Hard Boiled Minds – A 5 Minute Writing Challenge

Hard Boiled Minds

Harsh unrelenting sun beat down; hot enough to hardboil brains.

Gazed out to the blue horizon, ripples caught on an azure sea. A hermit crab scuttling across the white sand. Paradise.

Today, however, was not like other days. Today, something was wrong: a rumbling in the stomach, a stretching, pulsating, pressure. Something was about to erupt.

Then something poked, from the inside.

‘Ouch. Oww.’

And stabbed. ‘Stop that!’

But the stabbing persisted, like a monster about to erupt from a stomach in one of those horror movies.

Then it snapped.


No more feeling in the lower half.

Something wet and downy peered with a bright eye. The something pushed and shoved until the egg shell rolled out.

The newly hatched chick stared in the hard sunlight. If it had known what a mind was, it would have known the day was hot enough to hardboil one.


A 5 Minute Writing challenge is just that – what can you write on a given topic in five minutes of free writing.  I tend to limit myself to only five minutes to plan the story, five minutes to write the story, and five minutes to lightly edit.

This piece of writing first appeared as part of the ‘5Minute Freewrite’ on Steemit.

Why don’t you give it a go.  Let me know how you get on in the comments.  Better still, join in the fun on Steemit.



Is a Novel always Fiction?


Is a Novel always Fiction?  Curiously, not necessarily.

To discover if a novel is always fiction, it will be helpful to address a different question, “Is a novel the same as a story?” Stay with me on this, because it will help you understand my answer when I come back to the original question.

  • Is a novel the same as a story? No. A novel is a story telling convention – an accepted (expected) way of presenting a long form story. These are the elements of a novel that any novelist must address:
  • Plot development – the way a plot develops, using one or more story arcs.
  • Story beats – plot developments that are unique to the novelist’s chosen genre (type of story). These will sit on the story arc(s).
  • Reveals – plot points and/or story beats that show how the story/character(s) is developing, or information that answers a question intrinsic to the plot, or information that sends the plot in a new direction. These also sit on the story arc(s).
  • Character development – How something about the main protagonist and/or antagonist, and possibly other characters too, develops from the beginning to the end of the novel. These are reveals that sit on the story arc.
  • Sub plots – additional smaller plots, woven round the main plot, that involve supporting characters or themes, these may mirror, highlight complement, or contrast the main plot. Sub plots may or many not interact with the main plot. they will have their own story beats and reveals.
  • Theme – an over arching idea/subject/focus/symbolism of the novel. Sometimes a theme develops despite or in-spite of the author’s intentions/design.

Now back to your original question, “Is a novel always fiction?” No.

Here’s why, because, some or all of the story telling conventions that are used in a novel, can also be used (I would argue should be used) in constructing an interesting non-fiction book too, particularly a biography or autobiography.

This is one reason why some autobiographies about people we have never heard of are absolutely fascinating and why some about celebrities are as dull as mud: the non-celebrity knows what theme/message/argument/development they wish to communicate and uses novel writing techniques to achieve their aim. The result is a non-fiction book that is compelling, entertaining, and readable – technically a novel, but not fiction.


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How much does it cost to self-publish?

tumblr_mb2dgmhcxx1r9isqgSo you have written a novel and you decide to give self-publishing, or Indie-publishing, a go.  Is it worth it and how much does it cost?

In addition to writing a good story, that is well written, how much you spend on self publishing a novel depends on a few factors:


  1. What quality of product you want to produce.
  2. What you are capable/skilled at doing yourself.
  3. How much time you have/allow yourself.
  4. How much money you are prepared to spend.
  5. How much money you want to make.

These factors are no different to any other business setting up for the first time, because unless you are writing purely as a hobby, Indie-publishing is a business.

If you want to create a really good product, you may need to employ editors, proofreaders, cover designers, and someone to format an ebook.

If you are able to do some of these things yourself, or can learn how to do them, you will save money. For my own books, I learned how to do basic cover design, formatting, website design, and produce a cinemagraphic book trailer — it took quite a time and some practice.

The more time you have available to do things yourself the less you will need to pay Image result for book bindingsomeone else to do it for you. Trading your skills for someone else’s skills also helps reduce the cost, but you do have to take time to build relationships. Having a website you can use for low level social marketing and to build yourself a platform/audience/email list (like I am doing here) is well worth the effort in the long run, but does take time.

Points 4 and 5 are very much tied together. I consider my book publishing to be a business, therefore, I only spend what I can earn from publishing. For my latest book, ‘Gaia’s brood’ I employed a copy editor/proof reader — the £100 I spent on this has paid for itself.

Some, like Derek Murphy, would argue that the more you spend in online advertising, the more sales you will make so the more you will earn. I take the view that you need at least a trilogy of novels, and a marketing funnel, before it is worth spending any serious money on marketing.

How Much to Spend?Image result for investment

  • You can spend no money on the production of your novel, put it on Amazon for free, and spend nothing on marketing. Unless you have written a masterpiece or something that catches the mood of the day, you will probably not make any money.
  • You can spend a modest amount on the the production of your novel, put it on Amazon for free, and spend a modest amount on marketing. And you might make a modest profit, unless of course you are very lucky.
  • You could spend a lot on production, self-publishing, websites, and marketing, and make no profit, or even make a loss.

Image result for pie chartWhat you have to do, is decide in advance how much money you want/can afford to invest in your writing business.

Then decide how much you want to spend on production of your product(the novel) and how much you want to spend on advertising.


What does success look like?

To know what success looks like, you have to measure it. What measure looks like success to you?

  • The number of fans/followers you gain?
  • The amount of profit you make?
  • The number of units to sell?
  • Hitting the number one spot on your chosen best seller list?
  • The number of awards your your writing wins?

All these are worthy aims and legitimate signs of success for your novel.

When will success happen?

Next, decide on a timescale for making a return on your investment: one year, three years, five years, ten years?

Finally, decide when you want to spend the money on marketing. Whilst Indie-publishing does free one from the gate keepers of agents and publishing companies, it also, for most people, turns publishing into a commodity business — the more products you have to offer, the more sales you are likely to make and the more followers/fans you are likely to attract. This means you have to publish novels frequently and consistently.

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I would recommend you have at least three novels published on Amazon before you put any serious time and money into marketing.


The marketing plan

Authors are notoriously shy of writing marketing plans, many refuse to think of their writing as a business, or somehow think their ‘art’ will be tainted by money considerations.

Here’s the good news: You have just written a marketing plan. This article has just taken you through all the basic stages you need for a marketing plan. That is is – simples.

Hope this helps.


Planning a Book Series

Image result for book seriesWriting, above all, is a passion, but it if you want to make both a success and money, it is also a business, and if you are an indie author, you will need a book series or two to to create that all important marketing funnel.

Your first steps are to find a subject, story, character, and story world you want to bring to life – you may be living with these for some years.

I would suggest starting by developing both a hero and a villain character you want to place in a story world. Next you need to find an audience: no audience = no sales = no business – that means selecting a genre.

Next, do some research to find out what is popular in that genre. However, don’t try to second guess the market, because it is impossible – by the time you have completed three books in the series the market will have moved in a different direction, so you really do need to write about characters you love.

If you’ve created good protagonist and antagonist characters for a series, you will need an over arching story arc that can sustain the conflict between them for whole series (at least three books). However, you will also need individual story arcs for each book in the series which include character developments.

Make your protagonist too perfect and you will run out of character development in your first instalment, leaving you no where to go in subsequent books. It helps if you protagonist’s character flaws mean they make enemies and damage/hurt other characters along the way who can come back at them in later stories and create incidents which have consequences further down the overarching story arc.

You will also need supporting characters, some of whom might not make it to the next book, so you will need new characters to join later in the series to add interest.

You may well find that you have a few false starts, where you starts series, get one or two books in, before abandoning the series and trying again with another idea/character. Though, I would recommend, if you find a good protagonist/antagonist, to carry them across to a new setting/story and persevere with them (even with a different name). Also, if you find you have created a good side/supporting character in a series you abandon, try making them the central character in the next series.

By now you are probably thinking, “This sounds like a lot of work.” You are right, it is one hell of a lot of work.

