5 Deadlines that Show Up in Every Bestseller: The Chase Deadline


There are 5 deadlines, or ticking clocks, that consistently show up in bestselling novels.

In the last three posts, we talked about the Story Deadline, the Resource Deadline and the Character Deadline. If you haven’t read those, I strongly encourage you to go check them out. Today, I’d like to focus on another deadline common in bestsellers – the Chase Deadline.

Before we dive in, here’s a quick review of all 5 Deadlines:

5 Deadlines That Show Up in Every Bestseller

Story Deadline
Resource Deadline
Character Deadline (life and death)
Chase Deadline
Disaster Deadline

Remember, too, the nonnegotiable elements of a deadline: a time limit, a clear threat to a character in the story and reader awareness of both the time limit and threat. In bestsellers, characters sometimes know about the time limit and threat and sometimes they don’t. However, readers always know so that they can care, fear and worry about the characters.

The Chase Deadline

You might be hard-pressed to think of a story (novel, movie, etc) that does not include at least one type of chase scene. Often, bestsellers involve multiple chase scenes. Many romances end with the male lead chasing the female lead – it’s the “airport scene” or the “train station scene” where the male lead rushes to catch the female lead before she leaves forever. In actions, mysteries and thrillers, the protagonist chases the bad guy(s) or girl(s). Sometimes the baddies chase the goodies. See? Chase after chase after chase. Each with a specific, concrete and consequential deadline.

Let’s recap with a workable definition: The Chase Deadline occurs when a character chases another character under a clear timeline and threat.

The essential elements:

  • Two or more characters (example: male lead and female lead)
  • Chase (example – “Airport Scene” in romance)
  • Deadline – time limit (example: Flight time)
  • Threat/Consequence (example: lose chance at true love forever)

The Sneaky Trick of Designing Chase Deadlines like a Bestseller 

Bestselling authors tend to play around with the elements of a Chase Deadline. They take their specific story and their specific characters and infuse each of the elements with emotion and power. In essence, they use the elements like a “template” and “fill in the blanks” with unique characteristics of the unique story they are telling. They un-cliche’ the cliche’.

Follow these Tips to Customize the Chase Deadline to YOUR Story: 

  1. Consider the characters in your story. Why might they chase each other? What’s the more unexpected, emotionally satisfying person to play the role of the chaser? (i.e. what if the female lead chases down the male lead at the airport?) What is their individual motivation? Are both characters strongly motivated (to chase, escape)? What unique traits of the characters might add “spice” to the chase? (i.e. the detective is blind, etc). Hint: characters can be humans, animals, robots, dragons, armies, etc.
  2. Consider the chase. What are all the possible chase possibilities that fit into your story? That fit into the major setting(s) of your story? What about the story, conflict, setting, theme or characters might help design a unique, unexpected chase scene? Could the chase scene happen underwater, in the air, on the side of a mountain or high-rise building? One of the coolest, recent chase scenes I’ve seen is the magic fight/chase scene in the movie, Now You See Me.
  3. Consider the deadline. What time limit makes sense for the chase? (Magic running out, bomb going off, time of flight, train, wedding, etc. What are other possibilities? Be creative. Customize the deadline to the characters, setting, etc in your story.
  4. Consider the threat/consequences. What’s at stake (personally, professionally) for both/all characters? Again, how does the threat tie into the overall story, the specific characters?

I hope you have enjoyed this post. Best wishes to you and your writing in this New Year!


Christopher Kokoski is a speaker, trainer and author of Wicker Hollow and the Past Lives novel series.

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