Wednesday, October 16, 2013

In search of the ideal timeline program

I have posted in the past about my search for my holy grail of keeping track of time travel in my novels, especially when the movement forward and back happens repeatedly.  My third book in the series is proving to be more complicated in movements than the second.  Mick and Em not only go back in time, but they find themselves making repeated jumps into the consecutive moments. And to make it more complicated, another character is moving back and forth as well as remaining stationary in No-time, yet still time is passing.  That does not sound clear in this simple writing, and it is more complicated when actually writing the story.

So I have selected and tried three different applications to keep track of time travel.  In this post I am going to evaluate these three based on the criteria of my ideal platform.

  1. A horizontal line on which I can assign dates (and create dates that don't yet exist) 
  2. Attach key points to them 
  3. Add little bubbles or boxes that connect to those points for summary or notes 
  4. Be able to close them up as I move along the timeline 
  5. Open them all up and see how it lays out.  
  6. Able to click on them and move them if I wish.  
  7. Have the program on my computer
  8. Print out the timeline
  9. Be capable of showing overlap of other novels, written and planned.
The three programs I have been working with are OneNote by Microsoft,  Timeline by The Timeline Authors available from SourceForge, and Padlet (formerly known as WallWisher) at

Using OneNote for keeping track of time travel events
OneNote as timeline
I have been using OneNote the longest and found it to have numerous qualities that have nothing to do with keeping track of a timeline.  It has proved extremely useful to me in other areas, namely keeping track of my research and publication information.  It has proved a fairly good "time" organizer though still not my ideal. Its proximity to all my other support materials is an important point though.  But that is not on my list of ideal qualities for a timeline. 
  • It does not provide a horizontal line or any line for that matter. But I can create a series of vertical boxes with time, setting and key plot points. (However, this is something any word processing program could do.)  
  • I can attach key points
  • I can add additional text boxes
  • These cannot be "closed"
  • Nor can they be "opened" at will
  • I can shuffle them about to reflect changes in the text
  • The program is on my computer and, in fact, came with the loaded programming.
  • I can print out my "timeline" easily without any format changes.  It looks the same on the computer desktop as it does in printed form.
  • It cannot overlap other timelines easily.  I could muscle it in, but it would be awfully awkward.
So out of the 9 ideals, it provides 5.  Score: 5/9

Timeline program for keeping track of past, current and future time
Timeline as timeline
The next timeline program I tried out was appropriately named Timeline.  I have only used it for about a week.

  • It does provide a horizontal line on which I can place time markers with my choice of dates, and it is not limited to history already lived. 
  • What is shown in the note is a title or short summary at best. 
  • It does provide secondary bubbles for additional information which can be fairly detailed.  A window pops up with several features, including attaching files and links.
  • The timeline itself can be stretched and squeezed, but the bubbles only appear when the cursor hovers over them. The timeline adjusts as the time is stretched or squeezed into a short time view.
  • The bubbles open as needed.
  • Movement of the events has proved problematic.   They can be easily adjusted along the line, but the notations also move unexpectedly to locations not intended.  Probably time and learned finesse will correct this, but the instructions are so limited that I spent a lot of time just trying everything to return a notation back to the spot I had it originally before it almost (clearly I had done something) spontaneously  moved.  Without clear instructions, trial and error rules the learning curve.
  • This is a freeware program, and I downloaded onto my computer without trouble.
  • The timeline can be printed out, but legibility was dependent upon how tightly they were scrunched or stretched out.  Could be a problem when scenes cover short amounts of time and the novel extends over a longer period of time.
  • Overlap of novel timelines is difficult.  I had to color code individuals to tell them apart and would have to do something similar for different books.  There are two features: categories and periods.  The descriptions of these was quite limited, so I am uncertain if it would be possible to designate categories as individual novels or if periods would be better.  When I tried using them, they appeared below the horizontal timeline and overlapped each other which interfered with the purpose I had determined I wanted to use them for.
Out of 9 ideals, it met  6 1/2.  Score: 6.5/9

Padlet as timetravel timeline
Padlet as timeline
I have made use of Padlet most recently and have spent about three days on it entering just the opening of book 1, the entirety of book 2 and the first five chapters of book 3.  Visually, it is the prettiest of the three with some interesting additions.  It feels the most like a wall of sticky notes, which is the manual ideal I wish I could do, but my husband has a sense of decor and sticky notes aren't fittin'.
  • Though it does not provide a built-in horizontal line, putting the little "stickies" in place just as I would on a wall created one easily.  I put my dates on the label of the sticky, but I could just as easily provide stickies as tiny markers at whatever interval I want.  I have added the option of several horizontals.  So book one as shown in the picture is furthest to the left with only two stickies at this time.  I plan to raise it up higher as the "wall' appears limitless in all directions.  Book two is next and is dropped lower.  Book three is two more steps down and because it has two plot lines occurring at the same time, it has two horizontal flow lines which will meet up later in the novel.
  • I can add additional information beneath the heading on the note. It has a red label at the top of the sticky and a secondary notes section beneath on the same sticky. The stickies can be lengthened horizontally or vertically.  I kept them fairly uniform in width and created a short hand summary format that covered the main points.
  • Rather than secondary bubbles, it does provide for inserted pictures (see my book covers), inserted internet media of any type (video, photo, doc, etc.) or use my computer camera to take a picture, bonuses not on my wish list.
  • You might say the sticky is the closed version.
  • A click on the note does bring up a full screen display of the note and attachments as well as means to post to Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Google+, email and others.  Additionally, the wall itself can be stretched and shrunk with ease (especially so if you have a touch sensitive screen.)  Arrow keys move the view from note to note in the screen-sized view.
  • The stickies can be moved easily about the "wall."  If I could make a suggestion here, it would be to be able to move the notes in large groups rather than one at a time.  I have not found a means to do this, but perhaps that will come up.   The instructions do include sending requests for additional features.  So I will be asking for that one or instructions how to do it if it is already a feature.  The traditional drag and highlight has not worked.
  • This is not a downloadable program but is accessed and free at with login and password.   However, privacy settings are available making it public or completely private.
  • The file can be printed in pdf, csv or excel.  The printout does not look like the wall, but it has all the info that I have inserted.  Since I only added pictures of my covers, I cannot say what it does with other media links.
  • Overlapping of book is definitely practical and possible. I did it with three books and intend to do it with all seven.
How did this program fit my criteria?  Pretty well.  Of the 9 desired features, it had some version of 8.  Score: 8/9.

At this point, I prefer Padlet which to my knowledge is marketed more as an educational tool for students than for timeline creation, but it is highly adaptable, pretty, fun to use and it is so much like having a wall of sticky notes that I am looking forward to seeing how it continues to make keeping track of time travel plot points easy.

Let me know if you have found the perfect timeline program or if you see a criteria you would like me to apply to any one or more of these programs.

OneNote will continue to be my research and publications notes filing goto program.  It has been great with holding my notes for clothing over the centuries, cobbles stones, Boston Common, epidemics, etc. Keeping track of timeslines, .... nah.

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