I’m a big fan of productivity apps. I use a combination of Evernote, Airtable, and Habitica to keep my life and business in check. There are definitely ways to use any and all of these apps to lay out the plot of a story—novel, movie, short story, non-fiction book, whatever—but not the way I wanted to.
I used an app called Index Card to plot my Molly Miranda novels. The popular writing tool Scrivener has a similar functionality within it that lets the user jot notes on cards and rearrange the cards by dragging and dropping.
When I started plotting my new project, I knew I needed a tool that had that same drag-and-drop functionality because I tend to shift the order of story events a lot before I settle on the final version. However, with multiple timelines at play in my new project, I knew Index Card wouldn’t quite do what I needed to do, especially since I wanted to be able to view both timelines at once since the timelines would need to intersect on occasion.
Eventually, someone in a Facebook writing group suggested Trello. BINGO!
Trello is a task management system. Projects are organized into “boards” and tasks are dropped onto “lists.” Trello makes it easy to switch tasks between projects or users. And for what we’re using it for, it’s free.
I made an example project so you can see what I mean.
I created a board called “Example.” (The blue block is my current project.) You can even pick a color for your board if color coding things is your thing.
Say your book has three lead characters. Each character gets their own list with timeline events that happen to them go on their list. You can also add color codes to tasks. For my own project, I added matching color codes to tasks where my characters are together, or when an event happens to all of them.
Moving plot points from one timeline to another is just a click-and-drag away. Easy. Trello also lets you duplicate list items easily and you can even duplicate entire lists.
This app is available online, iPad, iPhone and on Google Play. Having this app handy wherever I go is great because you never know when a story idea will strike.
What apps do you use to plot out timelines?
Jillianne Hamilton is the author of Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, its two action/comedy sequels, and The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII. She is also a graphic designer, a hoarder of podcasts and a history enthusiast. Learn more.