science fiction and fantasy writer

On Writing

This page is an archive of articles, blogposts and interviews I did about the practice and business of writing fiction, back around the time that I first got into teaching writing workshops and courses (and was still in the process of figuring it all out for myself). I mostly still agree with my earlier self, so for what it’s worth I’ve left it all here for posterity. Fair warning: I tended to have a bit of a potty mouth when I was brain-farting into my keyboard.

Storytelling | Story Structure | Character | The Details | Inspiration | Editing Your Work

Speculative Fiction | Being a Writer | Interviews By MeInterviews Of Me

– – –


Storytelling as joke telling

Inevitability but not predictability

– two articles on the lessons that storytellers can learn from telling jokes

Killing your darlings

– the novelist as Vladimir Putin

Writing versus storytelling

– what the difference is and how storytelling matters more in novels (guest post  at

– – –

Story Structure

Finding the plot, and a skeleton to hang it on

– how best to make use of plot archetypes and formal ideas of story structure.

Killer first lines and boiling frogs

Flying the Death Star trench

Pinning a donkey’s tail on the donkey, and closing with a click

– three linked articles on beginnings, middles and endings.

Managing the size of your story

– using a strong structure to keep your story under control.

Plotting and structure for cheats (or, how to gaff-tape your cardboard thingy)

– tricks and tools for if you suck and plot and structure (guest post at

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Knowing who wants a glass of water, being a sadist and the Asshole Leper Hero problem

– how to get your audience to care about your characters

Passing the Bechdel Test

– gender imbalance in fiction, with a further lengthy digression here, using a couple of my stories as examples

The Rumsfeldian Knowledge Matrix

– a tool for managing what your characters do and don’t know, avoiding point-of-view violations and planning what information you need to reveal

The mystic power of triangles, and knowing why your characters are there

– managing your characters and getting the most of of them and their relationships (guest post  at

What to do if you’re bored by your characters

– other than killing them (guest post  at

– – –

The Details

Getting the details right and getting the right details

– how the writer’s choice of details buys the reader’s trust and underpins the success of their storytelling.

The illusion of immediacy

– how choices of point of view and tense affect the immediacy of storytelling

So, about worldbuilding in short stories…

– how you really can create fantastical worlds in short stories, and how to go about it

– – –


Putting it all together

– applying some of the tools and advice in the articles above to actually create a story. Includes the resulting story, “The Hunt”, from an exercise I ran with the CSFG Hive Mind.

Turning ideas into stories

– the difference between ideas and stories, and what you need to do to your ideas to turn them into stories

Filing off the serial numbers

– on consciously mining the stories that have inspired you

Getting from one plot point to the next

– getting unstuck when inspiration runs out (guest post  at

Down the research rabbit hole

– research as a tool for both inspiration and procrastination

Making your muse work for you (by Nicole Murphy)

– a post on Nicole’s blog, inspired by an exercise I ran with our writers group, based on the Writers of the Future 24-hour story challenge

– – –

Editing Your Work

Polishing your turds

– critically reading and editing your own writing (guest post  at

Word frequency analysis and advanced procrastination for writers

– the limited utility of word frequency analysis and a lesson for writing in your character’s voice (guest post on Al Baxter’s blog)

– – –

Speculative Fiction

Writing what you do and don’t know

– the importance of putting your personal truths into your stories, and of stepping outside your cultural ghetto

Everything I know about storytelling I learned from Star Wars

– the unique lessons that Star Wars has to offer the budding storyteller (guest post  at

Everything we know about storytelling we learned from Star Wars

– the sequel! more Star Wars storytelling lessons (guest post  at on behalf of the CSFG Hive Mind)

Apocalyptic fiction

– a write-up of a talk I did at the Conflux 8 convention in September 2012, on making use of historical apocalypses when writing apocalyptic fiction

The definitive rules for writing magic

– or, some shit my writers’ group made up one night

Wizards: The Real Problem With Fantasy Writing

– an article I wrote a few years ago for the now sadly defunct (but still archived) Internet Review of Science Fiction.

Everything We Know About Storytelling We Learned From The Lord Of The Rings (a trilogy of guest posts at on behalf of the CSFG Hivemind)

The Fellowship of the EWKASWLFLOTR: Nine Rules for the Kings of Men

The EWKASWLFLOTR Towers: Five Rules for the Dwarf Lords*

The Return of the EWKASWLFLOTR: Three for the Elves, and One Rule to Rule Them All

– all the things we learned from the books and the movies

* the other two were eaten by dragons

– – –

Being a Writer

Landing jam side up

– what a difference it makes when the planets align and you can step out of regular, responsible real life for a while, and the importance of recognising how lucky you are when things fall your way (guest post at

The difference between writers and regular crazy people

– whether there is any difference, and why being delusional is an important part of being a writer

Escaping from planning and world building

– how short stories can help you change from a procrastinator into a writer (guest post  at

Writing like no-one will ever read what you’re doing

– the importance of writing for yourself, first

Step 2

– how to go about selling your stories

Setting yourself up for rejection

– how to survive going about selling your stories (guest post  at

Helsinki Bus Station Theory for writers

– the importance of staying on the bus (guest post  at

Brewing community

– an example of the value of an active writers’ group (guest post at

– – –

Interviews By Me

Patty Jansen (April 2014) | Nicole Murphy (April 2014) | Alan Baxter (May 2014)

Simon Dewar (September 2014) | Donna Maree Hanson (October 2014)

– – –

Interviews Of Me

Angel Dust, crass opportunism, inspirations, influences and my shiny lady fetish (April 2015)

2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction (July 2014)

Taking the step up from short stories to novels (September 2012)

Beta-reading for other writers (June 2012)

My writing habits, and my writing process (Jan 2012)

Writing Australian stories, surviving Clarion West and the AFL finals being the biggest reason to attend Aussiecon 4 (Feb 2010)

  1. […] First, I want to point you all to some fabulous articles by my friend, Ian McHugh. Ian’s a multi-award winning writer and very insightful about the process. In particular his series of articles On The Basics is brilliant – I read it this week and was blown away. Well worth your time – […]

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