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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Terraform writing – making the world for your characters

What in the world is going on?

I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of the biggest problem in the world. Namely, what IS the world? When writing a book from scratch, there are lots of questions that immediately spring to mind about its setting: What does the world look like? What is it like to live in the world? What happens when you walk down the street? Where can I buy some eggs? That sort of thing.

I decided early on (at least a week and a half ago!) that the whole story would be based on an island. I’m not thinking one man and his volleyball desert island story, more an island community living independently, away from the rest of the world. The idea behind this was to give the locals a hard boundary so that their history and development could be kept separate from our real history, while all the physical properties of the island would be familiar to other real places. Eg, the island will be based somewhere off the United Kingdom, so we can assume it’ll be formed in a similar manner to, say, the Isle of Man.

When I first started out on this project, I thought I should be drawing detailed maps of every inch of my new world, making comprehensive notes on every blade of grass, snail trail and pavement slab topped with canine excrement. It seemed to me as if there was no other alternative if I wanted a clear run of writing in my next phase of the project.

A minimalist world

But is this really the case? Does the whole world need to be described in such detail before we begin? I am now thinking differently – how important is this world to the plot? In my case, it’s still the Earth, it’s still set somewhere in the past 50 years, people will speak English. There’s really not a great deal to get wrong with it!

Ok, so there are some major things to think about around the locations where the action will take place. This is fine – I’ve already accounted for most of these in my notes (and a fair bit in my head!), but if the plot calls for a new location as I am writing, how much effort will it be to fit this new place in? In my world, not very much at all!

So the real question here is, what am I missing? Am I way off the mark with this? To me, the characters are the main entities in this story and they will fit into this world as I tell them to. The world will not adapt around them. I know there’s lots of writers creating wonderful worlds for their epic fantasies and I doff my hat to all of you – the work you put in to this is outstanding, I just think it’s outside the scope for the type of book I’m writing.

Momentum: Keeping the writing spirit alive

Motivation

I’ve been away with work all this week and haven’t had a chance to think about writing or my book. I’ve either been travelling (dull), in meetings (various levels of interest depending on who with), in the bar (unwinding, drinking beer and/or eating), or sleeping. It’s been a fairly exhausting week.

I’ve returned home and have tried to pick up where I left off, but with such a break, I’ve lost all the momentum I had last week. I took my notebooks with me but didn’t have a moment to do anything productive. You might think that the time spent drinking beer would have been perfect time to do some writing, develop a character or work on the plot lines, but it never happened. I was tired and just needed downtime.

This is life. We need a balance between the various different parts of our lives or nothing will function properly. So what is the best way to get the right balance?

At the moment, I have a lot of different thoughts going on with my book. I have a rough outline of the plot along with who will be involved in it. I dip in and out of ideas and write as my whim takes me. This is great when I have time to sit and think and write, but what about when I only have the occasional half hour here or there to attend to the book? I need more structure.

Everything I have done to date is at a top level, bird’s eye view of the project as a whole. If I want this to succeed then I need to become more granular about all the aspects of the story. I know that I have a world, but what fills it? There must be hundreds of houses, shops, roads, signposts in a town. The countryside needs fields and trees, hills and valleys, even cliffs and mountains where necessary. There needs to be weather. How do all these things interact with each other?

Going granular

The granular level says that one character must live in one house and go to a series of other locations. These other locations will be owned, run or visited by other people. So why not take the main character and describe where he fits in, concentrating on his detail and bringing in other people and other locations as I go. This means there will be a definite path to complete the structure behind all the different places in the story. In short, I am preparing the scaffolding for the story, but in an organised fashion.

So how does this help my motivation? It doesn’t, I still need to motivate myself to write, even when I’m tired or only have a small window of opportunity. The good news is that I won’t have to think about what I’m going to write about as it will follow on from the last thing that was written.

I read that a good way to bring back the thoughts of a previous writing session is to stop in mid dialog. A conversation is very emotive and it should be easy to pick up what the characters motivations were in the follow up writing session. I think my motivation will come through ending a writing session with the plan of what needs to be described next. That way I will be able to pick up from where I left off, perhaps by writing about a shop the protagonist is about to visit, or about the character that is going to give him his next bag of magic beans.

Leave me a comment below if you have other opinions around how to keep the momentum of writing alive whilst maintaining the balance with everything else going on in your world.