Story planning and creation – finding your story premise

the words Story Planning and Creation over a drawing of ancient architectureA few years ago I developed a method for distilling a novel-length story into a premise or elevator pitch. It’s quite simple and effective, yet difficult to pull off and it can take quite a while to get right, even with practice.

After experimenting with it, I found it’s much easier to do the exercise before you write a novel than after, as you don’t have to try and figure out what doesn’t go in and you won’t get frustrated by the problems it may highlight.

As well as define your story, your premise needs to imply genre and tone while providing an idea about who the protagonist is without actually naming them.

One more point – you have to be able to see a whole story in your premise.

To create your story premise in a single sentence, you need to know four things:

  • who the story’s about
  • what they want
  • who or what’s standing in their way
  • the story’s hook (usually found in the irony).

Unless you’ve already written the story you probably don’t know those things. A bigger problem is that if you’ve written the story and still don’t know those things, you’ve got a major issue that’ll take some serious editing/restructuring to iron out.

So the best time to figure out your story’s premise (elevator pitch, logline, whatever you wish to call it) is before you write it. You can always change the premise later if you come up with better ideas, but its a signpost at the very least, and if you get stuck while writing at least you’ve got something to guide you.

So how do you apply this when you’ve got nothing to start with?

Obviously you have to start with something – an image, character, situation, whatever. A kernel of some kind.

Now try to figure out the answers to those questions above. If you can’t, start with what you have. The answers will probably come to you.

A drawing of a medieval woman in the forestToday I decided to create a premise about a woman who wakes up alone in the woods (covered in dirt, scared, and with no memory of what had happened or where she’d been). It was little more than an image. I only knew two things about her (which I made up on the spot):

  1. As I write speculative fiction, I decided she needed something from the fantasy realm, so she quickly finds out she’s been missing for a long time. I wasn’t sure if she’d been gone a years, decades or centuries, but it had to be a significant amount of time.
  2. She’s younger now than she went missing. Much younger – physically. A teenager perhaps.

That’s all I had to work with.

The following premise statements show how I worked through ideas until I had something reasonably tight and strong.

  1. A young woman wakes up in the woods only to find she’s been missing for years, yet she hasn’t aged. (20 words)
    This is a starting point, and lacks quite a few things like conflict and the protagonists desires. It’s a statement about where the story starts and therefore doesn’t work as a premise because it doesn’t give me any idea as to what it’s about or where it might go.
  2. A young woman who wakes up a decade after disappearing struggles with the fact she hasn’t aged as she tries to reconnect with her disbelieving family. (26 words)
    This one is a bit convoluted, though at least it introduces some conflict and gives a hint about where the story might go, but its not nearly enough. There’s only a little bit of conflict implied, and that’s mostly internal.
  3. A young woman who hasn’t aged tries to reconnect with her disbelieving family a decade after disappearing. (17 words)
    This is clearer and implies genre, but its not where it needs to be. The implied conflict still isn’t very strong and it leaves out the disappearing part.
  4. A young woman who returns youthful after going missing for more than a decade tries to reconnect with her disbelieving daughter while dark forces try to discover her secret. (30 words)
    Even though it’s a little more detailed, it’s getting convoluted – you almost need a deep breath to get though it. I think it’s on the right track now though.
  5. A woman who returns as a teenager after going missing more than a decade ago tries to reconnect with her disbelieving daughter while dark forces close in. (27 words)
    Who are the dark forces? Why are they closing in? At least the first part is getting stronger, though still convoluted.
  6. A mother who returns as a teenager after going missing for more than a decade tries to reconnect with and protect her disbelieving daughter while enemies try to discover her secret. (31 words)
    Not really an improvement on the previous version, and ‘enemies’ is just a tad too vague.
  7. A mother who returns as a teenager a decade after disappearing tries to reconnect with and protect her disbelieving daughter while enemies try to discover her secret. (27 words)
    No real improvement, though it’s a bit shorter.
  8. When a career woman disappears and returns youthful a decade later, she tries to reconnect with her disbelieving teenage daughter while being hunted for her secret. (26 words)
    So she’s a career-woman now? Okay, that tells me a bit more about the woman. The conflict is getting more personal as well and the story shaping up a little clearer, but it’s still not very sharp. Also, if you need a comma to ensure it makes sense, rethink it.
  9. A career woman who disappears and returns youthful a decade later tries to reconnect with her disbelieving teenage daughter while being hunted for her secret. (26 words)
    I’m still a fair distance from being happy with it.
  10. A career woman who disappears and returns a decade younger is forced to protect her daughter while being hunted for the secret of her youth. (25 words)
    I think this is getting closer – its sharper, clearer, implies plenty of conflict and reads fairly well.  Even if I keep all the information I’ve got in some of the above versions, there’s no need to state it here. The irony’s stronger now too: discovering the fountain of youth might just kill her.
  11. A missing woman who reappears as a teenager tries to protect her grown children when they’re hunted for the secret of her youth. (23 words)
    I’m liking where this is going now. It’s clear, straightforward, concise and flows really well.

I might play with family members (should I have just the daughter or half a dozen children? Is the husband still in the picture? What about her extended family and friends – do they rate a mention here [probably not]?), but I think I’ve got to the heart of it now, and the hook is solid.

Hopefully you can see the path where the last iteration gets it closer to a tightly focused story with a single story problem. That’s all that matters here. Leave your subplots and excess characters in the ‘extras’ pile. They’ll find their place in the story eventually, just not here.

A close-up line drawing of a woman's faceWhat I’ve produced isn’t perfect by a long way, but I can see a whole story in it now when I couldn’t before, and it’s one which I might be interested in writing.

The next question for me is: “Will I continue planning it out and perhaps even write it?”


This was an exercise, but I think the idea has promise. Considering I’m one of the world’s worst planners (in the sense that planning’s the last thing I want to do when it comes to writing, so I either procrastinate or find ways not to), I might work though the concept here, start to finish, and see where it goes.

