The two ways to plan your book


Creative Commons, from user wrobinson (licence)

If you’re planning on writing a book, there are plenty of resources online about how to plan to write. This resource from the Guardian is pretty comprehensive, going into detail about sketching out your characters, setting, plot and so on. There is also this one from the Writers Bureau, which mentions well-known techniques like summarising your book in a sentence.

I planned my book along these lines. I wrote biographies of major characters that detailed their back stories, physical descriptions, hopes, fears and relationships with each other.

If your book has plot devices that won’t be familiar to your readership then they deserve a proper article as well. For example, if you’ve invented an organisation that plays a role in your book, then you’ll need to mark out its rules, structure and culture. Some of the books that stick in my mind all did this very clearly – think of the rules of Fight Club (but don’t talk about them) or the mottoes of the Houses in Game of Thrones.

So far, so good. But I fell down on two further aspects of planning. These were:

  1. Tying the plot together
  2. Deciding who the book was for

Tying the book together

By ‘tieing the plot together’ I mean making sure things add up and there are no obvious plot holes. As the author you can make your characters do what you like, but your readers will use their own life experiences as reference points. Particularly as the book goes on, your readers will hopefully gain a feel for your characters and will begin to be able to second-guess their reactions to new developments. If they do something unexpected without good reason, it will feel off. So you have to make sure your characters have understandable reasons for doing and saying what they do.


You also need to handle what you might call the ‘logistics’ of the book. By this I mean making sure characters are in the right location with the right tools and with no obvious obstructions to doing what you want them to do.

This is why so many child characters in books are orphans: being home in time for tea is an obvious barrier to going on an adventure. Let’s imagine one of your characters is shot midway through the novel. How big of a problem is gun crime in your character’s world? If it’s set in the West outside of America, then the reader may have a harder time believing you. What about the shooter? Where did they get their gun from? If guns are hard to come by in your world, then the reader may need some explanation of where it came from. Perhaps they may also need an explanation of how the shooter was able to fire the weapon. Did they have some sort of training, possibly as a spy or a soldier – or was it just a lucky shot from someone who had watched one too many gangster films?

Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist: One of literature’s most famous orphans

Doing this is sometimes dull and annoying. You have to be prepared to ask yourself awkward questions (or get someone to ask them for you). A few times I’ve had to go back and amend details so that the plot moves along as I want it to. If I’d prepared more thoroughly, I might have been able to head off some of those problems before they arrived, saving me time.

Your audience

Secondly you need to decide who your book is for. This is the part of the plan where my preparation was completely inadequate. The best resource on this I’ve yet found is this five point plan by Brian Tracy.

His steps look like this (this is his summary, at the bottom of his article):

  • What is my passion?
  • What is my ideal target market?
  • Who are my demographics?
  • Have I expanded my knowledge?
  • Have I gathered all of my information and done my research?

It’s aimed more at writing non-fiction but the points there are valid for fiction writers as well.

I didn’t do enough thinking about who my target market was. This was because I wasn’t that interested in making money out of this project and because I was hasty in getting going. Thinking harder about my target market would have resulted in a more focused plan.

My target market and demographics

  • People who care about privacy, which is a main theme of my book. Perhaps they followed the Edward Snowden revelations a few years ago
  • My friends and family. I can reach them (you?) through word of mouth and social media
  • People who want a readable book. Paul Mason wrote a good post this week about ebooks. His argument was that people have many more distractions than they used to with smartphones and tablets. They might dip into a book for 15 minutes on the train or for 10 minutes while waiting to get their hair done. If your book is tough to understand readily, it might not get a look in
  • Not a developer/computer nerd. Technology is a theme of the book, but I’ve tried to keep technical stuff to a minimum because it will put more people off than it attracts
  • Young(ish) readers between 21-35

I also should have done more research into the fields of technology, apps and privacy/freedom before I started. I might have discovered things like this freedom scorecard from the Electronic Frontier Foundation or this article about middleware earlier on. Doing this research will also help your writing in a more intangible way by making you feel like an authority on you subject. This is important no matter what type of book you are writing.


It’s tempting to jump in to a book when an idea walks into your head. But doing the planning and the research will save you time, and doing the deeper research into your market will provide a buffer to the times when you wonder whether it’s all worth it. Because you’ll know the answer.

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