8 Great Fiction and Writing Blogs

Originally published 07/07/2019

It’s that time again, when I take a few steps back from the fore to put the spotlight on some of my favourite posts from other fiction and writing blogs around the web.

There’s no particular unifying theme to any of these posts, save that they’re all fiction or fiction-related posts I recently enjoyed and, I trust, you’ll enjoy them too.

As ever, this is simply a selection of my favourite posts, not an exhaustive list; and as ever, this list is in no particular order. So without further ado:

‘Writing Tip: STOP Writing’ by KaylaAnn

‘Top Ten Tuesday | Unpopular Bookish Opinions’ by Fictionnochaser

‘Billionaire Fiction’ by Beetleypete

‘Flash Fiction: Escape’ by Jane Dougherty

‘Bones #Short Prose #Flash Fiction’ by Short-prose-fiction

5 Overused Words in Fiction’ by Kelsie Engen

‘Walter the Wonder Dog’ by Angela Largent

’20 Books I loved as a Kid/Teen #TopTenTuesday 📚’ by Amanda Hartwick

Find Andrew Ferguson on all these wonderful places:

Looking for a gift for the author or fiction lover in your life?
Check out the Penstricken Zazzle store!

A scrivener using Scrivener

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

AUTHOR INTERVIEWS:

Unfortunately, I am unable to take on any more author interviews or solicited book reviews at this time.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

App Review: Tomato Typewriter

Originally published 30/06/2019

They say there’s nothing like a deadline to increase productivity; a notion I, personally, have always found to be true. So, if you’re the sort of writer who enjoys writing on your Android tablet or smartphone but need the threat of a deadline to get you going, Tomato Typewriter by Zest Works might just be the app for you. This elegant little app encourages non-stop writing by punishing you whenever you stop writing, either by deleting your words (gradually or all at once) or playing an annoying sound.

You begin each session by customising the session’s rules: specifically, whether or not you want a timed session, your session targets and what kind of threat you want for stopping. Then, as soon you hit that ‘start’ button, you just write like fury until your time elapses or you reach your target word count, depending on whether or not you opted for a timed session. If you pause while writing, a clock will appear on the screen to warn you that you’re about to be punished. If you don’t continue writing immediately, you will indeed be punished. When you successfully complete a session, you will be given the option to carry on writing with or without threat of punishment. Your work is then saved to the app for you to share, copy to clipboard or delete as you see fit (you won’t be able to edit a session once you have closed it, however).

So, let’s have a closer look.

The first thing I would say is that this app is very easy on the eye and highly intuitive to use (this alone makes it stand head and shoulders above more famous tools of this type, like Write or Die). Even a dafty like me can download it and immediately start using it to its fullest potential without wasting any time trying to figure out where everything is or how to use it. There are also no ugly adverts popping up all over the place.

Like most writing apps these days, it boasts a choice of ‘light’ or ‘dark’ themes and the font size and style are also adjustable to suit your preferences. You can also choose to enable or disable a visible word count, time remaining and threat warnings. All very useful, though I would point out that the visible time remaining/word count actually appears as a very thin gauge at the bottom of your screen, just above the keyboard. It doesn’t give you a specific count with numbers you can clearly understand. In fact, it’s so subtle that when I first tried it out, I thought the feature wasn’t working at all; but it is working. It’s just very discreet.

One more big selling point for this app is that it’s free. Truly, honestly, free. Not ‘free but with locked features you need to pay for’ or ‘free as long as you watch twenty minutes of adverts’. It’s completely and utterly free!

I have only one real criticism of this app(and it’s certainly not a major deal breaker): there is no obvious way to directly export your work into a standard text format which you can use on other apps. All you can do is ‘share’ your work on another app and save it from there. Apart from being a clumsy approach to exporting your work, I also found that many of the apps I use for creating text files weren’t actually compatible with the Tomato Typewriter. I got an error whenever I tried to share my work to JotterPad, Polaris, and even Google Docs. It did, however, work like a charm with Writer Plus.

All in all, this is a beautiful little app. It does what it says on the tin with no fuss and just enough bells and whistles to make it do everything you might want it to. If you’re looking for a timed writing app which punishes you for not writing and doesn’t break the bank then look no further. This is the one.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Find Andrew Ferguson on all these wonderful places:

Looking for a gift for the author or fiction lover in your life?
Check out the Penstricken Zazzle store!

A scrivener using Scrivener

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

AUTHOR INTERVIEWS:

Unfortunately, I am unable to take on any more author interviews or solicited book reviews at this time.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Author Interview: D. Wallace Peach (Part 2 of 2)

Originally published 23/06/2019

SPOILER ALERT

While every effort has been made to avoid spoilers in this post, anyone who has not read Soul Swallowers or Legacy of Souls by D. Wallace Peach is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

Diana Wallace Peach is an accomplished author of quality fantasy with seventeen books to her name. Her most recent offering, the ‘Shattered Sea’ duology consisting of The Soul Swallowers and Legacy of Souls, is another masterpiece filled with rich characters, political intrigue, and top notch world building.

I had the pleasure of chatting with D. Wallace Peach, whose books, including the ‘Shattered Sea’ duology, are available to buy now on Amazon.

This is part two of that interview. If you missed part one, you can still view it by clicking here.


I was quite struck by some of the big themes this story explored. The distinction between slavery and bonded labour (if there is one) seems to crop up time and again in this story. Was that a theme you were keen to explore?

I’m a political monster, and like exploring these issues. To support the book, I did a bit of research on the ‘justifications for slavery’ that were shared around the time of the American Civil War. I incorporated those into the characters’ arguments about slavery as well as Raze’s arguments for freedom.

Obviously in a high fantasy series like this, building a world like the Shattered Sea is no mean feat. Any world-building tips for prospective fantasy writers?

Just like I write bios for the characters before I start a book, I write a complete “bio” for the world, including maps. I go back about 300 years into the world’s history. I write about gender roles, politics, religion, societal norms, geography, world view, relationships with other nations/provinces, technology or the lack thereof, clothing, even the shape of their roofs! I try to take a couple real-life norms and turn them on their heads if I can. Some things develop as I write and some change, but I usually start with a good sense of the world and how the character meshes or rebels against it. In a way, the world is another character in the book.

Looking through your blog I noticed you’ve done a bit of flash fiction. How do you find writing shorter fiction compares with novel writing?

I rarely write short stories, but I enjoy flash fiction. The big difference for me is that I don’t need to think about what came before or what comes after. It’s a slice of time, a glimpse, versus a novel that has a history and a future. An interesting tidbit. The opening scene of ‘Shattered Sea’ duology started as a flash fiction piece in response to a prompt. So you never know where those flashes will lead!

What’s next for you then? Can we look forward to more books in the near future?

I’m working on a trilogy (as yet untitled). I’m obsessive about the cohesion of my stories and therefore write the entire series at once, holding up the first book until the last is ready to publish. This trilogy is daunting and the first draft is taking me forever to complete. I’m probably a year away from publishing. When they’re done, I’ll have 20 books, and hopefully, number 21 brewing in the back of my mind.

MISSED PART 1 OF THIS INTERVIEW? CLICK HERE TO READ IT.

Soul Swallowers and Legacy of Souls by D. Wallace Peach are available to buy now from Amazon.
CLICK HERE TO VISIT D. WALLACE PEACH’S AUTHOR PAGE.

Find Andrew Ferguson on all these wonderful places:

Looking for a gift for the author or fiction lover in your life?
Check out the Penstricken Zazzle store!

A scrivener using Scrivener

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

AUTHOR INTERVIEWS:

Unfortunately, I am unable to take on any more author interviews or solicited book reviews at this time.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Author Interview: D. Wallace Peach (Part 1 of 2)

Originally published 16/06/2019

SPOILER ALERT

While every effort has been made to avoid spoilers in this post, anyone who has not read Soul Swallowers or Legacy of Souls by D. Wallace Peach is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

Diana Wallace Peach is an accomplished author of quality fantasy with seventeen books to her name. Her most recent offering, the ‘Shattered Sea’ duology consisting of The Soul Swallowers and Legacy of Souls, is another masterpiece filled with rich characters, political intrigue, and top notch world building.

I had the pleasure of chatting with D. Wallace Peach, whose books, including the ‘Shattered Sea’ duology, are available to buy now on Amazon.

This is part one of our interview. Don’t forget to check back next week for part two!


What made you decide to become an author?

I never really planned on being an author, though I always enjoyed writing. A decade ago, my husband and I made a temporary move for his job. Our planned stay was too short a time frame for me to find work. He suggested that I write a book, and I said, ‘Okay.’

Well, that was that. I was hooked and I’m still writing.

I’ve been reading The Shattered Sea duology, Soul Swallowers and Legacy of Souls; two thoroughly enjoyable books. There’s plenty going on in them both; family conflicts, slave trading, imperial politics and, of course, a fantasy world where people consume the souls of the dead. I wonder, how did this story first come about? What was your original inspiration for writing?

I’m curious about the invisible world and the nature of the soul. I think there is a lot more to this world than we can possibly imagine. Just think of the inventions in the last one hundred years that would have seemed impossible or magical. Do souls exist beyond death? Is reincarnation possible? Is possession a real thing? I simply took those questions and applied a ‘what if’ question. Then I added the rules that would bind this practice – physically, mentally, and through social norms. The rest simply fell into place as a rough outline that took further shape as I wrote.

Is that your preferred way of writing, planning while you write (‘plantsing’)? Or are you normally more of a planner or a ‘pantser’?

