Idea Generators: Are They Any Use?

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.


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 prompts your story.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. 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/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

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App Review: Character Story Planner 2

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:🌟🌟🌟🌟


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 builds your world.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. 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/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

5 Writing Laws I Just Can’t Keep

Google it, and you’ll see that the internet (to say nothing of books and formal writing courses) is simply teeming with lists of rules on how to write fiction. I’ve been known to knock out a list of rules or two myself; rules I generally believe make for a better writer if they are carefully adhered to and applied with a little wisdom.

Nevertheless, it is human nature to rebel against the rules. If the Writing Police ever do raid my house at four in the morning and drag me before the Fiction Judge, I’m pretty sure the list of charges will be a long one and he’ll throw the book at me for every one of them.

And so, today I’m here to confess my crimes. I know that some of these things are wrong, and I am ashamed of them. Other laws, I break with pride. And so without further ado, here are my crimes:

Using adverbs

The road to hell is paved with adverbs.

Stephen King

I confess it ashamedly. Sometimes when I’m writing, especially when I’m writing dialogue, I use adverbs liberally to describe the way people said things.

And I will proudly confess that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with very occasional adverbs. My real crime is that I don’t just use them ‘very occasionally.’ I use them all over the place and wait until the editing process to come back and replace them all with stronger verbs.

It’s the only way I know to get anything done.

Long-Windedness

Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can.

Ernest Hemingway

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might have already noticed that I have a tendency to say things in a verbose fashion; using an excess of words (with little side notes in brackets) to say even the simplest things and breaking it up with more commas and semi-colons than you can shake a stick at, when all I really need to say is something along the lines of: ‘I can be quite long-winded’ (or something like that).

It makes for a tedious narrative and a painstaking editing process.

having holidays

Just write every day of your life…

Ray Bradbury

I tried that, Ray. I really did. But I’m a firm believer that a regular day off is healthy and makes me a better writer, provided I am diligent about my writing schedule for the rest of the week. I also give myself a set amount of ‘annual leave’ (a maximum of 33 days per year, the exact same as my day job gives me) to allow for holidays and so forth.

On a related note…

Writing is not the sum total of my life

For a writer life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.

Eugene Ionesco

I know they’ll throw the book at me just for saying this, but my life consists of more than writing. I will go further: I believe that a life which consists of nothing but writing will produce very limited writing. I say that with the greatest of reverence to Ionesco, who was clearly a superior writer to myself. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion Ionesco’s own life probably consisted of more than writing. After all, to quote another great writer, ‘in order to write about life, you must first live it’ (E. Hemingway). Believing things, doing things, experiencing things and feeling things, all fill your mind with the raw material to create good stories.

Don’t misunderstand me. Writing is very important to me. I write diligently every Monday-Saturday and I do spend an excessive amount of my non-writing time thinking about writing. But I also think about my wife and daughter. I think about God and I think about the state of the world. I think about my day job and I think about how I want to reward myself at the end of a hard day’s work. I think about tidying up my death-trap of a back garden and I think about what I want to read, watch or listen to. Writing is not my life, but all my life goes into writing.

Self-doubt and arrogant pride


The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like.

Neil Gaiman


For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly…

Romans 12:3 (KJV)

We writers walk a fine line between vain conceit and abject self-abasement: a line called ‘sober judgement’. Most of the time (though not always!), I tend to struggle with the latter rather than the former. I doubt my writing to such an extent that I shy away from boldly writing the things I want to write. As a result, my progress is slowed to a crawl as I sit at the computer and try to convince myself that what I’m writing isn’t a crime against literature.

However, I won’t lie to you. There have been some occasions where I’ve fallen down on the other side of ‘sober judgement’ and began to sing my own praises. This, too, is crippling, because (apart from being annoying to others) when the inevitable dry spell comes, where I struggle to write well, it makes that feeling of self-doubt all the more devastating.

What about you? What writing rules do you struggle (or outright refuse) to keep? Confession is good for the soul, so tell us all about it in the comments below!


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 breaks your rules.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. 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/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

Game Review: Toonstruck

SPOILER ALERT

While every effort has been made to avoid spoilers in this post, anyone who has not played Toonstruck (1996) is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

Back in the ’90s, point and click adventure games like The Secret of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango and Broken Sword were far more popular than they are today. Nevertheless, they still retain a devoted fan-base who enjoy the pain of walking around the same level for hours or days at a time without making any progress and then falling off their seats with delight when they discover a ‘pickupable’ object they don’t know what they’re supposed to do with.

