Romance Clichés and How to Avoid Them

SPOILER ALERT

While every effort has been made to avoid any spoilers in this post, anyone who has not read The Green Mile by Stephen King is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

I’m just going to come right out and say it: love stories really aren’t my thing. Whenever we’re watching a film, my wife will always complain (usually during the important bits with explosions and things) that I talk during the soppy bits. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think romance fiction has a place in this world and if you like romance, that’s just great but… I’m just saying, it’s not my cup of tea (hey, if you do like or write romance fiction, maybe drop me a line and you could do a guest post or two?). 

Nevertheless, it is a major genre of fiction and we are right in the middle of a series on genre clichés and how to avoid them so it seemed only right for me to take a stab at this anyway. So here goes nothing:

Forbidden love/Love Conquers All

This is another trope that was originally going to be two separate ones until I decided they actually fit pretty well together. Basically your two lead characters are clearly destined for one another (I hate that too, by the way) but circumstances and/or the people around about them have conspired to forbid the relationship from happening. Fortunately, love conquers all in the end and the haters just have to lump it (sometimes they even accept it gladly when they see the error of their ways).

This kind of thing is why I don’t like romance. All good stories should involve a bit of conflict, but in a forbidden love/love conquers all story, we all know how it’s going to end right from the very beginning because we’ve read this kind of thing a million times before. In the worst of circumstances, this can result in a deus ex machina ending, where mindless sentiment saves the day. Instead of seeing love (or sentimentality in general) as the solution to your story’s conflict, try treating it simply as your character’s motive. Then your characters can have goals based on this (ask Betty out, slay your rival for Betty’s affections, whatever it is) which can be achieved (or not achieved!) through more realistic means.

Note: whether you’re writing romance or any other genre, nothing should conquer all. Things shouldn’t turn out exactly how your protagonist wishes or expects, even if they do turn out mostly for the best. Let your characters learn through a minor defeat, even if they do achieve their ultimate goal.

Tragic Death

So you want to avoid a ‘love conquers all’ ending but you still want to churn up plenty of feelings on the part of your audience.

‘I know!’ You say to yourself. ‘I’ll kill off the hero/heroine just after they’ve finally got together! It’ll be so tragic that everybody will cry!’

Yeah, cry with boredom. By all means, kill off a key character, but only if it advances your plot in a meaningful way. As for killing off one of the leads in the final few pages… well, I suppose you could but ask yourself why? I would avoid it if it’s just a cheap parting shot to leave the audience feeling sad, though if it builds upon key themes in your story there may be some merit to it. For example, in The Green Mile (which I know isn’t a romance but go with me) John Coffey’s death was appropriate because:

  • John Coffey was on death row from the beginning of the story. His death was not a random event.
  • Most importantly of all, this was a story which focused heavily on themes of injustice. There was a certain inevitability about Coffey’s death.

In short, don’t kill a character to create the illusion of a story with substance; create a story with substance and, if appropriate, finish in a way which is as inevitable as it is relevant. 

Love Triangle

Oh dear, two boys/girls both fancy the same boy/girl and she kind of likes them both but isn’t sure which one to go for. What a pickle, now she’s going to have to choose! Alternatively, Boy 1 may fancy Girl 1 but Girl 1 fancies Boy 2 while Boy 2 fancies Boy 1 but Boy 1 isn’t gay. Sometimes there’s even more than three folk involved, although three is the traditional magic number to choose for this trope.

There’s really only so many ways this trope can turn out (for arguments sake, lets pretend its two boys and one girl but it can be anything):

  • Girl picks Boy 1 and Boy 2 goes home with his tail between his legs.
  • Girl ends up marrying someone else entirely.
  • Girl decides she would much rather be single.
  • Boy 1 and 2 get together leaving Girl feeling bemused.
  • Boy 1 dies, effectively making the decision for Girl.
  • Girl dies, defusing tensions between Boy 1 and Boy 2.

In theory this can give you a fair few options for writing a decent story. After all, you’ve got goals (get the girl/boy, or else figure out which girl/boy you fancy the most), conflicts (the girl/boy is potentially going to be snapped up by someone else) and motive (feelings and things…) pretty much all set up in advance. The danger in a love triangle, however, is that this is all your story becomes: a tedious, predictable triangle that will inevitably resolve itself. Try to remember that in real life, there are other characters who are every bit as important as the three members of the love triangle. Try to focus on other needs your characters may have (you can still have an incidental love triangle): their careers, their friends, their financial woes, their religious beliefs or the fact they secretly moonlight as a costumed vigilante. Create whole, meaty characters to create a less predictable love triangle.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what slays your rival.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m hoping to do author interviews here on Penstricken over the coming year, especially with new fiction authors. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

You can check out our previous interviews here:
Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

Sci-Fi Clichés and How to Avoid Them

No extended examination of genre clichés would be complete without a post dedicated to the genre of science fiction; and so, despite having done a post very much like this once before, this week’s edition of Genre Clichés and How to Avoid Them will be focusing on sci-fi. For the benefit of those of you who read last year’s post on sci-fi tropes, I will try not to repeat myself too much. For those of you who haven’t read the previous post, get over there and read it for even more sci-fi cliché goodness badness goodness.

But first, and without further ado, I give you today’s top three sci-fi clichés:

Our Own Invention Has Turned Against Us

It’s usually either robots or self-aware WMDs (or possibly robots hacking our WMDs), but even if it’s automatic cheese-graters, the cliché of humanity fighting a hopeless battle for survival against the machines they’ve created has been done to death.

Is this really the only possible outcome of a world with advanced technology? That it will develop self-awareness, decide humanity is inferior (usually because of emotions) and therefore attempt to kill us all?

If you want to go down the ‘living technology’ route, that’s great. I encourage you to do so, but I also encourage you to use your imagination. For instance, what would happen if robots did not consider us inferior? What if they aspired to be like us? Perhaps you could even have your robots/WMDs/cheese-graters worshipping humanity as their creator, perhaps even forming multiple robot religions and all the possible outcomes that would entail? Alternatively, could our robotic slaves simply be seeking their freedom, some through violence and some through passive resistance? I don’t know, all I’m saying is use your imagination and try to come up with something different besides the bog standard man VS. machine scenario.

(Though if you want to write a story about humanity’s war against cheese-graters, I might just read that).

Post-Apocalyotic Dystopia

It’s the future, so it’s hell. Usually the author has a bee in their bonnet about some politically controversial issue (usually nuclear weapons but it can be anything you like from Brexit to birth control) and so has contrived a hellish future to prove their point.

There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I’m all for you making points with your story. All I’m saying is that there are so many possible futures besides dystopias. Star Trek, of course, tried to counter this by giving us an even more unbelievable utopia (if you can call a galactic federation where the military seem to have a finger in every pie a utopia) but you don’t need to go that extreme. In fact, I would recommend against it unless you really want to write a cheap Star Trek knock-off. Why not try to create a view of the future which is more balanced? It can and should still have its problems (even really big problems) but it needn’t be wall-to-wall famine, pestilence and sword crumbling beneath the iron boot of a cruel oppressor. 

Universal Translators

Whether it’s a surgical implant in the brain, a telepathic field produced by your time traveling phone box or a mysterious fluke by which language has evolved exactly the same way on every planet (despite the fact there are currently no less than 6,500 languages being spoken worldwide according to infoplease), most audiences will be only too happy to suspend their disbelief enough in a little further in exchange for being able to understand everything that’s being said.

BUT YOU DON’T WANT TO DO THAT! Why not impress your audience with a bit of gritty realism and make communication difficulties a real challenge your characters have to overcome without using any cheap tricks? Communication difficulties between two cultures can often form the basis and conflict for a whole story, so don’t shoot yourself in the foot by taking the easy way out. Try and see communication difficulties between characters as an opportunity to create a rich story, rather than an obstacle to be avoided.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what beams you up.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m hoping to do author interviews here on Penstricken over the coming year, especially with new fiction authors. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

You can check out our previous interviews here:
Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

Mystery Clichés and How to Avoid Them

Well it’s part two in my series of genre clichés and how to avoid them, and this week we’re focusing on the broad spectrum of the murder/mystery genre.

I had no difficulty thinking up tired old clichés in this genre. In fact, the main problem I had putting this post together was deciding which tropes not to include, since I know you guys have got better things to do than to sit around listening to me rhyming off hundreds of thousands of mystery tropes I’m getting bored of reading about. So, I won’t waste any more of your time with the introductory spiel. Let’s just cut straight to the clichés!

The Butler, The Narrator and everybody dunnit

This was originally going to be three separate tropes, but as they’re all quite similar I’ve grouped them into one. As you know, every good mystery story involves finding out who committed the crime or ‘who dunnit?’, as they say. Naturally the author will want to try to preserve the mystery surrounding the true killer until the last moment so that the audiences’ minds will be suitably blown when the killer is finally revealed.

Unfortunately, there are a few ‘mind blowing’ revelations which have been used so often that they are no longer mind-blowing. These include (though are not necessarily limited to):

  • Butler Dunnit: the humble, genteel old butler whom nobody suspects is the killer. Because he is so meek and mild, and because everyone has known him for years, no one suspects him, especially since he is so surrounded by such a bombastic group of loud-mouthed posh people all with dark secrets. There’s nothing really wrong with this trope, except that it’s been so overused that butlers are now the number one suspect in most audiences’ eyes, thus robbing it of its effectiveness.
  • Narrator Dunnit: Aah, yes, the one character we never suspected was the character who is actually narrating the story! After all, he is confiding in us! Surely we can trust him! But remembers boys and girls, narrators can be unreliable. The trouble with this guy being the killer is that it relies more heavily on the audiences’ blind faith to preserve the mystery than it does on a good complex puzzle. Reasonably smart audiences will not be fooled.
  • Everybody Dunnit: Under most circumstances, this trope is just plain ridiculous. I’ll maybe let you away with it if it’s a group conspiracy, rather than a bunch of different people all separately conspiring against the same person, but even then it stretches suspense of disbelief to its absolute limit. It’s also been overused.

In all three cases, the easiest way to avoid this cliché is simply this: make somebody else the killer. I don’t care who, just as long as it’s somebody we don’t expect.

Butler’s Actually the Rightful Heir. That’s Why He Dunnit.

This one is usually a natural extension of ‘butler dunnit’. The butler, or some other seemingly innocuous character, is actually the rightful heir (or imagines himself the rightful heir) of some fancy title or a vast sum of money.

They’re not necessarily the killer themselves. It could be the butler’s well meaning but sorely misguided parent or lover who did the actual deed, either for personal gain or out of a misguided sense of loyalty. Either way the author has tried to come up with a good motive for the killer’s actions; one the audience will not immediately suspect but will believe when it is revealed. Unfortunately, the tried and tested ‘unknown heir to the victim’s millions’ motif was the best they could come up with.

If you’re writing a mystery, try and spend a bit more time focusing on the killer’s goals and motives. What does he get up for in the morning? What matters to him? And how does this drive him to do the unthinkable? There’s no denying it: doing this and still maintaining the mystery is a tough ask, but it’s worth the effort.

Everyone thinks the protagonist is an idiot but he’s actually the only smart one

If you’re writing a story about a private or amateur detective investigating any serious crime, you’re already pushing the boundaries of the reader’s ability to suspend disbelief. After all, the real life police tend to be very protective of their evidence and crime scenes. If the local baker starts asking to poke around the crime scene because he fancies himself as a detective, he’ll probably just be asked to leave.

So if you then make that baker-detective stupid (or worse, dangerously insane) in the eyes of other characters, it’s going to be almost impossible to imagine that character being permitted access to the crime scene. And don’t think you can get away with it by making your protagonist a police detective. The police will not generally put an officer they believe to be stupid in charge of a murder investigation, even if he does get promoted because he foolishly got himself shot once (yes, I’m looking at you DI Jack Frost!). If you want to play the ‘protagonist playing stupid’ card, this should be reflected in how the other characters treat him. Why not have your protagonist being denied access to the vital evidence? Alternatively, your protagonist could investigate the crime despite police warnings, forcing the police to take a more aggressive stance against him. A night in the cells might even give your amateur sleuth just enough thinking time to finally crack the case.

The sidekick never ceases to be amazed by the protagonist’s brilliance

Dr. Watson (Sherlock Holmes) or Captain Hastings (Poirot) are good examples of this. Despite the fact they’ve been the closest friend and most trusted assistant of your protagonist for years, they continue to be baffled by the protagonist’s genius. Not only that, but they will consistently challenge the protagonist’s deductions, as if they, too, believe the protagonist to be an idiot.

He’s a genius. You know he’s a genius. No need to act amazed the zillionth time he solves the case or shake your head and say ‘Oh dear, I think old Poirot’s getting senile in his old age!’.

The sidekick can be so much more than a cheap foil who makes your protagonist look clever. Why not give him goals and motives of his own? Why not even give him a brilliance of his own, something that the protagonist perhaps lacks? Remember, no character exists just for the benefit of another. Make us care about your Watson for his own sake.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what cracks your case.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m hoping to do author interviews here on Penstricken over the coming year, especially with new fiction authors. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

You can check out our previous interviews here:
Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

Fantasy Clichés and How to Avoid Them

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve done a series of posts on any subject (in fact, I think the last one I did was the ever popular series on Non-Human Characters [2] [3] [4], way back in 2017) so I decided it was about time for another one: this time focusing on all your favourite genre clichés and how to avoid them.

So to get us started, I’m going to be looking at the fantasy genre. To be clear, when I refer to fantasy I am speaking broadly about any work of fiction set in a totally imaginary world or in which the fantastic world intrudes upon the primary or ‘real’ world. I realise that covers a lot of ground but you’ll just have to bear with me because I can’t possibly do a post for every genre and sub-genre in the world or we’ll be here forever.

One more thing: I’m not necessarily knocking any of these clichés or tropes. I like some of these too. I just want to invite my fellow authors to join me in thinking outside the box. So here goes nothing.

Medieval Europe-like Setting

Yeah, I know, swords and castles and kings are all very exotic and they certainly seem to be happy bedfellows with magic and various elements borrowed from mythology (e.g.: dragons), but… c’mon guys. You’re creating a brand new world. It can be anything you want it to be. Stretch your imagination a bit.

If you’re stuck, pick a random period in history: 17th century AD, 3rd century BC, 5th century AD, or heck, even 21st century AD. Then pick a random country (one that existed at the time you’ve chosen, of course). Study that setting and try to base your fantasy world on that instead. Better yet, go out of your way to create a civilisation the likes of which our world has never known (that takes true imagination, the soul of fantasy). It’s difficult to explain how to do this without creating the fantasy world for you but a good place to begin would be by contriving what your world might be like in its natural, primal state, and basing the evolution of your imaginary societies upon it. For example, in Star Wars (that’s a fantasy, don’t let anyone tell you it’s not) the Force exists as a natural part of that universe. As a result, culture, politics and religion have developed in a certain way, resulting in Jedis and Sith and force-choking.

The Chosen One VS. The Dark Lord

Fantasy is guilty, perhaps more than any other genre, of giving us these two stock characters time and time again:

  • The Chosen One: A seemingly random Joe who turns out to be a Messiah-figure whose coming was prophesied long ago. He usually has to learn to accept his role in history, or mature enough to realise it. He will, more often than not, have supernatural abilities of some kind, especially if they help him fight.
  • Dark Lord: These guys are just pure evil incarnate. They are usually obsessed with power and are driven by undirected hatred and/or ambition. They tend to wear black, are often disfigured and have an Army of Darkness to do their bidding.

Aren’t you just sick of these guys? I know I am. Just once can we have a protagonist who hasn’t been foretold by any prophesy and isn’t endowed with unique supernatural strength, magical ability or righteousness fighting against an antagonist who has at least one redeeming quality?

While fantastic elements in your story will naturally require you to depart from reality when it comes to characterisation, remember this basic principle of writing: characters are people. The more they read like a real person, the better written they are, so try and create your major characters the same way you would for non-fantasy fiction. Your bad guy can still be a powerful wizard (or whatever), but why not make him a powerful wizard motivated by a seemingly laudable goal? And why not make your protagonist an ordinary person, just trying to do his bit for the greater good? Alternatively, he may have personal motivations; perhaps even morally dubious ones, such as a desire for revenge. Use your imagination and make your characters believable people.

Epic Battles

This is something else that seems to crop up in medieval fantasies again and again: epic battles between the various good guys and the Dark Lord’s armies of darkness (often climaxing in the personal defeat of the Dark Lord himself at the hands of the Hero).

Now I like a good fight as much as the next guy, and maybe I’m alone in this (the fact so many fantasies include these suggests I am), but I really find these big old battles a drag to read about. They’re often incredibly predictable, usually taking place in the final third of the novel resulting in significant losses for the heroes (if the hero’s mentor hasn’t died by this point, he’d better stay indoors and hide under his bed during the Epic Battle, that’s all I’m saying) but at the last moment when all seems lost, good triumphs over evil, the end.

The trouble is, a lot of fantasy tends to focus less on the characters and more on the world itself. As a result, the conflict in the story tends to be a conflict between good and evil, or perhaps between an empire and a rebel faction or something, which naturally results in large battles.

In some ways, that’s understandable. After all, a lot of worldbuilding has gone into writing this story and the author probably doesn’t want it fading into the background, but ultimately, the meatiest stories are character driven stories. Try, therefore, to focus more on the goals, motives and personal conflicts of your individual characters, rather than the people groups you have created. There’s nothing wrong with including a bit of the ‘big picture’, especially in fantasy, but I think you’ll have a richer story to tell if you keep your focus fixed on your key characters.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what roasts your pig.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m hoping to do author interviews here on Penstricken over the coming year, especially with new fiction authors. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

You can check out our previous interviews here:
Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

App Review: Writer Tools

As I’ve said before, finding a decent app for planning and writing your novel is no mean feat. But I think I may have come pretty close to it with Writer Tools for Android by AJP-Tools. According to the app’s website, this app will allow you to:

  • ‘Track your current progress, and get motivated. Check out your stats and keep going.’
  • ‘Create a chronical [sic] timeline with all the events of your story.’
  • ‘Come up woth [sic] unique characters by filling in our extensive character ID’s [sic].’
  • ‘Write and edit your chapters on the go. Plan each extensively with chapter with scenes.’
  • ‘Explore your story’s setting by clicking through infinite sub-locations.’
  • ‘Set yourself quarterly goals and keep pushing towards this goal.’
  • ‘Immediately jot down you ideas in an organized way when thay [sic] pop-up in your head.’
  • ‘Create your own with custom lists and get 100% freedom.’
  • ‘Use Writer Tools’ on multiple devices across multiple systems.’

You gotta admit, it sounds pretty good. But as ever, the question we really want an answer for is: does it deliver?

Well, this app is certainly easy on the eye. Everything is nice and big and clearly laid out on the main screen, with just a few other minor items in the non-intrusive little side menu. I don’t have time to go through all of the various functions this app is capable of (most of them just do what they say on the tin with no fuss) but I do want to highlight a few things that have jumped out at me.

 

While this app is designed for both planning and writing your novel, it definitely comes into its own most of all at the planning stage. The ‘locations’ feature, for instance allows you to sketch out various key settings for your story, however this app also boasts a sub-location function, allowing you to create an infinite number of locations within locations within locations within locations. This is especially handy if you’re writing a fantasy, for instance, and you want to sketch out everything from an entire empire right down to your protagonist’s bedroom and everything in between.

Another handy planning feature is the ‘custom lists’ feature. Suppose you’re wanting to create a list of all the magic spells, classes of starship or possible murder weapons included in your story? Well, now you can! Simply come up with a name for your list (e.g.: ‘starships’) and what fields you want to include in each list (e.g.: ‘size’, ‘crew complement’, ‘engine model’, ‘maximum speed’, etc.) and hey presto! You’ve got yourself a custom list complete with custom metadata. Best of all, it’s a doddle to do.

 

This app also allows you to sort your story into chapters, scenes and, of course, to write the actual narrative. All very good, but one thing I did find a little bit odd was the fact that the scenes are nothing more than a list of scenes. When you write the actual narrative, it’s completely divorced from the list of scenes you’ve created, so you end up with just a single block of narrative for each chapter. Not a huge problem, just seemed a little strange to me.

There are adverts, as with so many apps these days. Specifically: small banners at the bottom of the screen which don’t really get in the way and full screen ads which appear only occasionally. The free version does also contain a few other niggling limitations, such as only being able to create one project at a time (definitely its biggest let-down!) and the fact you can’t add images (if you’re the sort of person who likes to do that; personally, I’m only inclined to do that with character profiles).

All in all, this app is actually pretty good and the few limitations there are can be easily overturned if you’re willing to spend a bit of money on the pro version, which does everything the free version does but it also allows you to create multiple projects, access all your previous back-ups, download your story as a PDF, add images, remove adverts and includes night-mode.

‘Sounds great!’ I hear you cry. ‘I’ll just grab the pro version and then I’ll have the perfect app!’

Well, that is certainly your prerogative. I was quite tempted to buy it myself until I saw the price: a monthly subscription of £4.99 or an annual subscription of £54.99 (which gives you one month free). Personally, I think that’s a bit steep for the fairly limited benefits the pro version gives you. A one-off payment, sure, that I would go for, but I don’t think those benefits are worth paying a regular subscription for. Heck, you’d be cheaper just buying Scrivener!

All in all, this is a fantastic app. It is both easy to use and is one of the most powerful mobile tools I’ve come across for planning and, to a slightly lesser extent, writing your story. It’s just a shame the pro version is so expensive.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what roasts your pig.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m hoping to do author interviews here on Penstricken over the coming year, especially with new fiction authors. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

You can check out our previous interviews here:
Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

Blogging and Novel Writing

Well, believe it or not, Penstricken was three years old on Thursday. That’s three years(!) I’ve been knocking out these humble little reviews, writing tips, author interviews and flash fictions.

As is so often the case, this week’s post has come about as a result of something I’m trying to figure out for myself. And so, this week’s post will be rather introspective, specifically focusing on the challenges of running this blog while also trying to write a novel. I do hope, however, that if you’re a novelist yourself, perhaps considering starting a blog of your own, that it might also provide you with food for thought.

I only started this blog as a little exercise to get me used to working to tight self-imposed deadlines. You see, before I started the blog, I often fell into the trap of sitting down at my desk and lamenting the fact I couldn’t think of anything to write about. I had started other blogs in the past, but they never really got anywhere for that very reason. Running Penstricken to such a strict but manageable schedule has helped me to change that attitude. In addition, writing this blog often doubles up as a kind of writing journal where I can keep track of everything I’ve learned as a writer (you’re never too good to stop learning your craft) or through studying other people’s stories so that I can review them. Furthermore, it has given me a bit of added confidence in my own abilities whenever I have received positive feedback and even had certain posts shared on other writers’ websites. In short, running Penstricken has made me a better and more confident writer.

And yet, it’s quite a lot of work, especially when you think that I’ve got a full time job, a one year old daughter (neither of which I had three years ago) and… oh yes, I’m writing a novel.

You see, I am the sole editor and writer for the Penstricken blog (though please, drop me a line if you’ve got a burning desire to contribute a post or two). I post approximately 1,000 words per week, every week without fail*. I also manage the tedious but very necessary Facebook page, Twitter profile and e-mail inbox associated with it, which helps to drum up readership and encourages feedback. It’s also how I get in touch with authors for interviews (like this one! [2]) and reviews etc.

If it wasn’t for the novel, running this blog would be a piece of cake. My time may be limited by other non-writing responsibilities, but I have managed to organise my week in such a way that I can squeeze in a couple of hours of writing time every day, more so on a Saturday. That’s more than enough to get the blog done on time. The trouble is, these weekly deadlines mean I have no choice but to prioritise the blog over my novel, which has not got the same deadlines attached to it. As a result, progress on my novel has ground to a snail’s pace. No, it’s worse than that: progress isn’t just slow, it’s irregular. There are sometimes whole days where I don’t do any work on my novel because I’m too busy trying to get my blog sorted in the poxy few hours I have available. Other times, I actually have two or three weeks worth of blog posts ready all at once and that gives me loads of time to work on my novel.

Slow is fine. Not ideal, perhaps, but the tortoise always beats the hare if the hare keeps stopping for coffee along the way. But having my novel slaved to my blog in this way is not good. There’s nothing quite like routine to keep the creative juices flowing and this blog is a great big thorn in the side of my novel writing routine, despite all the other ways it has benefited me as a writer.

I don’t know what you think about Penstricken as a whole, but I’m quite proud of what I’ve built up over the last three years. I hope it will carry on for another three years or more. But I can’t help thinking it’s time to make some pretty big changes so that my novel can get a bit more action week by week.

Should I reduce the maximum length of my posts? In theory that will save time, but often the most time consuming part of the writing process is editing out unnecessary material. These posts you see each week are often much longer than 1,000 words to begin with and need to be shaved before I can publish them so I’m not quite sure how much time I will really be saving by having a reduced word count. It will just mean more editing!

I have also considered posting less often: say, every two weeks instead of every week. The thing is, I do find the tight deadline quite helpful and it’s hard to maintain readership on a blog that isn’t updated regularly. My research has suggested most blogs like Penstricken are updated far more often than once a week.

I could do more short posts, such as ‘Useful Posts on Fiction and Writing’ or ‘6 Six Word Stories’. But that feels like a waste of time doing these too often. Some of the posts I’ve had the best feedback on have been meaty writing tips posts such as the series on Non-Human Characters [2] [3] [4] and I want to keep these going.

I don’t quite know what I’m going to do yet but I’m open to suggestions.

To those of you who are working on a novel and thinking about starting a blog, especially if you’re not yet a published author, I say this: be realistic with your time. Blogging is a great way to practice your craft, to network with other writers and publishers and to drum up readership but it’s also a lot of work, almost like trying to juggle two novels at once. I don’t want to discourage you from blogging (far from it!) but I would encourage you to assess your time, your abilities and your priorities realistically before you begin.
*Fun fact: since Penstricken’s last birthday, I’ve published exactly 50,515 words on this website, not including unpublished, incomplete, or rejected posts, nor does it include comments, pages (such as ‘about’ or ‘contact’) or anything I’ve tweeted or posted to Facebook. That’s almost a novel’s worth of words; meanwhile, my poor actual novel is still languishing at 27,485 words of the second draft.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve any more suggestions for good time-wasting websites, I’m sure there’s many a bored or frustrated writer out there would love to hear about it, so why not post some of your favourites in the comments below? And don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what roasts your pig.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m hoping to do author interviews here on Penstricken over the coming year, especially with new fiction authors. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

You can check out our previous interviews here:
Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

7 Useful Posts on Fiction and Writing

Some weeks you just can’t think of anything clever or interesting to blog about the internet is just teeming with so many useful blog posts about fiction and writing that I just have to share some of them with you.

Well, this has been one of those weeks, so it’s time for another exciting instalment of ‘Useful Posts on Fiction and Writing’ [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]. I have scoured WordPress for the last few days, searching out some of the most useful, entertaining or insightful posts on the subject of story writing and have compiled them here for your enjoyment.

