Aeon Timeline & Scrivener #amwriting #Scrivener #AeonTimeline

Aeon Timeline provides event duration management that Scrivener lacks

One of my readers asked:

Hello. I’ve never heard of aeon timeline! What is it? How do you use it alongside scrivener? How does it benefit your writing?

Excellent questions, all.

What is Aeon Timeline?

Aeon Timeline is an application available for Mac, Windows, and iOS. The blurb from the developers’ website reads:

> The timeline tool for creative writing, project & case management
> Designed for writers from its very inception, Aeon Timeline helps you plan, write and edit your story
> …

It goes on to describe benefits to project managers and lawyers. To an extent, a writer (particularly a self-published writer) is also a project manager, and certainly lawyers can be writers, too! But I’ll focus on my use with Scrivener to write fiction.

How do you use it alongside Scrivener?

Aeon Timeline events can sync to a Scrivener project. In particular, “tags” in Aeon Timeline are “Keywords” in Scrivener documents, and Aeon Timeline colours are Scrivener document labels. Event names sync with Scrivener document titles, and event summaries sync with Scrivener synopses. For other event properties in Aeon Timeline, you have the option to create custom metadata in your Scrivener project, and sync those properties as well. These include start date, end date, event arc, and participants. (These are the event properties from the default Aeon Timeline fiction template that I use. There are more that I ignore.)

You can do it one of either two ways:

If you’re a pre-planner:

Start in Aeon Timeline. Develop your characters, set up story arcs, and work out your outline as timed events. Then, when you’re ready to start writing,

  1. Create your new project in Scrivener, save and close it.
  2. Go back to Aeon Timeline, and select “Scrivener project” from its Sync menu.
  3. In the Sync pane that appears, under Warnings, right-click the events you want to have in Scrivener and add to Scrivener.
If you do minimal advance planning:

Start in Scrivener and build your structure in the way you’re most comfortable. If (or when) the timing of events begins to get confused in your mind, or you believe you’d benefit from seeing things laid out linearly with durations,

  1. Creat a new timeline in Aeon Timeline.
  2. Select “Scrivener project” from its Sync menu.

How does it benefit your writing?

It depends on your working style. I know some people use it instead of outlining in order to see a graphic representation of their novel in chronological order as they plan, before they ever write a word of body text. Myself, well, as I’ve discussed, I’m not so much a detailed planner. But in general, it allows you to create characters, story arcs, and events (which can be imported from, and thereafter synced to, Scrivener.) I myself will use it once I get into the nitty gritty of writing, to keep track of such things as “OK, if this all started in early November, how long would this have taken? How about this next thing, here? No, wait… that’s a Sunday. That venue wouldn’t be open on a Sunday… so when did this have to start? What day will this next thing start?”

And so forth. Since at one level the stories I write are mysteries, timing of events becomes important. So here’s a timeline of a novella I’ve published:

A portion of my massive timeline for my Fraser and Spencer series

It takes place over two weeks in June of 1880, in London. This image only includes the main storyline, with backstory and villain actions “offscreen” displayed in different arcs. I personally use labels in Scrivener for status (and don’t use the status metadata at all. But if you use it, it’s pretty easy to add an event property and sync it with Status in Scrivener.)

I had to think about such things as:

  • How long would it take someone to cross a portion of London on foot in 1880?
  • How about in a cab? (Often slower, due to traffic. Los Angeles is nothing new under the sun.)
  • What time would servants be returning from their Sunday half-holiday?

Aeon Timeline is designed to make it easer to keep things like that straight. Afterwards, as I described above, the dates and times I decide on can be saved with the Scrivener documents to which they refer. So when I’m writing, I don’t make mistakes like having folks set out across the city in the morning, when it’s already afternoon…

It’s not for everyone—-I understand that. But if you think visually and want the duration of things clearly displayed, it’s a godsend.

One other thing I do is import the timeline into Scrivener’s research folder as an alias. That way I can view the timeline’s QuickLook in Scrivener, and click on the Edit button to launch it in Aeon Timeline.


