5 Simple Brain Unblockers

Originally published 29/11/2015

There is no blacker void than writer’s block. You might have the best intentions in the world of sitting down with a giant mug of tea for a few hours and resisting all your usual distractions but for some reason… nothing. You draw a blank. An hour ago you had so many ideas you thought they might start to leak out your ears but now… nothing. You think you may never write another word. We all know it happens to the best of us but that just doesn’t make it any easier.

I won’t lie to you; this post is pretty much the result of an afternoon spent swimming in the ocean of writer’s block, clinging on to the driftwood of terrible ideas. There are millions of different websites and books out there offering various suggestions on how to beat writer’s block and I’ve concluded that there is simply no ‘one size fits all’ method of getting back into the groove but here are a few techniques that I find myself employing on a regular basis.

Audition a Character

Characters, as I may have suggested previously, are the beating heart of any good story. If your story is still in the planning stage where it lacks a definite plot you might benefit from scribbling a few disjointed scenes featuring various different characters. Don’t worry too much about whether or not they are going to make the final cut of your story. That’s not the point. In fact, if you’re suffering from a truly chronic case of writer’s block, you’ll probably find it easier to write a very simple scene featuring only one or two characters doing something very every day, such as making the breakfast. This is a great way to get your creative juices flowing. With a little patience, your characters can take on a life of their own (and if they don’t, you’ve lost nothing!) and  the scenes you write will often help to develop your plot (or come up with a brand new story idea!) more than you might imagine.

Enjoy a Different Kind Of Story

If you’re like me, you probably enjoy stories of all kinds of different genres and mediums. If you’ve got the time to spare, leave your writing for a little while and immerse yourself in a story utterly different to anything you’ve been enjoying recently.

Have you been watching a lot of Star Wars recently? Maybe it’s time to try The Bucket List instead.

But perhaps you’ve just been watching too many films in general. In that case, ditch Star Wars and go and read Dune.

Better yet, ditch both genre and medium and instead find a production of Hamlet and go and watch it. Or, if you need something more interactive, find a computer game with a compelling story. Or perhaps it’s time for a true story. Or maybe you need something that will make you laugh instead of cry or something that will disturb you instead of amuse you. There are no rules. Find a brand new kind of story to love and let its different moods and textures inspire you.

Writing Exercises

It really depends what’s causing your writer’s block, but sometimes all you need is something to give you a little nudge. Ask the internet for writing exercises and you’ll find plenty of useful websites and apps which offer all kinds of different springboards to productivity. WritingExercises.co.uk is a personal favourite of mine which includes a whole plethora of tools to spark the imagination such as name generators, plot generators, word games and random first lines but there are many, many more.

Better yet, if you know roughly what sort of thing you’re interested in writing, do a Google Image search and pick one of the results as a stimulus. This works best if you search for an abstract term. So, if you’re wanting to write a medical drama (for instance) you’ll probably find it a more effective exercise if you search for ‘health’ rather than ‘doctors’, since the latter is likely to only bring up a million pictures of folk wearing stethoscopes.

(I couldn’t resist Googling these things to see what happened. I was quite right; lots of people with stethoscopes and white coats appeared when I searched for ‘doctors’. When I searched for ‘health’ I got the odd stethoscope, but I also got a variety of other images such as a cartoon heart lifting weights, a little boy dressed as a superhero and an x-ray of a man running).

The Fear

Anyone who has ever been in any kind of education is probably very familiar with The Fear. The Fear is a severe but good-hearted non-corporeal taskmistress who enters your life about a day or two before your dissertation is due to be handed in and tortures you into producing some of your best work.

If you’re struggling to write your story, it’s time to give the old crone a call by imposing a deadline upon yourself. The best way to do this is to tell someone else who will hold you accountable (my wife usually is more than adequate to the task) that you have planned to write so many words by such-and-such a day and if you meet that goal… we can order a pizza!

Now my marriage and tomorrow’s dinner rest on whether or not I get another 1,000 words written by tomorrow.

Ding-a-ling. The Fear is on line one for you!

Visit Your Bathroom

Don’t ask me why this works but it does. Maybe it’s something in the tiles or perhaps it’s the added moisture in the athmosphere. I don’t know. All I know is I’ve had most of my best ideas in the bathroom.

If all this doesn’t work, then you’re probably working too hard at it. Take a break. Do something else. Come back the next day. It is ultimately better to delay productivity than to drive yourself to hate a hobby or career you once loved…

… Unless, of course, you’ve got a genuine deadline coming up in the next day or two. In that case, you’d better give The Fear a call and find out what the heck’s keeping her!

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, why not help support Penstricken by buying me a coffee? You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterTumblr, Pinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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Auditioning Characters

Originally published 22/11/2015

There are more genres of fiction than there is sand on the shore; more mediums for telling your story than there are stars in the sky; more stories to be told than there are clichĂ©s in a blog; but if there is one thing that nearly all fiction has, it’s characters. 

Characters really matter. No matter what kind of fiction you’re writing, characters really, really matter. You’ve got make them as lifelike as possible but you’ve also got to create them in such a way that the reader responds in the way you want them to. We don’t want them to reach the end of your story and feel disappointed that the good guys won but we also don’t want to make them two dimensional, so it’s worthwhile spending a bit of time refining your characters. I like to do this by ‘auditioning’ characters, which I tend to do this in two stages: the Dull Stage and the Fun Stage.

The Dull Stage

Before I begin ‘auditions’, I need to know a thing or two about the kind of characters I’m hoping to create. If I was writing a piece of historical fiction set in the First World War, for instance, it would hardly do to have a cyborg for an antagonist. So at this stage, the main thing I try to do is write a simple character profile which includes all the non-negotiable elements. This will almost certainly include key details such as their name, age, gender, religion and nationality as well as any other relevant or essential detail (distinguishing features, superpowers, etc.). What I would not worry about too much at this stage is personality, physical appearance or behaviour unless it is directly relevant to the story. For example, let’s pretend I’m writing a fantasy novel about a prince who decides to live as a commoner. It’s important that he has a name befitting his royal position and his family background is clearly important also. Is he the eldest son of the reigning monarch or not? This is surely relevant, since in most monarchies the eldest would become king. How does he feel about this? This is also essential because it would have a fundamental impact on the plot and is probably directly related to why he abandoned his royal position in the first place. Perhaps he wants to marry a common woman or perhaps he dreads the responsibility of being king. Heck, since it’s a fantasy, he might abandon the throne because he wants to become a dragon-jockey instead. So, let’s see…

Name: His Royal Highness, Prince Lawrence II

Age: 19

Family: Eldest son of the king. Two brothers.

Likes: Dragons and adrenaline rushes.

Obviously my character profile would normally contain much more information than the example I’ve given above. The more details I have about the character I’m wanting to create, the easier it will be to create a character I’m proud of. I know I’ve called it the ‘Dull Stage’ but I can’t stress enough how important this stage is. The more you know about the character you want to create, the easier it will be to create a character who seems real to you.

The Fun Stage

So, we know what we’re looking for: a dragon riding youth of royal blood. Now we can get down to the serious business of turning that profile into a person. After all, there’s far more to a person than their vital details. Think about your friends on your favourite social networking sites. No doubt they all have various personal details on their profiles; a million different photographs from different stages of their life and a thousand-million status updates telling you everything about their average day, their (least) favourite foods, books they’ve read and everything else besides. But no matter how much stuff they put on their timelines, you just don’t get the flavours of each moment or the sensation of what it’s like to be around that person unless you actually spend time with them in real life.

Obviously it’s not possible to actually spend quality time with a figment of my imagination so what I do instead is open up a new document and write a scene with my character as the protagonist. It doesn’t matter if they’re the actual protagonist of my story or if the scene even makes the final cut. What matters is that they be given a scenario to act out where I can play about with their overall persona until I get it just right. Let’s take HRH Lawrence II for example:

‘I say!’ Lawrence declared, his voice quaking only slightly as the beast raised him higher and higher from the ground. It was hard to believe they were not flying already. He gripped the reigns tightly. ‘He’s a good deal taller from up here than he was from down there!’

‘Adan’s a girl.’ Hakan corrected him. ‘Actually, she’s a mean spirited old crone, but she can fly an’ she’s not too bad with strangers. Long as you don’t make her mad.’ He added, slapping the dragon’s feathery side. It snorted loudly. ‘Well, let’s see what you can do. Try do a lap of the field.’

Lawrence grinned widely in spite of himself and cracked the reigns as hard as he could. ‘Ha!’ Immediately, Adan was up on her hind legs, screeching angrily and spewing out flames into the sky so that Lawrence would have been thrown off had he let go off the reigns. Hakan was at her side, trying to soothe her.

‘No, no, no, stubborn, arrogant, stupid boy!’ He called up angrily to the young prince, continuing to rub the dragon’s side. ‘What do you think you’re doing? Fool! Idiot! Do you think this is just another ass that you have to beat and flog or it won’t move? Imbecile! You told me you knew how to ride, you thick headed half-wit! Get down from there at once!’

Lawrence was speechless. Hakan’s naked anger continued to break out against him in a way he had never witnessed before. How could he speak to him like that? How dare he?

As before, the above example is much too short short and I haven’t put nearly as much time and effort into it as I would if I were doing it for real but I hope you can see how this would help to develop Lawrence as a character. Notice for instance how he attempts (and fails) to handle the dragon. Clearly he has no knowledge of how to pacify such a powerful creature, yet he assumes that he can just wing it. This shows a certain character trait that we did not include in his profile: arrogance. Also consider how outraged he is when Hakan voices his anger towards him. Clearly, he is not accustomed to having people speak their minds to him like this. He might have fled his royal position but certainly hasn’t left behind his expectation that everyone must revere him.

Is this all strictly necessary for creating a character? Technically, no, I don’t suppose it is. You could probably just as easily develop a complex and substantial character simply by writing out a lengthy biography but frankly, it’s more fun this way. Not only that, but I also find it helps to get the creative juices flowing for other parts of my story. For instance, in writing this little audition for Lawrence, I had to give him somebody else to talk to. Thus, Hakan was born with a personality all of his own. I also found myself developing my own idea of what kind of animal a dragon might be; not ‘just another ass you have to beat and flog’ but a creature with a certain level of intelligence and dignity which demands respect. Auditioning characters not only makes the planning stage more enjoyable, it also unlocks a whole host of other avenues your imagination can wander down to see what might be there.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, why not help support Penstricken by buying me a coffee? You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterTumblr, Pinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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Author Interview: Jasyn T. Turley

Phil, Tim, and Dakota are three survivors taking refuge in Atlanta, Georgia. The year is 2027, ten years after a nuclear fallout decimated the known world and left it in shambles… Trying to survive and stick together, no matter the odds, they must rely on their faith, bond, and past experiences to live through their tribulations. In this world, a fool’s chance is usually their only chance.

Jasyn T. Turley is the author behind the zombie thriller series, Weeks. I caught up with Jasyn about Weeks, his writing routine and plans for the future. Click here to buy Weeks on Amazon.

How did you first get into writing?

So that’s a long story, I’ll compress that into a nutshell. WEEKS essentially was a game me, my brother and our friend Katie had played for quite a while. Eventually I was so consumed by WEEKS and even passionate enough, that I had to vent it out from my head. So I took a spiral notebook paper, and on a nine hour car ride to Colorado Springs, I wrote out book one. Then on a nine hour car ride back home to Kansas City, I wrote out book two. Things just took on a snow ball effect from there!

Wow, so was it a case of the three of you making up your own characters who eventually became the three main characters in Weeks?

Yeah, essentially as it played out, I was Phil, my brother was Tim, and Katie was Dakota. However, while mostly all of the events in the book actually took place in our game, a lot of the character and dynamics, etc. etc. was done by me, so there are stark differences

Who would you like to play Phil, Tim and Dakota in the film?

Oh man, I’ve got a loaded answer for this one too! First off, Thomas Jane for Phil, Tyrese Gibson for Tim, and Alice Braga for Dakota (I even kinda of hint at this in the book). It’s funny though, because every time I mentally picture them, for some reason I always picture those actors. So much that when doing writing the early drafts of Book One, that’s how I saw them. So even my concept art reflects that too, at least when I drew them out

What was the hardest thing about writing Weeks?

Well, I started writing Book One and Two back in the summer of 2009. I can’t put a number to all the many rewrites and edits it had gone through. I say the hardest obstacle was deciding which rewrite was going to be my last and be the published edition.

What is your writing routine like?

For the time being, it’s waking up at 8:15, get my computer loading and coffee brewing. And after my morning routine is done, I write between 9am to noon or 1pm Monday through Friday, before I go into work. The weekends are kinda of whatever happens happens. Right now I’m about halfway through Book Three’s rough draft, and the routine serves me well I think. I try to optimise my mornings the best I can.

Plotter or pantser?

So this is something of a recent struggle for me. Right now Book Three has been tumultuous for me, just the rough draft. I’ve gone through at least eight drafts, some different some similar. The common denominator? The outline. So right now on my current draft, I let the ideas come and go as they will, I didn’t write any of it down. Went back to my original idea for Book Three, which I wrote out in 2010, and implementing my new ideas with that. The same thing occurred with Book Two, I think it’s because I write better as a pantser.

Who are some of your favourite authors? Have any authors had a particular influence on your own writing?

Well, D.J. Molles is the biggest influence for me as a writer, as well as my favourite author. His Remaining series was very informative, because I have no military, weapon, combat, fighting experience or anything of the sort. Mr. Molles obviously does, if you read his bio and books it’s obvious. So I learned a lot, taking out the fact from the fiction of his books, getting an idea of how those things I know nothing about worked, and it even backed some of the research I had done prior. All of which really helped me write Phil, Tim and Dakota. Because they’re veterans essentially. I don’t know if I wrote them as believable soldiers, that’s for the reader to decide, but I think I did enough and part of that is thanks to D.J. Molles. Plus, his books are just a fun, good read all together. Other authors I like is H.L. Walsh, Kevin M. Turner and Stephen King are probably the ones I can name right off the back. Because the biggest chunk of things I read are also history books.

Any tips for new authors working on their first book?

Yes, there’s this video, one my most favourites (P.S., I don’t care that my grammar was bad there 😋), is a video from storytellers on YouTube, called ‘How to be Creative: How an Artist Turns Pro.’ It’s very informative I think, and helps me when I hit moments of despair. ‘Just write’ and ‘make it a work ethic to write’ are the biggest takeaways from that video I got. Like Stephen King said, and I paraphrase: ‘Routine is the bed of creativity, so get comfortable…’ or something like that.

What are your plans for the future?

Well I’m a dreamer and fantasise all the time. My dream of being a published author has been achieved after ten plus years. Now my next dream is to make being an author my full time gig, but that’s going to take some work. So smaller goals/dreams to work up to that. With Book Two on the horizon, the next step is to get Book Three done. I’ll keep grinding away, because full time or part time, I feel whole when I do write. But I’m making a network with other indie writers, and I feel like that does help a lot.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, why not help support Penstricken by buying me a coffee? You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterTumblr, Pinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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AUTHOR INTERVIEWS:

Due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

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Throwback Thursday: The Perfect Antagonist

Originally published: 08/05/2016

For me, the antagonist – what we might loosely call ‘the bad guy’ – can make or break an otherwise good story. He is the living and breathing incarnation of the obstacle your protagonist (or ‘hero’, if you insist) needs to overcome. It’s also a good opportunity for the author to create a character who ticks differently from any of the ‘good guys’ and (depending on your genre) you can really let your imagination run wild when it comes to his physical attributes.

Of course, a good author (or even philosopher) will tell you that the good guy doesn’t necessarily wear shining white armour and the bad guy doesn’t necessarily have a swishing black cape… but these conventions do exist for a reason. Just try and imagine what Star Wars would have looked like if Darth Vader had been the hero and Luke Skywalker had been the villain. Picture the scene in your minds eye, if you can: Darth Vader, hanging over a sheer drop and Luke Skywalker standing over him triumphantly:

Skywalker: Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Vader: *heavy breathing* He told me enough; he told me you killed him.
Skywalker: No. I am your father.
Vader: No! No! *heavy breathing* It’s not true! That’s impossible!
Skywalker: Search your feelings! You know it to be true!
Vader: Noooo, noooo! *hyperventilating*

See? Ridiculous.

On the other hand, that doesn’t necessarily mean your antagonist should be swishing around in a black cape. What you want is something distinctive that makes your antagonist really stand out. I don’t mean to keep rabbiting on about Star Wars, but before I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I had a gnawing anxiety that no matter how cool the bad guy was, he would never live up to Darth Vader. When I finally saw it, what I got was an antagonist (Kylo Ren) who wore a cape and a mask similar to Darth Vader’s and who used the dark side of the Force like Darth Vader but apart from that, he spent most of the film throwing hissy fits because he wasn’t nearly as good at being bad as Darth Vader was. He wasn’t cool; he was pathetic. One can’t help but wonder if the writer of this film created Kylo Ren as an expression of his own frustrations at the impossible task he had of creating a villain worthy of Darth Vader. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed The Force Awakens, but I think Kylo Ren would have lived up to Darth Vader far better if he had simply not been anything like him.

The most tragic thing about it all is that most of Kylo Ren’s problems were simply cosmetic. Darth Vader was a Jedi who was seduced by the dark side, but Kylo Ren is introduced to us as an antagonist who is drawn to the ‘light’ side. That sounds like the makings of a bad guy who really does stand out from Darth Vader and the Sith. It was little things like the black cape, the shiny mask and the red lightsaber (okay, it was a funky shape, big woop) that made him look like a Darth Vader wannabe. The fact that he really did wish he was Darth Vader didn’t help matters. Personally, I think he would have been a much more compelling antagonist if he had been wearing a bit more colour, no cape, no shiny mask and (dare I say it?) no lightsaber – and definitely no scenes where he is compared to Darth Vader.

Moving on from Star Wars and the outward appearance of the antagonist, another important thing all bad guys must have is a motive for their actions. If you read my Valentines Day’s post about creating a love interest, you may recall how much I underlined the importance of your love interest being a character in their own right, with their own egos, agendas, desires, fears and motives. They are not just there to swoon after the hero. In the same way, your antagonist must be a person in his or her own right. They must have their own beliefs, their own hopes, their own ambitions and their own reason to get up in the morning apart from simply annoying the protagonist. The only real difference with an antagonist is that you might feel a little bit safer in exploring darker motives for doing things, but even then, watch out! Don’t turn them into the sort of bad guy who cackles about how magnificently devious they are and don’t make them bad just for the sake of being bad. Even if they’re mad in some way, there must be something which motivates them; a fear, a desire or a goal of some kind. In the 1993 film, Falling Down, Michael Douglas played a character who had a mental breakdown while stuck in traffic on his way to his daughter’s birthday party at the home of his ex-wife. There’s no denying that his character has flipped. He spends most of the film smashing up various people and places but behind it all, he still has a goal (‘I’m going home!’) and a motive behind his violent outbursts (frustration at the problems, flaws and injustices of every day life). Thus he remains a character in his own right; his existence is not defined by the hero or anyone else.

Your antagonist can be motivated by almost anything. They can be power hungry, racist, misogynistic, greedy, paranoid, psychotic or (better still!) they can even be driven by seemingly noble motives. In the Star Trek franchise, for example, the Maquis are depicted as a group of terrorists but they are motivated by a desire to drive out what they see as alien invaders from certain human colonies. Indeed, even the ‘good guys’ in Star Trek often appear to sympathise with the Maquis’ cause – but ultimately, they oppose them. Having an antagonist who has good intentions can often make for a much more compelling character and it adds substance to your plot. Whatever their motives and however you decide to dress them up, the two most important things you can do with your antagonist is make them unique and make sure they are a fully fledged character in their own right. Give them all the shades of grey that we find in every character and try to avoid clichĂ©s. Having said that, I don’t care how cool your bad guy is and I don’t care how much I sympathise with his feelings or his motives…

The bad guy should never, ever, ever win.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, why not help support Penstricken by buying me a coffee? You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterTumblr, Pinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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Spotlight: Weeks by Jasyn T. Turley

Phil, Tim, and Dakota are three survivors taking refuge in Atlanta, Georgia. The year is 2027, ten years after a nuclear fallout decimated the known world and left it in shambles. With hordes of the undead flooding their once safe home and a city now depleted of all resources and supplies the three must make a daring gamble. To trek across the States and Canada, looking for a new place to call home; safe from the monsters that plague the lands. In their daring gamble this trio encounters more than just zombies. They are relentlessly pursued and hunted by both an old and new nemesis’. Trying to survive and stick together, no matter the odds, they must rely on their faith, bond, and past experiences to live through their tribulations. In this world, a fool’s chance is usually their only chance.

Praise for Weeks

Weeks is a well-written apocalyptic tale that gives a fresh new life to the overdone zombie genre

Billy Burgess, ‘Review – Weeks by Jasyn T. Turley’, Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer, 24/02/20

Have you read Weeks? Why not leave a wee comment below and let us know what you thought of it.

Click here to buy Weeks on Amazon.

Click here to check out Jaysn T. Turley’s website.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, why not help support Penstricken by buying me a coffee? You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterTumblr, Pinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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Monday Motivation

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, why not help support Penstricken by buying me a coffee? You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterTumblr, Pinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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10 Quotes About Writing

‘There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.’
– Maya Angelou

‘So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.’
– Dr. Seuss

‘Write quickly and you will never write well; write well, and you will soon write quickly.’
Marcus Fabius Quintilianus

‘Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader – not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.’
E. L. Doctorow

‘Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”’
– C.S. Lewis

‘You do an awful lot of bad writing in order to do any good writing. Incredibly bad. I think it would be very interesting to make a collection of some of the worst writing by good writers.’
William S. Burroughs

‘Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one neither resist nor understand.’
– George Orwell

‘Step into a scene and let it drip from your fingertips.’
– M.J. Bush

‘You have to resign yourself to wasting lots of trees before you write anything really good. That’s just how it is. It’s like learning an instrument. You’ve got to be prepared for hitting wrong notes occasionally, or quite a lot. That’s just part of the learning process.’
– J.K. Rowling

‘This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy and that hard.’
– Neil Gaiman

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, why not help support Penstricken by buying me a coffee? You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterTumblr, Pinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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Spotlight: Love Offline by Olivia Spring

Emily’s Struggling To Find Romance Online. Will Ditching The Dating Apps Lead To True Love?

Online dating isn’t working for introvert Emily. Although she’s comfortable swiping right at home in her PJs, the idea of going out to meet a guy in person fills her with dread.

So when her best friend challenges her to ditch the apps, attend a load of awkward singles’ events and find love in real life, Emily wants to run for the hills.

Then she meets Josh. He’s handsome, kind and funny, but Emily’s had her heart crushed before and knows he’s hiding something


Is Josh too good to be true? Can Emily learn to trust again and if she does, will it lead to love or more heartache?

Love Offline is a fun, sexy, entertaining story about friendship, stepping outside of your comfort zone and falling in love the old-fashioned way.

Praise for Love Offline

… A funny, but powerful romance novel about learning what it means to love yourself and live life to the fullest

Jenny, ‘Blog Tour Review: Love Offline by Olivia Spring’, Jenjenreviews, 30/10/2020

If I could sum this up in three words it would be fun, flirty and fabulous.

Leane, ‘Book Review: Love Offline by Olivia Spring’, Readpea, 30/10/2020

Have you read Love Offline? Why not leave a wee comment below and let us know what you thought of it.

Click here to buy Love Offline on Amazon.

Click here to check out Olivia Spring’s website.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, why not help support Penstricken by buying me a coffee? You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterTumblr, Pinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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AUTHOR INTERVIEWS:

Due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Monday Motivation

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, why not help support Penstricken by buying me a coffee? You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterTumblr, Pinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

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:

Due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

7 Deadly Writing Sins

I’ve never been a huge believer in hard and fast rules for writing. Oh, sure there are techniques which general work better than others, but in general I find that authors work best if they work according to their own set of rules, and within the written work itself, it is sometimes helpful to defy conventions in a way which makes you writing stand out… to some extent.

But if you ask me, there remain some lines we should simply never cross; some crimes we can commit as authors which are just unforgivable. And so, I’ve listed a few of them here for your enjoyment and instruction.

Info-dumping

One of the most frustrating things about writing a novel is the audience will seldom see just how much attention you’ve paid to the little details of backstory and worldbuilding. You know every character’s birthday, their favourite food, their family tree going back at least three generations, where they’ve lived and who they’ve worked for. If you are writing a fantasy novel, you will have done even more work, painstakingly realistic creating a world from scratch, including a full timeline of history leading up to the main events of your novel.

You might, therefore, want to include a two or three chapter history lecture or have your characters discussing the mechanics of your world. But don’t do it. This is info-dumping and it is boring, boring, boring with added boring.

Telling, Not Showing

Broadly speaking, there are two ways an audience can experience your fictional world, characters and the events that are taking place:

  1. As someone being informed about what happened, in much the same way you would if you read a newspaper.
  2. As a tourist visiting your fictional world, meeting your characters and experiencing events for themselves

It won’t surprise you to know, option 2 is the one you should be going for. Use all five senses and especially figurative language to draw the reader into the experience of your novel, rather than just using dry, technical descriptions.

Flat Characters

I feel like I do nothing on this blog but rant about how important it is to have well developed characters and today is no exception. If your characters are nothing more than a name and a physical description, no one will remember who any of them are, nor will anybody care about them. Characters need depth. They need motivation, goals, conflict and a lesson to be learned. They need a meaty backstory (though don’t info-dump it on us!). They need clearly defined traits which govern how they behave. They need all the little surface details like a DOB, home town and occupation. And yes, in spite of what I’ve said, they do need a physical description too (though I would shy away from describing this in unnecessary detail).

In the same way as I want to be shown the places and events of your story, not simply read about them, I want to meet your characters as if they were living breathing people. I want to get to know them. I want to love them, hate them, care about them. Only then will your story be worth reading.

Purple Prose

I love reading books where the author has a clear mastery of the English language. If you aspire to be the kind of writer who writes in elegant, poetic and striking ways then I take my hat off to you, because that’s the kind of thing you should be doing.

However, this does not mean you should write long winded sentences, pile up confusing metaphors or use any word other than ‘spade’ to describe a manual soil manipulator. Remember, your prose should be elegant, not sesquipedalian.

Keep it simple.

Cliché

This one hardly needs any introduction. Sometimes you read a novel and you could swear you’ve read it a thousand times before.

That’s because you have. It just had a different title and someone else wrote it. For instance, how many sword and sorcery fantasy novels have you read about a young nobody who discovers he is in fact THE CHOSEN ONE referenced in some obscure prophesy? I know I’ve read a few. They are all the same. Dull, predictable, boring. And I use that only as an example, but there are many, many other fiction clichĂ©s out there across the entire genre spectrum.

While I’m on the subject, I would also be very sparing in your use of clichĂ©d figurative language (‘as fit as a fiddle’) or clichĂ©d sentiments in your main theme (‘love conquers all’).

Deus Ex Machina

There’s nothing worse than devoting several days or weeks to reading a novel you think is really good only to get to the end and realise the author gave up at the last hurdle. Instead of resolving the story’s main conflict in a satisfying way, he simply introduced some previously unmentioned magic, technology or (worst of all) mushy sentiment to zap the conflict away.

And the audience aren’t daft. They know why you did it.

You did it because you wrote yourself into a corner and didn’t have the foggiest clue how to get out of it, so you effectively gave up. But it gets worse. You didn’t just give up. You pretended you hadn’t given up by publishing the novel anyway, tricking everyone into thinking this story was actually heading somewhere, wasting not only your own time but also the audience’s.

The audience despise you for it, and quite frankly so do I.

Intended Audience (Lack of)

I’ve written about this before but it’s more important than a lot of people realise. Most half-decent stories will appeal to some cross-section of society or another. However even the best stories won’t appeal to everyone. If you try to please everyone, you will almost certainly please nobody, because the work you produce will have a nasty jarring quality to it like putting custard on your steak pie.

Instead, decide who your intended audience is and what they want from your novel before you start and write just for them. Don’t worry about if the rest of humanity hates what you’ve written. Write for your own intended audience and you won’t go far wrong.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, why not help support Penstricken by buying me a coffee? You can also follow Penstricken on TwitterTumblr, Pinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

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:

Due to a recent surge in interest, I am presently committed to a significant number of reviews/interviews over the next couple of months. If you would like an interview or review, I would still love to hear from you, though it is unlikely that I will be able to begin work immediately.

You can check out our previous interviews here: