PERSPECTIVE AND PUBLICATION NEWS

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Hope it has cooled down where you are. I prefer a temperate climate, as does the dog. I also find it easier to focus.

Does the time of year affect what you write? I can’t say it does for me as I write a mixture of light and darker pieces throughout the year.

If the seasons do affect what you write, how can you play to the strengths of this? I would’ve thought it is probably better to work with it rather than to try to fight it, if only because you’ll feel less frustrated that way.

Analysing how you work is a good idea, whether you’re affected by the seasons or not. For me, the amount of time I have per writing session is more important and I aim to make the most of each slot. My goal is to be able to look back and feel it was a good writing session, regardless of whether I had ten minutes or three hours.

Happy writing!😊

 

Image Credit:  Generally Pixabay as usual but the Scottish beach and loch pictures were taken by me earlier this year.

Glad to be home from a very busy day in London yesterday. Loved visiting the Sky Gardens. They were great and the views incredible. I’d never seen the Tower of London look like it was a Lego sized kit before! I guess it just goes to show perspective is everything.

Perspective is everything for your characters too and indeed for you as you write the story. Just who is your lead and why have you chosen them? Why does it matter to show their perspective and not another character‘s view of the world instead?

What is fun is to write from the perspective of a character you know you wouldn’t sympathise with in any kind of life yet alone the real one. The challenge here is to write about them convincingly despite your own antipathy to them.

Working out how to get into their head to show their reasons for being the way they are will push you into exploring how they got to be at this point in the first place. That will make for interesting characterisation for one thing. It will almost certainly increase the drama in your story too.

Images below taken by me as at 27th July 2019. It isn’t often I get to take a shot with the caption already on it! Also have fun spotting the landmarks.

Publication News

A busy day on the writing front. Glad to share the links for my ACW More Than Writers’ blog which discusses whether or not it is easier to write during the summer.

Also glad to share the link to Stolen, my latest story on Cafelit. This is the nearest I’ve got to an autobiographical story (and probably the nearest I will get I think. I identify with Sarah in this one).

The nature of this story meant I knew it wasn’t going to be a flash piece but that’s fine. The story has to be what it is. If it’s over 1000 words then so be it.

 

Am sharing an extract from both More than Writers and Stolen here as a taster. Hope you enjoy.

Summertime and the Writing Is Easy…

Or not maybe… Apologies to George Gershwin for misquoting his classic (though I still prefer Rhapsody in Blue).

Do you find writing in summer easier than during the winter? The jury’s out for me here. I try to keep a consistent writing level up for most of the year because, regardless of season, there are always distractions. But there are times when I write less and I’ve learned to come to terms with that…..

Stolen

by Allison Symes

cranberry juice


I’m not going to the bloody doctors.  I couldn’t tell you how often Sarah goes on about it.  When will she take the hint?  I do know my own mind.  I swear she thinks I’m going loopy.  She says not but why else would she want me to go to the doctors when there’s nothing wrong with me?

It’s perfectly normal for older people to forget things sometimes.  Hell, she’s done so herself.  She forgot my birthday last week.  I was really hurt by that.  I was bloody annoyed when she told me my birthday is next month.  I should know my own birthday.

Oh my cup of tea has gone cold.  Did I forget to drink it?  Did I forget to put the kettle on at all and just poured cold water into my mug?  I did do that last Wednesday but I’d had a stressful time of it arguing with Sarah again and well that kind of thing is bound to make you forget odd things, isn’t it?  I didn’t tell Sarah I did this.  She’d have seen it as proof I do need to go and see Dr. Page.

Sarah keeps telling me I shouldn’t be afraid to go to the doctors.  Dr. Page is sympathetic, is bound to have treated patients with memory loss before and there is more awareness now of “mind” issues.  Sarah says this covers everything from depression to dementia.  Sarah is right on all of this but how it applies to me I couldn’t tell you.  I am perfectly healthy.  Sarah says I’m in denial.  There is something wrong when your own daughter tries to tell you what to do.

