Against All Odds / Crossroads / Man vs Nature

#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: How I’m doing on Book 3 of my trilogy

When I started the final book of my Crossroads trilogy, I had no idea how to wrap things up. I spent many days–weeks–researching what the Iberian Peninsula (where my main character Xhosa now lived with her People) was like 850,000 years ago, hoping if I drenched myself in the atmosphere, I’d understand the challenges Xhosa faced.

And it worked. The land–I found out–was challenging, primeval, and life-threatening in ways I’d never imagined. What I envisioned as a peaceful settling of Xhosa and her People into their new life wasn’t. Not even close.

I thought it would be instructive interesting for efriends from Raimey Gallant‘s #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, which meets every third Wednesday of the month to share writing resources and tips, to see how I’m building the final chapter in Xhosa’s search for a new start.

I have to say, I am excited at the progress. This book, unlike the first two books in the trilogy, is from scratch. It’s not drafted, plotted, or scened and that has worried me! So to help me organize, I went to Novel Factory’s novel writing roadmap. Here are their steps:

  1. Write a Premise
  2. Develop a Plot Outline
  3. Complete Character Introductions
  4. Write a Short Synopsis
  5. Expand that into an extended Synopsis
  6. Establish a Goal to Decision Cycle
  7. Carry out detailed Character Development
  8. Research your Locations
  9. Complete Advanced Plotting of subplots
  10. Write Character Viewpoints
  11. Do your Scene Blocking
  12. Write your First Draft
  13. Think about Themes
  14. Edit, edit, edit
  15. Polish your Final Draft
  16. Submit to agents or self-publishing platforms

Notice there are 11 steps before I can start writing–and I want to be ready for November’s NaNoWriMo.

A situation I have that doesn’t work well with this approach (and will definitely cause me problems) is that while I thought I knew where the story is going, turns out I didn’t. Here’s an example of what I ran into about a month ago:

At the end of Book 2, after a year of migration, my characters landed on what is now called the Iberian Peninsula and declared it their new home. But when I researched this location as it was 850,000 years ago, I realized it wouldn’t work. So, I–like you–will have to see what my characters do when they run into the death-defying seemingly-unsolvable problems I found. 

Another problem:

A plot piece I wove through the first two books became invalid in this location.

Happily, both problems solved themselves under the unstoppable tenacity of my characters.

I thought you might enjoy seeing my workspace:

The left-hand screen is for real-time–to keep me in touch with my 21st-Century world. The middle screen is the spreadsheet where I map out my story. The right-hand screen is my notes (about sixty pages) The thing sticking up over the middle screen is my webcam with a sock over it for privacy!

Here’s what I have done the past few months:

  • I have the Premise–Step #1 of the Novel Factory’s list, and started on #8, #10, and #11.
  • As I wrote Book 2 of the Crossroads trilogy (The Quest for Home), I took notes on all the plot threads that I had to resolve in Book 3. Unlike one-and-done novels (books not part of a trilogy), I have to tie up all the loose ends in this final book. I added all of these to a spreadsheet as the bare bones of the story and built out from there.
  • I did a very rough story arc (Step #2 above) in my spreadsheet–only plot, no setting or character development.
  • Then, I started to flesh out the plot points, build the characters, recognize actions and reactions, track a timeline (so I know when winter and summer arrive), determine the POV character, and add notes about what needed to be followed up on. By the time that was done, I had about 100 200 300 rows (in the spreadsheet).
  • Then, I added story details, minor characters, chapters, and scene purposes. Here’s what my spreadsheet looks like now–550 rows and over 66,000 words:

The spreadsheet has tabs, too, at the bottom to organize character details and more:

  • I had planned to do a detailed character development (Step #7) on each of the main characters, to see how they fit into the plot I’d laid out, but that didn’t work. I know my characters. What I don’t know is the new situations the story will throw at them.
  • I joined Kate Johnson’s Team Writer Facebook group to prepare for NaNoWriMo.
  • I’m signed up for November’s NaNoWriMo. Let me know if you are and I’ll try to figure out how to connect. I think you can find me at JacquiMurray.


  • I’m thinking about doing Diana Peach’s PowerPoint book trailer idea but for the entire trilogy. I’ll release it when Book 3 is ready as background on Book 1 and 2 and to encourage readers to buy the early ones if they haven’t.

How are you doing on your latest WIP? I’d love to hear!

More on my writing

How I’m Doing on The Quest for Home– 4

How I’m Doing on Survival of the Fittest — 4

Book Launch–Born in a Treacherous Time

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, In the Footsteps of Giants, Winter 2021. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning

114 thoughts on “#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: How I’m doing on Book 3 of my trilogy

  1. Pingback: How I’m Doing on Against All Odds–7 | WordDreams...

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  5. I do some of the preliminary stuff you do, though not all of it. And I don’t do it in the same order as you. For instance, I do my two Synopses after all the other stuff but before the actual writing of the story. I guess I just need to know more before doing that part.

    What is ‘Goal to Decision Cycle’? I haven’t come across that term before.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wish I’d write my synopses earlier than I do. I end up waiting until everything is done.

      Goal to decision cycle is Novel Factory’s term. They say: Goal >> Conflict >> Disaster >> Reaction >> Dillemma. The term doesn’t resonate with me but the steps do.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Jacqui, this is one fabulous post! I think Diana’s PowerPoint plan is a perfect idea.

    And I wanted to tell you how much Paul loved the second and latest of the trilogy, which I am just starting. We both really liked the first, but he said he loved the second one even more. Great job. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am doing NaNo this uear too, especially that I was recently chosen my city’s municipal leader. I don’t think I’ll be able to write 50,000 words in my new conditions (taking care of a 90 years old mother), but I’ll finish a novel started during a previous NaNo and I might start the second volume.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I definitely want a third screen now. For my first book, my approach was very similar to the steps you indicated. That plotting process took me all of October, and I did end up winning nanowrimo as a result. I don’t think I would have won, if I hadn’t done all that October prep. I took a different approach for the book I wrote after that, much less planning, and it worked out really well, in my opinion. What I’m realizing is that different books call for different kinds of prep.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That makes a lot of sense. I almost didn’t do all this plotting for this book, but then realized I really didn’t know where the story was going. I am panting, trying to finish by the end of October!


  9. Thank you for sharing this list of steps. It is tough to start writing because their is so much to plan others never think about. I purchased on online world building reference tool I’m enjoying. I’m making progress on my own wip, but not fast enough 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Excellent writing strategy, Jacqui. My copies of your Crossroads books are on the way even as we speak – so excited, can’t wait to get them! I see why the triple screens are essential to your method. Does one keyboard work for all three? I’m hoping to get one more screen on my desk so I can have one for research and one for the story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oooh, you got the print? Or digital? Yes, the keyboard types wherever I click. I sometimes have to search around to find where I’m active, but not too often. You will love a second screen. That made a world of difference in my writing.


  11. I love your three screen idea. I am forever having to open up my notes and research. I’m not sure though if it would distract from writing…it doesn’t take much for me…lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Screens are pretty cheap anymore. One of these is a touch screen (which no longer works as a touch screen) but it only cost $350.00. Turns out the driver wasn’t compatible with the computer CPU. It’s complicated…

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I was a pantser until I discovered I was actually a plotter! I love how detailed and organized you are. I don’t work the same way – I would describe my plotting as organized chaos – but I certainly respect your method. It’s impressive! I sent you an invitation on NaNo. Still not sure if I’m actually going to do it this year, but I’m on there.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Your three screens cracked me up, Jacqui. But good for you for getting the pre-writing work done. I notice that all the planning is critical to getting my writing to flow. I know where I’m going and it’s easier to get there. You’ll be in great shape for Nano. And thanks for the plug on the powerpoint post. I can’t wait to see what you come up with! Really excited. Good luck with Nano. I’ll be there too. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

      • It’s quite a process. I’ve never tackled anything quite as demanding. It sounds like a challenge, but one you meet successfully and of which you are justifiably proud. I’m sure that, like Zhosa, you’ll overcome all obstacles.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. So organised! I love your monitor set up, and that is one heck of a spreadsheet 🙂

    Great tips, I’m going to use that checklist as I’m currently planning (for the third time, trying to get it right this time!) and I think I could do with planning more character and location details!

    Good luck with Nanowrimo:)

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Oh my word! You are rolling, woman! You know I always love to see people’s work spaces. Due to contract obligations, I’ve been doing my own NaNo for the past month. I’ve just about got my first draft completed. Keep up the good work, Jacqui.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Wow, Jaquie, I am impressed. Your set up looks very professional and
    there is so much to keep track off.
    As to Iberia, maybe hop on a plane and travel the winding roads for a month. It is
    quite fabulous.


    Liked by 1 person

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