I always have a rough outline. Otherwise, I’m filled with writer-anxiety. That and I have no problem wandering off on tangents for hundreds of pages, which then need to be edited! Outlines keep me on track, but they’re loose enough that my characters can be themselves, and I will readily change a plan if my characters can convince me that it makes good sense.

I’m glad you mentioned your characters because the meaty characters you’ve created were one one of my favourite things about this series. The protagonist, Raze, for instance. I really liked the way this chap developed as an individual over the two books. How did you go about developing him?

I love reading books with strong characters, and so I strive to write the same. My background is in mental health, and I’m fascinated by the incredible depth behind every human face. Prior to writing, I pen each character’s biography in quite a bit of detail. I understand how their lives were shaped, their fears, weaknesses, and strengths, how they compensate, what they hide even from themselves, what they need to learn about themselves to grow. A significant part of my plotting a story takes into account the characters’ arcs.

I suppose that must be doubly important when you come to write a character who is a practised liar, like Benjmur? He weaves such an intricate web of deceit around all the other characters– how do you keep track of it all?

I wanted to write a different kind of character than I have in the past– one who is extremely duplicitous and able to keep the other characters off kilter. The biggest challenge was to make his lies believable without the other characters coming off as naive (except perhaps for his daughter who simply doesn’t want to think ill of her father). I don’t like books where the characters are ridiculously stupid simply to serve the plot. I kept track of it by writing twenty drafts. Ha ha.

COME BACK NEXT WEEK FOR PART 2.

CLICK HERE TO VISIT D. WALLACE PEACH’S AUTHOR PAGE.
Soul Swallowers and Legacy of Souls by D. Wallace Peach are available to buy now from Amazon.

Find Andrew Ferguson on all these wonderful places:

Looking for a gift for the author or fiction lover in your life?
Check out the Penstricken Zazzle store!

A scrivener using Scrivener

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

AUTHOR INTERVIEWS:

Unfortunately, I am unable to take on any more author interviews or solicited book reviews at this time.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

5 Signs You Should Quit Reading That Novel

Originally published 09/06/2019

Disappointment. There’s no other feeling in the world quite as crushing as disappointment, especially when it comes to reading a book you thought you were going to like. Apart from the fact you’ve already invested time and money into this book, you now find yourself in a horrible dilemma: to finish or not to finish?

Strange as it may seem to the uninitiated, there is a sense of personal failure and social stigma attached to giving up on a book; almost as if we were too lightweight to bear the responsibility for choosing the wrong book. And so, we grit our teeth and read on: another hundred, two hundred, or even four hundred pages of despair, anguish and disappointment.

I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve actually abandoned altogether. Some have sorely tempted me at points but there are an elite class of books which have been so abhorrent to me that I’ve been forced to quit. If you’re reading a novel you’re not too sure about, here’s a few warning signs that it might be time to abandon it altogether, randomly helpfully illustrated with Star Trek gifs.

When You Know Exactly How Many Pages Are Left Until The End

There are books of all different kinds of length out there. There are long books and there are short books; there are long books that feel short and there are short books that feel long.

Even the shortest little novellas can be a chore if we can only bring ourselves to read one or two pages at a time. On the flip-side, I read the full, unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo, and despite being one of the longest books on my shelf, it was a joy to read and was over far too soon. But with other books (including much shorter books), all I can think about is how many pages there are left until the end. Eventually I find myself literally doing sums to work out how many pages are left, not just once, but once or twice in every sitting. When you get to that stage, it’s time to chuck that sucker out. Life’s too short.

When You Start Making Excuses Not To Read

I read lots. I do it because I like it. I read in the evenings after my daughter’s gone to bed, I read immediately before I go to bed, I read during my lunch break at work and I read pretty much any other spare moment I get during my day when I’m not working, writing or playing with my daughter. But every now and again, with some books, all of that changes:

My daughter’s finally asleep! Time to fire up the Xbox...

Reading just before bed? Not tonight dear, I’ve got a headache.

Work is busy; there’s no time to have a leisurely lunch/reading break.

Spare moments to read? I don’t have any spare moments to read. I’ve got to install a brand new field induction sub-processor!

All these little excuses only make the book last longer and rob me of one of my favourite past times. Time to bite the bullet and read something else.

When You Hope The Hero’s Mission Fails and They Die Horribly

Let’s be honest. Most novels conclude with the protagonist winning, or at the very least growing in some way. They seldom die a meaningless death and the bad guy generally won’t ever win.

That’s partly why it’s so important for the reader to sympathise with the protagonist. Sure, the protagonist should have weaknesses, flaws and outright bad qualities; that’s part of being a believable person. But if you find yourself developing an active hatred for the protagonist, you’re unlikely to find the end of the story satisfying. Moreover, you’ll suffer throughout the entire novel, because following the adventures of a protagonist you hate is a bit like being forced to sit next to a co-worker you hate all day, every day. It grates on your nerves and arouses your most violent instincts. You hope they die, painfully, in a pool of their own vomit*.

If you find yourself hating the protagonist with such a passion, get out of there fast.

When You feel Personally Insulted by the Author

I’ve spoken before about how important themes are to a good story, and how a theme or moral we disagree with doesn’t make it a bad story. Indeed, it’s good for a novel to challenge the things you take for granted and no subject should be off limits. It’s good to be forced to think.

Nevertheless, some novels do it better than others. If you feel personally ridiculed, attacked, stereotyped or preached at by the author, don’t feel bad about abandoning it. Remember, reading a book is a one way dialogue. You can’t answer it back when it offends you in some significant fashion**. All you can do is swallow it or chuck it, and I, for one, see no reason to sit there and be insulted in your own living room.

When You Begin Every Sitting By Telling Your Family How Much You Hate This Book

When we normal people read a book and enjoy it, we tend to read it quietly and despise interruptions. However, every now and then, I will punctuate my own reading sessions with little outbursts to my family, friends, co-workers or anyone else in earshot:

‘I’m really not enjoying this book…’

‘I hope this book gets better or I’ve wasted £12 and untold hours of my life on it for nothing…’

‘Do you think it’s too late to get a refund on this book?’

Sometimes, in extreme circumstances, I will even rant about a book before I pick it up, just to get me in the mood for reading it.

‘Urrghh, well, I suppose it’s time to read another chapter of this horrible little book…’

If you love your family, you won’t force them to share in your suffering. If you can’t read it without whining about it, just stop reading it.

Footnotes:

*Unlike with fictional characters, you can’t simply throw away co-workers you don’t like and wishing real people dead will poison your soul. Please, try to get along with them and be kind to everybody.

**Well, you could always write to the author but please don’t; they’re entitled to publish their opinions. Nobody is forcing you to read it.

Find Andrew Ferguson on all these wonderful places:

Looking for a gift for the author or fiction lover in your life?
Check out the Penstricken Zazzle store!

A scrivener using Scrivener

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

AUTHOR INTERVIEWS:

Unfortunately, I am unable to take on any more author interviews or solicited book reviews at this time.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

What’s On Your Writer’s Utility Belt?

Originally published 02/06/2019

You might have seen that Batman has been trending on Twitter lately. Naturally when I saw it, I thought the time was ripe to do Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Batman Edition... Until I remembered I still haven’t seen Batman v. Superman and so, couldn’t possibly offer a complete review of all the Batman flicks. Not content to let the Batman theme pass me by, however, I decided instead to write about my Writer’s Utility Belt.

‘Your writer’s… what?’ I hear you cry, somewhat bemused.

You know! My writer’s utility belt! Just like Batman has a utility belt which is loaded with all deus ex machina gadgets he needs to help him save the day, so we writers all have our (figurative) utility belts loaded with all the tools (mostly apps, these days) we rely on to help us whenever we sit down to write.

… Don’t we? 😶

… No?

Well… just humour me for a couple of minutes while I tell you what I keep on mine anyway:

Physical Notebooks and a Bic Four-Colour Ballpoint Pen

It all starts with paper and pen for me. Specifically a generously sized notebook with plenty of space for scribbles, doodles and general nonsense and a Bic Four-Colour Ballpoint Pen for effective brainstorming.

I usually move onto the computer pretty quickly once I get past the initial stages of coming up with and refining ideas but in the early days of a new story, physical honest-to-goodness paper and pen are a must for me.

Jotterpad

I’ve got to be honest here: despite the fact I’ve written manifold positive reviews about various mobile writing apps, I don’t actually use them very much for writing. Don’t ask me why, but I just find them really awkward to write with, no matter how good they might be.

That being said, if you’re sitting on the bus, on your way into work with no hope of getting home to your precious notebooks, you might want a quick and easy way to write down ideas (or whole chapters) that suddenly pop into your head. For me, Jotterpad for Android does the job nicely.

Scapple

For me, one of the toughest parts of writing a story is bringing order to the chaos of my original ideas. Even once I’ve got my basic plot and characters figured out, there were still be a lot of plot holes and other loose ends to tie up before I can create a functioning chapter outline.

When I’m deep in the throes of figuring all this out, I can easily lose track of where I am. There is often too much material to sift through for me to simply write it out in a linear fashion. That’s when Scapple by Literature and Latte, the virtual corkboard comes into its own. You can spread out all your thoughts in whatever order you like, linking them together (or not) as you see fit. Ideal for mind-mapping and general idea sifting, it’s helped me out of more than one bout of writers’ block and plays a key role in all my writing projects.

Typewriter

I’ve spoken before about free writing; a pre-writing technique in which the writer takes a few minutes to write anything and everything that comes to mind without pausing to edit. It’s a technique I swear by to get me started in the morning, and yet it’s also a technique I found almost impossible to master given my tendency to edit as I go…

Until I discovered Typewriter – Minimal Text Editor. This simple ASCII text editor has no editing functionality whatsoever. No deleting, no copying, no pasting, nothing. All you can do is add text and once you’ve added it, you’re stuck with it. It can probably serve quite a few functions, but for me, it’s my go-to app for free writing.