Or I might just wait for NaNoWriMo and belt it out based on the premise alone.

Please try writing your own premise and let me know if this method of distilling your story into a single sentence works for you.

The next post in the series: Conflict and Threat.

Focus pocus and new resolutions

Person jumping over a gully at sunsetNo posts for ages, and then suddenly a couple in a row. I must be on holidays or something. Oh wait, I am! Back to work Monday though <sigh>.

Speaking of work…

A couple of years ago when I started up Creative Manuscript Services, I made sure I saw a business coach (Leanne Shea Langdown of Achieve Beyond) as part of my redundancy package with CSIRO.

One of the things Leanne recommended I do was to choose a word to help guide me each year; an empowering word with some sort of significance and meaning for me. A word to live by for the year.

I was pretty sceptical, to be honest. I had New Year’s Resolutions, enthusiasm and drive. What did I need a motivational word for?

Unfortunately for me, New Years Resolutions rarely survive January and are quickly forgotten, while enthusiasm and drive are subject to Real Life (RL) intervention like jobs, running kids to events, and a billion other things.

So, New Year’s Resolutions have never really worked for me despite my good intentions, and neither does a list of goals and daily task lists (largely because I get distracted and forget to do them), and even the strongest enthusiasm wanes in the face of RL.

So this year I’m embracing Leanne’s philosophy in favour of a single word to keep me focused. Only what word?

It has to be just right. Something that’ll keep me motivated, focused and constantly achieving little goals on the way to bigger outcomes.

A hand and the world 'Achieve'Leanne’s word in 2017 is ‘Be’. She wants to:

  • ‘Be’ the person she needs to be to achieve her goals
  • ‘Be’ in the moment
  • ‘Be’ aware of the impacts her actions have on others
  • ‘Be’ a leader
  • ‘Be’ brave…

‘Be’ is a great word, but it’s not mine. Or, at least, it’s not mine this year.

Considering I need to focus my efforts, this year I’ve gone with the obvious… ‘Focus’.

Why ‘Focus’ specifically? Because I need to:

  • ‘Focus’ on achieving my goals
  • ‘Focus’ on the task at hand, not the mountain of tasks I can always see
  • ‘Focus’ on creating positive outcomes for myself and my family
  • ‘Focus’ on the reasons I care about what I’m trying to achieve.

That last one is particularly important – why do something unless you care about it, right? If I’m going to devote my down time to a project when I could otherwise be chilling, reading, catching a movie, etc., it had better be something I have a strong emotional connection to. What’s the point otherwise?

Focus is what I’ve lacked these last few years. I’ve wanted things, but I haven’t achieved them because I haven’t cared enough about whether I succeeded or not. I’d passed the ball and was letting others run with it.

What do I mean by that? Well, I’d started full-time work which took a lot of my focus, and I thought I’d already achieved a large measure of success just by landing an agent and publishing contract. Adding to that was advice from my agent not to write the sequels until the first book gained some success (which makes sense – why spend years writing and editing three what could otherwise be unsellable sequels if the first one is a total flop), so I kind of lost focus and let things slip rather than refocus on getting some new novels finished.

I half turned my attention to other projects, but not with any real determination.

Consequently I had no measurable outcomes. No more successes.

The words: Focus on what matters and a corridorThis year I’m determined to change that and keep my reasons for doing things in the forefront. This year I’m going to Focus on those reasons – and achieve the outcomes I’m after.

Maybe ‘Achieve’ will be next year’s word, but for now, I need to Focus.

What’s your word? Let me know if you have one, or don’t yet, but intend to figure one out.

Onward and… more onward

Satalyte Publishing LogoLast year was a bit of a write-off (excuse the pun) as far as my writing career went. I subbed a couple of novels I’d written in previous years to a critique group, but did no new writing and very little editing of my own work.

To top that off, I was planning a big year this year until my publisher (Satalyte, ran by Stephen C. Ormsby), folded. They were scheduled to publish Transcendence of Power: Genesis in the second half of 2017.

I was also planning on finishing the edits to a couple more books loosely tying into that novel – a long-term plan to develop and populate the story universe and its history.

Regarding Satalyte, it’s a shame (and not just for me) they shut down as they were taking risks on new Australian writers. Stephen C. Ormsby put three years of his life into creating his publishing dream.

With a little luck he’ll be able to resurrect Satalyte one day, but for now he’s earned a rest and a round of applause for his efforts.

Stephen gave it a red-hot go, offered extremely fair publishing contracts, and generally tried to do something good. Publishing in Australia is going to be much worse off without him and Satalyte Publishing.

So where does that leave me?

Finding a new publisher isn’t really on my menu. Even if successful, it would take years before I saw it in print.

I’m not interested in waiting that long, so unless disaster strikes I now intend to self-publish Transcendence of Power: Genesis, later in 2017. Unfortunately that’ll take up time I might have otherwise devoted to editing and creating new works, but it’s a much better option than searching for another agent and publisher.

Anyone up for a proofread when I get everything sorted?  😀

Dropped balls

Chris Andrews - head and shouldersIt looks like I’ve dropped the ball this year as far as writing goes (not to mention maintaining this blog).

Up until late last year I was working part-time which allowed me plenty of time to write, run my editing business, interact on social media, and blog. Since then I’ve been working full time, training for (and in October walking) the Kokoda Track (one of the toughest and most dangerous walks in the world), and now I’m moving house (which should be sorted by Christmas – hopefully) while trying to sell the old one. I also participated in a novel critiquing group (critting a novel a month) and began editing Transcendence of Power: Genesis with my publisher (Satalyte Publishing).

