Traditional Publishing

Do writing programs work?

By Ken Brosky
Editor-in-Chief, Brew City Magazine – Saturday April 28, 2007

You’ve probably seen ads for them in your favourite writing magazine, and maybe even one or two on your favourite writing websites, too. They’re writing programs, and they’re the bane of the beginning and intermediate writer. Programs that offer you instant help on putting together new exciting characters, complete with unique features – some going so far as to include pictures to help you visualise your new characters. Plot programs that let you point-and-click together an entire plot as if it was truly as simple as that. Setting programs that give you pre-made places – from buildings to vast plains to exotic alien planets – to help you place your cardboard characters who will eventually be drawn into your point-and-click story.

As any experienced writer knows, these programs don’t work. They don’t work for a variety of reasons, but the crucial thing every writer needs to understand is that the most interesting and thoughtful fiction comes from the real world. A writer’s experiences should directly affect the fiction they choose to write, no matter what genre it is. Great writers draw their characters from people they know, people they’ve met in real life. It doesn’t have to necessarily be an exact copy of someone the writer knows – a great writer can blend the personas of multiple people they have met into one truly unique fictional character.

The best plots come from the real world. Even in genre fiction, even in something as fantastic as The Lord of the Rings, there are traces of the real world floating among the storyline. A great writer will take his or her experiences and blend it with the imagination to create a unique, interesting plot that no computer program could have ever come up with. The biggest pitfall the beginning writer hits is the myth that their life isn’t interesting enough to build fiction from. Every human being’s life is unique and interesting in some respect, which is one of the reasons some of the bestselling books of all time are about the simple lives of unique characters drawn from the real world. Even in the case of genre fiction, a great writer can draw their own life experiences, situations, conflicts and love interests.

The best settings are right here in the real world. A computer program can give you a great image of a building for you to use in your next corporate corruption story, but it can’t show you the cracks in the west wall that are concealed by a dying fern plant, or the magazine vendor who always sets up shop next to the brown dot-matrix map of Milwaukee painted on the marble tiled floors in the centre of the massive lobby. Find your setting in real life and take notes. Find what makes the setting unique. Find the details a computer program can’t give you and you’ve doubled your skills as a writer.

The best fiction is able to tell a reader more about the real world than every reality programme on TV combined.

About the Author

Ken Brosky's first novel, Grendel, is now available through His short stories can also be found in World Audience and WTF Magazine. Ken also provides editing help to other writers at and is the editor-in-chief of Brew City Magazine.