And I’m simply not having that.  Sarah ought to be pleased.  If ever there was proof I do know my own mind, this is it, surely……

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The challenge of writing stories like Stolen, when they pack an emotional punch, is keeping your own emotions out of it while you’re writing it. You have to put some distance between yourself and the voice of your lead character(s) so it is THEIR story coming through and not yours as the author. You also want the emotion to be authentic and not spill over into melodrama.

This is why it is crucial to put a story aside for a while before revisiting it to edit it. I’ve found it is the only way to get the necessary distance so I can judge what I’ve still got to do on the story objectively (and there is always something!).

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

What is your favourite form of flash fiction? The 100-worder? The 500-worder? Funny? Darker? I love them all of course but if there is one kind that sneaks its way to the top of my list, it is the 100-worder with a humorous twist. So here goes…

Late Running

The ghost train ran straight through the station. It must make up time.

If you thought fines issued to late running train companies on earth were inadequate, you wouldn’t be disappointed here.

Miscreants were treated according to species. Ghosts were obliterated. Vampires were drained down. The rumours tonight were not good.The controllers were more foul than usual. The Boss was due to visit to check all was well…or as bad as this service was meant to be. He wouldn’t be let down by sloppy staff.

Bonemeal was mentioned.

After all, the train was run by a skeleton crew.

Ends.

Allison Symes – 27th July 2019

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Image may contain: night

If there’s anything odd going on tonight, the cat will not spill the beans.  Pixabay

Image may contain: outdoor

Speeding restrictions apply to all but there are always some who ignore the rules. Pixabay

Must ‘fess up and say I’ve got a few writing prompts to catch up with in my diary but all have the potential to make promising flash fiction stories. Will probably have a go at some of these later in the week. (I tend to get my CFT post sorted first, then resume work on fiction).

Was pleased with my Late Running story I wrote on the train yesterday. Hope you enjoyed it. I am partial to puns and they can be used in flash fiction effectively. You can’t go on at length in flash as you’d defeat the whole object of it so a short pun as a twist ending or as part of a character’s thoughts can work well.

I love writing as well as reading these but, as with most things I guess, puns etc work best when not overdone.

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My latest story on Cafelit, Stolen, isn’t a flash fiction piece, far from it. The nature of the story meant it had to go well over 1000 words but that’s fine. Not only do I keep my hand in writing a mixture of fiction, it kind of proves the point the story has to be what it has to be.

It never pays to try to cut a story so you can get it to count as flash somewhere.

The stories that work best as flash fiction are those where you want to focus on one intense moment in a character’s life and nothing else. Where there is more than one, you are better off writing a longer story to begin with, otherwise you will sell it short (and reduce your publication chances too).

Time can be an awkward thing to write into flash fiction stories. Most will consist of one vital moment to a character and so the span of time where the action takes place is very short. I’ve found I’ve needed stories towards the upper limit of flash (1000 words) to be able to show action taking place across a longer time span.

For example my Rewards has a time span of one evening and the next morning while my Expecting refers to time as a character realises they haven’t heard from someone for a while.

Flash I think does work best when it is for the moment. Even when I write historical flash, I’m looking at one incident in one character’s life. Time comes into the setting I’ve chosen to use and acts as a backdrop.

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Goodreads Author Blog –

What a Good Book Can Lead To

Have you known a good book to change you?

For me, The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey has led to a huge interest in Richard III and conviction he is not guilty of the murder of The Princes in the Tower, assuming they were killed.

There is no evidence they were killed and my own view is at least one was smuggled out of the country. Richard himself was smuggled out as a boy so it would’ve been known it could be done and Henry Tudor was never able to prove where the boys were, else he would’ve done. That really would have damned Richard.

That aside, good books have expanded my view of how irony works thanks to Austen, Wodehouse, and Pratchett. Now there’s a trio for you!

Good books have expanded my ideas of what can be done in fiction, especially in fantasy. There’s a reason The Lord of the Rings is considered an epic. It is! The sheer scale and scope of the trilogy will always amaze me.

Good books open your mind and imagination.

Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

Titles and Quirky Characters

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Ahead of a review on They Came From Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall in Time for the Townswomen’s Coffee Morning, which has to be a strong contender for the all time longest play title (!), I look at titles in general.

