The Timeline Page

The Timeline page, which sits between the Story Beats and Scenes pages, is provided to help you understand and organise where your arcs and story beats belong within your story.

Firstly, a caveat. Timeline is one of the pages within Story Distiller that really benefits from a large screen. Things might get a bit crowded on a laptop. We hope to sort this in 2.1.

The other page where this is true is theStoryboard page. The Storyboard page is where you will fine-tune the structure, pacing, tension build-up, etc. of your story, based on timed scenes. The Timeline page provides the overview, the Storyboard page the detail.

As mentioned previously, although the Story Beats page may, at first blush, seem to push your story towards the formulaic, mapping each plot, subplot, character journey, character arc and relationship to story beats guarantees that, unchanged, you story simply cannot fit to formula. The Timeline page is where you get to control this.

What you will see, when you open the page is all of your story arcs laid out, with each story beat displayed along it, each in their default positions. You will also see that your chosen story structure is shown for comparison.

Immediately it will become clear that every single inciting incident, for instance, appears in exactly the same place on the timeline (page nine). Obviously, this is impossible. How can the scene where they meet on a bus and instantly dislike each other occur at exactly the same moment they realise they’re in love and kiss and at exactly the same time as the bad guys knock on his door, guns in hand? This is where you sort your story beats and ensure everything happens when it should.

How to use this page

Number one. You can change the structure comparison by choosing alternative structure maps, found under View>Structure Guides in the menu. As always, keyboard shortcuts are provided and visible in the menu.

Note: If you would like to use a particular structure for your story but can’t find it in the menu, please let us know and we’ll add it in the next update.

Also note that changes to structure maps here, and in the Boards page, will be reflected in the default story structure setting for your story. Of course, you can change it again at any time.

Simply clicking on a story beat will highlight it and you can then drag it left or right to place it where you feel it needs to be.

Note: story beats can be moved out of sequence, however, remember the mid-point should occur after the first act plot point and before the false ending etc. Of course, rules are made to be broken…

If you know what you’re looking for, the search function (cmd-F) allows you to quickly select the scene beats you want. This is where the #Tag function comes in handy. Or you can hover over a scene beat and a pop-up will appear with the full text of the selected scene beat.

Click to select and drag left or right to place the scene beat where it belongs in your story. Shift-click to select multiples. Note, you can’t drag multiple scene beats, but, by typing cmd-G you can group and align those selected scene beats, which will allow you to move them back and forward on the timeline as one.

By shift-clicking, you can select the multiple story beats that belong together. Either Group and Align them to allow you to move them around as a group (by clicking on any in the group) or, once you’re happy, distilling the group to create a new scene. You’ll be given the opportunity to name the scene.

Note: if you have applied a #Tag to the story beats involved, that tag will be suggested as the scene name.

If you choose to distill a group of story beats that are yet to be grouped and aligned, distilling will do that automatically.

And, if you find a straggler that you forgot to distill with its buddies, simply select, choose Inject from the Actions menu, click the Inject into Existing Scene button or type cmd-I. You’ll be presented with a list of all your existing scenes. Select one and click OK to add it to that scene.

Note: Once a scene beat has been distilled, your only editing option is to change its/their place(s) in the story.

Why use this page

Some scene beats may align perfectly with an accepted structure map, such as the Story Distiller 11 point arc or the Hero’s Journey. Others may need to occur at other times, to fit their progress into the story in non-obvious ways.

Looking at the CBS series “Chuck” for a moment: Chuck’s character arc, from pathetic nerd to strong, capable, self-reliant spy, spans the five seasons and progresses in a pretty smooth arc. The Sarah Walker character (like most of the major characters in Chuck) has a number of character arcs. One, in particular is her journey from warrior, to princess, to mother, back to warrior and to child. This arc (or, perhaps, “these arcs”) also span the length of the series but some of the changes happen slowly, whilst others occur over a couple of episodes. Likewise, Casey’s shift from cold-hearted killer to loyal friend moves slowly forward for two seasons, before undergoing a rapid transition in season three, to be resolved in the last couple of eps in the series. All of these progressions are important, all happen at exactly the right place in the story and none of them happen by accident.

The Timeline page gives you an overview of your entire story and allows you to position every scene beat in its perfect spot along the timeline. The scenes created when you distil the story beats retain the running order you decided upon. These decisions, of course, can be edited further on the Storyboard page.

Additionally, and importantly, you may find that, given scene beats should remain in their correct order, some of your arc planning may not work at first. Perhaps you might need to rethink the arc. Perhaps a scene beat might need to be altered to pair it with different scene beats or, maybe, you might decide a particular scene beat is superfluous and that it has no place in your story. Whilst this is certainly a better time to arrive at these decisions than after you’ve written your first draft (or 20th), keep in mind three things.

  1. You can nevertheless distill the scene beat in question into a scene. Just because you’ve created a scene, there’s no rule that you have to include it in the draft – but at least you’ll have it there in case its purpose reveals itself later.
  2. The Timeline page provides an overview and is designed to help you sequence your scene beats. Its job is to help you identify problems and solve them early.
  3. And, even if you decide a scene beat has no real point, you can decide to not distill it and it will still remain available for later editing and distilling. Story Distiller keeps all your data, so there is no need to ever delete anything. Who knows where your story will be tomorrow?

**Many of the concepts behind the Timeline and Storyboard pages have been built around Western cinema theories. We are big fans of East Asian cinema and TV are working hard to bring Eastern storytelling theories to Story Distiller in an upcoming version.