There is an easier way, but it requires patience and discipline (I wish I had done this):

  • Put you plans for and epic series on hold.
  • Write yourself some novellas with different characters, different ideas, different settings, possibly different genres.
  • When you find something your readers like, which has the potential to be expanded into a longer series, turn all your attention to developing that into a series.

You will have the marketing benefit of a novella you can offer for free, to draw readers into your marketing funnel or present to a publisher. You will also have the gained plenty of practice in developing story arcs and developing characters, which will really help you develop your epic series.

Good luck,


Financial Systems in World Building

Related imageThe concept of using a novel financial system is not flawed, but I should hope the financial system is, because that gives you plenty of scope to create your story. Most systems are flawed to a greater or lesser degree, and if they are not, humans will soon find a way to corrupt them. Really interesting to see how your aliens view/value/manage a human financial system.

In scifi or fantasy or scifi/fantasy, you can generally get away with one big fictitious element. So currency as an idea doesn’t actually have to work, as long as everyone in the novel believes it works (I’m not actually sure, in this case, how that differs from the real-world money markets or the 2007/8 financial crash, but let’s not go there for the moment). So in a novel about airships, the fictitious idea is that airships actually work as a general means of transport.

Once your readers have accepted that one big fictitious idea, everything else needs to be workable.

Whilst the financial system is not the story, the pros and cons, or advantages and disadvantages/injustices of the system will drive how your characters react, what they value, and the choices they make.

One of my favourite films is the brilliant, In Time, with Justin Timberlake, there the currency is ‘seconds-of-remaining-life.’   In this story, the length of your life is literally linked to what you earn and spend. Whilst the story is not about the financial system itself, it still controls every action/decision of every character, literally down to the last second.


Grammar – Using the interrobang (‽)

Image result for interrobangGrammatically, the interrobang (‽), or more commonly written (!?) or (?!), should never be used in modern writing. The only time it commonly appears is in comic books or cartoons as a visual indicator of a strong questioning emotion.

Artistically, it could be used very sparingly to emphasise the same emotion in writing.

However, it is such an obscure punctuation mark (the original version is only available in a few fonts) you run the risk of confusing your readers and breaking the flow of your fiction—anything that throws your reader out of your fiction world is bad, in my opinion.

Much better, in my opinion, to use words and description to convey the same meaning and emotion, i.e show the emotion rather than rely on obscure grammar to do the job for you‽


Keeping Track of Small Details in a Long Novel

blog204-20checklist-20readyConsistency in small details is key to maintaining the story magic withing a novel, whether short or long.  Recording meticulous details  in notebooks, notes, online files/descriptions etc, are vital. One thing I constantly forget is the colour of my character’s eyes & hair, so I need it written down.

One useful technique I have started using recently is a spreadsheet which briefly lists each scene. I then track where all the main characters are while the scene is being enacted. This prevents characters suddenly appearing in impossible places or while they are meant to be some place else.

I also use the spreadsheet to track other elements of the longer story from scene to scene:

  • Character change from scene-to-scene/chapter-to-chapter
  • Plot development
  • Developments of theme(s)
  • Character relationships (romantic and otherwise)
  • Symbolism
  • Character mood/emotions
  • The progression of sub-plots (which are often not played out over consecutive scenes)
  • Character changes during sub plots

One of the main aims for me, is to ensure every type of progression happens logically and incrementally.

I also find it particularly useful to chart character moods and emotions from scene to scene and character relationships, because if there is going to be any meaning to the story these things have to develop as the story progresses.  However, to be effective these changes must be dripped in slowly and consistently so the reader hardly notices.

Not every author includes any symbolism in their stories, but if you can pull it off, it’s another story element that is generally buried deep within the story telling and may not even be noticed by most reader.  What they will notice, is when you get it wrong, so consistency is really important and I find a spread sheet really helps.

Hope you find that of use.


The Secret to Effective Character Descriptions

Related imageThe most effective character description, is the one your reader creates for themselves. Your job is to provide enough clues for your reader to create their own character, based on yours.

Most readers will identify themselves as the central character, even if this is blatantly opposed to the description you give. One of the joys of reading is that you vicariously live another life through the character in the novel: you become that character and experience their emotions and action through the story.

Don’t try too hard to pin down your character’s physical appearance, other than a sketchy outline – make it easy for your reader to imagine themselves in the central role.

Is your character black or white? Unless the colour of their skin is integral to the story, why risk alienating a section of your audience by defining their skin colour? Let the reader decide.

Concentrate instead on their characteristics (personality), emotional traits, and actions. These are the things your readers really want to explore, i.e. in a safe environment, what does it feel like to be a psychotically murderous megalomaniac. They are also the things that ultimately define your character, whatever their physical appearance.

As to how you write that character, concentrate on ‘showing’ characteristics, emotions, and actions, rather than ‘telling’. Drip feed it all in, one scene at a time.


The Writing Process

giphyWhen I say The Writing Process, what I mean, of course, is my writing process.  The specific process I use, whilst generally typical of the process used by most writers who plan out their novel before writing, does have some peculiarities specific to my needs and foibles:

  1. Start putting everything into order to make a story. If you scribble basic outlines of each scene/story idea onto scraps of paper or sticky notes, you can literally lay them out before you until they start to make some sort of sense. You will likely have bits missing or maybe not even have an overall story – that is fine, any order is better than none.
  1. Stop! Steps (3) & (4) are interchangeable, so do whichever takes your fancy first.
  1. Take time to sketch out you main characters:

Who are they? What are they like? What life events have shaped them the way they are? What do they want? Why?

What is their past, what are the relationships between them, what strengths and flaws do they have, how will they have changed by the end of the story?

Image result for protagonist antagonist conflict

Ideally, your Protagonist’s (Hero) and your Antagonist (villain) should want the same thing or same goal – that way they are in direct competition. What do they want – this is the aim of your story.

Try to make the character flaws of your Protagonist the character strengths of your Antagonist, and the character strengths of your Protagonist the character weaknesses of your Antagonist – again putting them in direct conflict.

The flaws in your Protagonist’s character are the thinks that let them down and get them into trouble. Overcoming one or more character flaws is what leads to ultimate victory or them gaining the thing they want. So what flaws will lead them into trouble and what flaw(s) will be overcome? Jot down story ideas and scenes.

The strengths in your Antagonist’s character are what gives them victories over your Protagonist. However, failing to overcome one or more of their character flaws is what leads to they ultimate failure or to losing the thing they are after. So what are their strengths and what flaw(s) will they fail to overcome? Jot down story ideas and scenes.

  1. Take time to think about your overall story:

What, in very simple terms is your story, (sum it up in one short sentence) – a much harder exercise than it seems.

How will the main character(s) have evolved from the beginning to the end of the story (One sentence for each character).

Think up some subplots which might compliment/juxtapose/parody the main story, or which show character growth (one sentence for each).

If you don’t already know about Story Arcs, do some research, start to fit your stuff from steps (1) & (2) into your main Story Arc.

Take out every scene and story idea that does not progress the main story.

Use deleted scenes and story ideas for sub plots and character stories. Again, fit them into Story Arcs. If they still don’t fit, save them for the sequels.

Fill in all the gaps with new story ideas and scenes.

  1. Do whichever of step (3) or (4) you didn’t just do.
  1. Start putting everything together:

stickynotes_08Put everything together for your main story into one straight line in  chronological order – lay them out on the floor if you have to, or stick post-it notes to a wall/window/notice board/desk – whatever works for you.

In separate lines lay out the scenes/story ideas for each sub-plot and each character development/story, and decide where they start and finish in relation to the main story.

Merge all the story lines together.

It may have taken you hours, days, weeks, or even months, to complete this exercise, but you now have an outline plan for your entire novel.

  1. Start writing: I tend to write one chapter at a time, editing the chapter a couple of times until I am happy with it. This is my editing process:
  1. First draft: write or dictate a the basic scene/chapter/story. I often use a voice to text software while doing domestic chores or dictate into my mobile while out walking and transpose it to text later).
  1. Scene Brief Edit:5senses

Add in as much description and sensory experience as I can (using all five senses), filling in any plot/story gaps.

Any additions, alterations or amendments to the plot/story are recorded on the outline plan (see 7) and immediately corrected or added to previous chapters (otherwise I will forget about them).

