Months ago, five very talented writers and a kick-ass artist and I wrote a book in a day for the Kid’s Cancer Project. It was a blast getting together with writers I’ve worked with before and meeting new faces.
We wrote “Queen Ruby’s Lottery”, a C.S. Lewis-styled story set in Manly, NSW, featuring Ruby, Queen of an alternate reality community.
The whole project was to get sponsorship to help fund the Kids Cancer Project. If you’re interested in the Write-a-Book-in-a-Day concept, you can read more about it here. Very generous sponsors of our team helped us raise of $3,300 this year. All told, over the years that we’ve done this, we’ve raised over $15,000.
And this year, we’re doing something different.
We’ve had the book published. On December 16th at the Manly Village Public School, a bunch of the co-authors will be at the Manly Lions stall from 7:00 am to 1:00 pm with copies of the books for sale. Signing is optional (and at no extra charge). ALL proceeds go to the Kid’s Cancer Project.
(Stay tuned for links to order the book online. Maybe no signatures, but profits for the first year — ALL profits) go to Kids’ Cancer Project.)
If you’re in the area (and I know many of you aren’t — I’ve got readers from all over the world and am grateful for that), pop by, say hi, and maybe pick up a copy.
The book is available on Kindle if you can’t make it but still want to support the Kid’s Cancer Project.
I’m halfway through the first draft of this story. Nick’s in a rough place and while he will inevitably prevail, I’m a bit stumped how he’s going to get out of it. But he has to before the next chapter, because that chapter started with him out of rough place.
Plotting versus Pantsing is a facile argument. I’ve got the first two Acts plotted out very well. But the plot isn’t by any means the final story. This is how I’ve described this chapter in Scrivener:
I’ll find my way to the end. I’ll use dialogue to exposition some stuff that needs expositing (are these even words? Who knows?), including what information I need to get out of the antagonist at this point of the story.
This is also a good opportunity to close out any minor inconsistencies that might have popped up so far. You’ll have to tie them up at some point.
This chapter is almost like a bottle episode in a long-running TV show. It’s in one location, has minimal characters and a very tightly constrained information flow.
And, as a plotter, I’m not ashamed to say it is almost 100% pantsed. Going in, I have no idea how I’m coming out.
I just know where I’ll be when I do.
Anyway. It’s still a work in progress. I have no idea what the title will be yet. Cover art is still a daydream. But I know it will be available June 1, 2024
I’ve been bouncing around this idea for the past month or so and would like to hear your thoughts.
While the first draft of my next Nick Harding is percolating (a few months away — I’m only halfway through writing it), I was considering starting a podcast called “First Chapters”.
Each episode would focus on one of my books. I’d start with a brief story about the inspiration for the book, then read the first chapter. If it takes off, I’ve got local writer friends I’d invite as guests to read their first chapter.
I’d publish an episode a week, and with my current library, that would be twenty episodes.
Is this something you’d listen to? Let me know in the comments.
Local author Tony McFadden will be discussing his latest book at HJ Daley Library. The evening promises to be both informative and enjoyable, allowing attendees to delve into the world of Dead Tomorrow and get a glimpse into Tony’s creative mind.
Tony McFadden’s latest novel, Dead Tomorrow, is an engaging and thrilling read that is sure to capture your attention. With a total of eighteen books under his belt, Tony has proven himself to be a master of the writing process, particularly in the genre of crime fiction.
As a local resident himself, Tony has used Campbelltown as the backdrop for one of his novels, adding an authentic touch to his storytelling. This makes the upcoming event at Campbelltown Library even more special, as Tony will be discussing his latest book and sharing insights into his writing process. It’s an excellent opportunity for fans of crime fiction and aspiring writers to gain valuable knowledge and be part of an entertaining evening.
As an added bonus, there will be a lucky door prize, where one lucky attendee will have the chance to win a signed copy of Tony’s latest novel. Make sure to attend the event for the chance to win this exclusive prize.
Don’t miss out on this exciting opportunity to meet the talented Tony McFadden and discover the captivating world of Dead Tomorrow. Mark your calendars for the event and get ready for an entertaining evening.
If you require an AUSLAN interpreter please notify the Library at time of booking.
The perennial debate about “the best way to write” between writers misses a fundamental point.
It’s not binary.
