What does a well known Six Sigma engineering technique, a fish and a book have in common?

They all have a spine and a strong backbone!

Dr Kaoru Ishikawa created a template which has been used in lots of different industries to help solve problems.  A visual way to look at ‘Cause and Effect’.

A ‘Fish’ diagram is the creative bit. Put the word ‘problem’ at the tail end of the fish, with the word ‘solution’ at the head (or the other way around, it doesn’t really matter). Then consider the problem. With every problem, there is a solution, with a number of factors which build up to that one ‘solution’. Brain-storming is the best way to identify as many ways to solve the problem as possible.  Each possible ‘cause’ and each possible ‘effect’ is then written or drawn against one of the smaller spines which branch out from the backbone of the fish.  Eventually, you get to the ‘root cause’ analysis. It’s a technique that can be used for any business problem.

Writing Tip 3

You can use it for creating your book too. The ‘cause and effect’ method. Why X did Y?  It can give you another fun way to structure your book and to identify the key elements, the ‘spine’ that holds your work together.  When you get stuck with a character, plot, chapter, paragraph or line, you can you use ‘Fishikawa’ to help unblock your way.  And doing something as creative as drawing even if you don’t think you can draw, is a great way to unblock your mind too.  Focussing on something else, other than the ‘problem’ or when you think you might have ‘writers block’ is a good thing.  Get away from your typewriter, your laptop or your notepad and pen. Grab yourself a cuppa, take a break and draw that fish.  Experiment with it. Use lots of coloured pens.  A visual representation of your book will help to keep you focused.  There are other ways to come up with ideas for your book ‘content’, your plot, characters etc but this is a fun and easy way to start to spark your creativity, especially when you are in the middle of writing.  Maybe you’ve been away from your book for a while because you got a little bit bored or tired.  Most often it’s both. Try the fish diagram exercise and you’ll be surprised with the words, ideas and solutions that jump out at you. At each possible cause, ask yourself ‘Why?’  What are the different possible and plausible ‘effects’. Keep going with the ‘why’ until you have the most likely ‘solution’ to that ‘why’. 

You can keep going for as long as you want, until the ‘problem’ is solved.  It’s a great way to spark ideas for your book, your characters and it will get you moving when you’ve become stuck.  Once you’ve drawn your Ishikawa fish, you can pin it somewhere in your eyeline to remind you of the ideas for your book, that the exercise sparked.  Think of it as a ‘visual vision board’ for your book.

Here’s a simple example of a Ishikawa in action for a book that I’m working on currently.  This is the topline ‘fish’ for my book as I wanted to be able to lift myself away from the idea of the book and to be able to get clarity on the whole structure.  What’s the start, middle and the end.  I’ll create one of these ‘fish’ for every chapter, every box and every character or for just when I get stuck and need a change of pace and a rest from writing. 
My book is called ’13 Boxes’ and each of those boxes has a ‘story’ and each story, somehow links to each other.  But how?


The process will help me to turn the idea into a 3D model in my head.  I’ll be able to see each of the characters, the moving parts and see how each of those parts is connected. Once I’ve got that, more fun can be had by deciding which of the characters has which event happen to them. 


  • Henry crashed his car – the problem – the tail end of the fish
  • Henry crashed his car because – the solution – the head of the fish

What happens in the middle is the fun bit which gets created when I start asking ‘Why?’

Have you enjoyed my blog post? Then you can find more helpful guides and articles in my blog. Want to know more about Write My Book? Or want to speak to me about my servicesGet in touch, and we can have a chat!

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