Light at the End


The ‘working’ cover

I’ve published short stories in a wide variety of genres, but before tackling a novel I think ‘long and hard’, which I suppose is a reasonable euphemism for writing a novel.

Many authors who write sci-fi, dystopian or apocalyptic naturally populate their world with those creatures with whom we are most well-acquainted—humans. If not human, the characters are invariably a variation of the model. The unbelievable can be found in any genre but, in sci-fi,  dystopian and apocalyptic stories, we as readers must more readily ‘accept’ the author’s word—it has to be convincing.

Apart from reading pretty much anything I also write in a broad spectrum. Although my sci-fi short stories have been well-received, for a long time I’ve wanted to write a novel with a sci-fi/dystopian/apocalyptic flavour. I was afraid of being drawn into a world of unpronounceable equipments, scientific jargon, strange weaponry, beams, time warps and goodness knows what else.

Two writing theories came to mind. ‘Write what you know’ and ‘ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances’. Now, here were two things I could work with in my new venture.

Alternative colour scheme

During my morning cycle rides when my surroundings permit, I let my thoughts wander and over many weeks I dreamt up a situation which involved ‘ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances’. If I’m writing ‘what I know’ then that as always will be down to memory, experience, knowledge and research.

My sci-fi/dystopian/apocalyptic novel has the working title ‘Light at the End’. Like most of my titles, this one carries more than one meaning.

For the benefit of new writers or those who are interested in such things as how an author’s mind works when a new idea is bubbling under the surface, I used my favourite method for building the basics before writing any of the story. It’s a one-man brainstorming session.

– On a regular A4 sheet of paper, I drew a bubble and wrote the title inside.

– From this first point, I drew a line with a bubble on the end and wrote ‘tunnel’.

– From ‘tunnel’ I added several other threads with bubbles on the end—some of these immediately gaining their own extension.

– Back at the central bubble I extended more threads and added topics like ‘nuclear strike’, ‘tourists’, inhabitants’ and so on. Inside about thirty minutes I had thirty extensions from the original bubble—Light at the End.

– I spent twenty minutes listing character names and ‘other considerations’, writing as fast as possible when an idea came to mind. Speed is more beneficial than procrastination when brainstorming, otherwise it becomes braindrizzle. Characters would need names—not descriptions or ages—not yet, but male and female—yes.

I stopped the whole brainstorm session at one hour.


Forty circles with topics or sub-topics, and a list of forty ‘other considerations’.

While my thoughts were concentrated on the new story idea I had to keep pushing. Next up was another sheet of paper on which I drew a quick sketch of the tunnel and the surrounding countryside. By this stage, I was thinking of the opening scenes.

Before I stopped working I assessed progress.

A working title, a cover, a wide spread of information required, a plan of the main location, characters … and a catastrophe waiting to happen.

I performed the brainstorming session on Thursday evening and yesterday (Friday), I spent the day working on Chapter 1 – A Leap of Faith. Take a look and leave a comment if you wish. It’s a bit rough, due to being the first draft, which like the brainstorming was produced rapidly.

After much heart-searching, I’ve amended the sub-title/strapline from dystopian to apocalyptic. The two phrases are regularly and rightly associated, but I feel my tale will lean more heavily toward one than the other. Stranger than fiction really, since I’ve only written one chapter.

You’ve got to love being an author.

As always, thank you for dropping by, and for any comments or suggestions.


5 thoughts on “Light at the End

    1. Hi Patrick. Thank you, and I’m glad it appealed to you. Yes, we all have our methods, and this one has served me well for novel writing. I have two completely different routines for dealing with the development of a short story, so perhaps I’ll write an article on that at some stage. 🙂

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  1. Another enjoyable post, and like Max says, it’s always fascinating to see how other writers approach their craft. Dystopian/sci-fi (or the other way around lol) is a genre I’ve read quite a bit in, so looking forward to adding ‘Light at the End’ to that. As for ‘writing what you know,’ oddly enough that’s almost the opening line one of my ‘under 1k’ f/fiction pieces I started just last night and forms the central theme for the story. On a slightly negative note, if you weren’t an author I hadn’t already read, I’m not sure the proposed cover would grab my attention from the off (at least not yet, though I appreciate you’re right at the beginning of the process), though the tunnel with what looks like dust or smoke being disturbed just inside the entrance certainly has potential.

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    1. Thank you, Paul. I’m looking forward to seeing your full collection of f/fiction, knowing how ‘off the wall’ some are likely to be.
      With regard to the cover design, I haven’t spent much time on it—can’t you tell? 🙂 I like to produce my own which gives me pleasure in the whole product, but I know it might be to the detriment of the title. We’ll see how it goes, but I intend to try adding another dimension–if that’s not the wrong thing to say about sci-fi/dystopian.
      The problem of course with showing a cover and asking for opinions is that the author can lose ‘ownership’ as seventeen people give their idea and the whole thing goes wild.

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      1. Yes, quite a few certainly fall into the ‘off the wall’ category, including this latest one which is another MR Brown story (ie the character from Cold Callers and Digital Escape). But getting back to your post, there’s a lot to recommend professional cover design, but I don’t think anyone knows a book better than the author writing it; I’m all for having someone and maybe a few other people look at the finished product for tweaks here and there, but unless any sort of image design/manipulation is beyond a person’s skill-set, I certainly think they should have a go and go with what the author themselves thinks works.


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