As I’ve previously mentioned, I am currently trying out some new methods for plotting to solve an issue with the second act of the novel. I have a worry that the intensity I’m approaching it at might mean it takes all the fun out of the writing and kills the project for me. And I’m plotting out an entirely fresh novel as a test of the process, the idea being that if it works I’ll have a future novel sat there plotted ready to write one day in the future, and if it goes wrong, well at least I haven’t ruined my series.
Perhaps it’s procrastination, but at least it’s procrastination with a purpose.

The test novel, we’ll call it Project Bulldog (because all writing projects need a codename after some sort of animal), is a flintlock fantasy and stems from an idea that appeared to me pretty complete about a young man who returns home after years away. Immediately I’m asking lots of questions – both the story / worldbuilding ones (why’s he been away? How has the city changed in his absence?) and craft ones (Single POV? First person or third person?). Some of these are more relevant to what I’m trying to accomplish than others but I don’t shut ideas out. The fact that it’s first person present and whilst adult in nature is not as coarse as my current series is important in plotting this book.
I don’t think I’m the only author who has great ideas whilst in the depths of another project and then have to fight as the brain goes into a wildfire of ideas. This has the potential to be an ongoing series, I tell myself, I should at least very roughly plot that out so I can bury all the right things in book one. But I don’t have time in this exercise, I just want to know whether I can fully plot a book and not kill the fun of writing it (because writing books is a pain in the arse and there’s no point in writing something if it’s not fun. It’ll show otherwise and make for a shit book).
So I decide the limits of this first book. If you like, this book would be the set up for the series. That immediately rules out a LOT of ideas. Painful but probably a decision I would have come to if I’d plotted out an entire series.
Ideas go well. I have an awesome scene I just cannot get out of my mind. It’s nuts, different enough from standard fantasy to be cross-genre enough to please me, but not so far as to stop people labelling the book a flintlock fantasy.
Very early on I have a list of media to look for inspiration. I don’t want to list what they are as one of the test for potential beta readers is to see if they come back to me with “well it’s Flintlock X” where X is one of the inspiration. Consequently when ideas become a little too close to their inspiration I force things the other way. If X goes left, I go right. It pushes me into areas my brain otherwise would not of thought to have gone.
A character from an old experimental project turns up. I leave him there for the time being. He’ll either remain as the story evolves or will pushed out along the way.
The main character develops. Something I’m not sure whether to take left or right becomes a major plot point.
Something I’ve never done before is to take a notebook and start writing ideas down. I have a rough idea of a story. I know how it starts, I know how it ends and an idea of the sort of stuff that happens in the middle. In the past this would have been enough for me to start writing (although I’d probably normally want some mid-book scenes formed in my head as strong as the climactic scene). However, I write a flow diagram of events and it soon shows me that I’m hazy in the middle.
Seems to be a regular occurrence, doesn’t it? Even in the Four Realms, the bits at the Farmhouse and the bunker were very late additions in the evolution of the story.
So I know that I have a problem with middles. Great, this process has identified a weakness which I can work on and improve… but all I care about right now is getting this plot together.
And there it seems to stick for a few days. It’s horrible. I now have two books with broken middles, the one I’m writing and the one I’m using as a test of the new process to try and avoid these things.
But writing isn’t easy. This process is not to avoid these problems, but identify them before I get deep into writing the book. Still, it’s a bad few days where I piss off everyone.
I’m convinced that the problem with the test novel, project Bulldog, is that there’s a plot strand missing. It’s too linear otherwise. First person POV means a secondary character is out of the question. Besides I’m doing multiple POV with Thieving King. So that means a secondary plot that can feed into the main. I think of books that do this particularly well. I have an idea that this will be a sort of mystery and find myself wishing the next Peter Grant book was out (Soon people!)
I work backwards. Where should this secondary plot lead us? And from that I get a rough idea of the lines I should be going along. Some initial ideas feel wrong and it’s only when I realise that they are very similar to plot elements in Thieving King that I realise why. Wow, I thought I was more original than to rip off my own novels.
But that gives me my answer, although I do not realise it at the time. I have managed to come up with a scene where our hero is caught by the city guard at a crime scene. I like that. If he’s wanted by the city guard that ups the stakes, gives him agency (and believe me, throughout all of this the buzzword is agency). I always knew the city guard wore red jackets but in this scene the guard is wearing something similar to a Pickelhaube.
It’s amazing how an image can sometimes spark plot ideas. Seeing that guard point his rifle at our hero gave me an idea for a secondary villain. My mind goes back to an old idea for a historical genre book and steals a character from it. Suddenly that idea and this one click, and those ideas are now fodder for possible future books. It means the historical idea is pretty much gone now and I am sad for losing it for a moment because it really was a good idea. But I now have a secondary villain and a secondary plot. It breaks one of the rules I set for myself right at the beginning, but hey… my rules.
So now I have a secondary plot and feel that I have enough to start putting this altogether into scenes. There’s going to be some more idea work as I try and link things together and I still don’t know if this level of plotting will kill a novel for me. I hope not, this one is starting to look pretty good.