What Aeon Timeline could be

In another thread, @matt wrote:

For me, Aeon Timeline 3 gives me everything I need to brainstorm and plot my novel. Plottr just does a better job of marketing itself to the writing community but comes nowhere near AT3 in terms of power and flexibility.

If we think of Aeon Timeline as merely a plotting tool, then we have to ask why it’s being lapped by Plottr, which dominates the “plotting” market. I recently asked my colleagues in the Aeon Timeline Facebook group in this thread why Plottr was so much more popular. I observed that the AT group had 461 members while the Plottr group had 6,400. It became obvious that Aeon Timeline was just not well understood by the writing community. Most had never heard of it.

The key is to stop thinking of Aeon Timeline as a “timeline” tool and develop it and market it as an integrated writing and plotting environment.

My pain point, other than not being able to view the narrative in the Timeline and Subway views (I guess that’s going to be addressed), is that when writing in Scrivener working on a scene does not activate that scene in AT3. In other words, while it’s great to have syncing (really great!), I’m constantly having to scroll through AT3 or Scrivener to look at the same scene in the opposite program.

As a novelist, I can live with this. But it got me thinking as an entrepreneur: what if there were a product that combined Scrivener and AT3 into one app? And what if it were marketed as the next evolution of writing tools? I think there is an opportunity to evolve writing software to the next level.

Sure, plenty of folks have their own favorite writing app, whether it’s Scrivener, Ulysses, Word, or whatever. They could still use these tools and syncing. But others, like me, would use the writing features of the integrated app that I’m dreaming of.

By far the biggest market for Aeon Timeline is the novelist community, as suggested by my informal and unscientific Facebook poll where 76% of respondents indicated they use Aeon Timeline predominantly for novels. Yet in the online writers’ community I am active in, few have heard of Aeon Timeline, and some have thought of it just for when they need a timeline. They had no idea, until I began to talk about it, that it has brainstorming capability, not to mention the ability to track plots and subplots, story beats, and so much more. They are surprised to learn that it’s a powerful brainstorming and plotting tool far more robust than Plottr.

I have spent the last few days thinking through how I would build such an app. I would probably code it in Python and offer it in at least Windows and Mac versions.

But if I had developed an app like AT3, I could add Scrivener-like drafting capability and maybe even the kind of exporting capabilities of Scrivener. I’d also do a much better job of marketing it to novelists and other writers, starting by rebranding the product name to make it clear from the name that it’s a writing and plotting product. In other words, I’d give Scrivener and Plottr a run for their money!

Okay, I just had to get that out of my brain so I can return to my novel writing. :slight_smile:


Could it be that the Aeon Timeline users work more, and the Plottr users tend to procrastinate more? :wink:

Seriously, the timeline is the unique selling point of Aeon Timeline, it’s very hard to find a replacement for it.
On the other hand, Word processors and applications that support plotting in the broadest sense, are a dime a dozen.

As far as I’m concerned, I see chronology as an aspect of plotting, where everything is about the sequential progression of cause and effect. I’m still using Aeon Timeline 2 for that, and although I find the new views of Aeon Timeline 3 very fancy, I have alternatives. At the moment I’m programming something of my own, to be able to switch to Linux with it later.

What I notice over the years here in the forum are more and more demanding requirements for the timeline function, such as multiple calendars in parallel (e.g. Earth & Mars), or very special fantasy calendar functions (“the first day of each month with any number of days should always be a Monday”). Whether you really need something like that or not, implementing it would be quite a challenge.

I know that many writers would like to have the one-in-all application. But my own experience is that a combination of specialized applications that do their specific job really well is more beneficial in the long run. Above all, I would like to have standardized or at least open file formats to avoid the notorious “vendor lock-in”, to organize my workflow with scripting, and to be able to work on my writing to its full extent even three or four computer generations later.

There are plenty of open source projects on GitHub for this purpose. Popular examples with Python would be Timeline, Manuskript, and NovelWriter. With Java, oStoryBook still comes to mind. You can look at all the code and try to improve or extend it.
But you should not underestimate the effort. In my experience, it makes a huge difference if a program works in principle, or if it works under all conceivable circumstances for customers who don’t read any documentation, but whose living depends on their data, and who are ready to broadcast their frustration at any time.

Talking about documentation: it might take more effort than programming itself, if it is to be of any use.
You can also put unlimited work into the user interface. Particularly during the beta testing phase of Aeon 3, I realized the importance of a good operating concept, without which the fanciest features are worth little.


I think the answer is the well loved consultant phrase ‘It depends.’ Writers come with all sorts of different writing processes and different processes would lend itself to your concept.

I’ll answer from my perspective, but feel like I need to layout my process to set context.

I have no idea if I am a typical writer. I tend to be chaotic. I am not 100% panster, but I am not really a plotter either. The closest thing I’ve found is a flashlight method of plotting. I have the end gaol and maybe the start and find my way between them. Once I have the draft, the edit brings everything together. I also thought about laying out Gallup Strength Finders as an additional illustration of my squirrel brain. I am working edits on book eight (in case that is relevant). (with 9 and 10 ready for edits)

I’ve used Scrivener and stopped using it. My main issue was I needed separation between my plotting/brainstorming and my writing. When write I need the least amount of distractions I can get in a tool. The proximity of the writing space to the plot/notes derailed me. It was equivalent to looking up one small thing on the internet and ending up reading about Pangolins an hour later.

So for me, unless there was some friction to switching between ‘modes’, the concept of a Aeon/Scrivener mash-up wouldn’t do much for me.


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I plan in Devonthink. Many do their planning in Obsidian. Lots of applications support custom deep links. Hook fills in that gap on Mac systems.

It would be really cool if the summary for an event could be fetched from an external file, preferably without depending on an absolute path. A Devonthink x-link opens the right thing no matter where on the disk the file resides.

Imagine a database of notes in Devonthink. Copy the item link, paste it into an Aeon event, and then the Aeon event always displays whatever is currently in the Devonthink note.

Not sure how feasible that is, but it would be cool.

All great points, Peter.

I tend to think like an entrepreneur. I’ve created some successful businesses because of this kind of thinking. Wearing my entrepreneur hat, I just can’t help but think that Aeon Timeline could tap a much bigger market if it were also a writing app and if it were marketed correctly.

For a minute I toyed with the idea of doing that myself, since, as I said, I tend to think as an entrepreneur. But no, it’s not for me. I do not want to code an app nor do I want to run a software company. I want to write novels.

I just needed to get these ideas out into the forum in case it sparks new thinking for someone, especially for the developers of Aeon Timeline. Once I did, I could let the idea go and get back to writing!

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I absolutely understand! We’re all so unique in how we approach things.

But still, if I had developed Aeon Timeline to where it is today, I’d want to expand its market dramatically by making it a writing tool and not just a plotting tool. Maybe you, Mary, wouldn’t be a customer, but you can bet that there’d be many, many who would be, right?

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Absolutely! I have writing friends that love Scrivener. A handful of them use Aeon for timelines as well. The recent quote from a friend was “Aeon Timeline? I use that - it’s saved my sanity several times”

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Yes, and I think like the engineer that I am. Maybe we should both actually start thinking and acting like authors? :laughing:
Whereas entrepreneurial talent will definitely help you once you get into the book market.


Ya think? :thinking:

That does not work for those of us who use it as a rudimentary project management tool. Use that has nothing to do with writing but everything to do with tracking/managing simple (typically one person) projects.


I don’t want it to be a writing tool!

It’s a timeline tool and should work as one! What it should have is a few interchangeable export formats in a file format standard for open data transfer in addition to something really simple as a markdown file with YAML header where metadata was stored as key pairs, and where the different text field was sections in the note.
People should be able to define what entities and attributes in Aeon was metadata and what was sections in the note.
Import from markdown could work just the same as the CSV import where you could select what was metadata and what was different “notes” for the object.

It should be up to the user to set up the Template for the Aeon project and the Markdown project correctly before using the feature.

