Throwback Thursday: Can’t Afford Scrivener? Try yWriter.

Originally published: 12/11/2017

Many years ago, when I decided to make my first serious attempt at writing a novel, I did what a lot of enthusiastic beginners probably do: I searched high and low for the perfect novel writing app. I didn’t know about Scrivener back then (in fact, I’m not even sure it was available for Windows at that time) but I did come across another app in a similar vein called yWriter by Spacejock Software. I attempted my first ever novel with it and I absolutely swore by it for a long time. Only the discovery of Scrivener for Windows really turned my head. However, in homage to auld lang syne, I’ve decided to download and review the most recent version of yWriter (specifically, yWriter6) for those of you who don’t want to spend any money (for there is no other good reason not to get Scrivener).

yWriter1
Fig. 1

yWriter’s main window (fig. 1) is, for the most part, fairly self-explanatory. Like Scrivener, it allows you to organise your various notes on characters, settings, etc. and, like Scrivener, it allows you to organise your work into separate chapters and scenes. You can either begin with a blank project or you can use the project wizard… which is basically the same as making a blank project, only you begin by specifying the title, author’s name and file directory you want to save it to before you begin, thereby saving yourself thirty seconds later on.

ywriter-editor
Fig. 2

The window which you use to actually write your scene is also pretty self-explanatory for anyone even remotely familiar with ordinary word processors. Unlike many modern word processors, however, you are essentially restricted to writing in a rich text box rather than on a virtual page. As such, there is no easy way to format your page layout (rulers, margins, etc). However, in addition to the features you would expect to find on any word processor, you also have the ability to hear your story read out to you by Microsoft David or Microsoft Zira (a feature which can be handy for helping you to edit a manuscript you’ve grown overly familiar with) and there’s a whole host of tabs on this window which allow you to edit all sorts of information pertaining to the scene you’re working on, if you find that sort of thing useful. You can also easily jump from one scene to another using the drop down menus at the bottom of the scene editing window.

Though this app is simple in many ways, and certainly lacks the flexibility of Scrivener, it does boast a plethora of handy little features which you can use or ignore as you see fit. I doubt if you’ll be inclined to use all of them and I don’t have nearly enough space here to mention them all, but suffice to say it seems pretty obvious to me that the developers have tried to appeal to a broad spectrum of novelists by adding a variety of tools.

ywriter-ratings
Fig. 3

Personally, I am rather fond of the word usage window, which shows you a list of every word used in your story and tells you how often you’ve used it; a handy feature if you’re given to tediously repeating certain turns of phrase over and over again. In addition, the help menu includes a ‘writing tips’ option, which brings up a simple message window containing a snippet of handy writing advice such as ‘take a 5-10 minute break every hour. Walk, exercise, make a drink’ and ‘sometimes it’s quicker to rewrite a short scene from scratch than to keep editing it’. You can also rate the relevance, tension, humour and quality of each scene you write and collate that information into a handy-dandy line-graph (fig. 3), which could be a potentially useful tool when you come to edit your drafts (assuming you can be honest with yourself about the quality of your work). The tools for developing characters, settings and items which appear in your story are simple enough to use, if a little basic and inflexible, although there’s plenty of room for writing whatever notes you want.

If there’s one major thing yWriter lacks, it is the ability to compile your manuscript into a suitable format for distribution. For instance, with Scrivener, you can easily compile your work into a variety of useful formats including (but not limited to) standard manuscript format, screenplay format or e-book format– and of course, if none of the presets appeal to you, you can customise your own format. You can’t do any of that with yWriter. It does allow you to export your project in a variety of ways, but if you’ve got any serious plans to submit your work for publication, you’ll need to transfer your exported project to a suitable word processor and format it yourself.

I realise I’ve unintentionally spent a lot of time here comparing yWriter to Scrivener but I hope you won’t misunderstand my intentions. I really like yWriter. Yes, there is room for further development but I do think it’s worth trying, especially for new authors who are just dipping their toe into novel writing for the first time. Nevertheless, bells and whistles not withstanding, it is quite limited when it is compared to more expensive tools like Scrivener. My advice would be to give it a go. You may find yWriter is more than sufficient for your own particular needs, in which case you should be able to get your novel written and save yourself a few bob into the bargain.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

UPDATE 25/06/20: yWriter 6 and 7 both export to Mobi and Epub using Calibre to create the final output file. You can also export to Latex to create paperback editions.


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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

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.

Please be advised that 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:

TV Review: Life on Mars

SPOILER ALERT

Anyone who has not seen the BBC comedy/drama series Life on Mars is hereby advised that this review may contain spoilers.

If you told me that you liked your police procedural dramas with a generous dollop of humour, possible time travel and the occasional psychological scene, I would take that to mean you’re a fan of the British police comedy/drama, Life on Mars— because that’s the only program I know that fits the bill (except the sequel, Ashes to Ashes, but I’ll talk about that another time).

DCI Sam Tyler (John Simm) is a British police officer who gets hit by a car in 2006 and wakes up in 1973. The rest of the series catalogues his continual clashes with his new colleagues as he tries to navigate the unfamiliar world of the early ’70s and figure out how to return to the present day. There is also a fairly bog-standard will-they/won’t-they style romantic subplot with WPC Annie Cartwright (Liz White); one of the few characters who doesn’t continually mock and obstruct Tyler, despite her disbelief that he is truly from the future.

So, let’s start with the good things about this program.

For a start, it has got a superb bunch of regular characters. The desperate but righteous Sam; the quiet but strong and intelligent Annie; the blustering, boisterous but ultimately well-meaning Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister); the dim-witted but diligent Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster) and Ray Carling (Dean Andrews), who serves as something of a foil and rival to Sam throughout the show. The main players are all developed to perfection with good solid character arcs which resolve themselves neatly by the end of the last series. The supporting characters are also well developed but keep their place as supporting characters.

The pacing of this show is also excellent, blending together humour and darkness, mystery and sentiment and, of course, the lingering threat of insanity in a way which feels perfectly natural and leaves the viewer feeling fully entertained.

The overall story arc is also very satisfying. While each episode can more or less stand alone, insofar as there is usually a particular crime which is discovered and solved in each episode, Sam’s confusion about how he ended up in the past and what he needs to do to get home are never far from the fore and the events of each episode lead neatly to the climax at the end of the series.

I don’t have many negative things to say about this show. The romantic subplot between Sam and Annie was a fairly tedious tableau: Annie meets Sam in the first episode, there’s a bit of chemistry. He trusts her with the truth about what he’s going to; she thinks he’s mad but kind of likes him anyway, even though she’s a little hurt that he wants to get back to 2006 when it’s probably not real anyway. That’s pretty much how their relationship goes in every episode until they finally get together at the end of the very last episode. There’s not a whole lot in between. In most episodes he just has a disturbing experience with the Test Card Girl (Rafaella Hutchinson/Harriet Rogers), confides in Annie, Annie is concerned and whines a little that he doesn’t want to stay with her but ultimately tries her best to support him. Repeat.

Apart from that, it was a truly excellent bit of telly. Go and watch it with my blessing.

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 TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

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.

Please be advised that 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:

TV Review: Another Life

SPOILER ALERT

Anyone who has not seen season 1 of the sci-fi/drama TV show Another Life is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

My wife and I are seldom happy unless we’re watching at least one TV program with space ships in it and having recently completed Star Trek: Enterprise, we were very much in the market for another space opera. And so we did the only thing we could: dipped our hand into the televisual nest of vipers that is Netflix, only to get bitten by Another Life.

I was cautiously optimistic about this show. In the opening scenes, a mysterious alien object crash-lands on earth and grows into an enormous crystalline monolith (dubbed ‘the Artifact’) which begins sending transmissions to a distant world. Niko Breckinridge (Katee Sackhoff), captain of the Salvare, is ordered to travel to this planet to learn what the aliens are doing, while her husband, Erik (Justin Chatwin) remains on earth to study the Artifact while trying to raise their young daughter.

Sounds good, right?

Yeah. That’s what I thought too.

However, if we ever do have to send a manned spacecraft out on a dangerous mission to make first contact with aliens who may or may not mean us harm, I seriously hope we send a slightly more seasoned (or at least, trained) crew than this mob. These guys seemed to see no problem in eating alien plant-life, taking off their helmets while mining on alien planets or (my personal favourite) vaping alien narcotics, nor did they ever once learn from their mistakes. Their idiocy finally culminated in them deliberately installing a mind-altering alien implant, which they knew virtually nothing about, into a sick colleague’s brain. And as if being stupid weren’t bad enough, this crew, who presumably represent the crème de la crème of America’s astronauts, lost their heads every single time one tiny little thing went wrong– when they weren’t having sex, of course.

The sexual elements in this show (I refuse to exalt them to the level of ‘romantic subplots’, for they were neither romantic nor were they developed enough to be called subplots) lacked any substance or purpose whatsoever. All of the characters were pairing (or tripling) off in ways which seemed forced and unconvincing, finally fizzling out in the episode ‘How the Light Gets Lost’ where they all get high and have sex. Only the chemistry between Niko and the holographic William (Samuel Anderson– easily the best character in this show, by the way) seemed remotely natural or like it was contributing to the overall story in any way, only to be spoilt when Niko and William have really weird ‘hologram-pretending-to-be-my-husband’ sex and then it all went wrong for them too.

‘Big Brother in Space’ is how my wife described this ship and its crew and I am forced to agree.

Anyway, let’s look at some characters.

Niko: One of the few competent people aboard the ship. A bit of a control freak and a hard-nosed no-nonsense space captain who was anxious to protect her family back on Earth. Fairly well written.

William: Best character in this show and easily the most likeable until the ‘Lame Sci-Fi Trope Monster’ got him too and he started to malfunction because he fell in love with someone who treated him badly.

