Outlining / planning / timeline

We all need to plan our novels. Well maybe some of us just let it flow in one constant stream of inspired wizardry, but the rest of us will want to plan a narrative and have a quick view of the entire novel. Some call this outlining, others planning – let’s focus on what we want to achieve. Let us know how you’d like to see this work because we want to build the best outlining/narrative/timeline/planning tool there is.

Tell us what you’d like, or tools you already like but you’d like done a bit better.

Status

This feature is in the pipeline!

TELL US IF YOU WANT THIS FEATURE:

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65 replies
  1. admin says:

    One writer’s suggestion by email: A page where you can see all the chapters and their title, tags, characters, summary, notes and move them about a bit – the beginnings of an outlining / pinboard feature.

    Another called Conrad: Outlining – does not have to be fancy, but it should be enough that a user could enter a synopsis of each chapter, and print out a synopsis of the book for publishers/agents. Again, y-writer does a fantastic job, but I think Scrivener does this better. They have a corkboard layout that allows you to write the chapter synopsis on virtual index cards pinned to a corkboard, and then you can shuffle them around with drag/drop, which lays out the underlying story. I know some people who hate Scrivener but use it just for the corkboard, as it gives a great 20,000 ft view of the story outline before they start writing. Everyone I know who uses Scrivener raves about this feature.

    And Eleanor: * It would be wonderful if there was functionality to have chapter summaries be able to be “exported” into a meaningfully structured outline, and for them to be imported in the opposite way, with the summary visible on one of the sidebars to help direct the writing of a scene for those of us who are plotters, not pantsers.

    Reply
    • Seth Drebitko says:

      I’d love to see the outlining functionality be able to reach across multiple novels. This would really help when planning out series, which at the moment I’m still going to have to do in google drive.

      Reply
  2. Clare says:

    Suggestion via email from Amber: “The ability to add “building blocks” like a cover image, summary, genres, etc. to each novel would also be cool. Novel swag, if you will.”

    Reply
  3. Arista says:

    A time line feature of some sort. I spend a LOT of time hand writing time lines for my stories so I know what happened when and where. Especially stories involving parallel universe, time travel or other similar scenario’s.

    Reply
  4. Matt Wilkinson says:

    This would be great. I made a suggestion on another thread about pinboards and mind mapping. I currently use another app for the pinning, but having it all in the same place would be so much more convenient. 🙂

    Reply
  5. Graham Brand says:

    I see this as three separate tools – an outliner (which could be the chapter listing if there was additional control over nesting), a corkboard like Scrivener’s but in keeping with Novlr’s aesthetic, and a timeline tool which at its simplest would be a scrolling agenda that allows you to attach events to specific dates and times. The timeline would need the ability to create a custom dating system for Fantasy and SF authors.

    The three tools should be integrated. The corkboard should simply be another representation of the outline view, and new scenes could be added in both. It might be useful to have a way to link events on the timeline to the scene in which they occur (though you’ll also want to be able to add general or historic events), so that going to the timeline from a linked scene should update the timeline’s position accordingly. Or it might be enough just to be able to indicate the chapter on the timeline, to check for balance and linear flow of events.

    Regarding the corkboard, please include the options to switch the various elements on and off. When planning I like to keep the display as simple as possible, with just the chapter title and description visible on the card. But later on, when writing it becomes important to be able to see other elements: tags such as POV character, draft status, location, etc.

    Reply
      • Luther says:

        I know several people have suggested looking at the outlining/corkboarding tools of Scrivener and Trello. I would also like to suggest for you look at how WorkFlowy handles outlining. For me, it is the quickest tool to get text in and organize it in outline form that I have used (it is Novlr-esque in its simplicity). Lots of great suggestions here; I know that your team will come up with something great. Best wishes!

        Reply
        • Clare says:

          Thanks so much for the suggestion Luther! We’ll definitely take a look into that one when we begin developing the tool 🙂

          Reply
  6. Elise says:

    It would be great to be able to integrate the timeline/outline with the actual chapters themselves. I can view the timeline, click an event or section, and it can take me to the chapter that contains that event. How I would personally use this is to create a timeline or even a shot list, then clicking on a specific event to finally write that section/event down. This would help in reorganizing smaller sections, as well. Perhaps each bullet on the timeline links to specific lines of a chapter, essentially meaning that each chapter could conceivably link up to several points on the timeline. It’s a more precise mapping of the story, rather than just chapters.

    It would also be nice to see an interactive timeline that could have a shape, similar to a plot diagram. Maybe each event on the timeline can be labeled from a list: character dev., conflict, resolution, climax, denouement, etc. These can be color coded or given a peak/valley on the timeline, so authors can graph the building of events and plan out where strategic character arc begin and resolve. This feel particularly useful for complex, multi-layered stories.

    Reply
    • Graham Brand says:

      Graphing the timeline by character arc elements would be fascinating, Elise. Basically, implementing something like Shawn Coyne’s “The Story Grid” using Novlr’s timeline and tagging features.

      Reply
    • Clare says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Elise and to share your thoughts. You seem to have a lot of ideas on how you want it and we want to create the feature that is right for you guys so it is incredibly helpful. 🙂 Clare

      Reply
  7. CandesinTX says:

    I am not a planner but I would like to be. I love the idea of having a board I can put virtual sticky notes or something similar. Since I am not a planner, dare I say, it would help that it looked cool. It has to be visually appealing to me if I’m going to visit this feature and use it.

    Reply
    • Clare says:

      Hi Candesin. Thanks for your comment – we would always want to make the feature visually appealing because writing is all about creativity and inspiration – if you don’t feel inspired by the page, it’s not a good start!

      Reply
  8. Michelle says:

    The ability to have outline notes right next to the writing space would be wonderful. This way I can see my outline for a section just as I’m writing.

    Reply
  9. Melody Hawley says:

    Timelines are great. Especially if it was interactive and actually looked like a timeline. It would be really nice if we could ‘date’ our chapters in the novel. So that we could link what we are writing to our timeline. And still look nice. Goodness, writing programs are an ugly mess for novelists. They don’t organize. I have writing OCD. I want to organize.

    When I think of what it could look like, this is what I get.
    -A one-screen sized timeline that I can stretch and zoom in on any section for a close up view.
    -The top side of the line for ideas. It could have photos, weblinks, points of character introductions/deaths,
    -the bottom side of the line with chapter icons that link to the pages I have written.
    -The dates on the timeline would be editable: I could choose any start date.
    -The content I add to it should drag and drop along the timeline, automatically changing the ‘date’ of that content to fit in that part of the timeline. It would be annoying if I had to edit a date. I use Prezi right now to create timelines. It isn’t as intuitive or interactive as it could be.

    As others have mentioned, it would make sense to have different ‘views’ for the timeline content. Such as the cork board idea, overview of entire timeline, a zoom function, perhaps a note-card style development system as well. A lot of people do notecards and it would be easy to pull those people in to your program if it digitally looks like what they were creating outside of the computer realm. ESPECIALLY if they can scan in photos of note cards they have already created and have them function alongside their digital cards. Those steps would make them easy converts to your platform.

    Reply
    • Clare says:

      Hi Melody. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and write down your thoughts and suggestions on this feature. We really want to get it right, so could take a bit of planning, but we’ll get there. We’d love for everything to be in one tool, and it’s getting there with all of our help!

      Reply
  10. Clare says:

    Sugestion from David via email: I would love to be able to sync my writing tasks, deadlines, goals, etc with tools like Wunderlist, Asana, and Trello, even if it’s just by way of IFTTT or Zapier

    Reply
  11. Heather Meloche says:

    Better outlining (indent & bullet options, maybe?) and some sort of basic corkboard system – chapter summaries all visible in one spot – would be ideal.

    Reply
  12. Clare says:

    Facebook suggestion from Chris: line numbering as an option? Pages on my mac doesn’t offer line numbering and I need it for critique groups

    Reply
  13. James says:

    A timeline mapper would be great.

    A mind mapping tool also would be great. I am very visual.
    Again look at Scrivener and try to take it up a level. =)

    Reply
  14. Jennifer says:

    It would be great to be able to see story and chapter lines as a side bar while writing. And it would be really nice if we could color code by story line. So, if I have three story lines going at the same time, intersecting at certain points.It would be nice to be able to see, at a glance, The various story lines on the same line, but easily discernible by color.

    Reply
    • Clare says:

      Hi Jennifer. Thanks for your suggestions! We’ll be looking into the outlining and planning soon so it’s good to know what our users want. It’s a nice idea to have the storylines up whilst writing – what does everyone else think?

      Reply
  15. Stacey says:

    Maybe have it similar to Scrivener in the sense that you can lay out the pieces and double click on those pieces to write more in them if you want to expand on your ideas. Except, have those pieces arranged on brainstorming mind maps instead and link up to each other that way. And of course, you can double click on each bubble you write in for the brainstorm and write full text or chapters or notes on them if you wish it.

    Reply
    • Clare says:

      Thanks for your comment Stacey, we’d really like to get this feature right so it’s great to know what you need and want. Let us know any further suggestions 🙂

      Reply
  16. Brad Haakenson says:

    I really really REALLY want outlining. It is my number one feature!

    There, I got that out of my system and feel much better. But outlining can be really simple. You need to have chapter notes along with a view that allows you to view and edit all chapter notes together. At some point when you do the Chapter 2.9 feature to add scenes, add scene notes to the outlining mix.

    I’m afraid that if you try to get too specific with different outlining mechanisms, you will go down a rathole that you may never find your way out of. Instead, provide a simple interface like I suggest above and let users adapt it to their own process.

    The only other feature I would suggest is a way to look at the chapter/scene notes while editing.

    Reply
    • Clare says:

      Hi Brad – I’m pleased we provided an outlet for you to get it out of your system! We will definitely be looking at making it as simple as possible as that is exactly what Novlr is all about. Thanks for your suggestions – keep them coming if you have any more!

      Reply
  17. Alice Ralph says:

    A timeline creator would be amazing. I’d love to see a Gantt chart style timeline where you could plan where and what each of your characters are doing throughout the novel and plot the scenes onto the timeline. This would seriously help reduce any timeline inconsistencies. You could zoom right in and do really detailed hourly timelines to plot all the characters movements/activity, or zoom out and do some really “overview” timeline, like over years or centuries (for fantasy or historical novelists).

    Reply
    • Clare says:

      Thanks for your comment Alice. Gantt charts can be so useful and this is a really cool idea which would be great as you say, for an overview, or fully detailed plans. Thanks for your suggestion!

      Reply
  18. Clare says:

    Great suggestion from Tracy via email: Event timelines – being able to map out events and spans of time between events in a calendar. This would include hooks to character ages – births/deaths.

    Especially nice would be the ability to build non-gregorian event timelines for non-earth settings.

    Reply
  19. MG says:

    I honestly just tend to outline and timeline in just a simple point form note format so for me, I can do this in the notes for the novel but it would be nice to separate it out into it’s own note. So maybe having some of these extra formatting for timelines as options you could use within the chapter notes would be nice.

    I gave scrivener a try recently and quickly decided I didn’t like it because it was so visually cluttered and filled with so many different features that it was too much for more. What I really like about Novlr is how simple it is visually and how right now you can keep it to just what you need and use. So for features like this I’d really like for them to be available if needed for sure, but also have the option to turn them off if you aren’t using them (preferably novel specific so I only have to turn it on where I’m using it and not have this empty spot for things on other works) and also if things were kept somewhat nested so things like this would go with notes or maybe as an option as a type of note.

    I love the simplicity of how novlr looks. So it would be great for it to offer the features of programs like scrivener for more intricate planning but without losing the simplicity of it’s interface. I like being able to use all kinds of advanced options if I want to, but can’t stand when that makes things get very visually cluttered. (It’s like on a computer I hate seeing all the icons from my programs at once, I’d rather have them neatly filed into folders and sub folders by their use and only see what I need at the time.)

    Reply
    • Clare says:

      We completely agree with you MG. Thomas and Kim created Novlr because they wanted a simple, distraction free writing tool so this will not be lost when more features are added 🙂

      Reply
  20. James Oneill says:

    Being able to drag and drop to rearrange is a must.

    Allow us to create a consistent set of containers that we can reuse in our novels such parts, chapters, sections, scene, beat, etc
    Also allow us to setup how these relate to each other in an outline so we can have each be novel be consistently organized in a way that makes sense to us.
    You can provide a default set of containers with associated labels as well as a default hierarchy and then we can organize it and change it from there.

    Front End (book section)
    – title page (page)
    – introduction (page)
    – forward (page)
    – prologue (chapter)
    Book Space (book section)
    Introduction (section)
    – chapter 1 (chapter)
    * scene 1
    * scene 2
    – chapter 2 (chapter)
    * scene 1
    * scene 2
    Back End (book section)
    – Epilogue (chapter)
    – Appendix (section)
    – Glossary (section)

    Reply
    • Clare says:

      Thanks for this great suggestion James – we’re definitely looking into adding prologue and epilogue chapters but it could be great to have the options of those sections (pick’n’mix style!) for users to select which ones they want to create their novel.

      Reply
  21. Joseph Philip says:

    Visually build your story as your ideas come to you. Strategically place novel chapters, and subplots on a three act excitement graph to construct your story. There are no constraints of a structured formula. Just use the excitement graph to guide your scene assembly as you write your story in standard format.

    Reply
  22. Jake says:

    I use Trello for my novel outline (as I use it for other work related things as well) – I think that’s a solid basis for the cork board idea, but it’s not optimized for a lot of text – some cards I want a large paragraph on. But I like being able to make chapter cards (with a few lines each) and shuffle those around. Then other columns have stacks of character name/paragraphs, and others notes about settings or themes or whatever. This will be a cool feature whatever you cook up!

    Reply
    • Clare says:

      Hi Jake. Thanks so much for your comment. We’re looking to create something really good with this feature but still want to keep the simplicity going. It’s great to know what would be useful and what other tools are out there that we can take a look at and build upon. Thanks again and keep the suggestions coming if you have any more! 🙂

      Reply
  23. Clare says:

    Suggestion via email from Edward: I work fantasy fiction mostly, and one thing I didn’t really see listed but would be amazing, would be a world building/organizing feature. Kind of like your plans with a Character profile, but a on a bigger level. Details of geography, languages, currency, culture, religion, etc for all the different areas of the world that will be important to the novel. Being able to put outlines on the important structures/buildings, different cultural sects, histories of the cities, etc. To go one step further, the ability to either create or import maps for reference. When I’m writing I constantly have to go back to my paper drafts or open a file on my computer to reference these things in order to remain consistent and it takes away from the overall flow.

    Reply
  24. Clare says:

    Email suggestion from Caligo: In general, an editing feature that allows you to look at the novel as a whole without exporting, editing, and then importing again.

    Reply
  25. Edward says:

    **Reposted since it was deleted on accident along with the Spam**

    Hello, my wife just introduced this to me today and I’ve been reading through all the features a development and I have to say this is absolutely amazing. If I had heard of this on kickstarter I certainly would have helped fund it without a second thought! Great job on such an awesome and innovative project.

    With that being said; I work fantasy fiction mostly, and one thing I didn’t really see listed but would be amazing, would be a world building/organizing feature. Kind of like your plans with a Character profile, but a on a bigger level. Details of geography, languages, currency, culture, religion, etc for all the different areas of the world that will be important to the novel. Being able to put outlines on the important structures/buildings, different cultural sects, histories of the cities, etc. To go one step further, the ability to either create or import maps for reference. When I’m writing I constantly have to go back to my paper drafts or open a file on my computer to reference these things in order to remain consistent and it takes away from the overall flow. I just think this would be a very empowering add-on with a lot of opportunity in keeping the distraction away which is what it seems like you guys have focused so much on.

    Again, excellent job! I am highly impressed and will become a subscriber soon for sure!

    Thanks again for this amazing creation!

    Reply
    • Edward says:

      Wow, never mind. You can delete my second post. For some reason I wasn’t able to see the repost until after I posted my repost. Weird. Anyways, sorry about that :/. Does this site have live updating? Or do I need to refresh cookies/cache to be kept up to date? Thanks for any advice and keep up the great work!

      Reply
      • Clare says:

        Hi Edward. That is strange that you haven’t been able to see the comment before now. It should update normally every time you log in…? Sorry for the confusion! Thanks for your support 🙂

        Reply
  26. Clare says:

    Great suggestion via facebook from Celine: I do a lot of historical fiction and I feel like I’m researching dates, towns, people, more than I’m actually writing half the time. It would be fantastic to have some sort of “pop-up” search engine bar that will help me do my research and not SOMEHOW lead me back to Facebook or Twitter.

    Reply
  27. David Belisle says:

    I like working with a bullet point outline … that I can then break down further with sub-headings. I even add snippets of dialogue as I’m outlining. Since I write humor, it’s a valuable part of the outline process.

    The outline is a MUST have, as I typically flesh out 60-70% of the story in the outline and then I know I’m ready to dive in … as the rest of the story will happen along the way. … I would suggest having a default box at the end of the outline marked “ENDING” … as writers should know the ending before they begin. Well …in most cases.

    Reply
  28. Tom says:

    For me the idea of a Timeline is literally being able to look at a long line of events.

    For my writing I have multiple groups of characters at different places in the world and right now I have dozens of scraps of paper all strung on the wall showing me what they are doing on certain days.

    Basically so I can cross check between them all and ensure that things happen at the right time for people and that ultiately they can get to places at about the same time. It is also important as events happening outside one of my cities needs to later affect those in the city, so timing is key.

    So to work on Novlr I think it would need something that you could almost create yourself.
    Provide a way of creating a timeline, but one where you can decide the ‘time,’ such as ‘Era’s ‘Weeks’ ‘Days’
    From this you could then add underneath multiple timelines so you then can see clearly all of your character/events happening in your book to ensure they do not conflict with one another.

    Hope that all makes some kind of sense! 🙂

    Reply
    • Clare says:

      Hi Tom. This is great – thank you! It’s a tricky one because as you say, everyone plans their novels completely differently and with different genres, comes different needs. We really value your input! 🙂 Clare

      Reply
  29. Clare says:

    Suggestion for Tom via email: It is critical to be able to keep track of fictional characters, worlds, monsters, beings, technologies, etc. Is there a way to link a Nolvr manuscript to a second file that is essentially a writer’s wikipedia database for his/her world?

    Reply
  30. Clare says:

    User suggestion from Jon via email: “What makes Scrivener so great is its ability to divide the screen into two, so you can see two chapters up at once. I don’t know how difficult that would be in a browser, but it so helps out.”

    Reply
  31. David says:

    Will we be able to duplicate the outline/plotting tool? This would allow for ‘templates’, so I could set up a prewritten template with something like the 7 Point Story Structure with my own reminders for each plot point to remind myself what to put in there. This way every time I start a new story I can have a basic skeleton to work with rather than starting from scratch.

    Reply
    • Clare says:

      Hi David, this is a good idea to be able to duplicate the tool. We’re collecting ideas at the moment in this discussion so keep them coming if you have any more – thanks 🙂

      Reply
  32. Arnoud says:

    I’m currently working with Character Writer, Aeon Timeline (http://www.aeontimeline.com/, and Scrivener). After I got my main characters’ back story fleshed out a bit, I do most of my plotting in Aeon timeline as I love the capability of tying in arc’s and their tension with the events and my characters/locations/objects/what-not’s. I end up “ideating” in CharacterWriter, “telling” in Aeon, and “showing” in Scrivener. The sync between Aeon and Scrivener is lovely. This works well for me, except for one thing: Three tools, and none of them o-line or mobile.

    Reply
  33. Luke says:

    I second Edward’s suggestion above. I too am a fantasy writer and am aiming to create a living world for my characters to inhabit and my stories to take place in. Since it isn’t directly based on places in the “real world” (unlike historical fiction, for example), I have to come up with a believable geography, cultures, religious landscape, ethnic/societal/political tensions, etc., and keep them all consistent throughout. Having a place to keep all of that information at the ready would be incredibly beneficial.

    I also second the other users who’ve suggested Scrivener as something the Novlr team should try to improve upon. It’s a great program, but you can’t beat the fact that Novlr is more inviting, intuitive, and personal. I also recommend that you look into software such as StoryView and Outline 4D for inspiration on how to implement the outlining features. I’ve never used either of them firsthand, but as I understand it, both of them allow you to outline a story while setting flags to keep track of objects, to denote an event’s relative importance in your plot structure, etc.

    Planning what’s going to happen in a novel is always the hardest part for me. Once you have a solid outline on which to base your other efforts, the rest is easy by comparison.

    Reply
  34. Andy says:

    Option to track anything per scene in the planning section. So if I want to track characters involved, location, plotline, item/prop, tension, (re)action, or any other characteristic I can create a trackable feature and then track it (like Scrivener metadata). You can improve on that by making the metadata fields either freeform or dropdown list. To bring all that together you would then need to have a cute way of presenting this info in a timeline format. I know that’s quite a database-driven approach but metadata is optional and you could outdo your competition. Y-writer and Scrivener does a half-decent job, Storymill timeline gets closer.

    Reply
  35. Clare says:

    Syuggestions from Soy:
    multiple timelines running parallel, say, one for each main character/faction to avoid cluttering, and colour coding or tags to indicate positive/negative connotations or other affiliations or pretty much just anything,

    Reply
  36. Teresa says:

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE the timeline idea. I hate it where time doesn’t go by properly, and it seems like it all stands still with no seasons in novels. I like putting dates, times and or whatever to my scenes. I used Scrivener where I could put each scene onto a timeline so I would know where it took place. Like if someone dies or is pregnant I can easily keep track of it with each scene having a date. Works great with dating, birthdays, breaking up and so forth. I like knowing how much time passes and how things would be going. What they would wear, what they could be doing and styles. Keeps plot holes and such at a minimum.

    Reply
  37. josh says:

    A timeline feature would be very very helpful but it can be a boost or a burden depending on how it is crafted. I suggest a horizontal chapter sectioning with a vertical sectioning with small index cards for each chapter/scene of the individual character/event/whatever on wants to cal it, with a paragraph of text viewable. The whole point of a timeline is refresh the mind on where and how often your character or event is active in your story as it progresses from page 1 (far left) to the last page (far right)

    Please do not use a similar timaline structure as aeon.. for several reasons. 1 aeon already exists, why invent the wheel again? 2) it is too extensive/complicated as a helper feature.. novlr is best as a writing environment, not a collection of extensive apps 3) the timeline overview just tells you when you have a spot in the tiemline, not until you click do you get the details, this is too deep. Simple timeline with simple ards with always viewable mini-bit of text.

    The venerable ywriter has something similar and cards are draggable bewteeen character/even lines, so an event/scene can be draggaed from one character to another.

    Reply
  38. Wajeeha says:

    Timeline, YES!! Corkboard, YES!! Outlining traditional way, YES!! Being able to move timeline/ outlining notes like on a real corkboard, OH DEFINITELY YES YES YES!!!
    A relationship diagram feature would be nice, where we could draw out the scenes and their relationships to each other, rather like a flowchart thing. It would make writing a novel a lot easier for a writer to go back and have a look.

    Reply

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