All in all a busy year, and next year may not be any less busy. January’s a write-off due to the Christmas holidays, I have to start training to walk the Camino (a month-long walk across Spain I’m doing in early 2018), and my novel is due to come out in the second half of 2017 which will require a lot of work in the lead-up (and follow-up). Of course I’ll still be working full time – certainly until the end of June when my current contract expires (and most likely after that as well), and perhaps even maintaining the editing business. Not sure about the last one. It’s a lot of work for very little financial reward considering the hours I put in – but if I charged even the equivalent of what I earn while working in a job the business wouldn’t get any customers.

So what does all that mean?

It means my writing is going nowhere lately. I’ve got four novels written that need editing/rewriting and three sequels that need to be written for the one Satalyte is publishing. I’d do more work of an evening, but it gives me serious eyestrain. Until I got glasses recently I was struggling to work for more than an hour or two a day before wanting to crash and sleep. At least they keep me going for the whole work day now, but more than that and I’m in trouble.

Yet the dream is still alive. One book is coming out next year, four are ready to be edited and written, and I’ve got more stories I want to write and things I want to do (like create short courses I can make available online).

So that’s me this year – very busy, but I don’t feel as if I achieved much. Next year however, I should have a published book in my hand. That’s what it’s al about, after all. I hope your dreams area just as successful, if not more so.


Update on the writing side of life

Chris Andrews - head and shouldersI can’t believe how long it’s been since I posted. Slack. Very slack.

In my defence I’m working full-time, editing and assessing manuscripts many evenings, and trying to fit a life in around that, including training to do the Kokoda Track next month. I haven’t written or edited my own work in months, and so you can imagine how high my priorities are for writing blog posts.

Still, here I am, plugging away at a writing career by what seems to be inches at a time.

On the good news front I’ve received a general publication date from Satalyte Publishing for my epic fantasy, Transcendence of Power: Genesis, which is set to appear on shelves some time during the second half of 2017.


It seems almost surreal.

We’ve started the editing process, and I’ve even seen concept art for the cover which I might share later if Satalyte’s okay with it.

My next update however may involve photos from the Kokoda Track and me looking wiped-out, assuming my body survives ten days of mountainous jungle adventures over a hundred kilometre romp. The spirit is willing, at least…

Until next time!

Story timelines

Chris Andrews - head and shouldersThe other day I was talking to a mate about timelines, trying to explain my stories set in the past, present and future across two universes.

Although I had it all in my head, I wasn’t able to translate it to a lunchtime conversation very well. So, I sat down and put it into a table, and it was harder than I thought it would be.

I guess it’s probably not going to make a lot of sense like this, but I’ll try.

The upcoming novel I have with Satalyte Publishing (Transcendence of Power: Genesis) is set about 1500 years into our own future, but in a different universe. It’s the culmination of about 200,000 years of scheming by the gods of that universe. In that sense, everything else is a prequel.

Of the ‘prequels’, there are a bunch of stories set in our universe at our present time – urban fantasy’s, if you like.

Later this year, I hope self-publish the direct prequel to the upcoming book, set 3000 years beforehand (in the other universe)

It’s all in the table (clear as mud, right?):

Timeline: Caroline’s universe Events: Caroline’s universe Events: Our universe
0 (current) Noramgaell saga begins – Transcendence of Power: Genesis, etc (formerly Prophecy of Power). Approximately 1500 years in our future.
80 years ago Standalone novel – Lost in Darkness (unwritten).
3000 years ago Short novel: Leviathan’s Reach (this is the direct prequel to the Normamgaell saga, and should be out later this year).
3,700 years ago Event: Crystal wars – between shivras and simoraths – shatters the world (I’m not planning on turning this into a story as yet).
20,000 years ago Sellendria (from Through the Veil) is born. She also appears in Transcendence of Power: Genesis. Our present (unpublished novels): Epicentre, Through the Veil, Dark Genesis. Short story: Wyvern’s blood (published).
24,000 years ago Ellie (from Wyvern’s Blood) was born. Covenant with Wyverns is created.
180,000 years ago Event: Unicorn is killed. This event marks the first volley in the war between the Gods.
200,000 years ago War between the Gods begins.

Have you established a timeline for your stories, whether a single book or a series?

How busy are you?

Today was one of those days when I looked at all the things I’m doing (or planning on), and realised it’s no wonder I’m not getting any writing or editing of my own done.

For example:

  • I just finished teaching a 6-week evening course (which took just as much time if not more in preparation as it did in teaching hours)
  • I have to prepare for the next 6-week course (on a different subject, of course, so I can’t reuse much)
  • I have a novel to critique and report on in a few weeks (and another one every month thereafter for about five months).
  • I’m mentoring a writing student – we catch up once a week, and this also requires additional preparation time
  • I need to submit applications to local and interstate writers centres to do workshops for them (I have three major centres on my ‘next’ list)
  • I’m giving a writing workshop in two weeks – and as it’s a few hours’ drive each way, it’ll consume the entire weekend
  • There’s a potential writing weekend event I might be involved in next month, which will require planning and preparation as well as the weekend away
  • I want to put in an application for a research fellowship in the next two or three months
  • I want to put in an application for an arts grant in the next two or three months
  • I’m preparing to self-publish a novel by September, which is only just past the second draft stage (and needs more work before I send it out for critique next month)
  • I have to prepare workshops (and deliver other info) for an upcoming writers’ festival in September
  • I’ll be giving workshops at a writers’ convention in October
  • I have a novel with a publisher that will soon need editing when they get back to me – no publication date as yet
  • I have three more sequels I need to write in the series currently with the publisher
  • I’m training to do the Kokoda track later this year (a 10-day, 96 Kilometre hike through mountainous jungle in Papua New Guinea)
  • There’s an upcoming week-long skiing holiday with my family
  • I have two more 6-week courses to prepare for later this year.

And that’s just off the top of my head. It doesn’t include family stuff like sports on weekends or socialising with friends etc. Oh yeah, I’m also contracting in a job, so I’ll need to find more paid work about 6 weeks from now.

Occasionally I also write a blog post. Just saying.

How busy are you, and how does it impact your writing or other things you want to achieve?

The Darkest Hour with L. E. Doggett

Woman reaching out

L. E. Doggett is the author of more stories than I can count, and (I can honestly say) a great guy.

He’s had a darkest hour or two in his life, and I’m very glad he agreed to share them here with us. Hopefully you’ll find some inspiration in his story.

I am a writer, therefore I write. I am not a writer because I have stories and novels published, although I have one pro story, two indie novels, and an unpaid very short story out there.

I am a writer because it is part of my make up.

The same is true for every writer. However, I haven’t always written.

The first darkest #1 – not writing

L. E. Doggett and his wife.

NA is a young woman with a special ability  – she is a mage. She uses the ability to change matter and energy to help those in need, even while she has to learn to deal with her own many emotional issues.

It’s the hidden ones that give her the most problems but what is a freak to do?

At the same time NA has been placed into a situation that goes beyond any previous case or adventure she has been on. She has to stop another, more powerful, mage from carrying out a plan of vengeance that would kill many of her friends.

She thinks she was chosen for this by mistake, but it’s her job now, and she has a special geas to prove it.

Book Cover: Above my pay grade by LE Doggett

You might say that I have had two (or maybe one and a half) darkest hours.

Way back in high school, if not before, I wanted to write. I even dabbled at times, including writing in my head.

But other desires such as getting a job, getting married, and all that got in the way.

I didn’t really write for some fifteen to twenty years – a very long dark hour.

Now and then I thought of it. Twice I tried to write a story but kept putting it off until I forgot about it because it was too much work. I mean Work.

Sometimes I would write a story in my head, but I was too busy and too involved with other things to really make a go of it.

Eventually though, it started to come out more and more:

  • I have a real live floppy disk with over half of a story I wrote while I was supposed to be learning typing on the computer
  • I wrote more stories in my head while waiting in line
  • I wrote some tales on five by seven notepaper at work.

Finally, I saw Star Trek Strange New Worlds Three – I think it was three – and realized it was a contest for non pro writers.

I had to enter – not think about entering, or maybe enter – I had to.

That broke that darkest hour and opened the door. Reopened, maybe I should say. I wanted to write and sell stories.

I wrote a long novel and went on to enter other markets for short stories.

I learned a few things and found various writers on AOL. I found a group dedicated to Strange New Worlds that Dean Wesley Smith was more-or-less leading.

He was the main editor for the Strange New Worlds contest, and a writer who liked to share what he knew about writing.

That was some seven years ago. I write every chance I get now, and have learned a good deal about the craft.

Darkest hour #2 – frustration

The second darkest hour, and this one was darker, was a couple of years ago.

I didn’t really stop writing, but I was greatly frustrated with all the rejections I kept getting no matter how much I learned about the craft of writing.

Nothing showed in any way that I was improving.

I felt like ranting and venting at times, and this was after my one pro sell.

I finally said the heck with it and stopped sending out stories. I even sent out a note with my last set of stories stating this to some editors I had been sending stories to for a couple of years.

A couple sent back hand written notes I didn’t expect.

Sheila Williams, executive editor for Asimov’s, basically said that she understood my frustrations and added that she didn’t mind reading my stories.

That helped, and so finally I decided to write a story for me.

I ended up working on it to incorporate what I had recently learned about writing.

I sent it in <shoulder shrug> despite my intention to quit writing; another carefully laid out plan lost, yet it was enough to keep me going.

Since then I have given up writing for a week to a month, a few times, for the same reason.

Doesn’t happen often but it is frustrating when I see no sign that I am improving no matter how much I have learned and try.

One thing I have learned is that almost every famous writer has given up writing at least once. It seems to be the nature of the beast.

I should add that the one pro sell was to Strange New Worlds – the very last one. “A Taste of Spam” was an honorable mention. I like to say it was the fourth best story in that volume.

I have seven novels written, and as I said at the beginning, two are Indie published. Another one is close to publishing. Four still need to be revised.

Plus, I have over 175 stories not counting all of those I wrote for Strange New Worlds, a few written that are not for prime time, and another small handful of stories written for practice.

That makes me a writer.


L. E. Doggett (A Taste of Spam) lives in the Central San Joaquin Valley of California, the small city of Clovis to be exact. He lives with his wife of 37 years and a daughter of 26 years, along with two cats who adopted them. They attend a dynamic, hopeful church. Louis is a blue collar worker with a collage education. He is an aspiring pro writer (he has been a nonpro writer for quite a while). He has out two Indie published books and a story in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Ten.

L.E. Doggett’s blog is for musings on a number of subjects, even though his books and some other stories are there. He also has an Amazon Author Page.


If you enjoyed this post, please check out L.E. Doggett’s published works, leave a reply, and maybe visit some of the other posts in this series, such as Sabrina Chase’s inspiring Darkest Hour.

The Darkest Hour – Sabrina Chase

Woman reaching outToday I have Sabrina Chase here to talk about her experiences with the publishing industry and her reasons for going it alone.

This led to a Darkest Hour moment for Sabrina, but the results were well-worth it.


Fortunate Disaster

Head-and-shoulders shot of Sabrina ChaseThe true source of all disaster is boredom.

I like to read, mostly science fiction and fantasy.

My problem is I read a lot, and my favourite authors were not producing fast enough.

This lead to reading non-favourite authors and the utterance of the Fatal Words, “I can do better than this!”.

My first furtive scribblings were merely for my own amusement—until I learned that mere mortals like myself could, by some mystical process, become authors.

Dubious but willing, I studied how others had gone through this transformation.

All were in agreement, the path to glory was by writing short stories and submitting them to magazines. You got feedback fast, you could perfect your skills, and sometimes even get paid!

