Guest post: Writing 201 by Paul Lell


Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of more writing basics, 🙂 is brought to you by science-fiction / fantasy author Paul Lell.

Writing 201

After my “I just do it” line, I can see the next round coming at me from a mile away! “Okay, so write every chance I get, accept criticism, and don’t do it for the money. Great advice, Paul. But seriously, how do you craft a story?”

My writing tends to be very organic. I start with world building, every time. I make an environment that is as complete as I can possibly make it. I establish history and politics, business practices, science and technology. Even the general psychology of the masses needs to be accounted for. Detail is everything, for me at least, because without a believable world, the characters and the story are pretty meaningless. After that I move on to character building. My characters tend to be as detailed as my world. I have huge piles of data about my characters that I doubt anyone else will ever see, just to make them as real as possible in my mind’s eye.

Once I have my world designed, and my characters fleshed out, I begin the story creation process with a problem. What is it that has everyone riled up? What are the potential dangers to the characters? Their friends/family? The world? Further, how do the characters get involved? What is it that pulls them into the quagmire of the story’s plot? Everyone needs motivation to act, and it is always helpful, from a storytelling standpoint, if our characters’ motivations are believable to the reader, and compelling enough to the character(s) that their involvement is as realistic as it can be.

Next, I try and establish a few key plot points that I think I want my story to go through on its winding path to conclusion. This is more often than not a mental map, and I try to keep it intentionally vague, because establishing fixed points makes me feel as if my stories become very forced as I try to manipulate the plot, and players, into meeting those ridged points. The dots I try and pin to the map are the start, the end, and two or three waypoints in the middle. But again, I try to keep these points as vague as possible, so it is easier for them to change and flow as the organic story begins to take shape.

Then, I toss my characters in at the starting point and let them go! I find that, for me, the story just flows, if I’ve done my job of world and character building properly. The characters will have motivations, desires, and goals, and those create personality, when combined with their history. Their personality dictates how they react to the world and deal with the problem of the plot.

To borrow an analogy from Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ (an excellent book that I recommend to all writers), the process is much like sculpture, or the excavation of a buried dinosaur skeleton. Everything is in place and as detailed as I can make it. My job as the writer is to clear away the unnecessary bits of dirt or stone that obscure the final piece from view. Sometimes it’s easy going; sometimes not so much. But I cannot force the end result to be something it shouldn’t, unless I want to risk ruining it.

Thank you, Paul.

3rd KeyPaul Lell is a Science Fiction writer and publisher, best known for his series, ‘The Keys of Kalijor’ which can be found on all major eReaders and at all major online booksellers.

You can read more about Paul Lell, his books, and his crazy life, at


If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

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4 thoughts on “Guest post: Writing 201 by Paul Lell

  1. Edith says:

    I loved this post, thank you! It helps clear up one of my major problems with my wip — not enough background work done yet.
    Just as a matter of interest, how long (weeks, months…)would you spend building up your setting (world) and characters? I’m thinking maybe months?? Where do you keep your notes – a file, computer, software, eg Scrivener? I’m at the point where I reckon that if I could just get a ‘system’ in place then the rest might follow more easily.
    I am also somewhat challenged in the tidiness department!


    • Paul Lell says:

      Edith, Paul here. 🙂

      In answer to your question I would say basically the same thing as Morgen. I started out using Word, then Pages as I started truly switching to Mac.

      This may not work for everyone, but I have a long history of playing pen-and-paper role playing games, such as Dungeons and Dragons. Because of that, I have always tended to build my worlds and characters in game stats. I actually track numerical values for characters’ appearance, intelligence, etc. I have assigned them all a quantifiable alignment, skill sets, and even equipment. All in game terms.

      I do the same with the world, and the groups, political parties, equipment, facilities, all of it. Over the eyars I have accumulated enough of this material that I am now entering public testing for my own RPG.

      All of that having been said, I think the important thing is that you find a system that works for you. For me it was the above, but I am quite certain that would not be a universally viable solution. I’m kind of an odd duck and most folk don’t really ‘get’ my methodologies.

      So, play around with it. Try and find a method that really speaks to you. Start with a word processor, or Scrivener and see if you can organize things in a way that is meaningful to you because, in the end, that’s what this is all about; making your world easier for you to explore, so that you can share it with us. 🙂

      If you have MS office on a Windows machine, a pretty decent program folks should give a look at is One Note. It comes free with all versions of MS Office after abour 2003 and is really great for organizing thoughts, taking notes, and looking back through things you’ve jotted down. It has a pretty unique organization structure that allows you to keep books with, essentially, chapter tabs, and then sub-tabs within those chapters. You can name everythign however you want it, add tabs, chapters, and books at will, rearrange, do most basic and some advanced formatting, drag and drop images, all kinds of stuff. And perhaps best of all, it automagically syncs across multiple computers and even your iPad, so your notes are always up to date and available no matter where an idea strikes you.

      I know there are loads of tools out there, so poke around.See what fits you and your work flow.

      Please also bear in mind that my writing and world building techniques may not be for everyone. I find that writing is an intensely personal thing, right up to the moment that I click the ‘publish’ button. Some folks prefer detailed outlines, some prefer group writing, some (like me) lock themselves in a room until a manuscript is done. Expirament, find what works for you, then stick with it and make tweaks and refinements as you go.

      Please feel free to shoot me an email or ask further questions here (this holds true for everyone, by the way). I am more than happy to share anything I have learned along the way.




  2. morgenbailey says:

    Hi Edith. I just use a couple of Word documents (novel and notes) but Scrivener looks fantastic. I have a Mac (which Scrivener was originally designed for) and have just written the first part of a series of novels so think it will come into its own for that. 🙂


    • Edith says:

      I signed up for the preview scrivener at the start of NaNo and think I’ll treat myself to the full one for Christmas – it’s half price for nano winners!!! Maybe you’d consider writing a few posts about using it when you do?? Just a thought…tell me where to throw myself if you like 🙂 xxx
      -How do you manage to keep such a HUGE blog running as well as write and attend so many writing groups?????? Sometimes you put my head in a spin! 🙂


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