“Hard to be the Bard” from Something Rotten starring Christian Borle as Shakespeare

Sometimes I think a writer can relate just too well to what poor old Shakespeare went through!

you see what people just don’t understand
Is that writing’s demanding
It’s mentally challenging
and it’s a bore
It’s such a chore
To sit in a room by yourself

Oh my god, I just hate it!

And you’re trying to find
An opening line or a brilliant idea
And you’re pacing the floor
And hoping for just a bit of divine intervention

That one little nugget that one little spark
Then Eureka! You find it you’re ready to start
So now you can write, right? Wrong!
You’re not even close, you remember that damn it,
Your play’s gotta be in iambic pentameter!

So you write down a word but it’s not the right word,
So you try a new word but you hate the new word
And you need a good word but you can’t find the word
Oh where is it, what is it, what is it, where is it!

music and lyrics by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick

The Inciting Incident Incident

inciting incident

Once a long time ago a person I met online asked me to be his writing partner and we agreed we’d try to write a fantasy story about his character, a swordsman, and mine, an archer, trying to stop a giant monster from terrorising a kingdom.

He asked me to go first, so, thinking chronologically, I wrote a few thousands words about this monster tracking down a innocent pair of children and devouring them.

When I handed it over to him, he read it and laughed.

“What is this?” he said. “I thought we were writing about our characters attacking the monster!”

“It’s the set up,” I said. “You know, the inciting incident?”

He laughed again, bewildered, and that was the end of our partnership.

kaboompics.com_Lovely notebook, iPhone, pen and little pumpkin on the desk

2 Easy Ideas To Help Define Your Plot

defining plot

I really need to work on ‘plot’.

Which sounds strange, because I’ve published two novels with great plots (if I do say so myself) and a handful of short stories.

But plot is actually my biggest weakness.

I really like thinking up characters and situations, but I have more trouble reflecting on what my main character’s primary motivation is and how it can drive the story forward.

To help with this, I like to try to narrow down my plots to an elevator pitch:

‘When an inciting incident happens to a character, they have to overcome conflict/obstacles, to complete their quest.’

The Edge of Darkness’ elevator pitch is: ’25th Century cyborg former prisoners of war uncover a conspiracy on board a transport ship to Old Earth and mutiny to save their lives and families.’

Storm of Blood’s elevator pitch is: ‘An Australian teenage demon hunter must infiltrate a coven of witches to find out who is leading the illegal blood magic rituals.’

I also find that writing a pseudo blurb first helps me narrow down what the plot is, and what my character’s motivation is. The blurb can always change, but it I write it beforehand, it can also work as a very loose plan.

For example, take the two blurbs I’ve used for The Edge of Darkness.

Version 1

“Cyborgs don’t get to control their own lives. Their own destinies.”

I did not choose to become this way. This corrupted, innocent body. Who in their right mind would willingly choose this life?
But those whose machine parts become too damaged to continue to operate under normal circumstances are recycled… their human half meticulously removed and disposed of… and the machine part to be reattached to a new human…
Was I ever a part of someone else?

At the end of the interstellar war, Max Ryan, an unwilling cyborg living on the Rock, a notorious prison planet, is rescued and sent to live on the transport ship Eden as it travels home to Old Earth. Max never thought she’d be doing anything else other than baking the ship’s bread for the next five years. But when she uncovers a conspiracy bigger than the war that enslaved her in the first place, she is in for the fight of not only her life, but those around her she has grown to love.
A dystopian novel exploring the themes of love, class, race, gender, and power.

Version 2

I did not choose to become this way. This corrupted, innocent body. Who in their right mind would willingly choose this life?

Max is just one of thousands of unwilling cyborgs sent home after the interstellar war. With the threat of recycling haunting her every move, she can’t even touch the only bright spot in her life: strong, handsome Ethan. Love means nothing to a cyborg – they’re not even human. The robotics makes them incapable of love. They can not marry. They cannot raise children.

So why does Max’s heart race when she meets Ethan again on the long journey home? Why does his forbidden touch feel so good, and set her blood burning? And why are so many cyborgs recycled when they are otherwise healthy and able to perform their work?

With the strange alien Authorities watching every move, Max uncovers a conspiracy bigger than the war than enslaved her in the first place. To find an escape from the horrific nightmare that her transport spaceship home has become, Max must race to find the answers and save the people she cares about, before her world and everything she knows is lost to darkness.

In Version 1, I focus much more on the cyborg/deep space/conspiracy aspect. In Version 2, I switched the focus to be more emotional, mentioning the romance which is a big plot point, and actually spelling out Max’s motivation and the consequences of failing her quest.

Version 2 spells out much better who my main character is, what she wants, what the obstacles are, and hints at what could happen if she fails.

