Creating Conflict

By VM Sawh

Your Resident Gentleman Ninja Moderator

All stories thrive on conflict. It is as inherent to our human nature as breathing. From the earliest days of cavemen to the latest headline, all of the stories we’ve told each other in human history have been rooted in conflict. Without it, we have nothing to overcome and nothing to strive for. War is the pursuit of (the resolution to?) conflict. Peace is the absence of, or result of an applied solution to - conflict.  Without conflict, you have a soma-based story - a memoir or a recollection of a series of memories or a transcription of a scene. Your book becomes a silent movie without a plot. Hell, the best memoirs are about people overcoming a truck-load of adversity, which usually involves a lot of conflict. All of our great movements in history, be they based on  Civil Rights, Suffrage, Liberation, Resistance, Occupation or Conquest involve opposing forces. Now this isn’t to say that your moving recollection of your grandmother’s life need be embellished with chair-and-cane gladiator matches from her last days in Restful Pines Retirement, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that even sweet old Nana had a throw-down or two back when she was a younger woman.

Not convinced?

Well sure you might protest and assert that she was never the type to lay a smackdown on any a hood rat who disrespected her. No, she was better than that, you proclaim. But this does Nana a disservice, because some types of conflict can be fought over glances, words and facial expressions. Depending on the scenario, there are times when a raised eyebrow can be as devastating as a hook to the jaw. Just ask the folks from Downtown Abbey.


Conflict Type #1: Character Against Nature


Pop quiz:

Do you know who this famous literary character is?



How about his modern day equivalent?

The first is Robinson Crusoe, the latter interpretation is Tom Hanks in Cast Away. Read the former if you’d like to learn how to build log cabins and/or need a sleep aid; watch the latter if you’d like to see Tom Hanks scream at a volleyball.

The point is, in both cases there’s not much in the way of conflict between characters in either story (save for some cannibals in Crusoe), instead both choosing to explore their main characters through conflict with their environment.  Crusoe reflects the colonial mentality of Mastery Over All, a common theme of the time the book was written, whereas Hanks’ Chuck Noland struggles to achieve the basics of survival and his sanity suffers as a result. While both men were represented as being quite capable prior to their ordeals, each story reveals something about their mettle and their levels of adaptability which not only is reflective of who they are, but are also reflective of who we are as an audience. Think about it. Would today’s audience likely identify with a modern day Robinson Crusoe - a man whose sense of mastery allows him to herd goats, collect a parrot, build shelters, fight off cannibals and rescue a man-servant (don’t get me started) OR a portly, hard-working middle-manager for a large corporation?

The themes and conflicts are essentially the same, but the execution and what they mean for both the character and the reader are inherently different. So having your character struggle with their environmental hardship (common in Western, Frontier and even Science Fiction) can be a great way of revealing character through conflict.

For example, will your character rise or crumble under pressure? Will they personify their adversarial environment by giving it a name (ie. the Schiaparelli crater from Andy Weir’s The Martian) or giving themself a new name to face it (ie. Alexander Supertramp, the nom de guerre of Jon Kakauer’s protagonist in Into the Wild). In both instances, the men adapted differently to their circumstances. The titular martian, Mark Watney, stranded astronaut faces this external challenge by making nerdy math jokes and trying to science his way out of every problem he faces. Alexander Supertramp, on the other hand seemed entirely unprepared for the journey he willingly embarked on and eventually succumbed to his lack of knowledge.

We see these types of adventure stories in movies as well, such as The Grey and The Revenant, which are Liam Neeson vs wolves and Leonardo Dicaprio vs bear respectively. If you’ve seen these films then you understand that the central point about these types of narratives are not about what it takes to survive the wilderness. You could write a tense life-and-death story about a marine vs a raccoon and make it work as long as the story reveals something about the characters.

So put your characters in a tough spot. Take away their resources, take away their crutches, be they mental, physical or emotional. Now see how they react. If the reactions don’t change, then maybe you need to retool your characters.


Conflict Type #2: Character Against Society

Welcome all ye freaks, rebels, deviants and disaffected teenagers, this here be the conflict for you. Take a gander at the latest YA shelves and you’ll see some variant of  “_____-aged troubled teen discovers she is the ______ kind of _________ in the world who doesn’t understand her. She must navigate this treacherous (Canadian spelling, bite me) situation with the help of the mysterious hunky  ______ Mc________face who may or may not be interested in her. Too bad, she’ll never notice the real affections of her best friend __________, who is also interested in her. Can she learn how to use her ________ powers and escape the clutches of the Evil Adult Society before it’s too late?”

It’s a formula for a reason. The reason is that it works. It works because for many adolescents, navigating their changing physical capabilities and sexual entanglements, this is precisely what it feels like. The world is against them. Nobody understands, least of all the irritating, all-powerful people in charge and only they, the protagonist, really has it all figured out.  Stories with totalitarian societies and rebellious main characters give teens and those who love YA fiction an outlet for this kind of counterculture thinking, because this is how the world feels.

This also has roots in many classic fiction stories such as George Orwell’s 1984, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and in modern-day stories such as The Hunger Games, The Giver, or Divergent. An important quality of this type of conflict is to determine how your character will a) interact with their dystopia and b) change or be changed by it. In all of these cases, our main character challenges the norms of their society. In most cases, they are successful in either breaking free from or breaking down the structures of control that dominate said society and usher in a new era.


This type of phenomenon is not limited to YA or teen fiction however, as adult fiction is littered with this kind of conflict where the main character rebels against a society that confines or constrains them. The novel Fight Club by Chuck Pahalniuk deals with this outsider status in a very interesting way, by having the protagonist start out in a conflict with vapid modernity & society which he cannot resolve, so he creates another character/persona who can make the changes he can’t and inadvertently creates his own antagonist in the process.


Similarly, in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the world is a vast, harsh and cruel place, wherein the environment has created a new kind of society (or lack thereof) where people prey on each other.  Our main character is not only a man fighting for his and his son’s literal survival against the elements but their morality also makes them outsiders to their now-barbaric world.  Both the environment and the resulting society and the characters’ contrast to it, tell the reader something about who they are. This is another way you can combine both Against Nature and Against Society conflicts directly into your fiction.


If you are considering this type of conflict to drive your story, you should ensure that both your society and your character who’s opposed to it are very sharply defined. It is not enough to say that the society is totalitarian or lazy or entitled or militaristic, you must provide concrete examples to prove this is the case which should be in strong contrast to either the reader’s presumed daily life or the protagonist’s thoughts/feelings in order to get the message across. By this I mean if you want to say that the society has such poor resources that coffee is strictly regulated, then you can illustrate this by having the character have to pay their coffee-maker with a credit card to receive their morning shot of espresso. I know for some writers, that, at the very least would represent a dystopia.

Don’t think that you have to limit yourself to any one of these conflicts in order to make your story work. You can mix and match them up, as long as you have sufficient weight and reasoning in your narrative to justify transitional conflicts.


Conflict Type #3: Character Against Self

Next we come to the artists, the louts, the drinkers, boozers, gamblers, addicts and all-around deadbeats of the world. If you want the clearest example of what this kind of character conflict is, take a look at perhaps one of the original examples below:

If you guessed one Dorian Gray, you’d be correct.  In Oscar Wilde’s protagonist is a libertine pursuing the life of varied & amoral experiences. His body and his mind remain unmarked by his escapades because the weight of his actions is marked not upon his soul, but upon his portrait. For Dorian, not having to look at his decaying reflection in the portrait means never having to face the true consequences of his actions, either on himself or on others. He is in effect, running from his own conscience. Thus he remains ageless and for all intents and purposes, immortal. But, like a fly trapped in amber, Dorian does not grow or change upon consideration of his life, because he does not consider his, nor anyone else’s life.

Characters who are in conflict with themselves, be it through action or inaction, doubt, guilt, self-loathing, self-flagellation, self-aggrandizement or any other type of psychological short-circuitry, lack the ability to cope with their issues in any kind of healthy way. And this, dear reader, creates conflict. Not only with themselves, although that is the central tenant, but with everyone they encounter.

To put it another way, let’s take a look at a popular comic & movie character you can find adorning movie screens and children’s pillowcases: The Hulk. Sure he’s a big green ball of muscles that likes to smash things, but the man behind it all, Bruce Banner is a tortured soul because he literally loses all control of himself whenever his adrenaline spikes. Think of the psychological chains that places on his mental and emotional responses to situations. He cannot allow himself to have the normal range of emotional responses to stimuli, be it excitement, irritation, anger or lust. Take a look at his expression in the image on the right. This is right after the scene where he has succumbed to an artificially-induced loss of control wherein he destroyed a city, causing thousands of dollars in damage, inflicted terror on the innocent civilians and nearly killed his friend Tony.

What emotions do you think this kind of character would be feeling in a moment like this? Given what we know about him and how conflicted he is, what sorts of feelings wouldn’t he allow himself to feel?

The answer to the latter question is critical to how he handles other developments, such as a romantic connection to his team-mate Natasha.

She broaches the subject with empathy, describing herself as a monster as well due to her upbringing as an amoral assassin, suggesting that perhaps they could find comfort in each other.

Bruce wants it, he wants her, as not only is she an attractive, available woman who is clearly putting herself out there for him, but she also accepts his internal conflict and the destructive physical and emotional consequences thereof. But this conflict, this war fueled by Bruce’s fear of the Hulk and the cost of Hulk’s rampages, forces Bruce to turn away from the type of love and connection he desperately wants. Thus, one internal conflict impacts his emotions, his interactions and decisions and in turn, creates a secondary internal conflict when it affects his ability to meet his own needs.

Don’t be afraid to let your character’s internal conflicts spiral outward, affecting their interactions with other people, creating more conflicts.


Internal conflict isn’t a single raindrop, it’s the beginning of a rainstorm.


Conflict Type #4: Character Against Others

If you’re looking for a how-to for writing a hands-on type of conflict between characters, stroll on over to the Write-A-Fight article and enjoy the fisticuffs.

For this type of conflict, I thought we might take a different approach and look at how to create tension between characters who have opposing philosophies or worldviews. Some of the best interpersonal dynamics in stories are born from two things: similarities and differences. It’s an old adage that the person we despise the most often represents or displays a trait we dislike about ourselves. Likewise, great opponents can and do recognize the similarities in one another even while they may be on opposite sides. How often have you seen or read the sentiment “... would that we had met under different circumstances, we might have been friends…”? This is a signifier that the characters see something in one another that they could respect.

In the case of two famous characters like Sherlock Holmes and Professor James Moriarty, one is a bohemian master detective of unquestionable intelligence and the other is an amoral intellectual criminal with a ruthless streak. Their conflict is not merely one of policeman vs evil-doer; Holmes’s entire M.O. is about exposing the truth and reveling in the deductive process, whereas Moriarty would rather his puppeteering be incognito - his is more shadowplay. As such that aspect of their personalities is diametrically opposed, which would naturally bring out conflict in any scenario where they are required to play to their strengths.. Imagine getting these two to have a game of CLUE together...

Below is a quote courtesy of

Both men would be considered geniuses, but they engage in pursuits on the opposite sides of the law. They share an arrogant streak as well, as Holmes derives pleasure from the fact that police require his expertise to solve cases, whereas Moriarty’s ego is stroked through his success at manipulating the criminal underworld to do his bidding. Take a look at the clip from Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows below, wherein their similar mental philosophies translate down to hand-to-hand combat. Being evenly matched, the lengths they go to to prove their superiority lead to their mutual destruction.

Great nemeses are constructed as reflections of the hero. Taking the opposite path can yield some interesting results in terms of character construction. The key is not to make either one a caricature. Your villain or antagonist doesn’t need to be Snidely Whiplash, tying maidens to train tracks in order to be effective.

Another example of this would be the story of dueling magicians from the film The Prestige. Its story follows Robert Angier and Alfred Borden, rival stage magicians in 19th century London. Obsessed with capturing the crowd by creating the best stage illusion, they compete against one another in a dangerous game of one-upmanship that has tragic results. For those of you familiar with this film, I want you to think back to how the rivals are depicted.

Borden, played by Christian Bale, is talented at the craft of magic and demonstrates absolute dedication to his performance. However, he lacks the critical component of showmanship, leaving his audience underwhelmed. His drive and focus alienates his wife and child.

Angier, played by Hugh Jackman, is similarly talented and absolutely dedicated to the perfection of his craft. While possessing a greater natural showmanship, he is undercut by a lack of originality and inventiveness - Borden can see tricks and methods that he cannot.

While these two men literally have the same pursuit and occasionally overlapping love interests, they inevitably come into conflict with each other because their philosophies or approaches to their craft are different - rooted in the personalities of each man. While Borden could be considered single-minded in his search for the ‘world’s greatest magic trick’, Angier is content to have a bigger crowd and the pretty girl. When the latter is taken from him in a stage accident involving Borden, Angier’s dedication turns to rivalry. Since due to circumstances beyond his control he cannot prove Borden’s guilt, he gradually grows more and more obsessed with beating Borden at his own game, namely by learning how he does his best tricks. Not content to simply outperform the more unrefined magician, Angier’s need to be the undisputed star causes him to sabotage his own relationships in attempts to plant spies in Borden’s employ. As things spiral out of control, Borden retaliates, giving Angier a limp, while the flashier magician responds by burying one of Borden’s loved ones alive. Angier’s need to crush Borden causes him to go to unheard-of lengths, contacting one Nikola Tesla to build him a machine that would perform feats of science that were indistinguishable from real magic, but at great cost. Now were Borden in his position, he may have made a different choice, choosing not to murder his double over and over again. But Angier, being as obsessed as he is, and as selfish as he is, decides to go ahead with the dangerous machine in the hopes of luring Borden out into a fatal confrontation.

What I want you to see is that it is their mental states, their philosophies that bring these two men into conflict with each other. Had they been car salesmen or florists or softball coaches, their story would have had a similar trajectory (in general, not the details).

When you are creating your antagonists or other characters with whom your main character must come into conflict with, consider the variables in the examples above and make them as similar and as different to your star as you can.


Conflict Type #5: Character Against the Reader

Now we come to the final and potentially the most complex of all the conflicts you can write. No, I don’t mean Game of Thrones., because seriously what the hell is going on with that series - are there like 195 characters?

The conflict is you vs remembering who the hell that guy even is.

The conflict is you vs remembering who the hell that guy even is.

Here is where you really get to take some risks with your characters and their decisions. Depending on the story and its genre, you may have some leeway in terms of readers’ expectations with regard to what they’d accept. You can have some characters make controversial or even downright despicable decisions (looking at you Cersei) and yet still somehow make them either relatable or even likeable (Jaime for reasons unknown).

Let’s take the hold-your-nose-level-of-ick that is Jaime and Cersei’s relationship on that show. Sure incest is gross, but it’s included in the narrative as part of each character’s relationship map and there are many scenes they share together with deal with this repulsive subject matter.  Assume that 99.9% (fill in your own joke about the other 0.1%) of readers will object to this relationship on a variety of moral grounds. If the story is told compellingly enough, that moral objection will go out the window and they will keep reading. Think about it: How books, tv shows and movies can you think of, off the top of your head, where the main character(s) were repugnant or controversial in some way?

Stop when you get to a dozen.

Why does this sell? Because people want to be challenged, unless we’re talking politics. People pick up books to feel things, to tap into deeper emotions, to scratch that proverbial rainbow of feelings and see what they can sniff. Otherwise, what’s the point? All media is meant for consumption, which is why we write books. Even now, there’s a new television show being prepped about if slavery in the Southern U.S.  had continued to present day. There’s the shock and titillation factor, and there’s also the curiosity factor. Readers do sometimes like knowing something the main character does not. This applies to those main characters who have committed a crime or done something horrible deserving of retribution. Whether the character is contrite or not, readers do expect something karmic to happen in order to restore their sense of justice in the world. Or confirm their cynical sense of injustice in the world. Either way, they’re on board.

Sometimes the journey can be painful. William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice is a good example of this. It tells the story of a Polish Catholic woman named Sophie interned in Auschwitz, who over the course of the narrative is forced to choose which one of her children would be killed by Nazis and which would be spared. For any parent, this represents an impossible choice, but Sophie does choose. Those who would have made a different choice or none at all would immediately disagree with Sophie, but would still keep reading, because they’d want to know the effects of that choice because they’d invested in the character of Sophie.

Another technique you can use is one of the Unreliable Narrator - where the reader is sure that the voice telling the story is not exactly telling the truth as it happened. They could be intentionally or unintentionally obscuring the truth.  This puts the reader in conflict with the words on the page, as they know the person telling the story might literally be lying to them with every word. It forces the reader to work more to learn what’s real and what’s not. While it can invest them more with the story, it can sometimes backfire if the reveal is handled too late, making the investment the reader has made throughout the book moot.

You, as the author, have that choice. It’s ultimately up to you how that story goes and what risks you’re willing to take to keep the reader’s attention.

This brings us to the end of this article. While not exhaustive, I hope you’ve found it helpful and hope that it’s made you think about what kinds of conflict you want to include in your next work.

We appreciate your feedback, so feel free to leave a comment below and tell us what you think!


World Building With Character

By CB Archer

Pluck! That sound was the sound of a fictional world you once experienced pulling on your heart strings. We have all experienced that magical feeling at one point: A fictional world that was so wonderful and perfect for the story that it wrapped everything into something so beautiful that you couldn’t even express it with words. It was magic, pure and simple. You cared about the setting because the world felt like its own character. That is because (mind blowing moment coming up here) it was one!

Hi there, CB Archer here, and I am (hopefully) going to help you breathe life into the character of your world by sharing some of the ways that I do that!

Step One: Getting Excited

It is time to get excited about world building! This is my favourite step and for good reason. It can be metric tonnes of fun to think up a world. This is the stage for hastily drawn maps on restaurant napkins, for lists of things that you want to try to incorporate, and for 2:00am notes written to yourself when you snapped awake that you cannot for the life of you understand what they say come the morning.

Even if you are thinking of a setting that is modern day it is still great to explore what you want the world to be because it is exciting to do. (just look at the name for Step One, it has excited right in the name)!

Step One, at least for me, is brief. A few fun frantic days of excitement before buckling down to later steps. You can take as long as you wish.

Personally I try to stay excited for the entire process, because Step Two is just as exciting as this one, if not even more!

Step Two: Notes and Research

See! I told you this was going to stay exciting! Who doesn’t like taking notes and doing researching? Okay, not everyone does, but this step is important. If your book is set on Earth, it is a good idea to research the Earth and see what it is like. If your story is set in the world of cutthroat cooking battles to the death (as many stories are) it is helpful to know how to make a soufflé. If your book is set in Chicago in 1934 it is important to know what kind of cars were there at the time before your main character jumps into one.

Research is a great stepping stone to step three, and for me a constant through the entire process.

Step Three: World Building

Now we are getting into the gooey chocolate heart of the murder soufflé! In order to make your world believable you must know it, inside and out. While some aspects of the world will naturally develop over the course of writing, knowing a lot before you start can help make your world more believable and gripping.

Fleshing out all aspects of the setting will help you in the long run. If you know the history of the world, the regions, the religions, and the ways people interact with each other then you can weave that into your story and make it more cohesive.

There is a lot to consider at this stage. Here are a few ideas to get you started and why they can help.

  • World History: What happened in the past that would be remembered and how can you use that to build up the setting? Perhaps there was a great war that caused many refugees and a character can use that to reflect on their experiences.
  • World Events: Was your world rocked with a cataclysmic event that almost destroyed it? The inhabitants might have adopted new curse words because of it. Flood might be the new ‘F’ word of your world.
  • World Politics: Who the leaders of the world are can change how people act in it. Who is friends with who, who will do what to change it?
  • World Laws: This is more than the legal laws. This can be the use of technology, the rules of magic, the reason why people can no longer use forks to eat. The possibilities are endless!
  • World Figures: Did your greatest pop-star have a nip-slip fiasco at the Onyx Awards? You can bet people are talking about it in the background.
  • World Solar Systems: (Yes, this is getting pretty out there) Did you know that most plants are green because it is the most efficient colour for absorbing light with a yellow sun on a planet with our atmosphere? (You do know!) There are planets out there with plants that have healthy orange leaves! (Suck it autumn!)

Is important to remember that while a lot of world building is helpful to an author, it can be less helpful to a reader. The temptation to throw out a lot of information to the reader right out of the gate is real. You got excited over building the world, they would like this stuff too, right? They do, but you don’t need to share everything and it is a good idea to not do it all at once. This feeds into the final step.

Step Four: The World as a Character

Your world is a character in itself and it is important to treat them like one. You wouldn’t have a single character take over the story for twenty pages to explain how to make soufflé soup, so letting your world do this to explain the Soufflé Wars makes less sense.

The world should interact with the characters to make both of them shine at the same time. Your main character should interrupt the soufflé tutorial with a reason as to why they can’t hear about soufflés without crying (it was because of the Soufflé Wars we just talked about). This interaction of character with the history links your character more strongly to the world you have created than a page of explanation about the Soufflé Wars ever could have.

The reader doesn’t need to know what happened in the Soufflé Wars right off the get go, but you do. You can slowly pepper the information into the story as it progresses with the characters, at the times where it is needed to really hit the heartstrings.