(It turns out I am a natural novel writer. I have nine books out and still haven’t sold a single short story, sigh…)

I started this effort in 1992. Years pass. I finish a novel, Firehearted, and submit it to an agent, who said: “Close but no cigar. Try rewriting.”

Another year down the tubes, but… the agent signed me on after that rewrite! Progress.

He starts sending my book around to publishers, while I write more books. I learn that publishers send their rejection letters on fancier letterhead than magazines do, but the content remains the same.

No worries, I keep writing.

This time it is a SF trilogy, the first book being The Long Way Home. My agent sends it around, and after a few years, I get nibbles.

Reward for patience! I just have to keep working…

An editor called about The Long Way Home. She liked it, but wanted some changes. I wrote them up. Another year gone.

But then I get a call from my agent, first warning me to sit down.

An actual offer had been made for the book! Finally.

After 13 years of work, I had reached the top of the mountain and could survey the glorious view, while triumphant choral music surged in the background.

There might even have been some lens flare.

Then I got the contract.

I wasn’t too shocked by the low advance ($6,000); it was low but not unexpected for a new writer. But the details were a bit vague, especially coming from a large and well-known publisher in the field.

“Author has five days to review proof manuscript” is fine, but when does the clock start to tick?

From when they send it, or from when I get it?

I sent all my suggested amendments back via my agent.

None of them had anything to do with money, or any additional cost or effort on the part of the publisher, just clarifications that should have made it better for everyone.

And the publisher refused. The contract was take it or leave it.

They were rude to my agent, who was furious (do not make a New Yorker angry; it never ends well…)

This was my Dark Night of the Soul, and it hurt.

I was desperate, after so many years of work and waiting, to be published.


But then you start noticing the ink on the pen is red and sticky, and the paper feels like asbestos, and sure you don’t really use your soul that much, but…

It was the first book in a trilogy. I had already written the second and third books.

If  I sold The Long Way Home to this publisher they would have right of refusal for the next books, and it was unlikely I could sell them to another publisher without the first book.

The most leverage I would ever have was with this contract, and it was clear I really didn’t have any.Cover - The Long Way Home

I was risking the entire trilogy by signing, and the sense I was getting is I would get no publicity, no push from these people. In some ways, worse than not being published at all.

It felt like chewing off a limb, but I told them no. (My agent was actually happy, which tells you something about how bad that contract was.)

So many years of work, down the drain. Or so I thought. But I kept writing through the depression.

Fast forward to 2011.

I had been vaguely aware that electronic books were starting to be a thing.

My first book had been submitted to all the publishers and rejected, so I read up on how to format eBooks and decided I had nothing to lose.

Maybe the publishers would notice me if it did well!

It did very well. It sold the very first day it was available.

I didn’t care about the money at that point, someone was reading my book!

I had the SF series, and another standalone fantasy. I put those up too.

The series book, the one I was offered 6K for? (that I would have had to pay 15 per cent of to my agent, by the way…) Even after paying an artist to do a cover, and an editor, I made MORE than 6K in the first two years, and it is still earning.

The series is my best earner to date.

That horrible contract was the best thing that could have happened to me.

If the publisher had been willing to change it, I would not have tried indie publishing and would probably still be tied to them.

It’s sort of like getting an inconvenient flat tire at the start of a long trip, and later learning that you missed out on having a blowout while in a mountain pass, falling over a cliff, causing an avalanche, and getting trampled by a pack of mad yaks because of it.

Best flat tire ever!

Now I have freedom to write what I want, as much as I want.

It doesn’t get much better than this.


Sabrina Chase is a software test developer, writer, and recovering physicist residing in the Pacific Northwest. She usually describes her writing style as “two-fisted tales of space adventure”(The Scent of Metal, the Sequoyah trilogy) but has also committed fantasy (The Last Mage Guardian, The Dragonhunters, Firehearted). Her latest book is YA fantasy Jinxers, and the second volume of the Scent of Metal series, One Blood, will be out later this year. Further details are available at her website,


If you enjoyed Sabrina’s post on her Darkest Hour moment, you might like to read Andy Goldman’s heartbreaking story.

Upcoming courses & workshops

Chris Andrews - head and shouldersHi all,

Just a brief post to let everyone know I’m running two courses at CIT Solutions in the first half of this year.

The Foundations of Story and Structure will run over six consecutive Monday nights from 1 February to 7 March, starting at 6pm, and will give participants a solid understanding of their readers expectations and how to meet or exceed them.

Creating Compelling Characters will run over six consecutive Monday nights from 2 May to 6 June, starting at 6:30pm, and help writers understand what their readers are looking for in a character, and how to put that on the page in the most compelling way.

Please let anyone know who might be interested, share the info around, and come along if you’re a local and keen to learn some new tricks of the trade.

The Darkest Hour – Nicole Murphy

Woman reaching outI first interviewed Nicole during the early days of this blog, and she was more than generous enough to give me her time and some awesome interview answers.

Today she’s back to talk about her Darkest Hour experience, and she’s got some great advice we can all learn from.

Donna hit the nail on the head with her  post – the creative life is a series of darkest hours, and it’s blind faith or sheer bloody stubbornness that gets you through.

I started writing seriously in 2000 and in the sixteen years since, not one has passed without a darkest hour of some sort. Some based solely on the writing eg not selling a single story in a calendar year.

Nicole Murphy - face

Much Ado About Love

Opposites attract—but that doesn’t mean the road to happy-ever-after runs smooth…

Trix Leon and Ben Anthony have two things in common—they don’t believe in love and, together, they set the sheets on fire. Their relationship is safe, uncomplicated, and just what they both need—until John Aragorn shows up and gives them a third thing in common: an enemy.

When their friends decide it’s time for Trix and Ben to admit to themselves—and each other—how they really feel, Trix and Ben are caught in a whirlwind of emotion, a promise of something more. But Aragorn is determined to destroy everything: Trix’s hard work, her future, and her chance at something more with Ben.

