Using the Scrivener Timeline

Today we’re exploring one of the coolest new features in the recent Scrivener 3.0 upgrade: the timeline. (This post assumes you’ve already upgraded. If not, you can read my post about the new version here, and you can save 20% off the price of the upgrade if you use the code APRILDAVILA at getscrivener.com.)

Scrivener Timeline

The Scrivener Timeline feature is so intuitive, it’s hard to believe that it wasn’t one of the first things developed, back in version 1.0. But it was worth the wait. Here’s how it works.

Label Your Chapters

The first step is to label your chapters/sections/folders (whatever unit of your story you want to work with, really, for this example I chose chapters). Do this by right clicking the name of the chapter (not the icon), and choosing the option for “label.” It should look something like this:

Scrivener Timeline

Now, you can use the colors provided there, or you can click edit and make those colors represent anything you want. Maybe you have four POVs in your story. Maybe you jump around in time. Maybe you have alternate universes in your story, or you move from planet to planet. Who knows. It’s your story. Point is, you can change the labels. For this example, I’m going with POV. Here’s what it looks like once I’ve edited the labels to represent the four POVs of my story:

Scrivener Timeline

It’s important to note that you won’t see any sign of those labels in the binder (that column of items on the left) unless you go to VIEW > USE LABEL COLOR IN > BINDER. Then it’ll look like this (see image on the left there).

And this is kind of neat and all, but where it really gets useful is when you click to go to corkboard view. To do that, you can either click the little icon at the top (just right of the header bar) that looks like a waffle.

OR you can cherry pick the items you want to work with (COMMAND-click on my mac), then click the icon at the bottom right of your screen to display those items in the corkboard.

Scrivener Timeline

Now, if I zoom out a bit, you can see how this looks with all of my chapters lined up by whose POV their told from:

Scrivener Timeline

Looking at it like that I can see that my story starts out with more of Sam’s POV, then kind of shifts to more of Alex’s POV. Maybe I intended that, maybe not.

A Few Cool Things to Know

You can change the size and spacing of the cards which really helps a writer see all their cards in whatever space they happen to have. I like my little laptop screen, but I know some writers work on big ‘ol screens, and this feature works for both.

If you move a card around (say from one timeline to another, or to a spot earlier or later in the story) it will move accordingly in your binder. Even the color will change automatically.

You can add research to your timeline. Say you’re writing a historical novel and you want to lay out the actual historical timeline next to your story, simple create documents in your research folder for each event you want on the timeline, and label them something like “historical.”

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3 Responses to Using the Scrivener Timeline

  1. Matthew March 23, 2018 at 2:58 pm #

    This was a very helpful tip on a hidden gem. Thank you

    • April April 5, 2018 at 6:32 am #

      Thanks Matthew. So glad it’s helpful. Cheers.

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