I look at the role they play, why I change my use of them for flash fiction, and discuss how they can set a mood you want your reader to pick up on or can be used to keep said reader guessing.

How easy (or otherwise) is finding the right title for you? I share a few thoughts on that too.

Image Credit:  As ever, the marvellous Pixabay.  Captions on the CFT post.

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Looking forward to the Chameleons’ production of “They Came From Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall in Time for the Townswomen’s Guild’s Coffee Morning”. Just try saying that quickly! Should be good for several laughs and I look forward to reviewing this next week.

Lady and I have not enjoyed the heat. Shout out to all our human and doggy friends. You know who you are. Keep cool! Glad it’s going to cool down tomorrow. The thought of the Tube in this heat on Saturday when I’m in town… uggh. Sympathies to all who’ve endured it today (or will do shortly). Still I guess it’s a great test of whether your deodorant works or not…!

How do I go about writing reviews for local theatre productions and the like? I always try to find something positive (I’ve never been a fan of hatchet jobs. I think it says more about the reviewer than whatever it was they reviewed). I look at the story. I look at the performance of that story. I also look at the background to the story (and I am looking forward to researching tonight’s one. Is going to be fun!).

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I thought From Light to Dark and Back Again was a long enough title for my flash collection, but it is well beaten by They Came from Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall in Time for the Townswomen’s Coffee Morning, the play recently staged by The Chameleon Theatre Group.

I look forward to sharing a review on that on Chandler’s Ford Today next week though I do discuss the importance of titles on CFT this week.

I’ve discussed titles before here but I can’t stress enough how vital it is to get them right. I must have a title to work to when writing almost anything but if a better idea occurs to me as I’m writing (and it does), then I’ll switch. Only the Ten Commandments were set in stone!

For flash fiction competitions where sometimes the title is part of the word count, I take extra care. I work out whether I want my title to give a good opening to the story, or whether I want it to set a mood, or to be open to more than one take on it, so I can keep a reader guessing. What I decide here will determine how long that title is and that will then set how much room I’ve got left for the story itself.

Where I don’t have to worry about the title being part of the word count, then I tend to focus on the impact I want it to have and I can give myself a bit more leeway as to how long I want the title to be.

Generally, though unless you are writing a spoof as the play clearly is, you are better off keeping a title relatively short.

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Having spent most of the day feeling like I was being roasted (goodness knows what my cooking time to the pound would be and yes that does show my age!), along with the rest of the country, it’s a relief to get to my desk where it is relatively cool. Note the relatively.

I find with flash fiction I can get the story ideas down fairly quickly (which is fab. Nobody wants to work too hard in this weather). Where the time and effort comes in is in the crafting of those ideas. Have I really used the right words to conjure up exactly the images I have in mind? Can I think of anything better? The answer to that is almost always yes!

The one thing that cheered me up a long time ago was knowing that nobody but nobody has ever written the perfect first draft! So I never worry about perfection in my writing. It’s not going to happen. Even when you send a piece out, it’s as good as you can make it at that time and that’s absolutely fine.

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Fairytales with Bite – Quirky Characters

There are those who might feel that the reason I love quirky characters is because I am one!  Hmm…

So what is it about quirky characters that appeals to me so much, both in terms of reading about them and writing them myself?

  1. Humour – there’s usually a lot of humour, often irony, involved here. That appeals directly ever since I first came across irony in Pride and Prejudice which I read at secondary school many, many moons ago. That book was an eye opener for me in terms of how irony can be used (and the best kind is subtle with it too). It paved the way for me to appreciate more direct irony in the works of Terry Pratchett and P.G. Wodehouse, to name but two, later on
  2. The Unexpected – The irony (!) here is you expect the unexpected from quirky characters. You’d be a bit disappointed to say the least if they didn’t come out with something. Often this is the pivoting point of the whole story too. What is fun is trying to guess what they come up with.
  3. Memorable – You remember quirky characters. It’s why I’ve always loved Jo March in Little Women and George in The Famous Five. Again I wanted to find out what they could do and whether they could surpass what had gone before. It kept me reading! The trick for a writer is to achieve the same thing. It is also the challenge! What is it that makes your characters memorable?

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This World and Others – Titles

I look at Titles in my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week and hope you find it helpful as I share some thoughts on where to find good title ideas. I also discuss the uses of titles. But now to look at the topic from a different angle…

Firstly, the world in which your story is set – do they use titles to denote rank? Do these differ between species? Are some species excluded from any titles at all? How are titles given? Can they be earned and, if so, how?

Secondly, property (you knew it had to come in somewhere!) – how does your world distribute title to property? Can anyone own property? Do your characters have to earn their right to obtain title like this? Or is all land owned by one feudal or royal overlord and all title is held by them?

Can title (of any sort) be challenged or revoked? Who would do so and why?

Now there are some thoughts for story ideas for you!

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Publication News

I look forward to next week when I can share publication news of a story that has a special place in my heart. More details next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Triggers and the Dreaded Lurgy

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On my desk is a calendar with pictures of dogs and a motto alongside them. Today’s one shows a puppy (who looks as if it has just been told off for something!) and the motto is “Even a puppy will endure the unendurable out of love”. And it is true. Dogs are so fantastically loyal and loving. But the motto led me to think about using that for character creation.

In the words of the Meatloaf track “I’ll do anything for love but I won’t do that“, well… just what WILL your characters put up with or go through for love? What WON’T they do? How did they develop the love they have? Is anything putting that love under strain? What would make them snap?

It’s not just romantic love either that can be the focus here. It can be the love of country, the love for an ideal or what have you. How would your characters react if that love was betrayed or spoilt in some way?

Hmm… good stories to be found there I think!

Looking forward to going to the Chameleons’ latest production during the week.

With a title of “They Came from Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall in Time for the Townswomen’s Guild’s Coffee Morning”, I think it’s a safe bet I’m in for a good laugh or several!

I’ll be reviewing the production in due course but will be looking at the importance of good titles in my next CFT post. This one though I admit is a great example of a title which tells you its genre – sci-fi spoof, a genre of which I’m very fond. (I do miss Red Dwarf!).

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Delighted to say I’ll have more publication news next week. Heard today so a great start to this week! The story concerned is a longer one than normal from me but one which has great personal meaning. So that will give you something to ponder! Can’t wait to share the link in due course.

Am currently preparing another story for submission and have a few very short pieces to submit elsewhere too. Making good progress on the novel too, though these things always take longer than you initially think. And that is still true even when you’ve been writing for years and know to allow LOADS more time than your initial estimate!

 

There are different ways to trigger flash fiction stories. A few I’ve used include:-

1. Set a word count and stick to it. (I did this when responding to Cafelit’s 100 word challenge and still do!). You can also use the Twitter character count here for the same thing.

2. Set a theme and stick to it – and then decide whether the story works better at 50 words, 500 words, or what have you and pitch to the appropriate market/competition. (I’ve done this too and how the story works has got to be the only benchmark here. The nice thing with flash is all of its sub-divisions in terms of word count so you will find something to suit).

3. Take a well known phrase or proverb and see what you can do with it storywise. (A favourite of mine. Usually gives you the title too!).

4. Find a source of pictures, pick one to write about. Come back to the others at later dates. My writing diary has inspired me here, I’m glad to say. Guess who will be trying to get the same diary next year. It has proved very useful!

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Sorry for the no-show last night. Bad case of the dreaded lurgy hit me yesterday afternoon and that was it for me for the rest of the day. Good to be back at the desk now though. I actually feel human again!

Gave Lady her first ever Kibble ice “lolly” today. After initially looking at me as if to say “what’s this then, Mum?”, Lady soon got the hang of it and demolished it quickly. Mind, she demolishes most things quickly. I suspect she’ll be having more of these “lollies” tomorrow. Due to get to 31 degrees where I am. Hmm…

Do I find writing more difficult in the heat? Not really. As long as I’ve got plenty of ventilation, I just plough on. Have got to go to London on Saturday. Am hoping it’s a bit cooler by then. It rarely gets cold on the Tube!!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

What sparks a story idea for you? It’s never just one thing for me but the following are some of my story triggers.

