Institutions and Age-less characters

PJ
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Sun Nov 02, 2008 12:58 am Post

One other way of handling the birth/death questions would be to allow insertion of a character at his/her first and last appearances in the story line. Those could be, but need not be, birth and death. You might then go back and, if needed, work out an appropriate birth date. Or give the character an approximate age at the point of first appearance.

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Sun Nov 02, 2008 2:30 am Post

I have split this into its own topic, as I think it is something that deserves more discussion.

shorn wrote:I may not need (or even know) the birth date of a historical personage (and his or her age may not be relevant). So personally I would appreciate it if a birth date was not required when creating a character. This applies to using institutions as characters. In a history a government or a company may be an important actor, but their "birth date" generally has no meaning..


There are a couple of issues that come up here:
1) How to deal with buildings, institutions, etc. that may be central to the timeline, but have an unknown or irrelevant creation date. It could be argued that they are all 'created' at some time, and so could have this date associated with them, but it may be unnecessary work to figure out exactly when each building was created if it serves no useful purpose.

2) How to deal with minor characters, who appear to perform a short function, and then disappear again.

To solve the first of these issues, I am considering introducing a second as yet un-named category of 'participant' that does not have a birth event -- these 'participants' would not have an age shown against them in the timeline. I would look to make it possible to assign a birthdate at a later time to these characters.

The idea of giving characters an approximate age when they first appear is also an interesting suggestion - if this is the case though, I wonder whether it would not just be easier to have a birth event automatically created when you first introduce the character. Perhaps this event could be marked as hidden and not displayed on the timeline.

These are just a couple of ideas - I would be interested in opinions on this, or any further ideas which would expand the concept.

Whilst obviously this application is mostly targeted at fiction writers, I would be interested in how these considerations would play out for someone using it for historical purposes as well.

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AndreasE
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Sun Nov 02, 2008 1:50 pm Post

To me, the whole point of timelines like AEON's is to compare ages of characters at given moments in their biographies. So, I do not see the usefulness of having a timeless institution in the picture.

Maybe someone can provide an example that shows what could be achieved by such a functionality? :shock:

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Sun Nov 02, 2008 2:59 pm Post

I can see uses for ageless characters, although as yet I haven't thought of any that are relevant to my own writing. Suppose, for example, you were writing about timeless beings (such as gods and goddesses), or beings who may have a timeline of their own which is largely irrelevant to any current story (for example, Doctor Who or some other time-traveller); putting a birth date would be pointless, since the character doesn't age in real terms throughout the story's timeline, despite progress through sequential events.

More relevant to my own writing is the ability to track events for a place (not as specific as an individual building, but more like a town or area) which has no specific start date but which undergoes changes and events which I would like to track alongside the events for characters, and which intersect with and influence them. For example, it might be very relevant to track things like changes in local government, or the price of bread, or dates of river flooding and crop failure. This is really a variation of the examples given by shorn and matt (historical personages, companies, governmental institutions, incidental characters etc.) whose birth date and age are totally irrelevant to the story but who nonetheless play a part in the story (however obliquely) and whose events need to be tracked accordingly. Spending time inventing or researching birth dates (or start dates) for such characters/institutions would be an unwelcome distraction, and displaying ages against such events would be irritating since the information would be meaningless.
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kewms
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Sun Nov 02, 2008 4:50 pm Post

AndreasE wrote:To me, the whole point of timelines like AEON's is to compare ages of characters at given moments in their biographies. So, I do not see the usefulness of having a timeless institution in the picture.


For me, the point of a timeline program is continuity: making sure that I haven't put a person in two places at the same time, or keeping track of what's happening in those two places. What was happening in Spain at the time of the American Revolution? Where were Frodo and Sam when Aragorn was making his way through the Paths of the Dead? What did Venice look like and who was the Doge when my character lived there? Had today's famous landmarks been built yet? Where the heck was Jeb Stuart in the days before Gettysburg?

Other examples abound. For me, keeping track of ages is one of the least useful potential timeline applications.

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Sun Nov 02, 2008 5:19 pm Post

I'd like some way of having places/events/ideas that are not age-related, but time related. Also a way of intersecting different ideas/threads with the narrative. I'm thinking fiction and non-fiction. So characters, events, and even abstract ideas can be put on the timeline to see how they relate to each other as the book goes on. It visualises the structure of the book from the writer's point of view instead of just keeping the characters' ages straight. Maybe that's more than a timeline, or something different altogether.

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Sun Nov 02, 2008 7:37 pm Post

Katherine and jennydiski have pretty well summed up my approach to using a time-line program. Here is what I need help with.

    Straight-line realistic narrative within a short time span, where relative ages are implicit in the setting, or are irrelevant. I want to be sure that the man who commits a crime at noon in New York is not having breakfast at eleven-thirty in Miami.

    Nested stories, each one of which might have its own time line, possibly keyed to another but just as likely independent of others.

    Stories in which linear time is warped, or recursive. Absolute time lines might be impossible, yet some rough temporal frame can help avoid chaos.

I don't expect Aeon, or any other software, to do all the work for me. What I'd like is a program which helps me keep track of divergent elements.

Jane Austen, for instance, probably would have no use for such a program. On the other hand, I'm dazzled by the likes of Anthony Powell or Louise Erdrich, who've written multiple intertwined novels; how did they do that without a team of continuity managers? Or a program like Aeon?
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AndreasE
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Sun Nov 02, 2008 11:29 pm Post

I admit that I haven't even thought of using AEON for continuity control. Yes, in this case a simple line for a place etc. would be of help.

Thinking about it, however, I would need to have a slightly different graphical representation before I'd dare to construct my Agatha-Christi-style mystery novel...

Let's say we have the entrance hall, and Jane enters at 9 o'clock together with Howard. They have this discussion they don't want to tell anything about, but Jane left at 9:30, Howard however not before 10 o'clock. What I would paint then were two thick vertical lines (or blocks, or ovals, whatever), being the "Jane is here"-line only half as long as the "Howard is here"-line, so that I see there is half an hour difference between the two exits.

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Mon Nov 03, 2008 12:45 pm Post

AndreasE wrote:Thinking about it, however, I would need to have a slightly different graphical representation before I'd dare to construct my Agatha-Christi-style mystery novel...

Let's say we have the entrance hall, and Jane enters at 9 o'clock together with Howard. They have this discussion they don't want to tell anything about, but Jane left at 9:30, Howard however not before 10 o'clock. What I would paint then were two thick vertical lines (or blocks, or ovals, whatever), being the "Jane is here"-line only half as long as the "Howard is here"-line, so that I see there is half an hour difference between the two exits.


You can set a duration for events at the moment. When an event is selected, the time of the event is highlighted in a yellow-ish colour (shown for the duration of the event).

I have been grappling with a better way to show this - something that can be displayed permanently, not just when the event is selected - for example, by changing the colour/thickness of the character's line.

The problem I have is that not all event lines will be shown at their exact correct location - if two events are listed at the same time, they are shifted vertically to allow both to be displayed without overlap. This causes a problem when highlighting anything on the character line - the actual time of the events, and the time where the event line are displayed do not necessarily correlate.

This picture shows what I am talking about. At the current zoom level, the selected event ("Random happening") is offset a long way from the highlighted yellow area.

offset_picture.jpg
offset_picture.jpg (195.12 KiB) Viewed 1560 times


The "event warnings" (discussed in documentation) would be one way to help determine where there may be a conflict. But I would prefer to find a good way to visualise it as well, if anyone has suggestions.

Matt

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Sat Nov 08, 2008 8:10 pm Post

I, too, have little use for actually keeping track of a character's age since most of my short stories and novels span months, and sometimes up to a couple of years, but seldom decades. Having said that, I understand that writers doing multigenerational or fantasy epics have a definite need to track this sort of information. In my work, I use timelines much like Katherine, Jenny, Siren and others so the option to turn off the character's aging would be great; I would however like the option of using tokens to denote when a character first enters a story and when that character leaves the story permanently, their arc completed. It could be as simple as giving users a way to change the birth and death nomenclature.

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Sun Nov 09, 2008 1:07 am Post

JRP,
You can already turn off the visible ages with the toolbar item, which at least gets them off the main view. At present you will still need to have character births in there, however.

You say you don't need ages because your stories span a minimal time. One of the ideas behind the ages (and indeed the timeline itself) was also to flesh out a character's back story. So although you don't care about their age during the events of the story, it may still be useful for things like "how old was he when he was first promoted", "how old was he when his mother died", etc.

I guess it depends whether you are using it for character development or for plot development. But as you can hide the ages when you don't want to see them, and in the next release it will automatically fold the backstory time to show decades even while your plot is zoomed in, swapping between 'character development mode' and 'plot development mode' should be pretty trivial.

I am going to be tweaking these things anyway for the next release, and I do like your suggestion of showing when a character enters or leaves a story. So I am not trying to force you down a different path, I just thought I'd mention other possible uses for the character ages, to see whether you might find it useful in ways you haven't thought of.

I would be interested in your response.

Matt

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Sun Nov 09, 2008 1:03 pm Post

jennydiski wrote:I'd like some way of having places/events/ideas that are not age-related, but time related. Also a way of intersecting different ideas/threads with the narrative. I'm thinking fiction and non-fiction. So characters, events, and even abstract ideas can be put on the timeline to see how they relate to each other as the book goes on. It visualises the structure of the book from the writer's point of view instead of just keeping the characters' ages straight. Maybe that's more than a timeline, or something different altogether.


"Character" is a central organizing feature for fiction, but I think there's a different mental model emerging here and "character" isn't the right term.

Suppose I'm writing a biography of Charles Babbage. Obviously he's the central character, and there are other people who are also part of the story. But for several years he worked rather compulsively on his "difference engine", and many of the events in his life affected the progress of that project. So I also need to have "difference engine" as a vertical line in the timeline, with a start date and an end date, and various events intersecting that line.

There's a different abstraction lurking here. I don't have the right term for it, but the key is that there are things with inherent durations: people, projects, wars, the industrial revolution. The present mechanisms work, but it's annoying and mentally disruptive to have to pretend that "the age of enlightenment" is a "character" with a date of birth and a date of death.

So I'm suggesting breaking from "character" and letting the underlying abstraction emerge: horizontal lines represent events, which have no duration (more accurately, their duration is not important to the work being written); vertical lines represent things with time durations that matter. Characters are a common case of the latter, but should not overwhelm it.
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Tue Nov 11, 2008 12:04 am Post

matt wrote:You say you don't need ages because your stories span a minimal time. One of the ideas behind the ages (and indeed the timeline itself) was also to flesh out a character's back story. So although you don't care about their age during the events of the story, it may still be useful for things like "how old was he when he was first promoted", "how old was he when his mother died", etc.


Ok, I can see how some writers would find character age tracking useful in that regard; personally, I just use a character sketch and note any critical dates/ages that occur prior to my story time. Having said that, however, if I am using extensive flashbacks in the story, I can see using the timeline in this way. I also would have a use for a pop up window like the one Antony mentions in another post, which would appear when one first enters a new character in the timeline.

matt wrote:I am going to be tweaking these things anyway for the next release, and I do like your suggestion of showing when a character enters or leaves a story. So I am not trying to force you down a different path, I just thought I'd mention other possible uses for the character ages, to see whether you might find it useful in ways you haven't thought of.

I would be interested in your response.


With entry and exit, though critical for a secondary character who plays an important role for a good chunk of story time, for me some simple sort of designation, without age tracking hence just an option for tokens, would also be valuable for minor characters who appear in a a couple of scenes but don't get serious play time. It just helps to keep track of everything.

My greatest need is still for a timeline to track story elements rather than characters per se, e.g., a character's specific place within the story at a particular time, minor and major plot points, conflicts, story time continuity, etc.

Also, as I mentioned in another brief post, I have a bit of difficulty envisioning how the vertical timeline will accommodate multiple concurrent subplots and or story elements, e.g., a war story, where the time span of a battle as a fixed element, the movement of a company of soldiers as one timeline, something occurring on the home front as another timeline, the communications of a spy as another element in the context of how it intersects with other subplots, etc.

Anyway, I am still playing around with the software and will post UI or other suggestions in the appropriate threads, but if I haven't mentioned before, thank you for the work and thought you've put into Aeon to date. You've made a great start!

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Tue Nov 11, 2008 2:38 am Post

pete340 wrote:"Character" is a central organizing feature for fiction, but I think there's a different mental model emerging here and "character" isn't the right term.

Suppose I'm writing a biography of Charles Babbage. Obviously he's the central character, and there are other people who are also part of the story. But for several years he worked rather compulsively on his "difference engine", and many of the events in his life affected the progress of that project. So I also need to have "difference engine" as a vertical line in the timeline, with a start date and an end date, and various events intersecting that line.

There's a different abstraction lurking here. I don't have the right term for it, but the key is that there are things with inherent durations: people, projects, wars, the industrial revolution. The present mechanisms work, but it's annoying and mentally disruptive to have to pretend that "the age of enlightenment" is a "character" with a date of birth and a date of death.

So I'm suggesting breaking from "character" and letting the underlying abstraction emerge: horizontal lines represent events, which have no duration (more accurately, their duration is not important to the work being written); vertical lines represent things with time durations that matter. Characters are a common case of the latter, but should not overwhelm it.


Agree with everything you have said, and am working towards a better abstraction in version 0.2.

The hardest part is coming up with that one word I can use to describe all the various things you might want to track: people, places, organisations (companies, religions), legislation, various objects that need to be tracked, like the ring in Lord of the Rings.

Encarta gives me:
thing (n)
(1) object, article, item, entity, gadget, device, mechanism, machine, contraption, thingamajig
(2) obsession, fixation, mania, craze, preoccupation, fascination
(3) detail, point, idea, issue, factor, feature
(4) occurrence, event, incident, phenomenon, matter, affair, business

object(n)
(1) thing, article, item, entity, body, piece


Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus gives:
Main Entry: thing
Part of Speech: noun
Definition: something felt, seen, perceived
Synonyms: affair, anything, apparatus, article, being, body, business, circumstance, commodity, concept, concern, configuration, contrivance, corporeality, creature, device, element, entity, everything, existence, existent, fact, figure, form, gadget, goods, implement, individual, information, instrument, item, machine, material, materiality, matter, means, mechanism, object, part, person, phenomenon, piece, point, portion, shape, situation, stuff, subject, substance, tool, word

Main Entry: object
Part of Speech: noun
Definition: thing able to be seen/felt/perceived
Synonyms: article, body, bulk, commodity, doodad*, doohickey*, entity, fact, gadget, gizmo*, item, mass, matter, phenomenon, reality, something, substance, thingamajig*, volume, whatchamacallit, widget*

Main Entry: person
Part of Speech: noun
Definition: human being
Synonyms: being, body, character, creature, customer, gal, guy, human, identity, individual, individuality, joker*, life, living soul, man, mortal, party, personage, personality, self, somebody, soul, specimen, spirit, unit*, woman

Main Entry: noun
Part of Speech: adjective
Synonyms: ablative, abstract, accusative, common, concrete, count, countable, dative, mass, nominal, nominative, proper, vocative


None of which seems particularly suitable. Maybe entity, unit, body. Or maybe I should stick with 'thing'.

But then, an event is a thing, isn't it? And unit could be easily confused with 'time unit'.

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Tue Nov 11, 2008 4:11 am Post

Matt,

First a confession ... I haven't downloaded Aeon Timeline, as I have no conceivable use for a timeline app the way things are at the moment, so I feel that I have nothing of any real substance that I can contribute to these discussions. Many moons ago, I downloaded BeeDocs Timeline, opened it once and have never opened it since. But, believe me, I wish I did have a use for it; I have been following all that you have said and all that has been said in this forum and that is impressive indeed, not least that what I'm sure will be an excellent app has grown out of a discussion in the forums for my favourite app ... Perhaps when I retire, in a year or so's time, I'll start trying to write and will need it then.

That said, one small contribution ...

matt wrote:None of which seems particularly suitable. Maybe entity, unit, body. Or maybe I should stick with 'thing'.
But then, an event is a thing, isn't it? And unit could be easily confused with 'time unit'.


I don't think "Thing" is a good idea ... it would make it sound as if you really couldn't think of a name for this abstraction and so were just using "Thing" by default. I'd go with "Entity"; that can cover physical structures like buildings as well as people and institutions of all kinds ... all potential "legal entities". And if anyone were to need to use the option -- I don't know how to put it better for the moment -- for some truly abstract concept or event, labelling it an "entity" is no worse than labelling it a "thing".

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