Scrivener

Well of course, it had to be here. Scrivener is the app that I, along with many of my writer colleagues, use to create my story bibles and to write my actual manuscript. I also use it to keep my daily writer’s journal.

It’s powerful. It’s popular. It’s surprisingly affordable. I can’t remember the last time I ever considered writing a manuscript with any other app and I doubt I ever will.

What about you? What’s on your writer’s utility belt? Are there any particular apps or tools you rely on to help you write? Share it with us in the comments below!

Find Andrew Ferguson on all these wonderful places:

Looking for a gift for the author or fiction lover in your life?
Check out the Penstricken Zazzle store!

A scrivener using Scrivener

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

AUTHOR INTERVIEWS:

Unfortunately, I am unable to take on any more author interviews or solicited book reviews at this time.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Review: The Orville (season 1)

Originally published 26/05/2019

As a lifelong Trekkie (who has been profoundly disappointed by Star Trek: Discovery) I’ve been really curious to see what The Orville was all about. I’ve heard a lot of folk talking very positively about this show, even claiming it fills a Star Trek void in a way the most recent Star Treks fail to do.

High praise indeed. My curiosity was piqued. And so, late for the party as usual, I watched the trailer for season one before deciding to buy the DVD.

I won’t lie to you. I bought it with a certain trepidation. The trailer made it look a bit too spoofy for my liking. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good spoof, but it’s been twenty years and I’m still in remission from Galaxy Quest. Had it not been for the great reviews I found online, I probably wouldn’t have taken this gamble.

Lucky for me, I did. Season one was brilliant. Yes, it is a comedy spoof in some ways, with subtle-as-a-phaser-on-kill references to all your favourite Star Trek tropes, but it also retains something of the drama and depths that made Star Trek great.

So, that’s enough about how it compares with Star Trek. Let’s get down to brass tacks.

This series begins with Captain Mercer being grudgingly offered the captaincy of a starship after a year of wallowing in a pit of despair after he caught his wife, Cmdr. Kelly Grayson, in bed with a blue alien. He’s thrilled to be in the captain’s seat again– until he discovers his ex-wife is his first officer. The ensuing story arc concerning their working relationship is predictable but enjoyable nonetheless. The other characters are also reasonably well developed, largely playing on your favourite Star Trek tropes (an artificial lifeform who doesn’t understand humour, a burly alien with a grim countenance and so on and so forth) but distinctive enough in their own right.

The first episode or two seemed a little heavier on the immature spoof humour than the rest. Off-beat gags about how frequently aliens need to urinate, whether or not the navigator was allowed to bring drinks onto the bridge and how badly framed the Krill commander appeared on the view screen while he threatened to destroy the Orville jarred slightly, however as the show wore on it began to develop a much more even balance of humour, drama and suspense, seasoning each story with humour rather than depending on it to carry the narrative.

Critics have largely slammed this show’s mixture of drama and comedy, perhaps because it doesn’t quite fit the pattern for your typical spoof or a sci-fi drama, but instead mashes them together in a way which is, perhaps, a little unusual. But this show isn’t your typical spoof. It’s a homage to Star Trek by someone who clearly loves the show and wants to do it justice; as such there are episodes which tickle you, others which have you on the edge of your seat and others make you stop and think. I don’t think it’s a flaw. In fact, I liked that about this show. It made it stand out among other tedious spoofs and depressingly grim actual Star Trek shows like Discovery. “Majority Rule” for instance (easily my favourite episode of the season) brings together a well measured dose of humour and a plot the audience could really care about. There was something at stake. Lt. LaMarr was in real danger and we cared about his plight while also bemoaning his hilariously cringe-inducing attempts to save himself. I think this episode even has something to say about real life and the negative impact of social media on the modern world. It’s everything a meaty but light-hearted TV comedy drama should be.

I will say this against the first season: some of the stories have slightly disappointing endings. I don’t want to get too detailed and spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it so I’ll just give one example of what I’m talking about. Be warned, there is a big stinking spoiler coming up in this next paragraph. Ready? Here it comes:

In the episode “If the Stars Should Appear”, the Orville crew discover a massive ship with an artificial biosphere inside: grass, trees, cities and farms. The people living there have never seen a night sky because the ship’s roof constantly displays a day sky. They do not realise they are on a ship and, apart from a small and fiercely persecuted group of heretics called Reformers, they all revere a deity called Dorahl. Social tension is at boiling point between the Reformers and the established theocracy. Then in the final moments of the episode, the Orville crew find a way to open the ship’s ‘sunroof’, thus allowing the inhabitants to see a night sky and proving the Reformers right. Good night. The end. Mission accomplished. All social tensions resolved, truth wins over ignorance and…

Yeah. This is a dissatisfying ending, no denying it. It was too easy. You can’t just flick a switch and resolve centuries of false belief, social tension and theocratic dictatorship. Remember, these guys have never even seen stars. What do you think would happen in real life if the sky was suddenly replaced with something bizarre, like brickwork or something. Rioting, surely. Certainly not a quick fix to the main conflict that’s blighting society. Not only was it hard to believe, but it’s also one step away from deus ex machina, which is unforgivable even in a comedy. And there are a few episodes which end like that.

