Putting a story together

Today is a sad day. Tony Scott, best known as the director for “Top Gun”, “Beverly Hills Cop II” and “Days of Thunder”, died in what was apparently a suicide jump from the Vincent Thomas Bridge in California.


Okay, today’s post is gonna be on how to put your story together with research. “RESEARCH?!” You may be thinking right now, “What a tedious notion.”

Ah, but research is vital to every piece of writing you are going to do. It doesn’t HAVE to be boring or mean being stuck in the library all day long (although I wouldn’t mind that) so I’m gonna list a few methods where you can get the necessary information.

Sign Up for Classes

What better way to describe the fight scenes than to ACTUALLY experience it for yourself? Sign up for martial arts or even sword fighting classes where you can fully appreciate the art and physics of fighting for your life. XD

In fact, Lorna Suzuki, author of the IMAGO series, has this to say:

“I’ve had a number of writers who do not do martial arts tell me they’ve studied the fight scenes in my novels to help write theirs, + 1 of my students is a writer. She has no experience with fighting or weapons, so I’ve been training her. She found it really helped to have practical experience to write these scenes!”

Talk to People

I’ve mentioned in my previous post that it’s useful to speak with different kinds of people, so get out there to meet new people! Speak to the cleaner who tidies your office every morning or banter with the hawker who makes your lunch. Everyone has their own story – a tale which you can base your next creation on. Even fantasy characters start with mundane backgrounds before they become great.

Tony Scott is a wonderful example because he based his characters on role models. In fact, watch this interview that he did end of last year on how he put his movies together.

Watch Videos

Too busy to take classes? No problem! The best thing about our world today is the sheer number of videos on almost every topic we want to know about. Lorna tells me that her particular martial arts style is known as “Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu“. You can easily Google for information or watch demos like the one featuring Lorna below.

PS: Or you can find videos of her Grandmaster Masaaki Hatsumi


It’s really a no-brainer, right? To make your world realistic, you need to be able to know what works and what doesn’t. Yes, you may be creating a different world from the one where we are currently living in but things STILL has to make sense. You can’t conjure your own logic just because you are the creator. Make sure that you know how things work in your universe. Joyce Chng, a SFF writer from Singapore, prepared herself by reading up on wolves, SEA flora and fauna.

Reading is also useful because it gives you new ideas that you can play around. Better than staring at the computer screen trying to come up with an original idea that is not over-influenced by Hollywood, right? XD

So, how do YOU put your story together?


Why you should research your novel or manga

Hello all! Wow…it’s been almost two months since my last post. =x

But fret not! Today I’m not going to rumble on about meaningless things because I managed to invite Ms Wena Poon to share some great tips on how to do a solid research while working on our novel or manga. Enjoy!

At bullfighting school in Sevilla, Spain, researching for Smoke, the sequel to Alex y Robert.

Wena Poon jots down some tips to encourage you to research your writing projects. She is the author of Alex y Robert, Lions In Winter, The Proper Care of Foxes and the four Biophilia novels collected in The Biophilia Omnibus. She was born and raised in Singapore and now lives and works in the US. Her author website is www.wenapoon.com.

  • Google, Wiki, YouTube the heck out of your subject first
  • Borrow all the relevant books at your local library (free!)
  • Refine and narrow down your list of queries
  • Set budget for research
  • Advance planning helps
  • Do not be shy about talking to strangers
  • Do not be afraid of getting lost: bring your GPS
  • Ask around for sources, explore all your networks
  • Friend the friends of friends, then their friends, to get your source
  • Helps on the money front if you have a day job
  • Plan your vacation days around book research travel
  • If you have to fly, and have no money, sign up for budget airfare deals
  • If you have small budget, be prepared to stay at hostels or strangers homes
  • When abroad, buy groceries instead of eating at restaurants
  • Do your research beforehand: nobody wants to talk to an ignoramus
  • Always go the extra mile to confront your subject or go to your location in person
  • Be prepared to be victimized, hurt, or hospitalized (and then use it for the book)
  • Be nice, not nerdy
  • If you know their language, speak it
  • Don’t ask open-ended questions
  • Respect people’s time, especially if you expect to get free advice
  • Ask specific questions to get good answers
  • Don’t exploit people
  • Be culturally sensitive. When in doubt: Google It.
  • Be humble, confess you know nothing and are willing to learn
  • Ask before you photograph your subjects or use their name
  • Respect privacy requests or you will never have another source
  • Offer to buy your sources drinks, coffee, meals
  • Thank them upon your return and acknowledge them properly in your book!

At falconry school in Ireland researching for The Biophilia Omnibus, a fantasy series starring talking animals.


What I learnt from 7 authors & 1 publisher

Last night, I had the opportunity to attend a APSS meeting thanks to Karen Leong, who is a really brilliant speaker cum inspiring friend of mine. I wouldn’t normally be found at a meeting targeted at nurturing speakers but this particular one had several published authors who were there to give valuable insights on the art of writing and publishing so Karen asked me along. =3 If you guys get the opportunity to attend such events, you should really go for it. You don’t just learn, you also meet people who could help you on your way!

Here are the esteemed authors who made their appearance at the meeting:

  • David Goldwich: Author of Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? Win-Win Negotiation Skills, and Getting into Singapore
  • Eric Feng: Author of Get to the Point!
  • Christian Chua: Author of How to be a Success Magnet, From Singlish to English, The Essential Teenage Handbook (and more)
  • Mukul Deva: One of the pioneers of the Indian thriller novel, and Author of three bestsellers in three years.
  • Shirley Taylor: Author of 8 books and Series Editor of 8 books in the STTS Success Skills Series
  • Tremaine Du Preez: Author of Think Smart, Work Smarter in the STTS Success Skills Series (Korean translation rights bought within 5 days of publishing!)
  • Michael Podolinsky CSP, Pearson Prentice Hall author of 13 books

Now, only 1 of the 7 authors present was a fiction writer. The rest were all motivational speakers/authors but hey, the tips are valuable nonetheless so I shall share what I learned here. All you aspiring mangaka and writers who want to get started on your Great Novel/Manga had better sit up and take notes! =3

1) It is possible to complete a book within 20 days: According to Michael Podolinsky, all you have to do is block out 90 minutes every day to write. It doesn’t matter when you do it as long as you devote 90 minutes to just pure writing. Tremaine Du Preez did it by switching off all internet access and her handphone.

2) There is no such thing as a writer’s block: If you know your subject, if you have a life full of personal stories, if you have an outline that details what goes into your book, you shouldn’t even be complaining about a writer’s block at all. If you don’t know enough about your subject, then research research and research!

3) Make a contract with yourself or your friends and family to complete your project: Many of us procrastinate. I know I do so I end up not completing my Rainy Skies project as I should. =x BUT! If you make a solemn promise to yourself or your friends/family to deliver by a certain date, you can do it! As Mukul Deva mentioned during his talk, “Any fool can have a dream, unless you put a date to it.”

4) Give your readers what they want: A few questions that publishers will frequently ask aspiring writers/mangaka: will your book sell? Will it appeal to your target audience? Does it fill in a lack in the current market? While you’re penning your great work, do it with these questions in mind because according to the statistics compiled by Bowker, publisher of Books in Print®, an average of 336,814 books were published worldwide each year from 2002 to 2008. So to sum it up…how can your book stand out as a drop in the ocean?

5) Books sell best in series: What does JK Rowling, Laurell K Hamilton, Tite Kudo and Masashi Kishimoto have in common? They’re all bestselling creators with wildly popular series.

6) Come up with a plan: Shirley Taylor, who is another great speaker, showed us a template she used for her books. Since she’s a communication specialist, her books are more of the how-to variety. She divided her chapters into manageable sections that people can easily digest in an instant. Of course, we can’t do the same for fiction books or manga but at least come up with a plan. It’ll get you going when you run out of juice while writing or drawing. =3

7) Social media is your best friend: We’re now living in an age of social media. Involve your readers in your creation. Get them to run votes on the type of product they’ll like to see. Like what Eric Feng would say, “don’t just bake a cake, ask people what type of cake they want to eat.” Sounds logical hoh. He also mentioned that readers who get involved in your product are more likely to buy your book. Makes sense, doesn’t it? =3

8 ) Self publishing vs published by a publisher? Both have their plus points: We had this really handsome dude from Marshall Cavendish International (Asia) come in to talk to us about being published by a publisher such as MC. Chris Newson, who is the GM of MC told us that being published by a published is vastly different from being self-published because the publisher takes on the unenviable task of marketing. They will put your books in the bookstores, arrange for book signings etc etc. Oh, one thing he mentioned: bookstores are the worst places to launch a book because the general public don’t really give a damn about your book unless you are James Lee or JK Rowling or Tite Kudo. Chris then went on to recall how heartrending it was to organise book signings but no one turned up. =x

