Timelines are visualization tools which can stimulate creatively and help you make your stories both more compelling and more accurate. Unfortunately, of the gazillion of timeline programs on the market, the vast majority are for project management. They’re not meant for writers.
There are a few notable exceptions, however, and we’ll look at them in more detail.
How Timeline Programs Can Help You Write Your Stories
Timelinesplace your story in context of historical and other family events. They reveal relationships between events. This type of graphic depiction of events can help you walk in your characters’ (ancestors’) metaphorical shoes. Without a doubt, this helps you write better stories.
In addition, you can check the sequence of events in your stories.
I discovered this while trying to wrap my head around any relationship between Waverly Abbey and my More ancestor’s estate of Losely Park. The more I read, the more muddled things got. Until I put ancestor events on a timeline with historical, religious, political, and family events.
Two types of Timelines Programs for Writing Projects
Both pre-generated timelines and timelines you create yourself can improve your stories.
Of particular use to family historians, both FamilySearch.org and Twile.com will display a timeline for ancestors in their family trees. Below, you can see how these websites displayed 1930 for my grandfather.
First, FamilySearch’s display:
At first I was surprised to see a Detroit event emphasized. Then I remembered that my grandfather registered for the WWI draft in Detroit. Now I’m pretty impressed that FamilySearch included that.
You’ll notice that Twile’s event inventory is European-centric.:
Twile gives you some options on the types of events it will display. However, it didn’t show the birth of children on that timeline. Back in November, you could access several specialty timelines without viewing the timeline through an ancestor’s timeline. I hope they bring that feature back.
OurTimeLines.com will generate a list of historical events, scientific discoveries to date ranges you give it. It accepts ranges between 5 and 140 years.
If you give a person’s name to the timeline, OurTimeLines will calculate the person’s age at the time of the invention.
TOTA (Traditions of Our Ancestors) is adding timeline functionality to their cultural heritage education site. Currently, when you do a content search, you can enter a year or range of years as a filter. This will give you culturally significant context for your subject.
The Best DIY Timeline Programs for Writing and Family Storytelling: Preceden vs Aeon
Both Preceden and Aeon Timeline 2 have great features for writers. They both have intuitive drag-and-drop interfaces. You can color code events, include a single day event or a time range (such as the reign of a monarch), and “dependencies” (the ability to make events start when another event ends). Both allow you to link images.
The color-coding really helps you digest your information. In my test timelines, I used the following colors:
This allowed me to isolate which events happened to which ancestors and to separate the craziness that was Henry VIII from other historical events.
Note: Pricing shown reflects pricing on the vendors respective websites at the time of publication.
Preceden is a browser-based Freemium platform, with pricing ranging from Free to $129/year. The paid plans allow you an unlimited number of events, to import events from a CSV/Excel file, and to invite others to collaborate.
However, both the Free and the Basic ($69/year) limit you to creating a single timeline. The free version restricts you to 10 events on that timeline. The Pro ($129/year) gives you everything, including some great tools to make your timeline easy to digest and visually pleasing enough to use in presentations.
Precenden scores high on export options (found at the bottom of the timeline). They include CSV, Excel, Powerpoint, Keynote, image, and PDF files. In addition, Precenden makes creating a legend for your timeline a snap.
Precend boasts, “No download required.” The flip side is that you can’t use the program without Internet.
Aeon Timeline 2
Aeon Timeline is a software (as opposed to a subscription), designed for writers which helps plan, write, and edit stories.
Aeon offers a 20-day trial, with full functionality. This is a great way to see if Aeon Timeline will meet your needs. A license costs $50 for desktop (Windows and Mac) or IOS. You can use it for one device with multiple users or for a single user on multiple devices. In addition, Aeon offers volume and academic pricing.
You can group events by type, with or without color-coding. Aeon’s many options for categorizing events allows you to filter events by whatever parameters you’ve set up. For instance, you can filter your timeline to show only the events relating to specific characters or ancestors. You can also use alternative calendaring options, such as week or day numbers.
If you use Scrivener (See Review: Using Scrivener for Family History and Memoir Writing), Aeon can help you figure out your timeline of events. As shown in the screenshot below, Aeon can ync a timeline with a Scrivener project so you can assign a date or date range to each entry in your manuscript.
Knightlab’s timeline, Timeline JS, allows you to build a timeline via a Google sheet template. Though free, I found it to be quite complicated and limited. In fact, I gave up after creating my spreadsheet of events. For that reason, I would recommend Preceden and Aeon TImeline over Timeline JS.