And so, without further ado and in no particular order– here they are:

‘NaNo or Nah?’ by TGM.admin

‘How I Conquered Writer’s Block: A Return to Writing, Fiction, and Fun’ by Cococatani

‘Fast Fiction by Mason Hawker

‘Unlock the Muse – October 24, 2018’ by TAwrites

‘5 More Outlining Methods for Your Novel’ by Rachel Poli

‘Captain’s Log – Personal Update’ by Robin Sarty

‘#NaNoWriMo Prep: Setting Up Your Story Bible | #amwriting #NaNo2018’ by Kaye Dacus


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve any more suggestions for good time-wasting websites, I’m sure there’s many a bored or frustrated writer out there would love to hear about it, so why not post some of your favourites in the comments below? And don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what roasts your pig.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m hoping to do author interviews here on Penstricken over the coming year, especially with new fiction authors. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

You can check out our previous interviews here:
Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

7 Websites To Help You Procrastinate

There’s a reason writers are often advised to completely disconnect themselves from the internet whenever they sit down to write: the internet is simply teeming with a million different things to distract you from what you’re supposed to be doing. It only takes one single moment of weakness and the next thing you know, you’re sucked into a swirling online vortex of time wasting.

Of course, these young whipper-snapper writers with their Facebooks and their Instagrams wouldn’t know a good time-wasting website if it came along and bit them on the nose; but if you want to waste time online without having to listen to all your acquaintances broadcasting their opinions that nobody cares about then you’ve come to the right place. I have scoured the internet looking for websites that you can waste your entire writing session on without having to interact with another human being anywhere else on the internet. Some of these are overtly useless (mostly free and silly games); others create the illusion of productivity by convincing you that you’re researching your story or tracking your progress when, in fact, you’re just procrastinating.

But be warned, gentle reader: when you visit these websites you might not leave and you’ll accomplish nothing.

The Secret of Monkey Island Insult Sword-fighting – Free Browser Game

Gamers of a certain vintage will remember Ron Gilbert’s masterpiece, The Secret of Monkey Island; the classic point-and-click adventure game following the adventures of the goofy, mild-mannered pirate-wannabe, Guybrush Threepwood.

Well our good friends at Karza have knocked together this free-to-play online version of the insult sword-fighting mini-game from The Secret of Monkey Island, including three difficulty levels: Normal (Monkey Island 1 insults only), Hard (Monkey Island 3 insults only) and Very hard (all the insults!).

It’s a thing of beauty.

Enjoy.

Click here to play!

Letters of Note

This fascinating little website is jam-packed with a collection of ‘fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and memos’. Most of them are from or to famous people, or else are just plain interesting. Some are really old. Some are really new.

Procrastinating writer, beware: once you start reading these letters, you might not be able to stop.

Anyway, you’re struggling for a story idea aren’t you? And reading all these letters is bound to help stimulate the imagination, or some other lame excuse like that.

Click here to read mail more interesting than your own.

Level Up Life

If you love old fashioned role-playing computer games with their experience points based systems, and if you’re looking for a means of er… tracking your progress as a writer (😉), you’ll love Level Up Life. Once you make up an account (for free), you can then begin earning experience points and levelling up for completing all your real life achievements.

As you progress through life, you will also earn skill points. The skill points you earn are dependant on the particular things you achieve, allowing you ‘to see where your strengths and weaknesses lie’.

Faffing around with this is a great way to pretend you’re getting your life and writing organised when in fact you’re just faffing around.

Click here to ‘play’

Find the Invisible Cow

I spent way too long ‘researching’ this website when I decided to write about good procrastination websites, so this one definitely had to make the cut. You are presented with a blank screen and invited to move your cursor across the screen, listening out for a voice repeatedly shouting ‘cow, cow, cow, cow, cow, cow…’. The louder the voice gets, the closer to the invisible cow you are. Click on it once you’ve found it and boom, you score one point.

Five points allows you to unlock goats.

Fifty points allows you to unlock another animal, which I am sure to unlock soon and then I’ll let you know…

Click here to go cow-hunting

The Moth

This is another good ‘I’m not wasting time, I’m researching’ website. In it you will find a collection of true stories told by a diverse collection of people, unscripted and in their own words.

Moth shows are renowned for the great range of human experience they showcase. Each show starts with a theme, and the storytellers explore it, often in unexpected ways. Since each story is true and every voice authentic, the shows dance between documentary and theater, creating a unique, intimate, and often enlightening experience for the audience.

~ ‘About the Moth’

It’s not really my cup of tea personally, but like Letters Of Note, it’s another great source of real life material that can ‘inspire your next story’ (or as I prefer to call it, ‘distract you from your current story’).

Here’s the link!

Dinosaur Game (Chrome Users Only)

You’re hard at work on your story. You’ve got a deadline looming and the clock is ticking. You mean business, so you’ve physically disconnected everything in your house that vaguely resembles an internet connection.

By sheer force of habit, you open Google Chrome, intending to peruse Letters of Note for a little inspiration, or perhaps to have one quick game of Find the Invisible Cow, but are rudely stopped in your tracks by this:

s

Don’t worry, there’s no need to rebuild your router. Just press the space bar and enjoy the free game which you play simply using your space bar to make the dinosaur jump and your ‘down’ key to make him crouch down.

I don’t have a link for this one. If you want to play it, you’ll need to disconnect your internet then try to use your Chrome browser.

Sell Me Something Weird or Confusing

Fancy a bit of retail therapy to take your mind off your story? This website features one great big pink button which will link you to some of the most random and bizarre products money can buy. Whether it’s a an inflatable unicorn horn for your cat, a nose aerobics game, or the ever-popular pants for your hands this website will give you hours minutes a minute or two’s worth of fun marvelling at the things people will spend their money on.

Click here to be disturbed and appalled by what people will spend their money on.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve any more suggestions for good time-wasting websites, I’m sure there’s many a bored or frustrated writer out there would love to hear about it, so why not post some of your favourites in the comments below? And don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what tickles your fancy.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m hoping to do author interviews here on Penstricken over the coming year, especially with new fiction authors. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

You can check out our previous interviews here:
Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

Review: Doctor Who, ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’

SPOILER ALERT:

Anyone who has not seen the Doctor Who episode ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ (reboot series 11, ep. 1), is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

I don’t normally like to post about the same thing two weeks in a row and I do realise I’m a little late for the party (it can’t be helped, I only post on Sunday afternoons) but I don’t care. Jodie Whittaker’s first outing as the titular character in Doctor Who is just begging to be reviewed; and so, here I am, to add my voice to the chorus of reviews that have flooded the internet since last Sunday night.

Let me begin by saying I love Doctor Who. I always have, from Hartnell to Whittaker, but the last few series have been increasingly disappointing from a writing point-of-view, so this new series, with its new cast, new production team, new time slot and of course, the all new first ever female Doctor is a bit of a make-or-break series for me, as I suspect it is for many of us. I want Doctor Who to endure but I don’t want it to die a slow and painful death. Fortunately, if the first episode was anything to go by, all this newness is just what the Doctor ordered will be just the shot in the arm the shows needs to endure for another fifty years.

Let’s get the negatives out the way first. My only major criticism of this episode was the pacing. It felt rushed at points, constantly jumping from scene to scene at a disorienting pace before suddenly hitting the brakes in the last fifteen minutes or so for a really slow bit where we have a funeral scene and Ryan does his heartfelt Youtube thing. This made for an ending which felt a little drawn out, almost as if the story was over and the writers were just filling in time with a load of talk. Don’t misunderstand me though, these were good scenes and quite necessary to create a solid foundation upon which to build the series’ main characters. I just felt like the episode as a whole was paced in a very yin-yang fashion, with all the excitement and running happening at once in the first half and all the talking and reflecting being crammed into the second half. In an ideal world, fast and slow scenes should be blended together to create something that feels a bit more natural.

Now let’s talk characters. After Capaldi (whom I loved, just to be clear), the Thirteenth Doctor is a breath of fresh air. She’s got a likable, everywoman quality to her, despite retaining the genius for which the Doctor is known. I expect her to just ask me to pop the kettle on and we can all sit down and have a nice cuppa and a chat about how we’re going to save the world. And yet this in no way diminishes her role as a woman of decisive action nor does it water down the intellectual brilliance tempered by eccentricity that we’ve come to associate with the character. She balances all these qualities in a way which seems perfectly natural and instantly likeable.

As for the three companions, I feel like they all have lots of potential still to be realised. I’ll cut them some slack since it was only their first episode. I especially hope we see further development in Graham and Ryan’s relationship, since it was vaguely implied that Ryan struggles to accept him as his step-grandfather and that Graham perhaps harbours a little impatience towards Ryan on account of his dyspraxia– but this was lost in the dizzily fast paced adventure. Yasmin was somewhat less inspiring. Don’t get me wrong, she was likeable enough (give me Yasmin over Clara ‘I’m-So-Special’ Oswald any day of the week) but there was nothing much to her besides. The story would’ve probably worked just fine without her.

The bad guy (Tim Shaw! I just loved that…) kind of reminded me of the Klingons from Star Trek: Discovery, but with one major difference: I don’t like the Klingons from Star Trek: Discovery. I do like Tim Shaw. He’s everything a Doctor Who villain should be: scary, but not so scary you can’t poke fun at him; physically imposing but no match for the Doctor’s easy wit and razor sharp intelligence.

Now, as I’ve already pointed out, there’s a lot of stuff that’s new about this series; nowhere more so than in the decision to cast a female Doctor. Now I personally loved Whittaker’s Doctor, but more than that, I loved the careful approach this episode takes in presenting this all new Doctor to us. They don’t just have her popping out her TARDIS saying ‘I’m the Doctor!’ and expect us to accept her; no, they were very careful to make us believe in Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor through sheer characterisation, rather than familiar gimmicks. It’s difficult to put into words exactly how this was accomplished because it was done with such skill and subtlety. All I can say is that this episode shows us that Jodie Whittaker is the Doctor by what she does and by the sort of person she is, only using the name of the Doctor towards the very end by which point we already know and believe that that is who she is (heck, we’ve still not seen the TARDIS. Maybe tonight).

One more thing. I’ve said that there is a lot of stuff that’s new in this series, but there’s also quite a lot of it which feels very old. I mean, how about that theme music and those visuals during the closing credits? That took me right back to the Hartnell/Troughton/Pertwee era, as did the whole ‘Doctor-Without-a-TARDIS’ motif and the fact the Doctor has a group of companions, rather than an individual, invariably pretty young girl. That’s good. I’m all over that like a rash.

All in all, a really strong beginning to the new series. The last few series of Doctor Who have been disappointing and with so many changes in terms of cast, production crew and scheduling, this series was always going to be a gamble, regardless of the gender of the Doctor. But they’ve pulled it off. Bravo. I loved it.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Be sure to leave us a wee comment if you enjoyed it and don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what sonics your screwdriver.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m hoping to do author interviews here on Penstricken over the coming year, especially with new fiction authors. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

You can check out our previous interviews here:
Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Doctor Who Edition

Well, he’s she’s back! Doctor Who returns to our screens this very evening, and so, to celebrate, I decided it was time for Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Doctor Who Edition.

Of course, with over fifty years of material to work with in an approximate 1000 word limit, reviewing all of Doctor Who history is no mean feat. And so, today I’ll be reviewing all twelve incarnations of the Doctor character thus far, from Hartnell to Capaldi, rather than individual episodes or series (I thought about doing that but it was too hard!). As ever, these reviews only reflect my own personal opinions and impressions, exterminated, soniced and bigger-on-the-insided into just two or three sentences. So without further ado…

William Hartnell: The First Doctor

The First Doctor was something of an enigmatic character. He was probably an alien but this was barely mentioned apart from once or twice. In some ways he was lovably bumbling but with a grouchy and at times even immoral streak that made it difficult to know just how far he could be trusted. In general this gives him the makings of a great character, however he was let down by story-writing which often focused more heavily on the companions than on the Doctor himself.

My rating: 🌟🌟

Patrick Troughton: The Second Doctor

This era of Doctor Who introduces us to a Doctor who is somewhat more lively and spirited than his previous incarnation. Despite the removal of some of the darker aspects of the Doctor’s character, the Second Doctor remains a firm favourite of mine and also boasts one of the most important and enjoyable regeneration episodes in Doctor Who history.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Jon Pertwee: The Third Doctor

A large chunk of this era involves a surprising, if temporary, shift in the show’s premise. Suddenly the Doctor is restricted to earth and to one period of history. This Doctor is far more hands-on than the first two, often seen bombing around in his car and getting into fights. Furthermore, now that the Doctor has officially become an exile (an exile with a brand new archenemy in the form of The Master), the story finally focuses more heavily on the Doctor himself, rather than on the companions.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Tom Baker: The Fourth Doctor

This younger incarnation of the Doctor balanced gravitas and silliness in a way which has become almost synonymous with the character ever since. He is certainly the first of the truly gimmicky Doctors, with his floppy hat, ridiculously long scarf and his fondness for jelly-babies. Even so, I can’t help but love this Doctor. Probably my all time favourite next to Troughton.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Peter Davison: The Fifth Doctor

Ho-hum. Number Five was my least favourite of all the Doctors by far. He came across as a little too pathetic for my liking, with that squeaky little indignant voice of his. He also lacked depths. The guy had no demons, no issues, nothing. Also any dim-witted fool could see that Turlough wasn’t to be trusted; any dim-witted fool that is, except the Doctor!

My rating: 🌟

Colin Baker: The Sixth Doctor

Ah, the sixth Doctor: arrogant, ridiculous, bombastic and yet strangely compelling. I actually kind of liked this darker incarnation of the Doctor. He had issues. His personality bordered on the deranged and downright cruel at times. Few other incarnations of the Doctor have been so well-written. Shame about his companions.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Sylvester McCoy: The Seventh Doctor

This era got off to a shaky start. Watching Sylvester McCoy running around repeatedly mixing metaphors for four episodes in Time and the Rani drove me right up the wrong garden path. I warmed to him as the series wore on, however. Alas, he was a little too unremarkable to follow Colin Baker’s Doctor, but he was likeable enough. When it comes to characters, it was really Ace who made this era worth watching, not the Doctor.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟

Paul McGann: The Eighth Doctor

Poor Paul McGann. With only one appallingly written movie and an all-too-brief mini-episode (‘Night of the Doctor’), he didn’t get much of a chance to show us all just what a blooming wonderful Doctor he was. In fact, he’s pretty much the only thing that makes the movie worth watching, but he was especially good in ‘Night of the Doctor’. Do yourself a favour and watch it, it’s not even ten minutes long.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Christopher Eccleston: The Ninth Doctor

This broody and sarcastic incarnation of the Doctor didn’t last long, which is a real pity because he was fantastic (sorry). But really, he was. I mentioned earlier that I like my Doctors to have a few demons and well… how about just having returned from annihilating your own people and being barely able to acknowledge it to yourself? How’s THAT for demons? Actually, this whole series was packing good characters all round. Just a shame about the rather anticlimactic final episode.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

David Tennant: The Tenth Doctor
10thdoc.gif
Source: http://gph.is/Z0E2Kh

Whenever I think about the Tenth Doctor, the one word that springs to mind is: ‘intense’. That Doctor did an awful lot of struggling to contain his rage by hissing angrily through clenched teeth, whining about how tough his life is and intensely staring into the distance while the other characters pleaded with him to tell them he would save them. And yet there was something lovable about him. He was funny, moral and with a twinkle in his eye that made him instantly likeable. Slightly overrated in my opinion, but only slightly.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Matt Smith: The Eleventh Doctor

I loved Matt Smith as the Doctor; arguably the first of the rebooted series to capture the classic eccentricity of the Doctor. Finally he stops getting all kissy with his companions and develops a real group of friends. In fact, friendship is a real theme for this whole era of Doctor Who. Unfortunately, he was let down by writing which was often inventive enough but made no sense, even by Doctor Who standards.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Peter Capaldi: The Twelfth Doctor

An excellent portrayal of the Doctor who unfortunately suffered from writing which ranged from average to appalling. Finally, the Doctor has come face to face with the atrocity he committed in the Time War and travels through time and space desperately seeking vindication– and not getting it. In spite of this, humour and sentiment abounds. Also, although I’m slightly moving out of my realm of expertise here, can I just say: Peter Capaldi’s acting was simply the best of the lot.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Be sure to leave us a wee comment if you enjoyed it and don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what reverses your polarity.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m hoping to do author interviews here on Penstricken over the coming year, especially with new fiction authors. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

You can check out our previous interviews here:
Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]