Chronological vs Narrative Order

Aeon Timeline supports two different approaches to ordering events within your timeline:

  • Chronological Order: represents a date-based, sequential order of events as they actually occurred (even for items that have not yet been allocated dates).
  • Narrative Order: represents the order in which events (and other items) are introduced within a narrative or presentation of the timeline data

The chronological order can be considered the default order of events. It is the order used in the majority of views (including Timeline, Spreadsheet, Subway and Relationship Views), and it is the order that is used when determining whether dependencies and constraints are correctly met. 

Every item that can be included in the chronological order (as determined by its Item Type) will always be included somewhere within the chronological order.

In contrast, the narrative order takes an opt-in approach where the user must deliberately choose to use it (and in fact, some templates will turn it off entirely by default). Items must be manually added into the Narrative or Outline views (or dragged into these views from other views) to be included in the narrative.

Importantly, it is possible for items to exist in just the chronological order, just the narrative order, or to appear in both chronological and narrative orders: for fiction writers, this allows you to model more backstory in your timeline than you intend to include in your final story, or to add elements into your story narrative that do not correspond with dates or real events within a chronological view of your story.

Enabling/Disabling Narrative

Narrative-based ordering is not going to be relevant for all projects and all industries. For this reason, it is possible to disable the narrative entirely in Timeline Settings.

When the narrative is disabled, the application does not maintain a separate narrative order and hierarchy, and the views that use the narrative order - Narrative View and Outline View - are also disabled.

The benefits of maintaining two distinct orders

For storytellers, there are multiple benefits to have two distinct orders for your events.

  • Stories that are non-linear, involving flashbacks or time travel will benefit from the ability to view and create both the chronological order of events and the order they occur in the story.
  • Further world building can be mapped out on the timeline, such as backstories or contextual world events, without polluting the narrative of your story.
  • Events can appear in your narrative that don’t make sense to chronologically track in the timeline (eg. Dream sequences)

Beyond storytelling,  the separate narrative order can be useful in many other contexts where presentation of data is involved:

  • In a legal setting, the narrative can be used to construct the intended presentation of data to the courtroom
  • In a historical timeline, the narrative can be used to decide which events from a historical timeline should be presented during a lecture

Chronological Order

Chronological order represents the date-based sequence in which events actually occur. Events are sorted by the date of an event, where it exists, and otherwise by a manual ordering.

Which items appear in chronological order?

Generally speaking, items that are considered to be events (based on the item's type) are included in your chronological order. This includes item types such as:

  • Event, Backstory, Flashback, and Flash-forward within a fiction template
  • Epics, Stories, and Tasks within project management templates
  • Events, Facts and Testimony within legal templates

An item type must allow dates in order to be included in the chronological order, but not all item types that allow dates are necessarily included  (e.g. a Person with birth and death dates is configured to allow dates, but is not usually considered to be event-like and included in the chronological order). You can modify which items are allowed in this order in Advanced Settings.

Although items must be allowed to have dates in order to appear in chronological order, they are included even if no dates are set. This allows you to determine the relative order of events prior to setting actual dates, which can be useful during the early stages of plotting a novel or planning a project.

How is the chronological order determined?

First and foremost, an item's start date is used to determine its position within the chronological order. Items within this ordering are automatically sorted whenever their dates change to ensure that this date-based ordering is always preserved. When this sorting occurs, items without dates will maintain their relative position compared to other items as much as possible.

The easiest place to view and re-order items is using the Spreadsheet View, with the columns sorted by the chronological order column (the column with the # heading). Dragging items up and down within this spreadsheet view will adjust their position within the chronological order:

  • Items without dates can be dragged to any position within the order (and they will not be given dates when this occurs). 
  • Items with dates can also be dragged anywhere, but their dates will be adjusted if you drag the item past an item with a conflicting date.

Re-ordering dates in Relationship View or Subway View will affect the chronological order in the same way (including triggering date changes if required). 

Dragging items in timeline view, or editing their dates directly, may also affect chronological order if the new date requires a shift in order to keep events sequential.

Which views use chronological order?

Timeline View
Timeline View provides a linear view of events across time, with events displayed chronologically from left to right to match the corresponding dates along the top. If items share the same date, their vertical order is determined by the chronological order (i.e. higher items in the Spreadsheet View will also appear higher on the Timeline View). Only events that contain dates are displayed on the timeline.
Spreadsheet View
Events are ordered chronologically from top to bottom. Events are automatically ordered by date, however events don’t have to have a date to appear in the spreadsheet view so you can manually alter the order of these events by clicking and dragging them in the list.

Item hierarchies can be used to group items underneath parents, in which items will be sorted by chronological order at each level of the hierarchy tree.
Relationship View  Behaviour is the same as the Spreadsheet View, listed above.
Subway View Events are ordered chronologically from left to right wth an even spacing (unlike Timeline View, Subway View is not linear and does not represent the relative time spacing between items).

Narrative Order

Narrative order is a structured order for events which is independent of their dates. The events are contained in a hierarchical structure with the ability to give labels such as “Part”, “Chapter” and “Scene”.

Which items appear in narrative order?

The narrative order will contain a mixture of date-based items that can appear in both the chronology and narrative, and narrative-only items. As with narrative order, the types of items is determined by your chosen template. To use fiction templates, as an example:

  • Event, Flashback, and Flash-forward items can occur within both the narrative and chronological orders, as they are events that occur at a real place and time that might be included within the Narrative and Timeline.
  • Folders or Narrative parts occur only within the Narrative (these are typically used to create a hierarchy within the narrative, such as dividing scenes into Chapters and Parts).
  • Backstory items can appear within the chronology but not the narrative (because by definition, they are elements of world-building that are kept out of the actual story).

Unlike chronological order, items must be explicitly added to the narrative order in order to be included. This can be helpful for people who have more events to plot then will eventually appear in the narrative of their story.

As discussed, the narrative order can be grouped into a hierarchy, allowing events to be divided into Chapters and Parts (for a novel) or Acts and Scenes (for a screen or stage play) that better reflect the overall structure of the narrative story. This is different to the general item hierarchy that is created by setting item parents: in effect, the narrative maintains its own distinct hierarchy as well as order).

How are items added to the narrative?

There are several ways to add items into the narrative.

Existing items:

  • Existing items can be dragged into Narrative View or Outline View from another view to add that item into the narrative.
  • Existing items can also be added into Narrative View by clicking on an Add button within the view (these are located at numerous points within the hierarchical tree) and selecting an existing item from the dropdown

New items:

  • New items can also be created directly in the narrative by using the Add button in the Narrative View, or by typing a label into the empty row at the bottom of the Outline View
  • New items will also be directly added to the narrative if a Narrative View or Outline View is the focused view when adding items via the Sidebar or Item menu (provided the chosen item types are allowed to be included in the narrative).

When adding new items to the narrative, if that type is allowed in the chronological order, it will be added automatically to the end of the existing chronology.

Which views use narrative order?

Narrative View
Narrative view is a card layout of the narrative order. The order runs from top to bottom, left to right with cards displayed within one another to show the hierarchical structure.
Outline View
Outline View is the narrative-order equivalent of the Spreadsheet View. Items are sorted from top to bottom according to the narrative order. Where the narrative includes a hierarchy, this will be reflected in the tree structure of the Outline View.