I do have one more complaint about this series. Sometimes, especially on the more serious episodes, key issues will be left hanging and are never referred to again. For instance, it is strongly implied at the beginning of one episode that Bortus and Klyden are having marital difficulties, as Bortus leaves for work in a huff while Klyden whines that he feels neglected. Given that in a previous episode they had recently been to court over whether or not their newborn should be given gender reassignment surgery (being female is considered a birth defect on their world), I naturally imagined that this was going to be an on-going part of the story arc but… it wasn’t. It was never referred to again and that was pretty much it.

All in all, a very enjoyable show. There’s probably a lot of good reasons why the critics can find fault with it at a technical level but if you just take it for what it is — a bit of Star Trek inspired fun — it’s a thoroughly enjoyable show. I loved every minute of it and I will certainly be purchasing season 2.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Find Andrew Ferguson on all these wonderful places:

Looking for a gift for the author or fiction lover in your life?
Check out the Penstricken Zazzle store!

A scrivener using Scrivener

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

AUTHOR INTERVIEWS:

Unfortunately, I am unable to take on any more author interviews or solicited book reviews at this time.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

5 Elements of a Great Story

Originally published 19/05/2019

Writing is like baking a cake. You need just the right ingredients in just the right measure, or else you’ll just end up with an unappetising mess. In the same way that a tasty cake should be soft but firm, sweet but not overly so, moist but not wet and covered in lots of chocolate tastefully decorated, so too, a good story will stimulate the audience emotionally and intellectually; it will thrill them as well as make them think; frighten them as well as make them laugh and it will take them on a journey which is both meaningful and enjoyable.

To accomplish this, there’s a few key ingredients you just can’t do without:

Characters

Stories don’t just have characters. Characters are the story. Therefore, well developed characters, each with their own motives and goals which the audience sympathise with and care about, are essential for a good story. A few key players you might want to include in your story are:

  • A protagonist [2]. This is your main character, that key individual whom the story is actually about and with whom the audience should sympathise the most deeply (this one is mandatory. You don’t have a story without a protagonist).
  • An antagonist [2]. This is your protagonist’s main opponent throughout the story. He’s not necessarily evil, or even plotting evil (though he can be). He might simply be a rival competitor in the World Tiddlywinks Championships that your protagonist needs to defeat to become the World Tiddlywink Champion. Just as long as there is a direct conflict between your antagonist and your protagonist; one which the audience cares about.
  • A love interest is another common feature in much fiction. Usually there is a bit of sexual tension between your love interest and your protagonist from the outset (alternatively, unrequited attraction is a common motif). The love interest may also have some chemistry with your antagonist, thus creating the ever popular love triangle (a common motif in romance fiction). But if you are creating a love interest, just remember: no character should exist solely for the benefit another. Make sure your love interest has goals and motives of their own and a purpose for existing beyond making the protagonist swoon.
Conflict

So you’ve got a strong protagonist with firmly established goals and motives. Good for you.

Now… what’s stopping him achieving his goals? Your story will largely pivot on this question. Your character wants to do something, realises he can’t for some reason (this is your conflict!), struggles to overcome whatever it is that’s hindering him and finally succeeds.

It may be an antagonist whose goals bring them into direct conflict with the protagonist (for instance, a murderer might deliberately hide evidence from a detective, thus making it difficult for your protagonist to solve the mystery) but it could also be an inner struggle with illness, crippling self-doubt or the natural forces of nature. Whatever it is, there must be something standing between your protagonist and his ultimate goal. That’s your conflict.

Plot

This is arguably the most frustrating part of writing a story (but also one of the most important). Your plot is your basic sequence of events which form the skeleton of your story. There are lots of different approaches to plot structuring which you can Google at your leisure and decide which approach works best for you and your story.

Nevertheless, all good plots have this in common: that they progress in a logical manner from beginning to end. Something happens early on in the story to disrupt the ordinary life of your character, forcing him to do something to achieve his goal(s). This action leads to another event, leading to another action, leading to another event, progressing in a rational, cause-and-effect manner which finally concludes in a final climactic crisis event which resolves the main conflict and allows life to return to normal (though it may not be the same ‘normal’ as at the beginning of the story. e.g.: Aladdin’s ‘normal’ life started out as a single poor boy; his new ‘normal’ at the end is being married to a princess as a logical conclusion of the events that went before).

Pacing

As the author, your job is to blend fast bits and slow bits to create just the right feel for your story. This will be largely dependant on your genre, but even the most fast paced stories will still need slow bits to give the audience a chance to fully assimilate what is going on and to build a sense of anticipation. Equally, fast paced scenes (such as a good fight) are important to give the audience a bit of excitement and to relieve some of that tension you’ve been building up in the slow bits.

Some scenes can be fast paced or slow paced, depending on the effect you’re trying to create and the purpose they serve in your story. Love scenes are a good example. Fast paced narrative would make a slow and sensual love scene seem rushed (‘Jim and Jane made slow passionate love’ doesn’t quite capture the feel you’re trying to create); equally if you’re writing a moment of wild abandon between two lovers, you don’t want to bog the pacing down with talk and introspection. Use language in such a way to make the audience feel the urgency (or lack thereof) of what is happening.

Theme

I’ve spoken at some length about theme before but at the risk of repeating myself let me just say this: that an awareness of your story’s key themes will allow you to create a story with a bit of substance. All stories contain themes. They’re a natural byproduct of fiction, but they grow wild like weeds, accomplishing nothing. As an author, you have the power to cultivate your themes, to structure them and to make a really clear statement about real life through your work of fiction.

Do so, and your work will echo in the minds and the hearts of audience, challenging them, troubling them, encouraging them and stirring up their feelings long after they’ve finished reading it.

Find Andrew Ferguson on all these wonderful places:

Looking for a gift for the author or fiction lover in your life?
Check out the Penstricken Zazzle store!

A scrivener using Scrivener

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

AUTHOR INTERVIEWS:

Unfortunately, I am unable to take on any more author interviews or solicited book reviews at this time.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Idea Generators: Are They Any Use?

Originally published 12/05/2019

If you’re struggling to come up with even the meanest idea for your story, you might be tempted to Google story idea generators to help you out. If you do, you’ll find there are bazillions out there: random plot generators, title generators, character generators, motive generators, setting generators, first line generators and everything else besides. If all that feels a bit too much like stealing, you can also use story dice, random image generators or random word generators or character trait generators to help lubricate the imagination.

But wait a minute…

Do these little miracle makers really deliver the goods?

Most of these random plot generators tend to work by simply throwing up a random selection of story elements, such as a random theme, a couple of randomly generated characters, a randomly generated setting and maybe a randomly generated conflict. Once in a while these might be helpful, but nine times out of ten, they tend to throw up results which are so completely random that I just end up despairing over my failure to write a story about drug addiction in which a pole dancer and an astronaut get locked in the Tower of London.

Story Plot Generator Pro (A.K.A Plot Gen Pro) by Arc Apps is probably the best random generator of this kind that I’ve come across. You have to pay for the full version but even the trial version is pretty decent and produces random elements within a chosen genre. Thus, the results are not quite as bizzare as they might otherwise have been. For instance, when I asked for sci-fi/space story I got:

Location: You are on a small civillian colony that shares the planet with a native species.
Complication: A ship of alien origin approaches: attempting to communicate proves challenging.
Character: Your character has taken someone else’s identity.
Detail: Cloning technology was recently perfected but has not been revealed to the public.


Story Plot Generator Pro

I mean, heck… with a bit of effort, that might actually be usable.

There are, of course, some idea generators out there which produce slightly more refined ideas. My personal favourite is the Story Idea Generator at thejohnfox.com. Instead of vomiting up a meaningless jumble of events, half-baked characters and opening lines, this little beauty presents you with a meaningful scenario and a relevant question to stimulate your own imagination. For example:


A heartbroken husband chases his cheating wife through a child’s playground at night. What does he keep shouting at her, and why doesn’t she want to be with him?


https://thejohnfox.com/2016/05/story-idea-generator/

If used correctly, this kind of prompt should make for a far richer story, as you are forced to think your way through the details of who your characters are and why they do what they do. Rather than giving you a pre-made story (or, to be more accurate, a sequence of meaningless events, as most generators give you), this generator essentially gives you suggestions for what to write about and a couple of questions to get you started but doesn’t actually attempt to write it for you. The specific events that happen, why they happen and the outcome of it all are left very much to the author’s imagination, as indeed, it should be.

Depending on how your brain works, I can see generators of this type working really well for a lot of people. For me personally, however, I find that I don’t usually need someone to tell me what to write about. I often think I do, but whenever I do use a plot generator which produces something sensible, I end up just feeling like I’ve been asked to finish writing someone else’s story. I seldom feel confident enough, or even interested enough, to write it. What I really need is simple stimulation, and usually the vaguer it is, the better. I am, in fact, quite capable of coming up with story ideas myself and a simple word, catchphrase or picture will usually be enough to stimulate my sleeping imagination whereas a plot generator (no matter how good it is) feels a little too restrictive. Thankfully, there are plenty of places on the internet where you can find nice vague stimuli too.

