Aeon Timeline is a flexible timeline creation tool meant for writers and other creative thinkers. I’ve tried a lot of programs for data management and timeline creation over the last 10 years, and Aeon is my favorite. It’s the first tool for writers that I’ve ever found with enough options and flexibility to suit my needs without being overwhelming. This is a repost of my earlier review. It will be here temporarily while I reorganize the site, then will move to the writing archive.
When I plan a story, I usually think in terms of overlapping events and character development arcs, or I think in terms of plot arcs where events aren’t always linear. Sometimes my plot arcs span long periods of time, especially if I have characters who lived for hundreds of years. It’s important for me to be able to keep track of what time of year things are happening, how much time is passing, etc. The weather, local holidays, and other factors related to the passage of time will affect how my scenes play out, and if I don’t have those details in place I will get confused and not realize that my characters are wearing shorts but it should be the middle of winter in their scene. Even in stories where the weather and things like that are relevant, it’s usually important to keep track of characters’ ages in relation to one another as time passes and which people are in each scene.
In the past, I’ve had to use several different tools and do a lot of tedious calculating in order to make sure my details were organized properly and made sense. With Aeon, all I need to do is toggle a few settings and zoom in or out to see what I need. The program gives users the option of creating multiple “arcs” that function as timeline tracks. If you turn on the arc view, you can see the data split up and layered in each track. If you turn it off, you can view the same data as a standard linear timeline, and in both cases, there are content-specific filters you can apply if you want to narrow your focus.
I write several different genres and styles. Aeon has worked for me with all of them. I’m going to show some examples of how I worked with the program this week. In these examples, I’m using a standard calendar, but I have also used Aeon quite effectively to create timelines based on made-up calendars with fictional dating systems. My friend Jess and I use it together when we work on her Star Wars fanfiction project that spans both the PT and OT eras (two different dating systems.)
Last weekend, Hannah and I came up with an idea for a story set in the 1990s. We came up with a basic premise, a setting, and figured out how our characters related to one another. We had some general backstory, but most of our details were vague. We roleplayed some of the scenes we knew about, and learned more as we went. That’s the same thing I do when I write my own fiction, so it was easy to apply my usual methods. Our roleplay usually functions as pre-writing for a more in-depth development process later on.
I find it helpful to start with a list of events as a text document, so I create one like this, starting with the present as “year 0” and work in both directions. (More about how I use lists here.) Note: this is a newer text document than the one I was working with when I started.
Eventually, it gets hard to keep track of all the different characters and details as the text documents grow, and that’s when Aeon really shows its worth. With Aeon, it doesn’t matter where you start your timeline or how big the project gets. So I can start with whatever information I have and work my way foward and back as I learn more.
The first thing I did was use my chronology document to create a roleplay arc in Aeon. I zoomed in and turned off all of the program’s bells and whistles so that I could just quickly see what we’d done and keep track of pertinent information.
I’ve been updating that track every night this week as Hannah and I work, and it’s been so helpful that I’m thinking about creating similar timelines for all of our joint projects from now on. For the role-play arc, the actual date and day of the week were important. For some of the other arcs, I don’t need that information. Aeon lets me choose the date format for each entry, so I’m not stuck picking specific dates if I don’t need them.
Next I created background arcs for both of my main characters, and an arc for birthdays so that Aeon would be able to keep track of people’s relative ages for me. (I knew in general how old each of the characters were. I just arbitrarily picked a birthday as I needed one.)
The background arcs are zoomed out further so that I can see comparative lengths on the events. The first is configured as a linear timeline; the second is split into its component arcs so they’re shown on different tracks.
Once that was done, I made another arc called “main plot” which is basically a summary that we can (hopefully) used to figure out how to structure a story. Some of the events on that arc are vague or marked with a “?” because they’re only ideas and we haven’t gotten far enough yet to figure out what we’re doing.
Like I said before, you can toggle the various arcs on and off so that you can view the data in different ways. For anyone who’d like to see it, here are some different versions of the timeline with all the arcs visible.
So, I think it’s pretty obvious from this post that I love Aeon Timeline. It’s one of the best tools for writers that I’ve used in long time. There are a few things that could stand improvement, though. I’d love it if it was easier to edit the dates and have the same event in multiple arcs. So far I’ve been able to work around this just by toggling arcs on and off. The problems are minor, and easy enough to deal with.
According to the website, Aeon can sink your timeline files with Scrivener 2, which may be of benefit to other writers.