I’ve been spending a lot of time developing an idea for a novel that’s been percolating in my brain. It’s been at least a year now – maybe two, a process that’s taken far more time than I would have anticipated. It started out as a germ of a story which evolved into a setting and eventual world – well a continent on a world. I began building various systems, governments, cultures and a vague sense of the characters and themes I wanted populating this place.

Currently I have developed all of the above, 3 main characters, 2 antagonists, 2 clear cultures and a 3rd that’s still hazy, and the beginnings of an outline. But it’s getting out of control! Every day there’s something new that needs to be determined, some other painful question that needs answering and the worst part? It needs to be written! Other than the beginnings of a prologue and several partially written chapters, it’s a mountain I’m still down here looking up at the foothills.

So as usual, in my quest to do anything other than actually write – I started hitting up Google for some means of collating this information because it’s getting simply too much to manage. I have Word documents everywhere, notes in my phone, emails to myself, you name it! So much information in so many places it’s ridiculous.

And I came across THE PRE-WRITE PROJECT over at She’s Novel. For $7.00 USD this was exactly what I was after – a series of sheets designed to collate these thoughts into what the creator Kristen Kieffer calls a Story Bible. This bible effectively contains everything I have described above – but more. It drills right down into the details, from initial story intentions to character motivations. In a nutshell – it’s fantastic. For that price it was a bit of a no-brainer for me but I find myself having two problems with it:

  1. It’s sold as a digital workbook but other than being a PDF – it’s not actually a digital workbook. Annoyingly, you cannot enter text into the documents themselves. You’re either going to have to print them out and fill them in or transcribe them yourself. I’ve been trying to unlock the PDF’s and have done so, but it’s not ideal as it’s still not direct text entry. IF these were truly digital workbooks they would be amazing, but for now, they’re simply good.
  2. I need to find the motivation now to actually fill them out. You would think that based on everything I said above that I would be leaping at the opportunity. But nope – the writing muscle I possess is still about as flaccid as it comes. As I begin to fill it out I….Reddit. House of Cards. Stare at closest wall.

One great thing about these workbooks however is they come at you with a plan. Kristen has put down a timeframe and a rough amount of hours needed to fill it out which is really quite realistic. If I can whip my ass into gear, I’ll report back – just don’t hold your breath.

If you pick up these workbooks and find them of value let me know – it might just inspire me to fill them out! If you can find an easy way to unlock the text fields without the Acrobat typewriter thing, double let me know!


Take off your pants!

I recently read a post over on Reddit (aka the most addictive goddamned website on the internet bar none) about a guy who was having issues writing, read a book and bam! Suddenly it all clicked and he started cranking out books like there’s no tomorrow. The guy sounded a lot like me – constantly victim of distraction, starting but never finishing, full of ideas but unable to find the inner whateverittakes to get them out of the head and onto the page – and so I thought, hey, the book he spoke about was only 4 bucks on Amazon, I’ll give it a crack!

The book in question is Take off Your Pants! : Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing: Revised Edition. It wasn’t a long or difficult read but was enjoyable enough. Written by Libbie Hawker (who appears to write literary historical fiction) – she lays out a basic outline which she says has drastically improved her ability to write – removing the hurdles of unknown that keep cropping up, while still giving allowing for considerable creative discovery in the writing process.

There was one thing about the way she presented this outline that I found really interesting. Initially Libbie has you consider a number of key factors.

  1. The Main Character/Protagonist
  2. Their External Goal
  3. The Antagonist
  4. The End.
  5. The Protagonist’s Flaw
  6. The Protagonist’s Ally
  7. Theme

Now obviously she goes into considerably more depth than just the above, also adding in there a whole series of key story points which I will not go into here. In addition, she uses examples of several other books and her own writing to help explain these points, something that authors like KM Weiland also do particularly well and really help drive the understanding home.

What I liked most about the above points however (and they all made perfect sense once explained) – is she describes them as the story core, or story bricks – and creates this image of building a bridge (the outline itself). Each time you create an element of the plot via the outline, it has to be using one of these particular bricks. It constrains the writing in such a way that you’re staying within an overall framework that really is quite logical.

For example, any decision the protagonist makes is determined by the theme, or his/her’s flaw, or their external goal. If you consider this right the way through, you’re basically identifying the story for no other reason than you’re making logical choices that apply to the story as a whole, creating a cohesive piece that sticks to the fundamental elements of good story.

So while I haven’t yet sat down to solidly work out my outline, I do have a very good idea of a lot of these concepts – it’s just now that the hard work begins, little old wuss bag Marcus hides in the corner.

One other thing I found interesting was her descriptions of using the above method for multiple protagonist/antagonist stories, where you need to go through the entire process for each main character and logically link them together later in the story. This was interesting to read and I am glad she covered it as I rarely see that particular topic come up in every day writing craft type articles.