Title generators are my personal favourite. A simple adjective/noun style title generator like this one, will throw up all sorts of interesting concepts that you can take in almost direction. I just tried it out and I got The Incredible Flute, The Last Cottage and The Evil Crow. There is so much potential in those simple ideas that I bet most writers could come up with something unique for every one of them (in fact, please do! Write a story called The Incredible Flute and tell us all about it in the comments. I dares ya).

There are, of course, more complex title generators out there which are mostly tailored to specific genres. For instance, Fantasy Name Generators gave me some really interesting titles such as Wife of Dreams, Faith of Earth and Boy Without Flaws simply by pressing a button (I might actually try writing some of those myself). These can also be refined by genre and there is the option to specify key words you want to include (incidentally and in passing, Fantasy Name Generators boasts one of the largest collections of random generators I’ve ever seen on the internet; everything from story title generators to Quetzalcoatl name generators. Lose yourself on that website for a while).

Whatever kind of idea generator you like to use (including good old fashioned writing prompts), the important thing to remember is this: even the best prompts are no substitute for the imagination. By all means, let them stimulate your imagination (if you find them helpful) but don’t fall into the trap of thinking they’ll do the imagining for you. They cannot and they should not. This also means that you needn’t be enslaved to the details of whatever prompt you use. You might not be able to contrive a realistic scenario where a pole dancer and an astronaut end up in the Tower, but perhaps you can write a piece of historical fiction about someone else being locked in the Tower, or perhaps you can write about an astronaut who does a bit of pole dancing on the side. The possibilities are endless for a fertile imagination.

Find Andrew Ferguson on all these wonderful places:

Looking for a gift for the author or fiction lover in your life?
Check out the Penstricken Zazzle store!

A scrivener using Scrivener

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

AUTHOR INTERVIEWS:

Unfortunately, I am unable to take on any more author interviews or solicited book reviews at this time.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

App Review: Character Story Planner 2

Originally published 05/05/2019

Search for ‘writing apps’ on Google Play Store and you will be spoilt for choice by the results. Everyone and their granny seems to have produced an app to help writers draft or plan their stories, most of which I personally don’t find very helpful. Nevertheless there are a few diamonds in the rough to be found and today I want to tell you all about another one I recently discovered: Character Story Planner 2 for Android by Ifantasia.

In fact, the name of the app is somewhat misleading. This app is much more then a simple character planner. You can use it to work out pretty much all of the little details that go into creating a world for your story: characters, settings, magic systems, scenes, timelines, the works. Everything short of actually drafting your story.

One of the best things about this app is the generous supply of preset templates for creating character bios, relationships, settings, groups, objects etc. Most of these are pretty detailed and, with a bit of work, can help you to knock together all the essential details you need to build your world and your characters. You can also easily download templates created by other users. While none of these templates can be customised, you can create and modify your own templates from scratch. This can be time consuming, but is probably worth the effort if you’re not satisfied with the default templates.

At first glance, the timeline function may appear to be a good way to plan out your chapter outline, but don’t be deceived. Whenever you create a scene on this app, you include the date the events take place on. So far, so good. This information is then used to automatically compile a timeline, which also includes key dates from character bios etc, such as characters’ birthdays. However there is no way to organise what order scenes will be actually presented in, making it a pretty poor substitute for a proper chapter outline. It works best simply as a means of organising the history of your fictional world (as I suspect it was really intended for),

If you really, really, really want to use this app to draft your story, there is a ‘script’ function tucked away under the ‘story’ tab of your project. Each script you create is essentially just a block of free text without any bells or whistles whatsoever, which could possibly suffice as a place to draft your story if it weren’t for one glaring problem: there is no obvious way to export the text or to compile it into a single manuscript. Personally, I only use the script function for taking notes, not for writing my actual story.

The general layout seems to assume the author is writing fantasy. Under the ‘world’ tab of each project, there are specific sections for detailing magic systems, deities, creatures, flora and so forth. Of course, if these are irrelevant to your story, you can just ignore them and use the other sections to write any genre you like so it’s not really a problem.

There are ads, though these can be easily avoided by turning off your data/WiFi when you use the app. I haven’t personally found any obvious bugs so far, though I feel compelled to point out that there are a lot of reviews on Play Store by other users complaining about some pretty annoying sounding bugs, including ones which delete most of your work. Perhaps these bugs have been fixed or perhaps I’m yet to encounter them. Only time will tell (I’ll maybe let you know!).

All in all, a useful tool with bucket loads of potential. There is, perhaps, a bit of scope for development but when it comes to world building, this app is still well worth a look.

My rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟

Find Andrew Ferguson on all these wonderful places:

Looking for a gift for the author or fiction lover in your life?
Check out the Penstricken Zazzle store!

A scrivener using Scrivener

Want a blog of your own? Start writing today with WordPress.com!

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

AUTHOR INTERVIEWS:

Unfortunately, I am unable to take on any more author interviews or solicited book reviews at this time.

You can check out our previous interviews here: