Save The Cat

I’d love to see some examples of how other writers are using Aeon Timeline 3 for outlining, especially Save The Cat Writes.



Sure, I can track the story beats from Save the Cat! Writes a Novel (or whatever I’m using) separately, but I’m interested in figuring out how Timeline can help me do that.

Interesting topic. I’ve been using Timeline to document what’s already happened or what I’ve planned. I haven’t used it for planning. I think I’ve missed out on something.

You could start a story plan in Aeon with a mind map. Create nothing but story arcs to start with.

Story arc Act 1 could have child arcs Exposition, Inciting incident, and Point of no return. Act 2 could be another arc with children Rising action, Midpoint, and Turning point. An arc for Act 3 could support Calm before storm, Final Conflict, and Denouement.

None of that obligates you in the time line itself, but now you have containers for putting events.

You might continue in the mind map view, adding events for broad strokes in the story, relating each event to the individual arc (Exposition, Final Conflict, etc.) it belongs to. You don’t have to assign times and dates. You can leave that for later as your plan takes shape.

Arcs don’t go in the narrative view, because an arc doesn’t fit the notion of sequence. Once you start adding events, you can start populating your narrative in parallel with your mind map. If you want - you may find the mind map is enough.

Each thing in Aeon has a notes field. That’s a good thing, but here’s a trick I’ve started using.

Use Aeon for what it does best, capture events and display them with insight. Use Devonthink or Obsidian for what they do best, warehouse ideas.

Instead of putting passion and detail into the notes in Aeon, use that for “notes to self.” Put the real notes into Obsidian or Devonthink and use the Aeon URL field to link to them.

The reason for that is so you can trash events that you end up not liking in Aeon without losing the thought. It might be useful later. Hoarding data isn’t like hoarding Wal Mart bags. The data won’t fill your living room and nobody will drag you through an intervention session.

With Devonthink, you can create a link to a tag. An Aeon event linked to a Devonthink tag can give you nice context since you can add character and location notes to the notes about the plot point, all wrapped up in a nice context. In Obsidian, you might want to link to a map of content file for the story point.

Many such journeys are possible, as was said in Star Trek’s City on the Edge of Forever. I should venture out more.

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Your idea for workflow when using Aeon for planning from scratch has given me much to think about. I have never used any kind mind map software, though I have made hundreds of handwritten charts, so maybe now is the time to learn. Also, the idea of capturing notes in a separate app, so that they are not lost if a scene is deleted, is a wise one. I’m not a Mac guy so I’ll definitely check out Obsidian.

In my case, I’m not exactly starting from scratch with my novel, but close. I have some Save the Cat (“STC”) beats set down on paper, at least, for the first novel of a three-novel series. (I want to plot all three novels before I start writing.)

The approach I was thinking about was to:

  1. Enter the events/characters into Aeon in one of the usual ways (probably in the Spreadsheet view);

  2. Create a taxonomy of nested story beats (I’m using the 15-beat structure of STC) that is assigned to corresponding nested Story Arcs; and

  3. Assign the Story Arcs to the events corresponding to that event’s STC beat.

I could then, if I understand Aeon’s capability, use the Story Arc filtering function to isolate for display one or many story events that correspond to the STC beat or beats I’m looking at. (Am I right about this? I haven’t yet gotten to that part as I’m only on my second day with the software.)

Okay, I’m off to learn the Mindmap!


The Mindmap is easy to use, I see. I think “visually” anyway so this might be quite useful. I think I’ll dive in and see where it takes me. Thanks for the idea!

Obsidian is free. With great respect for all the enthusiasm behind Obsidian, Devonthink is a lot more powerful. A lot of its power lies in what you can do with basic features. The potential tends to be revealed over time, not on a quick read of the user’s guide. Both are easy to use.

Arcs can probably be used any way you want to. I think the intended use is for plot threads. For instance, Luke Skywalker’s arc starts with frustrated farm boy. He becomes a curious doubter, then a despairing student, and finally a galactic hero.

You can create a category, called an arc, that would be the parent for every scene in that progression.

It sounds like that’s what you propose, so you’re right in line with the intended use.

It’s intriguing. I’ve used Aeon for years, always as a way to diagram a story already locked in marble, or the history of a situation. Using it as a potter’s wheel to evolve a story sounds fascinating.

I intend to give it a whirl.

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This is cool - an entity can only appear once in a mind map. Once you put a character, arc, location, or anything somewhere in the mind map, it can’t appear anywhere else.

But you can create an arc to use as a mind map node. Relate every character, location, whatever, to that arc.

Now, when you click on that arc in your mind map you’ll see its data in the inspector. Go to the relationships tab. You can click on any related thing and jump to it.

When you put an arc in a mind map, you can navigate to everything it relates to.

That is a way to put a group of entities in a mind map node.

Also, if a character plays a role in multiple spots, you can relate him to multiple arcs.


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I love this! Thanks for sharing. It’s very helpful and also motivating.

Some good suggestions here. I’m a visual thinker as well.

I’m trying to limit my “tools” to the Apple ecosystem as much as possible although I’ve chosen Scrivener as my main writing tool because I can keep my projects better organized with it. I’m far enough along with Scrivener’s learning curve to be fairly comfortable with it. Can’t say that about Aeon, though. It does look like Aeon offers some very attractive compatibilities with Scrivener.

Obsidian looks attractive but also a little overwhelming. I tried Devonthink many years ago and left it behind when I switched over to Apple. I didn’t know it was even still around.

You’re getting me enthused. Thank you for that.


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I just tried this. Very cool!

I’m not sure, though, what the advantage of putting an arc into the mindmap is when you can just open the Story Arcs tab and create/click on whatever story arc you need. Doesn’t adding an arc to the mindmap just unnecessarily clutter it?

P.S.: I inadvertently deleted this post and it wouldn’t let me post it again without changing it. Maybe this “P.S” at the end will let me post it.

I’m just shotgunning, actually. The idea of an arc is that it’s a collection of other things - the relationships. It’s probably overthinking.

You may be thinking about something else. Devonthink has always been Apple-only.

Obsidian can do complex things, but it doesn’t have to.

If you want to try it, think of it as a Mac Finder or a Windows Explorer. The left hand pane is a list of files and folders.

The first advantage over Explorer or Finder and files in subdirectories is that you click on a file and it’s open for editing. You can flip around through dozens of files without cluttering your screen with editor windows.

The next advantage is if you type two square brackets, you’ll get an autocomplete list of existing files for forming a link. Once you start linking files, Obsidian will show a map of how things connect.

All of which is a little off topic for here. If you think an organized deck of index cards could help, give Obsidian another look. It will also make a nice back end for Aeon.

Thanks, everyone, for your helpful suggestions. I want to circle back with the outcome.

I’ve come up with at least five ways to track my Save the Cat! story beats (and there are probably more!). After much experimentation, I’m really happy with using Story Arcs as a means of tracking and, when helpful, focusing on the beats. In case it’s helpful, here’s a screenshot of how I set things up in the Story Arcs feature.

As you can see, by nesting them into the three-act structure, I can view my novel – or even my entire novel series – by Act or by any story beat or combination of beats.

I am amazed, truth be told, at how useful this will be, particularly because Story Arcs filtering applies to all the views, whether Timeline, Spreadsheet, Relationship, Subway, Narrative, Outline, or even Mindmap. This is why, of all the methods, I’ve chosen this one.