Erik (Justin Chatwin): Your bog-standard American dad trying to raise his daughter all by himself even though he’s also got a really important job to do. Lots of potential but a little too superficial for my taste.

Sasha (Jake Abel): I liked him better after he became a bad guy. He made my skin crawl, which I think was the effect the writers were going for.

Cas (Elizabeth Ludlow): A little preoccupied with her own issues which were never fully explored in this season but generally likeable. Cooler in a crisis than most of the crew.

Michelle: Swears like a trooper but apart from that, she seemed to serve no function whatsoever aboard the Salvare, (I just checked back to see what her job was, turns out she was the communications expert. Ha!) and I was downright glad when she died because she was just such a torn-faced, potty-mouthed pain in the fundament who dragged down both the pace and the tone of the show with her shrill dialogue.

All in all, Another Life failed to live up to its potential. This first season (which ends on a cliffhanger, by the way) was a sloppy mish-mash of sci-fi/horror cliches, pointless sexual tension and a bunch of characters who, for the most part, were as irritating as they were incompetent.

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 TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

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.

Please be advised that 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:

Throwback Thursday: Maigret (TV Review)

Originally published: 10/04/2016 under the title ‘To Catch a Killer (A Little Too Easily)’
SPOILER ALERT

Although every effort has been made to avoid spoilers, anyone who has not seen the ITV television-movie Maigret or read the Georges Simenon novel Maigret Sets a Trap is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

I’m normally quite fussy about reading the original of any story before I watch the film/TV adaptation. It’s not that I favour one over the other; I just like to get a feel for the original author’s unique angle on his/her story before sampling other people’s homages to it. That being said, when I heard that Rowan Atkinson was going to be starring as the main character in ITV’s television adaptation of Georges Simenon’s detective novel Maigret Sets a Trap, my curiosity got the better of me.

There are a couple of reasons I was so keen to see it but what really piqued my curiosity and what caused me to break with my usual tradition of reading the book first was the fact that the main character (a fairly sour-faced French detective called Jules Maigret), was being portrayed by Rowan Atkinson; a British actor best known for playing fairly silly comedy roles such as Mr Bean, Johnny English and Edmund Blackadder.

I will admit that it took a couple of minutes to get used to Atkinson’s face being so serious. His features are very striking and he has made a career out of comical facial expressions, not least of all in Mr Bean, where he has made an art of telling jokes without uttering a word. My disorientation only lasted a minute however. Atkinson’s acting and the general mood of the film were more than adequate to create the serious and mysterious ambiance needed for a good, solid detective story.

I do love a good detective story. I think secretly we all do. Mystery is very compelling. It’s what makes a detective story so captivating; something puzzling has happened and we simply can’t go to bed until we’ve had all our questions answered! That means, of course, that it is important that the reader/viewer of a detective story never knows for certain who committed the crime until the last moment (that was always my biggest objection to Columbo!). Those unanswered questions are what keep us on the edge of our seat. Without them, there’s no mystery and no story worth telling. Those detailed conversations you have with your family during the ad-breaks about who you think the killer might be and why are half the fun of watching a detective drama in my book.

And that, dear reader, is the main thing that ruined this first episode of Maigret for me.

The episode opens midway through an investigation conducted by Jules Maigret into four similarly styled murders. The victims have nothing in common except the colour of their hair and Maigret is, frankly, utterly failing to catch the perpetrator. And so he sets a trap, using female police officers as bait. At first, this seems to have all the makings of a good TV detective story; a compelling hard-nosed detective; pressure being applied to remove the detective from the case because of his failure to solve it; a series of mysterious murders that cause my wife and I to exchange numerous increasingly wild theories about ‘who dunnit’; the looming threat of more deaths; a dangerous plan to force the killer to reveal himself…

But then the plan goes ahead fairly early in the story, nobody gets killed as a result of Maigret’s risky move and someone is arrested against whom a truck-load of evidence is immediately forthcoming.

‘It can’t be him.’ I say to my wife. ‘It definitely, definitely, definitely can’t be him. It’s too obvious. It’s never the first guy they arrest, especially not when they find so much evidence against him so easily.’

So we carry on watching it for another half hour or so, quietly confident in our individual theories about who the real killer is while Maigret continues to hold and interrogate someone who we assume is an innocent man…

Only it turns out it was him after all and the person who I thought maybe was the killer is actually never actually seen again. Oh sure, they try to throw us off the scent by having another murder committed while the killer is in jail but by that point it’s painfully obvious that it was the killer’s wife who committed this last murder just to protect her husband and so we are not fooled and neither is Maigret.

I was prepared for the possibility that I wouldn’t be able to take Rowan Atkinson seriously as a serious detective and was pleasantly surprised to find that I thoroughly enjoyed his performance. If I was giving out prizes for acting or creating the right ambiance, I would have nothing but praise for Maigret but when it comes to that all important story, I must admit to feeling like I had been robbed of a good mystery and I am not nearly as enthusiastic about the second episode (due to be aired later in the UK later this year) as I was about the first.

My most sincere congratulations to Rowan Atkinson (and indeed, all the cast!) on a very good and very non-comical performance. Hopefully the plot for the next episode, Maigret’s Dead Man, will do greater justice to the acting and ambiance of the first episode.


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 TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

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.

Please be advised that 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:

Star Trek: Enterprise (TV Review)

Spoiler Alert

Anyone who has not seen any episode of Star Trek: Enterprise (2002-2005) is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

I’ve always loved Star Trek. The original series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and even Voyager have always been my firm favourites for as long as I can remember. I have all the DVDs and I watch them over and over without getting bored. When I was still a lad and just starting to really get into writing, I even wrote a few Star Trek fan fictions.

The one thing I didn’t like, or should I say refused to like, was Enterprise (2002-2005). In fact, I’ve been pretty vocal about my contempt for this show in the past. However my wife and I were desperately hunting for something new to watch that filled the Star Trek void. Sure, Star Trek: Picard was good, but it doesn’t quite fit the classic Star Trek feel and the less being said about Discovery, the better. So after a little gentle coaxing from the wife, I decided to give Enterprise a second chance.

I won’t lie to you, I still hate the theme tune. But I clenched my teeth and decided to bear with it long enough to see if I enjoyed the actual program and, to my great surprise, I did! Maybe it was just my bad experience with Discovery or maybe I was being genuinely unfair before but I have to say that I really liked Enterprise and feel it fits in nicely with the first three spin-off shows. The first two seasons meandered a little bit but it really picked up with season 3 and its season-long story arc focusing on the Xindi invasion and the formation of the United Federation of Planets in season 4. Oh and if you like time travel episodes, this show has got them in spades.

Anyway, let’s talk characters. While TNG, DS9 and Voyager focused on different characters for individual episodes (resulting in definable ‘Riker episodes’, ‘Data episodes’, ‘Odo episodes’, ‘Neelix episodes’, etc.) Enterprise focuses almost entirely on three key characters: Captain Archer, Sub-Commander T’Pol and Commander Tucker (‘Trip’). The rest of the regular cast serve as little more than supporting characters with loose fitting backstories and all the substance of a bunch of turnips. Boring supporting characters aside, I quite liked this approach. It was reminiscent of the original series with its focus on Kirk, Spock and Bones and allowed the three key players a bit more opportunity to develop. I could take or leave Archer but I really liked T’Pol and Trip.

Most Star Treks also have very familiar settings aboard their ships: the bridge, where all the shaking happens when the ship is attacked; the transporter room, where people get beamed up; engineering, where things explode; sickbay, where people with bizarre alien diseases are cured by the CMO at the last moment. Well, Enterprise has all these and more, including the command centre, the situation room and my personal ‘favourite’: the decontamination chamber. This bizarre little room was an obvious and cynical attempt to increase viewing figures particularly confusing and upsetting. Whenever a crewman (or usually two or more crewmen of opposite genders) returned from an alien planet, they went into this dimly lit room where they stripped down to their underwear and started lazily sponging each other down with shiny oil. You know, to decontaminate each other.

Decontamination wasn’t the only subtle-as-a-bat’leth attempt to bring sex appeal to this show. Almost from the outset, it is clear there’s going to be a romantic subplot between Trip and T’Pol (I knew it the first time I saw them together in that decontamination chamber). Very good, we like romantic subplots. Foreshadowing it by having both characters stripping off and giving each other massages to help treat Trip’s insomnia, on the other hand, seems a tad obvious. They didn’t develop any serious kind of relationship until the very end of the last season, and even then it seemed like their relationship was only just starting to get real when Trip was quite unnecessarily and unceremoniously killed at the last minute.

Speaking of which, the final episode was a major disappointment. Most Star Trek spin-off series ended with a thrilling two-part bang. Enterprise ended with a one-part episode in which Will Riker from The Next Generation runs a holodeck simulation of the Enterprise crew on their way to sign the charter which led to the formation of the United Federation of Planets. A brief bit of shooting, a lot of Riker and Troi musing about following orders and Trip’s untimely demise. The end. Probably the most boring episode of the series, with the possible exception of the Risa episode.

I feel like I’ve done nothing but criticise in this review. Please don’t be misled. I may be fifteen years late to the party, but I finally decided I like this show. I hereby renounce any of the bad stuff I’ve said about it (apart from anything I’ve said in this post, of course). It feels a million times more ‘Star Treky’ than anything else we’ve been served up in the last fifteen years and gives you a good solid forty minutes of family friendly sci-fi/drama entertainment more or less every time. It boasts well written story arcs and a good mix of humour, drama and excitement and (mostly) likeable characters (I want to punch that snotty-nosed Reid in the chops though). Watch it with my blessing.

Just make sure you skip the intro sequence.

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 TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

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.

Please be advised that 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:

Throwback Thursday: Keeping a Writer’s Journal

Originally published 30/04/2017

There are a some folk out there who will tell you that if you don’t keep a journal, you are doomed to never, ever be a writer of any kind. In fact, you will probably fail miserably at everything you ever set your hand to, both in business and at home. Others just get very snooty about the ‘right’ way to keep a journal (as if writing something simple like ‘I ate chips for my tea. That’s all I can think of to write’ means you have failed at journaling, and therefore, failed at life).

Obviously, that’s a load of poppycock.

However, even if you’re not the sort of person who normally bothers to keep a journal, you might find it useful as a writer to at least keep a writer’s journal— especially if you’re working on a large writing project such as a novel.

‘Oh nooo!’ I hear you cry. ‘That sounds too hard/time-consuming/pointless’ (delete as appropriate).

It needn’t be. You don’t need to fill it with epiphanies written in flawless iambic pentameter, you don’t need to handcraft your own leather bound volume to write in and you don’t need to write ten thousand words a day (having already written ten thousand words in your actual story). In fact (just between you and me), you don’t need to keep a journal at all if you don’t find it helpful, though I would recommend giving it a bash for a week or two to be sure that it’s not for you.

All that matters is that you do what helps you to write, and in my experience, journaling can be profoundly helpful. How you do it, however, is entirely up to you! You can write in it as often as suits you; it can be long or short; handwritten or digital; illustrated or not; written in all, some or none of the colours of the rainbow and best of all, it can be as messy as you like. No one’s going to mark it. No editor will ever read/watch/listen to it. No publisher will ever publish it. All that matters is that it helps you to write.

For me, I like to keep a written note of how many words I write each day. It’s encouraging to have evidence of daily progress when you feel like you’ve been writing forever and getting nowhere. More than that, however, I find it helpful to express all my thoughts, feelings, ideas and problems relating to my story in some way. Externalising all that stuff once a week, or thereabouts, usually suffices and it helps me to think through it all in a way that sitting staring at my manuscript does not.  If I don’t write it down, I tend to end up boring my wife to tears by talking at length to her about my characters, my setting, my story arc, my word count or whatever else it might be.

If you’ve got a thick skin and are not too worried about who gets to read your journal, you might even find it useful to start a blog (or Twitter account, if you agree the brevity is the soul of wit). While it isn’t why I started Penstricken, my regular readers (God bless you patient and forbearing people) will be able to testify that I frequently do use my blog as a place to rant and rave about things I’ve learned and the problems I’ve encountered and solved while writing. Often the posts I categorise as ‘writing tips’ are aimed at myself as much as they are at anyone else. Another big perk to this kind of public journaling is that you get a little bit of feedback (hopefully from people who care about you, your story or creative writing in general) and it will hopefully serve to motivate you to journal regularly if you have regular readers who will be expecting you to post something every day/week/month/decade.

If you’ve never tried it before, why not start now? To make sure you get the most out of it, take a little time to ask yourself a few questions such as:

What should I write in my journal? Are you wanting to keep a detailed log of your progress (i.e., daily word counts, problems encountered, feedback received and so forth) or would you prefer to use it to express the enjoyment/fear/doubt/despair you experience while writing? Perhaps you might even find it a helpful place to scribble down plot bunnies for future reference.

How often can I commit to keeping a journal? It needn’t be excessively frequent. However in my experience, it is far easier and more enjoyable to keep a journal if you do it on a regular basis. Daily, weekly or even monthly- whatever you can stick to.

What format should my journal take? It’s your journal, for expressing and exploring what’s going on in your own writer-brain. Will it be kept private or will it be online for the great unwashed to view? Will it be in written, audio or video form? Try to use a format that allows you to express yourself as freely as possible – and most importantly, which compliments your writing.

What do I hope to get out of this? There are many possible benefits to journaling: catharsis; developing your skills; tracking your progress; etc. What you are hoping to get out of journaling will probably impact on how you do it. For instance, if you’re using it mainly as an outlet for your self-doubt and frustration with your novel, you probably won’t want to publish it online. It’s not likely to improve your sales figures if ever you do publish your novel.

Do you keep a writer’s journal? Do you find it helps you to write or do you just find it a big old slog keeping it up to date? Share your insights with the rest of us in the comments section below and we can all benefit from each other’s wisdom!


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 TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

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.

Please be advised that 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:

Book Review: From Waterloo to Water Street

Spoiler Alert

Anyone who has not read From Waterloo to Water Street by S.E. Morgan is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

I’m going to be completely honest: as much as I find history fascinating in a casual sort of way, I am no historian beyond what I had to study at school (mostly Nazis and the Civil Rights movement) and what I studied in college (church history). And so, as much as I am interested in history, I often find I am hindered by my lack of knowledge whenever I come to read a piece of historical fiction. The world I’m reading about is often too alien for me to truly appreciate the significance of what’s going on, especially if the author focuses heavily on giving a history lecture rather than telling a story of human beings and the things they care about.

That was not my experience with From Waterloo to Water Street by S.E. Morgan: a frankly beautiful piece of writing which is set in 19th century Wales, where the Rebecca Riots are in full swing. In addition to the civil unrest which took place in Wales at that time, this book also draws heavily on the Napoleonic Wars, as one of the main characters (Gu) recounts his own personal memories of serving as a soldier for the British army in those conflicts.

For an entry-level historian such as myself, there is real potential to be bogged down by tedious details which I had little prior knowledge of in a story like this one; and while I am sure a little extra knowledge would have been a boon for me (isn’t it always?), this simply wasn’t the case with From Waterloo to Water Street. Morgan’s character driven writing immediately draws even the most uninitiated reader into the 19th century Welsh country, where desperate farmers are battling for their livelihoods. You really get a feel for the plight of the individual characters (e.g.: Gu’s struggle with PTSD or Will’s conflicting sense of estrangement and solidarity with his own people) as well as the battle that is being fought in the background between agricultural workers and the local authorities.

I have very little to say that is negative about this book. I will concede that the beginning was a little slow as we were introduced to a fair number of characters early on while still trying to understand what was at stake at that point in history but this had very little impact on my overall enjoyment of the novel. Once the story got underway, it was easy to get into the skin of all the main players; to hear their distinctive voices, to understand their motives and to care about what they hoped to accomplish. Gu, in particular, was a deeply complex and well rounded character, so expertly crafted and cooked to perfection that he almost felt like a real person. By the time we reached the climax both in Gu’s memories and in the events unfolding in Will’s own life, I was so deeply involved in the events described in this book that I could not put it down until it was finished.

If you’re wanting to read a piece of intelligent historical fiction with real character-driven substance and a plot which marches decisively towards a satisfying climax, you should read this book. There is no doubt in my mind that anyone who loves a rich story, both history buffs and laymen alike, will appreciate From Waterloo to Water Street for the masterpiece it is.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Click here to read my interview with S.E. Morgan, author of From Waterloo to Water Street.


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 TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

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.

Please be advised that 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:

Throwback Thursday: Book Review: The Pillars of the Earth

First published: 16/09/2019
SPOILER ALERT

While every effort has been made to avoid spoilers in this post, anyone who has not read The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

This review reflects only my own personal opinions and impressions.

Well last week it was all about children’s books; this week I’m reviewing a book that is definitely not suitable for children. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett is a hefty tome about the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge in 12th century England. It’s full of lovable and deplorable characters, political intrigue, technical details about medieval construction and just a little bit more sex and sexual violence than was necessary.

One of my favourite things about this story was how well paced it was. Given that this is a story about building a cathedral and is set over a period of several decades, and also bearing in mind that thrillers are Ken Follett’s usual racket, there was a very real danger of this story either being an absolute drag or being inappropriately fast-paced. I needn’t have worried. The blend of fast scenes and slow scenes is beautiful and appropriate, making this lengthy novel a constant page-turner from start to finish.

Now let’s talk characters. I honestly can’t decide if the characters in this story are one of its best qualities or one of its worst. In some ways I liked them. They’re all quite distinctive with clearly defined personality traits and its also pretty clear that each character is driven by firmly established motives and goals. Very good indeed. If we know what drives a character, it’s easy to care about what happens to him, even if the subject matter is foreign or uninteresting to us. This makes The Pillars of the Earth a real page-turner when it could have just as easily been a bore.

When I first began to talk about the idea for Pillars, some people hated the idea. “Nobody cares about building a church in the Middle Ages,” they said. But readers will care about it if the characters care.

Ken Follett, Goodreads Notes and Highlights on The Pillars of the Earth

Having said that, there was also something a little bit tedious about some of the characters (with the major exception of Philip and, to a lesser extent, Jack). The female protagonists are strong and beautiful (oh and Aliena has huge breasts, we’re constantly reminded); the male protagonists are brave and noble and the antagonists are devious and brutal. William Hamleigh, the primary antagonist, is the worst for this. He’s devious, cowardly, violent, greedy and licentious with absolutely no redeeming qualities. But just in case we’re in any doubt that he’s the bad guy, he rapes way more people than is necessary for one story. Seriously, this guy does a lot of raping, pretty much whenever he’s not tormenting the poor or burning villages. The good guys in this story never rape of course, but they do have lots of consensual sex to the point of implausibility. While most of the sex scenes are not explicitly described (though a few are), some of the characters are portrayed as being at it on a several-times-a-day-every-day basis and still find time to build a cathedral, overcome one disaster after another and fight the bad guys. I dunno, maybe they’re just really good at organising their time, but between this and the manifold references to the size of Aliena’s breasts, it sometimes just felt a bit like the authors’ mind was wandering. That’s just my opinion though.

In many respects, this is a story with several different layers to it. There are several protagonists whose stories we follow, each overlapping and interacting with one another while yet remaining distinctive. Tom wants nothing more than to build a cathedral but cares for his family. Jack is a boy who lived in the forest, now growing into a man who is consumed with questions about his deceased father. His very much a coming-of-age type story. Aliena is the daughter of a disgraced earl who has sworn to help her brother reclaim the earldom, and finds herself constantly pulled in all directions by her sense of duty to others. Prior Philip is driven by his zealous faith in God and his sense of righteousness. He tries earnestly to do what is right on earth and to glorify God by the building of the cathedral and yet is in constant conflict with his own sense of pride and self-doubt. These are just a selection of the main players in this story, all of whose individual story-lines overlap and diverge to create an intricate tapestry of skilfully executed fiction. It really is a thing of beauty.

All in all, The Pillars of the Earth is a great story. It’s got plenty of excitement, plenty of sentiment and Aliena has big breasts all of the characters are driven by goals and motives that we really care about. The many threads that comprise the plot are magnificently woven together to form a novel which is well constructed and handles potentially dry subject matter in a way which is enjoyable and entertaining. Worth a look, even if it’s not your usual preferred genre. Just don’t read it to your kids.

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 TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

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.

Please be advised that 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:

Book Review: Beyond

Spoiler Alert

Anyone who has not read Beyond by Georgia Springate is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

Beyond by Georgia Springate follows the story of Alex Duncan: a fourteen year old boy who finds himself consumed with anxiety about what happens to us after we die when his sister is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Struggling to cope with the impact of his sister’s prognosis and feeling neglected by his family, Alex turns to the pastoral support teacher, Mrs Moss, who encourages him to research what lies beyond this life while he continues to face the added struggles of every day teenage life: bullies, friends, girls and school.

As always, good characters are what make a good story and Beyond is no exception. Most of the main players are teenagers or young adults and Springate captures the strange dynamics of the teenage social structures as well as the individual goals and motives of each character in a way which feels natural and believable.

The protagonist and POV character, Alex, is by far the best example of what I’m talking about. He is anxious about his sister’s eternal destiny and this motive provides him with a clear goal which he pursues diligently throughout the story; however he is also burdened by the things that all teenagers are concerned with. He learns that the rest of life will not stop for him while he deals with his sister’s prognosis, forcing him to juggle school work, budding romance and the treacherous waters of teenage social structures under inordinate pressure with little support from his parents. Springate has manifested this complex web of life in Alex in a way which is absolutely believable and relatable, creating a character we can really care about.

I can only imagine what a challenge this novel was to write thematically, not just because of the emotive subject matter (though that is also undeniable) but because the protagonist’s goal is so heavily focused on finding out, with reasonable certainty, what happens to us when we die. This inevitably puts the author in the position of having to either come up with a single decisive answer (this would create an instant ‘preachy’ novel which would annoy most readers) or else leave the question unanswered but teach the protagonist something even more valuable in the process. The author has, quite rightly, done the latter and has walked the line between a hard preachy epiphany and meaningless fluffy one as well as could be hoped for.

A story like this one runs the risk of having a meandering pace as the protagonist wanders from one inevitable hospital visit (with more bad news!) to another; one inevitable person with an opinion on death to another; one inevitable encounter with the school bully to another until Jenna inevitably dies and Alex has his inevitable epiphany. Beyond doesn’t feel like that. True, the protagonist does spend a lot of time visiting people with opinions on death and avoiding the school bully, but each scene moves the plot forward, creating a definite sense of anticipation which makes this book unputdownable. No small achievement when a discerning audience should realise from the outset that Jenna is almost certainly going to die and Alex is almost certainly not going to find a decisive answer to his question.

While the main plot is expertly paced and drawn to as satisfying a conclusion as is possible for a story of this type, some of the less central elements of the plot seem to fizzle out a little towards the end, particularly the business with the school bully, Duce. This altogether unpleasant little bully torments most of the other characters throughout the novel, culminating in him leaving a threatening note in Alex’s locker only to suddenly change his ways and become a nicer person in the final chapter. Personally, I think a more decisive resolution to the bullying subplot would have really tightened up the ending.

This isn’t really the kind of book I normally like to read. While I generally reject any advice about avoiding certain subjects while writing a novel, a lot of books of this type are either clumsy and insensitive or else are so overloaded with sentiment that it dilutes the substance of the theme. Not so with Beyond. It is sensitively written, drives the protagonist towards a reasonably satisfying resolution and takes the audience on a coming-of-age odyssey of the full tapestry of teenage life. A strong debut from a promising new author.

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 TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

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.

Please be advised that 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:

Throwback Thursday: Writing Non-Human Characters #1: Animals

Originally published: 14/05/2017

If you’re serious about writing stories, you need to be serious about writing characters. No story is complete without them. This we know. We also know that your characters can make or break your story depending on how well they’ve been constructed. Apart from that, of course, your characters can be anybody you want them to be (in fact, the more variety the better, I find). You can make them male or female; black or white; rich or poor; gay or straight; nasty or nice or even human or non-human. It’s the non-human characters (particularly animals – I’ll come to the others next week) I want to talk about today.

Non-human characters are nothing new. They’re everywhere. We’ve all seen more dog or cat movies than we can care to remember, right? Meanwhile fans of shows like Doctor Who will be all too familiar with the concept of an alien protagonist. C.S. Lewis loved writing stories which featured talking animals, while his friend J.R.R. Tolkien is perhaps best known for Lord of the Rings, which follows the adventures, not of a human, but of a Hobbit. And in short fiction? Why, only last week, my regular readers were subjected to a story with a certain rodent protagonist.

I’ll be spending most of this week dealing with how to write animals in particular (because it’s ever so slightly more complicated), however, no matter what non-human species your protagonist may be, there is one golden rule you absolutely must keep in mind at all times. Ready? This is it:

Your audience is made up entirely of human beings; therefore, your audience must be able to sympathise with your characters as human beings.

In other words, you need to anthropomorphise your character to one extent or another. Perhaps only a little, perhaps a lot, but to some extent, you need to give your non-human character certain human traits to make them relatable. At the very least, they will probably need to be able to think like humans in order to work through their goals, conflicts, epiphanies, etc. and possibly will need to speak like humans too (though there are numerous examples of strong animal characters who do not speak).

Of all the non-human characters you might create, animals are arguably the hardest. Unlike aliens or mythical creatures, animals are something we all see every day and science has studied them all from almost every angle, in terms of how they think, how they’re physically built and how they relate to others. While this might seem like a boon for us authors (after all, it should make research easier… right?) it can also be a bit of a pain if you’re remotely concerned about realism.

For example, in The Church Mouse, my protagonist was (you’ve guessed it) a mouse. In real life, mice have incredibly poor eyesight and find their way using their whiskers. Unfortunately, my story would not have actually worked quite as well if the mouse had been blind (for instance, he is seen examining a mouse trap in the second chapter to make sure it’s not potentially lethal). The easiest way around this is to do what I did — give him the five basic senses of a human. We can easily write that off as artistic licence. Apart from that, I left him physically as a normal mouse; walking on four legs, leaving his mess just lying around about him and having a strong sense of smell.

The larger problem, of course, was in the mind. Mice do not think the way humans do. I don’t for one second claim to be an expert on the psychology of rodents, but I’m pretty confident they don’t have goals, plans and motives like Mr. Mouse did – and even if they do, they certainly don’t think about them conceptualise them in rational terms like Mr. Mouse does. However, in order for your audience to relate to your animal character, you need to give them a mind which is close enough to being human for a human audience to relate to them. In the case of Mr. Mouse, the only truly rodentian quality I preserved was the way the smell of chocolate worked him up into a frenzy of instinctive, primal desire. This provided him with a motive. Beyond that, his thinking (his goals and epiphany; his opinions of the ‘idiot’ Landlord and even his concept of God) was quite human. It needed to be so for the audience to care about him.

Take a moth for instance, instinctively flying towards a flame. In all probability, moths cannot explain to themselves or anyone else why they are drawn to something as deadly as fire (do they even have a concept of what mortality is?). It’s pure instinct. But give a moth the rational mind of a human and suddenly you have a story about forbidden desires; about lust, danger, temptation and death. They know it’s not allowed. They know it’s bad for them but they just can’t resist. Suddenly we’re in Moth-Eden and the Moth-Devil is whispering in Moth-Eve’s ear,

‘You shall not surely die, for God knows if you go near the flame, you will be like God understanding good and evil… ‘ 

A word of warning, however. There is a danger in going too far with all of this. Too much anthropomorphism can lead to your character becoming a bit ridiculous, which will be disastrous for your story unless you happen to be writing a comic, cartoon or lighthearted family movie. Mr. Mouse, for example, never actually spoke. could have given him the ability to speak, but it was unnecessary. He never once interacted with another character (whether human or mouse) so it made more sense to simply write what he was thinking from one moment to the next. If I had him sitting on a little sofa in his mouse hole, reading the Sunday paper and sipping a cup of tea, it would have all got a little bit too Tom and Jerry... which is fine if that’s what you’re wanting to create but the more serious your story, the more understated I recommend you keep this. Remember, you only want to anthropomorphise them enough for the audience to understand and care about what happens to them. Think carefully, therefore, about how far along the anthropomorphic spectrum you place your character to avoid any unfortunate comic side-effects (or, if you are trying to write a cartoon, make sure you don’t underdo it and potentially create a boring character).

Phew!

Well, it had been my plan to write about other non-human characters such as aliens, robots and mythical creatures as well but I’m afraid that’s perhaps going to need another post! Be sure to swing back next week for that! In the meantime, why not get your notepad out and try your hand at knocking together an animal character or share your own insights in the comments section below.

Until next time!


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 TwitterPinterest and like Penstricken on Facebook.

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

WordPress.com Jetpack WooCommerce

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

Every Tuesday, I post a new edition of Spotlight: a short post which shines a proverbial spotlight on a published novel or collection of short fiction. If you would like to have your book considered for a future edition of Spotlightdrop us an e-mail including a short synopsis of your book and a link to where we can buy it. Better yet, send me a copy of your book and I can include a mini-review.

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.

Please be advised that 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: