Category Archives: writing

Need An Editor? Meet S.A. Joo



I’ve been working with S.A. Joo since 2011 and she’s seen my evolution from amateur writer on the cusp of ‘getting it’ through to self-published author who has finally managed to satisfy her own perfectionism enough to actually put some work out in the public arena.

What I value most is the way she helps me to polish my prose until it shines. It’s been a year since I published Confronting the Demon and I’m still happy with the way the prose reads – maybe happier, given the luxury of a little distance which allows me to appreciate it even more. Ms Joo is significantly responsible for helping me to make that happen.


If you’re a perfectionist, this is the editor for you. The phrase ‘close enough is good enough’ does not exist in her lexicon, and she’s always looking for the best combination of words and sentences to convey the intent and maximum impact of the moment.


She’s a fiend for making sure there is sufficient diversity in your prose by ensuring you don’t repeat sentence structure, sentence openings, paragraph openings, words, themes and concepts too close together. She also makes regular sticklers for grammar seem relaxed.


S.A. Joo is an excellent editor in all respects, and will spot pacing issues, plot holes, inconsistencies, continuity problems, repetition and redundancies, but she truly excels at making your words shine. She won’t pull any punches to spare your feelings at the expense of your manuscript – the quality of the writing is paramount! 


Warning: Not for the faint of heart. But if you’re looking for someone who will push the quality of your writing and always encourage you to excel and perfect, you’ve just found yourself an editor.

S.A. Joo’s Services


Full (Substantive) Edit

The full edit is a combination of substantive editing and copy editing. It’s a two-step process that focuses on spotting structural issues within the story such as plot, pacing, voice, character development, and fact-checking. The first step provides in-depth, line-by-line markups and comments, which will guide you through your revision. After the necessary revisions are made, resubmit the final draft of the manuscript for a copy edit.



Copy Edits

Copy editing is also known as proofreading. It’s a one-step editing, which corrects technical issues of writing such as typos, spelling, grammar, and formatting. 


Query Letter Package

The Query Letter Package includes critique and edit for a query letter, 1-page synopsis, 2-3-page synopsis (some agencies require different lengths).



S.A. Joo’s rates are: 

  • Full Edit. Four U.S. dollars ($4) per double-spaced page. Please use size 12 font, Times or Times New Roman, and 1-inch margin according to the standard manuscript format. Also, a critique of your query letter and synopsis is included in the Full Edit package of an average length novel (60k+).
  • Proofreading/copy edit. Two U.S. dollar ($2) per double-spaced page.
  • Query Letter Package. Fifty U.S. dollars($50). 

You can find S.A. Joo at http://sirraedits.com/


Lisette Brody Interviews Ciara Ballintyne at the Writers’ Chateau

Lisette Brody had a chat with me this week over on her Writers’ Chateau – make sure you drop by to check out the full interview!

Later today you can expect the usual medieval accoutrements post – we’ll be looking at the halberd!

Writing Personal Conflict



At some point in the story, the conflict must become personal. 

A simple enough #writetip but one that sparked a heated discussion, and so I thought perhaps the topic deserves greater exploration than can be achieved in 140 characters.

The counterargument was that in an historical conflict around a war, the protagonist has no personal beef with the opposing king.
Of course not. Well, you could write it that way, depending on who your protagonist is – but assuming your protagonist is a mere soldier, then no, that would be artificial.

Don’t confuse your setting with the conflict. A war, historical or otherwise, is a setting. Perhaps an important part of the setting, and perhaps one that breeds conflicts, but it’s not the story. For example, my WIP In the Company of the Dead occurs during a siege, and although that’s part of the story, it’s not the story.

Another example is disaster stories. Impersonal, right? Wrong… The setting is the tsunami, the blizzard, the asteroid… The conflict is what it means for our protagonist, what it stops him getting, and how it will affect him. That’s personal.

The day after tomorrow by MarkinhoO. Impersonal storm – very personal conflict

Stories are about people not events – as opposed to history, which is largely about events. You know those chronological lists of dates with what happened on those dates? Yawn…. That’s history.

A story takes a person and tells us about them. You may learn some history along the way. I know about the Battle of Culloden because of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books, but the story is not about Culloden or the Scottish emigration to America or the revolution or the Declaration of Independence or any of the other true historical events depicted in those books. No, the books are about Claire and Jamie Fraser. It is their story. And their story is very personal. Their conflict is not the Battle of Culloden, but the risk they may lose each other – a risk heightened and deepened by Culloden.

The Battle of Culloden (1745) by David Morier, oil on canvas.
Setting or conflict?
Making the conflict personal simply means the protagonist has some personal stake in the outcome of events. If he doesn’t – if he is a dutiful soldier, who goes off to war because he is told to, does his job, and comes home an unchanged man – where is the conflict? Why do we, the reader, care?

We don’t. But maybe he has gone to war in place of his conscripted brother whom he loves too much to let die. Or maybe while he is gone, he risks losing his sweetheart to another man. Ah – now it’s getting interesting.

A related concept is motivation. If there is no personal conflict, what is the protagonist’s motivation for seeking to resolve the conflict? What are his goals? He doesn’t really have either.

If we take this back to goal, motivation and conflict (which I discussed earlier in April in How To Use GMC Charts to Plot A Novel), the goal is what the character wants, motivation is why he wants it, and the conflict is what is stopping him getting his goal. Looked through this lens, it’s much easier to see why these should be personal. Wanting something is inherently personal. Being stopped from getting what you want is also inherently personal. Your motivation is why you will keep fighting hard to get it and that drives a story. 

Any story with personal conflict will be stronger than one that is impersonal. 

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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U – Unusual Things I’ve Researched for Fantasy Books



Until my latest WIP, the only thing I had ever really researched for a book was how to kill a man with one blow.

Um… OK. That is weird, I concede. I don’t want to kill anyone, honest. My protagonist was just an assassin with Japanese jujutsu skills. No really. I mean it…

Moving right along…

That was until I got to In the Company of the Dead. 

First I had to research castle floor plans. That was kind of cool, and even involved buying some from a royal historical society to use as inspiration for my castle. Nearly the whole book is inside the castle, so I needed a very clear idea of where everything was. You can check out the floor plans in this post – Floor Plans of Caisteal Aingeal an Bhais: The Castle from In the Company of the Dead.

The castle is under siege, so there’s lots of catapults and burning oil and stuff. This led me to Greek fire, which was a terrible scourge in ancient times, as it was very difficult to put out. The Byzantines had a frightening way of squirting it from their ships onto enemy boats and it would burn on water. In fact, water could not be used to extinguish it, and only sand, strong vinegar and old urine would put it out. But what was it?

We don’t know! We know neither the chemical compound to make Greek fire nor the mechanism used to project it from ships. Thought the secret has been lost, modern scholars suspect it was based on petroleum and may resemble modern napalm. It is probably the inspiration for the wildfire used in the Battle of Blackwater in Game of Thrones when King’s Landing comes under attack by Stannis Baratheon and also Quegan Fire in Raymond E Feist’s Midkemia books.



Depiction of Greek fire in the late 11th century Madrid Skylitzes manuscript.
Then I unexpectedly needed to research how to pull an arrow out. The short answer was – you don’t really want to have to do this because there’s a good chance the victim will die. That wasn’t a very good outcome for the book, so I had to find the long answer.

A plot twist suddenly had me wondering how you know sappers are tunnelling under your castle walls, how you find them once you know you’re there, and then what you do about it when you locate them. This is not an easy thing to learn, although fortunately I found enough to get me by.

Since the conventional approach of dealing with siege engineers wasn’t really an option for my beleaguered heroes (on account of available resources and the like) I had to think of another option. Perhaps some sort of explosive?

Hmmmm. More questions. What kind of explosives might be believable in a high fantasy novel with a roughly medieval feel?

More research…

Turns out the Ancient Chinese had crude explosives from close to the beginning of the AD calendar. Who knew? They even had crude grenades in clay pots and soft-case grenades too – presumably made from something akin to papermache. They definitely had gunpowder (which I now know is made from saltpetre, sulphur and carbon) and saltpetre was even called Chinese Snow. Saltpetre is white, where I had always thought it was black. It’s the carbon added to make gunpowder that makes it ‘black’ powder. I even know where saltpetre can be obtained!


Suenaga facing Mongol arrows and gunpowder bombs during the Mongol invasions of Japan in 1281 AD, painting dated to 1293 AD.

It’s amazing the stuff you can learn while writing a genre often dismissed as ‘fairy tales for adults’. 

This is an A to Z Challenge post. 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. 

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!

Quitting Because of Bullying? Maybe We Should Just Quit Bullying



This month a couple of writers quit because of online bullying. I don’t want to re-hash all that – I’m sure Google will oblige you if you don’t already know. What I want to comment on is the people criticising these writers for their decision.

Most of that criticism has been in the vein of ‘If you can’t take criticism, you’re in the wrong business’.

I want to be clear – criticism of their work is not why these writers quit.

Criticism of the work is part and parcel of the job. When we talk about bullying, we are not talking about impersonal criticism of the person’s work, but of them as a person, unrelated to their work. We are talking about harassment, death threats, personal insults against one and one’s family, and online stalking. One of the attacks stated that the writer shouldn’t be breathing. I’ve seen attacks that stated a writer deserved to be raped. I’ve heard of attacks levelled against a writer’s young child.

And this is not limited to self-published writers. Other incidents of cyber-bullying include:

  • BioWare writer Jennifer Hepler quit writing for Bioware in 2013 because of online death threats against her and her children;
  • Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian received rape threats because of her Tropes v. Women video series;
  • Rebecca Marino quit tennis in 2013 after tweets saying she should ‘burn in hell’ and ‘just die’ contributed to the depression that robbed her of any happiness in the sport.
  • Bullying on Goodreads against authors (and even against fans of authors) is well-known. Dare to contradict the bullies (even by asking an innocent question) and you could be subject to threats of assault, rape, or death.

Yes, we can say that people in the public image have to expect they may be a target. Yes, we can say they shouldn’t let it get to them, and yes, maybe there is an element of truth in that.

But wait – aren’t we tacitly condoning the bullying behaviour by advising people how to deal with the bullying rather than taking a stance against bullying all together? This is not borderline behaviour – we are talking about extreme attacks that are obviously wrong to any right-thinking individual. There’s no shades of grey when telling someone they deserve to be raped.

You can walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. You can go through the same experiences. But you can’t go through those experiences as if you were them. We are all our own people, and two people in the same circumstances may not deal with that situation the same way. Not one of us can understand the anguish of another’s soul.

So I’m not going to tell someone to just ignore it, that they made the wrong decision. It’s very easy to tell someone what they ought to do when you don’t have to wake up in the morning and deal with the outcome of that decision. It’s easy to be brash when it’s not your life. 

Maybe this is a win for the bullies. But at what point does it become more important to consider one’s own health, one’s personal relationships, one’s marriage, one’s children, instead of a scoreboard?

There is a known online bullying problem. There is a known offline bullying problem. If you look up bullying statistics, you’ll see a horrifying number of people have been bullied or have seen it happen. Our children are learning this behaviour from somewhere, and sadly it’s from the adults who engage in it, who condone it, or dismiss it.

We have a problem. Stop denying it, and start doing something about it.


This is an A to Z Challenge post. 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. 

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!