Contradictory Characters? Characteristics Don’t Have To Match

contradictory characteristics

Recently the Miss USA was crowned, and I was blown away by the woman, District of Columbia entrant Deshauna Barber.


  • She’s not only incredibly beautiful, but she has a master’s degree in management information systems and works as an IT analyst for the United States Department of Commerce.
  • She is a logistics commander for the 988th Quartermaster Detachment Unit of the United States Army. She joined the military when she was 17 and sees it as a family tradition.She wants to use her Miss USA reign to focus on PTSD treatment for soldiers returning from the war.
  • She was a sorority sister in a chapter that focuses on leadership and educating youth.
  • She cried when she won Miss USA.

This woman, this amazing, phenomenal badass, breaks stereotypes just by being herself. She’s ‘a mess of contradictions in a dress’, as Fiona from Shrek the Musical says.


I don’t really like saying that a character’s actions are ‘uncharacteristic.’ Take for example Fluttershy from My Little Pony. She’s shy, she’s a pushover, she’s extremely kind and basically lets that demon bunny Angel get away with anything.

But Fluttershy’s also got this ‘stare’ that she uses on animals when they won’t do as she says. It’s very uncharacteristic  for Fluttershy to be bossy or mean.

fluttershy stare

Or is it?

When called for, Fluttershy can do anything, including joining in on Nightmare Night despite being afraid of everything, and helping Rainbow Dash bring water to Cloudsdale despite being a poor flyer.

Some characteristics can appear to be contradictory but it’s the author’s job to try to make them seem realistic. Unfortunately there’s a lot of readers out there who find contradictory characteristics to be unrealistic, despite it happening in real life.

Take me, for example.

I’m an introvert. I’d even go so far to say that I’m a little shy. People are constantly amazed that someone like me can get up in front of thousands of people and bare my soul by belting out a solo in musical theatre.

Shy people are supposed to get stage fright, right? Shy away from the spotlight. Only extroverts gambol about onstage because they love the attention.

And it’s true, I can’t break the ice with strangers. My voice literally sticks in my throat and I get so nervous I feel like I’m going to throw up.

Except for the time I walked up to and introduced myself to the Prime Minister of Australia.


I’m also a mess of contradictions in a dress.

Realism And Suspension of Disbelief

And when it comes down to it, it’s not just about ‘realism’ or how well the author writes. It’s also up to the reader to suspend their disbelief. If they can’t handle a sweet and sassy ‘traditional’ princess who can also kick butt to defend herself yet never escapes from the dragon keeping her hostage, no matter how well the author writes it, the reader just isn’t going to accept it.

But maybe they should remember that the District of Colombia Miss USA 2016 winner is a badass military leader and a IT expert smashing gender expectations and contradicting her own characteristics everywhere she goes.


Should authors produce similar content?

similar content

This was one of my problems when I first published an adult novel and then switched to Young Adult.


Should authors produce the same kinds of stories? Personally I loved reading Maria V Snyder’s Poison Study series and then the Healer series and finding them both basically the same kind of story, with the same type of heroine, love interest, and even a pair of allies who treated the heroine like a sister.

The same with David Gemmell’s heroic fantasy novels – mostly starring loner former heroes past their prime (Druss, Waylander, Jon Shannow) or young outcasts (Skilgannon, Gaelen) with a token warrior woman who will still need rescuing, often with some kind of man-beast hybrid that would have to be murdered eventually. I could pick up any Gemmell book and know exactly what I would be getting. There is always a quiet swordsman, a brute, and an archer in the team novels.

John Green writes manic pixie dream girls and boys as love interests.

Rick Riordan writes about descendants of mythological gods.

Cassandra Clare writes thinly veiled Harry Potter fanfiction.

Richelle Mead writes YA heroines who are smart and sassy and go-getters.

Stephanie Meyer specialises in weird love triangles.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Personally I like being able to say, “I feel exactly like a David Gemmell novel” and being able to pick up one that hits all the right buttons.

My own writing

Both of my full-length novels are wildly different.

  • Adult vs teen protagonist.
  • POC vs white ‘goth’ girl
  • Sci-fi vs paranormal.
  • Established relationship vs new love interest.
  • Deep space vs suburbia.
  • Limited characters vs larger cast.

But there are certain similarities:

  • Strong/powerful female lead
  • Diverse cast
  • Feminist slant on the storyline
  • Both heroines overcome their own issues and are the agents of their own stories
  • BUT both heroines need the help of their friends/allies to do so
  • Both characters’ actions propel the storyline forward.
  • I like to think of them as both active heroines, not passive.

That is what I’m aiming for in my ‘branding’.

In all of the stories I write, I want those similarities to be there. I want someone to be able to identify a Lissa Bilyk novel and be able to say, “Yes, I recognise those elements from her other novels” even though I’m writing in different genres with different plots and different characters.

I want my books to be different but familiar.