Outline of Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Somebody suggested I do a basic story outline of a familiar tale, so here it is:

Goldilocks goes for a walk but is lost and hungry.

Goldilocks finds a house but it’s empty.

It’s somebody else’s house, but hunger makes her go inside.

She finds porridge, but it’s not hers.

She shouldn’t but hunger makes her sample the first bowl.

She tries the first bowl but it’s too hot.

She tries the second bowl, but it’s too salty.

She tries the third bowl with low expectations, but it’s perfect and she eats it all up.

She’s no longer hungry, but now she’s sleepy.

It’s not her house, but the owners haven’t returned so she goes upstairs.

She tries the first bed but it’s too hard.

She tries the second bed but it’s too soft.

She tries the third bed with low expectations, but it’s perfect and she falls asleep.

Now she’s no longer sleep deprived, but she wakes up to three angry bears….

Plenty of buts in that one! The odd thing about fairy tales is that they are almost outlines anyway…



Had a blast at Loncon3, though was a very small fish in a very large literary pond.

A couple that geeks together...

A couple that geeks together…

Got to hang out with Joshua Palmatier after knowing him online for years, and spend quality time with Peadar Ó Guilín, another LJ veteran.

Made some new friends, including Darusha Wehm who is almost as forthright as I, and the couple behind Bundoran Press and a gamer from Belfast (whose card scrap of paper) I’ve lost.

I also got to see some of my literary heroes on stage, and watch a good friend get their Hugo.

Best of all — thanks to my folks looking after our kids for days on end – I got to go to the con with my wife.

A couple that geeks together…


At Loncon 3!

We’re shortly off to Loncon 3. A lot of my heroes will be there, but hopefully I can avoid any embarrassing fanboy moments like at World Fantasy Con last year:

Charlie: Martin. Look behind you…. Hello Joe.

Me: What..? (leaps to feet) HOLY SHIT! Joe Haldeman!!!

Mostly I’m hoping to get the lie of the land, enjoy a rare chance to share geek space with my wife and muse, and meet a few friends from my livejournal days, including Joshua Palmatier who once wrote an amazing Fantasy novel I’d describe as Honor Harrington does Sim City.

We’ll also be attending a friend’s 50th birthday party while there — a bit scary how time flies.

Watch this space.


Using Scapple to plan a dungeon (or a mystery)

I’m experimenting with ways to use diagrams as a creativity tool when planning a Mystery.

My tool of choice is Scapple (from the same people who brought us Scrivener). This is really simple but intuitively usable diagramming software. It’s very much a creativity aid, rather than a display tool which explains its… optimised functionality. The limited range is actually a good discipline.

The system I hit on uses a format like this:

Mystery Diagram

In the above Murder Mystery, yellow post-its indicate clues etc, clouds, conclusions. However, this isn’t nearly layered enough. Will the system work on a more complex Mystery?

Since my WIP has a dungeon in it, and since the Fate: Core System talks in passing about how good dungeons are all about the unfolding mystery, I thought I’d have a go creating a dungeon…

First step, do the usual creative brain dump. This isn’t an intellectual exercise. This is arm waving and visualising captured on screen.

Dungeon 1


I’m still using post-its to capture factoids, clues and entities. Arrows indicate how one leads to another physically and/or intellectually.

Second step, flesh it out with attention to what’s cool, and what’s a logical requirement.

Dungeon 2

The clouds indicate thoughts, conclusions and theories arising from the clues.

Third and final step, make all this matter to the story.

Dungeon 3


Colour coding indicates where thoughts etc point to things that matter to the players. For example, goblins are notorious for their traps. It follows that knowing goblin contractors built the tomb might make you aware of the possibility of a lethal trap, hence the green thought and thing.

* * *

The next task is to try this in earnest with my Work in Progress. Eventually, I’ll tidy up the terminology and add it to my Storyteller Tools


Conflict Diagram for Die Hard

A reader said it would be useful if I did some diagrams of movies, so here’s a conflict diagram of the classic 1988 Die Hard. (You can read a full synopsis here.)

Die Hard Conflict Diagram

I’ve used green to show McClane’s team, red to show the forces ranged against them.

  • The Good Cop has a sub plotcan he use his gun in anger? I suspect the hostages also have their own sub plots.
  • The Building & Hostages have a mixed effect on JM’s Survival. The building provides both a survival-friendly environment and a  dangerous prison. However, the hostages are merely a liability.
  • Wife’s Safety is both a Bone of Contention and a force that works against JM’s Survival while at the same time motivating him to survive.
  • I’ve left out thematic forces since I’d have to rewatch the film to snag them with confidence. However i suspect McCane’s team all represent Rugged Individualism, while the others represent Corrupt Power or something similar.

Looking at the diagram, I can see that it’s quite a complex film, albeit an unsubtle one. Perhaps this explains its longevity?

Take a look at Storyteller Tools, my book on outlining and plotting! It shows you how to use Conflict Diagrams and other tools to work up your novel idea into a writable outline, and then to blitz through it in record time.


The opening rarely survives contact with the completed draft but here it is

As the dirigible hurtled up the darkened pass, something glittering rose above the black lip of the mountains.

Stomach fluttering, Jascinda leaned forward against the gondola’s rail. The word dragon filled her mind.

