Idiot Proof

On the noteboard above my desk I have a couple of sheets of A4 where I’ve scribbled down reminders to myself. Reminders to stop me being very, very stupid and making basic mistakes with my writing. One of them is a pretty standard diagram about a three act structure. One is Dan Harmon’s 8 point circular structure (which I’d recommend as it seems to work very well. I used it on Low Life: The Deal and I was very happy with how that came out) and the other is a bunch of points I’ve noted over the years as being pretty vital. I’ve blown these up to a point size that means I CANNOT miss seeing them when I sit down in the morning. Even with my rubbish eyesight and sleep-deprived early morning funk (NB – not the George Clinton kind).

So, I thought I”d share. Because, you know, someone might be interested.

Also, I looked at my website and it looks like shit and I felt bad at never updating it. So there’s that. But I digress.

Anyway, some people may read these points and think they’re nonsense. Some may disagree with the order I have them in (and they are in a loose kind of order of importance, to an extent). That’s fair enough. Every writer has their own process. I read Stephen King’s excellent ‘On Writing’ and he said he doesn’t know what the theme of his stories are until he’s near the end. I can’t work like that, and he’s sold one or two more books than me, certainly. But these are my ‘idiot proof’ points that I try to follow when I’m starting any story, whether it be an ongoing series or a one-off five pager. And one or two of them were said to me by wiser heads than I, so there may be something in them.

  1. What is the theme? Don’t veer from it. Concentrate on it.
  2. The theme will tell you what the third act resolution should be. Either it proves the theme correct or it disproves it.
  3. What does the protagonist want?
  4. What is stopping him/her getting it?
  5.  What are the cool set pieces?
  6. How visual is this? And whatever the visuals are, how can we make them bigger?
  7. Keep it simple, stupid.
  8.  What do these characters do that is unique?
  9. Push them to their limits. Not just physically. Put their souls on the line.
  10.  Escalate.
  11. How does this story relate to you on a personal level?
  12. Heart? Soul?


Now, does anyone know how to make a website look not rubbish?


  1. Thanks for sharing this – just going to check out Dan Harmon’s 8 point circular structure…

    As for making your website look better, that’s easy, because you can simply install a different WordPress theme.

    Although changing the theme might lose customisations like your header logo, but they can be reinstalled or changed to suit the new theme. If you search for ‘premium wordpress themes’ you can find really great designs at very reasonable prices. I’ve used in the past.

    Thanks again for your thoughts on writing.


  2. I like this a lot, though I think it applies to a very particular (filmic) kind of writing – I’m writing Popeye at the moment and you can’t put his soul on the line every issue, the stories don’t work like that. But the stuff about exciting visual set-pieces is very applicable, and something I need to think about more… anyway, thanks for the post. Good stuff.

    • Rob says:

      Thanks Roger. Sure, appreciate what you’re saying re: Popeye. I’d never see these rules as set in stone, but it helps me to have them staring me in the face, for the odd occasion where I lose my way.

      Jeff Parker was praising your work at the Dublin con recently, btw.

      Good to hear from you.

Leave a Comment