Musings of a Half-Pantsed Writer #amwriting

I have come to the conclusion that if there is anything about the writing process, anything at all, that is different between two writers, they will start a war over it. Since there are no two writers who have exactly the same process, that means our profession—er, craft—um, art—whatever the freak you want to call it—(not taking sides here) is at war with itself all the time.

To pants or not to pants?

I just became aware that there is a faction of fiction writers, far more comfortable than I with planning their novels extensively in advance, who think that those of us who are less comfortable with plotting, are snobs. Well, okay, elitists. I—writing urban fantasy mysteries and hard science fiction—am an elitist, because I am reputed to think that I am more literary and creative than they, because I write by the seat of my pants rather than planning my story in advance. I wander all over the page at great and confusing length, exasperating readers, and yet expect critical praise and commercial success for my maunderings.

Wow. I thought it meant that I am easily distracted (true), quickly bored (also true), and unable to organise my way out of a wet paper bag (too damned true).

I am full of envy and admiration for those who can plan a story in advance, in detail, write it quickly, and find an eager readership. But not so a fellow pantser, who in fact does look down on plotters as producing predictable (or even boring) work that nevertheless sells.

Well, yes, that’s kind of the point. Like it or not, humans are wired to respond to stories in a certain way. Write a story that hits those response points, and you stand a chance of getting some sales. There is nothing wrong or bad about that.

Let’s go back to Sturgeon’s Law, here. Theodore Sturgeon, popular science fiction writer of the 1960’s, famously said, “90% of everything is crud.”

90% of all fiction is crud, whether plotted, pantsed, or dictated by divine intervention straight to the writer’s keyboard. Whether mine, yours, or Barack Obama’s. Of the remaining 10%, 9% is merely adequate. Only about 1% has a chance of standing the test of time and being relevant to our great-grandchildren.

If I can write fiction that beguiles a reader’s mind for a few hours, of such quality that he does not regret having paid the price of a latte for it, I’ve passed into the top 10%. Whether it’s too predictable for some or it wanders too much for others, it serves the purpose of fiction. Not crud.

Sure, I’d like to write enough of it, and have enough readers, that the cumulative latte-equivalents mount up to some decent cash. And if I want to do that, I’m going to need a bit a crapload more organisation and plotting.

That’s fine. Right now, my fiction is half-pantsed—neither thoroughly planned nor completely unplanned. But I’m working on it.

Outlining—I Think I’ve Got It #amwriting

Occasionally I’ve blogged about @#$%@# outlining my novel. I’ve cursed. I’ve touted the latest book I’ve picked up telling me “how to outline your novel” or “how to write a good novel fast.” I haven’t spoken to the failures, the dead bodies, the frustration of being three-quarters of the way through 90k words and having NO idea how I’m going to END this sucker.

Outlining process… evolved to utility. At freaking last.

I talked a little about how Brandon Sanderson’s lectures helped out in The Short Story Rolls Forward! Now it’s time to reveal my… system. It worked for my short story; it’s working for my Novel In Progress. Let’s see if this process for directed seat-of-the-pants writing can stand the light of day.

The key idea that both Story Genius (Genius) and Save the Cat (STC) emphasised was that a story is about a lesson that is learned. A Deep Life Lesson. The protagonist is usually the one who learns it, but it can be another character. And the character in question can either a) learn it (drama or comedy) or b) not learn it and endure dreadful consequences (tragedy or tragicomedy.)

My story ideas almost always start with a character. This is where I can get stuck—I put my wonderful character through all sorts of situations but if I don’t have a lesson in mind, it means zilch. Hello, 70k words and no ending in sight.

I’ve learned that for me, that’s OK. Since I start with a character, as long as those cool scenes don’t run to more than about 20% of my eventual intended word count, I let ’em rip. It gives me a feel for my character, my situations, and my story world that I can’t get by top-down character construction and world building. It especially gives me a feel for what this character is good at—and where her weaknesses are. This stuff comes fast; it really doesn’t take that long to pound out about 10K words if I don’t have to direct it.1 This happens right in Scrivener, in my project.