Beside her, Captain Ulreo laughed. “Just moon rise, princess,” he said.

Jascinda flushed. Of course. She was just seeing the lights of the dwarvish cities blazing away on the nighttime surface of the moon.

The buzz of the ship’s engines reflected back from the valley sides setting her teeth on edge. How could the mercenary flier seem so calm when any moment the dragon would hear and know they were coming?


LJ cross posting broken – now doing it via twitter

Ugh. Can’t seem to get the LJ cross posting done. However, my blog entries now automatically feed into twitter, which LJ grabs. Best I can do right now :(


WIP: Assault on the Sky Tomb of the Earth Kin

What with Kurtzhau underfoot with Miskatonic Adonisitis or something like that, I’ve had to pause my novels and focus on something shorter, in this case a short story I’ve had on my to-do list for  a while.

As always I started off with some odd ideas — flying city, zombie dragon, zeppelins, air pirates, princess… stuff — and wrangled them around until I came up with something that screams at me to write it.

This was my first stab:

First stab

After two weeks of head banging in between looking after Kurtzhau, I got this:

Assault on the Sky Tomb of the Earth Kin


Tomorrow is a good day to draft :)


Tonight it flowed!

Just Dave the Unspellable and myself for Study Group tonight.

In the last month, thanks to the Big German, we tweaked three of our Meisterhaus — the Master Strikes — so that they actually work without opening you up to get whacked.

Suddenly the blades interact in ways that take us to all the techniques we’ve drilled over the years but not really used and, in our heads at least, Dave and I are fighting like a pair of 15th century Germans (but with darker hair).

This is why I train.


Why most books on how to write a novel aren’t very useful…

I have read… a lot of books on writing.

Perhaps the most useful general book on story.

I started back in pre-Internet days towards the end of university when Writers Digest books appeared on the shelves of the now-defunct book floor of our local Forbidden Planet.

A handful of these books helped me — I’ve dotted this post with their covers. Most — in hindsight — just served to confuse me. Looking at various writing threads, I can see I’m not the only one. For example, paraphrasing, somebody posted; “This book said not to write about a character’s childhood, but I’m writing about somebody whose traumatic childhood overshadows their present. Help!”

Without naming names, here are some of the things wrong with most of the books in this category.

No or wrong writing credentials

Author is not really a writer of novels.

This man does have credentials!

Yes, I’ve only been doing this a year and a bit, but I am a professional author working to contracts from real publishers.

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of books written by “creative writing teachers”, editors and agents — who, yes, being the gatekeepers have insights but not being writers can only really talk about the what, not the how – short story writers, and people who once wrote a book.

Inspirational content

The book is intended to inspire or free up the wannabe writer’s imagination.

Useful book tackling the technicalities of the genre. (Can’t say I like OSC’s politics, though.)

Books like these make a good comfort read, actually, or at least are nice to leave lying around in the bathroom. However if you want to be a writer, it kind of follows that you are already overburdened with inspiration and that your imagination roves freely. Surely you are better seeking out more specific inspiration through art and non-fiction focussed around your genre?

Pep-talk content

The book is an extended pep-talk encouraging you to adhere to BIC (Bum In Chair), to burn through “resistance” and writer’s block, and use a variety of techniques to maintain discipline.

Though it’s useful to have the requirements of professionalism spelled out, a just do it attitude can merely lead to frustration and chasing your own tail as the years roll by. Just do what? You need some kind of leverage before it’s worth putting your all into the task.

Wordcount obsession

The book is all about upping your daily wordcount.

One of the most practical of all books on writing. However, Pulp-era and focussed on shorter stories.

OK it’s good to be able to churn out the words. However, what actually matters is your average wordcount over the life of the project.

If I write 20K words this week, delete 10K next week, write another 10K then spend two weeks editing the resulting mishmash, the average wordcount is (20-10+10)/4 = 5K a week.

Might it not be equally or more effective to write the right words in the first place, thus saving on tinkering time?


Objective focussed

The book is entirely focused on what objectives the your novel should meet.

So, it tells you that you must have theme and conflict, and that the pacing should be right and the characterisation good. However, it doesn’t really tell you how to get there.

It’s as if I put  a sword in your hands and said, “A Zornhau should be fast and secure. Go fight!”

Blooper catalogue

The book concentrates on cataloging what bloopers to avoid.

Blooper lists are great fun. However, there are a zillion ways to get things wrong, and very few ways to get things write. Knowing the near infinite list of things not to do far less useful than learning the handful of things to actually do.

Really just a list of rules and tips

The book is full of rules and tips but is presented as a manual.

Granted tricks of the trade writing tips are useful, and I’m always glad to hear these from other writers. However, they become dangerous when presented as if they formed a coherent whole. A catalogue of punches and grapples is not the same as a martial art!

For example, that “don’t mention childhood” rule we saw above) doesn’t always apply. For this reason, most such books tend to include the spectacularly useless advice that it’s OK to break the rules when it works! 

Better, I think, to understand the way narrative works and thus the purpose of backstory in your particular novel.

Storyteller Tools, my book on outlining and plotting, is much, much shorter than each of the useful books I’ve linked to. But would you rather spend your time reading about writing, or actually writing?