Insert usual apologies about not updating blog more frequently…
I received a question from a reader regarding how I constructed my timelines – any special software?
When setting out to write The West Wind, I knew I was going to need something to create timelines. I had never written something so big and complex but knew that I needed something to organize the multiple story lines. I am also a very visual person – I often find myself drawing a picture to help describe some point I am trying to make. Notebooks are fine, but I really needed something a bit more specific. There were several features that, at the time, I thought I needed:
- The ability to capture a short description – these ultimately became my writing prompts for scenes
- Some way of tagging or creating meta data
- A way of showing relationships
I looked at the writing apps that had timelines built in, e.g. yWriter and even basic notecards. They covered most of my requirements, but ultimately lacked a fourth item that I discovered along the way: flexibility! Notecards, I need to point out, was a horrible experience. I didn’t have enough space for all the cards, couldn’t keep the relationships, and most importantly, couldn’t read my handwriting.! My romantic notion of a writer staring at a cork board plastered with notecards was quickly dashed on the rocks of practicality.
Then I started using Visio. I use it in my professional life and in the design of boardgames, the other often referenced hobby of mine on which I will blame my lack of writing… I put together timelines for each of my characters, a timeline for the world, and connected them all together with the dynamic connectors. I found the flexibility I needed to move things around without losing anything and had control over cutting and reconnecting the relationships. I also found I didn’t need to use any tagging, like an action vs reflective scene, instead I used colors. Worked just fine…
Until I found out how much I was missing using the Windows Beta of Scrivener and, as luck would have it, demands of my professional life gave me a great excuse to invest in a MacAir. Darn.
I finished writing The West Wind in Scrivener on my new Mac but then found myself wanting to re-arrange my timelines. No, nothing really easy or cheap for importing Visio documents into Mac drawing programs that I could find. I also didn’t want to go back and forth between platforms. I wound up re-building the timelines in OpenOffice.org Draw which, as it turned out, was needed anyway due to the amount of drift from the original story timelines over the year that I wrote the story. Re-building the timelines got me back in touch with the story and allowed me to implement an idea I had for telling much of Rachel’s backstory through a couple of key flashbacks.
To give some context, here is about the first third of The West Wind timeline as it was orginally in Visio: