Storyspace 3: building an interactive timeline

Storyspace 3 is not just about the text in hypertext. Graphics and visually-engaging layout are just as important in sophisticated hypertext as they are in any communication. This brief tutorial explores some ways of using Storyspace’s features to produce an essentially graphical section in a non-fiction work: an interactive timeline.

For simplicity, and to keep file sizes under control, I will assemble this in a new document, although my intention is to incorporate it into the same Trees in the Landscape hypertext book in the previous tutorials, based on the series of articles here.

Design

My intention is to have a vertical timeline in the Map view, with the oldest date at the top. Down that I will place writing spaces which occupy the period during which each artist lived, with a thumbnail of their example painting. The reader will then be able to step through the artists in time order, and for each one, clicking on the thumbnail image will take them to larger images of that painting, and more information.

Each writing space with a thumbnail view will have a brief overview of the artist. Those with a larger image will contain a more detailed biography, and those with a full size image will have discussion of the painting itself, as well as more details.

Graphics

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I first made myself a timeline as a PNG graphic file using Affinity Designer. It is a simple vertical line, with equally spaced marks for centuries, and smaller intermediate tics. In a new, blank Storyspace document, ensure that the Map view is at the left, and resize the window and its divider to give yourself plenty of vertical space. Tuck the start and me writing spaces out of the way, then drag and drop your graphic file into the Map view.

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Once there, you can scale it using its drag bars, until you are happy that it is suitable for placing events alongside. When it is in place and sized, click the padlock icon on it to lock it in that size and position on the Map view. By default, this graphics box has a border. With it selected, open the Inspector, switch to Appearance, select the Border tab, and make the colour transparent; the border will then disappear.

Using GraphicConverter, I next prepared three versions of each image which I wish to use in the timeline and its associated writing spaces: one at a resolution of at least 1000 x 1000 pixels for full size, the second small image at no more than 512 x 512, and the third a thumbnail no larger than 128 x 128.

Artist entries

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Create the first writing space by double-clicking in the Map as usual. Select the Edit mode in the Outline view. Give the writing space the title of the artist’s name and the date of the painting, in this case John Constable (1828). Drag and drop the thumbnail of the painting into the content area of the Outline.

Next adjust the height of the writing space rectangle in the Map view so that its top is at the approximate date of birth, and its bottom at the date of death, of the artist, here 1776-1837. Adjust the width and the font size (using the Inspector’s Text tools) until the box in the Map view shows the thumbnail painting, the artist’s name and date of its creation. Once happy, use the More tab of the Properties Inspector to lock that in place.

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For each of these miniatures arrayed along the timeline, you will also create linked fuller views containing larger images and information about the painter and that work. The first should contain the 512 pixel small view and biographic information, the second the full-size image and full information about the painting.

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In the Map view, select the writing space holding the small view first. Drag the 512 pixel small image to the blue parking place at the top left of the Outline, then drag that to link the image to the full-size view in the Map view. Repeat that with the text below the small image, so that whether the reader clicks on the image or the text, they will be taken to the full-size view.

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Select the first writing space, on the Timeline, unlock it using the Inspector, and link its image to the writing space containing the small image, using the blue parking place again. Select the writing space containing the full-size image, and make a simple text link (in the Map view) from that back to the thumbnail view on the timeline. Make another simple link from the small image back to the thumbnail. This creates the basic cycle of writing spaces and images for each of the paintings to go alongside the timeline.

Lock the writing space on the timeline again, switch the Outline view to Read mode, and test those links out. From the thumbnail view, clicking on its image will take you to the small view. Clicking on either the image there or the text will then take you to the full-size view, but pressing Return will take you straight back to the thumbnail.

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Completing the timeline

Populate the timeline with further thumbnails, setting each with the top to the time of the artist’s birth, and the bottom to that of their death. Once happy with each, lock it into position.

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Finally, create the chain down the timeline by linking the thumbnail views together. Unlock each writing space and place simple links from the earliest to the next, and so on to reach the most recent, to form the sequential narrative of the timeline. Lock them all again, switch the Outline view to Read mode, and try them out. For the sake of completeness, I have also edited the start writing space and placed it at the top of the timeline, to lead the reader in.

My example Storyspace 3 file is here: TitLTimeline

Previous tutorials:
Introduction and history.
Getting started.
Using guards to structure reading.