4thewords

Are you the sort of person who gets motivated because of games that offer simple rewards for achieving small goals? For example, are you encouraged to get up off the sofa and go for a short walk because you don’t want to lose your Pokemon Go streak? If you find these sort of games work for you, and you’re a writer struggling to hit your word count, I would like to recommend http://4thewords.com.

4thewords word count screenshot This is a web-based game that lets you fight monsters by writing.

When you sign up, you are introduced to a fantasy world location and assigned quests to complete. These quests usually involve collecting enough of a certain item, but there are some that involve fighting a specific boss monster or maintaining a streak of number of days in a row you’ve written.

When you choose to fight a monster, the game starts a timer. The timer could be for as short as 30 minutes, or you could get several hours for the tougher monsters. You also get a word count to achieve. You can create files and write in them using a basic word processor page on the site which saves your work every few seconds and keeps an updated view of your word count. You can also see the status of your battle – how much time you have left and how many words you have left to write. As you write more words, the progress bar moves up until you reach the target. Then you get your “reward”. The game offers you reward items that you can use to complete quests or give you bonuses to your battles. 4thewords battle screenshot

As well as competing with the fictional monsters, you can compete with other users on the site. The site has leaderboards that let you see how other users are doing in terms of their total word counts, the number of battles they’ve won, and the length of their writing streak. You can see how you stack up against other players and try to climb to the top of these leaderboards.

All your work is saved as files on the site and you can group those into sections and projects – so you could have a project be a story and each file be a separate chapter. You don’t have to do all your writing in one file for a battle; you can jump between files as often as you like as you strive to reach your word count. There’s no rule saying that what you write has to be fiction. As long as you type it in their webpage, it could be anything at all. For example, I’m actually writing this blog post in 4thewords right now.

From a legal/copyright perspective, all your words are your own. The creators of the site don’t take ownership of any of it, and you can always delete files later if you want to take them off the site.

While you’re working on your writing, the files are private, but you have the option to “publish” the files, which makes them visible on the site to other users. You can go into this section and find things that other people have written available for you to read and rate.

The site is still being developed. Since I joined 10 days ago, they’ve launched a forum so you can have discussions with the other writers using the game. I’m sure there will be more features added as the game grows.

4thewords core crystals screenshotThere are just a couple of things to note. One is that there is no easy export option. I wish there was a simple way to click a button and download my writing in a Word file, but there’s not. Still, it’s not the end of the world and there’s always copy/paste. The other thing to note is that this is a paid for game. You get the first 30 days for free but after that you have to pay for “core crystals”. It costs $4 to get enough core crystals to pay for a month’s membership, but these are in game objects and you can actually get some of them for completing quests. Combine this with the fact that you can buy bundles of core crystals and get a better price for buying in bulk, it could end up being significantly cheaper than $4 if you play regularly.

The free trial doesn’t require a commitment (no one’s going to ask for your credit card number or anything), so you can try it out and see if it motivates you to write more. If it doesn’t, you’ve not lost anything. If it does, it’s up to you to decide whether you think it’s worth $4 to you.

Review – The Fallen Gatekeeper by C R Fladmark

I didn’t realise when I first started this book that it was part of a series, but it quickly became apparent. The book jumps in without any real introduction to the main characters, the world-building, or the events that led up to this point. It was very hard to figure out what was going on for the first couple of chapters because the characters would talk about things that happened in a previous book without there being any additional explanation for those readers who hadn’t read that book. It got easier after about four chapter when I’d figured out the basics of what was going on, but there were still moments throughout the book when knowledge of the previous book was just assumed. For example, a character was brought into the story who’d not been so much as mentioned in this book, and I was left with no idea who this person was. I realise it’s a delicate balance when writing a sequel as the author doesn’t want to bore readers who have read the first book, but I thought this one could have done with a little more background explanation. Still, that’s probably not an issue if you read the books in order.

The Fallen Gatekeepers is a fantasy story about other worlds inhabited by gods, and the gatekeepers, an order of warrior girls who protect the gods from Evil Ones. Junya is a teenage boy who has been caught up in this world of magic and gods. He is determined to help the gatekeepers fight the Evil Ones, but he also wants to spend more time with Shoko, a gatekeeper of great skill. When the Evil Ones start attacking Shamans, Junya and Shoko must break with tradition and come up with a new plan to fight them.

There’s a lot that’s good about this book. The plot is interesting. There were some nice twists and turns that kept me reading to figure out what might happen. The plot was cleverly constructed and was what held my attention to the end.

There are some nice underlying themes about jealousy and the desire for material things which add a layer to the book without coming across and preachy. It comes through the book in a very natural way and feels understandable in the reactions of the characters.

I liked the character of Mack, one of Junya’s friends, and there were some interesting dynamics between some of the gatekeepers who work with Shoko. There are a large of range of characters, both major and minor, who all feel like different people with their own desires and goals.

My main issue with the book was that Junya did some things that annoyed me. He frequently checks out women and girls in the early part of the book. This starts with watching Shoko getting undressed when she’s taking a bath but also includes ogling at women who work for his grandfather. There were also some sexist traditions in Shoko’s world that it would have been good to see Junya call out. When discussing what happens if a girl gets pregnant – she loses her position and her honour, but the boy who impregnated her isn’t punished – Shoko dismisses this as being because the elders know what young people are like, especially boys. This is a “boys can’t help themselves” argument that I find infuriating and it would have been nice for Junya to address it instead of letting it slide.

Junya is also obnoxious about money. He has a large amount of money thanks to the events of the previous book (he talks about millions of dollars in a stock account at one point) and he does things like throwing half a million dollars on a fancy car just because he can. Then he goes and talks about wealth inequality and how it isn’t fair that a small minority has so much money – despite being part of that small minority. If he was ever shown being generous with his money it would be fine, but these statements come across as hypocritical given his behaviour in the rest of the book. This could have been easily fixed with an aside mention of charity donations, or an extra sentence to say that he paused to give money to the homeless people he passes while walking with Shoko – instead the homeless people are mentioned and Junya just walks right by. This is especially grating given the message the books shows in other places around how desiring stuff for stuff’s sake can be damaging.

The other thing that annoyed me at times was the way other countries and cultures were portrayed using stereotypes. Japan wasn’t so bad because there were enough different Japanese (or Japanese-inspired) characters that they could have different personalities, but the way the ninjas were written or the girls wore school uniforms and so on did feel like stereotypes at times. But other countries get only a very brief mention and they come across as ridiculously stereotyped – such as the tribesmen of Africa (the land of big cats and elephants – even though this description might apply to India), or the clansmen of Scotland (the land of druids – even though this could apply to Ireland, Cornwall, Wales, etc.). In the exchange with the Scotsmen, Shoko uses a few phrases with local dialect wording and Junya talks about how she’s “talking Gaelic” even though she’s actually speaking English. The scenes in Africa and Scotland were quite short in the book, but they still grated because they felt very stereotyped.

The plot of the book and the ideas behind it were very interesting, but it was the details of how it was written that annoyed me. I feel like I’m being quite harsh in this review – I did enjoy reading the book after all. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I’d read the first book in the series before coming to this one.

If like me, you come to this book without having read this series, I’d suggest going for the first book before coming back to this one.

Three stars.

A Resolution for You

If you haven’t set New Year’s Resolutions yet, here’s a suggestion for one: write more Amazon reviews.

As an author, I can tell you that Amazon reviews are worth gold to authors. Literally, they make a huge difference to how a book sells.

It probably doesn’t matter if we’re talking about something like Game of Thrones, which currently has 3609 reviews on the UK Amazon. But the amazing On the Edge of Gone (probably the best book I read in 2016) only has 9.

7 of those 9 reviews are 5 stars, the other 2 are 4 stars, but here’s the thing: Amazon doesn’t start including books in their “recommended” lists until it has more than 10 positive reviews (positive meaning 4 or 5 stars). So this fantastic book isn’t being suggested to new readers because it doesn’t have enough reviews.

Another book with an autistic protagonist, Viral Nation, has 8 reviews on the UK Amazon.

One of my own books, Omega Rising, has 5 reviews. They’re all 5 stars, but that’s not enough to tip it over Amazon’s threshold.

Well-written reviews can help people decide whether or not to buy a book, but any review at all can count towards the total reviews and determine whether the book shows up in the “also purchased” lists and “recommended for you” sections. It’s also worth noting that reviews are counted separately on the different regional sites – so On the Edge of Gone mentioned above actually has 28 reviews on the US version of Amazon, but those don’t count towards its UK total.

So if you’ve enjoyed a book, especially a book by a new or independent author, leave a review. If you buy a book and notice that it has less than 10 reviews, make a note to come back when you’ve finished reading and give your opinion. You don’t have to write a lengthy essay. A detailed review is fantastic, but for some things, it’s quantity rather than quality that matters, so ticking 4 stars and writing “good book” is still going to be a massive help to an author. It will help get the book in front of new potential readers and mean that the authors can spend more time writing and less time wondering how they’re going to pay the rent next month.

In 2017, when you go to browse Amazon for new books, take a minute to go through your old purchases and leave a few, short reviews. Your favourite authors will love you for it.

A well-executed plot twist

If you follow me over on Tumblr, you may have noticed me getting quite excited recently about an anime show called Yuri!!! On Ice. I thought this show deserved a mention on this blog because it includes what is probably the best-executed plot twist I’ve seen on a TV show. I will explore this here while attempting not to give major spoilers (which is going to be tricky, since I am discussing a plot twist).

Yuri on Ice credits As a bit of background, Yuri!!! On Ice is a show about figure skaters and the main character is a Japanese skater called Yuri Katsuki. There are two other characters main enough to get featured on the show’s opening credits and one of those is a Russian skater called Victor Nikiforov. As the story opens, Yuri has just suffered a humiliating loss and is considering quitting the spots, while Victor is at his peak performance, setting world records, and winning gold medal after gold medal. In the first episode, Victor decides to quit skating, flies to Japan, and announces that he is now Yuri’s coach – much to everyone’s astonishment, especially Yuri. Yuri has idolised Victor for years, so their early interactions are filled with awkwardness, but gradually they open up to each other.

Yuri On Ice - YuriGiven that the show has Yuri’s name on it, it’s unsurprising that as the audience, we see all this from Yuri’s perspective. We see him discussing the situation with friends, we hear his thoughts in inner monologues, and he acts as a narrator speaking directly to the audience at times. This means that a lot around Victor, specially his reasons for coming to Japan, are concealed from those watching the show. This led to some speculation among the fans about his motivations.

Yuri on Ice VictorThen we reach episode 10 of this 12 episode show. After having seen 9 episodes narrated by Yuri, we get an episode with Victor as the narrator. During this episode, a key piece of information is revealed that changes the interpretation of everything that came before it. Not that I said “changes the interpretation”. This information doesn’t create plot holes or raise questions in the way plot twists sometimes do. The revelation instead answers questions – only some of which the audience knew to ask.

The key answer it provides is, of course, why Victor chose to become Yuri’s coach, but it allows their early interactions to be seen in a completely new light. On top of that, behaviour and dialogue from the minor characters, that had previously been dismissed as that character just being like that, now slotted into place. An insult from one character, an angry statement from another, an overly touchy-feeling greeting from a third, all make more sense in the wake of the revelation. It also allows the audience to go back and watch the early episodes again and see Victor’s side of the story. Nothing about the episodes had to change, but the intepretation of so many interactions is completely flipped.

As a writer, I think it’s worth highlighting what this show does well because these are lessons we can take to our own writing.

First, the plot twist doesn’t create any plot holes. I’ve read books and seen shows before where a plot twist leaves the audience wondering, “But if this is the case, then why did that thing happen?” You don’t want a plot twist to raise more questions than it answers.

Which brings me to point two, the plot twist should answer questions. A well-written plot twist will leave readers/viewers thinking, “Oh! So that’s why that thing happened. It all makes sense now.”

Finally, the plot twist should be surprising. I don’t think anyone saw this revelation coming. I watched the show with a friend who’d been seeing discussions on Tumblr about Yuri!!! On Ice and knew that there was a major plot twist coming in this episode, but she was still surprised by the nature of it. If a plot twist can surprise you even when you know it’s coming, the writers have definitely done something right.

So if you want a lesson in how to get a plot twist right, I recommend watching this show. Plus it’s fun, which is always a bonus.

Artwork of Technicality Man

If you read last week’s post, you will have seen the amazing cover art for the upcoming book The Adventures of Technicality Man (UK link, US link). As well as the official cover, I have a couple of pieces of artwork drawn by Aredblush, who read a pre-release copy of the book and described it as: “too darn funny and such an enjoyable read.”

Technicality Man and Continuity Leopard

The first picture is of Technicality Man and his trusty companion Continuity Leopard. We also have a picture of the whole team:

Technicality Man teamFrom left to right we have Bemused Girl, Traditional Blu Tack Gatherer, Technicality Man, Continuity Leopard, Chesty Cough Girl, and Origami Man. If you look closely, you can see bits of paper sticking out the folds in Origami Man’s shirt.

Cover Art Reveal: The Adventures of Technicality Man

The Adventures of Technicality Man cover

Everyone knows how the stories are supposed to go. The good guys win in the end, the hero ends up with the designated love interest, and the plucky band of misfits pulls together to save the world.

But what happens when a villain targets the nature of stories themselves? All the tropes that the heroes have come to rely on are under threat.

Technicality Man and his trusty companion Continuity Leopard must join forces with a group of minor heroes to save the day. They won’t let any barrier stop them. Not even the fourth wall.


My new superhero parody, The Adventures of Technicality Man, is now available for pre-order from Amazon (UK link, US link). This is the story of a ragtag bunch of heroes and a lot of ridiculous puns.

So join Technicality Man, Continuity Leopard as they fight to make sure that the good guys will always win.

A couple of editors

I’ve written a post in the past about editors and the work they do in turning a unpolished piece of writing into something ready for publication. I’ve worked with a number of different people over the years, some of whom were employed by a specific publishing companies and others who worked independently. If you’re getting published through a publishing company, that publishing company should handle the editing and get your manuscript in front of people with the right skills (not the word “should” – I once had an editor that kept getting past and passed the wrong way round and changing correct instances to the incorrect ones). However, if you’re embarking on self-publishing, you have to find the people with those skills yourself. An internet search will uncover a mountain of resources but it’s hard to know who can be trusted to do a good job.

Since I’ve been going through edits recently for the next Codename Omega book and the much sillier Technicality Man story, I thought I would mention a couple of people who have done some great editing work for me. Both of these are people I’m happy to recommend.

The first is Ro Smith, who I was once part of a creative writing group with. Since then, she has done work as a professional editor and proof-reader for both philosophy journals and publishing companies. She has been the main editor for two of the Codename Omega books now, including the one which should be coming out early in 2017. Her website is http://www.rhube.co.uk/ and you can find her contact details on that site if you want to work with her.

The second person is David Stewart. He was a former colleague who does work, amoung other things, as a librarian, researcher, and editor. He offers proofreading and copy-editing services, or a combination of the two. He is very flexible in offering what might be needed to check, tweak, edit, or reshape work. You can contact him at stewart_dk@hotmail.com if you want to hire him.

Both of these people do great work at very fair rates.

Review: Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day coverEvery Day by David Levithan (US link, UK link) is the story of A, who lives each day in a different life. Each morning they wake up with a new body, a new name, and a whole new life. They must bluff their way through the day and then, the next morning, start all over again. They have no control over whose body the inhabit and no way to stop the transfer happening. Normally, they try to leave the people they inhabit exactly the same after the experience, but sometimes they make exceptions to the rule, such as when they spent the day in the body of a girl contemplating suicide.

When A meets Rhiannon, one day is enough to fall in love. A doesn’t want to leave her behind when they move into another body and so they start taking stupid risks for the chance to see her again. And now one of their hosts knows he was possessed and is desperate to find out what happened.

This was an enjoyable book and it was fun to see the different lives A briefly experiences. It gives a real variety of family situations, from an undocumented underage worker to the rich and bitchy queen of a high school. The book is really good for the diversity of people included, with A jumping between bodies of different races, different genders, and different sexualities. I loved that it showed the depressed sufferer as having serious problems with her brain chemistry that impacted A as well, rather than being dismissed as a “bad mood”. A themselves describes themselves as not really having a gender. Because they jump around each day, they don’t really feel either male or female but a bit of both.

Plot wise, most of the book is about A trying to stay with Rhiannon, but there is the threat of Nathan poking around, trying to uncover the truth. It’s more of a romance than an adventure.

I enjoyed this book. There were a couple of things that irritated me, including an event that happens near the end, so I won’t spoil it for anyone, but on the whole it was entertaining and enjoyable and kept me guessing. Four stars.

Review: Viral Nation by Shaunta Grimes

Viral Nation coverViral Nation is a post-apocalyptic book with many of the standard hallmarks of a YA dystopian story. The world was ravaged by a deadly plague and now the few survivors have come together into a small number of cities. They are all reliant on a drug that keeps the virus suppressed. Without regular doses, the virus will return. In the cities, law is kept because a time portal lets the authorities know what crimes will be committed so that they can stop them before they happen.

Clover is an autistic girl who depends on her support dog Mango to help her through loud and crowded situations which are incredibly stressful to her. She is extremely intelligent and is accepted into the prestigious Academy, only to be told that Mango can’t stay with her. When she refuses to be parted from her dog, she is sent instead to be a time mariner – to travel through the portal to bring back information from the future. In her new job, she learns that the system may not be as perfect as she’s been told.

The story is told largely from the perspectives of Clover and her brother West, with occasional sections from their father’s viewpoint. Clover’s character is a real strength for this book. Her experiences and thought processes are clearly described and made understandable to non-autistic readers. The way she behaves feels completely genuine and there is a real emotional connection. That feeling of reality is also reflected in the way she is sometimes treated by other characters in the book because of her autism. There were times when I felt fury and indignation on Clover’s behalf about the unfairness of how she is treated and I wished I could leap into the pages and yell at the other characters.

On the other hand, I didn’t think the plot did justice to the strength of the main character. There were a number of plot elements that seemed really convenient. I don’t want to give spoilers, but in particular the way the time travel is handled seems to lack consistent logic and there are details that are revealed that make no sense and seem to be there only because it furthered the plot.

The book also suffered a bit for being obviously the first one in a series. There are a lot of significant plot points that go unexplained which is frustrating, but I know I do this in my own series, so I can accept this. I trust that these mysteries will be resolved in the second book of this two-part series. The second book is already out, so at least I won’t have to wait to get the answers.

This isn’t going to make it on to my favourites shelf, but it’s an enjoyable read if you like dystopias and especially if you like well-written representations of autistic characters. Three and a half stars.

And Now For Something Completely Different

I’ve been cheering myself up by revisiting a story that’s been gathering dust on my hard drive for several years. Back when I was at university, I was part of a creative writing group that often had some strange and interesting conversations. In one meeting, we got on to discussing superhero names and silly secret identities. This included Policeman Man (“By day he’s a mild-mannered police officer, but by night HE FIGHTS CRIME”) and Good For Nothing Boy.

From this collection of ridiculous names and silly puns, I started creating a story around one character in particular – Technicality Man, who has super-powered pedantry. Along the way, he gained a sidekick, Continuity Leopard. I can’t claim credit for that name either. One of the other writers in the group, a week or so after the initial creation of Technicality Man, read out a story that included a leopard described as being there for continuity purposes. We discussed the “continuity leopard” and someone suggested that it sounded like a good sidekick for Technicality Man. So the leopard got worked into my story.

The story started as the product of writing games – activities intended for fun rather than any serious writing. Over the course of several weeks, my writing games started following on from one another until they had something resembling a continuous plot. It was enough that I was able to take the output of all these writing games and stitch them together into a single story following the adventures of Technicality Man and his team of adventurers.

I never did anything with this story except read it out for the entertainment of the creative writing group. But I found it again and it still made me chuckle. It needed editing. There were a number of in-jokes that only members of the writing group would get, and so those were pruned out (most of them anyway). The end result is something that I hope will be entertaining to anyone who loves superhero stories and who is found of ridiculous puns. We all need something to laugh about right now.

I’m planning on putting it out there as an ebook, but it should come with a warning that it’s nothing like any of my other books. Watch this space for more news of it.