And if your book is launched at the same time as MM Lee’s book? Good luck, pal. =x Hence, social medial such as blogs are very very important in pushing your book into the public awareness. =3

Christian Chua is a self-publisher, but then again he owns a printing company of his own. While publishers sell in bulk, he sells his books by first doing a small print run, then sending free samples to his target audience. For example, Christian first printed 450 copies of a book before sending them as free samples to ALL the primary schools in Singapore along with an order form. Only after receiving orders did Christian run another bigger print run. =3

Another self-publishing benefit that Christian mentioned was the ability to cut side deals, like sponsorships if you happen to mention a particular brand/company (several times) in your book. =3

9) Work with the publisher you’re most comfortable with: Someone asked how to choose a publisher during a meeting and the general consensus among the guest speakers was this: work with someone you can click with.So what if Publisher A can give you 10 times as much upfront as compared to Publisher B, which makes a more affable partner? A long-term working relationship is what gives you the best opportunities and least headaches. =3

10) A book is really judged by its cover: I’ve said this before and I will say it again. Books are judged by their covers so do invest in a good designer or artist to do your cover or you will regret it. =x Go to the bookstore and sit there for a few hours like Eric Feng to find out what are the type of covers that attract people. Or run votes on your Facebook page to garner opinions. Trust me, a cover can really make or break your book sales. It’s just like how a pretty girl will catch your eye first before the average one will, right? =3

AND SO! The top 10 gems that I managed to glean from the meeting. It has been a really wonderful experience because everyone is such a good speaker! NO ONE, and I repeat, NO ONE stumbles over their words (like moi). T.T

And everyone was so energised, I felt thoroughly exhausted after the session. LOL. But hey…you guys should really go for such sessions if you can coz it’s really galvanising and inspiring. =3

In fact, I’m going to wake up earlier every day to write for 90 minutes! Girl Guide Promise! >.<


Image: domdeen / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The top five characters who might be watching

Heya all! Sorry for the lack of updates…been a little busy (as usual) but I managed to invite Ms Donna Ballman as a guest blogger to write on using the law in our writing (and of course manga). I’m sure more than a few of you have considered using law in your work but is just not sure on how to go about doing it. Well, today Ms Donna will talk about the top five characters who happen work in the civil justice system and are also in the best position to be witnesses. Enjoy! =D

When I teach at writers conferences about using the law in stories, sometimes writers have no idea how helpful the law can be. One of the ways the law can really help your story is the characters. The great part about lawyers is they don’t have just one background. Where doctors have to have studied certain things, lawyers can study absolutely anything in undergraduate school. So they make great characters who can give you infinite possibilities. If you’re writing a murder mystery, you need witnesses. But many other stories need someone to see something happening to move the plot forward.

I want to talk about some other people operating in the legal system who move around enough or who have enough information that they might be useful to your stories. I’m going to tell you about five of them, but my book, The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill All the Lawyers, has loads of suggestions if you need more.

1.      Bailiffs: Bailiffs keep order in the court. They see and hear everything that goes on in court, so it’s their job is to observe. As characters, they can be witnesses, blackmailers, or heroes. They are the ones who protect the judges if there is any violence, and they protect the jurors, witnesses, and lawyers as well. They frequently have to lend a hand checking lawyers in for hearings, handling evidence, calling witnesses in, and other administrative tasks. They escort the jury to and from the jury room, and stay outside the door to make sure they stay safe, sequestered, and get what they need. Maybe they overhear jurors discussing a case with a reporter. Or they witness their judge accepting a bribe. They may be the one person who can identify the guy who delivered the poisoned lunch to the jury.

2.      Runners and messengers make deliveries, do copies and run errands for the attorneys. This puts them in a place where they can move around and observe activities of all your characters. Courier services will usually handle most same-day deliveries, but many larger firms have in-house people dealing with deliveries. Did the runner in your story deliver flowers to a prosecutor with whom a defense lawyer is having an affair? Did they have the package of incriminating tapes they were supposed to mail but took home and listened to instead? In-house runners or messengers will also assist with copying and other more menial tasks. These make great characters because they know all the office gossip. And maybe what evidence was destroyed.

3.       Process servers hand official documents to people who don’t want them. Lawsuits, orders to testify in court or bring documents, and orders to stop doing something are items your characters won’t be happy about. Many people try to evade process servers, who have to get clever to serve those individuals. Fake flower deliveries, disguises, sneaking in the back, could be used for humor or get your process server killed. Maybe they see the character with a prostitute. Having a character who moves around lots, who is observant and who sometimes has a law enforcement background could come in handy in your story, couldn’t it?

4.      A court reporter’s job is to write down every word said in court, listen to every word of every legal proceeding they cover, and write it down accurately. A missed word can be catastrophic to a trial. What if one of these reporters hates your attorney character because he yelled at her? They’re almost invisible, which makes them great witnesses. During breaks, lawyers and witnesses forget they’re even there. Court reporters hear all kinds of things they probably shouldn’t. You can have one hear a bribe during a break. Or a death threat during a deposition.

5.      Paralegals assist lawyers in investigation and research, prepare documents, organize and review client files, draft court documents, interview clients and witnesses, and assist at trials. The fact that the paralegal works so closely with the attorney puts them in a unique position for your story. They may know about a bribe, malpractice, or perjury. Maybe they were instructed to shred documents in the middle of a trial. Remember the paralegal character in The Riches? She found out Doug Rich may not be who or what he said he was.

So next time you say the law can’t help with your story, think about characters you need to observe something in your story. It doesn’t have to be a murder. Characters who are in a position to observe are handy in any type of story.

About Donna Ballman:

Donna Ballman has practiced employment law for 24 years. She was named in The Lawdragon 500 Leading Plaintiffs’ Lawyers in America, 2007, and has received numerous awards. Donna’s book, The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill All the Lawyers, is part of Behler Publications’ award-winning “Get it Write” series.

Where to find more info or ask questions:

The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill All the Lawyers, by Donna Ballman, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, and many other stores online.

Donna ’s blog is The Write Report, http://writereport.blogspot.com. She covers writing and publishing news and some of the gaffes she sees writers make, along with tips for fixing those problem areas.

Donna Ballman’s website is http://www.donnaballman.com. You can use the contact form there to ask her about using the law in your writing. No personal legal questions please!

About The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom:

For novelists and screen writers, The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom has everything you need to inspire your writing, help your characters navigate the legal system, and get your story right. When your fiction or non-fiction calls for a character to sue someone or be sued and survive the ordeal, this book should be number one on your docket. It’s a primer on the major types of law, who the players are, how to research the law, how trials really work, and what happens from the moment a client walks in the door in an attorney’s office.

Why your story stinks (and how to air it out…)

Hi guys!

it’s another bright and sunny day in Singapore. Have you been working on your anthology submission? If not, procrastinate no more!! Even if you can’t finish in a day, it’s alright because there is still time till the deadline at the end of November. Just work a little on it every day and you’ll soon begin to see progress. Better than going, “oh…I have no time…no time!!” =x

Excuses take time too you know. Might as well spend the time on your submissions. =3

Right! Was browsing through Twitter just now when I found this link on why your story stinks. So does your story stink? Does it have unbelievable characters who act like cardboard figurines? Does it linger too much on the loving description of a particular branded bag? =x

I’m now reading a book where the author loves to name all the branded stuff her characters bring around and it’s kind of distracting to see her place more emphasis on the items that bear no or little importance to the plot. Sure I know they’re rich girls but hey, a subtle description sometimes works better than flinging every single possible brand name into the story. It reads like an advertorial and sadly hollow.

It’s not that the plot isn’t credible or something. The story is on 4 pretty girls who are caught up in the stormy aftermath of their “BFF”‘s murder but somehow, I don’t feel like I can identify with any of the girls. Maybe because the author spends too little time on character development and flits from girl to girl like musical chairs. And the way she handles atmosphere in the story is just not skillful enough. I get more details about the surroundings than the story itself.

Not that I’m in any way a master yarn spinner but from a reader’s point of view, this particular story doesn’t leave me panting for more. It’s almost as if the author is too caught up in spinning her story and she forgets about her readers.

So whether you’re an aspiring writer or a mangaka, don’t forget your audience. If your story stinks, be sure to air it out a little. Or your readers may just turn up their noses at your work. =/