Mapping out the Novel

logoCliche time: Every cloud has a silver lining. The rotator cuff has four different muscles in it and one of them has been a bit ‘iffy’ for the last few weeks. I’ve been managing it as I do my gym workout but I decided last week that it needed a break. No weights for a week, then I’ll ease back into it, lightening the load on that side and keeping it comfortable.

The silver lining? More time to do writing-related stuff!

My First Accomplishment:

Firstly, I’ve been able to get the revamp done on the website. Nothing major (though at one moment during the changeover when the server died I feared the worst) but the landing / main page of the site is now more a ‘John Harper’ page, rather than an Elite specific page.

Why? Because as I move into new projects I want to have my website as the single portal to all my works. You land at and you can check out all my published works, learn more about me, visit the blog, and check out my current projects. The existing pages are all still there and the same.

It’s not perfect, yet. I’m still working on it, tweaking php code to try and firm up the look I’m trying to go for. Take that grey footer half way through the page. That’s not intentional!

Otherwise I’m pretty happy with it. It leaves a lot of work to build up the new content but slow and steady will win this race (Yes, lots of cliches tonight – lucky I’m not writing).

My second accomplishment:blueeyes

‘Behind Blue Eyes’ (Working title) was the novel that I wrote before ‘Elite:And Here The Wheel’. It had been sitting in the ‘bottom drawer’, waiting for me to forget about it so I could get back into the editing, when the Elite:Dangerous kickstarter showed up and my writing life took a massive turn.

The draft of ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ was last edited in November 2012. Its nearly been two years and I had forgotten quite a bit about it! If I was going for a standard edit that would be great, but after everything I had learnt with And Here The Wheel (Kudos to Fantastic Books Publishing for showing me how they wanted the book edited, then getting me to do it myself – I learnt alot), I didn’t want to just edit it, I wanted to start back at the beginning and make sure the novel was everything it could be.

Now, I’m a planner. Not in my normal life – I hate it, but in my writer life I’m a big old planner. Each novel has a spreadsheet with mulitple tabs and I usually end up with a 30 page or so story summary which I expand into the actual novel itself. I can type really fast (over 1000 words an hour) if I only have to think about ‘how’ the story unfolds, not ‘what’ the story is that unfolds.

One of my key techniques in that planning is to write a table of every beat in the book, and it goes something like this:

Chapter number: // Beat Number: // Description: // Emotional Beats: // Objectives Accomplished:

So chapter numbers are pretty self explanatory. Each chapter could have 2-6 beats, which are like scenes or sequences. When the focus changes or location changes, etc, then its a new beat. Next I write down what the emotional response is of the beat. What am I trying to evoke in the reader? Fear? Anger? Is it suspense? comedy? drama? I note it down there. Objectives accomplished range from ‘inciting incident’, ‘setup’ to ‘mid point contextural shift’, ‘advance plot’, ‘rising tension’, etc.


It took a few hours to fill this out for the novel. It has 22 Chapters, 80 beats and 108,000 words. I have the First plot point at 25% (right at the top of the range it should be), the First Pinch Point at 33%, the Mid point at 47%, the Second pinch point at 49% (bit too low) and the Second Plot Point at 82% (pretty bang-on). Larry Brooks (Planning God of likens this to the circus big top. The FPP, SPP, PP1 and PP2 are the main poles supporting the tent. You need them in the right place to create the structure of the book. If you have them right you have a chance of having a book that readers will like. (The writer must still do a good job of the rest of the book of course!). Without these in the right place you have no chance at all.

That was just grunt work though; now the real work begins. Like a symphony I want to hit the right beats at the right times and in the right sequence to make something akin to music. Right off the bat I see I don’t have enough comedy beats. My protagonist is all dark and twisty. He might need to get a brighter side. I’ll stew on the make up of the story for a few more days. The story can definitely do with a bit of a nip and tuck. I think some scenes may morph and combine. I’ll take a copy of the beat table and make something that I think looks better, then see how I can take that and turn it back into a story.

Meanwhile the work continues on Shallow Space and the Garry Clan doesn’t get to rest for much longer. The next newsletter won’t be too far away. Sign up to the Clan, check out the latest newsletter (CLICK HERE) Then rock over to the Poll (CLICK HERE) to help decide Robert Garry’s course of action.


Ok, back to the grindstone. Thanks for reading. Comments always appreciated – share your writing planning story with me.



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