The Ticking Clock: A Novel Timeline

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by Janet Chester Bly

We started in July.

Our deadline for Stuart Brannon: The Final Shot was November 1st. Steve left us 7,000 words, a one-page synopsis and a list of characters.

We assigned ourselves to listen to the audio versions of the first six original books of the Stuart Brannon Series. We immersed ourselves in the character of Stuart Brannon, who he was, what he’d done, what he would say or do in any given circumstance.

Our challenge was to remain true to the Stuart Brannon stories style, yet flow with what Steve had given us to begin this new tale, set many years later. At our first meeting together, we read the sample chapters Steve left us. The sons commented, “It seems more like a mystery than a western.”

That’s the way Steve set the project up for us.

Then I searched the other Stephen Bly novels for references to Brannon and to what other characters we’d include.

At first we scrambled to fill pages with words, any scenes, every dialogue we could muster. We gave each other research assignments about the places and people, inventions and events of 1905 in Oregon and the world.

I wrote every day I could and emailed samples of the scenes each night to my sons. They sent commentary, then we discussed ideas and issues further at the readings each Sunday afternoon.

One of the main characters, Tom Wiseman, was new to us and to the series. He was the missing U.S. Marshal friend of Brannon’s. We discussed a lot about him and his background.

The big question: what happened to him and why?

Is he dead? Hiding? Evading a scandal?

Was he kidnapped? Is he lost at sea? Wounded and waiting for a rescue?

Was he eaten by sharks? Ambushed?

At one meeting session, we studied crimes, motives for crimes, methods of murder and the psychosis of murderers. The villain and the dastardly deed began to emerge.

We read a general summary of what we know so far and determine we need a more detailed outline. We prepared sketches of each of the other main characters and made composites.

We feel some progress when we reach 24,000 words.

After development of all the major plot points and completion of the summary of character sketches, Mike writes the golf and poker scenes. Aaron develops an adventure scene. And I plod each day to fill out the rest, stopping a few days to attend a fiction writers conference where I learn to develop a moral premise, a theme to guide the story and action arcs for the characters.

We reach 67,000 words and start our last round of readings and critiques, additions and deletions. By the third session, we have 74,000 words. However, there’s confusion with the story’s chronology. A scramble ensues to sort it all out.

November 1st
At 10:37 a.m., my son, Mike, sent an email: “Well? Ready to push ‘send?'”

I crunched a few last details.

At 11:46 a.m., I attached the 77,000 word manuscript to the editor.

Janet Chester Bly has published 30 nonfiction and fiction books, 18 she co-authored with Christy Award winner Stephen Bly. Titles include The Hidden West Series, The Carson City Chronicles, Hope Lives Here, and The Heart of a Runaway. She resides at 4200 ft. elev. on the Idaho Nez Perce Indian Reservation. Her 3 married sons live down the mountain with their families.

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  1. Thank you so much for posting this blog post about the quick summary version of our family writing process. Can a committee write fiction? We had the passion to find out. Stuart Brannon’s Final Shot by Stephen Bly with myself and Russell, Michael and Aaron Bly has now been released in hardback and ebook. Paperback edition will be available soon.

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