  1. Grammar Edit: concentrate on sentence, paragraph, and dialogue construction. Sort out grammar and syntax issues.
  1. Image result for sound editorSound Edit: this where everyone tells you to read your writing out loud. I find that difficult to do, so I get the computer to read it to me using text-to-speech software. This is were I pick up sound issues and readability issues.
  1. Full read through of the novel with final edits.
  1. Pass out to beta readers for comments and feedback.
  1. Beta edit.
  1. Professional Edit: I pass the manuscript to a US editor I employ. This is party to proofread, partly for a high level copy edit, but mainly to correct British English to US English (the majority of my readers/customers are in the US so I publish my novel in US English).
  1. Novel writing completed. Publish.


World Mental Health Day

I am celebrating World Mental Health Day by looking after myself and by sharing this post:

If you feel like you cannot cope, and one in every four of us (you too guys) will feel like this at some point in our lives, do the following:

  1. Talk to someone and tell them how you feel – yes, it will be frightening, yes, you will feel exposed/stupid/vulnerable, and yes, they might not understand, but it will help you.
  2. Talk to a Doctor, medication can take the ‘edge’ of things and help you cope. If your body stops producing insulin, you suffer from diabetes, and you get medication to replace the missing insulin. So think of your brain as a giant computer, but instead of running on electrical impulses it runs on chemicals and hormones. If, for any reason, your body produces too little or too much of a certain chemical or hormone, your brain will stop functioning properly. You will then suffer from anxiety and/or depression, or bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or psychosis, or any number of other mental health issues. Taking medication can help restore the balance of chemicals in your brain so it works better.
  3. Find ways to cope with your mental health issues. Yes, it may seem like the end of the world, and yes, you may grieve the loss of the old you, but if you have a long term issue you need to develop proactive way to deal with it. If you developed a physical problem, you would adapt your living/lifestyle to cope with it, mental illness is no different, just no so obvious, so others may not cut you the slack you need, which means you have to be proactive:
  4. Plenty of exercise and/or fresh air and daylight helps.
  5. Actively build up a support network of friends (no they may not be the sort of people you hung out with before, but you may not be the sort of person you were before – seek out people who will be there for you, no matter what).
  6. Get plenty of sleep – regular lack of sleep can cause all sorts of physical and mental issues. Your brain may need more sleep than before. If you cannot sleep at night experiment with other sleep patterns: try two sleeps – early night and early morning (which was standard in medieval Europe), sleep late afternoons or mid morning, or a series of shorter naps during the day, or for a couple of hours at lunchtime (like some Japanese offices) – you just have to findm something that works and change your life around the new schedule.
  7. If possible, reduce stress in your life if you can (if you cannot do so immediately create a longer term plan over a defined timescale).
  8. Identify the ‘triggers’ that cause episodes or that cause certain emotional swings (fear/anger/depression/hyper activity/excitement/anxiety) and try to avoid these triggers if possible or plan to mitigate the emotions after (for instance, a long drive, noisy environment, or stressful day will trigger a depression ‘hangover’ the next day, so I try to plan a quiet day afterwards if I know these things are coming along).
  9. Contingency plan: If you cannot plan ahead, then make contingency plans for when these your mental health issue ‘kicks in’, e.g.:
    1. If I feel hopless, I will phone friend XXXX (be specific who, and agree with them before-hand),
    2. If i wake up in a ‘black’ mood, I will go for a run etc,
    3. If I feel angry, I will walk away, go for a walk, remove myself from the situation,
    4. If I get really stressed/confused I will call for a break/timeout, etc.
  10. Finally, Monitor your moods: Even depression has different aspects/flavours and intensities – I might feel distracted, anxious, hopeless, angry, stressed, exhausted or just ‘a blanket blackness’. If you can identify your exact feelings, you have a better chance of managing/mitigating them. Monitor the intensity: Is it a black day, red, amber, or green day? Yes, some days will be better than others. I monitor my moods on a phone app, together with my sleep patterns and exercise. And I use the following colour code: Green = OK, Amber=bad but I can cope on my own, Red=A bad day, when I should use some of my contingency plans, Black=a really bad day – phone in sick, take a duvet day, potter round the house, sleep all day, watch TV – it will pass. Too many black days in a row – book an appointment with my doctor.

Look after yourself,


A Dystopian steampunk Author

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