Now come the hard part; taking a look at this hot mess and coming up with a lesson for my character to learn. This is the logline, theme and pitch building part of STC; the “What if?” portion of Genius. But for this, and much of the rest, I use STC, mostly because its practical language speaks to my engineer’s brain.

I’ve learned that I don’t have to “get this right.” Yes, my theme (the actual lesson) the logline, and the pitch (the blunt tool I’m going to use to bludgeon my lesson into my character’s head) can evolve. My first cut at this will be crude; I’ll know, for example, that the theme has something to do with the character’s relationship to her mom. I’ll take a good guess, but it doesn’t have to be right on. In practice, I evolve the theme more than I do the logline and pitch. I work these out on a whiteboard, scan them to Evernote, and transcribe them into a mind-map app. Alternatively, I can use a free-drawing note taking app (thence to Evernote and mind-map) instead of a whiteboard, but I strongly prefer a whiteboard.

Now, with the theme and logline in mind, I give my character(s) a past. What old ideas do my character(s) need to chuck? (Genius: Misbelief.) They must have them, or they wouldn’t need to learn anything, and I wouldn’t have a story. And how did they come by those ideas? (Genius: Worldview) Yeah, I go through the whole Genius “misbelief origin scene” and “reinforcing scenes” for my protagonist, and at least an origin scene for important sidekicks and villains. The only problem with this is keeping the theme in mind; but I find I can let these rip almost as fast as the original exploratory writing. This happens directly in Scrivener.

Finally, I fill out the fifteen “beats” from STC. I start with my bookends (my “Opening Image” and “Closing Image”) and fill in the rest of the pieces as they come to me. For this, I use a whiteboard, and I pace and talk to myself a lot. This is where I do classic brainstorming, which I can’t do while I’m sitting in a chair. This gets cleaned up, scanned into Evernote, and transcribed to that mind-map, which finally gets imported into Scrivener, both as documents and as a link to the original map.

It sounds a lot more structured than it is. Really.

What I don’t do is plan individual scenes / chapters. I know that STC and Genius both insist on planning scenes / chapters. All of them. In advance.

Other “how to outline” books and “how to write a novel fast” books do too; if not in advance, then just before writing the scene or chapter.

Sheesh. Every time I try this I get blocked for weeks.

Instead, I estimate the number of words between beats based on where I’d like the overall word count to be.2 I then draft a path of words from one “beat” to the next. If I get stuck I do a very loose mind map of a few things that have to happen between the beats. Once I make it to the next beat (I think of them as “islands”), I’ll do a preliminary trim to my beat’s target word count, as well as a quick “fit” to what’s gone before. If I need to adjust theme, logline or pitch, now’s the time. Then it’s typing a path of words to the next beat. Repeat until done.

I structure my Scrivener draft into folders based on beats (NOT acts) so that I can check the word counts on the fly.3 This keeps me from spinning off into the weeds writing forever on a cool side-plot. I write in documents inside the folder, breaking them into scenes as I go (based on change of location or time.)

This is working structure. When I’m ready to give output to someone else, I group the scenes into real chapters… about 3-5K words each that end on a natural cliffhanger. But I no longer work with chapters while I’m writing a draft. As far as I’m concerned, a chapter is a construct for readers, to give them a natural stopping point that nonetheless keeps them coming back to finish. I now first structure my draft so it’s easy for me to write, and add reader-friendly things like chapter breaks later.

So that’s it—my outlining “system”, such as it is. It’s designed evolved to give me maximum seat-of-the-pants room to wander around while herding me upstream towards my goal of a finished draft.

  1. A word about research: I research continuously. I write something that seems real-world based; I look it up, save the research to Evernote (no, I don’t use Scrivener for this) and modify the writing (or not.) I do the same thing for fantasy settings and science fiction settings, except using spreadsheets, typed documents, and drawn diagrams, scanned from whiteboards or created in a freeform note taking app. Certainly a lot of my research tends to happen towards the start of writing because that’s when things are still fluid, but I don’t research extensively in advance. It’s that seat-of-the-pants thing again. 
  2. I wrote a word count milestones estimator spreadsheet based on the pages in a script that STC suggests a certain beat be accomplished within. OK, I used to write apps for a living. Setting up an spreadsheet to do that is not hard for me. 
  3. A STC beat for a 90k-word novel runs anywhere from 3k to about 12k words. 

Aeon Timeline on iOS—Thoughts on Scrivener Workflows #amwriting

A moment has arrived that many of us who use both Scrivener and Aeon Timeline have long awaited: Aeon Timeline is available on iOS!

Scrivener and Aeon Timeline Meet on iOS

The iOS version of Aeon Timeline seems robust and full-featured; I can do almost anything with Aeon Timeline on iOS that I can on the Mac, with a few exceptions:

  • Screen real estate is cramped on iOS screens, so it might take several screens of information to display what’s available on one screen on the Mac. Don’t get me wrong; the display’s neither crowded nor sparse, and there’s nothing missing, but you might have to tap a couple of times more to see all three of your story arcs, for example.
  • Import and export options on iOS are limited—I suspect in large part due to iOS sandboxing.
  • I can’t sync with Scrivener.1 For that, I have to get back to my Mac.

Nonetheless, since I do use Scrivener on both platforms, and have built a timeline for my Scrivener project in Mac Aeon Timeline, having Aeon Timeline on iOS is wonderful.

  • On the iPad, at least, I can split my screen between Scrivener and Aeon Timeline. Thus, I can see all the information (dates, keywords, arcs, locations, tension) for my Scrivener docs that iOS doesn’t know about—while I’m looking at my Scrivener project. Even on iPhone, that data is now available even if I can’t have Scrivener on the screen at the same time.
  • On iPad or iPhone, I can now actually edit that data, and it will get incorporated when I get back to my Mac, sync Scrivener with iOS Scrivener, and then sync Scrivener with Aeon Timeline.
  • If you’re an iOS-only user, only titles, labels, and synopses would be synced anyway since you don’t have keywords or custom metadata. I’d suggest creating a timeline in Aeon from scratch, copying and pasting titles. You could still set up your dates, locations, arcs and tension in Aeon.

Thank you, Matt at Aeon Timeline, for this great little iOS app!

  1. Not syncing with Scrivener on iOS makes sense. Scrivener keeps the desktop project version largely unchanged on iOS, sequestering mobile changes in a special mobile area inside the project. If iOS Aeon Timeline starts messing with it, there’s a real possibility that it might create Scrivener sync conflicts. No one wants that. 

Choosing The Perfect Writing Font? #amwriting

Not too long ago, iA Writer added a new font to its app, iA Writer Duospace font. Their introduction post is here, In Search of the Perfect Writing Font. Is Duospace perfect?

The grandmother of all computer input & display devices, the Teletype A33. (By Bubba73 (Jud McCranie) – Scan of the original photograph (Own work), CC BY-SA 3.0, Link)
I suggest that there is no such thing as a perfect writing font. I find iA’s “Papa knows best” attitude towards writing fonts…irritating. For my own purposes, I find Ubuntu Mono to be the best (free) writing font available. But let’s examine iA’s claims.

iA’s arguments are first, that a monospaced (or nearly monospaced) writing font says that “this text is work in progress,” as opposed to a proportional font, which says “this is almost done.” Second, they argue that their new Duospace font (which has 1.5 times the monospaced width for the characters “m”, “M”, “w”, and “W”) maintains that “raw text feel” while avoiding the “artificial mechanical constraints” of the old typewriters. They further argue that a monospaced(ish) font slows down reading speed thus forcing a more appropriate writing speed. Finally, they bring up the fact that a monospaced(ish) font makes typos more obvious.

First, I absolutely agree that a monospaced(ish) font makes typos more obvious, and this is important to me.

Further, I agree that a monospaced font communicates “work in progress”—but then, I grew up with typewriters. I suspect that to younger people a monospaced font just says “old-fashioned.”

The Duospace font isn’t as aesthetically pleasing to me as iA suggest—I find it mildly annoying that letters don’t line up as in a true monospaced font. It also suffers from indistinct typographic quotes—though it manages to do dashes well. (More on this later.)

As for slowing down reading to a “writing pace”…this is a point I’m unwilling to stipulate. Do monospaced fonts slow reading speed? Are there studies? If so, is this really a good thing for writing? Again, are there studies?

I have questions other than the subjective “raw text feel” or the possible “writing pace” issues that are more important to me. Does the font I’m using for writing do everything possible to make errors stand out? Do I have to squint to see errors? Are errors obvious when the print is on the page or the spell checker is off? Since I’m my own publisher, the answers to these have to be “yes,” “no,” and “hell yes,” respectively.

This is why I use Teletype-derived writing fonts—of which I find Ubuntu Mono to be the best.

Not every monospaced font traces its lineage back to typewriters. The programmer’s (or code) fonts (Monaco, Source Code Pro, even Duospace, et. al.) trace their lineage back to the Teletype A33.

Cheap typewriters had as few separate characters as possible. Many didn’t have a separate key for zero, for numeral one, or even for an equals symbol. Instead, you used a capital oh, a lowercase el, and backspaced to put an underscore beneath your hyphen to fake an equals symbol. If you succeeded in selling your work, people called “type setters” would retype it, making it look beautiful with distinct characters for typographic quotes and other glyphs that a typewriter couldn’t produce. That’s why typewriter-derived fonts often have hard-to-distinguish glyphs. In the bad old days, they were faked, so why distinguish them now?

Teletypes, on the other hand, were the first devices that gave humans the ability to interact directly with computers. There were no lowercase letters on the early models (part of why many programming languages are case-insensitive.) But you bet there were distinct numerals versus letters. You would never mistake a Teletype zero for a capital oh. You wouldn’t catch it expecting you to back up and underline your hyphen to fake an equals symbol.

Modern code fonts are derived from Teletypes. Zeros are slashed or dotted. Numeral ones and capital eyes are distinct. Lowercase el can’t be mistaken for anything else.

Sadly, typographic quotes (English “smart” or “curly” quotes) and dashes (en dash and em dash) are afterthoughts in most monospaced fonts, whatever their derivation. They weren’t on Teletypes; they weren’t on typewriters; they were added for the first graphical computer UIs in the early 1980s. It shows. I usually can’t tell whether a quote in a monospaced font is an open or a close quote. Often the dashes and hyphens are identical or one pixel different.

Ubuntu Mono is an exception. It’s easy to distinguish English typographic quotes from each other in Ubuntu. It’s obvious whether you’ve used a hyphen or a dash, and if a dash, which. And it retains all the letter v. numeral v. symbol distinguishability of a proper code font.

Therefore, for me, by my own priorities, Ubuntu Mono is the best free writing font available.

But all this is aside from questions such as: what font would be best for a dyslexic writer? A partially sighted writer? A writer with any of many other challenges that mean the iA paradigm or mine must yield to other considerations? A writer who simply finds monospaced fonts irritating?

A font that looks handwritten might convey that “not done yet” feel even better than monospaced. A dyslexic writer would choose that font which triggers her disability the least. I suggest that “best” is dependent on individual priorities. Mine aren’t yours.

So I believe the “perfect” writing font is a myth. I hope this article helps you on your way to choosing a writing font that helps you write more easily.

Camp NaNoWriMo Post-Mortem and Writing Update #amwriting

Stuffing more description into my story…
I didn’t make my goal of 30,000 words added to my novel-in-progress—but that’s because halfway through April I switched my focus to responding to LA NaNo’s editorial changes for my short story. That goal I did reach. It is totally okay with me. I’ve learned a lot about working with professional publishers and editors. I’ve learned that once again, my main fault as a writer is that I leave needed exposition out. (Non-fiction pro editors have told me this before. I’m one of the few authors whom editors insist add words… “But, isn’t it obvious to the most casual observer?” “No, Dragon. No, it’s not.” “But it’s redundant! The reader should have inferred it from this information back here on page 3…” “Put it in anyway.”)

So, words added. Story fixed except for (minor, I hope) final polishing. I hope I’ll be able to announce the anthology release date here and on my book blog Real Soon Now.