I count myself as one of them. I guess one of the things I like about them is that they are so heavily story driven. They’re not like first person shooters where you can pretty much ignore the story (though I do love a good first person shooter after a hard day at the office). The game is the story, and you have to engage with what’s going on in order to move the story forward.

So today, I’m going to review an often overlooked gem of the genre: Toonstruck (1996).

The game begins in the ‘real world’, where a successful but despondent cartoon animator by the name of Drew Blanc (I know) has been assigned the task of creating new characters for his immensely successful Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun Show; a cartoon filled with cute bunny rabbits. Despite the show’s success, he despises those sickly sweet rabbits and is struggling to complete the job he’s been assigned. While he is sitting there, despairing of his life, his eye alights on a picture on the wall of a not remotely cute rabbit: Flux Wildly. Wild, irreverent and sarcastic, The Flux Wildly Show was Drew’s first creation, one that he believed would bring him fame and success but never saw the light of day.

Suddenly, just as morning is breaking, he finds himself sucked into a cartoon world, populated with characters from The Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun Show and of course, his old pal, Flux Wildly. But this is a world divided. The innocent cartoons of Cutopia, where everything is insufferably cute and child friendly, are being threatened by Count Nefarious, ruler of the Malevolands, where everything is weird, dark and sinister. The evil Count has developed a weapon (the Malevolator) which allows him to transform cute cartoons into ugly and nasty cartoons, thus giving him the ability to conquer Cutopia and turn it into one big Malevoland. To stop that from happening, the King of Cutopia hires Drew and Flux to find the parts to build a counter-weapon (the Cutifier) and so begins your adventure in this surreal and colourful cartoon world.

All in all, the story works well. A lot of critics have accused the dialogue, humour and characters of being dated and unoriginal but I personally feel that they may have missed the point. It strikes me that this game was meant as a homage to a classic ‘Loony Tunes’ style of cartoon which is now little more than a distant memory and which was probably already on its way out by the late ’90s; and if this is the case, it has accomplished it masterfully.

This game boasts a wide cast of diverse characters (many of whom are voiced by surprisingly famous actors including Christopher Lloyd, Ben Stein, Dan Castellaneta and Tim Curry), none of whom feel under cooked in any way– not even the minor characters.

If I have one criticism of the overall story, it is this: that towards the end of the game, the story seems to unravel a little bit, which may be owing to the fact it was originally intended to be a much longer game. For instance, Drew is injected with a chemical to turn him into a cartoon, but this doesn’t really come to anything. The story would have worked just fine without it. It would have also been nice to see him succeed with The Flux Wildly Show (the game ends with him pitching Flux to his boss as a companion for Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun, only for his boss to talk him down and angrily reject the idea). It’s not enough to spoil the game, but it feels like the loose ends were tied up a bit hastily.

One more thing: I would suggest to anyone considering buying this game for their children (because it’s been rereleased on Steam) that it might not be quite as child friendly as it first appears. There is quite a bit of adult humour which, although reasonably subtle, might not be suitable for children of a certain age. The most blatantly adult scene is one in which a perfectly cute cow (Marge) and a perfectly adorable sheep (Polly) are struck by the Malevolator. When you visit them after this, you find that ‘Mistress’ Marge is now chained to a ‘Wheel O’ Luv’ and ‘Punisher’ Polly (all dressed up in a tight fitting corset) is now whipping the cow. The puzzle which follows consists mainly of trying to find a form of torture which can satiated Mistress Marge’s lust for pain more than Polly’s whip. You might have a hard time explaining this to your child so I recommend playing the game yourself to decide if it’s suitable.

All in all, it’s a great fun game to play. I like it a lot and it’s a shame that it was such a commercial flop. Give it a go. I think you’ll enjoy it.

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 cutifies your bunnies (😐).

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. 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/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

10 Great Book Reviews

As you might have guessed by now, when I’m not writing, I’m reading; and when I’m not blogging, I’m reading other people’s blogs. One of my favourite things to read is book reviews (what better way to find new books to read?), and so today I’ve decided to share a few book reviews I’ve read from my fellow bloggers over the last few days.

None of these posts have necessarily got anything in common, save for the fact that they are all novel reviews I enjoyed reading. Some of these reviews are quite short; others longer and more detailed. They don’t necessarily deal with novels in the same genre or by the same author. As ever, this is simply a selection of my personal favourite reviews, not an exhaustive list; and as ever, this list is in no particular order.

And so, without further ado:

K DeMers Dowdall: ‘Book Review: Catling’s Bane’

Shalini’s Books and Reviews: ‘Book Review – Sleep by C. L. Taylor’

Stephanie’s Book Reviews: ‘Review: Summer by the Tides by Denise Hunter’

This Is My Truth Now: ‘Book Review: Endgame by Patrick Hodges’

FictionFan’s Book Reviews: ‘Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison’

Suzy Approved Book Reviews: ‘In The Neighborhood Of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton’

Keeper of Pages: ‘Book Review: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides’

Lifesfinewhine: ‘The Dioramist by Eric Keegan (Book Review)’

KayCKay Book Reviews: ‘If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura ★★★★★ #BookReview’

Beetleypete: ‘Book Review: The Summer of Madness’


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 reviews your book.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. 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/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

Are You Making The Best Use Of Your Writing Time?

Writing takes time. Lots of time, especially if you’re writing a novel. If you’re writing a novel and maintaining a weekly blog, you have to devote even more time to writing; and even then, you might still have that niggling feeling in the back of your mind that you should be writing a few short stories here and there.

That pretty much describes my situation, along with juggling a wife, a daughter and a full time job that has nothing to with writing. And so, I’ve recently made a few more changes to my weekly writing schedule which I hope will allow me to make better use of my limited time. I know I’ve spoken about this before [2], but I’m always trying to think of new ways to make the most efficient use of my limited writing time and while I’m sure your writing schedule won’t be exactly the same as mine, I thought I’d tell you about it anyway to provide you with a bit of food for thought.

On the average week, my writing time looks something like this:

MonTueWedThuFriSatSun
19:30 – 21:0019:30-21:0019:30-21:0019:30-21:0019:30-21:0007:00-11:30Day off

Note that the evening slots are very approximate, depending on how long it takes to get my toddler into bed. Also note that my Saturday session, while longer, is subject to regular interruptions and is therefore not always the best quality writing time.

I think you’ll agree, that’s not a huge amount of time, but it should be adequate. The big killer, as I mentioned in previous posts, is this blog. Because I publish a post every week (a deadline I don’t have with my novel), it seemed only natural to prioritise the blog. And so, I would sit down at 19:30 every Monday and write my blog. Once the blog was finished, I would use the rest of the week to work on my novel. If I managed to smash the blog on Monday, that gave me Tuesday-Saturday to write my novel. If I was still struggling with it on Friday, I probably wouldn’t get much novel done at all that week. While I had taken a few steps to try and redress the balance between my blog and story writing time, the fact remains that my fiction writing was still very much at the mercy of my blog. If the blog was going well, my novel got written. If progress on the blog was slow, the novel ground to a halt.

The thing is, as much as I love doing this blog, I only ever really considered it a kind of hobby. What I really want is to publish my novel and send a few more of my short stories to magazines and writing competitions (my output in that department has been shockingly low) but I just didn’t know how I could make better use of my time– until recently when I did a time management course at my work. Then my eyes were opened.

I don’t have time to go over all the particulars of the course, but one of the lessons I took away from it was the importance of organising tasks by order of importance and urgency, giving priority to important tasks (that is, the ones that mattered to me the most) first, then urgent ones (ones that were simply time sensitive) second. Since my blog is urgent (it needs to be done every week) but not as important to me as establishing a career as an author, it is clearly wrong for me to slave my novel to the progress of my blog. It’s also important to me to submit shorter works to magazines, but this is something that I’ve been completely neglecting as the blog has taken up so much of my time.

And so, I have reorganised my writing schedule. Now it looks like this:

MonTueWedThuFriSatSun
NovelNovelNovelShortsShortsBlogDay off

If you think about it, you’ll realise my novel now gets a guaranteed four and a half hours a week of my time with very few interruptions; short stories get three hours and my blog gets a still very generous four and a half hours (with more regular interruptions). This means that my blog has got just as much time as it always did, but now my novel is free of restrictions. It will get the same four and a half hours of quality time every week come hell or high water with the blog. Not only that, but I’ve even managed to make time to work on my short stories. In addition, by making Saturday my blog day, I remove the temptation to ‘borrow’ time from other days, as my blog is published on Sundays. Thus my novel and short story writing productivity is increased with little or no loss to my blog.

What about you? Do you struggle to make time to juggle life with multiple writing projects? How do you prioritise your time? Share your wisdom and experience with us in the comments below!


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 manages your time.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. 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/Pinterest.

You can check out our previous interviews here:

Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

Why Your Fantastic Story Idea Has To Die

So you’ve had a fantastic idea for a new story: something really original, really clever and just plain brilliant. Well, bully for you, I say! It’s a wonderful feeling not only knowing what you’re next story is going to be about, but actually knowing that it’s a real cracker of an idea.

Enjoy your good feelings while you can but don’t fall in love with your idea. If you do, you’ll only end up languishing in Inspiration Hell the moment you try to put your idea into action. If you want my advice, you’ll treat your idea as a profane thing from the very moment it’s conceived. It is not sacred. It is not too beautiful to die. Frankly, it’s probably not as clever as you thought. Unless you’ve laid a real golden egg of an idea, you’ll probably have to kill it– and the sooner the better.

‘Now wait a minute there, old bean!’ I hear you cry. ‘That seems a bit harsh!’

Maybe it is, but I still think it will save you a lot of heartache in the long run if you take it to heart now. No element of your story should ever be safe from being tweaked, twisted or downright axed. This includes the original premise of your story, however clever it might be.

This is no new commandment. We all know how important it is to ‘kill your darlings’ when you write. You know what I mean: those glorious, beautiful little bits of narrative you’ve written that you think are so wonderful, but they ultimately do nothing for your story and have to go.

However, unlike most darlings on the headsman’s block, the original idea is not something you can simply come back to at the editing stage. If you write a dodgy sentence, an unnecessary scene or even several chapters of pointless drivel, you can still plod along quite the thing until you finish the draft. Not so with your original idea! If you fall too hard in love with it, you’ll never make it past the first draft (assuming you ever get the first draft started), because you will be unprepared to take whatever ruthless steps are required to fix the glaring weaknesses in your plot. If your original idea isn’t working, you must be prepared to kill it without mercy.

‘But if I kill my original idea, won’t I be right back at square one, with no idea whatsoever?’ I hear you cry.

No, of course not. Your original idea still serves a purpose: a new idea will be born from its ashes. Almost every story idea has at least a million possible alternative directions you can work in and I would encourage you to experiment with all of these (Scapple is my app of choice for organising my thoughts in this regard, though a good old fashioned pen and paper also does the trick). Perhaps your love interest should really be the protagonist? Perhaps your protagonist should be a pixie instead of a wizard? Heck, perhaps we should forget about pixies and wizards and go for cowboys instead? One of the best decisions I ever made in one of my old fantasy stories was to change from a medieval fantasy setting to a post-industrial fantasy. The basic themes, conflict and characters were essentially the same but by letting go of my determination to have knights on horses, my mind suddenly exploded with a whole bunch of material that yielded a much better story.

Even if your original idea is working, you will still need to be prepared to develop it, and that involves making changes, both big and small, so even if you stick with the same core idea, it will still require painful surgery to make it function. It is better, therefore, to simply have the attitude that your idea is profane and eligible for the chop from the very beginning. The fact is, no story idea ever comes to you fully formed. Ideas are like clumps of marble used in sculpting. Some clumps might be easier to work with than others and some might be utterly useless, but none of them can become Discobolus or David until someone first takes a hammer and chisel to it.


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 chisels your marble.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. 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]

5 Useful Fiction and Writing Blogs

We writers have got to support each other. That’s why every now and again I’ll do a post showcasing the work of other fiction and writing bloggers besides my own. This week is such a week.

Previously I’ve shared specific posts that I’ve found particularly useful or entertaining but I’m doing it a bit different this week. Instead of sharing individual posts, I’m sharing links to whole blog sites that I find myself returning to again and again, either because they’re full of useful tips and resources or because they’re just plain enjoyable to read.

As ever, this is simply a selection of my favourites, not an exhaustive list; and as ever, this list is in no particular order.

A Writer’s Perspective – If you’re a writer of historical fiction set in the 14th century or even just mildly curious about how people lived back then, this blog is definitely worth a look. It’s full of interesting little articles about everything from castles to medieval cuisine written by historical romance author April Munday.

TurtleWriters – ‘A Community for Slow Writers’. This is a great little blog site to find help and support if you’re the sort of writer who feels like they’re wading through treacle whenever they try to write. The blog is updated pretty sparingly, but it’s just such a useful breath of fresh air to us ordinary folk who want to write that I had to include it.

Rebecca Alasdair – Useful and enjoyable writing tips, general author updates and reflections on reading and writing. Also as an aside, this blog is much easier on the eye than a lot of blog sites.

Now Novel – In addition to a plethora of other resources (writing courses, groups, story idea finder, etc.), Now Novel boasts a blog with a motherload of writing tips for would-be novelists. I’ve never used any of its paid services but it’s blog alone is a tremendous resource for anyone who wants to write a novel and doesn’t know where to begin.

Morgan Hazelwood – Like her tagline says, Morgan’s blog is full of writing tips and writerly musings – with plenty of video for those too lazy to read.


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 squeezes your lemons.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. 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]

How to Help Your Audience Suspend Disbelief

Before I begin, let me ask you a question: what is the hardest thing to believe about Superman? Is it the fact he can fly, deflect bullets and shoot heat rays from eyes? Is it the fact he is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than… you know? Or is it something else?

As you may be aware, if you’ve been following this blog regularly, I’m cooking up an original superhero story, which I plan to publish in regular instalments here on Penstricken. Now all writing has its challenges, but if there is one thing that I’ve found difficult to get right with this particular story, it is the willing suspension of disbelief.

‘The willing suspension of disbelief?’ I hear you cry. ‘What the heck is that?’

I’m glad you asked. Basically, whenever an audience sits down to read a book or watch a play, they make a subconscious decision to accept the truthfulness of what is happening despite knowing it to be a work of fiction. If the audience does not suspend their disbelief, they will never be able to enjoy the story, because they’ll spend the whole time pointing out all the obvious contrived and plain ridiculous elements that are required to make a good story. While it is ultimately something the audience can decide to do or not to do, you as the writer have a responsibility to write a story which makes it easy for the audience to suspend their disbelief.

Does this mean magic, goblins and (in my case) superheroes are out? Certainly not. People have been telling stories about magic, goblins and yes, even super-powered humans doing incredible things since ancient times. If the current trend in Marvel and DC films is anything to go by, humanity’s taste for the impossible has not dwindled much in the last few millennia. It’s also true that there are plenty of non-fantasy/speculative stories which can utterly fail to inspire the willing suspension of disbelief. The issue is not one of what is possible. The issue is of what is likely.

The hardest thing to believe about Superman isn’t the fact he comes from another planet, nor is it the fact he has incredible powers. Those things are perfectly acceptable within the rules of the Superman universe. The most ridiculous thing about Superman* is the fact that Lois Lane (and everyone else) is actually fooled by a pair of glasses. I started wearing glasses for the first time back in 2014, and when I went into work the next day my colleagues didn’t all demand to see my ID badge, nor did my boss phone me up and ask me why I wasn’t at work. They knew it was me. That’s because glasses really don’t obscure a face that well.

But as much as everybody loves you there is one question that keeps coming up: “How dumb was she?” Here, I’ll show you what I mean. Look (puts glasses on). I’m Clark Kent (glasses off). No, I’m Superman (glasses on). Mild-mannered reporter (glasses off). Superhero. Hello? Clark Kent is Superman. Well, that was worth the whole trip. To actually meet the most galactically stupid woman who ever lived.

Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, s. 2 ep. 18 ‘Tempus Fugitive’ 

Source: https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/view_episode_scripts.php?tv-show=lois-and-clark-the-new-adventures-of-superman&episode=s02e18 (parentheses mine)

At this point, there is something very important to point out: in order to function, almost every story you ever write will feature a little unlikely element here or there. That’s okay, as long as you don’t push the audience’s ability to suspend their disbelief too far. Think of these things like using selloptape to wrap a Christmas present. You need a little, but too much spoils the whole thing. The audience will put up with one very small ‘oh come on, that wouldn’t happen!’ moment provided it helps your story along and isn’t the beating heart of your story in and of itself. For instance, Superman wouldn’t work without the glasses ‘disguise’, but its not fundamental to who he is or what he does. It’s just a simple trick to allow him to lead a double life and it’s unobtrusive enough for the audience to forgive, assuming the audience wants to enjoy the story (a determined audience can and will find the joins in even the most perfect stories; don’t let them get you down).

Having said all of that, you still need to take care when you are constructing fantastic elements for your story too. You can’t just have a dragon pop up and save the day in the last few pages of your story when previously you had no dragons. You can make your fantasy world as ridiculous and as imaginative as you like (have you read The Colour of Magic?) but there are still a few important things to remember if you want the audience to fully suspend their disbelief. I’ll rattle through them quickly.

Every fantasy world has rules. These can be almost anything you want, but you can’t deviate from the rules of your fantasy world any more than you can deviate from the laws of physics in real life.

Consider your genre and your audience. You’ll get away with elves in a fantasy. You won’t get away with them so easily in a space opera. Your audience will almost certainly approach your story with certain expectations, so think long and hard before you deviate from them.

Foreshadow. Don’t introduce fantastic elements as and when they’re needed. If Superman only flew when he had a missile to catch but got the train everywhere else, we would find this sudden introduction in the story’s climax a little jarring (might even read like a deus ex machina). If he can fly, he can fly– so let him fly! Don’t have him climbing ladders to change light-bulbs. He can fly! He’s not going to forget he can fly!

Avoid making things too easy for your characters. Whether it’s a personal code of morality, a price for casting magic or some other Achilles heel, if all your hero has to do is snap his fingers and save the day with his powers, you’ll have created an anticlimax. Nothing in life is ever as easy as simply magicking your problems away, and no matter how much your audience might enjoy magic or reversing the polarity, a good story reflects this. Your hero has to face a challenge to overcome using their head, their heart and their hands. There’s a reason Superman always winds up a cage made of Kryptonite. The bit where he escapes the Kryptonite using nothing more than his wits, his natural human strength and his burning passion to save the day is always more satisfying than the bit immediately after where he catches and disarms the missile in midair and actually serves to make the final ‘magical’ rescue all the more exciting.

*Okay, there’s also the fact of his impeccable moral purity, but that’s a deeper issue of character writing that I’ll talk about some other time. In fact, I already have.


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 suspends your disbelief.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. 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 – Revisited

You may recall that a couple of months ago I expressed my frustration with how much of my writing time was being gobbled up by this blog, and the detrimental effect it was having on my novel.

Well I haven’t just been sitting around since then. I’ve been making plans to redress the balance of my writing time while keeping this blog afloat, and since it’s nearly the New Year, and I know you’ve all just been dying to know what I’ve been up to, I thought I’d share some of my plans with you now.

Having carefully examined my own writing habits (both good and bad), I’ve concluded that a large part of my problem lies in how I plan and organise my blog; or to be more accurate, how I fail to plan my blog.

You see, I usually begin each new post from scratch on the Monday before it’s due to be published. Since I tend to only write for an hour or so each day (barring holidays and weekends), that gives me a maximum of about 6-8 hours a week to get my blog done, assuming I don’t do any novel writing. That’s not a lot of time if I’m struggling to come up with a topic, especially when you consider that I do also use that time to work on my novel.

Well, those days are gone now. For the last few weeks I’ve been working by planning out each topic in advance and organising it on a little planner I’ve knocked together on a spreadsheet. This means that whenever I sit down to write on Monday evening, I should be able to knock each post out far quicker since all the brainstorming will have been done in advance (this very post you’re reading now was written three weeks in advance, and at present I have topics planned right up until the end of February; that’s a drastic improvement on before).

I have also decided to make slight adjustments to my weekly word count. Previously I had always aimed to write about 1,000 words per post (depending on the kind of post I was writing). If it was significantly over this, I would edit it down and if it was significantly under par, I would write more. No more! While I am keeping the upper limit of 1,000 words, I am removing the lower limit. This means less time faffing about with word counts; I will simply say whatever I want to say in as many words as are required to say it.

‘But what if you want to say something really long-winded?’ I hear you cry.

I’m glad you asked! Up until recently I’ve only written individual posts. Each week was a brand new topic. From now on, however, I plan to write more serialised posts like what I did with non-human characters [2] [3] [4] a wee while back. I hope that by doing this, I’ll still be able to explore larger topics more fully while still maintaining a relaxed weekly word-count. It will also reduce the pressure to come up with new and interesting topics each week.

Speaking of serialised posts, I do have one other thing I’m very excited to announce for this coming year. As you will know if you frequent this website at all, I do occasionally post my own stories here. Until now, I have only posted flash fictions (in order to keep within my 1,000 word limit). Starting early on in 2019, however, I intend to publish a longer, serialised story on a regular basis. I don’t want to say too much about it just now since I’m still compiling my story bible and have only decided on a very tentative publication date for the first instalment (which I reserve the right to change for the time being) but I will say this: it will be an original superhero story.

I’m feeling quite good about all this. When I posted about my struggles with blogging and novel writing last year, I really didn’t know if it was possible to fix it without simply quitting the blog. Now I’m encouraged that with a little bit of planning, effort and time management it’s perfectly possible to have my literary cake and it.


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 plucks your pigeon.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m still looking to interview fiction authors here on Penstricken, especially new or indie authors. Whether it’s books, plays, comics or any other kind of fiction, if you’ve got something written, I want to hear about it. 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]