Now Ben and Trix are left fighting for the one thing that neither of them knew they wanted: love.

Much Ado About Love - featuring a man and woman in love

Others are based on outside influences, eg a family member getting ill.

Yet here I am, with my ninth novel being published and five more contracted.

My most difficult darkest hours have involved a real darkness – depression.

When you’re depressed, writing becomes impossible. You can’t see any good in anything you do. Just getting up in the morning is a major achievement.

And I’m lucky – my depression is generally quite mild. For people who have terribly deep depressive episodes, leading to suicidal thoughts and even the act itself, the entire world is dark and there is no light to be found anywhere.
I once tried to write a contemporary romance during a period where I was crashing into a depression.

It is beyond a shadow of a doubt the worst thing I have ever written.

I have no idea what I was thinking, trying to write something that is about hope and joy when all I wanted to do was curl up in a corner and sob.

Creative people have a greater tendency to suffer mental illness than the community at large, and you never know when it will hit.

When I had my first depressive episode, I thought I had a virus and was ill, I was so tired and run down and lacking enthusiasm for anything.

My doctor recognised the truth as soon as I came into her office and when she asked me if anything had happened lately and I said ‘well…’ and burst into tears, I came to realise it too.

So I think one of the most important things we need to do when facing a darkest hour is to take care of ourselves.

We may, for example, think that we need to keep writing, because we’re committed and we’re proud and we’re not going to fail.

But sometimes, you just have to not write.

You have to take time to still and recharge. Don’t forget – letting ideas simmer in your brain is an important aspect of writing. Have faith that you won’t forget your passion and you will start writing again when the darkness has passed.

I had two periods of time in 2015 where I didn’t write a word for weeks, but I let any fear or worry about that go, because I knew when I was ready I’d write again. And I did.

Take care of yourself physically and mentally, both during the darkest hour and outside of it. Eat well. Sleep enough. Spend time with family and friends. Exercise.

The stronger you are going into a darkest hour, the sooner you’ll be out the other end (or be able to find the light inside the darkness).

Every time you get good feedback on a story, copy and paste it into a brag file.

Then on the days where you doubt you can do this, you’ll be able to open it up and remember all the people who think you can.

Finally, make sure that the goals you’ve set are ones that are achievable.

For example, having ‘Being published by a major publisher’ is not a realistic goal, because that relies on other people and isn’t something you can directly affect that much.

It’s a dream, but not a goal. ‘Polish my novel and send it to a publisher by the end of the year’ – that is something you can achieve, something you can be proud of.

Make sure your goals have steps you can fulfil. And reward yourself whenever a goal is achieved.

I’m going to go reward myself for having written this blog post 🙂


Nicole Murphy is a writer, editor and teacher who writes contemporary romance as Elizabeth Dunk. Much Ado About Love is her tenth publication. Follow Nicole at her website, on Twitter (@nicole_r_murphy) or on Facebook (Nicole Murphy & Elizabeth Dunk – Author). You can find Much Ado About Love at Escape Publishing.


Read Nicole’s previous interview, or check out some of the previous Darkest Hour posts: Donna Maree Hanson, Andy Goldman, and AmyBeth Inverness.

Please leave a comment or like the post so Nicole knows you dropped by.   😀


The Darkest Hour – Donna Maree Hanson

Woman reaching outToday I have Donna Maree Hanson here to tell us her Darkest Hour story, which like many writers, centres around the theme of persistence. I first met Donna in the early days of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild just before I edited one of her early short stories for an anthology called Machinations. I’ve watched her writing go from strength to strength ever since.

As part of spreading the word about her Dragon Wine books, Donna is offering a giveaway of a hard copy of Shatterwing as part of her blog tour. The winner will be drawn from the people who comment during the tour.

So leave a comment  at the end for your chance to win! (Dragon Wine Book 1: Shatterwing is free in e-book for a short time.)

Donna Maree Hanson



Dragon wine could save them. Or bring about their destruction.

Since the moon shattered, the once peaceful and plentiful world has become a desolate wasteland. Factions fight for ownership of the remaining resources as pieces of the broken moon rain down, bringing chaos, destruction and death.

The most precious of these resources is dragon wine – a life-giving drink made from the essence of dragons. But making the wine is perilous and so is undertaken by prisoners. Perhaps even more dangerous than the wine production is the Inspector, the sadistic ruler of the prison vineyard who plans to use the precious drink to rule the world.

There are only two people that stand in his way. Brill, a young royal rebel who seeks to bring about revolution, and Salinda, the prison’s best vintner and possessor of a powerful and ancient gift that she is only beginning to understand. To stop the Inspector, Salinda must learn to harness her power so that she and Brill can escape, and stop the dragon wine from falling into the wrong hands.

Dragon Wine Book 2: Skywatcher, the follow on book is also available in ebook and print.

Thank you Chris for having me on your blog.

My writing story isn’t like a one hour TV drama with the climax coming then breaking over and then washing away.

I think my writing career has been a series of darkest hours, a veritable ping pong of darkest hours whizzing by at various speeds.

They do say perseverance pays off or that you’ve got to be in it to win etc etc etc… but hey, sometimes that’s the hard part—sticking it out.

Now, I’ve been through the low self-esteem part of writing, with self-doubt like wallpaper on the inside of my head.

I’ve had the internal whispers that say give it up, don’t continue and wouldn’t you just like to watch telly instead?

I’ve had near-acceptances turn into rejections.

All the highs and the crushing low blows.

However, I’ve always had a motto in my life. When life kicks you, get back up and kick it back.

So I’m determined and I’m a fighter and I’ve been on a learning curve trying to be a better writer. I’ve been doing this for 15 years now.

Yet nasty things still happen. For example, relationships break up. My love of writing is a factor in that.

I got RSI, and discovered I have arthritis in the neck. So less time being able to write.

That hurdle gets surmounted by taking breaks and using dictation software.

