Narshada: Insert Placeholder Here…

Writing about writing, short form creative writing and other thoughts.

I used to be a pantser/discovery writer.

I’d sit down and type away until I ran out of steam. I’d find out what the story was along the way, BUT unlike most panthers, I didn’t realise that at the end of the draft, you were supposed to rewrite, often several times, to fix the story & plot issues.

This meant usually 2 things happened:

  1. I would run out of steam half way through, not sure of where I was going with anything. This formed the larger part of my writing. Most pieces were abandoned.

  2. I would finish a piece, but it wouldn’t be very good. I’d get disappointed that the story wasn’t better, but hadn’t spent the time making it better.

Both of these things result from various issues in my life, including probable ADHD, (currently undiagnosed, but I almost certainly have it,) and a lack of mentorship or guidance from anyone.

The good news is that thanks to the Internet™️, you can now find guidance everywhere and teach yourself pretty much anything.

So, I learned about story structure. First from Larry Brooks, then K. M. Weiland, then Jessica Brody, Dan Harmon, and others.

It may be due to anchoring, but I like Larry/Ms. Weiland’s versions best, which are essentially distillations of the three act structure with defined beats.

Plotting allows you to build a bare bones structure, figuring out plot points before sitting down to crank out the prose. It’s muchness’s easier to scrap an index card (or software equivalent,) with a few sentences on it because it doesn’t fit the story, than say, an entire chapter of 3k words or more.

So instead of petering out at the 60k word mark like I did on my previous novel because I didn’t know how it ended, this time I’m plotting it out. I have started writing prose too, but I already know how those chapters go, and I also know how the whole story ends, and the major plot points along the way. Next comes writing the outline. This varies from author to author, with some writing thousands of words in a highly detailed way that could almost be a first draft or summary thereof, and others writing a sentence per chapter of only the most salient points. I’ll do somewhere in-between. Maybe I’ll even post some of my outline here at some point.

Most of my worldbuilding is done, although I’m sure some will get added along the way, and I have a working system and software that allows me to capture it as it happens and document it.

However, there is another approach to writing, which I would definitely try next time. No I’m not talking about plantsing, the hybrid of the two where you put together a skeletal outline and pants the rest. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing, but I’m going to write a proper outline before I go much further so I know what to write.

The method I’m talking about is Lisa Cron’s approach of developing characters first, then drawing the plot out from that character. This ensures that the story always hits the right notes, because it’s inexorably tied to the main character’s wants, needs, fears, and misbeliefs.

Maybe I’ll do this for book 2, if there ends up being one, or whatever I write next.

Anyway, if you’re a pantser & happy with your method, go to it. It works for Stephen King.

And if you’re a plotter who loves to know where the story is leading before you commit to 100k words, I empathise. It’s now my method of choice too, whether I start with premise, plot, or character.

Happy writing.

A new book joins the must-read collection!

Ah, but what collection?

Well I haven’t written about it on here yet, so it’s unsurprising to me that you don’t know.

Books on the craft of writing! That are actually useful! In my opinion…

Sometimes books on writing can either be too abstract, or get bogged down in the minutiae, or veer off and become half memoir, naming no names.

Anyway, these are a handful of books about the craft of writing that I have found genuinely useful, and several others that are good too.

The list

Currently reading and joint No. 1:

  • Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It) by Janice Hardy

Wow. Does what it says in the title. I now have a much better idea of what defines shown vs told prose, where to look for told prose, what words send up red flags for ‘telling’, and how to fix it.

Janice has absolutely nailed it, and I would like to personally thank Janice for giving me the tools to fix my second chapter, and probably all subsequent ones too.

She uses fantastic examples of told and shown prose, and what fixes to make—sometimes just eliminating one word can make the difference.

If you’ve ever wondered at the difference and how it affects your fiction writing, this is the book that will light that bulb.

And I’m currently at the 55% mark as I write this, so there’s more good stuff to come I’m sure.

Joint No. 1:

  • Story Genius by Lisa Cron—Joint No. 1 book about writing.

Another book that dropped my jaw. I haven’t (yet) read her first book: Wired for Story, but it’s in my Kindle library. That book explains the brain science behind story.

Story Genius is almost a blueprint of how to write a novel, based on that science to give the reader a satisfying narrative that their brain craves.

There’s a reason that you don’t want to put certain books down, and some of the tools to create that feeling are discussed in this book.

Will it make me write a bestseller? Unknown, but the advice is all solid stuff and offers an alternative to ‘pantsing,’ or discovery writing; and plotting, that begins with character and draws the plot out from there. Superb stuff.

So, a joint first. These two books don’t tell you everything about writing novels, but you would probably do ok providing your prose was decent and your grammar solid. There is both a grammar and punctuation recommendation later. And one of them is actually funny.

Lisa Cron & Janice Hardy’s books above are the top tier books on writing I’ve read so far.

No. 2

  • Pretty much everything she’s written about the craft, by K. M. Weiland.

You may have heard of her, or even read some of her books, either craft related, or her own fiction, but where does this woman find the time?

Such an impressive body of work, and all good works from my readings. You could read all her writing craft books, and you might have everything you need to start.

Add in the two joint No. 1’s above and you have a pretty great library.

Ms. Weiland even has outline versions of some of her novels, so you can see how she writes an outline and then read the actual novel if you like.

Particular favourites:

  • Structuring Your Novel

  • 5 Secrets of Story Structure

  • Outlining Your Novel

Owned but not read:

  • Creating Character Arcs

  • Writing Your Story’s Theme

  • Crafting Unforgettable Characters

Not owned, but plan to purchase:

  • Writing Archetypal Character Arcs

  • Conquering Writer’s Block And Summoning Inspiration

K. M. Weiland is almost a one-stop shop for writing craft advice and if you only ever read her, you’d be off to a great start.

No. 3:

  • Save The Cat! Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody.

A craft book that focuses mostly on story structure. Save The Cat! was a book on screenwriting by Blake Snyder that focussed on story structure for screenwriting.

This version builds on that structural foundation, specifically for novel writing.

It breaks down the ten story genres, like Monster In The House, Whydunit, Dude With A Problem—and lays out the fifteen plot points needed to construct a satisfying plot.

Great stuff and well worth a read, but I prefer Lisa Cron’s way of constructing plot from character. This would make a great additional book on story structure though. I need to read more of it really. Maybe even start over.

Punctuation, Grammar and Etymology

  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. Possibly the only funny book about punctuation. I need to read this again.

  • The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Reference only. Dry as a desert lizard’s back.

  • Dictionary of Word Origins by Linda and Roger Flavell. More a dip in and out reference for word nerds like me, but it can be very useful to a writer too.

Also read (in no particular order,):

  • Story Engineering by Larry Brooks A great primer on story structure. I prefer Weiland’s style but I read this first.

  • No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty. I think this is linked to NaNoWriMo. I read it a long time ago.

  • The Guide To Writing Fantasy And Science Fiction by Philip Athens. For the genre writer in me. Mostly bought due to having R. A. Salvatore write an original story for it, as well as the introduction. There’s a bit of everything in here, including a section on how to get published.

  • On Writing by Steven King. King is no doubt a great and prolific author and this book definitely contains some nuggets—like his advice about adverbs and to use them only sparingly. Like just then. Unfortunately for me, those nuggets were buried in a memoir, which while interesting, wasn’t what I personally was looking for at the time. Maybe I’ll return to it or restart it someday, with altered expectations. Also Mr. King is a ‘pantser,’ i.e. he is a discovery writer who sits down and just starts writing with no plotting, outlining, or much of any prep, which is wonderful for him, but I’ve moved over to the ‘plotter’ camp and need to plan out my story before diving in to prose.

Owned and unopened, AKA The reading about writing reading list

  • Build Better Characters by Eileen Cook

  • Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker. Another book on outlining.

  • The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig

  • Nobody Wants To Read Your Shit by Steven Pressfield

  • Pimp My Fiction by Paula Wynne

Not owned but perhaps one day?

  • Art Matters by Neil Gaiman. I love NG. Me & the wife went to a signing in our town. He was wonderful to listen to. I asked his permission to take some photos & he obliged. When he included a link to my blog with the photos on his blog, the traffic crashed my site. I’m sure this will be a joy.

  • About Writing by Gareth Powell. Gareth is actually a friend of a friend and I not only need to read this, but also his Embers of War series.

  • Consider This by Chuck Palahniuk. He of Fight Club infamy.

Here endeth the lessons. (Subject to edits owing to new discoveries.)

Story is the only animal that eats itself to reproduce.

That is to say, we consume other stories for inspiration for our own.

I was talking to a poet at work today—my day job is in tech support, so this is not necessarily commonplace—and we riffed on how important it was for writers to read, and read widely. We discussed how it was important for genre writers to read both their genre but also outside their genre too. Then we talked about how any media can be learned from to create another.

Obviously there are more direct analogues between media that are used specifically used to tell stories—film, tv, comics, fiction writing, etc—but you can easily learn from sculpture, or music, or whatever.

So give yourself a break for binging a Netflix series instead of writing your project. You’re just refilling the well of ideas and, if you’re keeping half a critical eye open, learning new things to try in your own stories.

Of course, this is rambling free advice and as such may be worthless. Use your own discretion.

First thing: It doesn’t matter

I’m going to preface this post by stating the obvious: When it comes to writing, there is no correct way to do it. Want to use a 6B pencil on Post-It notes? Go for it. Keep notes in a Moleskine? Sure. Write the whole thing in Microsoft Word? People have. Hell, George R. R. Martin writes in dos. (Not recommended.)

So, find what works for you. Just know that Microsoft Word has been superseded by many great apps that are designed for novel writing, rather than office documents.

Second thing: It does matter

Hang on, aren’t you contradicting yourself there? Yes. Here’s why: The world is complicated. As I mentioned at the end of the last section, there is now a plethora of writing apps, from simple notetakers, to full-blown novel writing software that typesets your book, thanks your agent, and collects your royalty cheques. Well, maybe not quite, but there is software out there that is designed to do some very clever things, that will help the process in very helpful ways.

I used Scrivener for a long time, as it’s great, but wanted to get more into plotting, so got Plottr, which is also good at what it does, and then used World Anvil for my world building. That seemed to be a decent solution until I found Campfire, which does at least 90% of those three under one roof.

Here’s a rundown of what I’m using/have used:

Currently using:

Campfire Write

I’d looked at a few online-based writing apps and Campfire won out on features, and due to having a free version.

Campfire Write is the current version of campfire. You can access your projects via the web, or an iPhone app (no iPad app currently and no timeline for one,) and there’s a desktop Mac app that you can use offline, which will sync whenever you are online.

The main idea in Campfire is modules. There are modules for your manuscript, characters, items, plot, species, locations, languages, systems, relationships, religions… and a ton more.

Most of these modules are populated with windowed sections for different types of information, and you can add new ones with even more. Some of these have tickboxes to add any number of things, and you can always add a simple text box to write anything else you can’t already find. For example, in the character module there are additions for MBTI types, astrological signs, physical attributes and anything else you can think of. If you love getting into the minutiae of your characters, you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied here. Just remember to actually write the book.

The plot module allows you to add multiple timelines with cards and link them however you wish. The relationships module allows you to pick from characters in your characters module and mind map the connections between them. The systems module allows you to do the same but with anything, allowing you to explore hierarchical or non-linear arrangements from governments to… whatever.

The languages module allows you to construct an entire conlang with prompts and assistance. There’s a module for items, such as relics, rare names weapons or whatever else your heart desires. There’s an encyclopaedia you can use to build your world.

Campfire tracks all your entries and if you type one in the manuscript, Campfire highlights it. Hover over the word and a pop-up gives you some basic info. Click it, and you get all the info in a sidebar.

You can add notes, annotations and call up any info you need while writing. Forgotten that character’s eye colour? A quick click has the info in sight. Priceless.

Campfire isn’t perfect, but it is very fully featured, (I’ve barely scratched the surface,) and there is a free version with limits on most of the modules—ten characters, two religions, a limit on words in the manuscript etc.

When you decide to upgrade though, Campfire shines again, with the ability to subscribe monthly, annually, or just buy modules outright. So you could buy the manuscript and characters modules but ignore the rest of your story doesn’t need much world building or is set on Earth, or whatever combinations of modules you need. There are sales of 2-3 modules fairly often too, so sign up for emails from them if you plan to upgrade.

For myself, I got a few modules in a sale that I bought outright, and then just took the plunge a few months later and bought everything. I think all told, it cost me about £350 or so. Not chump change, but now I’m set for life with a system I like, and I will get all updates going forward.

There are inbuilt themes to change the look of things, and I believe you can download community ones.

There’s also an active community, loads of tutorial videos and blog posts, and you can share your writing online in the Campfire community to get some beta readers and feedback—or you can forgive this entirely and keep your work private, which might be crucial for some.

Previously used


Chances are, if you’ve done any writing, you’ve probably heard of Scrivener. I’ve been using it to write short stories and other novel attempts since v1. I’m a big fan. We’re now on v3 & it just keeps getting better. Why Scrivener? Well, it offers outline and scene card views; distraction-free writing mode; sections for character and world building, as well as research; and tons more. I’m not going to list more features, head over to Literature and Latte to see more and find out if it’s for you. Part of its charm is allowing the writer to set up their own folder structures, for easy organisation, but you can also use templates. I’ve tried other software, but Scrivener tops them all for the actual writing side of things for me. As an Apple user, I loved that Scrivener was Mac-first, and when they released an iOS version, I was complete.

World Anvil

Mostly used for world building, World Anvil has been around for a while. There’s a very active community with challenges and write-alongs. They have a very active Discord server too.

Initially daunting, due to the vast number of options available, World Anvil excels by giving you prompts and telling you to just fill in what you want. You can publish your world or story on the site, and people can follow it and your progress—or keep it private.

There are plenty of themes to change up the look, and community ones too if I recall correctly. You can also create your own if you know/fell like learning CSS.

If Campfire didn’t exist, I’d still be using WA for my world building.


This was a new addition to my toolset, but a welcome one. Plottr is for plotting your book, unsurprisingly. Yes, you can do similar things in Scrivener with the corkboard and outliner, but I really wanted to separate plotting and writing. Plottr has sections for a card-based timeline with multiple plot lines, which is the main feature I wanted. It also has sections for places and characters, as well as notes. What sealed the deal is that it can export into Scrivener. Plottr is also available on Mac & iOS, making adding new info as simple as reaching for my phone.


I love writing in Markdown. If you’re writing for the web, it’s a great way to work. Markdown editors are generally quite clean interface-wise, and Markdown syntax is easy to learn. Want an H1 heading? Type a # before your title. Oh wait, that should be H₂? Just add another #.

Lists can be created by adding a * or + for unordered lists, and by beginning and ordered list with “1.” And each time you hit enter, it’ll automate the numbering. Simple.

I’ve tried several Markdown editors, but Ulysses is my favourite. For a while it was Bear, which is one of the prettiest apps I’ve seen, but Ulysses is more feature rich and allows for organisation of ‘sheets’ via folders. And I love me some folder organisation.

My life may be chaos in many ways, but my folder structures are impeccable.

Ulysses also includes word counts, reading time, keywords and automatically creates an outline view, like you can see in the featured image.

I use Ulysses to write notes, scenes and ideas, which if they work, will go into Plottr, and from there, Scrivener. Ulysses is on all my devices, and syncs via dropbox or iCloud, so adding a quick edit or new note is always easy.

I managed to get a theme which looked like my favourite one from Bear, and Ulysses has a more extensive feature set, including buttons for common Markdown syntax, and being able to publish to WordPress – like I did with this post. It’s worth noting though that Ulysses is subscription-based.

Also Ran

Some of the other software I’ve tried:


Livingwriter’s killer feature is that when you’ve set up characters or places etc, whenever you begin to type them, it autosuggests them and then links all notes. So, if you start to type a character’s name, it will suggest characters and elements with that starting letter. Select the one you want, and it’ll fill it in and link you to the notes about it. It can also use these links to track which characters are in what scenes, etc. That’s a great feature, but the rest of the app fell a little flat to me, and Campfire also has this feature.

Story Planner

An iOS app similar to Plottr. Again, available on Mac and iOS, this would be what I would be using if I. Hadn’t found Plottr, which trumped this app with its card timeline view.


The prettiest markdown editor. You can change the look of it via themes. My favourite is ‘Toothpaste’. Bear also introduced me to Avenir Next, which I will always thank it for. I didn’t think of myself as the sort of person to have a favourite font, but now I have Avenir Next as my default font in Ulysses. (Sorry, Bear!) Bear has some fantastic features and if Ulysses didn’t exist, this would definitely be my markdown editor of choice.


A fairly barebones markdown editor that introduced me to Markdown, which I’ll always thank it for.

Whatever you use, get writing!

My fantasy novel WIP is set on the world of Feld. Biome-diverse, it has tropical, temperate and frigid zones, and an abundance of flora and fauna.

The first book, which I am currently writing, is set entirely in the great city of Bræstuüm, (Bray-stuw-um,) a city built into a crater left by a meteor strike thousands of years before.

Now, just as a quick aside, I saw something online recently where someone disparaged authors for using umlaut’s in fantasy names. I believe they may have been a linguist, and so presumably had reasonable grounds for their position, but here’s the thing — it’s fiction.

I always remember hearing about William H. Macy talking to the Cohen brothers about the opening of the movie Fargo, which states it is based on a true story. It isn’t — the whole thing is fictional, and Macy had concerns about that untrue statement, worrying that people might be taken in by it.

The Cohen brothers responded by saying that essentially, because the whole thing is fictional, why can’t you have a fictional statement at the beginning saying that it’s true?

Macy relented and starred in the movie, which is a favourite of mine.

