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Searching for a plotting/timeline tool

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Unc



Joined: 18 Aug 2004
Posts: 300
Location: South of FRANCE
Searching for a plotting/timeline tool  Reply with quote  

Since there are obviously a number of working writers here, I'm wondering if any of you have found a useful tool for designing complicated timelines.

Here's the problem: I'm working on a historical novel, which has to interleave dozens of fictional characters and subplots into a 70-year period of real history. So I need something I can use to graphically lay out the real events of that historical period and then "decorate" them with my fictional events, and keep it all in synch. It's a more complicated problem than I've ever dealt with before in pure fiction, where the plot and structure and timeline can sorta "evolve itself," like playing jazz. This is more like playing an Indian raga, where the format, musical structure and scale are predetermined and fixed and cannot be deviated from, but within that structure it's pure improvisation.

So if anyone has ever run into a software tool that might help, let me know. Thanks in advance...

Unc

Post Mon Sep 13, 2004 3:21 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
chris
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Joined: 02 Mar 2004
Posts: 3833
Location: People Republic of Northern California
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Unc

We had a pretty long discussion about this right before I started the writing forum.

The best tool for what you want to do is a flow chart. Unfortunately, flow chart software is really cumbersome, and I'm yet to find one that is worth the effort of learning the chart program, as compared to the convienience of being able to drag and drop data graphically. They just aren't made for tha purpose.

I've always ended up with a big sketchpad. I use a 24x18" Other people have had some success with the index card and bullitin board method. (I even bought a tablet PC, thinking that this would be the ultimate answer to dragable text boxes, but alas, it's still too cumbersome and a sketchpad works better. I'm not a luddite here, I'd go immediately with a computer solution if I thought it was better.)

For organizing data, but not neccessarily chorologically, I use Action Outline, by Green Parrot Software. You can try it for free and see if it might work for you. (Google Green Parrot Software).

Another tool you can use is a combination of the sketch pad and a digital camera or scanner. I've been using that for the last couple of books in the interest of portability. In other words, I'll do my planning on a big sketch pad with a bunch of pens, then I'll photograph it with a 3-5 mega pixel camera, so I can pull the document up on my computer. While it's not editable, at least I don't have to drag the sketch pad around.

So, the short answer from here, is no. But don't let looking for the right tool stop you from doing the work. Someone here on the board, I think British Jeff, was talking about writing a program to do exactly this. Maybe you guys can start a chunnel collaboration.

Good luck. If you find something that works and isn't too expensive, let us know, okay?

Post Mon Sep 13, 2004 3:40 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Unc



Joined: 18 Aug 2004
Posts: 300
Location: South of FRANCE
Re: Searching for a plotting/timeline tool  Reply with quote  

Thanks for the info, AG. I will definitely look into the Green Parrot thingy (although, given a fondness for "Casablanca," I'd be happier if it was marketed by Sidney Greenstreet, working out of The Blue Parrot Cool).

I have heard that Final Draft does what I want, but 1) it's aimed at script writers, and 2) it costs a bundle of cash and your first-born male child. They could have the kid, since he's still only a virtual product of my loins, but I'm not rolling in cash right now.

I'll definitely think about the sketchpad idea and laying it all out across one big wall, complete with photos of the locations. It sounds as if it might do the trick, and it would cover up the cheezy rental-apartment wallpaper at the same time. Such a deal...

Post Mon Sep 13, 2004 4:52 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Unc



Joined: 18 Aug 2004
Posts: 300
Location: South of FRANCE
SmartDraw  Reply with quote  

chris wrote:
If you find something that works and isn't too expensive, let us know, okay?


I found a drawing tool called SmartDraw that seems to have been designed to draw chronology charts, flowcharts, Gantt charts, and other timelines. They offer a 30-day trial version and the standard version (which seems to be all I would need) is $69 if I like it.

http://www.smartdraw.com/specials/timelines.asp

The catch in this is that it may well be only a drawing tool (that is, a tool for creating pretty boxes and placing them manually on a timeline), without any underlying software smarts to do things like expand your whole timeline gracefully if you realize you didn't leave yourself enough room. I'll give it a try and report back if it seems to be any good.