The spine has a few more issues so now. I’m onto standing desks which I can alternate sitting and standing.

Who knows what the future will bring there.

I’ve had a few books published and each one was a celebration.

The first book I had published as an eBook was an awesome experience.

So too was the long-worked-on dark fantasy Dragon Wine that came out in eBook and print on demand.

That gave me a physical book and made me so happy. It’s like a dream come true.

The trick though is selling your books once they are published. It’s a new paradigm out there and finding an audience is difficult.

To keep publishing you need to sell books and grow your audience.

I’ve had my share of darkest hours on that score, too.

The good thing in this particular darkest hour is that I’m not giving up.

I’m still writing and I’ll keep on writing and I’ll write better books.

One day I may even sell enough books to live on or pay for my writing-related activities.

Donna Maree Hanson is a Canberra-based writer of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and under a pseudonym paranormal romance. Her dark fantasy series (which some reviewers have called ‘grim dark)’, Dragon Wine, is published by Momentum Books (Pan Macmillan digital imprint). Book 1: Shatterwing and Book 2: Skywatcher are out now in digital and print on demand. In April 2015, Donna was awarded the A. Bertram Chandler Award for “Outstanding Achievement in Australian Science Fiction” for her work in running science fiction conventions, publishing and broader SF community contribution. Donna also writes young adult science fiction, with Rayessa and the Space Pirates and Rae and Essa’s Space Adventures out with Escape Publishing.

Don’t forget to leave a comment for your chance to win a copy of Shatterwing!

If you have a Darkest Hour story you’d like to share here, please contact me. You might also like to read the previous Darkest Hour post by Andy Goldman.

The Darkest Hour – Andy Goldman

Woman reaching outToday I have Andy Goldman here to talk about his Darkest Hour, and Darkest Decade. His story had me wiping tears away.

If you’re not familiar with The Darkest Hour, it’s the part of a story where the protagonist can’t see a way through to success, yet they always find a way despite this. I hope you find these stories inspiring, particularly if you’re facing your own personal Darkest Hour.

Andy GoldmanIt took both the darkest hour and the darkest decade for me to get back to writing, but let me start with the decade: from my mid 20s to mid 30s.

Before that time, I loved to write, going all the way back to when I was in elementary school.

At that early age, I started narrating the exploits of my action figures.

A typical story from that time period: Luke and Han move into Castle Grayskull (over Han’s objections), discover the floor is on fire, put it out, and then find that there is a Fire Man (to clarify, a man made of fire) in the castle.

They shoot him with water from a hose and he dies.

It’s possible I was a strange kid.

I continued writing throughout middle and high school and all through college, probably to the detriment of my studies.

Post-college, I stopped. For reasons. Not very good reasons, but probably familiar ones.

I wasn’t good compared to other writers.

Writing took a lot of time and I wanted to go out and have fun.

It was easier to read a lot than spend time writing. And mostly, if I didn’t try to write, I wouldn’t fail at it.

The Only City Left - Book CoverYeah, that old lie.

So that was the darkest decade, and although the itch to write remained during that time, I left it mostly unscratched.

Then came the darkest hour.

My wife and I were having a baby, and at the 20 week appointment, everything looked fine.

We were having a boy.

But without going into details, there was a problem and my wife was immediately admitted to the hospital.

By 21 weeks, he was born still, perfect in body but without the breath of life.

To say this was devastating is an understatement on par with “Space is big,” except much less funny.

This was in July. By October, I was so stressed out I had a month-long tension headache and needed physical therapy for a permanent stiff neck.

My wife and I weren’t talking much, or seeing friends, or letting family come over.

November approached, and with it: NaNoWriMo. I made a decision.

I would write something in that month, something into which I could pour my grief and anger and loss.

It would be the story of my son, Lucas, arriving in the Lands of the Dead, where he would be raised by our beloved cat, Oolong, who had died earlier that year. (It was not a good year, let me tell you.)

I had that killer headache all through November. I worked. I still didn’t talk to my wife all that much.

And I wrote. Every day. I rushed the story toward the end in order to “finish” the book.

I printed it out. I gave it to my wife with no explanation, just a request to read it.

Andy Goldman and his twin daughtersI feared she might find it crass, but she got it.

The book was a what-might-have-been, a fantastical life for our son since his mundane one had been denied, and it was also the type of book he might have enjoyed reading if he had grown up as I had.

That book broke the ice between my wife and me.

Until that point, she hadn’t realized that I was grieving, too.

On that account, the book was a success. Maybe someday I’ll go back and rewrite it, complete it. Or maybe not.

I didn’t return to writing full-time at that point.

It would take some more heartache and the eventual birth of my twin daughters to convince me to do that.

Because along the way of life’s ups and downs, I realized that I wanted to try to be a writer even if it meant failing.

I realized that if I didn’t try, my daughters would know. They’d see me and they’d be sad on my account. Maybe they’d feel pity that I had never taken the risk.

I’ve self-published two books so far.

I’m not famous or wealthy. But I’m writing.

My daughters ask me each day, “How much did you write?” They cheer if I reach my goal.

I’m trying to live my dream. I think that’s what counts.

~*~The Fifth House - Book Cover

Andy is the author of two science-fantasy books in The Only City Left series: The Only City Left and The Fifth House. He is at work on The Roundabout, the conclusion to the trilogy. His much-neglected blog can be found at, or you can track him down on Google+ or Facebook.


If you have a story you’d like to contribute to The Darkest Hour, please check out the details at: The Darkest Hour – stories of success over adversity, or send an email to TDH [at]

The Darkest Hour – AmyBeth Inverness

Woman reaching outToday I have AmyBeth Inverness here to kick of The Darkest Hour series of blog posts.

If you’re not familiar with The Darkest Hour, it’s the part of a story where the protagonist can’t see a way through to success, yet they always find a way despite this.

I hope you find these stories inspiring, particularly if you’re facing your own personal Darkest Hour.

AmyBeth InvernessIn a one-hour television drama, it’s very easy to tell when you’re approaching the climax.

A simple glance at the clock will tell you when you’re at that three-quarter mark where things take a turn for the worst, or the final confrontation begins.

If the story of my journey to become a professional writer began with my decision in 2010 to make it a career instead of a hobby, and it ends with the arbitrary goal of making more money than I spend on writing-related activities, I have no way of knowing whether I’m anywhere near that three-quarter mark.

Maybe it’s right around the corner.

Then again, maybe it’s still a few years down the road.

A writing career is not an easy one to explain.

I know successful, long-lived writers who avoid mentioning their profession in polite conversation because it’s simply too awkward.

Many people define success as the achievement of vast wealth and celebrity status.

Even if the writer herself is satisfied with a modest income, people will judge her as a failure if her name doesn’t pop up as a question on Jeopardy.

The I.R.S. has their own definition of success, and it’s similar to my stated goal of making more money from writing than I spend on writing. I believe in 2011 we still classified my writing as a hobby.

I hadn’t made any money, after all, but that’s not unusual for an aspiring writer.

For the next three years, we claimed my few little expenses such as blog fees and domain name as part of a startup business.

Our tax guy assured us that operating in the red for a few years was perfectly acceptable.

This year, my career has seen a definite upturn.

I have a contract to put out a short story from my sci-fi series The Cities of Luna every full moon.

The House On Paladin CourtI recently self-published an urban fantasy novella The House on Paladin Court.

However, since royalties from sales are usually delayed by several months, my earnings for 2015 will still be very low.

When one starts a new job, one can usually announce what that job is, then enjoy the first paycheck within just a few weeks.

Writing is not like that.

To quote the late great Ernest Hemingway “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

This is true in two ways.

First, the pouring of one’s own soul into a work of art, and all the turmoil of revision and rejection that follows.

Secondly, there are the sacrifices one makes in one’s own life in order to do the writing.

Time that could have been spent at a more profitable job, or with family, or the hundred other things that demand one’s attention.

The darkest hour didn’t fall suddenly on me, like sunset on the atmosphere-less moon.

It’s a fog I’ve been diligently and purposefully striding into, not knowing what point is the darkest.

I don’t know whether I’m walking into deeper and deeper mud, or whether I’m about to come out the other side into sparkling daylight.

My life is not a one-hour television drama.

I am fortunate to have a flashlight through all this.

My husband of twenty years is the one who, back in 2010, told me to do something with my writing.

Now, looking at my sixth NaNoWriMo where I’ll be spending even more time than usual at the keyboard, ignoring dinner times and staring off into space then running away to make notes about something, he’s still grinning and bearing it.

He still believes in me.

Like me, he also can’t see whether we’re about to see blue skies, or whether we’re about to sink neck-deep in mud.

In January, after the craziness of NaNoWriMo is over and we’re trying to recover from the craziness that always surrounds the holiday season, my hubby will still be there beside me when we go see our tax guy.

The I.R.S. might not think I’m successful.

My peers may not think I’m successful.

My kids may have no clue that being a writer is a real job.

The world at large will probably ignore what I’ve created.

But I will know that it’s worth it. I can see a glimmer of light, off there in the distance. I can’t tell how far away it is, but I know it’s worth moving toward.

That’s much better than staying here in the mud.


A writer by birth, a redhead by choice, and an outcast of Colorado by temporary necessity, AmyBeth Inverness is a creator of Speculative Fiction and Romance. She can usually be found tapping away at her laptop, writing the next novel or procrastinating by posting a Sci Fi Question of the Day on Facebook and Google Plus. When she’s not writing, she’s kept very busy making aluminum foil hats and raising two energetic kids and many pets with her husband in their New England home.

Five book coversYou can find her at, on FacebookGoogle Plus, Ello @USNessie, and Twitter @USNessie or check out her Amazon Author Page. More about AmyBeth’s sci-fi series The Cities of Luna and her self-published an urban fantasy novella The House on Paladin Court are available online.


If you have a story you’d like to contribute to The Darkest Hour, please check out the previous post: The Darkest Hour – stories of success over adversity, or send an email to TDH [at]

New blog series: The Darkest Hour – stories of success over adversity

Woman reaching outHave you ever heard of The Darkest Hour?

In a story, it’s the point where your protagonist is struggling to find a reason to continue.

It usually appears around the three-quarter mark, quite often where the mentor dies or some other tragedy strikes, forcing the protagonist to reassess everything and second-guess themselves.

While The Darkest Hour is an emotionally-charged part of many stories, no matter how bad it gets there’s always a way through it, and the protagonist generally finds it.

Inspired by this concept, I want to create a collection of inspiring stories by writers who have faced the odds and succeeded, despite everything standing against them.

This idea has been bouncing around in my head for nearly two decades, but I’d shelved it a long time ago due to the difficulties of contacting authors (think pre-social media, when you had to go through publishers and/or do some serious research).

A panel at a recent convention rekindled the idea. That, and the ability to reach out quickly and easily using social media.

So this is me reaching out and asking for your stories of success despite and the adversities you’ve faced.

How you define adversity and success is up to you.

So send me your inspiring stories about how you conquered the odds, overcame personal setbacks, and succeeded. I want to run them as a series of blog posts initially. If they do well, I might compile them into an eBook or something.

Perhaps you’ve had:

  • so many rejections you’ve lost count
  • health issues
  • family problems
  • self-doubt
  • depression
  • naysayers
  • setbacks, etc.

Whatever the issue you’ve faced, I want to hear how you overcame it.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re an international bestselling author or just starting out. It’s your story that matters.

In sharing, maybe we can inspire others to overcome their own setbacks.

If you’d like to contribute, please contact me through the form below (or you can email me directly if you already have my email address – I’m disinclined to post it online).


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