Writers as Barbarian Conquerors!

Writers as Barbarian Conquerors!

This is possibly the most brilliant way to think about writing ever. I can’t believe I’m just thinking about it now, and certainly won’t have to beat the metaphor into shape. Well, maybe a bit. But, who the heck cares. You can now view your writing as a freaking barbarian invasion! Like I said: brilliant.

Barbarians don’t post plans on the Internet, so I interviewed one and drew this. You’re welcome.


Like any good invading army, you must first plan which of your troops are going where. It’s known as “plotting” in the writing world. It doesn’t need to be super detailed, but you should know the attack plan of your knights (aka hero) and archers (aka secondary characters. Sorry, Hawkeye). Plus, you should know a bit about your enemy’s defenses (aka villain).

Build up enthusiasm in your barbarian army with awesome speeches (aka writing down cool scenes).


This is where you plunge in and WRITE! KILL! DESTROY! Your armies are in place. Your knights are totally rocking it! Your archers are shooting those little wooden arrows like they can’t run out AND THEY DON’T BECAUSE IT’S YOUR BOOK!


Like any good story, the heroes will encounter defenses they had not anticipated. That’s you, the writer. A third of the way through drafting, you see things you hadn’t seen while plotting. THERE ARE SPEARS FLYING AT YOUR HEAD AND YOU GET SCARED. You pull back. You re-evaluate.

If you’re a wuss (you heard me), you’ll start reviewing every executed battle plan (aka editing). NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO PULL BACK YOUR TROOPS! Regroup, yes. Plan your next attack, YES! But keep moving forward. You’ve made it this far. You’re right outside the enemy gates. Keep pounding.


You stuck it out! You’ve sacrificed so many archers. So many dead Hawkeyes (of the purple suit variety) litter the battlefield. You might even have lost a knight or two. But you’re pushing through that saggy middle. Not every plan works out, but you keep on writing and attacking the Fortress of Manuscript.

You are awesome.

And then…

Sean Bean knows he w/ill die.
Sean Bean knows he will die.


Just when you think you’re safe, just as you break down the gates to the fortress and you’re about to finally get that sacred item and reach the climax (not à la Fifty Shades), BOOM! They have a troll. And its hits you on the head with a spiky club.

The Fortress of Manuscript has ways of fighting back and invading your psyche. You pull your knights back. You start thinking that maybe you killed too many, too fast. Or not fast enough. The dead Hawkeyes look at you with accusing glassy eyes.

… so you stop, looking at the door guarded by the troll with its big spikey club and you cry a bit.

It’s okay. Even barbarians cry. IN PRIVATE! Now you have a choice, mighty warrior.

Choose wisely

This stoic face chooses Option A.


My personal favorite. ATTACK! If you don’t know how to beat that troll yet, jump over it and worry about him later. He might hit you from behind. There’s a gaping hole in your battle plan but you keep going, leaving parts of your manuscript sorely unfinished. Note what will need to be changed since you’ll come back BECAUSE WRITERS CAN DEFY SPACE AND TIME!

Yes, we can. Keep going. Don’t stop. Push through. Kill the knights that must die and set fire to all the Hawkeyes! Make those muscles ripple and those swords flash! SHOUT IN VICTORY AS YOU STAND IN THE CENTER OF THE DESSICATED FORTRESS OF MANUSCRIPT!

This one chooses option B.
This one chooses Option B. And a horn helmet.


Lots of people do it, so I’m including it because I’m open-minded that way, but not so much that I won’t call people out for it. You lost your way in the battle. An orc hit your head with a hammer and now everything is a bit fuzzy. You tripped and fell in a pit of dead bodies and you need a shower. You can’t see the door anymore because your own blood is covering your eyesight (wow. Why the heck does anyone want to be a writer?)


My apparently Klingon blood balks at this, but it’s an acceptable strategy. Go back. Edit. See where things went wrong. Fix them. Take a shower. Clean the blood from your eyes. Wear a clean tunic and BLIND YOUR ENEMY WITH THE SHININESS OF YOUR ARMOR AS YOU RETURN TO STRIKE THEM TO STINKY DUST.

Own it. But don’t stay stuck there. That fortress isn’t going to storm itself.


Don’t trust the distractions. Off in the distance, there will be other Fortresses of Manuscript, with large open doors and inviting fields of green. There may be enticing scantily clad people on top, dancing their cultic dances with colorful veils and shiny ribbons. There will be candy and chocolate. And flowers. The other fortresses will show you some leg and make promises of success.

They’ll tell you that storming them will be much easier, because you’re *their* barbarian.

You look back at your field of rotting Hawkeyes, with the mean troll and all the places where you slipped in blood. Some parts are fuzzy – you think you missed important traps in this battle. It’s not clear anymore, because everything is blood and weapons and angry enemies screaming at you. Plus, all the almost naked people here are trying to kill you.

The other fortresses seem nicer. BUT IT’S A TRAP! Those fortresses also want to kill your Hawkeyes and make you slip in blood. You just haven’t tried to scale their booby-trapped walls yet, so you can’t see that.

Mark them on your map. You’ll invade them later. But you’ll never be a successful Barbarian Conqueror unless you finish up your conquests.

Finish that book.

No Hawkeyes were wounded in the writing of this post. Several were deeply offended, however.
No Hawkeyes were wounded in the writing of this post. Several were deeply offended, however.


This part never makes it into sword and sorcery books, because, truth be told, it’s a necessary but boring Barbarian Conqueror job. It’s going back and revisiting the whole attack, from planning to victory.

It’s figuring out what the official record will show. Making the slip-ups seem clever and planned. Maybe killing more or fewer Hawkeyes. Making that battle speech, which sounded like it was given by a drunk camel, sound better.

That’s the history book. That’s the editing. What will be published? Every good Barbarian Conqueror understands their feats will be judged and future conquests encouraged depending on past ones. Might as well make them sound as good as possible.

So, go forth, mighty Barbarian Conquerors! Write the story! Take no prisoners, or only do so to torture them and get answers! Finish your battles! Scale the walls or bring them down! Step over your dying Hawkeyes and brandish your weapons! Make a battle plan and adapt it as necessary – battle plans are sometimes tattered on the battlefield.

But you are mighty. You are brave and true. You can adapt. You can succeed.

You can conquer the Fortress of Manuscript.

Marie Bilodeau is an award-winning science-fiction and fantasy author, as well as a professional performing storyteller. Check out her writings and find out what the heck a storyteller is at www.mariebilodeau.com.

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John ONeill

Great post, Marie! It makes me want to give up this whole editing business, and try writing. (Almost.)


I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable;
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

Martin Christopher

I feel like I can’t see the advice for all the metaphors.

Wild Ape

The greatest thing in life is to crush your enemies, drive them before you, and hear the lamentations of their women. Translation: To hear the high praise of your many fans and the cha-ching! of the royalty sales.

@TDoolan—that was awesome!

Violette Malan

Kill! Kill! uh, I mean, terrific post Marie. Reminds me of a couple of pieces of good advice I’ve come across. One, if you’re stuck, think of the worst thing that can happen to your hero, and that’s what should happen next. Two, if you can’t seem to get your heroes out of a particular situation, but you know what’s supposed to happen next, power ahead, jump to that scene, go back and sort out the details later.
Don’t count the dead, until the battle is over.

Sarah Avery

This is an instance where mishearing Conan’s line as “to hear the lamination of the woman” would actually make sense.

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