If you’re like me and struggling to get your ass into gear and write, and feel that developing a basic (yet also quite comprehensive) outline might help you, I highly recommend checking out Libbie’s book.


On…On Writing


My Stephen King On Writing review

Having been told multiple times that Stephen King’s On Writing was basically the must read book for any would be writers, I decided to finally read it – well for that reason and to silence a nagging friend.

To be completely honest, prior to reading the book I didn’t really like Stephen King. I’d watched a few videos of him talking at various events and there was something about him that I found annoying. He was kind of – i don’t know, he just irritated me. He struck me as one of those super successful types that carries on as if they’re on a different class of cool than the rest of us, whether intentional or not. But thinking back to my initial impressions of the guy, I was clearly just being judgmental, an annoying trait that I’m working to reduce if not eliminate!

Anyhow – I really enjoyed On Writing. These days I’ve become a member of the ebook Kindle clan and had a couple of book vouchers that needed to be spent in a store that doesnt sell ebooks. While it was somewhat annoying to go back to balancing a paperback book in one hand, my lunch in the other (something the kindle excels at countering incidentally!) I have to admit by the end of the book, I had reacquainted my joy of holding a physical book.

The book itself is roughly broken into two parts. The first part is his personal memoir, detailing much of his life and how he became such a prolific and famous writer. The second part is his own thoughts and advice on writing. While the writing advice was definitely very good, much of it I had read before from other sources and so i didn’t take much away from it that I hadn’t already read. But I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the memoir portion of the book. Having read where he came from and his writing journey, it gave me a new appreciation for the guy and made me think back to those feelings I had when watching him speak in that youtube video – which I watched again recently and can say I watched it with different eyes.

The book is most definitely something that anyone interested in writing should read, but it’s certainly not unique in the heavily stuffed world of writing tips and advice that is out there.

If there was one overarching thing that I did take away from it however, it’s that in order to write a story of any length, one must simply pull their finger out of their ass and write – a problem of which I suffer badly.

Taiko: An Epic Novel of War and Glory in Feudal Japan – a review

Over this past weekend, I finally finished Taiko: An Epic Novel of War and Glory in Feudal Japan by Eiji Yoshikawa and translated by William Scott Wilson. And by finally finished, I mean – damn, if that wasn’t a hard slog! At something around the 230,000 word mark, and absolutely brimming with Japanese names, it truly was an epic undertaking, but what an awesome book it was.

Taiko is essentially the Japanese court title for the Ruler of Japan – kind of like the Shogun. The book itself is set during the mid 1500’s, during Japan’s Sengoku period – or Warring States Period, and details the power struggles by three of Japan’s most famous warlords, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu.

While it largely follows the life of Hideyoshi, from misbehaving  brat named Monkey to powerful general, it also recounts Japan’s transition from independently warring provinces, where the power was firmly in the hands of the individual clans and their ruling lords – or Daimyo, and the slow transition into the semblance of a unified country.

As mentioned, it is a long book, and it can be quite difficult staying on top of the characters. There are literally hundreds of Japanese names thrown about, from the provinces and the towns and castles within these, to the various clan personalities and the sizable list of notable retainers within each of these. I think for this reason alone this book will not be for everybody, but for anyone with even a mild interest in Japanese history and culture, this book is a must read.

I will point out that I read this book directly after finishing another one of Eiji Yoshikawa’s books – Musashi – which was equally as long, although despite the large list of characters, was somewhat easier to keep track of. Musashi details the exploits of one of Japan’s most famous swordsmen, and is set literally at the end of Taiko, from the Battle of Sekigahara onwards (1600).

The style of writing is unique and really quite difficult to explain easily. It’s straight-forward and well written, but often jumps between character point of view (omniscient third person) – but in a way that is easy to follow. The translation itself was full of typos with many words missing letters, but it was easy enough to look past these.

What I loved about this book was the way it related the emotions projected by the various Samurai and their relationships with their Lords. For a country that is supposedly quite reserved, the sheer level of emotion expressed in their every action was a joy to read. From the Samurai charging forth into battle, desperate to be in the very front rank, calling out their name to their foe so that after the battle (should they survive) their meritous deeds can be recounted, to the open shedding of tears for a fallen lord. The theme of loyalty, honour and sacrifice come up time and again, and there were many times where I literally felt moved by it.

I mean, how often is it that you come across these mighty general type characters, who are willing to suicide in order to satisfy the enemy and save their own castles defenders? Who would do that these days? Not only does he willingly commit sepuku, but he does so happily, knowing that he’ll save his men – he joyfully cuts open his belly! Gah!

I really can’t recommend this book highly enough. It was a difficult and very long read, but it was such a wonderful illustration of feudal Japan. I’ve been to Japan once before, but I tell you, next time I go back, I’ll be doing the famous castles and shrines tour, don’t you worry about that!