When your character is hurting is when you allow your world to tell the reader what happened to them in the Soufflé Wars.

When your character is hanging from the cliff is when you allow your world to tell the reader about the razor sharp rocks below.

When your world is sparkling with life because of the Fireworks Festival on Soufflé Memorial Day is when you allow your characters to sparkle with it.

Love building your world and it will love you back.

The Image You See

By Riley Amos Westbrook

I love world building: the stage at which you create literally everything about your world. Magic, religions, realism, everything down to the length of shoelaces if you want to delve that far. All of them are on the table at this stage, and all offer their own benefit.  

In this article I’m going to talk about different aspects of world building, and try to offer some examples from my own experiences.

The image you see

I tend to “watch” the books I write, like a movie in my head. In truth, the hardest part of writing to me is translating the image in my head to words. However, the more in depth you go, the better you paint the scene for your readers to enjoy.

You need to be careful though, as going too far in depth can pull your readers away from the story.

I was talking to my mother the other day about this very subject. She was reading a detective novel that she was really enjoying. Great pacing, fun and realistic characters - almost the perfect book. The thing that detracted from the score? How in depth the author went about painting the environment. They worked so hard at putting you in the moment that it just didn't work. Here’s where I think authors who have art of their works get an advantage.

Missy, for example, has a rich and vibrant world full of magic and fairies. She does a wonderful job of describing just enough to let your imagination fill in the blanks. However, if her readers struggle, she has pictures and paintings she can show them. Then they have a direct glimpse into her mind.

Dancing the line between too much description and too little is a challenge for every author, but there are steps you can take to prevent it. I tend to ask myself two questions:

  • Does it further the plot?
  • Is it important for my readers to know this?

If the answer is no to either of those questions, then I ignore the idea. 


I tend to start with Gods for my worlds, I don't know why, it just seems to help with my story making process. Establishing an order of worship, even if that worship is nothing, makes some decisions easier with my characters.

First things first, you need to decide if you want Gods in your book. Even if your story is an atheistic world where everyone believes God is a sham, or they don't even have a concept of Gods, you can’t skip this step. Whether or not your characters speak to a higher power can shape just about everything on your world.

Just look at our real life examples with religions that teach peace and love having zealots that can cause massive amounts of damage. Those same people can band together to affect immense changes for good in the world. 

Monotheistic versus polytheistic is the next decision. An all powerful singular God, or many Gods with wide and varied powers? Are you the God? If it's an atheistic world, is God dead?

I tend to focus on worlds with many Gods. I feel it adds variety and helps to make characters easier to differentiate. Even though I don't mention Gods in my stories much at all, how I shape this aspect of a character/world completely changes how I write it. I have to consider their actions in connection with their fate, and adjust the story accordingly.

Cities and population centers

Another aspect of world building that can affect a wide range of plot points. The larger your setting the louder the environment of your character will be. In Breath Of The Titans I needed to make the different areas have another level of sound that separated the different areas. It wasn't something I really considered until I started writing the story.

For instance, a large city is going to be much louder than the towns. A hive of underground insects will sound different than a city above ground.

When I wrote Everyone Dies At The End, I had to consider what zombies would sound like. I needed to include shuffling steps and groans, the way their rotting skin smelled putrid, and how they spread the disease gave sights and sounds of more disgust. I admit, I made this choice from the start as I built the world.

And it isn't just noise; it's every sense.  Smell, taste, touch, all can be affected differently by the environment.

A bakery in town is going to add a lot of great smells and noise, and a forge is going to do the same, but the sights and smells they create are nothing alike. (*Note From Ann: If you've ever driven into downtown Kansas City, MO, you immediately know that The Roasterie is there as you can smell the coffee beans from inside your car - even with your windows rolled up!)

The businesses you fill your population centers with will give you little sounds to fill the air with. Remember to consider these things when you are writing, to better draw in your readers.

Foreshadowing and prophecy

If you are going to include prophecy or foreshadowing it is best to start it early. If you build your prophecy/foreshadowing directly into the world it becomes much easier to share with your readers.

I’ve helped Christina McMullen with a few projects, and she does an excellent job of this. As she creates her characters and the world around them, she melds her character creation and world building to shape her story. I won’t ruin the story, but you can see what I’m talking about if you read A Space Girl From Earth.

Shaping reality

Building a world from the ground up means you can bring anything into existence. You aren't limited by anything other than your imagination, which is probably why I love doing it.

G.G. did a great job of this with her legacy series. She took some of your usual tropes, and twisted them around to fit her narrative. She didn't force it, but she guided it with great skill.

In conclusion, don’t be afraid to world build. Revel in it, love it, and learn how to best use it to shape the story you want to tell. One word at a time.

SIA Tutorials: Crafting Characters with V.M. Sawh

One of the main things we as writers do is get our audience to invest in our story through the use of character. While a cover, blurb, concept and reader interest are all necessary concepts to get our readers interested, if said reader cannot connect or invest in our characters, then the story will not work. Conversely, if the characters are interesting or compelling enough, then readers are able to overlook story elements that they might not like.

Think of the last good book you read. Chances are, there was at least one character that you latched on to. This may not have been the Main Character per se - and it’s worth examining why if it wasn’t the lead that caught your attention - but rather the character that you found most compelling. What moves a reader is a whole host of factors including their own personal history and ideas.

However, there is a difference between having a flat vs rounded character, namely that the latter has a much greater chance of connecting with your reader. Not only that, but rounded characters are more likely to gain your reader’s respect, even if they don’t like them.

For example, Tom Ripley  from The Talented Mr. Ripley is a fascinating, but thoroughly unlikeable character. Over the course of the book, the reader comes to know him quite well. The case is similar with a Patrick Bateman from American Psycho - another completely despicable character, but one who is nonetheless fascinating to read about.

One of the ways you can make your characters more interesting and most importantly, more than just caricatures, is to give them clear, definable strengths, weaknesses and quirks. Another way to add layers to a character  is outline each character’s motivation. Finally, you can gain great insight into your own creations if you chart their journey from the beginning of the book to the end.

Step 1: The 3rd Dimension

Let’s take a look at an example. I’m going to use one of the most famous characters in all of film history - because literally everyone should be familiar with who Luke Skywalker is. If, for some reason, you aren’t - then get out.


At the beginning of Star Wars, Luke is a demonstrably good pilot, a trusting, confident young man who’s adept at fixing old machinery (in this case, our loveable trashcan R2D2). He’s also loyal to his Obi-Wan, brave and willing to risk his life for his friends. He also displays a spunky, can-do attitude and a fearlessness that lets him jump into an X-Wing fighter and join the Rebel Army’s run on Death Star without any real training. He is also the most compassionate of all the characters in the first movie, as he displays real emotion to the death of his family and eventually, Obi-Wan himself.


Luke is almost annoyingly whiny - he complains all the time - has little-to-no street smarts and gets flustered when the situation is out of his control. When he meets Han Solo, the older scruffy nerf herder instantly takes charge and in essence, exposes Luke for the farm boy he is. He is unable to get anyone to really listen to him, can barely hold a lightsaber and needs R2D2 to watch his back while he pilots his X-Wing.  

Eventually, his fearlessness turns to recklessness and causes him to lose a hand to Daddy Darth Vader, but that’s a story for another time. See kids? You can totally plant seeds that pay off in future installments if you write a series!


Being fresh off the farm, but possessing of a connection to The Force, Luke is able to tap into this great cosmic power to pull off his one-in-a-million shot into the exhaust vents of the Death Star. His comical fascination with Princess Leia lends him an easy-going charm, as what young man hasn’t been taken aback by a pretty (NOT YOUR SISTER, DUDE!) face? His fresh-faced morality is neither a strength nor a weakness, but it does place him in stark contrast to the harder edged characters, Leia and Solo.

Step 2: Motivation

Actors will often ask “What’s my motivation?” so they can apply that knowledge to the context of the scene they’re in. Your characters should be asking the same question. A sign of poor storytelling is when the next step in the plot unfolds simply because it has to. The best stories have your characters directly (or indirectly) instigating the progression due to the pursuit of their goals.

For this section, let’s take a look at another character in the Star Wars universe - Vader. Why? Simply because it is Vader’s motivation that has the biggest impact on the entire series of films, books and associated apocrypha. Plus, villains can be the ones motivating your plot, and they tend to MUAHAHA their way through explaining their reasons why.

Not that your villains have to do that. Make them as well-rounded as your protagonist and you’ll be ahead of the game.

What Do They Want?

So, what does the big guy want anyway? Other than a hug and maybe a big basket of kittens?

The destruction of the Rebel Alliance of course! He wants the Imperial Empire to rule the galaxy, he wants to serve his Emperor and he wants to use the Death Star to crush anyone who stands  in his way.

As far as motivations go, that’s pretty clear. Now - let’s say your villain is not the Face-mask-and-Cape-wearing type, how do you go about spelling out their motivations to your reader?

First off, you have to know what drives your character on a Macro level and what drives them on a Micro level. The Macro level is their overall goal, so from beginning to end, what is it about this character that makes them do what they do? The Micro level is what drives them from scene-to-scene. What’s important to remember that a character’s Macro motivation should stay more or less the same whereas their Micro motivation can change as the story progresses. Every action that character takes should be informed by their Strengths, Weaknesses & Quirks, serve their Micro motivation, which then serves their Macro motivation.

When Do They Want It?

Timing in storytelling is critical. There’s a reason why most stories don’t involve a quest that can happen next year. If what your character wants isn’t something that can be addressed by the story, then you need to change it. Mind you, side characters can have motivations and desired that are never addressed, but your main characters need to want something and it needs to be something immediate, whether that’s a Micro or Macro motivation.

Think of it like this. Yours truly is a true Muscle Car fan. There’s nothing I want more (okay, World Peace + SMILEY FACE + Wave to the crowd), but that’s a Macro motivation for me. Right now, I want a donut.

So, you are writing a story about a character who wants a muscle car (and it’s about the trials and tribulations of how they get one), but the first scene is driven (ha!) by that character’s want/love/desire/NEED for a donut (with sprinkles!), then you have a Micro motivation that gets your story going, tells the reader something about the character and gives them a point of entry emotionally where they can identify with that person. You can expand on this by having them dream about what colour (yes colour, I’m Canadian*) they’d want the car be while they eat the donut. Then you can introduce more characters into the scene, or have a meteor drop on the donut shop - whatever works for you. The point is, the character needs to want something, whether that’s a particular thing or an action or a conversation with someone specific, for each and every scene. Build progression into the scenes as each Micro motivation is fulfilled (or denied) to create the journey towards that Macro goal.

*P.S. Canada is a deserted frozen wasteland suffering from a critical shortage of donuts and muscle cars. Please send both.

What Are They Willing To Do To Get It?

Now you need to decide how your characters are able to influence or be influenced by the Plot (you know, those things Literary Bestsellers don’t have - I kid, I kid!) in order to achieve their goals. This is where completing Step 1 really comes in handy. You, as the writer, need to very intimately aware of what each of your characters is capable of.

We know that Leia is willing to lie to Darth Vader’s face(mask) in order to keep the plans safe. We know that Vader is willing to BLOW UP A PLANET in order to punish her for not giving him the plans. He’s also willing to force choke people who annoy him, reminding us all why we love him and why WE SHOULD NEVER HAVE THAT POWER.

What your character is willing to do to achieve their goals says a lot about them. Heros generally don’t sacrifice innocents, villains do, whereas anti-heros are indifferent.  Sometimes you can wring out great drama from having a character go beyond their defined limits and do something great/terrible BUT this must be treated with the appropriate attention and acknowledgement, otherwise it just looks like your characters are inconsistent.

For example - Rick from The Walking Dead starts off very noble, but over the seasons, has done some pretty crazy things. Has his character been compromised or is it growth? Has the achievement of each of his Micro goals/motivations (survive current horrible situation) changed his Macro goal (rebuild society)?

Step 3: The Hero’s Journey


Now we need to combine what we’ve formulated about our characters and put it into action. How does VeryMuchMe progress from eating a donut at a mechanic’s shop (yes that’s where he went) and dreaming about a car, to actually fulfilling that goal? You’d need to give him a good mix of strengths, weaknesses & quirks to round him out, but this doesn’t all need to happen at the beginning of your story. These dimensions can be revealed as the story goes along, you just need to give your reader enough of a sketch of who this person is in order for them to invest in the journey.

The thing to know is which qualities and motivations to reveal up-front and decide what would be revealed as the story went along. The last thing you want to do is be revealing critical information about your protagonist, or antagonist at the very last minute. Sure, you can say there’s something to be gained from the surprise ie. Bruce Willis was dead the whole time?, however readers can feel cheated if the character displays unforeseen qualities that just happened to get them out of a jamb at the right moment. This can be seen in stories where the main character is a Mary Sue (an idealized projection of the author).

There is also the danger of making your character too good at everything, which removes the suspense from the proceedings. There’s no challenge in seeing Superman beat up bank robbers, so that’s why Kryptonite was invented. Likewise, seeing Rey from Force Awakens combine the skills and abilities of Luke, Leia and Han with no training strains credibility, which can annoy your reader.


Your character should progress, achieving Micro goals along the way, perhaps revealing or building on skills, abilities and traits previously mentioned.

But what if my character stays the same throughout the book?

Then you need to ensure that this staticness is not merely flat, that the actions they take influence the world and the people around them, progressing the story and the other character’s journeys. If nothing this character does matters at all - then why are they in the story?


This brings us to the end, the conclusion, the climax, the denouement, the big kapow, the Death Star blows up and everybody goes home. This is the point where your character should achieve some sort of resolution of their Macro goal. Not to say that they necessarily need to accomplish said goal - after all, Vader got his ass kicked out into space, so he didn’t get his revenge until Episode 2. That being said, Luke got to feel The Force, Leia got to organize the attack on the Death Star, Han got to his payment, but also some redemption for being such a selfish rogue and Chewie presumably got fireplace and a nice glass of wine, possibly a tummy rub.

Not everyone has to get what they wanted, some characters can and should display their growth in how they deal with not achieving their goals. But to go more in-depth on that, we need to take a look at The Empire Strikes Back!

That’s all for now, keep writing and keep crafting!

Yours Truly,

V.M. Sawh

Mods and Writer's Block

If I had to wager a guess, I'd say that many, if not most, of you had heard of Writer's Block long before you even knew you wanted to be a writer. It's such a well known concept that one has to wonder whether it really exists or if it only exists because we're led to believe that it does. 

Philosophical debates aside, it's all too easy to blame our writing struggles on the renowned Writer's Block. In this issue of the Support Indie Authors Newsletter, we'd like to address a few tips and tricks to keep ourselves from falling prey to this struggle. 

But to start us out, a few of the Mods here at Support Indie Authors have penned a few lines on what their version of Writer's Block looks like and how they combat it. 

There are a million different things I do to work through writer’s block, everything from walking away from the project to sitting and meditating at my desk. I believe there is no cure all for writer’s block, and if you try to force it, you only compound the problem.

Some people loosen up when they take a shot, some when they smoke a bowl, or whatever your poison is. The point is to find a way to relieve your stress in a positive way.
— Riley Amos Westbrook
I have a different approach to writer’s block. Because, let’s face it. The problem isn’t the lack of imagination. It isn’t the staring at the blank page not able to type one word either. It’s the fighting with a stubborn character that will not bend to our will.

How many times have you tried to push your story in one direction but there you are, sitting on your chair with your hands on the keyboard, but all you do is type a word or two and scratch them. Have you ever considered that maybe—just maybe—your character doesn’t want to go that way?

As authors, we aim to give life to our characters and yet when they rebel and don’t listen, what do we do? We waste our energy trying to mold them to our stories. After all, we are the authors, aren’t we? I will not argue with that; however, you have to remember that we are writing their stories. We’re talking about their lives. Who are we to control their every move?

I have learned that if I give them a little bit of leeway, it makes things a whole lot easier for me. As long as they go from A to Z, I don’t care if they want to skip B or take a detour to D. Most of the time, it ends up being something important later in the story. So go ahead and let them play. Let them stray a bit. If you don’t like what they did, you can always edit it out once you’re done with the story. It will be too late for them to rebel.
— GG Atcheson
I’m not sure if I’ve ever suffered from “writer’s block”. Have I come to a point in a story where I’m not sure what happens next? Sure. But I’m a ‘pantser’ and I’ve come to expect this as just part of the process. That being said, what do I do when I hit one of those spots? Take a walk, watch a movie, read, anything that takes me away from staring blankly at that blinking cursor and allows my subconscious to work on it in the background. The absolute worst thing I can do is try to force it, and I can’t just write down anything and tell myself I’ll fix it later. That path leads to fixating on the problem passage, and ultimately making it worse. The most important thing is to trust in your creativity and remain confident you will get through it.
— J. Daniel Layfield
For me, writer’s block usually means that the section I’m trying to write probably needs to be reworked. So I step back, take a breather for a few days and ponder the issue in my mind until I finally figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. Trust your writing instincts is what I always tell myself. If you’ve been going strong with your story only to find yourself hitting a brick wall, it could be because something in the story or part you’re working on isn’t working out, and needs a re-think.
— Melissa A. Jensen
The hard part when writers block is dealing with their increased defense. If you have any special moves that decrease their defense, such as Armor Break, now is the time to use them.

For particularly stubborn blocking writers you could try a poison attack. Their Hit Points will slowly drain away while they do nothing but block! Foolish writers.
— CB Archer
I never have writer’s block. I have at least a dozen projects going right now of various genres, styles, etc. If I get stuck on one, I just move to another. I don’t get in a hurry to finish anything. I just work on what I’m in the mood for.
— Dwayne Fry

Regardless of how you manage your Writers Block (or lack thereof if you're one of the lucky few) just remember that it's common to feel stuck. But stressing over it will only cause the block to thicken. Take a break, play around with a short story or another project, allow your mind to clear and then try try again! 

- Ann

The 'Myth' of Writer's Block & 3 Ways to Thump It

A Tutorial by Ashley Capes

For me the idea of writer’s block is a myth.

I don’t mean that artists (not just writers) cannot find themselves struggling with motivation or with non-project related problems.

What I believe is actually false, is the idea that the BLOCK is some great, unseen, unknowable force that simply comes crashing down like a wall to stop us. We don’t forget how to use words or sentences, no force binds us to a chair in a shack deep in a jungle, no unseen thing physically stops us from writing.

For me, that’s equally unrealistic as the idea of a mystical muse that feeds the artist ideas.

Instead, I believe in the agency of the writer. And when we’re blocked, I think there could be one of two things happening from a craft viewpoint or a third thing happening from a motivational viewpoint.

So, craft!

1. We’re blocked if we’re not sure/have fooled ourselves, usually via excitement, into thinking an ‘idea’ is the same thing as a ‘story’.

2. We’re blocked if we’re working in the wrong mode, or even in the wrong percentage of a mode, ie: we are ‘plotters’ at heart trying to ‘pants’ a story or vice versa.

and not to forget Motivation:

3.  We’ve been working on this damn novel/short/poem/script for way too long and we’re sick to death of it, we’re sick of writing, we’re utterly burnt out. There’s no motivation left, there’s no joy in the task anymore. Forget it, get the thing out of my sight!

Among other possible problems out there, I feel like these three culprits might just be at play when a writer feels blocked. But it is possible to break through each of them, we’ve all done it before and we’ll do it again – it’s all part of the job, right?

Below is how I generally beat those problems:

1. Story vs Idea

I ask myself, do I have an idea or a story on my hands? That’s the most important question for fiction, I feel, when it comes to sitting down and finishing a project. Ask yourself that question in the beginning and if you can answer ‘story’ you ought to have a great chance of finishing.

Here’s why I think that’s so.

An idea is exciting and highly motivating, of course. For me, it’s the best part of writing, but the sad fact is an idea is not a story. One is a spark, the other is a complete piece of work. A story has conflict, movement and structure, a story has narrative. I’d argue an idea does not.

So, to try and illustrate my claim I’ll make up an idea and the summary of a story:


A man uncovers a golden elephant statue in his backyard.



A man uncovers a golden elephant statue in his backyard, quickly becoming obsessed with it. His wife, however, loathes elephants and cannot bear to look at it, let alone have it in their house. She casts it into a river and the man is struck with despair, leaping after it and diving for the statue every day and every night, until his wife finally leaves him.

Hopefully, despite the silliness of my idea, the difference is clear. The idea is a starting point, and the story develops it. The story introduces conflict with the wife and the man’s obsession. Further, it shows change and includes a resolution. When we’re blocked, I believe it can be because we’re so excited about an idea that we leap into it, without realising that there’s no story yet.

Related to this problem:

2. Plotting vs Pantsing (and the ratio)

Plotting might be described as the process of outlining and planning a story from beginning to end. The amount of detail which goes into this will vary, but the key point is knowing just about everything before you sit down to write.

Pantsing is usually considered the opposite, whereby you write a story without preplanning, simply discovering and creating as you write. This can be quite enjoyable for the writer, but often results in more rewriting in subsequent drafts, while outlining usually makes for quicker work but might be less interesting during the act of writing.

At a glance, it could seem that one is a safer or ‘better’ approach than the other, but I don’t believe so.

Either or even both can work wonderfully – for different people. Especially when you’re starting out as a writer, it’s best to try each operating mode and see what happens. Neither approach is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ instead it’s whether the mode is ‘suited’ or ‘not suited’ to you.

I, like many writers I suspect, am more hybrid, in that I work in both modes. Here’s where the idea of a ratio is important to me, because I outline a book with dot points, noting vital ‘high points’ and add to this character sketches and arcs, but then I ‘pants’ or ‘discover’ within the framework I set. (And within this method I can still adjust my outline if I discover a new plot point or character during the writing etc.)

Therefore I’m probably 40% planning and 60% pantsing on most projects, yet even that can change, depending on what the story demands. I find that’s the best way for me to work, because it ensures I stay motivated during the writing and that way I’m rarely blocked.

But working in a mode that someone else tells you is the ‘only way to write’ is dangerous and will probably lead hitting a wall at one point. And the way to get around this problem is simple – experiment. Learn how you as a writer actually work best, then refine the process.

Finally I’d like to share an idea in regards to:

3. Burn Out

This one is a lot tougher to combat. Especially when you’re close to a story or if you have a deadline and sometimes you’d rather vomit than work on a project for a single second longer.

But the best advice I’ve ever been given is to step away from whatever you’re writing for as long as you can – and even to work on something else while you’re having time away.

If you’ve burn out on a particular novel you’re writing, switch to different novel or a short story for a while and see what happens to your motivation when you come back to the original novel. Or, if it’s writing in general that you’ve had enough of, go play guitar for a while, break out the paints or find some friends and shoot a short film. Try another art form altogether.

This really motivates me not only because I’m having fun again, but because I get critical distance from the first project and at the same time, my mind continues to tick away on that original story, only I’m not conscious of the fact – and the subconscious can do some awesome stuff if we let it!

After all that, I usually find that when I sit down again with that first project, I’m motivated again.

Finally, maybe the burn out is so deep that you’ve lost motivation for creating altogether. To get around this, it’s recharge time. Get inspired by consuming great art, a favourite book or film, a trip to a gallery or beautiful location, do some cooking or go for a run or hit the beach – anything but creating!

When you’re finished, hopefully you’ll be ready to hit the keys once more :)

SIA Tutorials: Setting the Scene

by VM Sawh

Welcome back, my lovelies, to the next installment of SIA Tutorials on novel-writing. Last time, we covered your opening scenes and lines. This time we’ll take a look at one of the most important parts of your story construction, other than your plot & characters. 

Scene setting in this instance is referring to the art of constructing the physical environment around your characters and how it is relevant to the plot mechanics of the scene itself. I’ve mentioned this before in the specific context of writing fight scenes but the same principle applies for scenes where your characters aren’t getting their knuckles bloody. 

Sense Your Surroundings

You may have read writing tips that say “be sure to describe the room, make sure your readers know what your characters see and hear in the room.” More clever articles will tell you to make sure you describe the smells in a room, or have your character taste or touch something. While good advice, we can’t always have James Bond licking the couch outside M’s office just so we know that it tastes like. 

What you can do instead is have the sensory perception be linked back to an experience that’s unique to that character. The scent of freshly baked bread can signal many different things, depending on who is smelling it. 


Mary thought back to the warm rolls her grandfather used to make on Sunday mornings. Even though this bread didn’t come with a side of jam, she was almost sure she could smell it. When she looked down at her basket, she was disappointed to see just the loaf. Mary immediately started to search for a raspberry puree.


Angela couldn’t stand the way the cloying smell seemed to cling to her nostrils. Despite her best friend’s protestations that this place was the best bakery in town, all she could think about was how much sweeter and floral her vape pen was. Whenever she took a hit, Angela would wonder why anyone would ever settle for the rolled-newspaper flavour of baked goods.

Technically we have more than just 5 senses. Utilizing them effectively can help you create better environments for your characters to move around in. Here are a few of the less-popular senses:

     i) Pressure - Our bodies can sense the weight of the atmosphere on our bodies. It can be relevant if your character journeys to a place where there’s a shift in said atmosphere such as a submarine, an airplane, or an elevator in a tall building. Sudden or rapid changes in pressure can also cause some people to faint or experience headaches. If your character is sensitive to this type of things, use the environment to your advantage and make pressure something your character has to consider.

     ii) Thermoception - Ability to sense heat or cold.  Temperature is something not many authors address but it can be a very useful tool for adding depth to a particular location. Transitions between outside and inside temperatures (ie. the difference between the unrelenting sun vs. the cool shade) can also affect your character’s moods and responses as well. This sense of thermoception can also be applied internally (such as a character being aware of that they have a fever, sunstroke, chills or hypothermia.) The contrast between the acknowledged temperature of a setting and your character’s perception of their own temperature does open up some story possibilities, for instance this can be an early warning sign that your character has been poisoned. 

     iii) Equilibrioception - Sense of balance. This usually doesn’t register for most people, but adding this sense to a setting does wonders toward putting your readers in the situation with your characters. Every one of us has fallen off a couch or bed at some point. And since we’re not all cats, we’ve all had that split-second feeling of dread where we know gravity is pulling us in a direction we don’t want to go. This can be used to great effect not only to illustrate injury (ie. dizziness from head trauma) but also for when your character to catches a loose floorboard in the seaside flower shop which momentarily throws them off balance and allows them to bump into their future-sweetheart in a meet-cute. Anything set in places like the deck of a ship or where there are active seismic events can benefit from addressing equilibrioception.

Character Colours Conception

The POV of your narrator or lead character should colour the perception of any particular setting. A three-storey library filled with wall-to-wall books can only physically look one way, but instead of describing how many levels and shelves there are, why not use the setting as a portal to provide some insight into your characters instead? For example, Hermione Granger walking into that library may have feelings like delight, curiosity and excitement. The things she would look at in that space would be reflective of her character. The way she views and occupies that space should tell us something vital about who she is. Not convinced? Imagine Ron Weasley walking into that same library by himself. How would he perceive the room and its qualities? 

If you’re going to be revisiting the same location multiple times, why not reveal a different characteristic or another interpretation of a characteristic from the POV of another character?

Take a look at the clip below from The Abyss. Since the entire story is set underwater, *spoilers* aliens animate part of the setting (seawater) in order to communicate with our characters. Note that the tentacle is NOT a character in an of itself, just a part of their existing setting. 

Take a look at the way each of the characters reacts to this literal change in scenery. It tells us something about Lindsey, Bud, Cat & One Night in the way they react to the unfamiliar. 

Lindsay starts off surprised, wakes Bud for support, then grows curious and more daring the longer the water tentacle stays, to the point where she actually tastes it. She also laughs and smiles at the tentacle, which it mimics back to her, to her further amusement. What does this say about her?

Bud stares at the tentacle, then immediately rouses the other man in the room, the larger Cat, for backup. He also pulls Lindsey back when she appears frightened, indicating protectiveness. He also laughs when the tentacle imitates his face, but again warns Lindsey not to put her finger in it. What does this say about him?

One Night seems to shrink back into her position on sight of it, but scrambles upright and moves closer to Cat. She doesn’t say much, only identifying Bud’s face when the tentacle emulates him and asking if it’s alive. She noticeably does not appear amused by the mimicry. What does this say about her?

Cat has the simplest reaction, a straight-out-of-sleep double take, immediate leap to attention and reaching for the nearest weapon - a potted plant. What does this say about him? 

This scene is less than 2 minutes long once the characters get involved, but their reaction to the change in setting tells you a little about who they are, without you having to watch the rest of the movie. Use your book’s settings to illustrate something about who your characters are.

Genre Decor

The way we describe a setting should tie into the overall emotion or direction of the genre(s) our book is aiming for. Books with a specific genre are usually aiming to keep, cultivate or enhance one mood throughout the experience. 

Certain locations such as a morgue or a bridal store are likely to be attached to certain genres. It’s less likely that an adventure novel would start in a law office. Conversely, a romance is least likely to start with a gruesome murder scene.

A crime novel or thriller is always aiming to keep you off-balance with fear and tension, so its scenery descriptions are visceral and meant to inspire unease or dread. Romance books, on the other hand, want you to feel warmth and excitement of the sexual variety. 

Consider the following scene of a man entering a bathroom where a woman is showering.


At first she wasn’t sure she’d heard the creak of her old bathroom door. The hinges were always squeaky, but that was to be expected from a Victorian-style apartment. The pipes were frequently noisy, but never like this. Clouds of steam rose under her nose. She quickly wiped her eyes, and in doing so dropped her wet sponge on her foot. She reached for it, but slipped and hit her knee on the side of the tub. She cursed as pain shot up her thigh. 

A thump beyond the curtain made her skin prickle, despite the heat. She traced her fingers along the slick, grimy tile to the scalding iron faucet. Her wet skin scraped on the old metal’s sharp edges as she turned the pipe off and the shower trickled to a stop. Water fled from the aged porcelain, making a long, echoing sound as the pipes rattled. She stared down at the black hole of the drain as it uttered a long, low moan. She turned, her toes sliding on the slippery floor and stepped out of the tub. She flinched as the back of her calf touched the marble curve of the tub’s rim. She gasped at the chill… and then at the masked man standing two feet in front of her.


Steamy Romance

At first she wasn’t sure she’d heard the creak of her old bathroom door. The hinges always sang but that was to be expected from an old Grecian-style apartment. The pipes frequently put on their own performance. Clouds of steam rose under her nose and she squeezed the heavy sponge between her breasts, letting the warmth cascade down her body. The sponge slipped out of her grasp. As she knelt to retrieve it, she ran her hands down her thighs. All those mornings she’d spent running were paying off. A thump beyond the curtain made her jump. She called out her lover’s name. She traced her fingers along the old patterned tile to iron faucet which was still plenty warm from her shower. She grinned a little as she gripped the pipe in her hand, mentally comparing it to the man who’d spent the night in her bed. The water drained with a groan and the shower trickled to a stop. She braced herself on the cold metal rim of the tub as she climbed out. The floor was slick though and she slid, her legs splaying like a doe. She flinched as her back touched the metal curve of the tub’s rim. She felt her nipples harden. She gasped at the sensation… and then at delicious naked man standing two feet in front of her.

Now the location is the same, but the approaches are very different based purely on what genre your book is aimed at. So no matter what your setting is, you should always keep in mind what your target audience is looking for. Now imagine how you’d write that same scene, in that same setting if the book was Comedic, Science Fiction, Literary Fiction, or even Adventure. 

Spoon-feed the Plot

One of the essential elements of storytelling is knowing that all scenes in your work must be relevant to the plot or the character in order to be relevant to the reader. There are many different tools and devices we can use as storytellers to share bits of information or plot to the readers. One of these is your setting. Your setting can reveal vital information to the reader about the plot of your story. How many movies have you seen where the camera makes a slow tracking shot over a series of family photos on a dresser, which gives you background information on the first character you meet? Consider any books you may have read where one setting or location was highlighted at the start or end of the hero’s journey. 

*Minor Spoilers for GR3T3L-1 (Good Tales For Bad Dreams #4) to follow*

In my last short story,  GR3T3L-1 (a sci-fi adaptation of the Hansel & Gretel tale), my dual robot protagonists are marooned on an unknown planet. Along their journey, GR3T3L discovers that the planet is home to a naturally occurring form of heat-reactive crystal. When they eventually encounter a massive crystalline structure on the surface, GR3T3L is able to figure out that such a structure could only have been created by a ship crash landing on the surface. The resulting heat bloom caused the crystal to solidify, creating the setting for the climax of the story. GR3T3L discovers that the structure exists because its commanders shot down the ship and thus created it; this influences the actions the robots take next. 

*End Spoilers*

That crystalline structure is vital to the story not only because its creation is part of the plot, but that it provides the setting for the finale and provides incentives for each character’s subsequent actions. The scenes that follow its creation could not have been set anywhere else. The How and Why it exists is central to the story, our characters’ journey and therefore to the reader.

Other examples of settings which spoon-feed the plot include:

     i) Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry - Harry Potter series
     ii) Hadley’s Hope - the human colony from LV-426 - Aliens (1986)

The main question you need to be asking yourself for any setting you pick for your scene is this:

Why is this setting vital to this scene? 

Now your mileage may vary in how important you believe settings are in general, but if you’d like your scenes to be more fleshed out and create lasting images in your reader’s mind, then consider strengthening your setting’s relationship to your plot. 

Walking Into Rooms and Talking

Pet peeve time. While this trope may be more prevalent in some genres than others, whenever we have characters simply walking into a room and engaging in dialogue without the setting having some relevance to the discussion, then you might as well have set the scene in a blank white room. You know the kind - usually you find them in cell phone commercials, where the phones are floating in some nondescript place. If your chosen setting can double as a backdrop for an IPhone commercial, then you’re not taking advantage of the potential richness of your scene setting. Characters should never just walk into a blank room and talk.  I’d like you to think about this in a more visual way. 

Here is an (in)famous scene from “The Matrix Reloaded”. At the time of release, this scene was lambasted for being overly wordy, indecipherable and needlessly confusing, particularly in contrast to all of the straightforward action that had come before.

Now if we were to rely simply on dialogue to sell this scene, the vast majority of the audience would not have a clue as to what the hell Colonel Sanders is saying, however because the setting included a pen, a chair and a bank of infinite-depth screens, we are able to get a general grasp of the situation based on how these elements were used. 

Ie. The Architect is seated in the only chair with a posture implying power. Behind him the row of screens illustrate his various points, be it Neo’s emotions or future events in the narrative. The Architect, while limited in his expressions is allowed to interact with the only 2 props in the scene. His tap of the pen changes what the screens show.

Now this scene is all dialogue, but the setting here is still very important. The starkness of the white floor and ceiling reinforce that this place is artificial. The screens allow us to see things inside the character’s mind without dialogue and the chair represents power. Imagine how the impact of this scene would change if it had been set: 

        i) In a KFC restaurant
        ii) Beside a Community Swimming Pool
        iii) In a briefing room in the Pentagon
        iv) In Zion (The Last City of the Free People)
        v) On the Nebuchadnezzar (Morpheus’s ship)

So do not assume that because a scene doesn't have action (be it of the ‘splodey or sexy variety) that it doesn’t need a setting. Let the setting inform and reflect the nature of the story and the interaction between your characters.

And there we have it. I hope you’ve enjoyed this SIA tutorial on setting up your scenes. Now get out there and make your settings shine!

Keeping Momentum

by Riley Amos Westbrook

Ever get hung up by that one word? The one you know is perfect - if you could only think of it!

Writer’s block can be a pain in the ass. Sometimes no matter how hard you try, the words just won’t come. Or you find you’ve written yourself into a corner, and there’s no way out.

Keeping momentum can be difficult, especially when life and its pressures start to draw your attention away from your writing. Whether it’s kids, school, work, a party, spending time with the people you love, the world is filled with plenty of distractions. And that’s not even mentioning the black hole of a time sink that is the internet.

I have some exercises I do to help myself maintain my focus, and keep me on track when I’m writing anything.


This is by far the simplest to do, and the hardest to find time for. I generally do this right before I start writing.

Simple thought exercises can help you shape your world before you even think about putting a single word on the page. I tend to be a visual thinker, so I treat it like a movie I can manipulate in real time. Once I have a scene set, it makes it much easier to put words on the page. *Fun Fact* Nikola Tesla is said to have “seen” his inventions before he created them, like a hologram right in front of him he could manipulate.

Give in to your distraction, but make it constructive.

There’s nothing wrong with being distracted. We’re only human after all, and sometimes a bit of fun is rewarding in its own way. You’d be surprised to see what ideas a few useless facts can pluck free of the brainfog.

Ass To Chair.

There’s just no way around it, your story will not get written if you don’t put your ass in your chair and write it. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do. You’re home from work, kids are in bed, and there’s nothing to stop you from doing your writing. But you hear the call of Netflix, and choose to binge watch all of House of Cards.

As I said, you’re only human. But that doesn’t get your story done either. Until such time as we create our first true AI, we’re stuck doing all the work ourselves or letting a blank page stare back at us.

Be Selfish.

Another one that can be hard to do. It’s hard to look at the people you love in your life and tell them their needs are being put on the back burner to focus on your own fun. At least it is for me. Sometimes we need to remind the people we love that we’re individuals as well and that we all need a little alone time to sort out our thoughts. Sometimes people understand, other times they call you a hermit. The key is, sometimes you have to do what is best for you.

*Caveat* Don’t push this one too far. It’s all well and good to tell your wife or children that you need alone time, but do it too much and that’s how houses are burned down.

Don’t Fixate.

I write with my wife, and we go back and forth about this all the time. Sometimes when we’re re-editing a work we get stuck by word choice. We search for that “perfect” word that fits exactly where it needs to. This is all well and good, but every moment you spend agonizing over that word is a moment you aren’t spending writing.

That isn’t to say you shouldn’t be choosy with your vocabulary. There’s a time and a place for everything, especially when writing.


Writer’s Block Ends.

Sometimes I struggle to put a single word to the page. I can do all the steps I’ve listed above, and more, but I’m still left staring at a blank page without a single word going through my mind. I’ve learned not to agonize about these times. For me, worrying about a blank page only ever led to more stress and anxiety, which made finding the words to put on the page all that much harder.

Forgive yourself when you are stuck, and realize that it will pass.

So these are some of the tricks I use to keep my momentum going. I know, a couple of them seem counter-intuitive, but they seem to work for me. I’d love to hear what you guys do to keep your own momentum going when you’re writing, I’m always looking to expand my toolbox.

Opening Lines

By Riley Amos Westbrook


The start to any project is principal. The opening needs to sink its hooks deep into your readers, to keep them interested and reading.

The beginning of any journey is paramount. It’s important that your words draw your reader farther into your rabbit hole, so they keep reading.

The opening lines to anything you write are important. They need to have a certain amount of pull to keep your readers engaged, or you risk losing them to other entertainment means. (What if we, later in the document, go back to this opening sentence and rewrite it several different ways, as an example?)

I’m not one of those authors who has to have the perfect opening. I don’t stress over every word, making sure it sounds exactly as I want, before moving on to the next section of the story.

Still, I struggle when I start a new project to come up with a great opening sentence.

The great thing about first drafts is you can come back and fix anything that doesn’t sound right.

For instance, when I started writing Everyone Dies At The End, I wondered how I was going to convey the sense of urgency a heroin addict might experience after a long period of withdrawal. I tried a dozen different lines before I ended up with what I felt was the perfect opening paragraph.

I can’t help you attain perfection, I don’t even chase that goal for myself, but I did want to take the time to offer some suggestions when it comes to opening lines.

1. Think of your story.

With “Everyone Dies At The End” (“EDATE”), I weave together two story lines. One is a family just trying to survive the zombie apocalypse, the other is a heroin junkie looking to score his next fix. The opening lines to this book could have gone one of two ways (More on this in a second).

If your story is meant to be a light-hearted romp through life, then your introduction should be that. If your story is a harrowing journey full of action and adventure, then you need to give your readers a sense that something fantastical is coming.

When thinking of your opening lines, think of where you want your story to go. How can you firmly establish in a reader’s mind just what kind of a journey they’re about to go on?

2. If it isn’t working, try something else.

For a while I debated opening “EDATE” with a scene from the family. A happy scene full of love and compassion. I must have written it six times over the course of a couple weeks before I realized it wasn’t working for me. It felt too campy, and though there are moments of levity and joy in "EDATE,” for the most part it is a dark book that explores the darker side of humanity.

When I switched to the other story line, the heroin addict, everything started to come together. That storyline was much easier to create a compelling beginning from, and I soon found myself whipping through the book.

If something isn’t working, you know it. If something is, you know it. Trust your gut as a writer, and let your words do the talking.

For example, the first lines I came up with for “EDATE” were along the lines of, “The heroin junkie sat on the stairs, thoughts of her addiction at the top of her mind.” While I felt this was a good line, I knew it could be better if I tried. A little bit of reworking, and this is the line I ended up with: Jadee scratched her arm, feeling the itch in her veins that begged her to inject herself with tar. 

3. Use power words.

I hope you are already doing this in your writing, but if not, now is a good time to learn. Power words are an excellent way to create a compelling opening for your book. Using words that connect to people’s feelings will help to draw them into the story, and keep them glued to it until the end. If you get them interested, they will stay for more.

Like in the example above, adding in Jadee scratching her arm, and feeling the itch in her veins makes it so people connect a little more with the character. The more you can do to make your readers see, feel, taste, touch your environments in your book the better. If you immerse them in your world, they will be lost in it for hours.

4. Use a headline analyzer.

I use these a lot when I’m writing blurbs, and lately I’ve found them extremely helpful in writing opening lines. It sounds strange, using a marketing tool for your start of your book, but I think it works out. If you haven’t played with one of these before, you should try it. It’s amazing how small changes in word choice can change a simple sentence into a compelling bit of storytelling, and this is one of many tools I use for word choice.

My two favorite are the Advanced Marketing Institutes, great for short lines, and Co-Schedule’s, which you can use for entire articles.