As for the novel-in-progress, the short story experience did help. And I got the first four chapters solid—I’m very pleased. Now I’m circling around, once again getting a feel for the novel (takes a few days after putting it aside) and polishing some details that came from the short story (which takes place before the novel’s start.) I hope to get a bunch more done in the remaining days of May, in June, and in July Camp NaNoWriMo.


Texas Is Forever… #amwriting

… or at least it seems that way when you’re driving across it.

On the road and determined to win Camp NaNoWriMo as a rediscovered Texan

I’m not too grossly behind on my Camp NaNoWriMo word count. In fact I’ve managed to get the first four chapters of the novel I’m a year behind on whipped into shape. I feel comfortable with my set up for the first time; I’m confident that at last I’ve introduced all the ingredients of the hypergolic mixture that will blow up in my protagonist’s face after four more chapters…

As for the purposes of this trip, one at least is accomplished. My niece got married to the man of her dreams last night in Houston and all the California contingent of the family—including me—were privileged to attend! Congratulations Amy and Carlos!

Texas is forever in another sense, too. I’ve gotten back in touch with my inner Texan. I lived from age 5 to age 12 in Corpus Christi. Now, Texas is so vast that much of it doesn’t feel like home to me. But as I got closer to Houston, I began to feel more comfortable. And when I stepped onto the beach at Galveston, I was home. I am a Gulf Coast girl.

I like mountains. Colorado was very nice. I loathe the Plains, whether Texan or points north; they’re depressing. The Texas “Hill Country” does nothing for me. But no place feels more like home to me than the Gulf Coast, or California.

The primary purpose of this road trip is to find a place that is cheaper than California in which Hubby, Younger Son, and I all want to live. (Otherwise we’d have flown.) We’ve checked out several cities (results are not yet in) in the areas I’ve mentioned. When the three of us sit down to talk it out, who knows what we’ll decide?

But at least I had a chance to walk the sands of home.

Short Story Accepted! #amwriting

Yes! Squee! My short story was accepted by the Los Angeles NaNo 2018 Anthology! Now I must do all those conventionally published sort of things like working with editors, rewriting to editorial request, etc.

Not that I’ll get paid—the writers who are accepted get a credit and the warm knowledge that their work has enabled LA NaNo to make a little money to defray the costs of write-ins, pre-November “How to outline a novel” handouts, as well as pre- and post-NaNoWriMo parties.

But do I mind? Heck, no! I’m doing a happy dance! I never, never thought I could successfully stuff a story with as much background info as a Victorian urban fantasy into 4000 words and have anyone else even comprehend it, much less accept it for (unpaid) publication!!!

When in future I complain about my editors, please remind me of this post.

April Camp NaNoWriMo Progress

30000 / 30000 (100%)

(Last Update: 11 May 2018)

It’s Camp NaNoWriMo, and you folks don’t want me to be posting all the time, right? Right! It’s time to put my words into my novel. So, while I will stop by and update the meter above occasionally (I can’t automate it, which is infinitely annoying) and drop in a (very) short post or three, mostly I’ll be focusing on word count. See y’all in May!

(Word count meter courtesy

I Met the Short Story Deadline #amwriting

I did it! I managed to get an entire Fraser and Spencer story into 4000 words, and submit it by Los Angeles NaNo’s deadline.

After I turned it in, I slept for about 2 days.

I learned a lot about how my own creativity works, and what it takes—for me—to get a well-structured story out fast.

Now I hope that what I learned scales up to novels.

I also have a decision to make: I’m going on a Road Trip. Yes, I’ll be spending three weeks bopping around the US Southwest in a car with Hubby and Number Two Son. Should I even bother with April Camp NaNoWriMo? I’m going to be busy: driving, checking out communities as possible retirement destinations, and attending a niece’s wedding.

…Yes, I think I should. I’ve always had more success with April and June Camps NaNoWriMo than with the big November push. It won’t hurt me to sign up. I might even finish my novel! And I certainly should take advantage of the upside of my SAD (seasonal affective disorder.)