This way, the developers of Aeon could focus on the important features, like an export to web, export to SVG, get multiple calendars to work, making a calendar function that can hold holidays and moving free days, relations that actually works, constraints that works etc. etc.

And no, it is not a problem to export this to markdown, I already do it with an open-source script for the csv file, but there is limitations with the csv in the use case (sadly), one of them is that I need to add a step in my workflow, and the second is that it is not possible to update the AEON Project with new markdown data in an easy way.

so no, I definitely don’t want Aeon to be a writing tool, I want it to be an even better tool for researching time-based events and relationships between people, places, events, and documents for this timeline.
If anything, Aeon should come with a full network graph view with a time series selector so that you could select a specific period in time and look at the relationships and events in that period and also so that you could see how relationships between events, people, places and other objects changed over time.
Something similar to what Palladio or Constellation have.


I’d see Plottr as emphasising ease of use and simplicity.
Whereas Aeon’s timeline functionality is intrinsically detailed and complex. And, despite best possible efforts, it’s nowhere near as easy to use. More capable instead for those who need the extra.

Where Plottr could be better, in my opinion, is if you could more readily tie notes to scene cards.

For instance, a minor character plays a role in Chapters 1 and 12. I should see that character’s notes when I focus on either chapter. Any edits I make from either instance should be applied to the note’s master copy.

Obsidian’s Canvas feature works great for that sort of thing.

I’d agree completely.
I’m not an active user of Plottr really. I play with it from time to time but that’s all. Doesn’t tick enough boxes, though I appreciate the design and ease of use.

I second this, as an editor and author. Too often I have heard outlandish claims from people who write tools for authors.

The one that burned into my memory was “One scene can only belong to one subplot. That is a fact of writing novels.” Said the lead architect of that tool and all the other representatives of the company nodded.

I gave up explaining the concept of key scenes as a possible culmination of several subplots when it became obvious this was their stand and facts did not matter. Because THEY KNEW BETTER.

They suggested creating several copies of that scene, one for each subplot, and duplicating all of the common information in each one. If I insisted on breaking this rule they knew to be true.


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Also from authors , editors, publishers, and those selling their latest ‘How to …’

Writers vary, their processes vary, their productivity varies and so does their quality. And there’s no shortage of very successful writers who only write poorly constructed and written novels.

I’ve noticed that whiteboards encourage me into an entirely chaotic process. I suppose that should be ‘enables’ - my mind is comfortable with chaos, and less comfortable with structure. If this turns out to be a productive process, then it will lie outside all the recommendations I have ever seen.


I’m curious – what do you mean by “chaos”? I’m having a hard time understanding how a truly chaotic thought process accomplishes anything. Do you mean that you work nonlinearly – perhaps jumping around to different parts of the story as ideas occur to you?

This assumes that there’s one story.

I mean that not only do I not know where in a story a scene might occur, but it might be from an entirely different story and world. And I don’t know yet.

I’ll accept this. I make the assumption that what emerges isn’t actually chaotic, just that it can seem like that to my conscious mind. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, and I have barely started collecting ingredients as yet.

In practice pantsers (I suspect that has become a politically incorrect term), never know where they are going, but they always know where they are now and where they have been. That’s not entirely dissimilar.

To be fair, there’s an element of always having had this going on anyway. My mind is always spinning off ideas, some obviously connected but some less so. In the past I have treated these as a burden and distraction, but I’ve always been aware that this is where everything springs from. And not only true for creative writing, but also academic and other factual work. My (unconscious) mind seems not to follow a single thread. I’m trusting that the threads will come later in the process, and that I can at that point follow the weave with fewer distractions from other ideas since I have already taken them onboard.

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That lead architect will be stunned and amazed if anyone ever invents a thing called a flashback. :slight_smile:


I like your description of how you experience your unconscious mind but also how you can focus (have fewer distractions) when it’s time to do that.

Out of curiosity, how do you work with Aeon Timeline when you write fiction? In my case, I use it to brainstorm and outline my novel as well as to keep track of things as I flesh it out in Scrivener. (I keep both programs open on my screen, side by side.)