Now I’m honestly not sure which side I come down on, especially considering the apparently really true story of the Japanese woman Takako Konishi, who allegedly died in real life trying to recover the fictitious treasure from the film from the North Dakotan tundra.

Were the Cohen Bros. in some way responsible for Konishi’s death due to that one statement, or was Konishi an adult who was irresponsible in her choices?

I don’t really have an answer, but the question bears thinking about.

Anway, my umlaut-laden city is populated by humans, dwarves, orcs, goblins, gnomes, satyrs, elves, a handful of sylphs, (mostly visiting dignitaries,) and one troglodyte.

Most of the city is powered by magic, and has an odd mixture of medieval fantasy blended with high-tech derived from this magic.

So if you’re happy reading about a satyr involved in an escape attempt from the authorities in a hovering antigravity haycart with no wheels, but balk at the site of an umlaut in the city’s name… well, I don’t know what to tell you.

I’ve incorporated Germanic, Scandinavian, French and other punctuation into my world, partly to give some interesting pronunciations, but also to add flavour. If the flavour is not to your taste, that’s fine. Just don’t tell me I shouldn’t add umlauts et al, because I’ve invented the whole world.

If it helps, you can assume that the book is translated from a Feldian language, and those marks were to help with difficult pronunciations?

I’m happy to hear rationales why fantasy worlds shouldn’t incorporate punctuation from anything but the mother tongue they were written in, but I’m not sure you’ll sway me to change Bræstuüm’s name.

That’s it for now.

If I write that there, I'm hoping the unwritten “trying to,” that makes up the flabby middle of my decision/statement of intent/occasional gross overestimation, will wither and die—leaving me with something so oxymoronically dripping in brevity, Strunk and White would be stricken speechless, captivated, as they were, by it's stark beauty, born of that most elegant of edifying edicts:

“Omit needless words.”

Mike sighs deeply, wondering if this will come across right. He decided not to give a shit, before definitely giving a shit anyway, then decided to cut this section right back—yes, it was a lot longer before publishing. He hoped he managed to cut it off just before it got anno…

Please insert your preferred light music here, being played through an old-timey radio set, underwater, while we return to our regular programming. Are you imagining it?

“I'm writing a novel.” Really cuts to the chase doesn't it? No dragging of the feet, no fuss, just boom: That's all, mic drop.

You've noticed, of course, that I've written it in the present tense:

I AM writing a novel.

Oof. Chills.

But really, as brazenly declarative as that statement might be, its clean design of just six syllables, (when using the contraction,) can only be achieved by omitting many other things. Things that add decorative and useful touches—a little gothic scrollwork and filigree around the Brutalism.

(I honestly can't tell if that's the worst idea in the history of Art and Design, or if I'll look back at this as the beginnings of a new hot design trend, and anyway I'm too old to be a reliable source for that sort of information.)

It needs context, it needs food for the soul as well as information, it needs clarification.

It needs something to reach out to its intended audience.

It needs a genre:

I'm writing a Fantasy novel.

And that, in part, is what this will be about. It's about writing a fantasy novel. For the first time. With only a few finished short stories, a failed, 60k words, started-during-NanoWriMo-that-one-year novel, (yikes,) and little else in the way of experience. With almost certainly undiagnosed adult ADHD and rampant anxiety?

Strap in. You're either going to be able to observe the development of a novel of yet-to-be-determined quality and follow the process as it unfolds—or else you'll get to watch a middle-aged, Gen-X Englishman unravel in near-real time. That's value you can't buy. Donations are, of course, accepted.

Another sigh. Load previous anxiety cycle. Consider starting over.

So, I'm going to write about the book. Sneak peeks of characters, locations, magic systems, etc, but I also might do short form pieces from prompts, Like Reddit's 50 word prompts, #Promptodon or #WritingPrompt on Mastodon. (I'm, come say hi!)

I'm also going to try to write some writing tips posts, from what little I can claim to know about the craft or how any of this works.

So writing about writing, tips about writing and craft, and short form prompted stuff. Possibly even a silly poem or two, who knows?

And it will come out as often as I have time for/can remember to do. (Probable ADHD and definite Executive Disfunction == maybe not so regular updates, but I'm going to start a list of post ideas.)

And maybe I'll look into whether I can publish from Ulysses, which is my favourite mobile writing app, but have already sprung for the write app so I have my bases covered. Ulysses's markdown syntax works slightly differently to here, so maybe might be the better way to go?

I'm currently using Campfire Write to do the actual novel project, and I'll probably write a post or two about writing software too, as I've used several different ones already during this novel's already protracted gestation.

That's it for now.

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