Fixed deadline? Go flexible on the plot

Plot chunks

So my full plan for writing a book by Christmas is now in place. And guess what, it looks like a load of neatly arranged boxes!

I’ll try to explain how this will fit together, at the very least so I can refer to it at the end and reflect how the project went. If you can follow how it works from my description, brilliant, well played you! Leave me a comment to let me know what you think about it.

I explained in a previous post that I will write the book by linking a beginning and an end and then writing as much middle as I can in the time allows. The trick is to ensure that the story makes sense, regardless of the length of the book. The downside of this is working out how to plan the plot to cope with any amount of chapters in between a beginning and end.

A plan of the plan

So, here’s what’s going to happen. The bulk of the story will be split into five separate and specific time periods, called eras. These will operate independently of each other and I’ll be able to pick any number of these to finish the book. Ideally, a minimum of three eras would be enough to describe a good chain of events and deliver a book of a reasonable length.

The eras will be further split between three families of characters, although I could probably cut one of these if it looks like I will overrun. There will also be a main character whose story will intertwine with these families.

This format provides a 2-D grid of available stories – 3 families multiplied across five different eras. Each of these stories can be written independently of each other – there will be minimal interaction between them all. In fact, apart from at the beginning and the end, it is only really the main character that draws everyone together. If I run out of time halfway through a story, I can simply drop that section and finish the book without it.

I have a couple of other storylines which can be linked to the families in the same way as the main character. These are very much nice-to-haves and can also be cut if there’s a shortage of time.

So this leaves me with the following todo list:

  • Start section, kicking off all the main storylines.
  • Somewhere between 6 and 15 middle sections* which will incorporate the main character and other sub stories where possible.
  • An end section, wrapping up all the themes and completing the book.

Simple! This means I have defined an absolute minimum to achieve before publishing – with less than 6 middle sections, I haven’t got a book. How long these sections are still needs to be established, but the main worry now is how long it will take to write each of these to a high standard and whether the minimum can be completed before Christmas.

I drew up a picture to describe the above, but it ended up looking like the Dulux colour chart so I’ve decided not to share it now. I’ll put some work in and post the update hopefully early next week.

I’m really keen to hear your thoughts on my approach, especially if you’ve used something similar yourself.

* 6 middle sections is made up of 2 families x 3 eras; 15 middle sections is made up of 3 families x 5 eras.

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6 thoughts on “Fixed deadline? Go flexible on the plot

  1. I’ve used something similar to this in writing my last novel and trying it on all the new ones. I basically break the book into 6 10,000 word sections and leave the plot completely open. At the end I have about 60,000 words or more and then once I revised it adds about another 10,000 or so which gives me a complete book at around 70,000. Good luck on your writing. You have a plan now you just need to stick to it no matter what.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts on this. How did you get on with chunking up your book like that? Did you have any problems that I can learn from?
    I originally thought of doing something similar to you. The way I saw it was that if each section has a defined start and end, then it can be as long or as short as it needs to be. In effect, you can define the gateways between each section, ie the characters will be at a defined state at the end of one section and will start like that at the beginning of the next. You can then write the sections in any order and can shorten the transition between gateways if you’re pushed for time.
    It sounds like a good way of writing, and judging by the content on your blog it looks like its working for you

    • Well I knew that I had to have roughly 70,000 words for a full novel, so I made those breaks to keep me going. Much easier to work from 10,000 words than staring at 70,000 mark. It really was just for mental peace, because it is not impossible to write 10,000 words whereas 70,000 is much more difficult when you’re even at 25,000 or so. I would leave everything very open and not be sure on anything will plot though. Even if your big sections do not connect I would make sure that the little connections flow from one chapter to the next. For the most part, I had to write straight through from start to finish for the first draft. Before, another novel, I tried writing 6 different viewpoints on characters and then mashing it together but the plot was all over the place because the time didn’t match up as well. Unfortunately so much of writing is just trying it. You’ll know if it is working. The only advice I can give is to keep going, tell yourself it is good even if you don’t believe it. The process of writing is what makes a writer. You can always make something better from something worse (that is what revision is for), but you cannot make something better from nothing. Just refuse to keep the page blank. The mindset really is everything. Good luck on writing your novel. It’s hard work but it will be worth it.

      • Great words – thanks! I’m going to remember “refuse to keep the page blank”!!
        I completely agree with what you’re saying and part of this chunking is to make lots of little achievable milestones rather than one big one. I still haven’t worked out how long I want the book to be, but I think that will come with the writing. So far still working on the planning but hoping to start writing proper in a couple of weeks. Having good fun with the project so far, which I think is the absolute main objective in writing – enjoying it!

  3. Pingback: The state of the lost dabs project | the lost dabs project

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