This is just a few of the things I try to keep in mind when starting a new project. Whether it’s a short story, a novel, or a blog post, your opening can make or break the rest of your book. A few well placed lines can make everything else come together with hardly any effort. 

And remember: although the opening line is very important to the story, what’s more important is not to allow the opening line to hold you back as a writer. I have known writers to get so caught up on writing the opening line that they never actually write the rest of the book because they’re so hung up on starting it right. Sometimes, it’s best to just press on and keep writing, and sometimes, the perfect line will come to you once you’re further into the story.

Happy Writing!

SIA Tutorials: Write-A-Line

with V.M. Sawh

“Can you hold this for me real quick?” The stranger slides a black package in my lap before I have a chance to respond. It jostles on top of my nervous knees as I hear it start to tick.

What are you feeling right now, after you’ve read that line? Think about the emotion on your mind at the moment. Chances are, you’re curious. Maybe a little nervous. After all, who wouldn’t be - in that situation. This is what opening lines are all about. They set the scene and ideally, put your reader into the story right away. But I want to set the tone of the story first, the classics never tried to start ‘in medias res’, they took their time, you might say.

This is true, but there’s a reason those are called classics. They are representative of a time long past, but have flourished due to their exemplary nature. There’s nothing wrong with them, but there’s a reason “It was a dark and stormy night” has become cliche. Everyone knows it already. Your readers certainly do. So as an innovative and original writer, what are you to do? Our venerable Riley Westbrook has provided you with a great lead-in and some good advice. 

To add to it, I would say that your Opening Line should immediately establish the following:

  • The narrative voice of the story
    • Why? This gives insight into the lead character (if first person) or into the narrator. Some people know right off the bat whether or not this book will work for them by the tone of voice in the opening lines. It could be wistful, sarcastic, funny, absurd, dramatic, angry, sad or any combination of emotions. Even the way the author chooses to describe a sunset will tell the reader something about what kind of writing lies ahead. For books narrated by one of the characters, the voice is the determining factor that influences the reader to pick up the book - this person has to start telling the story in a way that makes you want to spend enough time with them to hear the rest. Consider this: you’re about to be told a funny story about something that happened at the grocery store. Would you rather hear your mom’s version, your sister’s version or your best friend’s version? Each one might start the story in a slightly different way. The answer to that question should tell you about whose voice is best suited to tell that story in a way that makes it funny to you.
    • Examples:
      •  “You’ll never believe what happened to me at the grocery store today!”
      • “OMG Can I tell you something? So I went to the grocery story to get some apples and…”
      • “Yo, the stupidest thing just happened! I was out getting stuff from the store when…”
  • The style of the prose.
    • Why? Because whether or not your story has cutaways, asides, internal monologues, or a prologue will also inform the reader whether or not this story meets their tastes. This is part of the reason Amazon offers that Look Inside preview - to give potential readers a taste of how this book’s story is likely to be told. Some books may have a specific structure to it, like being written in the form of journal entries, emails or even text conversations. Readers generally know if that’s a format they’re willing to stick with, so be aware that if you’re switching up styles later on in the book, it can have an impact on reader expectations. This is particularly relevant when it comes to switching POV and formats in your book. If you’re consistent throughout, then you run less of a risk of losing the reader, based on their expectations of what the style was going to be from the opening line. 
  • The First Line Hook
    • Why? The hook is often what’s discussed first when we talk about creating opening lines. There are many articles dedicated to showing you how to hook your reader from page one. Let’s review some types of First Line Hooks:
      • In the Middle of the Action - A hail of gunfire pinning down an innocent. 
      • A Vivid Image - A bright pink flower blooming amongst the smoldering black ruin of a forest fire.
      • A Summation of the Story - This is the story of how a great love toppled the empire.
      • A Philosophy - They say you should always keep your friends close, but your enemies closer…
      • A Line of Dialogue - “Whatever you do, don’t drop the bomb.”
    • Each of these first line hooks has a different effect on your reader. It may or may not work to get them to read your book. A lot of this has to do with their expectations of what they’re about to read. For some, In the Middle of the Action is exactly what they want out of a gritty crime novel, whereas using this for a complicated fantasy novel with a huge war featuring 13 races may not work, as readers won’t know the stakes right away. Likewise A Philosophy may work for Literary or Historical fiction, but perhaps less so for Romance, given what the readers are looking for. Of course, a talented writer can make anything work, but it helps to know what the challenges and expectations are.
  • The genre of the book
    • Why? The types of acceptable opening lines can be genre specific, as readers will pick up a genre book to have a certain type of experience ie. Romance-lovers will open a book hoping to feel a certain rush of emotions such as excitement, intrigue or lust from reading the text. Fantasy fans, on the other hand may be seeking a more detailed & immersive form of escape into a land of magic and races and swordplay. Sci-fi aficionados may be looking for the mix of technology and wonder right off the bat. So how you open your book will be judged by the genre-expectations of the reader. Certain openings are expected, for example in Historical fiction one of the first things we’d expect to see is the date whereas with Fantasy we might expect to start off with a description of the lineage of a particular race, custom or conflict. Romance readers may prefer a flowery passage on the nature of feelings, or a captivating look at the main character’s object of affection. While we’d like to keep things original and there are no hard & fast rules, being aware of genre expectations gives you both freedom and guidance as to how you open your novel.

Now your Gentleman Ninja (yours truly) will take you to task. Click here to download the Write-An-Opening Worksheet, which contains some neat little thought exercises to get your brain moving about what kinds of Opening Lines you can create. What’s more, because we always want to hear from you, feel free to post your worksheets on your own Member Showcase threads and discuss!

From Brainstorming to Writing: The Tutorial

By Ann Livi Andrews

So you’re ready to start work on your next writing project. 

Congratulations! The beginning is always one of my favorite times. The idea is still fresh, still exciting, and still full of potential. Your mind is probably racing with plot points, character development, and the various conclusions that you could lead your readers to. 

So, let me ask you this: what do you do first? 

There are organized authors, who immediately open up a Word Doc, Word Perfect Doc, Google Doc, Scrivener Doc, or even a Ulysses Doc (just to name a few) and immediately jot down a rough outline of where they’d like the plot to go. It might look a little something like this:

Or, you might put together some sort of brainstorming bubble, a semi organized/semi chaotic way to get all of your ideas that are shuffling around in your head onto paper. That could look like this: 

Or maybe you just start writing. Maybe the words have already been forming into sentences as you’ve been pondering this latest work. Maybe you get three chapters written before you even realized what you’ve done. We all know what that looks like, no need for an example. 

Or maybe you take the Ann Livi approach and you simply stare at the blank sheet of paper for what seems like an eternity, then you give up, browse Pinterest for a while, answer a few emails, read someone else’s book and review it, patrol the SIA forum for a while, possibly make a few changes to the website, and then write a sentence. That ends up looking like this:

The point of all of this is that I could go on and on. Each and every author is going to have a different method that they rely on to start their work. There are some courses out there (I won’t name names, but I can tell you they probably range from $99.99 to $299.99) that will tell you “sure-fire methods” of making sure you’re writing a book a month, or every two months, enabling you to become the next Best Selling Kindle Author! 

But I say do what works for YOU. Be the author YOU want to be. Not the author that someone else tells you to be. In this day and age, the chances of becoming a best selling author and living off of your written word, well, it’s a slim chance. It can be done - if you’re working very diligently and are amazing at maintaining a balanced budget. 

Be an author because you want to be an author. Write for yourself. That will keep it fun and will help feed your passion for it. And believe me, that shows in your work. 

So keep that chaotic brainstorming bubble. Write an entire chapter just because you want to see what would happen if your character chose Path E instead of your preferred Path A or B - even if you don’t intend to keep it in the book. 

Use the methods that make you happy and keep the words flowing. There’s no wrong way - I promise you. 

Just write. 

Cheers to a Happy and Writing Filled 2017
Ann Livi Andrews


Covers Design Tutorial Series by CB Archer

We here at Support Indie Authors are going to be doing some tutorials to help our fellow authors learn about different tasks that might come up while being an Indie Author!

Covers Design Tutorial Series

Tutorial 1. File Set Up

In this cover design tutorial we will begin at the start. The absolute start. With file set up. 

File set up is not the most glamorous step in designing a cover, but it certainly will be the first step. You might not think there is a lot to file set up, and you would be correct most of the time. But, one day something could come up that you didn’t expect. If you didn’t know to prepare your files properly then you could be forced to do hours more work, or even worse not be able to use your cover at all and have to restart!

Step One: File Type

There are a multitude of programs that you can use to create a cover. From design suites such as Adobe InDesign, to free graphics editors like Gimp, to the program that most every writer probably owns - a word processor.

No matter what program you use, the file type will be one of three things. It is a good idea to think about what kind of file will best suit your purposes before starting. Personally, I mix programs.

Type A: Vector Files

Common Programs that use Vector Graphics: Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape, CorelDraw

Vector graphics are mathematical formulas that use nodes and curves to form shapes. What this means is that no matter how large, or how small your graphic is it will always scale to that size correctly and it will never artifact (become all blurry with pixels).

The most common form of vector graphics is type. 

If your cover has silhouettes or symbols on it, then you will benefit from using vectors. Vector programs are used less in cover design, but they do have a billion uses.

Type B: Raster Graphics

Common Programs that use Raster Graphics: Adobe Photoshop, Gimp, MS Paint

Raster graphics are coloured pixels placed side by side. When viewed from a distance they produce a crisp image.

The most common form of Raster Graphics are photographs. 

If your cover will have photographs and text effects you will benefit from using raster graphics.

Type C: Layout Files

Common Programs that use Layout Files: Adobe InDesign, QuarkXpress, Miscrosoft Publisher

This isn’t really a file type per se, but it is important enough to include. A layout program will reference other files on your system and help you to lay everything out. Not a necessity, but they can be handy, especially when you have a series of book covers and want to keep everything together.

If your cover mixes elements of raster and vector graphics this might be the type for you. 

Additionally: Vector programs often allow the use of raster graphics as well as vectors. They are not as powerful at laying out as the powerhouses, but consider using one as they often have better text layout capabilities than raster programs.

What you pick is up to you. All of these programs and more can be used to make a book cover!

Step Two: Sizing

Sizing is one of those choices that can break your cover later, so taking a few moments to get it right now could save you a lot of time in the long run.

I am going to make a suggestion: Regardless of what you think your book will be, plan for the possibility that it might one day become a print book! 

If you are making your print book cover with a print on demand service, then they will likely have a cover template you can download for the exact size, which can save you a lot of time. 


There are a lot of set sizes for books on print on demand services that you might like. If you have no idea I suggest going for one of the most common sizes, like 6”x9”.


This. This is one of the things that can break your cover in the future. 

Raster graphics programs will require this before you even start the file. The important thing to know is that resolution can always be lowered at a later date, but it can never be raised. Online book sellers will often say that their minimum requirement is for the file to be at 72 dpi (dots per inch). I suggest that you don’t listen to them. 

Print files for book covers need to be much higher than 72dpi. I would never make a print file with less than 300 dpi, and prefer to be as high as 600 dpi. A 600 dpi file can bog down your system, but if it can handle it, then do it. This will allow you the most flexibility in the future.

Vector programs and layout programs will not require a resolution. It is important to note that any raster images you import into those programs should be at a high enough resolution to fit these requirements.

Step Three: Bleed and Margins


Printers cannot print to the edge of a piece of paper. This is where bleed comes into the picture. Bleed is an additional area of graphics that bleeds off the final image size. On a book cover the standard amount of bleed is 1/8” or 0.125”.  This means that your final document size will be larger than the finished size by 1/4” in both dimensions.

Ebooks do not require a bleed but it is still a good idea to include this. If later you go to a physical book and used graphics that cannot now be moved around, you will be in trouble. Nobody wants a thin white line around their covers and bleed is easy enough to remove if you need to! :)


Margins are safe areas right inside the final ‘cut line’ that help to protect your vital graphics from getting cut off. These are also 1/8”. Margins are handy in ebook covers are they prevent you from putting graphics too near the edge of your cover. Some readers and sites might cut off a little bit of your cover to fit their standards, so having this safety space can prevent you from losing portions of your text. 

Combined, margins and bleed work together well. Here is an image showing how they look.

if your design program does not allow you to have bleeds and margins automatically setting up a guide to work on top of with the bleeds and margins will help. Even if you take a piece of paper and draw the margins, final size, and bleed, you will be in better shape than going in blind!

This concludes the tutorial on File Set Up, let me know if you have any other questions about File Set Up! I will try and answer them.

Presented by CB Archer

Maximizing your writing time during the holidays

By Riley Amos Westbrook

I don't know about all of you, but the holidays can be a stressful time of year for all of us.
Dinners to go to, people to see, and that's not mentioning the financial side of things.

All of that can add up to one heck of a stressful situation. What can you do to maximize your writing time during the holidays? How do you keep people from calling you a shut in or hermit? These are some of the steps that I take, so I can keep up my writing.

1. Tell people you need personal space.

Believe it or not, sometimes a blunt answer is best. I see no reason why you can't take notes or plan a scene while doing your socializing. If something comes to you, take a second to write it down. If your friends and family are like mine, they already consider you to be a little crazy.

2. Use your phone or tablet to write!

I am so thankful for the time we live in. A lot of us carry these amazing devices in our hands, and we don't even realize their potential. My phone and tablet are slowly starting to replace all my other devices, just because of their ease of use. The portability of these electronics make it simple to write and take notes anywhere, and I do constantly.

I've now used my phone and tablet to write seven books, all while on the go! Could you imagine doing that ten years ago? Twenty? I know we had laptops, but I can carry my phone in my pants pocket.

These little devices are a godsend to those of us who tell stories. Don't forget to use them. If you have trouble writing quickly on a tablet's inline keyboard, there are a number of wireless keyboards/docks that can easily pair with your device. It can turn your tablet into a mini laptop if you need it.

3. This last piece of advice is going to sound counter-intuitive, but it isn't. Take the time to get away from the story and spend time with your loved ones.

This is always my favorite option. Don't think about your story. Don't stress over that plot point. Spend time with your family, and bask in their love.  In the long run, connecting with people will help you to understand people. Understanding people will help you write relatable characters. Getting away from your story can open up possibilities you never considered.

Our understanding of the world is central to the conflicts and characters of our story. So step back and get to know your world a little more, and you just might find your way past that plot point. Who knows, your biggest fan may already be there at the table.

The only thing that can keep you from writing is yourself, especially nowadays. Remember that as you join your family for a feast, use your time and your tools for the best advantage. After all, one never knows where inspiration will come from. Keep being awesome, and #SupportIndieAuthors.



New Release from Award Winning Author & Supporter of Indie Authors Samuel Marquis


Cluster of Lies (Coming September 2016): The hero in 2015’s Blind Thrust is back to solve the mysteries at Dakota Ranch. Why were four boys diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer at the same time? Was business owner Gus McTavish murdered? Are the two events related? Joe Higheagle is determined to uncover the truth.


SAMUEL MARQUIS is the bestselling, award-winning author of The Slush Pile Brigade, Blind Thrust, The Coalition, Bodyguard of Deception, and Cluster of Lies. He works by day as vice-president and hydrogeologist at an environmental consulting firm in Boulder, Colo., and by night as writer of historical and modern suspense novels. He holds an M.S. degree in geology, is a registered professional geologist in eleven states, and is a recognized expert in groundwater contamination and hydrologeology, having served as an expert witness in several class action cases. He also has a deep and abiding interest in military history and intelligence, specifically related to the Golden Age of Piracy, Plains Indian Wars, World War II, and the current War on Terror.

His technical scientific background and passion for military history and intelligence have served Marquis well as a suspense writer. His first two thrillers, The Slush Pile Brigade and Blind Thrust, were both #1 Denver Post bestsellers for fiction, and his first three novels received national book award recognition. The Slush Pile Brigade was an award-winning finalist in the mystery category of the Beverly Hills Book Awards. Blind Thrust was winner of the Foreword Reviews’ Book of the Year Awards and Next Generation Indie Book Awards, and an award-winning finalist of the USA Best Book Awards and Beverly Hills Book Awards in the thriller/suspense category. His third novel, The Coalition, was the winner of the Beverly Hills Book Awards for a political thriller. The first book in his WWII Trilogy, Bodyguard of Deception, was an Amazon Top 15 Bestseller for Historical Thrillers.

Former Colorado Governor Roy Romer said, “Blind Thrust kept me up until 1 a.m. two nights in a row. I could not put it down. An intriguing mystery that intertwined geology, fracking, and places in Colorado that I know well. Great fun.” James Patterson compared The Coalition to The Day After Tomorrow, the classic thriller by Allan Folsom; and Donald Maas, author of Writing 21st Century Fiction and two novels, compared The Coalition to the classic political assassination thriller The Day of the Jackal. Other book reviewers have compared Book #1 of Marquis’s World War Two Trilogy, Bodyguard of Deception, to the spy novels of John le Carré, Daniel Silva, Ken Follett, and Alan Furst. 


1. Tell us a little about how you prepared to write your new work. Is there a lot of mental prep involved or more research and note taking? 

My Joe Higheagle Environmental Sleuth Series (Blind Thrust: A Mass Murder Mystery and Cluster of Lies, Book 2 of the series, just released) is based on my nearly thirty years as a professional hydrogeologist involved in environmental health risk assessments, groundwater flow and transport modeling investigations, and serving as a groundwater expert witness in class action litigation cases. Joe Higheagle, the hero of the series, is a Denver-based, Northern Cheyenne geologist who solves environmental crimes. Because he does what I do for a living, I did not have to perform a ton of research on either Blind Thrust or Cluster of Lies. For both books, I just had to take a typical, large-scale environmental contamination project and make it ten times more toxic and dangerous and the corporate polluters far more cunning, lethal, and corrupt than such individuals would be in the real-world. That’s writing thriller fiction: taking reality and ramping up the scare factor ten-fold.

2. How does this book compare to your previous works?

I have eclectic reading and writing tastes so I actually have three independent book series that are quite different from one another despite all being in the thriller/suspense genre. The first series is the Joe Higheagle Environmental Sleuth Series that includes Blind Thrust and Cluster of Lies, described above. The second is my Nick Lassiter International Espionage Series (The Slush Pile Brigade, and The Fourth Pularchek coming in 2017), featuring Nick Lassiter, a young American who as the series progresses transforms from a Mr. Everyman struggling-writer to a bestselling author and reluctant CIA intelligence asset. My third series of books are my standalone modern and historical suspense novels with new characters introduced in each novel. Within this group, I published the political thriller The Coalition in early 2016 and I have an ongoing World War II Trilogy featuring different settings and characters, but all dealing with espionage during WWII. The books in my WWII Trilogy include Bodyguard of Deception and Altar of Resistance (coming in January 2017). All of my books are in the suspense genre, but like Dennis Lehane, Ken Follett, and Stephen Hunter, I like to have the creative freedom to explore different time periods and not be restricted to a single series or protagonist. Plus I just love history so all of my books fit best into the Thriller/Suspense – Historical subgenre because the common thread that runs through all of my books, whether they are modern or historical, is they are rich in history. 

In both Blind Thrust and Cluster of Lies, my Cheyenne geologist Joe Higheagle solves environmental crimes working with his curmudgeonly grandfather, Chief John Higheagle, a former tribal lawyer and Contrary (a Cheyenne holy man who does things in opposites). The two are like the Odd Couple except the main source of conflict between them is Old vs. Young, Traditional vs. New. And yet they both embrace Cheyenne culture and their Indian heritage plays out in everything they do in the books as they attempt to bring corporate villains to justice. The series evolves by Higheagle and his grandfather solving one major environmental crime after another, and the young, single Higheagle garnering a new love interest in each new book, a la James Bond.

The first book in the series, Blind Thrust, is specifically based on my experiences in California and Texas as a Registered Professional Geologist in assessing earthquake hazards and fault classifications on behalf of real-estate developers in environmental site assessments. The original inspiration for Cluster of Lies, Book 2 of the series, was drawn from my professional experience working on the Rosamond cancer cluster case in Southern California. In Cluster of Lies, Higheagle and his grandfather the chief solve the mystery of a childhood cancer cluster at Dakota Ranch outside Denver, Colorado, where four boys have been diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer. Think Erin Brockovich, A Civil Action, and Michael Clayton. In writing the novel, I drew heavily from my actual professional experience working on the aforementioned cancer cluster case in the Southern California desert. Visiting the town of Rosamond, reviewing the documents on file in the local library, and interviewing the residents who had experienced the cancer cluster firsthand had a profound impact on me and served as both the inspiration and framework for the novel. 

3. In what ways have you seen yourself grow as an author throughout your writing career?

I went from being perhaps one of the world’s worst thriller writers to a modest-bestselling, award-winning author. But it took several years and at least three suspense novels to become respectable as a writer. This was accomplished by writing and re-writing incessantly, over and over and over again, and working with two literary agents and solid editors that offered valuable advice. Having honed my craft to a respectable level, my thrillers have been #1 Denver Post bestsellers, have received multiple national book awards (Foreword Reviews’ Book of the Year, USA Best Book Awards, Beverly Hills Book Awards, and Next Generation Indie Book Awards), and have garnered glowing reviews from #1 bestseller James Patterson, Kirkus, and Foreword Reviews (5 Stars). But it took a lot of hard work to get even this modest amount of literary recognition, and I have a long way to go before winning or being selected as a finalist for the bigger national book awards.

4. If you had to pick one of your books as your favorite, which would it be? What do you think are your best works?

My favorite (and best) book is Altar of Resistance, Book 2 of my WWII Trilogy, coming in January 2017 that covers the Italian campaign and papacy of Pope Pius XII during the German Occupation of Rome and Holocaust in 1943-1944. My two best books not counting Altar of Resistance would have to be my political thriller The Coalition (which has been compared to the works of ‎Frederick Forsyth, James Patterson, Baldacci, and Vince Flynn), and the recently released Cluster of Lies. The Coalition will be available for FREE as a Bookbub Featured Deal from September 29 through October 3, 2016. 

5. Is there anything you'd like your readers to know or be thinking about as they begin to read your new book?

I think readers of both literary and commercial fiction will like Cluster of Lies because of its authenticity and because Higheagle and his irascible grandfather-fellow sleuth, Chief John Higheagle, are memorable and believable characters. For an unbiased book review of Cluster of Lies as well as Blind Thrust (Book 1 of the Higheagle series), readers should check out my Foreword Reviews for the two books ( I think readers should also know that although Blind Thrust was the winner of the Foreword Reviews’ Book of the Year (HM) and the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and an award-winning finalist of the USA Best Book Awards and Beverly Hills Book Awards (thriller and suspense), Cluster of Lies is an even better novel because the characters are richer and more complex.

Readers also might be interested to know what sparked my interest in Cheyenne history and made me want to have a Northern Cheyenne protagonist in my books.  The answer is I was inspired by the history of my great-great relative, Thomas B. Marquis. Dr. Marquis (1869–1935) was a physician, author, photographer, and important chronicler of the 19th Century American West. He practiced medicine in Montana, was with the U. S. Medical Corps during World War I, and served as government physician on the Tongue River-Northern Cheyenne Indian reservation after the war. Because of his interest in Plains Indians, he eventually gave up his medical practice and devoted full time to learning Indian sign language, gathering historical data from the Northern Cheyenne, and writing about their culture and the Plains Indian wars. During the course of his medical career among the Northern Cheyenne, he interviewed many old warriors who had participated in the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn. The Indians trusted him, allowed him to photograph them, and told him things via sign language that they would reveal to no one else. His books include Wooden Leg: A Warrior Who Fought Custer (1931), Two Days After the Custer Battle (1935), Custer, Cavalry and Crows (1975), Keep the Last Bullet for Yourself: the True Story of Custer’s Last Stand (1976), and many other works. It is because of Thomas B. Marquis that my protagonist, Joe Higheagle, and his curmudgeonly grandfather, John Higheagle, were created and why I weave the Cheyenne, Custer, and the Little Big Horn into my books. The Northern Cheyenne loved Thomas B. Marquis like a brother and he loved them back. Like him, I greatly admire the Cheyenne Indians, the finest horse people of the Great Plains along with the Comanche.

May's Short Story Contest - "Must-Read-Minis: The Incredible Shrinking Story"

"Within An Inch"

Joed Jackson

“Holy shiitake!” said I—and by shiitake I meant to say succotash. Because I wouldn’t say shiitake—but this is some serious shi—stuff. What the hell just happened? This chair smells like—never mind, not going to say it.

The fan whirring within the computer tower swirled and roared like a cyclone. It drowned out every other noise—even my voice—but its hollow, unyielding, cavernous maelstrom forced me into conscious realization of . . . reality? Spinning about I took in what my senses could give me but they must be lying, this cannot be so.

Pop quiz buddy, I’m half the size of Dennis Hoppers good thumb. How in the crazy world could this be happening to me? Well, Trump is running for president, relatively speaking this isn’t that strange.

Ok, seriously, take stock. Don’t panic any more than you already are. Oh jeez, I think I’m gonna throw up. Breathe, buddy, breathe. The computer is still there—obviously—blue and red LED’s like winking luminous orbs, that damn fan is hindering my ability to remain calm—why is it so loud? And that broken USB port—why it’s absolutely cavernous. No help there. What’s on the screen, what’s changed? I can’t see the screen. Maybe If I head over to the edge of the chair I will be able to see it better. Maybe not, this cheap cubicle reject chair fabric is waxy-slick and those foam rounded edges don’t inspire me at all.

“Hello? What the hell is going on here?”

What was that? I froze bodily, trembling from within. Was that a bark? The dog! Oh no. He looks so far-off. His head looks more like a great fuzzy white boulder, but it’s in his usual spot—the living room couch. Has he noticed me? No. Good.

“Oh nuts!” A colossal terror took hold of me; nearly collapsing I realized that the wife will be home in just a few minutes.

“She is gonna be pissed!” I whispered the words desperately—hoarsely. I have got to get out of here. How am I going to get off this chair? Think. No, really think—and don’t do anything stupid!

Okay, I can see the desk pretty good. Well not really, I can see its edge well enough. But those cubbies under it are a mess, the wife is right, I have clutter issues. The book totes are there against the wall, like stacks of misshapen skyscrapers. Man, I can’t be any taller than one of those book bindings, what is that, an inch—maybe 3 centimeters? This is so weird. Can I fly, I wonder? Don’t be stupid, not gonna try.

Oh snap, duck! And I did. That damn dog. Why is everything so loud—the fan, the dog barking—why? What is it this time, the mail man? Or maybe it’s Mrs. Gellerson, taking her mutt for a walk? I don’t care. I’m one inch tall. I have—here it comes—bigger issues to deal with.

I need a plan. What are those three steps again? Survive. Stabilize. Succeed. Oh hell—and I thought they sounded dumb when applied to finance. Hmm, this fabric isn’t too bad out away from my butt-imprint. It’s tufty like bunched crabgrass in faded blue and it clumps nicely. Okay, that’s something, now I need priorities.

I have to get some cover lest the dog decides I’m lunch. That thing eats before he looks and that

is no longer a cute little quirk. I suppose I could hide under the wicker-stand. It’s only a meter from me. How vast it seems now, like a boundless square mountain of woven wicker, the carpet below is a swirled sea of peppered beige.

Crawling on my hands and knees I approach the seat edge. “Woof—that’s a long way down.” My new Elvis slippers (they’re blue, it’s just a nick-name) they could break my fall. Let me see here, that’s about an eighteen inch drop. At my present stature one inch is roughly six feet, multiplied by a foot and a half is a hundred feet, give or take. Even if I bounced that’s a ten story drop—equivalent. My weight would drop exponentially relative to my size reduction so leaping and landing may be more fantastic than expected but I aint no guinea pig.

I could use my clothes as a make-shift parachute. Yeah, that would work. I looked down and gave myself a-once- over.

“Where are my clothes?” I blurted out. I ducked instinctively, not out of embarrassment, but out of fear the dog might have heard me. He was silent, only the vortex computer fan was blasting away incessantly. I remembered that my clothes were on the couch.

I wonder what will be harder to explain. How and why I am one inch tall or why I was sitting at the computer naked? Even money—both are completely beyond my ability to rationalize.

I felt dizzy. Blackness whooshed over me like a spectral tsunami. I began to drift—fade. What is happening to me? I wanted to cry out and shriek in terror but I only collapsed, grappling for every breath. The dim-witted, off white sky, a tacky popcorn texture—was unbearable. I clenched my eyes shut, overwhelmed by sadistic fate.

I jolted up, roused by sounds of the wife bringing in the groceries. My heart was racing; I was drenched in sweat like I’d just had a swim. I was me—the big, all, full, complete, proper sized me.

“Honey, there are more things in the car. Are you wasting time again?” My beautiful, sex-goddess bride dragged in the weekly supply of toilet paper, chicken pot pies, and organic produce. At five-foot- two I really couldn’t call her short—not anymore.

Oh, thank God! It was just a short story contest. That was scary as hell. I mean I really thought that was it, I mean succotash—and by succotash I mean holy shiitake!

Social Media

Will It Sell Your Books For You?

Ann Livi Andrews

When my husband and I decided that we were going to self publish my writing, he immediately signed me up for several online "courses" that claimed to have all the answers. And you know what each and every single one of them said?


But more than that, they claimed that I needed to be spending hours a day getting my name out there via forums, author groups, book groups, literary newsletters, and (you guessed it) social media platforms. My husband forced me (I'm not joking here, dragging and kicking I was) to join Twitter. For the first several months, I hated it. Absolutely despised it. And I was quick to realize that a) no one wanted to see me promoting my own work 5+ times a day. And I'm just not that witty to come up with a bunch of 140 or fewer tweets to draw in attention, retweets, and to *gasp* reach the ultimate "trending" goal. 

So what did I do instead? I made friends. Sure, I made a few reader friends, a few marketing "friends," a few blogging friends, but mostly, I made Author friends. And to me, that has been the best thing to come from social media. Plus, let's be honest, as long as you maintain a PC and Professional Attitude on those platforms, being well-rounded on social media makes you seem a little more legit. 

Have I made sales due to my social media presence? I don't think so. If anything Goodreads has aided me far more than Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest ever have. But that's just my opinion. 

Riley Amos Westbrook

As an author, I love social media for all the wrong reasons. I believe these are great tools, but they are nothing more than that.


I love twitter. I can’t just jot down whatever I want and hit the submit button, I have to take the time to craft my message. 140 characters or less in order to convey my meaning to you. Twitter is great for talking to friends and fans, but horrible for selling. I use twitter cards, and I use them a lot. I tweet about my books everyday in one form or another. However, I don’t really think this has translated into sales, at least not directly. But that’s only half the battle of social media. Getting your name in front of other people’s eyes is the other battle, and that’s one I find twitter is excellent for. With just a few hashtags, you can spread your words across hundreds of thousands of people.


I am a HHHUUUUUGGGGGEEEE fan for Facebook. Not for sales or marketing, but for interacting. I look at Facebook, and I see a giant bulletin board, one full of your friends, family, and acquaintances. I don’t try to sell books on Facebook, because I know it’s not going to have a very good return on investment. Think about the things you like and share on Facebook, and think to yourself how many of those are books. That’s not to say that people don’t buy books from Facebook ads, just that not all results are typical. They’ve changed quite a few of their algorithms, but Facebook is still my go to place to waste time online.


Another great social media site. I love Pinterest, because it’s nothing but pictures. I love looking at pictures, and troll the site for inspiration on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Great to find images related to your books, and save them into folders. You can make casting lists, show images that help give shape to your world, and post covers to your books. That being said, I really use the site more to connect with other people. While I’m not going to deny the power of pictures in marketing, I can’t say directly whether or not it leads to sales, but it is another great way to waste time.


Finally, a social media site all about books! This is a great place to meet others who love the craft of writing. I’ve met so many authors and readers through Goodreads, and it is easily my best resource for procuring reviews. It even has a place for you to create an author profile, and list your books with links to buy. I still don’t know if this has translated into sales yet, because I don’t try to market my author page (Might be something to consider!). I do know I’ve made a lot of friends and met a ton of amazing people from the communities offered on their boards.


While not technically a social media site, blogging is yet another way to connect to people. A chance to write down your thoughts and connect with people who may not know you. I actually have mine connected to all my social media accounts, so I get to double-triple-quadruple dip with a blog. If I post a blog, it also posts to my Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads' profiles. Not to mention, with the proper tagging of your posts, you can quickly find yourself rising up the ranks of Google searches. If anything has generated sales for me, it has been my blog. However, it takes a lot of time and energy to be constantly posting and keep things fresh. Still, a great way to get your daily ideas out, and give you more eyes on your work.

If there’s one thing you can see, I view social media as a time sink that could pay off in the end. As with all things in life, you should be careful to put all your eggs in one basket and moderation is key.

Christina McMullen

Authors need to have a social media presence.

We hear that a lot, don't we? For the sake of this conversation, let's just skip over the fact that I tend to hiss and spit like a vampire caught in a sunbeam any time I hear anyone say that authors need to do anything. Social media is no different. I know a couple of very successful authors with no social media presence. It's not a requirement, but I can't deny that for those of us without luck and magic on our side, it's a simple and cost free way to get our names out there. 

And by getting our names out there, I do not mean just dropping a bunch of LOOK AT ME! BUY MY BOOK! posts into Hootsuite and spamming the hell out of your followers. As Riley points out, social media isn't a direct market for selling your books. It's called social media for a reason. You need to be social. And for some of us, that's terrifying. 

You see, being social online is no different than face to face and when you're a naturally introverted author with a network of thousands, well, panic attacks can happen. Understandably. So where is the balance between social interaction and careless spambot? The answer is wherever you set it to be. 

Give yourself limits. Try one or two outlets at a time. If that doesn't work, do not feel bad for abandoning the failed attempt, but keep in mind that it may take a while to ease yourself into it. Heck, it took me a solid year to start joining discussions on Goodreads and probably closer to two to make anything happen with Twitter.

And just like in real life, taking a timeout from time to time is good medicine. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Your media empire will not crumble if you decide you don't have something clever to say today. Besides, you can always come back later and say you were too busy penning your next bit of brilliance. (Quit giving away trade secrets, Christina!-Riley) ;)


***And now, a brief message from your Supreme Overlord***

For those of you wondering who on earth I am and are raising your eyebrows at the Supreme Overlord reference, my name is Ann Livi Andrews and I run Support for Indie Authors, SIA for short (no relation to the Australian singer). What started as a small idea in January 2015 has quickly turned into a vast wealth of support, encouragement, resources, etc for Indie Authors.
We have now grown to 5,000+ members and having outgrown Goodreads, we began our own website ( dedicated to helping Indie Authors be the best they can be. We are now 13 Moderators strong and have put in countless hours to ensure an organized and well managed group.
Sure sure, Ann,” you might say. “But what’s with the blog post?
Right – to the point.
We are about to undergo a major transformation on the Goodreads' side of the equation. We just celebrated our First Birthday, or First Anniversary, whichever way you’d like to look at it, and with over 5,000 members, I’m sure you can imagine just how many folders, topics, and comments we have to sort through on a daily basis.
In addition, with this many topics to sort through,  it becomes difficult for our members to find the answers they’re looking for to questions that have already been posted. We receive a lot of “Do you know where that one post that the one guy posted a few days ago is?” queries from our members.
So here’s the deal: tons and tons of posts are going to be deleted.


We’re compiling all of them into an easy to read and easy to search PDF that you’ll be able to download from our website. (For free, of course) This will be updated on a semi regular basis (as often as I or my other moderators can – I don’t pay them, you know – at least not yet.)
In addition, we’re going to be posting a new set of rules in response to some of the criticisms and . . .um. . .how shall I put this. . .harassment that we’ve received. The majority of you are super amazing members and we're grateful for your participation and the respect that you show one another. Unfortunately, a handful of people haven't been quite as understanding. 

With this in mind, we are going to be a little stricter in the future, to keep things safe for everyone. These rules will be straight to the point with no room for imaginative interpretation. With so many members, we’re going to have to toughen our defenses in order to maintain an organized and peaceful environment. We want to keep this forum and our group just as awesome as it’s been for the past year.

So there you have it. Changes are a-coming. But we’re still the same fun-loving Mods that we always have been. The Fun Folder won’t be disappearing. We’ll still be joking around etc. Just remember to keep it respectful and you won’t wake up to a cut-in-half bookmark lying on the pillow next to you.

As always, if you have any questions, or you feel that you have an issue with me or one of my Mods, please send me a message about it. Despite my tyrannical title, I am actually all about resolving conflicts. A happy and content army is one who can conquer many. 

***End Transmission - Resume your regular routine***

February's Short Story Contest - "Find Me Love" Winner

Dating An On-Liner

By Amanda Siegrist

"Oh. My. God." Chilly's eyes bulged as she looked at the picture hanging in the middle of the wall. "Please tell me that's not your date."

Daphne smiled with satisfaction. "Uh, girl, look again. That's my date."

"I'm so damn jealous. He's like a Greek God, just sculpted into perfection."

Daphne rounded her bed, walking up to where she pinned the picture on her bedroom wall. Teenager-ish, yeah, she knew it. But she couldn't help but print out his profile picture and hang it up to drool over whenever the urge struck. Which was often.

She took a spot next to her best friend, Chilly, or Chillavella, as her horrible parents decided to name her. They both tilted their heads to the side as they stared in awe at the picture.

Bronzed skin, not the fake kind where he visited a tan salon. Oh, no. This was real, honest-to-goodness bronzed skin from the beating sun. She could already picture him shirtless; sweat gleaming off his chest, working on, well, whatever she thought he'd be doing outside in the sun. The sweat rolling down with slow precision, just waiting to be licked off. She never thought of licking sweat off before. Downright disgusting, actually. But when she pictured him shirtless, yeah, she could see herself licking off his sweat.

Perfect posture with broad shoulders showing the muscles she knew he had. Of course, she couldn't see his chest, or any defining six-pack that she knew would feel delicious under her hands. The picture only showed the profile of his face and just a hint of his shoulders. Enough to paint a beautiful picture for her.

Short, cropped black hair that made you wish it were longer so you could brush it back with a slow, delicate hand. But she could work with short hair. At least she knew she wouldn't get her fingers stuck if the urge came over to comb her fingers through his hair. Yeah, that actually happened to her once. She even managed to scrape his skull with her finger, almost drawing blood.

A strong jaw line, chiseled, some would say. Kissable, to her. Definitely kissable. Defined cheekbones with a nose just proportioned to his face. A wide mouth curved into a beautiful smile, just a hint of his white teeth showing. Perfect white teeth. Did he use a whitening of some sort? Hers were yellow like a sunflower. Although, she loved her coffee. At least three cups every morning before she could even function. She'd take yellow teeth any day for her coffee.

And his eyes. Bright blue eyes. They shined like the sky on a perfect day, no clouds blocking the view. Or like the ocean. Deep blue ocean filled with many wonders. She knew he was filled with many wonders, all those edges and curves just waiting for her fingers to touch. Or like a lake, sparkling like a diamond. A treasure just waiting to be found.

Yeah, this would be a date for the history books. She couldn't wait to meet this perfection staring back at her.

"When do you meet him?" Chilly asked breathlessly, her eyes still transfixed to the wall.

"In an hour."

Chilly pulled her eyes away from the wall to look at her friend. Her eyes slowly went from her head down to her toes. "Please tell me you're not wearing that!"

Daphne looked down at her nice, pretty black dress, and frowned. She thought it was debonair, alluring, classy. The dress had no sleeves, giving a lovely view of her shoulders. Not that she had as nice of shoulders as Brent, her Greek God, but they were lovely, nonetheless.

It scooped with grace on her chest, just giving a hint of cleavage, but not actually throwing her jugs out there for the world to see. It flowed nicely down her body, not too tightly, of course, ending at her knees. It happened to be one of those dresses, that if he chose to ask her to dance, it would twirl with style. Yeah, she really hoped he asked her to dance. She wanted to twirl a little. In fact, she had twirled some before Chilly came over.

And to top it off, a pretty bow wrapped around her waist. Like a present that he could unwrap with his heart's desire. She thought it was the perfect dress. She wanted to be unwrapped by him. The way those eyes stared her down, she felt like he already was.

"I'm wearing this. It's perfect."

"It's too conservative. This is a man who looks at a woman and says, "Yes, I'll do her." This dress doesn't say that."

"Chilly, he is not like that."

Chilly propped a hand on her hip. "Because you know him so well. You've what, been talking to him a few times on that dating website, and you think you know him to the T."

Daphne mirrored her actions, propping her hand on her hip. "I think I know him better than you. We're soul mates. I can feel it. He'll like this dress."

"I'm not letting you walk out of this house with that dress on."

Daphne sighed. "And just what do you think I should wear?"

Chilly's lips curled with devious delight. She walked to the closet, yanking open the doors. She sorted through her clothes before her eyes landed on something tucked way in the back. Her fingers curled around the outfit and carefully pulled it from the hanger. She turned around slowly, her devious smile getting creepier by the minute.

"You'll wear this one."

Daphne's eyes bulged out. "Hell, no! That's from our senior year in college when you decided I needed to get laid, for whatever reason or another. There's no way in hell it still fits. Not to mention—"

"You got laid," Chilly finished for her.

"Well, yeah," Daphne muttered. "But this isn't about sex this time. This is about finding someone to settle down with. Someone to build a life with. My soul mate."

"I know, sweetie, I know. But if you get some sex with that soul mate business, and it turns out he's not, you still had sex with a Greek God."

Daphne cringed, turning back to look at the picture of perfection. Brent. Her Brent. She looked back at the green dress dangling from Chilly's fingers. It was low cut, tight as could be, and the kind of dress that yelled commando. It would never fit. She had added a few pounds since her college days.

"It'll bring out your eyes. Your beautiful green eyes. Any time you wear green, they sparkle like an emerald. Just try it on. If it doesn't fit, then you can wear the boring black dress."

"Fine. Twist my arm," Daphne said with aggravated patience, snatching the dress from her hands. She bee-lined it to the bathroom, slamming the door shut.

"Hurry up. You have less than an hour before you officially meet your Greek God," Chilly hollered, smiling with satisfaction. She took one more look at the picture before swooning onto the bed. "I want a Greek God, damn it."


Daphne blew out a breath, then tried sucking it back in. She couldn't breathe. She couldn't think. Hell, she couldn't move from her spot. A small hand on her back, pushing her forward didn't even help.

"Quit standing there like an idiot and go inside the restaurant." Chilly tried pushing her again.

"Why are you here again? I am not a child."

Chilly raised her eyebrows in disbelief. "Apparently, you are. You're still standing outside the restaurant doors like a deer caught in headlights. And Francello's, best Italian in the city. Oh, man, is he trying to impress you. I'm so damn jealous. What can I say? I want a sneak peek at this guy in person. I need something to hold me over, some wet dreams 'til the next man walks into my life."

Daphne chuckled, although mortified as she glanced around the sidewalk. "Can you talk quieter? Geez, the things that come out of your mouth."

"That's why you love me. Quit standing around. You wanted to find a man, that's why you decided to try this on-line dating business. And shit, your first try with a date and you snag a Greek God. How do you do it?"

Daphne laughed, fanning a hand over her forehead. "I'm a sex Goddess. Only a Greek God would go well with that."

Chilly busted out laughing, pulling the door open. "After you, my sex Goddess. I'll be sitting at the bar doing some recon."

"Okay, Sergeant Sex Master." Daphne saluted her and walked inside the building.

"Ooh, I like that title. You must call me that all the time." Chilly winked, dashing away to the bar.

Daphne gave a small laugh, blew out another breath, and walked up to the hostess. "Good evening. I'm here to meet someone. Blind date, sort of. On-line dating. First time. On it all. First date with an on-liner. Is that a word? On-liner. Well, it is now. I just said it. Didn't I? First time with this guy as well. He's dreamy. I mean, the definition of perfection. I brought his picture. Do you want to see his picture?"

The hostess stared at her with glossed eyes, a bit of horror tinged in. Daphne paused, her hand frozen on the zipper to her purse. "Rambling. I'm rambling. It happens sometimes. Rare. But happens. Yeah, I'm a bit nervous. It isn't that obvious, is it?"

The hostess pressed her lips together, probably trying to hold in her laughter. She moved them into a gentle smile with ease. It was Francello's, for heaven's sakes. It wouldn't do well for their employees to laugh at their patrons.

"A little. But just take a deep breath. You look lovely. I'm sure this will be a wonderful date. We'll make sure of it here at Francello's." The hostess gave her another sweet smile. "What is your date's name?"

"Uh, right. Brent. He said he would have a red rose. So sweet, don't you think? And I'm wearing a white corsage. This way we know who each other are." Daphne held out her hand where the white corsage wrapped around her small wrist, a white bow tangled delicately within the flower.

"But, of course, it's not a blind date. We've seen each other's profile picture. On-line. You know, we're on-liner's. I feel like I should use that word a little bit more so it becomes an actual word."

Daphne recognized the look from the hostess. "Right. I'm rambling again. I'll shut up."

"He's already here. I'll escort you to the table."

Daphne held up her hand. "Wait! Just point me in the right direction. I might need to take my time. Inhale a few more deep breaths."

The hostess smiled warmly. "Of course. You'll be fine. Go straight through, then take a left. He's seated in the corner of the room. He asked for privacy."

"Mmm, privacy. How nice." Daphne's smile widened. "Thank you."

Daphne forced her feet to move, wondering why she was so jittery. She never acted like this. Well, okay, if she was honest, she did tend to get nervous anytime she dated. Which is why she didn't date much. It's why she finally took the plunge with on-line dating. She thought it would be easier to meet the guy if they talked a little beforehand. Boy, was she wrong. She could feel the nerves swimming in her stomach, like little fishies in a tank, running away for their lives as the big net came down from the heavens to swallow them up.

She took deep breaths every time she stepped forward. She probably looked like she was hyperventilating to the other patrons. She couldn't help it. She was never good at this stuff. Which is why she normally had Chilly help her out. And, while the damn green dress fit, she felt very exposed, her jugs definitely falling out in heaps. She hoped he could keep his eyes on her face. Of course, he would. He was her soul mate. He'd never stare at her like a juicy steak. How deplorable.

She turned the corner, her feet slowing more and more as she continued. She glanced around the room, her eyes zooming to the corner the hostess informed her of. Sitting on the edge of the table, a red rose, red as the blood pooling in her veins. Her heart beat erratically, her nerves now jumping like a jackhammer that lost its owner.

She saw the back of his head, his black hair just asking her to run her sweet hands through it. She started making her way to the table, a bit of resurgence flowing through her veins at the thought of doing that. She paused halfway there. His hair shouldn't be that long. It was short, cropped,  barely enough for her to grasp. His hair now had a slight wave to it, long enough for her to grab a portion while they made sweet love.

Hmm, perhaps he let it grow out after he took the picture for his profile pic.

She continued, not worrying about that little detail anymore. She wanted his hair to be a bit longer anyway. She took quick, steady steps, dying to make it to the table. She took one last deep breath and walked up to the edge of the table.

His head turned towards her, instinctively knowing he wasn't alone anymore.

Her eyes dropped down in shock. "Adam! What the hell are you doing here?"

"Daphne?" His eyes dropped to the corsage on her wrist. "Shit, Daphne. What the hell?"

Her eyes darted around the restaurant, noticing a few people staring. She slid into the booth, the anger prominent on her face. "You're not Brent. Where is he?"

He looked uncomfortable. "Well, about that. I am Brent."

"No, you're not." She quickly opened her purse, pulling out his picture. "This is Brent."

He grinned like the devil. "Yeah, that's a damn good picture."

"This isn't funny, Adam."

He shrugged. "What can I say? So I used a different profile picture. I tried with my own and I didn't get many hits. You know, that's kind of a blow to a man's pride."

"And just how were you going to explain the name change and the wrong picture?" Daphne asked with irritation.

"I could ask you the same thing. You didn't use your profile picture."

"Sure I did. I just used a little Photoshop."

A long shadow fell over the table. The hostess stood with her same friendly smile. "Is everything alright? I just wanted to see what wine you would like to start with."

Daphne inhaled another breath. "You know, I'll take the most expensive bottle you have. Put it on his tab. And I would say, no, everything is not alright. This is my damn brother."

Write-A-Fight with VM Sawh

Welcome to the Write-A-Fight Club with V.M. Sawh. The First Rule of Write-A-Fight Club is, you DO talk about Write-A-Fight Club. No… really. This is how we learn about fights and writing fights as a result. Now I’m not going to Tyler-Durden-you and advise that you aspiring fight-writers go out and get yourselves into brawls. Save your fists, you need to type.

As a writer with more than a decade of martial arts training/teaching experience, a black belt, several books on weapons & guns, a ridiculous library of Eastern and Western fight movies and a penchant for dissecting fights in every movie I see… I am here to help you figure this out. I’ll be referencing author Rayne Hall’s book Writing Fight Scenes (Writer's Craft Book 1), which I’ve found to be an excellent resource for writers looking to get more information. After you read this piece, I highly recommend you pick it up.

Now, some of you may be thinking: “Why is this important? I don’t read books for the violence, and none of my readers are going to want a blow-by-blow description of the action. Besides, I’ve never been in a fight in my life!”

Right, but the hook of any good plot is conflict. Period. End of story. Whether it’s the emotional violence done between Victorian characters or the the face-wrecking inflicted between cage fighters. Violence is usually the way people resolve things, at least in a way that makes things interesting. Sure, your characters could sit down for tea and talk things out, but if everyone could do that, there’d be no wars. Even in our relatively safe modern society, there are still numerous movies & sports (both combat and team-based) serving as entertainment-based ciphers for us to get our need for violence and aggression out. So it is with this in mind that I want you to approach your potential fight scene. This is conflict-resolution for your characters as well as entertainment for your readers.

All other things being equal, your reader will need to be invested in the characters in order for the fight scene to matter. If we do not know or care about who is fighting, then the fight itself becomes largely irrelevant. 

Let’s say you’re on your way to an important appointment and you see a fight break out in the street. Are you more likely to care if the combatants are:

  1. Two random MMA fighters getting ready to throw down?
  2. Your mother trying to hold off a man who is hitting her in the face?

Feel that tightening in your gut? Even though these are just words on a page, I’ll bet you had an immediate response.That’s a instinctual reaction brought on by a rush of brain chemicals preparing your body to either fight or flee. Whenever we see violence being done to someone we care about, our bodies go through the same response. We either get ready to Run Away/Run Get Help or Lay A World-Class Smackdown. In psychology, this is known as “Fight or Flight” response usually occurs when a person feels that they are in danger. You need your reader to have that same reaction for your character. They need to be the either rooting for your hero to win or rooting for your hero to get away. The way you do that is by ensuring the reader is invested in the characters involved in that conflict by building up the circumstances leading up to that fight.


The first question you, as the author, need to answer before you write your fight scene is WHY?

  • Why is this fight happening? 
  • Why these two (or more) characters?
  • Why at this location?
  • Why now?

In order to figure this out, you will need some more information.


Author Rayne Hall believes that there are two main kinds of fights: The Entertaining Fight and the Gritty Fight. In her book, she provides a succinct definition of each type:

The GRITTY fight scene This type shows violence as it is: Nasty, brutal and quick. The typical gritty fight scene could be written in three words: Slash. Gore. Dead. In this type of scene, the actual fight is over quickly. The build-up to the fight is slow and suspenseful, and the Aftermath is prolonged. The fighters sustain terrible injuries, with spurting blood and welling gore. The Aftermath is horrid, with mutilated corpses, guts spilling from slashed bellies, and people dying in their own excrement. The gritty fight scene invites the reader to feel revulsion and horror. Its purpose is to shock.


The GRITTY fight scene will almost always end in a gory, bloody, horrible death.

The ENTERTAINING fight scene This scene is heroic, spectacular, exciting, acrobatic, entertaining, theatrical, fun. It allows the protagonist to show honourable behaviour and display impressive skills. The fighting Action is prolonged while the Aftermath is often non-existent. Entertaining fight scenes can be unrealistic: The hero finishes off five attackers without breaking a sweat. There’s little blood and no gore, and wounds are mere scratches. If there’s any blood, it blooms like a red rose on a white shirt. The hero may get a slash on his cheek which will heal into a fetching scar, while the loser limps off with a couple of bruises and lives to fight another day. Death is rare. Even if someone dies, they finish as decorative corpses. The entertaining fight scene uses the location creatively: fighters leap across gorges, slide down banisters, jump onto tables, somersault across motorbikes, swing from rafters. The Action involves jumping, spinning, whirling, twirling and acrobatic feats. The entertaining fight scene invites the reader to feel admiration for the fighters’ skill. Its purpose is to entertain. Critics say that these scenes fight scenes glorify violence.


The ENTERTAINING fight scene is least likely to end in death, and if it does, it will be bloodless and/or comedic. Often ends in a knockout, escape, surrender, or is interrupted by a third party.

I`ll expand on that and add a few more categories because I believe there are a couple more different styles.


This is a mix between the first two types of fight. This type of fight scene mixes the elements of both the gritty fight scene and the entertaining one. There is violence, the stakes are generally high and there are injuries sustained, which may linger. There is more blood present than what would normally be considered an entertaining fight scene, but the resolution is often quick and there are no deadly consequences. This type of mixed fight also opens up the possibilities for an artistic flourish on the part of either fighter, where they show off their respective skills. There are also more quips in this type of fight, where the opponents do trash talk each other, often ending the fight with a snappy one-liner. Think of this as a more violent form of the ENTERTAINING fight. The goal of this type of fight scene is to portray the fighters as both flashy and dangerous. Generally ends in a satisfying knockout or a non-gruesome death.


This is the mix between the two different styles, and it’s one that’s become very popular in the past decade or so, as the forms of entertainment with the most fights have all become centred on the PG-13 demographic. With more and more teens reading books and watching movies with violence than ever before, authors and film-makers have had to straddle a very fine line in order to produce fight scenes where much action occurs, but few consequences of violence is shown. For example, whereas a Gritty fight will focus on the action, the injuries sustained, the fighters’ pain, the danger, and the aftermath, the Intense fight scene will focus on the action and the danger, with little or no attention paid to the rest of the elements. There is no talking in an intense fight scene. The goal of an Intense fight scene is to elevate the pulse and grab the audience’s attention without repulsing them or making them cringe at the fight’s true effects. Think Hunger Games, Mission Impossible or Jason Bourne. Generally ends in an escape, violent knockout or a non-gruesome death. 


This one is an important category to consider because it is the most character driven of all the fights. The participants in an emotional fight will definitely know each other and have had previous interaction supplying background context for this type of fight. In an Emotional fight, the focus of the writing should be on the complexity and depth of feelings on the part of the characters in the fight. While this may seem counter-intuitive, given the adrenalized nature of most fights, it is the nature of the fighters’ relationship that will motivate how and why this fight goes down. This fight’s stop points are more likely to be different from the other kinds of fights as the resolution to the fight comes from an emotional breakdown or breakthrough. The goal of the scene is not to entertain the reader or viewer, but to invoke a sensation akin to seeing a car crash in slow motion. The fights are likely to have a shift point once blood is spilled, as a line has been crossed which much be addressed in an Emotional fight. Fights are likely to end once one party has been hurt or gives up. There is more room for verbalization in this type of fight from either fighters or the third party. Some examples include scenes of domestic violence, fights between family members, and those between mentor & protégé. We’ll discuss an example below.


This type of scene is very tricky to pull off, as our society frowns on violence between the sexes or between sexual partners. As Rayne Hall describes:

Genuine fights aren’t erotic - but they can build up an intense sexual charge. Many law enforcement officers, women as well as men, find that after a dangerous fight, they get seriously horny. This is probably caused by the hormones which get injected into the bloodstream, combined with stress and the instinct to procreate when one’s life is threatened.


However, with the goal of escalating or exploring erotic tension, this fight can function similarly to both a flirtatious scene and a sex scene. The goal with this fight is to titillate, arouse and/or amuse. The audience is invested in the characters and want to see them together, so an erotic fight can serve this function without having the characters sleep together. The violence is usually playful and light. Blood is usually non-existent, unless the scene is very erotic… or between vampires… or between very erotic vampires… but I digress. The injuries are usually glossed over, if mentioned at all and sometimes, the fight can lead to sex. The level of violence is usually commensurate with the level of steaminess in the rest of the book or scene. Erotic fight scenes will not end in death, unless well… there’s vampires again, or… zombies, I guess? But that’s kinda gross. Anyway, teasing talk, double entendres and moans/groans, sighs and gasps are all par for the course. Fight usually ends with an escape, comedic knockout or sex scene.

The most important part of understanding how to write a fight scene is this: the fight must tell a story. Yes, there are tons of movies and books with well-executed fights scenes, but the ones that resonate with the readers are the ones where the stakes are clearly defined and the fight contributes to the overall story in a meaningful way. With every fight that I read or watch, I look for the story within that fight. This is what we'll explore a little later on, but here's something to remember: A good fight scene reveals as much about the characters involved as a well-written scene with dialogue.


This is one of the overlooked aspects of writing a fight scene. Where the fight takes place can have game-changing effects on the characters, flow, turning point and climax of the scene. Describing the locale should occur before the actual fight takes place. As Ra’s Al Ghul says to Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins in the clip below, you must always learn to mind your surroundings. Choosing the ice field as the location for this fight allows for multiple environmental effects and complications in the fight. The ice underfoot heightens both the danger facing both combatants, making Ghul’s skill as he outmanoeuvres Wayne all the more apparent. The deep rumbling sounds of the glaciers moving around around them adds a sonic texture to the fight that heightens the viewer’s sense of unease. The ability to slide across the surface, as Wayne does to evade Ghul’s strike, and retrieve his sword is something that is unique to this locale. And finally, when Wayne seizes the upper hand, it’s swiftly undone because he neglected to ensure that the ground beneath him was secure, allowing Ghul to completely reverse the outcome with a single strike from his back.

The location of your fights should fit in with the theme, setting and tone of each fight. A skillful writer knows that each fight should have it’s own distinct flavour. Reading about the hero mowing down waves of cannon fodder in a single room is not very interesting, unless it’s his or her’s last stand. 

Here’s a thought experiment for you that will help you understand why the location of the fight is extremely important. I want you to outline the Sights, Smells, Sounds, Textures and Potential Complications for the following fight locations:

A: On a winding staircase in a Victorian House.

  1. During a thunderstorm.
  2. While the house is on fire.
  3. While the house's aged foundations are crumbling

B: On top of a modern bullet train.

  1. That`s stationary in the train yard at dusk.
  2. At night while the train is rushing through the countryside.
  3. On a snowy day when the train is just getting started

C: Next to a volcano.

  1. At its base, while it's active, spewing lava and pyroclastic material.
  2. At its rim, while it's dormant.
  3. On the slope halfway up the side, when the first eruption hits.

Each location and sub-location has its own set of variables that you must consider when you are writing your fight. You should be researching the location before you settle down to write your fight. 

Here`s a nice rule to remember: If your fight can be moved to another location and have it be written EXACTLY the same, then you`re not utilizing your location to its best potential.



What kinds of skills or experience does your hero have? As the writer you cannot simply rely on instinct and/or punching to get your character through a fight. You and therefore your reader has to know if that character has ever balled a fist correctly before. If they never have, and decide to throw a punch, the character is likely going to do it wrong and it is going to hurt. 

As the author, you need to communicate facts about your hero’s height, weight, build, body type, stance, strength and other physical attributes before you get to the fight. A broad-shouldered man is going to move differently than a small-waisted woman. The power and weight distributions are different, even when they take the same actions. Fight training can bring these more in line, but keep in mind what kind of history & exposure to violence your hero has. A professional fighter is going to have different lines of attack and movement than a street fighter or someone who’s taken a self-defence class. Someone who’s been in fights before is likely to be aware of what strengths they have.

As Tyler Durden said: “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”

As Tyler Durden said: “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”

You can also use the fight to reveal things about the hero that were previously unknown ie. an old injury, an artificial limb, or a bad memory of another fight. How your hero reacts in a fight situation says a lot about who they are.


A note on creating a likeable hero:even if your hero is the best fighter in all the land, you must ensure that the opponents are at least challenging enough to be interesting. Nobody wants to see Wolverine fight a panda.


Now, how much you reveal about the antagonist or opponent can vary, but when writing a fight the one thing you absolutely must include is how much of a threat they are. The threat level can vary anywhere from a kid with a gun to an expert assassin and everything in-between. 

If your opponent is just another stormtrooper, then you need to have either a previous scene or a character react in a way that lets the reader know what the threat level is ie. “Oh no the stormtroopers are here, which means the Imperial Star Destroyer is in orbit. We’re all gonna die!”. Think of what Peter Jackson did with the Orcs in Lord of the Rings. Yes, they appeared to be an endless horde, but he prepped their inclusion by showing how fearsome they were beforehand. This way when Legolas peppers them with arrows, we understand that it’s because Legolas is a badass, not that the Orcs are made of kittens and incompetence.

If, on the other hand, your opponent is somebody like Voldemort or Vader, then it is vital that both the hero and the reader understand what the stakes are for the fight and how dangerous their opponent is.The more formidable the villain, the greater the triumph when the hero wins.

Should your antagonist defeat your hero, then it has to be done in a way that your reader still empathizes and roots for your hero to come back. This can be a very effective way of building up the threat of the villain.


This character is actually a very important piece of the fight, if they are present. In some of the fights we’ll be discussing below, there is a third party who either interrupts or lends context to the fight. Remember during a fight, the two or more parties involved can`t stop and talk about their feelings! Your third party can act as a cipher and allow the reader access to more insights than either protagonist or antagonist can deliver during the fight. The third party character can help tell the story of the fight or be a plot device to break up or end the fight. This can serve the function of demonstrating the badassery of both your hero and the antagonist without having either one lose.


  1. The Build Up/Suspense: This is everything that leads to start of the fight. The key here is Rising Tension. Everything that happens during this point should lead to the two characters coming to blows. While some fights happen spontaneously, fights between protagonists and antagonists rarely occur without a series of escalating events or dialogue. Anticipation is everything, so get your reader rubbing their hands together.

  2. Kick-Off: Oh here we go! the first strike is everything. Who throws it? What kind of strike is it? That sets the tone for the fight. How it’s answered sets the pace and tells you something about the person being struck. Do they block or take the hit? This is the pay-off for the Build Up/Suspense. This is what the fans have been waiting for, don’t let them down. 

  3. Escalation: At this point in the fight, things have to get worse. The fight has to get increasingly harder or faster. The pace has to quicken in order to show the reader that the fight is progressing past the opening volley. As each fighter uses more of their tricks or grows more desperate, the blows and counters have to reflect that. 

  4. Turning Point: If your Location is going to play a role in the fight, here is where it steps in. The roof collapses, the fighters slip on the ice, a stream of lava bisects the fighting area. Alternately, the stakes are raised when either of the fighters gains an advantage, either through skill, chance, power, weakness or any combination thereof. This can be reflected in the fighters’ increased determination to end the fight. You may choose to re-iterate the reason for the fight or the reason why one of the characters believes they should win. This can be the hero’s lowest point, where they fall to their knees in defeat, before rallying back for the win.

    Note: A good fight can have multiple Turning Points and Escalations as the fight progresses. This can be an inventive way of keeping your audience at the edge of their seats.

  5. Climax: The final blow, the last strike, the Hail Mary, the lucky blow, the last ounce of strength. This is what separates the winner from the loser or it’s the biggest blow, the big action point. When neither party wins, this climax point can be an emotional breakdown, a revelation or an intervention of the third party. A really satisfying fight nails the climax by making the deciding factor something that’s intrinsically tied to one of the fighters or features a callback to the relationship between the two fighters.

Now, are you still standing? Ready to go another round? 
Let’s look at some examples. I’ll give you the breakdown for each fight as we go.

While I could easily populate this entire list with any major Eastern Action star (Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa,  etc.), I’ve chosen clips from popular, accessible Western Action movies which may make it easier for everyone to understand the storytelling aspects of each conflict and relate to the characters.

For simplicity’s sake, I went with one-on-one fights so they are easier to follow. If you enjoy this WriteAFight article, let me know and I’ll do another one including group fights.

Spoilers Abound!



Background/Inciting Events:

  • Iron Man & Captain America have apprehended Thor’s brother Loki, after he tried to enslave humanity.

  • Thor retrieved Loki from their custody, intent on making him face Asgardian justice.

  • Iron Man is set on taking Loki back to Shield HQ

Location Factors:

  • A temperate forest at the base of a rocky cliff.

  • The forest allows for the fighters to show their strength and power through destruction of the forest without worrying about any human casualties.

  • The surrounding trees and cliffside allow for a natural setting that invokes the feeling of two bulls going head-to-head.

Hero: Thor

Super strong Norse God, brave, loyal and fierce

Antagonist: Iron Man

Genius, Playboy… Armoured Anti-War Weapons Manufacturer turned Energy Baron

3rd Party/Witness:Captain America

Original Super Soldier and all-around stand-up guy

  1. The Build Up/Suspense:

    • Iron Man tackles Thor off the cliff top where he is having a conversation with Loki, who gets a quip in.

    • They land in the forest, relatively unharmed when Thor warns Iron Man against further aggression

    • Iron Man snaps back, equally cocky, unwilling to back down.

    • Quips and barbs are traded, Iron Man calls Thor a tourist, to which Thor replies by...

  2. Kick-Off:

    • … hurling his hammer, Mjolnir, at Iron Man. The impact sends Iron Man crashing through some trees and landing on his backside.

    • Iron Man’s fire is lit, as he responds with an “Okay,” through gritted teeth.

    • Thor starts to spin his hammer, but Iron Man hits him with a repulsor, following up with a flying kick to the sternum. It knocks Thor back and he loses his hammer.

  3. Escalation:

    • Thor demonstrates the ability to call his hammer into his grasp. He uses it to call forth a towering pillar of lightning, which he sends toward Iron Man.

    • Iron Man is unable to avoid the blast and his armour takes the full brunt of the blast.

    • But the lightning ends up boosting Iron Man’s power cells, which he then utilizes by blasting Thor with repulsors and then launching them both into the air.

    • Iron man slams Thor into the cliffside, flying higher and higher until Thor pushes off from the cliff and they rocket back into the forest.

  4. Turning Point:

    • The two square off again in a hand-to-hand show of strength, with neither side backing down.

    • However, Thor uses his superior grip to crush Iron Man’s gauntlets, further damaging his armour. Iron Man is visibly alarmed by this.

    • Iron Man tries to retaliate with a blast and a head-butt, but Thor responds in kind, and sends him hurdling back.

  5. Escalation Two:

    • Iron Man uses his speed to charge at the Norse God, grab him by the previously-mocked cape (setup & payoff) and slam him into a tree.

    • Thor turns the tables, picking Iron Man up and body slamming him into the ground. Momentarily triumphant, he calls for Mjolnir.

  6. Turning Point Two:

    • Not wanting to get caught by that hammer again, Iron Man rockets out of the way, causing Thor to face-plant with his swing.

    • Iron Man uses his speed and aerial manoeuvrability to deliver a dive-bombing rabbit punch, knocking Thor down.

  7. Climax:

    • Having fought back to an equal standing, the two square off again, only to be interrupted by the third party, Captain America, who appeals to their better natures and calls for a cease-fire.

    • Iron Man quips a warning and Thor hits him out of frame

    • Thor refuses to back down. He charges at Cap, who raises his shield. Thor hits it full force, causing a backlash which knocks them all down.

    • The three rise together, each displaying a new-found respect for each other’s fighting abilities.


At the end of this fight, no one was hurt, injured or upset. We’ve learned that Iron Man is cocky, even in the face of physically superior foes. He’s determined, but sometimes finds himself in over his head, and relies on his technology to pull the win. Thankfully, being the genius he is, he can quickly improvise and won’t give up until he’s defeated his opponent.  He will always make a quip, even in the heat of battle.

We’ve learned that Thor did not initially wish to fight, but was provoked by Iron Man’s disrespect and arrogance. Once the fight started, Thor was fully engaged, pounding and crushing Iron Man’s chassis with cudgel-like blows. He depends on his hammer for his best strikes and will not back down when called to reason, unless he respects the third party.

As for Cap, this fight showed that he was absolutely fearless when faced with two other powerful opponents. He is calm, rational and gutsy, willing to put himself in the line of fire in order to defuse a situation. He is somewhat impatient and annoyed by the other two’s inability to follow simple instructions.



Background/Inciting Events:

  • L.T. originally trained Aaron in military survival and combat skills and became a pseudo protege

  • Aaron became a Black Ops soldier carrying out clandestine missions for the US government until he suffers severe PTSD from his time in Kosovo

  • Aaron returns to the states and starts murdering people

  • L.T. is asked to track him, but then becomes Aaron’s target

  • Aaron and L.T. both craft improvised knives to fight with, but while L.T.’s is a wooden shiv, Aaron’s is a large metal blade

  • L.T. is caught in a trap and wounded, then escapes.

Location Factors:

  • The riverbank straddling the treeline, next to a rushing waterfall, on a bank of slippery, moss-covered rocks.

  • With the water nearby and L.T. barely surviving drowning, the feeling of danger is ever-present.

  • The rushing sound of the river adds to the adrenalized movements and the viewer is worried that one or both men may end up in the river again.

  • Furthermore, the slippery rocks and cold, wet stone heighten sensations upon the skin. For example, think of how your skin feels when your clothes are wet vs dry.

  • Coupled with the inherently deadly nature of knife fighting, this location suits this fight well

Hero: L.T.

Aged Civilian Combat Instructor who never killed anyone

Antagonist: Aaron

Black Ops soldier in his fighting prime, mentally unstable

3rd Party/Witness: None

None until the end, when Special Agent Abby arrives by helicopter.

  1. The Build Up/Suspense:

    • L.T. tracks Aaron in the woods, using all of his senses to try and ascertain where the inevitable attack will come from.

    • He hears the creaking noise too late to realize it’s a distraction and ends up with a wooden pike in his thigh and a noose around his ankle, hanging above the freezing rapids.

    • L.T. manages to survive and crawl ashore - cold, wet and exhausted, he finds Aaron waiting for him, like a panther ready to strike.

  2. Kick-Off:

    • The first strike is a brutally effective one, Aaron steps to the side and cuts the tendons on the back of L.T.’s hand, rendering him unable to use it.

  3. Escalation:

    • The two roll and tumble, with Aaron trying to slash open the side of L.T.’s neck by forcing his own hand.

    • L.T. is able to reverse this by slicing Aaron’s arm above the elbow, but pays for it when Aaron cuts upon his cheek.

    • Both Aaron and L.T. check their injuries, but Aaron uses the split second to throw some of his pooled blood in L.T.’s eye, buying an escape.
  4. Turning Point:

    • Aaron binds his wounded arm, tosses a spare shiv, which L.T. deflects and attacks again.

    • L.T. is able to wound him in the leg, strategically limiting his movement, and during their exchange L.T. stabs Aaron under the clavicle.

    • The major cost to this is that Aaron breaks L.T.’s shiv, leaving him defenceless.
  5. Escalation Two:

    • Now unarmed and facing an incensed Aaron, L.T.’s desperation grows.

    • Aaron presses with the knife, using his free arm to block L.T.’s view as he cuts open the older man’s torso

    • He presses his advantage by going for the neck once again, which L.T. is forced to defend, at the cost of the tendons in his left hand.

    • Aaron grows more aggressive by slicing diagonally across L.T.’s existing wounds - a particularly brutal cut as it intersects the already bleeding wounds and tears both open even more, ensuring that any potential recovery is even more difficult, if not impossible.

  6. Turning Point Two:

    • Aaron’s bloodlust and desire to cause L.T. pain makes him strike, stabbing up through the older man’s tricep as he tries to keep Aaron at bay.

    • L.T. knows that if he doesn’t act immediately, Aaron is likely going to kill him with the next strike. With one arm disabled, L.T. knows he does not possess the strength to stop him.
  7. Climax:

    • L.T. distracts Aaron by pretending to go for the younger man’s throat. When Aaron pulls back, L.T. yanks the knife out of his arm and stabs Aaron through the sternum, using a knee strike on the hilt to drive it deeper.

    • Special Agent Abby arrives as Aaron falls to the ground, mortally wounded.


At the end of this brutal fight, we’ve seen the payoff of both Aaron’s training and L.T.’s instruction. Because Aaron is psychotic, the audience never sees him react to his wounds with the pain, hurt or fear that L.T. displays. We are encouraged to root for L.T. as he is older, more vulnerable, cautious and has a less effective weapon. As he is wounded before the fight starts, the odds are even more against him. He fights a strategic, defensive battle, whereas Aaron’s approach is one more akin to ‘death from a thousand cuts’. He methodically dismantles L.T.’s defenses instead of using brute strength or speed. One gets the impression that Aaron is trying to beat his mentor at his own game. When L.T. gains the initial strikes, Aaron reacts with anger, slashing L.T. across the face and throwing blood in his eye, as if he was insulted by his teacher’s prowess.

Since Aaron was using his skills to hunt L.T., to have his supposedly decrepit prey fight back and actually gain a hit must have been a blow to Aaron’s pride, something his psychosis could not allow. L.T. is forced to kill for the first time in order to survive and collapses from exhaustion and his wounds at the end. Were it not for the arrival of Special Agent Abby, L.T. would likely have died right there. In a way, Aaron succeeded in showing L.T. the horrors that his training can cause. Neither L.T. nor Aaron communicate verbally during this entire fight. There is no music and the audience knows that this is to the death.



Background/Inciting Events:

  • Agent Smith hunts the free users of the Matrix, the ones who plug in and try to disrupt the system.

  • Neo, a free user. Was previously interrogated by Agent Smith. Is now on the run, having helped Trinity save their mentor, Morpheus, from the Agents' clutches

  • Agents have never been defeated.

Location Factors:

  • Inside the Matrix virtual reality system, where users can perform superhuman feats, if they believe, but Agents are programmed to be stronger & faster than the average person.

  • On a empty subway platform with no human collateral.

  • The concrete surroundings make for a harsh, if familiar environment, as most people have been on a subway before.

  • The supporting pillars and the walls give the fighters a place to interact and provides a visual for us to understand the superhuman power behind their blows.

  • On oncoming train provides auditory cues to both fighters, who can time its arrival to use it as a trap to eliminate their opponent.

  • A lone newspaper blows by during the initial face-off, invoking a western feel.

Hero: Neo
Hacker turned freedom fighter. Trained by Morpheus and via brain download of multiple fighting styles

Antagonist: Agent Smith
Undefeated hunter program of the Machine world. Able to regenerate and exceed all programmed limits

3rd Party/Witness: Morpheus and Trinity,
From the real world. Their reactions help sell the danger of the fight and Neo's injuries.

  1. The Build Up/Suspense:

    • Neo and Trinity have escaped the clutches of the Agents and whisked Morpheus to safety via the phone exit in the subway.

    • Trinity wants to tell Neo something (*spoilers* that she loves him) but the train interrupts her moment, so she reluctantly takes the phone exit, while a homeless man looks on.

    • Just as Trinity jacks out, she spots Agent Smith taking the homeless man’s place and shooting at her. She makes it out just in time, and urges Tank to send her back but the phone has been destroyed.

    • Neo turns to face Agent Smith, who greets him with aplomb. Morpheus and Trinity are panicked, knowing Smith’s formidable nature and question why Neo won’t run.

    • Neo makes the choice not to escape and instead, turns to engage Smith in a tense standoff reminiscent of a gun-slinger’s duel. 

  2. Kick-Off:

    • The initial kick-off occurs when Neo pulls his Beretta 9mm and starts firing, using a pillar to leap into the air.

    • Smith mirrors this action with his Desert Eagle and intercepts Neo in mid-air, though neither is able to get off a clear shot

    • They land together, with both guns empty, which they acknowledge and leads to…
  3. Kick-Off Two:

    • They stand and straighten, preparing for the hand to hand combat they both know is coming.

    • Smith straightens his tie and then Neo attacks

    • Smith counters effectively, driving Neo back against a pillar, which Smith smashes with his fist.

    • Neo rallies back with kicks to the torso and finishes the exchange with a spinning crescent kick which drives Smith back against a pillar. Smith's ubiquitous sunglasses break - a sign of vulnerability in the previously-unflappable program's facade.

  4. Escalation:

    • Smith acknowledges this verbally before taking the sunglasses off and attacking with more ferocity, driving straight, powerful punches and kicks into Neo’s body, knocking him off balance.

    • Smith demonstrates his speed and power by sending Neo smashing into the subway wall.

    • Neo knows he’s in trouble now, so redoubles his efforts and attacks Smith with greater speed; Smith takes several blows without flinching before countering Neo’s attack and trapping his arms.

    • Neo eats several head-butts from Smith (a particularly crude move for an Agent, which indicates his rage). Smith follows up with more linear punches.

    • Neo is forced to dodge more strikes and tries to fight back but Smith blocks his strike and lands a huge blow to Neo’s chest, sending him flying backward.
  5. Turning Point:

    • Neo lands hard and skids across the floor. He gasps in pain and spits out blood (both in the Matrix and the real world) indicating that he’s injured internally.

    • Trinity moves to nurse his wounded body in the real world, indicating both to Morpheus and the audience that Smith is killing Neo.
  6. Escalation Two:

    • Instead of giving up, Neo rises and strikes a kung-fu pose, demonstrating his determination and unwillingness to quit

    • With his circular arm movements, Neo reasserts himself into a position of confidence, referencing his time in the dojo with Morpheus, telling the viewer that he understands he's facing a similar situation (against a more skilled opponent) and that he believes he will eventually triumph

    • Neo taunts Smith, which causes the Agent to attack. Note the way Neo ties Smith up and delivers a series of head-butts back - he’s answering Smith’s attack and giving him tit for tat.

    • Neo presses his momentary advantage and engages in more wire-fu style acrobatics, showing off the more flashy aspects of his downloaded knowledge.
  7. Turning Point Two:

    • Smith isn’t going to play this game however, and catches Neo’s leg. He slams him into the wall, creating another crater not far from the first.

    • Smith utilizes the full strength and superior speed of his Agent form to pummel Neo, and send him crashing back into a wooden stand, injuring him further.

    • Hearing the sounds of the oncoming train, Smith drags Neo out like a limp piece of meat and tosses him upside down into the tunnel wall.

    • Stunned and hurt, Neo is now completely helpless.
  8. Climax:

    • Smith grabs Neo in a rear naked choke and pins him to the subway floor. He intends to sacrifice himself and allow the subway to hit them both, in order to kill Neo. He re-affirms his dominant position by calling him "Mr. Anderson" - another set-up and pay-off from their earlier interrogation scene.

    • Neo resists the label by responding: “My name… is Neo.” He then jumps up, smashing Smith into the roof.

    • The land in a heap and Neo back-flips out of way of the oncoming train, which pulverises Smith.


This one is quite the doozy, with Yuen Woo-Ping’s brilliant choreography doing a lot of story-telling for us. It is complimented by the dialogue and performances of the actors. The fighting styles of both Neo and Smith are completely in line with their characters. Every strike, movement, evasion or trap reflects the opposing nature of each fighter. Smith’s movements are machine-like in their precision, while Neo’s are more kung-fu flashy. Neo is only able to pull out the win because he refuses to give up and improvises an escape which causes Smith to fall victim to his own plan.

Note that while this scene is incredibly violent, and there is blood, the fighters stop several times to taunt each other and egg each other on. While Neo is visibly injured by Smith’s attacks, those injuries do not linger. In fact, the blood around Neo’s mouth completely disappears and never reappears even when Neo is injured even more. Contrast this with the GRITTY fight scene where the escalation takes a toll on the fighter’s bodies. Also pay attention to Neo’s kung fu flourishes during this scene, something that would never fly during a GRITTY fight scene. And while Neo and Smith do talk to each other during the scene, they do not swear or scream at each other, lending their threats a certain lightness, even as their fighting is fierce. This is what separates the GRITTY/ENTERTAINING fight from the others.

Neo’s victory over Smith does not result in the permanent death of his antagonist and Neo, despite the beating he took, does not appear worse for wear afterwards.



Background/Inciting Events:

  • Winter Soldier has already attacked and ‘killed’ Nick Fury in his first appearance.

  • When Cap pursued him from his apartment, Winter Soldier was able to stay ahead and even catch Cap’s thrown shield, something that had never been done before.

  • With Black Widow, Falcon and Cap on the run from corrupt Shield agents, they are ambushed by Winter Soldier who attacks them on the highway.

Location Factors:

  • City street near some wrecked vehicles.

  • Winter Soldier is firing automatic weapons while walking down the middle of the road. Civilians are fleeing. Potential for casualties is high.

  • Blowing up vehicles is a good way to show the effectiveness of the attack while confining collateral damage.

  • Cars, vans and trucks allow for multiple levels and launch points for attacks as well as provide cover to hide from weapons fire.

  • Open public area near highways and buildings allows for aerial attacks from above as well.

Hero: Captain America
Original Super Soldier and all-around stand up guy… now slightly more suspicious of everything

Antagonist: Winter Soldier
Brainwashed assassin with a bionic metal arm, armed to the teeth and very intense.

3rd Party/Witness: Black Widow and Falcon,
Black Widow and Falcon, the former for the suspense portion, the latter for the climax

  1. The Build Up/Suspense:

    • Opens with a running gun battle on multiple levels as Cap takes cover behind a car. Without his uniform, he is slightly more vulnerable.

    • Falcon offers cover fire, giving Cap time to escape

    • Winter Soldier is hunting Black Widow, his stride is both confident and assured as he uses the grenade launcher on his M4 rifle to take out a cop car.

    • He stalks Widow but is faked out by her cell-phone trap. She surprises him from behind and attempts to choke him out with a garrote, but he easily flips her onto a car.

    • He retrieves his fallen M4 but Widow disables his bionic arm with a taser disk before running away (an act which, in and of itself, reinforces how dangerous Winter Soldier is if Widow is running from him)

    • Widow frantically tries to get bystanders out of the way, but Winter Soldier shoots her from behind. She falls and crawls to cover, but he’s already spotted her and takes aim...

  2. Kick-Off:

    • Cap leaps into action, charging up the car towards Winter Soldier, who stops him in his tracks with a bionic punch to his shield.

    • Cap is forced to brace himself against the blow, which Winter Soldier follows up with a kick, sending him falling down to the asphalt. Before Cap can recover, Winter Soldier fires a burst from his M4, forcing Cap to duck and cover.

  3. Escalation:

    • Cap tries to engage Winter Soldier hand to hand, but the latter pulls a Skorpion machine pistol, forcing Cap to retreat.

    • When Cap closes and kicks the weapon away, Winter Soldier pulls a SIG pistol and continues firing

    • Cap finally get in close and disarms Winter Soldier, striking him with his shield...

  4. Turning Point:

    • While trading some rapid over/under punches, Winter Soldier grabs hold of Cap’s shield and rotates, spinning Cap in mid-air and effectively stealing the shield!

    • He knocks Cap to the ground and holds the shield up. Cap is now at an even greater disadvantage.

  5. Escalation Two:

    • Cap charges in and Winter Soldier throws the shield into a van, just barely missing Cap’s head.

    • He also pulls a combat knife, once again shifting the odds in his favour

    • Winter Soldier and Cap trade rapid-fire blows as Cap tries to keep his enemy off balance until he eventually disarms him with a powerful spinning back kick.

    • Cap presses this advantage with a flying knee and a judo hip toss.

    • Unfortunately Winter Soldier responds by...

  6. Turning Point Two:

    • … grabbing Cap in a choke with his bionic arm, which Cap can’t conceivably break. Things look bad for Cap.

    • Thankfully (sort of) Winter Soldier chooses to throw him over the hood of a Jeep instead of choking him out.

  7. Escalation Three:

    • Now the bionic arm is emphasized in the attack as Winter Soldier pile-drives his fist into the road, causing the asphalt to crack.

    • Winter Soldier leads with his bionic arm, driving blows into Cap’s side and pressing him up against a van.

    • Winter Soldier shifts the odds again by pulling another combat knife, giving him an additional weapon.

    • Cap is forced to evade and uses a German Suplex to slam Winter Soldier head-first into the ground.

  8. Turning Point Three:

    • The balance shifts again when Cap retrieves his shield to even out the odds. He uses it to block Winter Soldier’s strikes.

    • With his shield, he is able to hack at Winter Soldier’s bionic elbow joint, block another strike and then flip him over, causing Winter Soldier to lose his mask...

  9. Climax:

    • With the mask gone, Cap sees that the Winter Soldier is none other than his childhood friend Bucky! The shock is palpable on Cap’s face, as he thought his friend had died in the war.

    • Winter Soldier is distracted by this revelation long enough for Falcon to literally swoop in and dive bomb him before he can shoot at Cap.

    • Black Widow doubles up the save by firing a grenade at Winter Soldier, forcing him to retreat.


This back-n-forth scene is a really great example of how Escalations and Turning Points can lead to a very INTENSE fight as each side tries to outmanoeuvre the other. Note that each turning point changes the rules of the fight by removing or introducing elements, whereas the escalations capitalize on strengths and weaknesses. Also note that while the blows being delivered to either party should leave significant bruises and cause horrific bodily damage, both parties emerge relatively unscathed. The violence of this fight is mostly in how the intensity of the conflict is emphasized ie. the speed, power, danger and intent of the opponent vs the will, heart, and resolve of the protagonist. Intense fights should get the reader/watcher’s heart pumping!



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Background/Inciting Events:

  • Brendan and Tommy are both sons of an abusive, alcoholic father

  • Both were trained in MMA

  • Brendan left Tommy, his father and his terminally ill mother behind to escape the abuse and marry his girlfriend, Tess.

  • Tommy resents Brendan for the abandonment and Brendan resents their father for the years of abusive behaviour.

  • Brendan and Tommy both start fighting professionally. Tommy for the family of a murdered soldier and his own guilt for deserting his squad; Brendan because his family is experiencing money problems and are about to lose their home.

  • Tommy has left a dominating streak of wins on his journey to this fight, whereas Brendan has had a much harder time, relying on skill, endurance and luck to make it this far.

Location Factors:

  • This fight takes place in the Octagon at a UFC-type event.

  • There is a sizeable crowd present, as it is a major sporting event with multiple camera coverage and screens high above the octagon, so the crowd can follow the action.

  • The ring posts are lined with padding and each post is connected by a metal fence.

  • Because this is a professional fight, there are rules to the engagement and a break between each round. This location offers multiple opportunities for announcers, onlookers, the fighters and even the coaches to weigh in on what’s happening.

Hero: Brendan

Brendan, Tommy’s older brother and High School teacher who’s turned to fighting to save his family’s home. He's a calculating counter-fighter (reactive vs active) with jujitsu experience.

Antagonist: Tommy

Tommy, Brendan’s younger brother, who’s deserted the military after watching his squad die. He saves another squad and is inadvertently hailed a hero. He is a devastating powerhouse with an indomitable will and an aggressive nature.

3rd Party/Witness: Tess, Frank, Paddy & the crowd

Thousands of witnesses, as this is a major sporting event. Brendan’s wife, Tess is watching from the crowd. Brendan & Tommy’s father, Paddy is also in the crowd.
At ringside, Frank - Brendan’s trainer is coaching.

  1. The Build Up/Suspense:

    • Brendan makes his way to the octagon first, with Tess looking on nervously from the crowd. Brendan dances around the ring, clearly battered from his last fight, and apprehensive about the fight with Tommy.

    • By contrast, Tommy emerges from the locker room with a dour expression, clad in a black hoodie and walking with a purposeful, determined gait.

    • As Brendan catches sight of Tommy, he grows more anxious, as not only is he about to fight his own brother, but Tommy had previously indicated that he would not be showing Brendan any mercy…

    • A fact that was communicated the night before during a verbal confrontation.

    • Tommy eyes Brendan with a predatory glare, but does not show fear of any kind.

    • During the stand-off Brendan appears reluctant, asking Tommy about their father, but Tommy just walks away. Their emotional states are completely different before the round begins

    • Brendan makes eye contact with Tess. The sight of her reminds him of his reasons for doing this, so he musters up the courage to fight his own brother.

    • Tommy raises his fists with hungry anticipation and charges in...

  2. Kick-Off:

    • Tommy batters Brendan’s midsection with heavy, clubbing blows, driving his older brother up towards the cage wall

    • Brendan is immediately in trouble, so he slips out from the assault, with one hand outstretched to try and make some distance.

    • Frank calls out, urging Brendan to relax
  3. Escalation:

    • Brendan knows he must get his head in the game, so he rallies back with clean punches and a kick, which Tommy absorbs.

    • Frank gives the viewer a warning that something bad is about to happen with his fearful cries just before…

    • Tommy tackles Brendan to the ground. In MMA, being on your back with a heavy, muscular ‘ground & pound’ fighter on top is the worst place to be!

    • Tess reinforces this point with her alarmed reaction (cupping her hands over her face).

    • Frank calls out for Brendan to breathe and stay calm, even as Tommy picks him up and slams him down to the ground repeatedly (listen for the crowd’s excited response)

    • Tommy continues to pound on Brendan, while we, the audience watches from Tess’s point of view. She tips us off to what we should be feeling with her frantic words at this stage ~ especially when Tommy lands an illegal hit.
  4. Turning Point:

    • Frank plays a critical role here, trying to remind Brendan of his game plan, but his eyes are on his brother, who refuses to sit down.

    • Frank is telling both Brendan and the audience how he must fight in order to survive, but Brendan isn’t listening because he is too busy watching Tommy.
  5. Escalation Two:

    • Tommy goes on the offensive again and lands a heavy blow to the head (the crowd reacts) and then a high knee to the temple, further stunning Brendan

    • Tommy increases his pace, forcing Brendan back against the fence, continually raining down blows on him while evading Brendan’s submission attempt.

    • Tess reacts by telling the audience what they want Brendan to do: “Get off the fence!” Everyone is worried now, as even Frank’s instructions have a note of urgency to them.

    • Tommy grabs hold of Brendan and slams him down again, hard enough to shake the octagon and rains down more vicious blows on him.

    • When the bell sounds, Brendan calls Tommy out for his rage.
  6. Turning Point Two:

    • The fight continues with Brendan on his back, absorbing more of Tommy’s heavy hands until he switches up his strategy, trapping Tommy’s arm in a desperate gambit to stop the assault.

    • He’s able to twist his body and roll out, trapping the arm in an Omoplata shoulder lock. This demonstrates Brendan’s jiujitsu knowledge as he’s hoping to submit Tommy and end the fight without further violence.

    • Tommy resists, striking Brendan with powerful elbow until the latter is forced to dislocate Tommy’s shoulder entirely. Tommy has now lost the use of that arm.

    • Knowing the extreme amount of pain Tommy must be in, Brendan stops to check on him, but Tommy reacts violently, choking his brother and pushing him up against the fence.
  7. Turning Point Three:

    • What happens in the corner on both sides is very interesting, as Brendan wants to stop the fight, but Frank reminds him why he came. Brendan insists that he’s hurt Tommy already.

    • Tommy, on the other hand is alone in his corner, and watches the soldiers that came to support him. He believes he can’t let them down, because his entire self-worth is wrapped up in doing right by the men who died in combat. He’s experiencing survivor’s guilt not only from his family, but from his experiences in the army.

    • Tommy emerges from the corner, ready to fight to his last breath.
  8. Turning Point Four:

    • Paddy arrives and watches his sons fighting. He’d had a relapse the night before after many months of sobriety.

    • He sees Brendan pleading with Tommy to give up, because Brendan knows he’s fighting a wounded man and he doesn’t want to win.

    • Tommy refuses to back down, urging Brendan to continue beating him, even goading him on.

    • Brendan catches sight of Paddy, and they share a moment of acknowledgement, that their family is broken and this is the end result of Paddy’s inability to parent.

    • Tommy cries in his corner, because he knows he’s about to lose this fight, despite all of his strength and the beating he put on his own brother.
  9. Escalation Three:

    • Brendan recognizes that Tommy won’t allow himself to simply give up. He watches as his brother limps on in agony and knows he has to end the fight like a real fighter.

    • He lands a brutal head-kick on Tommy, sending his younger brother to the mat.

    • Brendan jumps on him, pummelling away before deciding to switch things up, trapping Tommy in a rear-naked choke, a move from which he cannot escape with a wounded arm.
  10. Climax:

    • Through sweat and tears, Brendan pleads with Tommy, begging him to surrender as he squeezes with all of his strength.

    • He holds his brother tight, telling him “I love you Tommy! I love you!”, reminding him that even in this moment of combat and carnage, that they are still brothers, and that he doesn’t have to fight any more.

    • Tommy taps.

    • Seeing this, Paddy starts to cry.

    • Brendan puts his arms around his brother protectively and leads him out of the arena as the crowd cheers.


This is one of those fights that doesn’t come along very often. The emotional fight between men is a rare one, as men in modern society are trained to believe that victory in a fight means utter dominance over your weaker opponent. This is why when wars are fought, both sides try to demean the other, as they both want to consider themselves the heroic party. However, when you are fighting a family member, as Brendan finds himself here, the lines become blurred and the emotions are much more conflicted.

There are many things going on in this fight that make it quite complicated. The long, tragic history between these two brothers means that this confrontation was always going to be about their feelings about each other, not who wins the fight. Tommy is physically stronger, a veritable beast, but looking at his situation one wonders if his size and fighting style isn’t more about trying to control the fight in a way he couldn’t control the actions of his father and brother in life. Abandoned in both cases, Tommy struggles to find any sense of warmth or compassion for either man when he returns to them as an adult. This fight is more about Tommy punishing Brendan for what he sees as selfishness. Brendan left his young brother behind to care for their dying mother, under the harsh rule of his alcoholic father.

This type of back-story is unlikely to be present in most fights, which is why the EMOTIONAL fight is more character driven than many of the others.

Brendan, on the other hand, learns much about Tommy in this fight. He recognizes that Tommy is in deep, emotional pain and that fighting is his way of dealing with the situation. When his pleas fall on deaf ears, Brendan comes to understand that Tommy won’t allow himself to fail, as he saw both Paddy and Brendan as failures.

Brendan realizes that he has to bear the brunt, the result of Tommy’s pain because he is partially responsible for it. The only way for he and Tommy to reunite is for Brendan to physically put him down and defeat him, to prove that he could take all Tommy had to give and still be his brother.

This fight was an emotional expression of a conversation the two men couldn’t allow themselves to have. At the end, they are reunited as brothers.



Background/Inciting Events:

  • The new Zorro infiltrates the abode of Don Rafael Montero to steal a map containing the location of a gold mine.

  • Zorro has already defeated several fighters in both hand-to-hand combat and sword-fighting

  • Zorro previously met Elena when she caught him stealing a horse, where she swooned a bit over him.

Location Factors:

  • The stables attached to the hacienda.

  • Multiple compartments for horses (which never play a role, but theoretically could)

  • Lots of hay and straw which can be used to trap or distract, along with horse-riding equipment within easy reach for defence.

  • Porthole windows allow for rays of light in the enclosed space and offer a romantic ambiance to the setting.

  • Stable is sealed off with only one exit, once Zorro closes the door.

Hero: Zorro

Zorro, or rather, the new Zorro-in-training, former thief

Antagonist: Elena

Elena, daughter of the original Zorro, accomplished fencer

3rd Party/Witness: None

  1. The Build Up/Suspense:

    • Elena confronts Zorro about having stolen something from her father, which he has.

    • Their mutual attraction is evident from the way they greet each other and engage in smiling banter, that is… until Elena draws her rapier and puts it under his chin.

    • Zorro responds by running his fingers down the end of her sword and drawing himself out to the tip of the blade, before swatting it away, and dismissing her as a threat

    • Elena responds by reaffirming her skill with the blade and sliding back into an attack stance and giving him a challenging look.

    • Zorro um… rises to the challenge as his sword pops up suggestively
  2. Kick-Off:

    • Zorro and Elena engage in an initial flurry which ends in a draw

    • They give each other a look of appreciation, presumably checking each other out as they circle around.

    • Zorro smiles but Elena wants to be taken seriously
  3. Escalation:

    • Elana leads the flurry this time, increasing the pace of her jabs, stabs and strokes as her face lights up with glee.

    • Zorro is forced back against the fence as Elena takes the upper hand and cuts his shirt with a cry of triumph

    • She poses with her sword with a prideful, yet playful expression on her face. She has proven herself a threat.

    • Zorro is annoyed by the damage to his clothing so they remove their outer layer, ensuring that the next exchange will be more … free-flowing.
  4. Turning Point:

    • Both partners engage with equal speed this time, with Elena trying to press her initial advantage early on.

    • This advantage is negated when Zorro slices a slit in her skirt, revealing her leg. She appears amused by this, at first.

    • He builds on this moment by drawing close and stealing a kiss from Elena, which causes her to gasp.
  5. Escalation Two:

    • Zorro, now with the upper hand, takes out another piece of Elena`s clothing - one of her straps, which falls revealing her shoulder.

    • Now unbalanced, Elena charges again, which Zorro sidesteps and steals another kiss
  6. Turning Point Two:

    • Enraged, Elena engages in a back & forth exchange which sees her disarm Zorro and approach him with menace. Note her wild hair and heaving … um, breaths. Clearly this fight has gotten quite heated.

    • She charges at him while he quips and takes cover in the loose hay.
  7. Turning Point Three:

    • Zorro manages to disarm Elena when she thrusts her sword and he allows it to slide through a harness before dislodging it from her grip.

    • Now disarmed, Elena runs for his fallen sword but he catches her in a vulnerable position and beckons her to rise from her kneeling position.


Can I just go ahead and say it? This fight is all about sex. Sexy-time sex and all the kinds of sex you can’t show in a PG-13 movie. So, the way this fight is constructed is through suggestion. None of the things Zorro and Elena are doing are overtly sexual. There is no nudity, nor foul language nor any mention of sexual acts. Nonetheless, this is a great example of an erotic fight that can easily translate to a book. Note the lack of blood or violence in this kind of fight - very similar to the ENTERTAINING fight, except that this has the added sexual tones. 

The eroticism is subdued and suggestive only to those who really know what’s going on. Zorro and Elena never actually hurt each other and both leave the scene completely intact. What started out as a confrontation, turned into an evaluation of each other as skilled partners in a sort of mating dance. The end result was that in each other, Zorro and Elena found worthy adversaries that they’d like to meet again. She may no longer care what he’s stolen and he may no longer care if she tries to stop him. 

The purpose behind this fight was to show courtship and raise the audience’s anticipation of Zorro and Elena meeting again. This type of fight can be a very good way to show chemistry between two characters without either of them having to address it directly.


I’m including a short example of how a fight scene can been described on the page.


One of the fools came rushing from the car, pistol barking.

She sent her first arrow through his eye.

Another fool leapt through the window, screaming as the flames took him. Another bolted out the door, firing wildly. The one in flames took a shot through the neck and crumpled. Hontas jumped to one side, but felt a bullet lance across her back nonetheless. The pain drove the air out of her. She flattened to the ground. A few more shots dug into the dirt before Hontas heard the familiar click of an empty chamber. She looked up to find that this fool was the one had one of her Colts. Her eyes narrowed. Hontas rose, nocked her final arrow and took aim. The fool started to run. Hontas let out a breath between her teeth and adjusted her aim. The arrow flew. It hit the fool in the back of the shoulder and knocked him down.

She was on him in an instant, pressing her knee into his neck. He tried to raise the Colt but Hontas grabbed hold of the arrow. Hontas went to pull it out, but he rolled suddenly, throwing her on her side.

She cried out as impact jarred her wound. Her head swam. She felt nauseous, like she was going to puke her guts out right there. She felt her bandages, fearing the worst.

Her chest had started bleeding again.

The fool was hauling himself to his feet, reloading quickly. The arrow’s shaft had splintered, causing it to hang down from his back. He raised her Colt and pointed it at her head.

Hontas threw herself to one side. Bullets chipped into the ground. Her hand closed around her hatchet and she swiped at him as hard as she could. The hatchet cracked on impact. Her shoulder lit up burning.

Blood sprayed across the hatchet’s handle, soaking her hand. She heard the fool gurgling. Her Colt sank to the dirt. The fool tried to clutch at his hand, now hanging from bits of skin and tendon at the wrist. But the arrowhead in his other shoulder made that impossible. His knees buckled and he fell screaming.

Breathing raggedly, Hontas let the broken hatchet drop from her bloody hand. She lay there a moment, panting, feeling her chest pulse with every breath. It took some for her world to stop spinning. After few long moments, she got to her feet and picked up the Colt. Its weight was familiar and comforting, as if she’d found a piece of herself, but also put an uncomfortable strain on her arm.

The fool was still screaming when she pressed it to his forehead.

“No! No! Don’t!”

The Colt kicked once. The fool’s brains sprayed.

Hontas panted hard, feeling her chest pulse with every breath. The smell of burning wood and flesh filled her nose. There were a few scattered pops as gunpowder from the weapons in the burning car ignited.

Her vision blurred slightly as she checked the remaining bullets in the Colt. For a moment she thought she had six left instead of three. She raised her head, thinking where the Colt’s twin had gone.

Empty anyway, she thought with a huff, and don’t have time to look for it, John ne-

She didn’t hear the door slide open from down the train. She didn’t even hear the shot until after she saw her leg pop with blood where the bullet had gone through.


And With That, The Fight's Over... Stay Down!

This brings us to the end of this first Write-A-Fight article! I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself, and picked up a few helpful tips on how to go about writing your own fight scenes.

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Supporting Indie Authors 101

Featured Article by Christina McMullen

Hey there fellow Indies! Christina here. You know, the mean mod. ;) 

I've noticed that once again the issue of support has been cropping up all over the Goodreads group. It seems as if a lot of friends and family just don't know what to make of us and therefore tend to either say the wrong thing or nothing at all. That, my friends, is why this article is for them, not you. Yep, that's right. I'm not writing to you, fellow author. I'm writing to your somewhat confused and slightly awkward family member or friend who wants to support you, but has no idea what to do. Go ahead, hand over the phone/tablet/computer, I'll wait.

Hi there supportive friend! My name is Christina and I am an indie author, just like your bud. Yes, the one who just handed you this to read. They think you're the bee's knees, by the way. And handsome. And smart too. I bet you're proud of the work your friend has done. I know I am. But like me, you might find it hard to express this without it sounding weird or thinking that you've suckered yourself into buying a book or something equally as panic-inducing. Believe it or not, your friend only wants your respect. 

You see, we understand that our books may not be to everyone's taste. Just because we're friends does not mean that we have to share all likes and dislikes. Your friend writes in one genre and you read another. Or even more likely, you don't read. Seriously, reading. Who has time for that? That's fine. You are not bound by the friendship contract to immediately run out and purchase a copy of your friend's book just because they wrote one. If that was the case, none of us would have friends and we'd all be sad.

But pretending they didn't write a book is pretty lousy, don't you think? Look, we're not going to ask you to read our book if it's clear you aren't interested, but you know, a congratulatory comment or even just a like on Facebook would go a long way toward letting us know we have your support. You liked that picture they put up of kittens eating a plate of bacon, so why not like the status update on how the editing process is going? Why not a ‘Way to go!’ when they update their employment status to ‘Author’?

If you're feeling super generous, you might even share a post. 

“But that's soliciting and I don't want my friends to think I'm shilling your book!”

Okay, sure, I can see where you might feel that way, but you can easily assuage your own guilt by adding a quick message. Something along the lines of:

“Hey, my buddy wrote this book. If you're into the blahblahblah genre, you might check it out.” 

There you go. You've supported your author friend without insinuating that everyone on your friend list is a potential customer. 

Now, perhaps you actually have read your friend's book and thought it was great. That's awesome and you should definitely tell them, but be mindful of how you word your compliment. Words that sound like praise to you, such as:

“Wow, this is good enough to be published through a major publishing house!”


“I can't believe this is self-published!”

...are not compliments. 

Self-publishing is not a consolation prize and it is not the easy route by any means. Chances are, if your friend's book is ‘worthy of a publisher’ then it's actually better than you thought. Authors who publish through traditional means are only responsible for the first draft. They have a team of editors, proofreaders, marketers, public relations specialists, you name it. Indies do not. 

Perhaps there are a handful of authors who still consider getting a publishing contract the sign that they have ‘made it’. But the majority of us do not think that way. Self-publishing is a viable option for authors now more than ever before and many, even household names that have ‘made it’, are embracing the DIY method. 

Okay, I've told you what not to say, so it's only fair that I tell you what you should say. Well, that's easy. Tell the truth. If you liked the book, say that you liked it. If it's truly one of the better books you have read recently, there is no need to qualify that with a comment about the traditional route. By all means, hold us to the same standards that you hold traditionally published books, but don't be surprised when we exceed them. After all, we're not shoehorned into writing the same old story now, are we?