Objectives

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Looking forward to seeing the Chameleons’ production of Blackadder later this week. Should be a very good night out. The last episode of Blackadder Goes Forth is one of those sublime moments of writing where comedy meets tragedy and both are done superbly. Definitely not an easy thing to do.

Blackadder clearly had one objective in mind in Goes Forth – to get out of the war and go back home. Totally understandable.

What is your character’s overriding objective in your story? What will they do to achieve it? What gets in their way? In those three lines, you have a plot outline!

Pleased to have sent off some flash fiction stories last night. Plan to get more out later this week, there is one particular website I’m keen to try out, and finally want to get around to doing so!

One of the trickiest things to handle is time. (And yes I think Doctor Who showed that brilliantly in the Rosa Parks episode). How much time do you spend working on new stories and ideas? How much time do you spend marketing?

As with so much in life, there has to be a balance. I’ve found it helpful to look at the week as a whole. By the end of it, I want to have written some new material, be editing older work ready for submission, have my next CFT post up and ready to go, and have carried out at least some marketing. Okay life does not always go according to plan but whatever I’ve not quite done enough of writing wise in one week is what gets the focus of my attention during the following one. It does all balance out eventually.

Acronyms featured in this morning’s church service sermon and of course they’re a common feature in writing. KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid is probably the best known one. Very much the antidote to “purple prose” – the days of the long descriptive passages are behind us!

I suspect that is due to everyone being used to films etc where you get into the action quickly but it is not a bad thing. I like descriptions in stories to be to the point and to feel as if they are a seamless part of the narrative and not a “bolt on”.

All parts of the story must feel to the reader as if they have to be there and the tale would fall down without them. If you’re not sure if something should be cut, ask yourself how your story works without that something in it and that should indicate quickly enough whether it is needed or not.

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Had a fabulous time at the Writers’ Day run by the Association of Christian Writers today. The topic was on writing for children and YA but there was discussion on crossover fiction and contracts, all very useful stuff. From my viewpoint, it is lovely to meet some of the membership face to face given I usually only meet them via emails!

The importance of networking came out as well during the day and I lost my own fear of this when I realised it meant chatting naturally about books, what I’m writing and so on. I have no problem going on at length about that topic!

(Oh and a quick reminder: if you’re offered a publishing contract, always get it checked out. The Society of Authors and Alliance of Independent Authors are the places to go for that. Both I believe issue guides which are free to members. There’s a small fee charged to non-members. Never be afraid to ask).

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A = Alliteration. Can be useful for titles in flash fiction (though I don’t use it much) but as with any story, it can grab the attention and help set the mood. Best not overused I think. You want each title to set the tone for what it is to come and a variety of methods for doing that is best. Keeps it fresh for you as the writer too.

B = Backstory. Not a lot of room for that in flash fiction! Best to hint at it through one or two vital details the reader has to know and leave it at that.

C = Character. The kingpin of fiction I think. Get the character right and the plot will come from them. Know your character inside and out – I find it useful to know their chief trait (and I piece together a mental picture of what they are like from there). Find the appropriate starting point for you but it is worth taking the time to know your character well before you start. Your writing will flow better because you write with that knowledge. It does come through in what you write.

There was talk at the ACW Writers’ Day today of how boundaries, far from restricting creativity, help it to flourish. This is SO true for flash fiction as well. The limited word count means you have to dig deeper to come up with those original ideas that make flash fiction stand out and have the most impact on a reader. It is worth the effort!

I usually know what impact I want a story of mine to have on a reader before I write it. This is to help me choose my words with precision. However, sometimes a story (more accurately the lead character) surprises me and the tale ends up being funnier, darker, sadder than I’d originally thought. This is no bad thing. It means the character has life and if they surprise me, they’ll surprise the reader too.

It may also indicate I hadn’t outlined enough but the great thing is ideas that come to you as you write a piece are not wasted. Jot them down, step back and take a look at where they can fit in. Are they better than your original thoughts? Do they add depth to your original thoughts?

 

Back to working my way through the alphabet again then…

D = Drama. Even the shortest flash fiction has to have some drama in it! But it is also true that serious drama doesn’t necessarily have to have lots of words to make it so! There is drama and anguish in Hemingway’s famous example of For Sale: One pair Baby Shoes. The drama should suit the story though (and be to the right length for that tale).

E = Editing. Every story needs this and I don’t think it should be something a writer dreads. I always feel a sensible amount of relief when I’ve drafted a story as it means I’ve then got something to work with. Editing improves a story and, as a result, increases its chances of success. Take your time over the process though.

F = Fun! Writing should be fun. You are creating something new for others to enjoy. The first person to enjoy said tale should be you!

So marching on then:-

G = Genre. One of my favourite things about flash fiction is because it has to be character led, due to the word count restrictions, you can set those characters anywhere. So, if you’ll pardon the pun here, you do have an open book when it comes to genre in the stories you write. Have fun with that, I do!

H = Humour. Can work well in flash fiction as you can end the story with what is effectively a punchline. Also when you have a very short funny piece, look at turning it into flash fiction. It can be an ideal vehicle for those pieces which would be spoiled if you added anything more (and this often goes for humorous pieces).

I = Imagination. True for any form of fiction, but I find with flash fiction I’m using my imaginative muscles far more. Why? Because I try not to come up with the obvious idea from a theme or title. I dig deep and see what else I can come up with, something that will make a greater impact on the reader.

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After the End, What Next?

If you’ve enjoyed a really good book, what do you do when you finish it? Go on to read more books by the same author, or read more in the same genre, or do you go for something that is completely different in mood and style?

I have done all three of these (though obviously not at the same time!) and it very much depends on my mood at the end of the story. If I’ve loved a gory crime thriller, I may well want something humorous to show the lighter side of life, albeit a fictional one!

With short stories especially, I tend to read a few by the same author before moving on. With novels, if the book has really gripped me, I’ve got to check out what else the author has done, even if I decide I’ll come back to those later.

The important thing though is that whatever you read, you enjoy it so much, you keep on reading, no matter what author, genre, style etc you choose next. Happy reading!

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