My focus is on self-publishing this year

A woman walking into a book filled with a forestFor a while now I’ve been trying to work out what I wanted to do with this blog.

I’ve largely talked about the process of writing and traditional publishing, which is the journey I’ve been on until a year or two.

Because of that I don’t want to make this my author website, so if you’re interested in my stories (as opposed to my writing processes) visit My Author Website and subscribe or sign up for my newsletter to keep informed.

As I’m about to focus on self-publishing my first novel soon, so I thought I might share my experiences here.


So far I’ve written several novels, with the main focus on the novel now called Divine Prey (formerly Prophecy of Power or a similar iteration).

I gained an agent and a publisher for it. Unfortunately the agent quit the business and the publisher folded, leaving me where I before landing the agent.

I could have started that process again – looked for another agent and publisher, but the process was drawn out over several years and there were a few things involved in it that I really don’t want to revisit, like the time it took or giving other people control of the process.

Traditional publishing wasn’t an experience I felt comfortable with, though having an agent in your corner is a really good validation for your writing.

However, having chosen to go down the self-publishing path I have full control of everything, but I also have to take responsibility for everything.

The first part of that is ensuring the story is in a state fit for publishing; a product as good as what you’d see from any big publisher (hopefully).

Big ask.

So after far many rounds of editing and rewriting, I’ve now got it to a state I’m happy with. At the end of last year I also had it proofread by Jo Clay, a fantastic author and editor.

Les Petersen has also produced some professional cover art for me.

The next steps are:

  • apply the proofreading Jo did for me
  • complete the cover, including:
    • front
    • spine
    • rear (including the blurb)
  • lay out the interior (text), including:
    • front matter
    • story
    • back matter
  • publish
    • ebook
    • print (three versions which I can take to trade shows like Supanova and ComiCon)
      • I might need to produce slightly different layouts/covers for the different versions

I’d like to have all that done by the end of February. If I get the time, I’ll outline the process here as I go, or if not, afterward.

Don’t forget to visit My Author Website and subscribe to the blog or sign up for my (highly infrequent) author newsletter.

Almost New Year’s Resolutions

A person's hand writing the word 'goals'Every year I go out of my way to try and figure out what I have on, what’s coming up, and what I want to do with it all. Last year I also chose a word to go with it all: Achieve. Next year, the word is: Focus.

Usually what all this means is coming up with a ‘to do’ list which I rarely revisit and check off. In 2018 I’m taking a simpler approach.

I want to achieve three (writing) things in 2018:

  1. Publish a novel (Divine Prey – formerly Prophecy of Power) by the end of February, but I’ll accept the end of March if life gets in the way. The goal though is February.
  2. Edit another novel so it’s ready for publication (I have four first drafts to choose from). Ideally, I’d like to publish this novel late next year, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself on that. I’m trying to keep it simple.
  3. Outline and write a brand new novel (the outlining has already began).

It’s a bit of work and I’ve got a few other things on, but three specific, simple goals should be something I can achieve – and it avoids the long list of tick off items I usually ignore. When it comes down to it, I’d rather kick one or two of those goals than tick off ‘to do list’ items that rarely amount to anything concrete.

So, stating it simply. I intend to:

  • Publish a book.
  • Edit a book.
  • Write a book.

That’s it. What are your goals for 2018?

Story creation and planning: Drawing on your support cast

Background of an ancient city with the words: Drawing on your Support CastLonger stories tend to include more characters than shorter stories, creating more complexity, but more opportunities as well.

For a novel there’s a minimum number of characters you’re likely to need. These are:

  • your protagonist
  • your antagonist
  • what’s known as an ‘influence’ or ‘relationship’ or ‘insight’ character. This is the person who ‘helps’ your protagonist see some truth about themselves and opens their way to the story’s resolution.

In a novel, other than your core three characters, you could expect at least a few more ancillary characters, giving you a well of potential conflicts and story-lines. This potential is derived from things like:

  • personalities
  • cultures
  • character histories
  • secrets
  • needs
  • wants
  • desires, etc.

When you’re creating a support cast it helps to think in terms of conflict – what drives characters and what that means to each other and the protagonist.

People holding hands and singing hymns don’t generally make for riveting reading until you mix in some drama, and drama is derived from conflict. If a character doesn’t bring conflict to the story they’re not paying their way, so consider getting rid of them.

For example, in the hand-holding hymn-singing scenario I just mentioned, everything is perfect… zzzz… until one of the singers keels over, foaming at the mouth from an exotic poison.

Interested now?

  • Who did it?
  • Why?
  • (and more importantly) Who’s next?

Consider the same concept in terms of our own cast of characters. Rose:

  • wakes up to discover she’s now a dryad, but thinks that’s just grand and so does everyone she tells (lots of hugs and kisses)
  • wonders off into the woods to be one with the trees
  • has the full support of everyone she knows.
  • The end… Riveting, right? Not.

Line art of a woman with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.Alternatively. Rose:

  • must come to terms with what she’s become (internal conflict)
  • needs to save herself and her daughter from the bad guy who wants to use and destroy her (interpersonal conflict)
  • has to save the dryad world (including herself) and possibly the extended magical world from enslavement and annihilation (external conflict and story threat)

Far more dramatic. To do all that though, she might need help.

Rose Thorn’s possible relationships (at the beginning of the story) could include:

  • Family (parents, siblings, daughter)
  • Friends (social)
  • Husband, ex-husband
  • Lover, ex-lovers
  • Work/business associates
  • Police (perhaps one specific officer investigating her case who just won’t let it go?)
  • A medical person who attended to her when she ‘returned’
  • The dryad who made her what she’s becoming
  • Christian Godson himself? (former lover and apparent friend? betrayer?)
  • The people Christian hates. Let’s call them the druids – a very secretive and powerful organisation of long-lived people.

It’s a simple question of asking who from the above list would bring the most conflict to the story on all kinds of levels.

  • How are her friends going to react to her change?
  • Who’s going to support her and who’s going to reject her?
  • Who’s going to turn on or betray her?
  • Who thinks they can take advantage of Rose’s situation?
  • Who already knows about the situation (druids? Christian?)?
  • Is the police officer or medic interested enough to pursue the issue – do they cause complications for Rose or her daughter Hope? Etc.

Line drawings of about 20 people in a circleChristian Godson’s possible relationships:

  • The dryad who ‘made’ Rose
  • His henchmen?
  • The group of long-lived relatives who kicked him out of the club and who he now wants to destroy
  • Friends?
  • Lovers?
  • Business associates?
  • Druids?
  • Corrupt police?
  • People he’s blackmailing?
  • Rose herself?


  • Who does Christian know and how will they be involved?
  • Can he blackmail the cop to ‘not’ investigate?
  • Can he buy off the medic (or kill them)?
  • How many henchmen does he have, if any?
  • What has he promised them?
  • Does he have a best friend or a jealous lover?
  • What are his long-lost relatives doing about the situation?
  • Is someone looking to take advantage of him and his longevity?

By asking these sorts of questions story possibilities begin to appear. Who else might be involved? How can we use these characters to provide setbacks for Rose and/or Christian? How can they be used to hurt Rose or frustrate Christian?

What about Rose’s daughter, Hope? Who does she know that could become involved in this story? What could they possibly bring to the situation? How can they influence Hope’s choices?

So ask lots of questions.

Book launches and marketing for first-time authors

Last weekend I had a fantastic time mentoring emerging writers at the Writers of the South Coast Writing Retreat. I love being surrounded by writers. With so much creativity and enthusiasm it’s impossible not to come away motivated and ready to take on the publishing world.

And that’s where today’s post comes in. Harry Connolly has kindly agreed to let me share his advice on his book marketing and promotional experiences, particularly in relation to launching a first book.

Thank you so much for your time Harry. Take it away!

Book launches

Headshot of Harry Connolly wearing a black t-shirt.

You’d generally want more than a few months to launch a book, but if it’s your first and you’re self-publishing it won’t matter as much.

According to figures I heard a long time ago, the number one reason readers buy a book is because they’ve read and enjoyed one of the author’s other books. Number two is the recommendation of a friend. All other reasons, from title to cover art to whatever, are in the single digits.

Since you can’t target an existing group of readers with a first book you’re going to have to aim for the second: good word of mouth.

To do that you should have three areas to focus on:

  • reviews
  • exposure for the book
  • exposure for the author.

First, reviews

Reviews are the best and the most difficult to get.

I would suggest you start first with Booklife, the self-pub review arm of Publishers Weekly. Getting a star from them was a great boost, and reviews from places with prestigious names make for great blurbs on your Amazon page.


Do you have a great cover yet? You’ll need one before you send the book for reviews. A great cover assures the reader that the book is professional and worth picking up.

You should also target other reviewers who handle self-published work. Make careful notes of the lead times for each reviewer and follow their guidelines explicitly. Make it easy for them to pick you over one of the dozen other authors who sent books that week.

Second, exposure of the book

You’ll want a pithy way to describe it, first as a one or two paragraph description of the setup, then as a log line.

Traditionally, log lines are thought of as “[Protagonist] much [goal] before [plot deadline] or else [consequence of failure]” but it doesn’t have to be. That’s just a place to start, and the real task is to highlight what you think is cool and unique about your story.

Book cover: The way into magic by Harry Connolly featuring a woman wearing a hat while using magicWhen I was Kickstarting The Great Way I described the books as “A sentient curse causes the collapse of an empire.” That worked, but I still got questions from people who thought a log line-style description was supposed to focus on the protagonist.

And yeah, that’s a good starting point. But it’s like The Hero’s Journey or other plot frameworks: It’s a proven and effective method, but if you know what you’re doing you can do what you like.

The biggest risk you face with a first book is obscurity, so you want an appealing cover and title.

You want to quickly describe the book in a way that catches interest, and you want other people – preferably people who are not family or friends – telling everyone they know that your book is awesome.

To do that you need to get people reading it and that means complementary copies given out with the understanding that they’ll write an honest review.

  • First rule is to never send a book to someone without their permission.
  • The second is to never react to a negative review. When you ask for an honest review you have to accept what you get.

As Jim Macdonald says, responding to reviews is the ABM (Author’s Big Mistake).

Social media

Do you know people with a large social media presence? Are you guys sort of friendly? Ask if they’d be willing to read your book for an honest review. Include the (excellent) cover and the intriguing description.

Next, skim through Goodreads and Amazon for books that are very like yours and find reader-reviewers who:

  • are open to reviewing self-published work (because they’ve reviewed it in the past)
  • read a lot of books (so they’re more likely to actually review your work)
  • get a lot of responses to their reviews (because they have a significant number of followers)
  • show enthusiasm for the genre
  • favorably review books similar to yours (in other words, don’t send grimdark to the reader who only gives 5 stars to Terry Pratchett),

You don’t want to give your book to someone who is famous for snark, either.


Start compiling names and contact information. Some of the top Goodreads reviewers will get a lot of contacts, so target ones with smaller followings. Send them messages with the same offer as the other reviewers. Send them books only if they ask for them.

You’ll need to send the book to as many people as you can because the enemy here is obscurity, and of course it’s cheap to attach an ebook to an email.

But you don’t want to send copies to places that are unfriendly to the sort of book you’ve written since that wastes your time and ensures a negative review, even if the book is good. So, when you make your list of reviewers, include the ones who seem inappropriate, either because of tone or preference, but mark them as inappropriate somehow. Red text works for me. That way, if you see the same somewhat generic name more than once you won’t waste time researching them and ruling them out.

But don’t worry about lost sales. Keep in mind that while review sites will often expect their review to come out on or near a publication date, readers are less picky and you can often offer books weeks or months after it comes out.

If you’re getting five-star reviews that will help sell the book.

Third, self-promotion

Last is to promote yourself, which is the weakest promo method.

Do you have a platform that will impress people, like teaching medieval history in college or teaching longsword? Mention that.

Are you well-known in some other field, like film reviews, tech reviews, that sort of thing? See if there are ways to leverage that by including your book title in the bio line of your articles.

Offering books to your co-workers, I’ve found, is a waste of time. Unless a person reads a lot – and I mean, a lot – people place no value on things they get for free and they’ll never look at what you give them.

Besides, word of mouth from strangers is always stronger than word of mouth from friends and family. “Read this awesome book!” is great. “Read this awesome book that my cousin wrote” less so.

You can try blog tours and such. I’ve done it. I think they’re most useful for established authors to remind readers that they’re still around writing books.

Good marketing

A great title is good marketing. A memorable author name is good marketing.

George RR Martin doesn’t really have to middle names starting with “R”. In reality, he realized that “George Martin” doesn’t really stand out, and he added the initials to make himself easier to remember.

A man in armour holding a spear - book cover by Harry Connolly

But the best marketing of all is a great book. You could spend a year walking all over the country with a sandwich board sign telling people that your novel is exciting and fun, but it will never be as effective as the testimonial of a few complete strangers. And you only get one shot with those strangers, so it’s better to delay the release of your book if you can’t make reviewers’ deadlines or don’t have your cover sorted.

So offer free books on Twitter.

Put yourself out there as a writer with a message.

Do all the things that make lucky people lucky.

Try to get that word of mouth churning.

If you’ve written the right book and you have a bit of luck, you can start prepping for book 2. Good luck.

You can find Harry at his website or on Twitter: @byharryconnolly.

No problem? Big problem!

No problem? Big problem!When your story lacks a problem

If you’re an avid reader you’ve probably found yourself halfway through a book or even approaching the end without any idea where the story’s going.

The cause could be that the story doesn’t have a main problem (or a strong enough problem).

Imagine how Star Wars would have played out if we weren’t shown early on that R2D2 contained the plans to the Death Star. Luke would have blundered from event to event before finally stumbling upon the Rebel base. “Oh! So that’s why the Empire was chasing me…”

In Star Wars, the problem was the Empire’s control and use of the Death Star. The stolen plans were the solution – revealed during the opening battle. The basic structure surrounding the problem in Star Wars was:

  • plans revealed
  • empire hunts for plans
  • plans lead to death star’s destruction.

This simple story problem provides clarity and focus for the entire movie.

Take a look at almost anything that’s been successful; books movies, whatever – there’s usually a very simple or obvious story problem driving the overarching story. For example:

  • Die hard: a group of thieves (terrorists) take over the Nakatomi Plaza building – big problem for the people caught in the building.
  • The Matrix: the machines use the matrix to enslave humanity – big problem for humanity.
  • Any romance: the inability of the main characters to get together.
  • Any murder mystery: the likelihood a murderer will get away with the crime (and/or do it again).

All these story problems are revealed or hinted at early on. That doesn’t mean you need to reveal your secrets early on, just the problem (or a part of it).

So if one main problem is good, two must be better, right? Not necessarily.

Hand - Hang LooseTwo main problems

Give a story two equally important problems and you may end up with something like the movie ‘Hancock’. Hancock’s two main problems are solved in turn:

  • The first main problem is Hancock’s attitude – he’s an alcoholic superhero and his own worst enemy. To solve the problem he needs to change his attitude. He tackles the issue with the help of a new friend. That problem gets solved half way through the movie, at which point the movie requires a brand new problem.
  • The second main problem reveals another character with superpowers like Hancock’s. The redemption story then turns into an origin story; he needs to solve the mystery of his origins. It’s a very different story and a very different problem.

This means Hancock is a story that doesn’t know what it’s trying to be or do. It has an identity crisis.

Structurally, Hancock works like it’s the first two episodes in a television series shown back-to-back. While there’s a through-line focused around an antagonist that appears in both halves of the movie, the antagonist’s purpose isn’t an overarching problem.

Therefore, unless viewers love both stories and they’re willing to ignore their expectations about how a story normally works, they’re going to be disappointed.

Multiple problems

Your story can have any number of problems needing solutions, but each problem needs to contribute to the overarching storyline and its associated main problem. Story problems can’t be tackled in isolation; that’s what episodic drama is all about (TV shows, standalone books in a series, web series, etc., and even then there’s usually an overarching problem uniting all the parts).

In the case of Hancock the overarching problem probably should have been ‘figure out your origins or lose your superpowers’. If that meant he’d be forced to change his attitude in order to figure out his origins, then perfect. They would build on each other.

Similarly, our dryad story has several potential problems the protagonist needs to solve:

  • Who is Rose? Is it a story about identity?
  • Who’s after her and how does she stop them?
  • Can Rose save her daughter (does she need to save her daughter to gain enough confidence to achieve something even greater)?
  • Is the main problem the need to save (or free) the dryads from extinction or slavery?
  • Does Rose need to save the world?

Let’s go with all of the above points contributing to the major problem: ‘save the world’.

Although Rose will need to solve all sub-problems before she can save the world, each problem must contribute something to her journey – confidence, knowledge, etc. Exactly how that plays out is debatable, but let’s run with it.

Cartoon of a person frustrated with their computerHow do you figure out your own story’s problem ?

To find your story problem, think ‘end-game’ rather than ‘start of story’.

Your protagonist probably won’t even know there’s a problem at the beginning of the story, but your readers will need some hints.

So… as soon as possible, find a way to tip your readers off that there’s a problem worth their attention (have a princess put some plans in a droid/send agents to kill Trinity – or maybe just blow something up, that always works). And then build on it.

Do you know what your story problem is? Let me know in the comments.

Story planning and creation: Making it epic

Story Planning and Creation: making it epicWriting the first book in a series is potentially far more difficult than writing the sequels because it needs more up-front development. As well as telling a great story, you have to:

  • introduce an immersive story world (ie, do all the world building)
  • set up the sequels without being obvious about it.

Turning to successful examples is a great way of seeing complex introductions done simply.

Take Dune for example – it’s epic, contained, stands alone and sets up an entire story universe, all within the first book of the series.

Star Wars and The Matrix do the same things, with the added complication of having to tell their stories visually and in an extremely short timeframe.

The first story in any epic series needs to do similar things in most circumstances, and the more epic the conclusion, the better.

In short, your protagonist needs to discover their worth and use it to defeat a stand-alone story threat which would otherwise have a ‘very big and bad’ impact on the bigger story world.

The more epic the threat and the more spectacular the response in defeating it, and the greater the impact your story is likely to have on your readers.

 To put it into a simple template:

  • [XYZ Character]
  • is forced to grow into [their Special Power/Knowledge/Skill] and
  • use it to defeat [An Obvious and Well-demonstrated Threat].

While it appears simple, the simple concepts are often the hardest to pull off.

There are formulas for all kinds of stories, but if you’re going epic, imitate the best. The best keep it simple.

So let’s apply this simple template to our dryad story.

[Rose Thorn] is forced to accept [she’s changing into a dryad] in order to defeat Christian Godson who [intends to kill all dryads and thereby wipe out a secret society of long-lived people].

The threat isn’t world-shaking unless you’re a dryad or part of the secret society, but it fits the template well enough

To make it world-shaking, we need to apply world-shaking consequences to the possible demise of the dryads. For example, if the dryads are wiped out, all plant-life on Earth will be wiped out too. Now that’s got possibilities and far-reaching consequences.

Let’s consider other genres. For a romance, the basic formula is:

  • boy meets girl (or any such combination of lovers you like)
  • boy romances girl
  • boy loses girl
  • boy gets girl.

As a template sentence, it would go something like: [XYZ character] must fight for [the love of their life] or [lose them forever].

Like the template for epic stories, it’s very simple.

For a murder mystery, the basic formula goes:

  • someone commits a murder
  • the protagonist investigates
  • the protagonist has setbacks (red herrings, false victories, etc)
  • the protagonist solves the crime.

Why don’t you take a crack at writing this formula into a story template? Keep it simple and don’t fall into the trap of over-complicating the storyline. Too many moves kill a good story.

How would the template for your story look like if you applied the same concepts?

Tweaking the intro to Prophecy of Power: Prey

Following some feedback I’ve played with the introduction to my upcoming novel. I think it’s much better than it was, but then I (wrongly) thought it was pretty good beforehand too. I’ve got a lot more work to do throughout, but I’m hoping this is a good start.

Please let me know what you think:A drawing of a golden rose

Prophecy of Power: Prey – opening of Chapter 1

Princess Caroline duFandelyon jolted awake, unable to breathe from the pain cramping every muscle. Perspiration broke out despite the cold.

It took an excruciatingly long moment for the pain to pass, but when it did she managed to roll to her back with a soft moan. Dreading she knew what to expect, she slowly raised her bare arms above her face. “By the Higher Realm, no,” she whispered as she stared at her skin. A luminous bell-shaped alimoth flower marked each wrist like an artist’s sketch ready to be filled in. The softly-glowing flowers were the symbol of Marnier du Shae, Goddess of Healing.

The Goddess had put a claim on her.

It had to be punishment for her temerity in coming to consecrated ground under false pretences, though the abbey wasn’t her choice. At her parents’ command she’d travelled under the guise of piety, secretly hiding her pregnancy and later the birth of her illegitimate child. Now that she was preparing to leave, the Goddess of Healing had taken her revenge by demanding lifelong service as if Caroline had been genuinely seeking it.

“Please, don’t ask this of me,” she whispered, unable to take her eyes from the luminous markings. “Your abbey…” Was what? Little but a convenient deception? She’d even lied to her best friends about her reasons for coming here.

And now she was being made to pay for her deceits. If Caroline denied the Goddess now she’d be deprived of the Goddess’s graces her entire life, but if she accepted the outlines would fill in and she’d be bound to serve the Goddess forever. She wanted neither.

A blessing to anyone else, she couldn’t imagine a worse rebuke, not even death. The luminous outlines were a punishment almost as heartbreakingly harsh as the loss of the child she’d had to give up.

Fortunately, the King’s Guard had arrived with orders to return her to Fandelyon City immediately, a perfect solution to defer the unwanted choice. She meant to be mounted and out the gates before a Divine Servant noticed her markings and forced her to confront her calling.

Hands trembling, she took a deep breath and pulled her heavy covers back, the cold hardwood floor smooth under her bare feet. She quickly removed her yellow nightgown, pulled on her warm grey riding dress and boots and threw her royal-blue travel cloak around her shoulders.

Her clothes were tight, but there was no time to get them altered. She’d worn only the order’s pale yellow robes since last autumn and she’d grown several inches taller in that time. Wider too, thanks to her child.

Footsteps approached along the corridor as she tied her hair back. She tried not to show anything but the grace of a princess as the novice Bharise stopped at her open doorway, the acolyte’s olive skin and dark curly hair setting off her pale robes.

Caroline caught her breath when she noticed the shimmering alimoth flowers on the insides of the young Servant’s wrists – something she’d never been able to see before. A nightmare. It had to be.

“Everything’s prepared, Your Highness,” Bharise said, staring up at Caroline as if she noticed something different.

Caroline felt her cheeks flush. The girl knew, somehow. “Thank you, Bharise. I’ll be down in a moment.” As the acolyte’s footsteps retreated, Caroline buried her face in her spare riding dress as if she could smother her growing distress. She needed the support of her mother or sisters to comfort her.

“It’s ironic, don’t you think?”

Caroline jumped, a loose strand of her curly red hair drooping over her face. She dropped the dress on her bed as Tarine, the abbey’s High Priestess, entered her room in a swish of richly embroidered golden robes. Easily a foot shorter than Caroline and barely half her weight, Tarine’s presence nevertheless intimidated. The severely pulled back greying hair didn’t soften her image.

With her clan heritage Caroline had always been tall. Now she stood a head above almost everyone, yet still felt like a child as she confronted Tarine. “Ironic?” Caroline almost stammered as she hurriedly stuffed the heavy dress in her travel pack, making certain her sleeves didn’t slip and expose her wrists. She felt like she couldn’t breathe.

“How you came here under the pretext of finding your calling?” Tarine glanced pointedly at Caroline’s wrists, her expression suggesting Caroline was no more worthy of Divine Service today than she’d been half a year ago. “Did you even pray to our Goddess while you were here, guile aside?”

“Of course. Devoutly.” It was true – what woman wouldn’t beg the Goddess’s blessing while pregnant?

Tarine pulled her own sleeves back. Like Bharise, a single bell-shaped alimoth flower glowed on the inside of each wrist.

Caroline kept her eyes on the swarthy woman’s face, determined not to acknowledge what she saw. If she did, she’d probably cry. Only three Servants knew why she was really here, and Tarine was one. “I’ve imposed upon you too long, High Priestess,” she said, hoping to divert the woman.

Tarine’s eyes narrowed. “You’re ready for your journey then?” The words were cold. Precise. Direct.

Caroline felt her cheeks flush again. “Thank you for your patience and the kindness you’ve shown me.”

Tarine produced a tight smile, her skin crinkling at the sides of her mouth if not her eyes. “Our Divine Lady doesn’t grant her favours lightly, Princess.”

It was another opening, a chance to acknowledge her divine marks without being called out. Caroline raised her chin slightly. “High Priestess, please understand that this abbey only holds bitter heartache for me.” Humiliated at being forced to acknowledge the Goddess’s apparent blessing, she revealed her luminous alimoth outlines. “I’m not prepared to accept these. They’re a punishment, not a blessing.”

“They’re never a punishment!” Tarine said, but quickly composed herself. “I’ll pray to our Divine Lady. Perhaps she’ll give you the time you need to come to terms with her offer.” She sounded as if the words were being forced upon her.

“I shall pray for the same,” Caroline whispered. She’d always assumed that if she were ever called to Service it would have been the Divine Lady Kindra du Erim, Protector of Warriors, or one of the Elemental Gods. Haram du Heth, Lord of Fire, perhaps.

“Before you depart, you should know that Lady Rhonda duPrey also discovered the healing flowers on her wrists this morning. She has accepted her calling and expects to return to begin her training this summer. Her flowers are fully formed, not outlines like yours.”

“Rhonda will make a wonderful priestess.” And she would. She had a gentle nature, as did her younger sister Kirsty. She would be well suited to the Goddess of Healing.

Tarine stared as if measuring Caroline’s words. “Rhonda’s loyalties run deep. She’s only leaving because she’s been asked to remain with you.”

Caroline hesitated, suddenly curious. “I made no such request.”

“Our Goddess did.”

Our. The word felt like a slap. “But…”

“The Divine Lady speaks to all of us at the moment of our choosing. You’ll eventually have to make a choice; walk the Divine Lady’s path, or step from it forever.”

An easy decision. “High Priestess-”

Tarine grasped Caroline’s hands, squeezing painfully. Although there was conflict on her face, Caroline had never seen her shirk her duties to her Goddess. “I understand your doubts, but She won’t give you another chance if you deny her.”

For a heartbeat Caroline considered refusing anyway. The woman clearly wanted Caroline to walk away despite the words. Yet to deny the Goddess in her own temple… “As you wish, High Priestess. May peace and health always be yours.” Caroline’s alimoth outlines flared warmly at the ritual blessing. She gasped and pulled her hands free as Tarine’s eyes widened. What did that mean? Only Devoted Servants could invoke the Divine Lady’s blessing.

Taine backed a step. “I must pray for understanding. Perhaps you’re being called to greater things than this abbey.”

With her wrists still tingling from the invocation she picked up her pack and swept out of the room, wishing she could leave her regrets with Tarine’s shocked stare.

Within the hour she was a mile along the road toward Fandelyon City in the company of her friends Rhonda and Kirsty duPrey, all three escorted by the King’s Guard. Two maids, a priest, and the duPrey brothers sent to chaperone them all rode behind. Overcast and gloomy for the most part, Caroline suspected it might rain despite the occasional patches of sunlight. The clouds were getting heavier.

“How are you?” asked Kirsty, the younger duPrey sister and Caroline’s best friend. Although pale-skinned like most nobles, she had dark hair like a commoner, but straight. Almost blue-black. Little Raven, her siblings called her when they wanted to tease. They hadn’t seen each other in months due to Caroline’s so-called illness.

Caroline kept her eyes forward, uncertain how to reply without revealing her heartache over giving up her child. No doubt she’d have similar trouble keeping the secret from her sisters when she got home. The number of nights she’d woken up crying, a phantom baby in her arms… She took a calming breath, slowly releasing it. “I’m fine, Kirsty. Fully recovered. Truly.”

The baby would be long gone from these parts anyway, a month old now. For the first couple of weeks Caroline had fantasised about seeking out the child and running away with him or her, perhaps to live among the clans. She was sure to have kin there if she could find them. After watching Tarine swear an oath of secrecy to her Goddess, Caroline was certain the priestess would neither divulge the child’s location nor Caroline’s indiscretion.

Caroline stared ahead, blinking to keep tears at bay. Best not to think about it at all. Obsessing would only lead to more heartache.

“But you were sick for so long. The High Priestess said you only began to recover a month or so ago. Are you sure you’re well enough to travel?”

Lying to her friend didn’t come as easily as she wished. “High Priestess Tarine is cautious, and probably made it seem a worse illness than it actually was.” She’d almost died, certainly, and for days afterward had muffled her sobs under her sheets, wishing she had. It shouldn’t hurt so much to lose something she’d never held.

Wind caught Rhonda’s long honey-coloured hair, but the older girl didn’t pull her hood up to protect herself. She had a distant look as if she’d rather be somewhere else. Back at the abbey, no doubt.

“High Priestess Tarine said you plan to return,” Caroline said as a means of changing the subject. “That the Divine Lady marked you?”

Something like fear passed across Rhonda’s features, but it was gone in an instant. Rhonda held up her wrists and her sleeves fell back a little. She stared at her alimoth flowers as if she wasn’t sure she’d made the right decision. The fully formed flowers were clear to Caroline, and very lifelike.

Kirsty frowned. “I wish I’d been called,” she murmured, staring at Rhonda’s wrists as if wishing she could see the divine marks too.

Despite the wistfulness, Caroline heard the hurt in Kirsty’s voice. Rhonda was tall, graceful and confident, and now she’d been called into Divine Service. Kirsty, probably prettier except for her raven hair, was small, timid, and awkward, younger than Rhonda by more than a year.

“You’re expected to make a sacrifice when entering a Divine Lord or Lady’s service to show your dedication. What was yours?” Caroline asked.

Rhonda paled, her posture stiffening. “Nothing I wouldn’t give a thousand times over. More.”

Lightning flashed bright before thunder pealed across the sky like a God crying out in anguish.

Story planning and creation: Rules for your world

Story Planning and Creation: Rules for your worldGoogle ‘Road Runner rules’ and you’ll pull up dozens of sources showcasing Chuck Jones’ rules for the Road Runner cartoon. They’re brilliant.

They succinctly set the scene for the story universe in which the Road Runner cartoon takes place, as well as all the conflict between the Road Runner and the Coyote. They are:

  • Rule 1. The Road Runner cannot harm the Coyote except by going “Beep, beep!”
  • Rule 2. No outside force can harm the Coyote – only his own ineptitude or the failure of ACME products.
  • Rule 3. The Coyote could stop anytime – if he were not a fanatic.
  • Rule 4. No dialogue ever, except “Beep, beep”.
  • Rule 5. The Road Runner must stay on the road – otherwise, logically, he would not be called Road Runner.
  • Rule 6. All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters – the southwest American desert.
  • Rule 7. All materials, tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the ACME Corporation.
  • Rule 8. Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote’s greatest enemy.
  • Rule 9. The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.

There’s a slightly amended version with a couple of extra rules and tweaks, but I prefer the original.

But what does that mean for your story?

As the God of your own story universe, you can come up with any number of rules for any aspect of your story want to, but be cautious; developing rules can become a form of procrastination or they grow far too unwieldy to be useful.

Think of rules as story drivers and sources of conflict, not merely world-building elements.

Take something familiar and consider its rules

In a show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the rules might look something like:

  • Slayers are girls. Always.
  • When a slayer dies, another rises in her place.
  • You can kill a vampire with a wooden stake through the heart, with fire, or by beheading it.
  • The Hellmouth spawns and attracts all sorts of demonic creatures, not just vampires.
  • Magic always comes with a cost.
  • Wherever possible, mix comedy with horror.

If you’re a huge fan of the show, you could probably add a few more. The point is, you want to keep your rules broad yet simple.

Why not pick a show, a movie or a book you’re familiar with, and try and figure out its basic rules?

The dryad novel

In the case of our developing novel, we could come up with specific rules for dryads, magic, longevity, immortality, the supernatural world, transformations, mundane perceptions, computer workstations, AI, vehicle emissions, shoes, handbags, etc., and before you know it we’d have the equivalent of a library’s worth of manuals covering every conceivable element and eventuality in the story (but no story because we’d be constantly developing the rules – see the previous comment about procrastination).

For the more detailed information about a story world it helps to maintain a story bible to keep track of ‘rules’ and other elements you create in your story, but that’s a separate matter. We’re not talking about a story bible today.

For now, we’re talking about the foundation rules for your story world, not elements of the story.

As with the Road Runner rules or my Buffy exercise, five to ten rules should be more than enough for most novels.

Beyond offering guidance, these rules must show your story’s conflicts and pressure points.

So let’s create some rules for this story universe.

  1. Magic is scarce on Earth; there is never enough to go around (a pressure point & source of conflict).
  2. Magical creatures need magic to survive, just as humans need air, water and food to survive (another pressure point & source of conflict).
  3. Magic can be stored, stolen, transformed, used and reused by magical creatures and natural processes, but like any form of energy it degrades with time and use (a potential source of conflict).
  4. Humans cannot sense or use magic directly, although they are Earth’s major source of it and can be affected by it (humans are a resource to magical creatures = potential conflict).
  5. Humans can become magical creatures, but magical creatures can never become human again (a potential source of conflict).

That will do for this story.

Hopefully you’ll have noticed I didn’t try to use the rules to explain anything in the story (such as why and how humans are the world’s major source of magic but have no access to it), and I didn’t try to explain the rules either – they’re simply a statement of fact. I know how it all works, but it’s not important to explain it here.

The broader story universe

If we wanted to take into consideration the broader story universe of which this novel is simply a small part of, we’d overlay the first five rules with five more:

  1. Gods are real and constantly fighting among themselves for the control of new universes.
  2. It’s possible, though difficult, to travel between universes.
  3. Time moves relative to the universe you’re in, and even that’s not constant.
  4. Supernatural perceptions and abilities can be attained through magic and/or the influence of Gods.
  5. The past cannot be changed, though with foresight the future can be manipulated and the appearance of history altered.

That’s ten rules for this story universe, though only five will have any real effect in this novel.

As well as try and figure out the rules for a show/book/movie you’re familiar with, why not create five to ten rules for your own story universe? What are they? Do they help?

As always, please share this post if you found it helpful.

Story planning and creation: Discover your theme

Story planning and creation: ThemeIt’s time to start thinking about theme.


Story themes are tricky beasts to corner, but integral to character choices and how the story unfolds and resolves.

Without a strong theme your story is just a series of escalating events which will soon be forgotten.

While we don’t have to pin a theme down right away, it helps to be open to any hidden gems we may have buried in our planning (or later, writing) phase.

Those gems will unify our story and give it meaning.

So what exactly is a story’s theme?

Most writers struggle with the concept, usually citing things like ‘love’, ‘hope,’ ‘loneliness,’ ‘loss,’ etc.

The problem is, while single words are often thematic, they’re not themselves a theme. They’re only expressions of a theme.

So how would you define a theme? Your theme is a statement or a question. Your story is its playground.

For example, your theme might be: “You can never truly be yourself around your family.” Your story would then debate that statement, with everything that goes on in the story contributing to the final answer.

And that’s where the power of a theme comes into play; it’s what gives your story real-life meaning and keeps readers thinking about it long after they’ve read it, even if they don’t have a clue what the theme actually is.

It’s probably the most understated, least understood, yet most powerful part of any story.

Take the song Cats in the Cradle by Harry Chapin (I love the Ugly Kid Joe version). Look it up on YouTube, Google the lyrics, buy it or stream it – whatever, but check out the lyrics and the question of theme should become clearer.

Cats in the Cradle is a story of regret – but regret is only an expression of the theme. Family features strongly, but family isn’t the theme either. Another expression. The story is about both those things, but it’s much more. Cats in the Cradle is a cautionary tale of missed opportunities and poor choices, and so a statement of theme would include those things.

In your own stories, your theme should influence everything your characters say and do, but don’t force a theme if you don’t already have one. Once the story’s drafted you can figure out the theme and if necessary go back and align story elements to it.

At the planning stage it’s simply about pointing the story in one possible direction; a question or statement you think you may want to explore. If the story’s not going where you want or expect, keep an eye out for a more compelling theme. It’ll appear naturally, so don’t try to force it.

Possible themes for this our dryad story run along the lines of:

  • Eternal youth is a curse, not a blessing.
  • Broken relationships can never be completely healed.
  • What’s truly important can never be stolen.
  • What does it mean to be human?
  • You must be true to who you are.

The theme we need to find is the one our protagonist carries. (For an ensemble cast the character most closely aligning with the theme represents your protagonist.)

What will this story’s theme eventually be? It’s not clear yet, but hopefully it’ll come out in the planning.

If you were to write a statement of theme for the song Cats in the Cradle, what would it be?

Taking feedback is never fun

Drawing of a storm trooper with a gunA long time ago in a galaxy called the Milky Way, a young teenager decided to write a book.

What he really wanted to be was Luke Skywalker, but that didn’t seem any more likely than being Superman or Peter Pan, the runners-up. He probably wasn’t even cut out to be a stormtrooper.

But when it came to writing, he loved reading.

As cause-and-effects go, that meant he didn’t have a clue what he was doing when it came to crafting stories, and so it didn’t progress particularly well.

Furthermore, it wasn’t long before dating, partying, marriage and kids became more important than being a hero with mystical powers.

Yet the dream remained and he eventually got his act together, learned a lot about writing, finished the novel, and got it agented and picked up by a publisher.

Despite apparent success, this only resulted in more delays when the publisher collapsed.

And so self-publishing whispered, calling him to the Dark Side. He crossed over, printed a few copies and gave them to proofreaders (who weren’t writers).

The plan was a simple ‘once over’ before publication. The book had been through enough critiques and edits.

And after all, it had been good enough to get an agent and publisher, right?

And that’s when ‘first novel syndrome’ reared it’s ugly red pen once more. 


A cartoon of a scared face with hands.Prophecy of Power: Prey was the first book I wrote, and as a consequence it had a lot of problems. I probably should have abandoned it years ago, but I was too emotionally invested in it to give up.

I now consider it my ‘teaching myself to write’ book, and so it was always going to be problematic.

Through trial and error, learning and feedback, I fixed most of the problems, but despite numerous edits and rewrites, the protagonist still wasn’t working properly – and that’s my fault.

Agents, editors and other writers aren’t necessarily the best judge of this – sometimes it takes a reader to tell you they hope your protagonist dies a sticky death, alone and unloved.

As writers, we have blind spots we don’t want to face. My protagonist was mine. I’d resisted earlier feedback on her, making only minor tweaks when I should have gone back and done a total rethink.

I’m thinking of Grasshopper parables at the moment…

As a writer, readers can’t be allowed to hate a protagonist (or any character) so much they don’t want to finish the story: they won’t tell their friends to buy it, they won’t leave positive reviews, and they won’t buy the sequels.

That equals failure if you want to sell copies.

And so I’ll do another pass and hopefully make the protagonist more likeable right from the start. It’ll be the ‘final’ final pass.



Who said this writing gig was all fun and muses…?

Story planning and creation – developing the protagonist’s story

Text over a line drawing of a city - Story planning and creation: Developing the protagonists storyFollowing on from the previous posts where I’ve been outlining a new novel, we now know a little about the story world and its conflicts. It’s a world where:

  • the supernatural intersects with the mundane
  • a woman is in trouble because of her new youth.

So what do we know about the protagonist, Rose Thorn, and her situation?

  • She wakes up with no memory of what’s happened to her.
  • She’s much younger than she was.
  • Time has passed – several months.
  • She has a daughter called Hope, and Hope’s going to be used against Rose by the antagonist.
  • Depending on your definition of what it is to be human, Rose no longer is. She’s transforming into a dryad. I think a ticking clock might be useful here.

We don’t really know much more about Rose at this stage, so let’s focus on fleshing her out a bit.

What she knows

Rose has to realise she’s ‘different’ very early on in the story, but can’t remember what happened too soon. It’s a question that will be answered as the story progresses.

All she knows initially is that she had a normal life until she woke up youthful again after going missing for several months. As her foggy memories return they will be balanced with the physical changes she’s going to have to rely on to survive.

She quickly learns someone is after her, and because of that her daughter is at risk. This needs to become clear during the first quarter of the story to develop the story’s main conflicts and threat.

Story drivers

Her lack of knowledge creates story drivers. She needs to figure out:

  • how she was gifted or cursed by a dryad
  • what becoming a dryad means
  • why this happened to her. Red herrings (or real scenarios) could be:
    • something she did (is what happened to her some form of payback, or a gift for some favour/help she gave)?
    • something she found/stole – a Magic McGuffin which turns her into a dryad?
    • wrong place – wrong time (bad luck)?
    • she escaped some supernatural attack and this was the result?
  • did the dryad have her own motivations?
    • does the dryad have a secret?
    • is the dryad playing her own game?
  • how can she use her ‘gift/curse’ to help herself and her daughter.

What happened to her can either be directly related to the antagonist (ie, Christian inadvertently caused it, for instance), or totally unrelated. Either way, it draws her into conflict with him as she has something he wants.

What does she know about Christian Godson, the antagonist?

She doesn’t know who’s after her or why (initially), though she eventually discovers Christian wants to use her gift and has the means to take it from her. The main things I need to figure out here are:

  • How exactly will Christian gain from this?
    • Just a long life, or something more?
    • How is this furthering his goals and hurting his enemies?
  • How will her ‘gift’ affect Christian?
    • Will it make him instantly younger?
    • Does it take time to work?
    • Will it cure any illnesses he has?
    • Does he have minions he can share it with?
  • What does he need to do to attain it?
    • If he catches her, can she be forced to just ‘hand it over’?
    • Does he need to do something drastic to extract it?
  • Could Christian be someone she trusts (plot twist?)?

How will the secret of her youth hurt Rose (emotionally)?

There must always be consequences/effects.

  • Does she go into denial?
  • Is she determined to find a cure and return to being human?
  • Does it affect her in other ways?
  • What will be the effects on her family?

How can she use her new knowledge about what happened to her advantage?

  • We can’t drop her secret into the story and give it no impact, or fail to provide her with any means of taking advantage of it.
  • It’s essential that it be part of the story’s resolution to produce a satisfying ending.
    • How can she use this change to defeat or destroy the protagonist?

A line drawing of a woman - head and sholdersWho can possibly help her?

She needs both allies and people she cares about. As well as help her, these ‘extras’ can also be used against her (they can be threatened, hurt, or killed, for example). Possibilities include:

  • Someone associated with Christian (an untrustworthy ally who plans to double-cross him (or her)).
  • Her best friend (I assume she has one).
  • Family/daughter.
  • A third party who knows about her gift/curse but is content to let her keep it
    • Why would they do this?
    • Christian’s enemies?
  • Someone who’s been through what she’s going through – the person (dryad) Christian really wants to get his hands on?
  • More than one of the above?

I don’t know that I want a mentor for Rose in this novel – it’s not a coming-of-age story, though it has similarities. I think it needs to be more of a ‘finding yourself’ or ‘figuring out what’s most important to you’ story, which implies signposts rather than a guide.

Lets put everything we know into a timeline

The beginning:

  • Christian (and friends?) seeks the fountain of Rose’s youth, and has for generations.
    • For him, it’s a temporary thing, requiring ‘top-ups’ at regular intervals to stay young.
    • Perhaps it has a law of diminishing returns – every time he ‘uses’ it the effects don’t last as long, requiring more and more.
  • Rose is transformed (is she left for dead and saved by a dryad/forced to change by a desperate dryad?).
    • She wakes up alone, in the woods, with no memory of what happened.
      • She has to claw her way out of a shallow grave
  • Rose discovers she’s youthful again
    • perhaps after being taken to hospital/a police station
    • some sort of test shows she’s the same person, despite appearances.
    • How does this affect her? How does she react? (does she go through the seven stages of grief over the course of the novel? – I might need to do a little research for this)
    • How do her family react?
      • her parents/siblings reject her
      • her daughter accepts the truth, and can therefore be better used to hurt Rose.
  • Rose tries to lead police to the place she woke, but can’t find it. No one can. This casts doubt on her story.
    • The dryad who transformed Rose is either gone or dead and all evidence of what happened to her removed.
  • Her family reject her – despite the evidence – they don’t believe she’s the same person.

The middle:

  • The supernatural world intrudes (don’t know how yet, but it needs to play a part)
    • Her nature is changing – that is the intrusion on her normal world
    • She resists what’s happening to her, though she’s forced more and more to rely on those changes to get by.
    • Possibly someone from her new world also intrudes at this point (another dryad? Someone from Christian’s line – distant relative he has issues with)?
  • She discovers someone is after her – they want her secret/gift.
  • Her family is threatened: not too serious yet.
  • She’s increasingly caught between worlds, with the supernatural world a huge temptation
    • The supernatural world offers safety and a way out of the mess, but it comes at a cost: her family remains in danger, keeping her from accepting.

The end:

  • Christian goes directly after her family (Hope) and tries and force her hand.
  • She must accept what happened to her in order to save her daughter, herself, and the bigger threat to the supernatural world.

That’s it in very broad strokes, with a lot of detail yet to fill.

How do you think it’s shaping up so far?

Story planning and creation: Names

Story planning and creation: NamesI find searching for the right name for a character, place or anything else I’ve created in a story about as much fun as seasickness.

Running through options to find the right name for an important character can suck up a lot of time, but the right name can add a whole new dimension to a story.

I used to choose names based on the ‘get it chosen ASAP and get on with the story’ approach, usually choosing anything serviceable at the time.

That usually meant taking the first name I liked.

If something better struck me after the choice was made all well and good, but I’d often accept anything that got me past the hurdle, whereas a little thought could have delivered something infinitely better.

Recently I took an unanticipated lesson from Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy, Angle, Firefly and more, when I realised a lot of the names he gave his characters have a deeper meaning, usually in tune with their part in the story.

Take Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for instance:

  • Buffy. The protagonist’s name is pure irony. What kickass vampire slayer would be seen in public with a name like Buffy? It perfectly reflects the show’s tone.
  • Angel. The perfect guy who turns into the perfect bad guy during his first moment of pure happiness. Another healthy dose of irony.
  • Dawn. Buffy’s new sister. A new Dawn (because Dawn didn’t actually exist prior to her appearance in season 5). Theme-wise, wow.
  • Faith. The vampire slayer who has no faith. (Whedon really loves his irony, doesn’t he?)

Following on from that logic, I’ve found it helps to choose names that fit the story and add another level of value.

Based on what we know about the protagonist from the previous posts, we need a name that suits her situation, and for that we need to revisit (and perhaps add a little more information about) her origins:

  • She wakes up alone and dirty in the woods and is forced to dig her way out of a shallow grave.
  • She has no memory of what happened to her.
  • Memories of her life beforehand are vague.
  • All she really remembers is her name, though other memories slowly return.

And here comes the ‘secret’ I’ve been holding onto so far – a dryad changed her; brought her into the team, so to speak. I’m not entirely sure what the dryad’s motivations are yet, but that’s another question.

What I do know is that it was the dryad who gave her her new name. So what would a dryad call a woman who’s just been turned into another dryad?

A line drawing of a rose on a stem with petalsAfter a bit of consideration, I’ve decided to go with Rose Thorn. Why? Because:

  • First name: Rose. It works for her newfound youth and her growing and sensuous ability to lure people to her.
  • Second name: Thorn. It hints at the hidden danger she represents despite her beauty; her unrevealed dangerous side.
  • It’s fun and unusual, but not unpronounceable or totally off the chart. Rose and Thorn are also real names, though you’d probably feel sorry for someone with both. Considering her recent origins, it fits well.
  • It sounds dryadish… I hope.

As mentioned, there’s a little bit of fun to be had in her name as well. Can you imagine being asked by some cop or medic what your name is?

Repeat your best Bond voice: “Thorn. Rose Thorn.”

They’d think it was a joke. And then there’s the fact she was born with another name she doesn’t feel is hers anymore, yet the people she loves and who love her still hold onto it (a name to figure out later.)

Another major character is her daughter. Hope would be a good name for her. Hope wants her mother back the way she was before the she disappeared. Hope may be a little too obvious or ‘on the nose’, but we’ll run with it for now.

And then there’s the antagonist, someone who seeks the fountain of youth.

A little research shows that Methuselah lived to be almost a thousand years old and he’s mentioned in several religions. That means there’s some pre-existing mythology surrounding him that we can lean on.

Perhaps that’s all we need at this point – the myth of a man who lived for nearly a thousand years, a man who had at least one child, Lamech. Lamech lived to be almost eight hundred years old himself, and was said to be Noah’s father (as in Noah’s Arc). A noble line, indeed.

Yet where does our antagonist fit into all this? Is he Methuselah? Lamech? Noah? Someone else entirely, but descended from the same family?

I don’t want to get too far into the myth/legend/religious history, so let’s go with the same family, but merely related.

He’s a bad apple in an otherwise distinguished group, someone who once had access to the fountain of youth but lost it, and now must take it by force to get what he wants.

Considering he’s the antagonist, let’s make him someone with no regard for anyone but himself. He’s a man who would do anything to get revenge on the people who made him an outcast, including destroying the very thing that gives them (and himself) their long lives.

That seems like pretty good motivation to me.

A sketch of a man leaning against a wall.For a name, something ironic would work here – the complete opposite of what he is.

How about Christian Godson? Outcast. Murderer. Would-be king. It also ties to the mythology surrounding his ancestry.

I like it.

And there we have it, the three most important characters in this story: Rose, Christian and Hope, with the added bonus of some strong character motivation backed up with a little ‘real life’ history.

Do you think they work for this story? How do you choose or create the names in your own stories?

Visibility for your book

A line drawing of a man thinking about marketingI often use this blog as a way of getting things straight in my head. Today’s no different, and lately I’ve been researching book marketing.

Marketing is one of those necessary evils most writers consider even less appealing than mixing nuclear waste with fresh sewage and catapulting it at that annoying possum who tap-dances on your roof at 2am.

To get past the whole ‘I feel dirty just contemplating marketing’ issue, it helps find a reason to do it. By that I mean a reason that’s bigger than your desire not to do it.

Start off with that change of mindset, and then move onto a new definition of marketing. Marketing’s not about selling. It’s about visibility. You want to make your book into a funny cat video (metaphorically) that people will share all over the web.

So how do you do that?

Hoped-for results

Firstly, you need a desired outcome; a clear and hittable goal – something like convincing tap-dancing roof possums to visit your neighbour’s place so you can get a good night’s sleep.

So state your desired outcome for your book’s potential. Writ it down. Something small, like: “Number one international bestseller” or “Get it into the hands of a hundred-million people in the first hour after publication”.

If that’s a bit scary (and rightfully so), how about something infinitely more attainable like: “Sell at least a copy a week for an entire year”? A small but constant stream of books going out the door might feel better than a single burst followed by the sound of crickets, and probably means your marketing efforts are working.

A goal that sits somewhere in the middle might be: “Sell enough copies to justify my incurable writing habit”. You’ll need to define what you mean by justifying the habit, but as long as you do, you can for it.

Whatever you decide, it’s got to be an clear and definable outcome that you want. Make it something presently out of your reach but still possible with effort.

Now, put your outcome somewhere where you can see it every day – taped to the bottom of your monitor, for instance. You’ll need to remind yourself constantly.

Have a reason

Next, find a purpose that will get you out of your comfort zone and doing the things you don’t want to do. What’s the point of having a goal if you don’t have a reason to do it?

So what excites you? Is it the potential for critical acclaim, the possibility of becoming a celebrity, or simply seeing people get pleasure from reading your book?

Break it down some more – define what your goal means to you personally. It could be anything you care about, such as:

  • selling enough copies will get you (monetarily):
    • financial security and the knowledge you’ll never need to go out and get another job again
    • your very own house and owning it outright
    • the ability to send your kids to private schools so they can have the best education possible
  • the prestige of being invited to visit readers groups
  • the chance to stand on a stage and talk to thousands of people at a convention
  • a future movie deal where you can walk the red carpet like a star
  • make your spouse/kids/parents/friends proud of you
  • all of the above
  • any of a thousand other reasons that excite you?

Whatever it is, it has to be emotionally engaging; something that means a lot to you. You won’t go out of your way otherwise. You’ve got to want it enough to care.

Make it visible

With your desired outcome sorted and an emotional reason to achieve it, you now need to figure out exactly how you’re going to achieve your goals.

How will you get the book in front of people both before and after it’s published?

Don’t forget that marketing’s about visibility, not sales. You want to convince people to buy it, not actually sell it to them yourself. That’s a job for the retailer.

Barring a stroke of luck on the scale of winning the lotto three times in a row, no one’s going to find out about your book unless you get it in front of them. It’ll get swallowed by the black void of roof-dancing possums and funny cat videos posted on YouTube.

So how are you going to make your book visible? Start by researching book marketing ideas via that mystical thing called an internet search and see what others have done before you. There are some really innovative and clever ideas out there, and at least some of them have worked. A lot may be out there, so pick a few you’re comfortable with for now and leave the rest on your long list of possibilities.

When you’ve got a list of ideas, break your strategy into three parts – pre-publication, book launch, and post-publication.


Build a presence online to let people know you’re writing a book. Focus on one thing at a time, and when that’s sorted expand your reach. Start by:

  1. joining your local writers’ centre and finding people/groups to connect with (if possible)
  2. setting up a website/blog (if you haven’t already). Research how to get people to visit it and implement some of those ideas (producing content helps… just saying)
  3. create social media accounts and learn how to use them (if you haven’t already)
  4. join online writers groups.

Doing the above allows you to tap into a vast wealth of knowledge and experience out there, as well as becoming known to people that matter (readers and writers).

Use your social media connections ask for advice from the writers who’ve launched books before while subtly letting them know you exist and that you’re also about to launch a book.

Book launch

Unless you’re a superpower in the writing world, no publisher is likely to organise and pay for you to launch your book. If you’re self-publishing, that’s a given. So:

  • do multiple book launches if possible – conventions, writers festivals, bookstores; wherever readers gather (visibility, remember?)
  • tap into your network and find someone with credibility, pull and showmanship to launch it for you
  • you’ll need to do a speech, so practice it and deliver it like a pro
    • a little training here goes a long way.
  • write your own press release – you never know, some journalist out there may be looking to write an ‘underdog does good’ article, so give them an angle and a reason to choose you.

Post book launch

Think of this as long-haul marketing. Again, marketing’s not about selling, but about visibility, so be the next funny cat (or tap-dancing-and-nuclear-waste-dodging roof possum) video everyone’s tuning into.

Think of creative ways to get the book in front of people without being obnoxious about it; refer to your list and search the internet for new ideas if you can’t think of any yourself. There’s plenty out there.

  • Spend a few hours a week thinking up/researching and implementing ideas to make your book more visible.
  • To increase visibility and meet potential readers, get a table at:
    • the local markets
    • artists alleys at conventions
    • wherever else the opportunity arises (team up with other writers if you don’t want to go it alone).
  • Do book signings at bookshops.
  • Write the next book, and the next (and publish them too – more books = more visibility).

However you approach it, try and have fun. Treat marketing like an adventure and you’ll never be disappointed, even if some approaches totally fizz.

What’s your best marketing (visibility) tip? Please let me know in the comments, and share this post with other writers who might find it useful.

Story planning and creation – stories within worlds

Text over a line drawing of an ancient city: Story Planning and Creation - Stories Within WorldsMention ‘worldbuilding’ and writers start talking about like places, races, creatures, politics, religion, culture, magic systems, etc. While they’re all very important elements of worldbuilding, I want you to think broader. Much broader.

When Prophecy of Power: Prey (formerly Transcendence of Power: Genesis) was accepted for publication, I wanted a four-book deal.

The publisher at the time (Satalyte) was happy to go with that.

My agent, however, suggested it was the wrong move.


If the first book flopped I’d be stuck writing three useless sequels. I interpreted that as ‘years of my writing career which could be better utilised’.

I went with my agent’s advice, although there are arguments for and against (but that’s another blog post).

So rather than write three sequels I wrote four brand new novels, and here’s where the topic of worldbuilding kicks in.

I set each of these standalone novels within the broader Noramgaell Saga story universe – the same story universe as Prophecy of Power: Prey.

Why? Three reasons:

  1. It makes commercial sense. Although they are standalone stories, they share the same backdrop and therefore (distantly, or sometimes closely) tie in into each other. If readers like one story, the familiarity may lead them to the others without any need to have read sequels or prequels.
  2. It makes logical sense. Although I write fantasy I’m not primarily a worldbuilder, so it avoids duplicating effort in a process I’m not a huge fan of.
  3. It saves time. Wordbuilding takes up considerable time which could be better utilized for stories rather than writing story backdrops.

Reusing your worldbuilding is similar to writing a series of standalone books with a single protagonist (such as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, for example). Same story universe, different stories. A whole lot of advantages.

Now take that concept and think far more broadly. Apply it to all of your story universe, not just the world surrounding a single protagonist. This then becomes more like the hugely successful Marvel cinematic universe.

A line drawing of hands holding a globe.A horror/fantasy short story I wrote called Wyvern’s Blood was my first foray into this concept, and it happened long before I understood there was a concept.

Wyvern’s Blood now forms the groundwork for two separate storylines (the purple and green sections in the circles diagram on this page), all of it within the broader Noramgaell Saga.

In a similar vein, I created a loose history between two races including a war that lasted a millennia, but I didn’t know much about that war. All I knew was which side had won. Around the same time I had an idea for a star-crossed lovers story where an immortal girl from another universe falls in love with a human boy.

Tying these ideas together created a whole new storyline set twenty thousand years before the Noramgaell Saga’s conclusion, and it too is partially built on the foundations I created for Wyvern’s Blood.

Putting it into practice

A diagram of how all my novels interrelate
How my novels interrelate – coloured-in means the first in a series or standalone, bevelled means it’s been written, and coloured outlines designate which storyline the novel belongs to. The smaller squares are short stories.
When I come up with a story idea now, one of the first things I do is figure out if it fits into an existing story universe I’ve already created. Of course many don’t, particularly high-concept stories, but when they do I try to take advantage of what I already have.

The circle diagram on this page represents where stories fit into the Noramgaell Saga story universe. Purple and green represent two separate storylines set here on Earth, in the present. The blue, red and yellow circles represent storylines set in the future on another world in a parallel universe.

And so here I am, beginning to plot a new novel based on a single image – a woman waking up alone in the woods with no memory of what happened to her.

It could fit almost anywhere in the Noramgaell Saga story universe, but as I know what happened to her (something I haven’t revealed yet), there are several places it would work better than others. Therefore I’m setting it here on Earth.

I know a lot of writers are working on their first novel and story world and may not think this concept is for them. While you can apply it at any point, it actually works best at the start of the worldbuilding process.

Here’s why. If you were creating a new world, how many stories could you set in:

  • a hospital
  • a police station
  • a war
  • anywhere in human history
  • another planet
  • another universe?

Just take a look at television and you’ll find the answer – lots. Hundreds. Thousands. More. Layering the groundwork at the start could save you massive headaches later on.

Consider it another way; human history alone is the catalyst for millions of stories, and that’s just one possible story universe you could explore. It’s also free and doesn’t take any effort beyond research.

If you’re not currently in the thick of worldbuilding, pick something you’ve already created and consider the possibilities it represents. Start with unexplored conflicts you already know about and then move into into history, culture, character beliefs, politics – whatever floats your boat.

That’s the true power of worldbuilding – the ability to extract endless stories from a single story universe and its history.

When you’re thinking about worldbuilding, I strongly suggest you think of story possibilities from the outset, not just detail.

  • If you like this post, please hit the ‘Like’ button so I know. If you like it a lot, please share it on your social media channels. Thanks!

Story planning and creation – conflict and threat

An organge line-drawing background of an ancient city with the words: Story Planning and Creation: Conflict and ThreatFollowing on from the last post about creating your story’s premise, I thought I’d continue the thread and go through what my next steps (ideally) would be in planning this particular story.

While the premise I came up with is in the ball park of what I’m happy with, it needs… more. I’m not sure what ‘more’ is at this stage, but that’s part of what I need to figure out.

If you Google ‘questions to ask before writing a book’ or ‘questions to ask when planning a book’ you’ll get a tonne of responses with some pretty nifty ideas to consider.

They might include:

  • Who’s your story about?
  • Why should anyone care?
  • What does your protagonist want?
  • Who’s your audience?
  • How are you going to surprise your readers?
  • What are you promising your readers? etc.

They’re big, broad, generic questions, and worth considering, but they’re largely taken care of by the story premise or questions that require a premise before you can answer them.

If you missed the previous post, I’d recommend reading it first so you know how I arrived at my story premise. The premise I came up with was: A missing woman who reappears as a teenager tries to protect her grown children when they’re hunted for the secret of her youth.

It’s a little bit of a mouthful and not as tight or specific as I’d like. Generally, it doesn’t suggest enough about story world or protagonist, but there’s plenty of time to refine it. It’s not something you want to get too hung up on.

For now, well ask some questions that might make that clearer while developing the story at the same time.

Let’s revise what we already know

I kept the previous iterations of the premise because they contain some gems. Let’s pull out what we can, remembering that this is largely brainstorming – there are no right or wrong answers, and it doesn’t matter if ideas conflict at this stage.

Ideas we’ve covered:

  • She wakes up in the woods
  • time has passed – decades perhaps – yet she hasn’t aged
  • or – only a little time has passed (days, weeks, months?), but she’s decades younger. I’m leaning toward this option for two main reasons:
    • it makes the story more immediate and contemporary rather than a missing persons case
    • it’s a little more original. Missing persons who come back from the dead (sometimes after centuries) have had a bit of a run on television lately.
  • When she disappears, she’s:
    • a young woman (new mother? – doesn’t really work with my preferred option above, but it’s worth noting)
    • an experienced mother (kids are perhaps 8-10ish)
    • a career woman who probably doesn’t have as much time for her kids as she’d like (maybe in her forty’s with kids who have already grown up or are in their late teens).
  • She and society struggle with the fact she’s younger now.
  • Her family totally disbelieve her story
    • she’s shunned/on her own?
  • She tries and fails (at least initially) to reconnect with her extended family (mother, father, siblings?)
  • She tries to reconnect with her immediate family (teenage daughter, husband, other children?)
  • Someone/something/some organisation (antagonist) is trying to discover her secret and/or steal her gift
    • is the antagonist supernatural, or mundane?
  • She is forced to protect her family
    • her child/children are actively being hunted so they can be used against her with the intent to force her hand and reveal the secret of her ‘eternal youth’ or hand over whatever power she’s been invested with
    • if she’s got more than one child, does that mean the others are considered expendable by the antagonist?

Some of that’s very usable and not bad for no extra effort.

What we need to figure out now are the big issues: the story drivers. Knowing these will help with the detail.

Story driver 1: Conflict

A cartoon of a person being punched in the face with the word 'punch' highlightedMy definition: Conflict is immediate – it’s happening now, and it can be broken into three categories: internal, external, and interpersonal.

The obvious sources of conflict are:

  • She doesn’t know what happened to her (internal conflict).
  • The people she cares about don’t believe her (interpersonal conflict).
  • The antagonist does believe her and wants to take advantage of her (external conflict).
  • Her family is in danger because of whatever made her different (external conflict).
  • The antagonist wants whatever she has (external conflict).

That’s probably more than enough conflict at this stage, so let’s consider the bigger picture.

Story driver 2: Threat

A cartoon of a person about to use a slingshotMy definition: Threat is the potential for conflict, and usually has big consequences.

The main threat needs to stem from the story’s premise. In this case: she has something the antagonist wants. That alone isn’t enough. If there were no consequences, she could simply hand it over, right? For this to work, she can’t afford to lose it or let the antagonist have it.

The question here is: What would happen if the antagonist did get it? This is the source of the story’s main threat.

Consider the potential consequences if she loses it for:

  1. Herself:
    1. Will she die?
    2. If she survives but reverts to normal, will she lose the power to save her family/world etc? (the only answer is ‘yes’ if we take this path, which would mean she has to get it back or find another way.)
  2. Her family:
    1. Will they be harmed/killed if she resists?
    2. Are they likely to suffer more (long term) if she gives in?
  3. The mundane (normal) world:
    1. Something bad. For now, let’s go with the obvious and say the antagonist is a power-mad world-domination type and the consequences are dire. Bit of a cliché, but it’ll do for now. Think big and change it if something better arises.
    2. Nothing at all. This isn’t the mundane world’s fight.
  4. The supernatural world:
    1. Will it be destroyed forever? Again, bit of a cliché, but the higher the stakes the better. We can peg it back later if necessary.
    2. The antagonist gets to rule forever (as they’ll be immortal and therefore unstoppable?).
      1. To do either of these we’d need to tie the protagonist to the supernatural world very strongly – give her something far bigger than herself to care about.

Considering the info above, I’m leaning toward developing the main threats to her family and the supernatural world, and leaving threats to the mundane world alone, otherwise it gets too complicated: too many moves. I’d like to see it played out in the mundane world for contrast however: the supernatural world intruding into the mundane. Considering I write fantasy, having the main threat directed at the normal world doesn’t provide as much fun (or impact).

So now we’ve considered some of the major issues we can start making choices and building something of a working document/outline. We know the premise and have some good ideas for the main conflicts and big threats.

Plot-wise, it’s lacking a little in originality, but we can compensate in the world-building, characterisation and delivery (or come up with something more original as we develop the story). I don’t want to stray too far from reader expectations though.

Have you considered your story’s main conflicts and threats? What are they?


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