Pantsing a book, or writing by the seat of the pants, espouses a free-flowing, stream-of-consciousness approach that implies absolutely no thought of character or story arc, just a meandering flow of words that somehow, magically, produces a story.
Plotting, as the name suggests, espouses a very structured approach to story writing. Every plot point is known. There are no surprises for the writer. Plotting takes up as much, or more, time than the actual writing.
But it’s not binary.
Not a single pantser sits in front of their keyboard, no idea where they want the story to go.
And not a single plotter knows every word/every scenario they will experience.
I identify as a plotter, so it’s best I explain from the plotter’s point of view.
I really plot the hell out of a story. I write crime-fiction, so I don’t understand how it is possible to do it any other way. I know what the crime is before I start writing. I know who did it, who looks like they did it, who couldn’t possibly have done it, but knows who did it, how it was done, why it was done and the drips of clues necessary so the reader doesn’t feel cheated when the killer/extortionist/whatever is revealed.
But that plotting is 1) maybe thirty words per chapter and 2) only extends to the first two acts. Until I’ve written those two acts, the sum total of my plotting for Act Three is what the first chapter in the third act needs to convey and what happens in the last chapter.
For each of the chapters in Acts One and Two, I write a few sentences indicating what the chapter needs to achieve (the below are from “Number Fifteen“):
“Team scours Andy’s last 48 hours — or at least starts the process. Split in the team — youth think cops should do the job, older know that’s not going to be enough”
“Terry and Kat are decoys for Jason/Rhonda attack. Dan and Stew and Andy show up and it’s a full on battle. Curious fight, no winners on either side.”
“It’s an ambush — the slap back from The Organisation. Back at home the Organisation attacks Andy’s house — Andy back in the hospital, Kelly is taken.”
Sometimes the note for a chapter (typically in Act One) is:
“Leave blank for future use”
This is to allow for additional information that may be needed to resolve the story — things that come up in Act Three.
The sentences above (not the “leave blank” one) result in 2000 – 3000 words per chapter. I have only a general idea of what those words are before I write them. I essentially pants the chapter within the constraints of what that chapter needs to be.
So don’t fight, people. Both are legitimate ways of writing.
For the past twelve years, I’ve been honing my writing skills, publishing (at the date of this publication) one non-fiction book — you’re reading it — and eighteen novels.
I write mostly crime fiction. A couple of sci-fi books are in the mix, but the overall gist is crime.
Private Investigators in Australia.
Telecommunications Engineers in far-flung parts of the world sticking their noses where they shouldn’t.
A millionaire Irishman solving mob-related crimes in South Florida.
A young Australian actress, trying her damnedest to make a living in La-La-Land.
When I started, I knew nothing about CREATING a story. I’d read thousands by then. Some were great, some were awful, and most were just good.
I started writing my first book, Matt’s War, with an interesting concept, believable characters, and no idea how it would end. I knew there should be a beginning, middle and end, but I had no idea what should happen in each of those three parts, what triggered the transition between them, and how much of the story each of those parts made up.
“Common sense” says the beginning is a third of the story, the middle is a third, and the end is a third.
Turns out, no.
I had a general idea of how the book should go. I definitely knew how it started. The rest, well, I trusted it would work itself out.
I finished the first draft after a couple of months. Okay, more like twelve months.
The story had an end. The characters had an arc. The good guys won, and the bad guys were punished (with a thin, hanging thread setting up a sequel).
But I ran into many familiar first-writer problems: A dead middle. Clues were revealed too early (or, in some cases, too late). It had an abrupt ending. It was on the bad side of the scale. Unfortunately (for me), it was a story I really liked.
I put it aside and started working on my second. Family Matters. (The second book I wrote, not the second book I released.)
It progressed in the same way. It had a good start, but I had NO idea how it would end; a middle so dead that I decided to have my main character shot to keep it interesting. And a really sloppy ending.
Around the same time I completed the first draft of Family Matters, I was introduced to the basics of story structure. I learned some important points about storytelling. The key ones:
The hero / main character needs to drive the conclusion. He or she can’t be “rescued”. (Not a structure thing, to be fair, but it drives the plot points.)
Every critical character, weapon, characteristic, etc., should be introduced in Act One even if it’s just a passing reference.
NOTHING new (weapons, skills, people critical to the ending) should be introduced as late as Act 3.
And a few other things that I’ll get into throughout this little book.
All of this was new to me. But it resonated. This was a PLAN—a blueprint for the story, laying out the milestones along the journey. I’m an engineer by training, and an engineer likes nothing more than a plan.
I re-wrote Matt’s War and Family Matters with the principles I outline in this book. Matt’s War is still one of my favourites and sits at 4.5/5 stars on Amazon.
Family Matters is still a bit of a mess —too many plotlines make it a bit busy. But I still like it. And it is a massive improvement over the first draft. A reviewer on Amazon said, “…I was hooked from the very first page. It was superbly written, fast paced and thrilling, straight to the point without frills.”
Everything (fiction) I write now is built around structure. I’ll argue in this book how adhering to a structure doesn’t mean cookie-cutter stories, and I’ll also argue that once you are familiar and comfortable with the concept of structure, you should forget it and write your story.
But you have to understand its power first.
I’ve written eighteen books over the past dozen years. They all “follow” the structure laid out in this book. These guidelines keep your story pacy and on point. When writing a story, my goal is to have the reader start at point A, finish at a completely unrelated point Z, and wonder how in the hell they got there, yet at no point in that journey get pulled out of the story.
My readers seem to think I’m getting the hang of things:
“This is a fast read, interesting plot.” – Book ‘Em review.
“Very action packed, on the edge of your seat story.” – Broken review
“It was so fast paced that sometimes I couldn’t tell if the story advanced by one day, one week or one month. But it was really entertaining and definitely a page turner.” – Broken review
“This is a short, fast read, …with lots of action, a few twists and turns, and several suspects to follow.” – Batteries Not Included review.
“It’s action-packed from start to finish with a twist or two to keep the reader engaged” – Number Fifteen review.
“As the case progresses, the plot gets more and more twisted, involving double cross, revenge, and manipulation. A fast read that’s pretty much all on the surface like an action/adventure.” – The Murder of Jeremy Brookes review.
And dozens more.
Making sure you hit the beats described in this book can ensure your story doesn’t lag, and your readers don’t toss your book on the DNF pile and reach for someone else’s.
What this book doesn’t do.
At no point will I talk about dangling participles, split infinitives or mismatched subject-verb pairs.
There are tons of how-to-write books. My best tip (if you’re interested) is to read your brains out. Read your favourite genre. Read a genre you never would think of reading. Read as much as you can.
You’ll see dozens of ways to express the passage of time, or how to effectively use dialogue tags.
My second best tip is to write. A lot. Find your voice. It’s not Neil Gaiman’s voice or Lee Child’s voice. It’s your voice.
And my third and final non-structure tip is to forestall edits until you’ve got your first draft in the bag. Don’t interrupt the creative flow with niggling things like, what was it again? Split infinitive or incorrect verb tenses. That’s for later.
This is not a long book. You should be writing, not reading about how to write. I could put together 400 pages of fluff, but I prefer meat and potatoes writing. This is quick and concise.
Full disclosure: I’m going to spoil a bunch of movies, and some books.
Tomorrow, When the War Began
A Knight’s Tale
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1)
Matt’s War – Tony McFadden
61 Hours – Lee Child
The e-Book will be available on Amazon on July 15th. The paperback version, shortly after.
I had a lovely talk this morning with Ania at the Campbelltown library. They are going to host an Author Talk, featuring, me. Date and time to be determined, but we’re looking at the October / November time frame.
The biggest challenge I have as a writer is getting visibility. I have 18 books to choose from, but (and I did the math) 99.999975% of the world’s population has no idea I write. My goal over the next twelve months is to lower that to 99.9975% (or better).
This will be my first library hosted Author Talk. I have a general idea of content, but I’d like to hear from readers.
What would you like to hear from an author at an Author Talk?
Let me know below.
In the meantime, here’s me talking about my books, and writing.
I asked ChatGPT to write a blog post about the importance of story structure. While not bad, I wouldn’t call it good.I don’t feel threatened.
Here it is (edited slightly for some really bad grammar I couldn’t abide):
Stories have been an essential part of human communication for thousands of years. From the earliest cave paintings to modern-day films, stories have served as a way to convey meaning, emotion, and information. However, the success of a story depends not only on its content but also on its structure. In this blog post, we will explore the importance of story structure and why it is crucial for any writer or storyteller to master.
What is Story Structure?
Story structure refers to how a story is organized and presented to its audience. It is the framework that gives a story its shape and coherence. A well-structured story has a clear beginning, middle, and end and follows a specific narrative arc that engages the audience and keeps them interested.
The Importance of Story Structure
It helps to create suspense and tension.
A well-structured story keeps the audience engaged by creating suspense and tension. It sets up the conflict, introduces the characters, and builds towards a climax that resolves the conflict. The audience is invested in the outcome, and the tension keeps them on the edge of their seats.
It makes the story easier to follow.
A story with a clear structure is easier for the audience to follow. It guides them through the narrative and helps them understand the relationships between the characters and events. This makes it easier for them to connect with the story and become emotionally invested in the outcome.
It gives the story coherence.
A story with a clear structure has a coherence that satisfies the audience. The events and characters are linked in a way that makes sense, and the resolution of the conflict feels earned. This coherence makes the story feel like a complete and satisfying experience.
It helps the writer to stay on track.
A clear story structure can also help the writer to stay on track. It provides a roadmap for the story and helps the writer avoid getting lost in the details. This can be particularly helpful when working on longer fiction pieces, such as novels, where it is easy to lose sight of the overall narrative.
Elements of Story Structure
There are several elements of story structure that writers should be familiar with:
The Beginning: This is where the story sets up the conflict and introduces the characters.
The Middle: This is where the story develops the conflict, and the characters face obstacles and challenges.
The Climax: This is the high point of the story, where the conflict is resolved.
The End: This is where the story wraps up, and the characters are changed by their experiences.
In addition to these elements, many stories have subplots and secondary conflicts that add depth and complexity to the narrative.
In conclusion, the importance of story structure cannot be overstated. A well-structured story is engaging, easy to follow, and satisfying for the audience. It also helps the writer to stay on track and avoid getting lost in the details. By mastering the elements of story structure, writers can create stories that captivate their audience and leave a lasting impression.
I am predisposed to structure in almost everything.
When I first started writing (Matt’s War — read about it here), I had no idea how traditional story structure worked. I knew there were three Acts, but frankly, I had no idea what each Act consisted of, how to transition between the Acts or how much of the story was made up by each Act.
I had finished Matts’s War’s first draft when I learned how all successful movies and books are structured.
Now I need to be clear, all stories and movies that follow a good structure aren’t successful. The story needs to be good and the characters compelling. But a good story with compelling characters but poorly structured won’t resonate with readers or viewers.
So if story structure is so important, you’d think everyone would jump on it, but some still believe the mere existence of structure means a story is cookie-cutter with no originality.
I mentioned I have a predisposition to structure. I’m an Engineer by education and training. We don’t build something until we have a plan, whether it’s a computer, bridge, or building.
I see story structure as a blueprint. A line drawing of the cabinet you want to make. It contains the necessary elements to make a functional cabinet but leaves a lot up to the cabinet maker (or author). The type of wood, the finish, the quality of the hinges, all of that is up to the maker.
Same with story structure. I go more into it here (and more will be added in the future).
When I learned of this, the scales fell from my eyes. I had to make massive structural edits to Matt’s War. It has some of my best reviews yet.
So to the story structure deniers, deny all you want, but pick any successful book or movie, and I will show you, in detail, its underlying structure.
As a transplanted Canadian now living in Australia, the fact this was set in Cape Breton (the island of my birth) was the hook. The characters were familiar, the setting well-drawn, and to my delight, the mystery well-formed.
I understand there are other stories in this series (and I’ll have to look them up), but that doesn’t seem to matter.
The story takes place post-pandemic (referenced a few times for plot reasons) and centres around a murder on Isle Madame, Detective Gordie MacLean’s home turf. Detective MacLean and his junior partner Detective Roxanne Albright are assigned the case. Albright is put in charge (for reasons), and the only reason this isn’t a 5-star review is the reaction MacLean had to this. It felt like forced conflict for the sake of it. Again, I haven’t read the earlier books, so maybe it’s in character.
The story unfolds nicely. The resolution doesn’t require any author sleight of hand — it’s earned. Plenty of legit red herrings and a couple of double bluffs will keep you guessing. And while you might figure out the “who”, you’ll unlikely know the “why” before the author deigns to reveal it.
A definite recommend. I’ll be checking out her other books now.