Post Mon Sep 13, 2004 7:24 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
chris
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Joined: 02 Mar 2004
Posts: 3833
Location: People Republic of Northern California
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Thanks, Unc. I'll try it.

By the way, I have Final Draft, and it does have that feature, but it works in an index card form. I've never actually seen the timeline feature you're talking about. I didn't suggest it because it is so expensive and it doesn't like working in formats other than script. I'll check it out again and see if it may be better than it immediately appears.

Post Mon Sep 13, 2004 2:10 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Guest





Timeline Tool  Reply with quote  

I gathered genealogy information for both my parents over the course of 5 years (or more). Once I got everything I needed, letters included, I was having trouble organizing it all. I started out using QuickPlot 1.1, a free tool, which worked fine for a a couple of ancestors. Soon I found that my brain and energy wasn't ready for such a big project, a lot bigger than I thought it would be.

I ended up transferring the project over to a program called WriteitNow2. Transferring the information over was a slight pain, but once it was done I was pretty happy. The timeline for characters and events are automatic (if you enter them correctly, it's easy). You can view a graphic of the characters relationships to each other, also.

You can take a look at both programs below.

(WriteItNow, http://www.ravensheadservices.com, also has a nice resource area.)


QuickPlot 1.1 (is freeware, that's why I list it first, but I don't think it will help you with your current project. I used to use it to write short stories only.)

http://www.download.com/3000-2056-8630163.html?tag=lst-0-4

WriteItNow2 (is not freeware, but under $40.00)

They have a demo and a complete walk through of their program.

http://www.ravensheadservices.com/?A2WJune2004

-Tiro

PS. in the WriteItNow demo you can not save, so don't do a lot of work in it, if you download. Also, it is not set up for mouse right click, but I know the key commands. The commands are probably on the site also.

Post Mon Sep 13, 2004 3:01 pm   
TiroIndite



Joined: 13 Sep 2004
Posts: 20
Location: Helltown USA
Timeline Tools  Reply with quote  

Hi,

For some reason I showed up as guest earlier.

Anyway, here is a link to an example of WriteItNow 2's chart feature, though the program has so many charting type features you got to look around more at the site than just this htm.

http://www.ravensheadservices.com/charts.htm

-Tiro

This program has so much stuff. I bought it when it first came out, because I wanted a cheap program that used the Enneagram (So I didn't always have to use my DSM IV - though I think I had III when I bought WriteItNow) for character generation, when I needed it. It has Myers-Briggs also (Jung). I actually don't use the E or M feature as much as I thought, but occasionally.

It also has a name generator and idea generator, a beginning writer would probably like to have.

Well, hope this is useful.

-Tiro

Post Mon Sep 13, 2004 4:10 pm   View user's profile Send private message
chris
Site Admin


Joined: 02 Mar 2004
Posts: 3833
Location: People Republic of Northern California
 Reply with quote  

Downloaded and installed Quickplot 2. This is almost exactly the same program as Action Outline -- the one I use, except that it's free and it doesn't support hyperlinks, fonts, and search features. Not a bad little tool to have. (I do use the search feature of Action Outline a lot, so that's a dealbreaker for me, but if you're just doing shorter work, this might work great.)

Post Mon Sep 13, 2004 6:08 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
FattyFattyPorkFace



Joined: 10 Aug 2004
Posts: 6381
Location: Michigan
 Reply with quote  

chris wrote:
Someone here on the board, I think British Jeff, was talking about writing a program to do exactly this. Maybe you guys can start a chunnel collaboration.


Yes, if anyone has any suggestions about this sort of thing, let me know. Once I think I've got a general idea of what would be useful, I'm going to start designing and writing. So far I think whatever I produce needs to be simple to use, have the ability to add notes quickly and be able to provide flowchart and timeline capabilities. Of course, like all software, I will start small and work up.

Any suggestions are welcome, no matter how strange they may seem.

I should also state that this is not a money-making scheme. It's just something for me to get my teeth into at home. When I have something worth looking at, everyone here is welcome to try it out and give me feedback.

Thanks.
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