Category Archives: how to write

My Writing Process Blog Tour

Last week I was tagged by Lorna Suzuki for this blog hop – and according to my recently checked junk mail, also Will Hahn a few weeks ago.

What am I working on?

I am in the first round of revisions on Stalking the Demon, the second book in the Seven Circles of Hell Series, and sequel to Confronting the Demon.

I’m also almost 70% of the way through an epic fantasy novel In the Company of the Dead.

You can check out excerpts from both of them in my Monday Morsels.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m not sure anything is ever completely unique, but things that differentiate my work (I believe) from large parts of the epic fantasy genre are:
  • Protagonists don’t necessarily have fantastic magical powers (although some do) even though magic is a prevalent theme of the books;
  • The use of equal numbers of male and female supporting characters (to buck a general trend of token females in many genres);
  • Detailed and original world-building, rather than creating a Tolkien-esque world;
  • Blending mystery and paranormal themes.
Why do I write what I do?

Write what you know, and write what you love. I know fantasy because I love it, although pinning down why is harder. It has to do with the way fantasy (and the speculative fiction genre in general) deals with real world issues in a safe setting. It is also, in part, because of its aspirational nature.

I don’t write ‘gritty’ fantasy because it runs counter to what I love most about fantasy. It is said gritty fantasy is more reflective of the real world, but I think classic epic fantasy is reflective of humanity’s soul – a deep desire to rise above, for good to triumph, for right to win. When reality depresses me, the yearning of fantasy’s audience for some of the values embodied in the genre reminds me that humanity isn’t totally a lost cause.

How does your writing process work?

How long do you have?

A story usually starts with a core idea. A female assassin with an abiding distrust of men. A wizard whose addiction to satisfying his curiosity gets him into trouble. What happens when a man falls in love with a woman dedicated to a goddess of death?

Usually I develop the main characters at this point, including character profiles and doing extensive goal, motivation and conflict charts. This helps me to then do a full plot outline and chapter breakdown.

If this is a new world, I would then usually pause to draw a map and world build, including establishing for each country a political structure, racial appearance, language, currency, clothing, main trade items, architecture and religion.

Then, I begin to write. I may have new ideas along the way which need to be blended in with the original outline.

When I’ve finished, I revise. If revisions are extensive, I’ll do another read-through and tidy up before sending to betas to assess things like plot consistency, continuity and characterisation. Feedback prompts another revision, and what edits I can do myself.

The story then goes to my content editor, after which I do more revisions, then my line editor, and finally proofreaders.

I’m tagging Safireblade and M. E. Franco – although I admit I’m massively sleep-deprived and have not given either of them advance notice of this fact. By all means check out their blogs, but I can’t guarantee either of them will participate!

How To Use GMC Charts To Plot A Novel

Goal. Motivation. Conflict.

These are three of the basic building blocks of a character that drive plot. In other words, what does the character want, why, and what’s stopping them getting it? This is the core of your plot, and when two characters both have the same goal, or otherwise interfere with another’s goal, things start to get really interesting.

GMC charts are used to track all the goals, motivations and conflicts of all the major and important secondary characters. It not only cross-checks that all your characters are doing things for good reasons (and not just because the writer wants them to) but that everyone is sufficiently impeded from getting what they want.

Conflict is essential.

It also helps you to plot, as the chart can help you to spot associations you might not otherwise have made. He wants this, and she wants that, and if she does this, look, it gets in his way…

Here’s what a GMC chart looks like:

Private Life
Professional Life
Personal Life
Goal: Deal with her emotional issues about men
Motivation: Necessary to heal her dying father
Conflict: Has a lot of baggage including a history of child abuse, and rape.
Goal: To leave her life as an assassin
Motivation: A lover and a baby make her reconsider her life path
Conflict: 1) Risks letting her adopted father die if she does, 2) Her fellow assassins may try to hunt her down and kill her for betraying them 3) Her lover doesn’t know she is an assassin.
Goal: Identify and neutralise a bounty hunter in the castle
Motivation: If she doesn’t, he will kill her first
Conflict: His identity is unknown
Goal: Find a magical artefact to heal her adopted father
Motivation: Love
Conflict: The artefact is hidden in the castle of a mad duke
Goal: Use Aldenon to get access to his key
Motivation: Gives access to the room where she thinks the artefact is hidden
Conflict: 1) Her fear of men 2) She finds herself genuinely attracted/falling in love
Goal: Relationship with Aldenon
Motivation: Falling in love
Conflict: He has a secret keeping them apart
Goal: Help Raylee find the missing girls
Motivation: Genuine concern for her new friend and a touch of self-interest
Conflict: Limited freedom in the castle and doesn’t want to blow her cover
Goal: Kill Danek
Motivation: Revenge
Conflict: She’s pregnant and her adopted father is protecting Danek
Goal: Wants to be an assassin
Motivation: Assassins have more power than spies
Conflict: Jeharv won’t agree
Goal: Wants to be master of the Order
Motivation: Wants more power and sees an opportunity when learns Jeharv is dying Conflict: Astarl is trying to save Jeharv
Goal: To steal the artefact and become immortal
Motivation: Largely opportunistic – sees an opportunity to steal the item from Jeharv
Conflict: Needs Astarl to find it but taking it from her won’t be easy, and doesn’t want anyone to know he has betrayed them yet.
Goal: To distract and ultimately eliminate Astarl.
Motivation: To secure the artefact
Conflict: Astarl is a canny assassin and not an easy target.

This is only a short extract showing two characters from my book Deathhawk’s Betrayal, but you can see that not only does each character have multiple goals, but the goals can be categorised according to which part of a character’s life they affect:
  • Private life – the character’s innermost life, kept hidden and private – secret fears and desires;
  • Professional life – the character’s work; and
  • Personal life – The character’s friends, family, living arrangements, personal goals etc.
There are multiple goals because the protagonist (and possibly the villain) will have a main goal, and then also various sub-goals that help them work towards the main goal. Tracking out each interim goal can be useful to focus on sub-plots.

You can also see from this sample how Danek and Astarl’s goals overlap, which breeds potential for conflicts. You might also see how two otherwise unrelated characters can be linked, so that their goals and motivations clash with one another.

This is only a tool for identifying plot weaknesses and opportunities. Once you’ve gotten this far, it’s up to you where the plot and the characters take you.

GMC charts are tools for plotters more than pantsers. Sure, you can stop halfway through a novel and whip out a GMC chart to see what direction you’re taking, but as a pantser you probably won’t want to do that. A GMC chart can be most useful in the initial stages of planning, midway through a novel to check the direction you’re headed in, and after a first draft has been written and before revisions, to find where plots can be strengthened or linked.

This is an A to Z Blogging Challenge post. For more information about the challenge, check it out at A to Z Blogging. If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign-up to my newsletter. Check out my March Newsletter if you missed it.

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Character Building Using Personality Profiles

I’m a structured person. Verystructured. I’ve got more structure than the Coliseum. In the definition of structured, there should be…

OK, you got the picture.

Anyway, the point being that there’s a myriad of details that go into a book. If the writer wants to ensure consistency – which I do; see above about being structured – then those details need to be tracked. Once I’m immersed in a story, I don’t like to have to stop to invent things, like clothes or currency, and I especially don’t want to stop to make a note of it in case I need it again. I resent such intrusions, and consequently I tend to do a slapdash job. It’s probably a left-brain/right-brain conflict. The right brain has the reins, and doesn’t want to give them up!

I’ve gotten around this with world-building by having a comprehensive set of notes in advance. There’s a map, and a file for each country detailing those things I’m most likely to need, like physical appearance, clothes, currency, trade and so on and so forth. It’s great; if I need a detail while I’m writing I just look it up, slot it in, and away I go. Kind of like plug and play!

Despite that, I still tend to have a slapdash approach to characters. I mean, I have some idea of who they are when I start, but really I’m not much of a people-watcher.

What, a writer who doesn’t like to people-watch?

There’s a goddess of death in the WIP for
which I’m currently character building, but I’m
pretty sure she has on more clothes than this!
I know, I know, I feel abnormal too, but I can’t help it. People watching exposes me to far too many things I don’t want to see. Like stupidity. And then my eyes need to be sanitised. And then I get depressed about the state of humanity. Possibly I feel homicidal. Yeah, it’s all kinds of bad.

Consequently, I struggle to articulate characters sometimes, leaving them occasionally two dimensional. I try to flesh them out during revisions, of course, but still… It would be easier if I was a people-watcher.

Then it occurred to me that what I needed was a quick reference card for each of my characters like I have for different countries. A solution to every instance in which I ask ‘how would this character respond to that?’ Plug and play characters!

Enter the personality test.

There’s a free resource online at which has pretty comprehensive profiles. The test and a summary is free, and you can buy the full profile for $16.99, which is pretty cheap in my opinion, and a business expense anyway – and one I can’t possibly incur more than 16 times.

So I’ve started doing personality tests for my characters.

I know, hard-core right? I know what you’re thinking, and I’ve heard it before. Anal. Perfectionist. Pedantic. I consider them compliments. Writers tap their right brain for their creativity, but I use my left brain equally, so I’m also extremely rational and logical. I am not a seat of the pants type person. I’m a planner. A strategist. In fact, I used the website to personality profile myself, and it pretty much said that. INTJ personalities have a plan for everything, including a plan for if the plan fails.

So shoot me.  Maybe I’m uptight. I can’t help that. I can’t change me but I can change my writing process to suit me.

I like this goddess of death.
What I know of the character in the initial stages of starting a new story is enough to enable me to answer the personality test questions, and then, hey presto I have a personality profile. I’ve been building character profiles off the back of the personality profile, making up historical details to fit the story and the personality as I go. And now, when I’m writing, and I’m not sure how my character would react in a given situation, I can look at the profile. Instant consistency. Just add personality profile!

It has also spawned some interesting ideas. The profile for my latest protagonist said he can fall back on vices like drugs and alcohol under pressure. Well, the guy is grieving for his murdered wife, and he’s been sent by his king to some backwater to get over it basically, but if we add in some heavy drinking, and some unreliability, and now we’ve got a convincing reason why an otherwise stellar commander has been shipped out to command an outpost no one wants.

It’s early days, and I wouldn’t recommend this technique for all writers, especially those who are extremely right-brained or definite pantsers, but so far it seems to be working really well for me. Already I can feel the characters are more fully-fleshed people, which makes it much easier for me to write them instead of me.

Suddenly I have that feeling I’m sure is familiar and natural to nearly all writers – of having another person riding around in my head.

Current WIP: In the Company of the Dead – a full-length adult high fantasy novel. Lyram thought life couldn’t get any worse than a prince wanting him dead, until he fell in love with a woman dedicated to the goddess of death.  

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might as well join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign up for the newsletter. 

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us.

I Don’t Follow My Own Writetips

In short stories, I mean. I’m pretty sure in my novel I have applied every relevant writetip I have ever tweeted. I may not have executed it well, but I tried. 

Yet, when it comes to short stories, I just…don’t. And I don’t know why. 

I had this epiphany when someone replied to a tweeted writetip. The tip was ‘Your story beginning does not necessarily need action. What it does need is conflict’. 

As I replied to this tweep, I realised my own latest short story is lacking in conflict in the opening scene. Damn! And why? I know this stuff, so why have I overlooked this issue? Don’t go making excuses and say no one can be on top of everything all the time, because this is almost the least of this story’s issues. 

For some reason, I forget almost everything I know about writing when it comes to short stories.
Are short stories too… short? Too small? Too… simple? I don’t mean simpler to write, because they aren’t, but the idea is simpler. You don’t have the same word count you have in a novel to tie the reader in twists and turns for six chapters. You get maybe one good twist. 

Once upon a time I could solve trigonometric equations. I forget how, now, but when I could, I’d also trip over basic multiplication. Hey, I still do that. I can formulate solutions to complex legal problems. Give me a simple problem, and I’m more likely to make a mistake. The only pool shot I’ll ever sink is the one you think I’ll never in a million years get.

My brain just seems to think complicated. Is there not enough room for my brain to really flex its muscles in a short story? Maybe it’s like singing – I’m still warming up, trying to hit the notes right, and the story is finished!

The standard advice you’ll be given is that you must write short stories. If you publish a few short stories you have a better chance with novels. Short stories are a good way to learn the craft of writing without the time it takes to write a few novels – although I’ve written eight novels and tossed seven, so maybe that’s redundant (or belated) advice in my case. A few people (like Kate Forsyth, the lucky sod) don’t write short stories, and never have.

I was told recently ‘maybe your brain just doesn’t work like that’. The speaker has post-grad qualifications in creative writing, so I was listening.

See, I’ve secretly suspected the same for some time, but mostly if you say so, you get the kind of advice I’ve mentioned above. Just because short stories are hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write them. Doing something outside your comfort zone is a good learning experience. Blah blah blah.

But now I see my writing skills actually regress when I write short stories, and I can’t explain why everything I know goes out the window.

Except, maybe, I was right the first time. Maybe I should just stick with novels.

Or at least novellas.

So I’m turning the latest short story idea into a novella, and it feels much better. There’s room to run, as it were, and I’m no longer tied up in the corral chomping at the bit. There not being much of a market for novellas, I’m intending to self-publish this one, one it’s been written, re-written, revised and edited within an inch of its life, so watch this space!