3), and the timeline (4). Changes in one representation of your story automatically affect all the other representations.

The timeline has more functions which you can see in the videos linked above. Even if you don't know German, the functionality will become apparent to you from the demonstration.

  • omg, thank you so mush i will definitely go look at that! I can speak German so that's a happy coincidence! this was the best answer i got so far thank you again! – Nora De Weyer Apr 18 '18 at 10:09
  • just checked it out.... its really ugly.... :-) – Nora De Weyer Apr 18 '18 at 10:22
1

I suggest the Write Brother's line of software.

Writer's Dreamkit is the beginners version of Dramatica Pro, both of which are available for Macintosh (natively) and also Windows.

The primary feature of either version is their unique Story Engine, which is essentially a database consisting of a series of question chains which ask an in-depth series of questions designed to dig out of the author what they know about their story, but may not have actually written down or thought through completely.

These question-chains (about story, topics, as well as character motivations, methodologies, purposes, and evaluations, in addition to character development tools) are complemented by a series of specialized Reports which are designed to cross-index and cross-reference the various answers about the scenes, characters, and plot elements; all designed to reveal to the author aspects and relationships present or missing between the various elements of their story which may not have occurred to them.

There are many, myself included, which find these tools useful to brainstorming, story and character development tasks, as well as it being a handy central database of all the different chunks related to any given story.

It functions offline, though for those times when one is not offline, there is a useful and extensive online Theory book, which also has a lot of useful information.

  • A couple of months ago I was again looking at all the different kinds of writing software, and in the course of that research I looked at Dramatica, too. What made me immediately shy away from it, is the strictly prescibed story theory. If you think of characters or plot differently than the creators of Dramatica, that very inflexible software is completely unusable to you. I didn't look at Writer's Dreamkit much, but if it is like Dramatica in this respect, I cannot recommend it. – user29032 Apr 18 '18 at 15:47
  • @Cloudchaser The best way to improvise, is to be as prepared as possible. The software does not force you into a particular story theory. It simply asks you questions (which you fill in) and then generates reports that show relationships (with theory text explanations, which are easy to ignore if they don't apply). The very fact of one's disagreement (which happens to me all the time) reveals more to one about one's story, and actually aids one in writing - probably more than agreement would. It is much easier to deviate from something that exists, than having to feel one's way without. – nijineko Apr 19 '18 at 15:18
  • If you have not tried it, I suggest you actually purchase the (cheaper) Writer's Dreamkit and give it a go. Having a guide to start with makes it easier to leap off into the void and create freely, unconstrained by the guide. There are those who cling to guides and fail to make that leap, I suppose. Each to their own journey. – nijineko Apr 19 '18 at 15:20
3

Summary

I suggest that you use a spreadsheet software, because it allows you to combine a flexible timeline with a flexible outliner.

This solution has the following advantages:

  • You can – but you don't have to – use dates.

    You can also use days of the week without calendar dates, or any other time scheme you want (e.g. an unspecified chronological order such as "first", "then", "even later"). If you want dates, spreadsheet software supports calculations and ordering on dates.

  • You can use text of any length and are not limited to chapter titles (as in timelining software) or a brief synopsis (as in an outliner).

  • Each story element can belong to multiple storylines, not just one as in all common timeliners and outliners.

  • As most of us have used a spreadsheet software before, there is no learning curve. Open and work.


A more detailed explanation

I'm currently outlining a middle grade novel with three parallel storylines, and today I was struggling a bit with figuring out how to synchronize the different storylines. Does the son solve dad's dating troubles before he solves the burglary case, or does he catch the thief first? Stuff like that.

I began outlining in Scrivener, my writing tool of choice, but I soon got lost on the "corkboard". I'm using labels to signify storylines, and arranging the "index cards" by label on Scrivener's corkboard gives my a nice overview of how the story develops over the different storylines:

view of Scrivener's corkboard with index cards arranged by label

But as I was rearranging the index cards, rewriting their synopses, and moving the whole story forward and backward in time, I was often confused what day I was seeing in the current window. I wanted certain events to take place on a Friday afternoon, because a government office the protagonist needed to visit would be closed over the weekend, but when I inserted a day and moved the whole storyline back one day and then moved other events around, I no longer knew what was happening when, because Scrivener doesn't display dates on the corkboard. Maybe it does, when I set up the dates in Aeon Timeline, but when I imported the Scrivener project into Aeon Timeline and had to choose dates and times and realized how long it would take me to set this all up when all I needed was the day of the week and a division by morning, afternoon, and evening, I gave up and instead installed the demo for Patchwork, which I have recommended in my other answer to this question.

It took me about fifteen minutes to download and install Patchwork, but when I began setting up the timeline there (choosing "8:00-12:00" for "morning"), I realized another problem: the timeline in Patchwork only shows the title of a chapter, but not the synopsis (see the screenshot in my other answer).

I realized that what I wanted was a combination of corkboard and timeline on which I would be able to both work on the chapter (or scene) synopses and see the time the event takes place, but with a flexible time system where I don't have to chose hours and minutes, if all I need is the day of the week and the afternoon.

Then it came to me. I remembered how I had developed my characters in Excel and that a corkboard and timeline are both basically tables.

But I also remembered how I had struggled with developing characters in Excel for a previous project, because there is a limit (of 409.5 points or 546 pixels) for how high a row in Excel can be. That's usually not a problem when you use Excel for data, but when you use it to write outlines you will want all the text visible all the time, but in Excel text will often be longer than a row's maximum height and get cut off. You can, of course, merge cells to create higher cells, but this destroys the parallelisation of character traits that the rows in a cell represent, and I don't really want to merge cells every time I hit he max cell height.

And while I sat in front of my computer with the Scrivener corkboard open and thought about this, I noticed that in fact this is a problem in Scrivener's corkboard, too! In Scrivener the index cards all have the same size, and text that is longer than fits on the card is not shown while you don't work on that card. This makes both Excel and the Scrivener corkboard useless for outlining, unless you limit yourself to brief scenes or shorthand synopses.

Fortunately for me my Microsoft Office license has expired and I had been looking for a replacement for Excel because I didn't want to pay 99 Euro a year for an Office 365 license for my family, and when I opened my old Excel character development sheet in Numbers I was pleasantly surprised to find that Apple's Numbers doesn't have a maximum row height (or not one that I have managed to exceed yet), and it is free (if you have a Mac – and I have three!), so I began to outline my story in numbers, and I realized another advantage of a spreadsheet software over a timelining application or a corkboard: the spreadsheet app allows you to have one scene belong to multiple storylines! And this makes perfect sense and is in fact essential, because storylines intersect, and anything from half a sentence to a couple of paragraphs in any scene or chapter can belong to another storyline than the rest of it.

So what I finally did, and will happily use for my next project again, was create a spreadsheet in Numbers with the first three columns representing the timeline – day of the week, date, and time (in my case "morning", "afternoon", "evening", and "night") –, and then three columns (or as many as you like) for the outliner – in my case three storylines, highlighted in different colors:

view of my outline in Numbers

  • This structure is what I had been looking for (sort of) for plot line tracking. I'd like to ask on whether you have setup one similar to monitor character arcs and progression (where they appear etc) and if you have, how had you structured them as well. Thanks. – John Crawfordz Apr 22 '18 at 7:21
  • @JohnCrawfordz For plot structure / character arc (the way I write their're the same) I draw a graph by hand. See the first image in this question: writing.stackexchange.com/questions/34621/… – user29032 Apr 22 '18 at 16:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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