Aeon Timeline is great for planning a project from the outset, but it is just as good in helping you to organise an existing writing project, whether it's in the early stages of writing, or a complete draft waiting for an edit.
If you have started writing in Scrivener or Ulysses, now is the perfect time to start syncing:
- You get a head start on your project and avoid having to recreate everything from scratch
- Because you start with everything in sync, it becomes easy to transfer changes made in either app from that point on
- And, you avoid some potential messy issues trying to merge existing content from two different apps later
This guide takes you through the process of syncing with an existing Scrivener or Ulysses project to import its contents into a timeline, and introduces some further steps you can take to build a more complete picture of your story.
- Create your timeline file
- Prepare your Scrivener or Ulysses project
- Sync your writing project
- View imported content in Narrative View
- Build a timeline from your story
- Add your characters
- And beyond: write, edit, and iterate
Step 1: Create your timeline file
To get started, click on the Create New button and choose from one of our Fiction templates.
If you are writing Science Fiction or Fantasy and require a different calendar system, now is the time to set that up.
For everyone else, the default settings should be fine.
Follow the bouncing ball
The path suggested in this article also happens to be the same path as is suggested in our in-built tutorial system, so the easiest way to get going is to start the tutorial and work through the steps.
Just be sure to choose the tutorial path that starts by syncing your existing writing project!
The tutorial will teach you how to use parts of the interface, but it is also designed to help you complete actual work. You will get best results if you take your time with each step, enter real data and plan your actual project as you work.
Step 2: Prepare your Scrivener or Ulysses project
We have included a handy guide to preparing your writing project for syncing in our knowledge base, so we won't repeat it here.
But follow those steps to ensure your project contents will be recognisable when it is pulled into your timeline.
Step 3: Sync your writing project
Once your project is prepared, start the syncing process:
- In Aeon Timeline, open Sync Settings, choose your writing app, and Scrivener project (if required)
- Select the folder that contains your narrative (usually Draft/Manuscript in Scrivener)
- You can leave the remaining settings as they are, but to get the most out of syncing, you may want to sync additional fields such as Start and End Dates, and associated characters (See Sync Settings).
- Click on the sync icon in the Sidebar to view the contents of your writing project in the Sync Panel. As you have not yet synced, everything will be marked with a green + icon to indicate the content is new.
- If there are any items with a green + that should not be synced (for example, front matter documents such as a Title Page), select them and tell Aeon Timeline to ignore them in the Inspector on the right side of the window.
- Once you are happy, hit the Sync Now button. This will create new items and folders in your writing project that match the structure of your writing project.
Step 4: View imported content in Narrative View
Once you have synced, switch to Narrative View to see the content you have just imported.
Your timeline tracks events in two different ways:
- A chronological order, which sorts events according to their order of occurrence in the real-world;
- A narrative order, which represents the order (and structure) in which they are presented in your story.
This independent narrative lets you:
- Omit backstory items that exist in your story world and on your timeline, but are not directly part of your story
- Include exposition passages (internal thoughts and monologues etc.) that do not belong in your timeline or chronological order at all
- Order events differently to incorporate flashbacks or non-linear storytelling
- Organise events into a different hierarchical structure, based on Parts and Chapters that match your story presentation
Step 5: Build a timeline from your story
If you open Spreadsheet View, you will see that this has been filled with the events (but not folders) in your narrative:
- By default, folders in your Scrivener or Ulysses project convert to Narrative Folder types in your timeline, which are present in your narrative but nowhere else
- In contrast, documents are converted to events, which are assumed to represent real-world occurrences, and so are included in your chronological order
If you see any items in your Spreadsheet View that do not belong in the chronological order (e.g. dream sequences, or passages of exposition, description, internal thought, etc.), select them and change their Item Type to Exposition in the inspector, as Exposition items are another narrative-only feature.
Initially, your Spreadsheet will show events in the same order as your narrative. However, if any items are out of sequence (e.g. flashbacks, or non-linear or parallel story elements), you can drag them into a different order on the Spreadsheet without affecting their position in your narrative.
Similarly, if you add a new event into your Spreadsheet, it will not be added to your Narrative automatically. This allows you to add story world elements such as character back stories without affecting your written document.
If you add an element to your Spreadsheet and subsequently want to include it in your narrative, you can use split your workspace and drag and drop the element into your narrative.
You can add dates by typing them into the Spreadsheet or the Item Inspector, or by splitting your workspace and dragging events into the timeline.
Alternatively, if you want to think about the relative duration and spacing of events without locking yourself into real-world dates, switch to a relative Weekly or Daily calendar in Timeline Settings, and you can work with dates like "Tuesday Week 3" or "1:00pm Day 1" instead.
Once you add dates and durations, you can click across to Timeline View to see a more graphical sense of time emerge from your story.
Step 6: Add your characters
Events on a timeline don't mean much until you build a richer picture of everything involved: the characters and settings that drive your scenes, and the story arcs that guide your narrative.
Click on the person icon in the Sidebar to open the Characters panel, and use the Add button to create a few characters.
Then, switch into Relationship View, which shows visually how those characters relate to events in your story. Click on an intersection between an event and a character to set a relationship between the items: you might mark a character as a Participant in or Witness to an event.
Repeat until you have associated characters with all of your events. You can then switch back to Timeline View, and use the filter icons in the entity panel to view only events associated with a single character.
You can repeat these steps for other entity types like Locations and Story Arcs if you wish, or you could move on for now and return to them later.
And beyond: write, edit, and iterate
From here, it is all about iteration: as you flesh out your timeline – adding characters and relationships, setting dates, identifying plot holes, or nutting out the next few scenes – you can make those changes in your timeline, sync them back to your writing project, and continue to edit or write your draft.
The most important advice at this stage is to sync things regularly: if you want to spend a week with your head down writing prose, that is fine, but make sure you sync your data every time you switch between apps. That way, both your timeline and your writing project will stay up to date, and you will be able to enjoy the strengths that each app brings.
There are more tricks to Aeon Timeline that might help down the track, but only use them when you are ready, and there is something specific you want to achieve.