Can You Be Too Organized?

From Writer Unboxed:

To say that I am a pantser is not to say that I dislike organization, or that I don’t have an idea of where my story is going. I am a pantser in part because I have never found a tool that lets me effectively organize all the story elements—characters, locations, events, story arcs, and narrative scene sequence. In essence, I start writing by the seat of my pants when all my half-blown attempts at organizing the story fall short. Then I give up and just start getting the scenes down before they leave me.

I have tried many tools and strategies, including:

  • Excel spreadsheets – with separate worksheets for characters, scenes, timelines, and locations.
  • Post-it notes attached to large boards.
  • Scrivener’s corkboard and outline features.
  • Multiple ‘mindmap’ software programs (including Mindnode and Scapple).
  • A number of published guides and workbooks on how to organize a novel.
  • Various ‘timeline’ software programs.
  • A home grown Microsoft Access relational database.

Most of these tools tracked one or two narrative elements effectively, but then I had to track other elements using secondary organizational strategies. For example, a timeline app provided a clear temporal sequence, but tracking characters through the various events was difficult. When I decided to tell a story in non-chronological sequence, I was back to post-it notes in addition to the timeline app. Similarly, mindmap apps provided a good way to map scenes and relationships between them, but keeping the events in correct temporal sequence proved onerous.

. . . .

What am I trying to track that has defied all of these strategies? Basic story elements:

  • the chronological sequence of events (including backstory events)
  • relationships between events
  • relationships between characters
  • which characters are involved in specific events
  • locations of events and where the various characters are geographically during any specific event
  • narrative sequence (particularly if the story is not being told in chronological sequence).

These are narrative elements that all writers have to manage, but I never seemed to find a workable strategy until I heard about Aeon Timeline. This app, built for project management as well as writing projects, combines a timeline; a spreadsheet; a mindmap; a database of persons, places, and events; the relationships between them (who did what where); a subway diagram to visualize those relationships; and the ability to track themes and even story arcs. Each of the elements (persons, events, locations) can be color-coded. This is the first app that meets the majority of my organizational requirements within the same package. The feature that really won me over was ‘narrative view,’ which provides the ability to drag timeline events into a non-linear narrative scene sequence that can be viewed either as an outline or a series of ‘cards’.

As an added bonus, once everything is all neat and tidily organized, Aeon Timeline can sync with Scrivener or Ulysses to create a scene ‘list’ ready for you to fill in the story. For writers who don’t mind working on-line and can handle a complex application, Aeon Timeline provides a powerful tool.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

2 thoughts on “Can You Be Too Organized?”

  1. Yes.
    My motto is “a clean desk is a sign of a lazy mind”. 😀

    (If you have time left for organizing everything you’re not using your mind to its fullest.)

  2. Last I checked Aeon did NOT have the ability to create, with the data, that most basic of desk utilities: a calendar.

    Since I use mine daily in the story to keep track of everything, I didn’t buy Aeon.

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