1. A snippet of overheard conversation. It doesn’t have to be particularly “juicy” either. Something as mundane as “I told her the hat looked stupid” can stir up story ideas.

2. A phrase or proverb which I know will make a great title. It’s then a great challenge to find a story idea to suit it! But I like titles and challenges like that. I just have to write to the title.

3. Clothes/hats if they’re particularly striking will make me wonder what characters of mine would wear something similar and in what circumstances. Good start for a story that.

And a particular favourite of mine…

4. Taking the viewpoint of fairytale characters but not those of the main “stars” of said fairytales. My first story in print was A Helping Hand in the Bridge House anthology Alternative Renditions and tells the Cinderella story from the viewpoint of the youngest stepsister. Good fun to write and still a favourite of mine.

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What can a flash fiction story do better than a longer standard length competition kind of tale?

1. Level of intensity is stronger in flash fiction. When you want to make a huge emotional impact on your reader, the less said the better a lot of the time. This of course is where flash comes into its own.

2. One-liners can lose some of their impact in a longer story. They can work really well as the ending of a flash fiction piece. Leave your audience laughing etc.

3. Every story should create images and emotional reactions in their readers. Flash can get to the heart of all of this that much quicker.

4. Sometimes THE moment is THE story and flash with its word count restriction would serve this kind of tale well. It doesn’t work for everything. Hamlet can’t be less than it is for example but where you only want to show the impact of one action on one character, a flash story is almost certainly the best vehicle for this.

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The dreaded lurgy yesterday afternoon meant the only flash I was capable of was the quick dash to the bathroom, hence the no-show. Is it a bird, is it a plane, no it’s me and nothing but nothing is stopping me getting to the loo in time! Am so glad to be feeling much better today. Must admit the heat does not help. I prefer a much milder temperature, as does Lady, my border collie cross.

The worst bit of yesterday was the feeling I just couldn’t focus, no matter how much I wanted to, so in that situation, you’re better off giving in to the inevitable. Did I miss my writing yesterday? You bet. Did I resent being poorly and keeping me away from said writing? Oh yes…!

The nearest I’ve got to writing about poorly characters is my Calling the Doctor (which is in the book trailer on this page so please do check it out). I suppose one reason I don’t write on this angle much is because I really do enjoy dropping my characters right in it and see how they manage! (I know, I know – I’m all heart!). I guess if they were poorly, I don’t think I could do that to them (told you I was all heart) and therefore I think it scuppers my writing for them.

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Goodreads Author BlogI’m “Just” Reading

Do you ever feel guilty when you get to relax with a book? I must admit I do sometimes. There are always other things I could be getting on which would be more obviously useful.

However, that is the point. Those other things will always be there. And all writers know you need to read widely and well to feed and nurture your own imagination.

So I will continue to “just” read as and when I can though the majority of my reading time is at bedtime. It is the perfect way to wind down before sleeping (though this may be why it is just as well I’m not a huge fan of horror. I don’t want to be too scared to go to sleep!).

Flash fiction and short story collections are a great boon for people whose reading time is limited, given they make good books to dip into for those breaks in the day when you have a lovely ten minutes to relish a cup of something nice and get to “steal” some reading time to go with it. (So now you know what I do when I have a cuppa!).

I’ve never had time for those who look down on genre fiction as somehow being less worthy. Genre fiction – and reading for entertainment only – brings people into reading. Who knows what they will go on to read but it is vital that spark to read is ignited. Besides being able to entertain others with words you’ve written is something rather special.

The purpose of reading from a writer’s viewpoint is to engage with the reader whether you’re reading something serious or something light. Nobody says it has to be deadly dull and worthy. Let it be what it is – an entertaining read. It really is good enough (and more difficult to achieve than some people think).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Murphy’s Law

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I always enjoy writing my CFT posts but ones like tonight’s Murphy’s Law are really fun to do. I list some Murphy’s Laws for writers (naturally there isn’t just one. That would make the writer’s life far too easy!). Can you add any to the list?

The best thing to do with Murphy’s Law is laugh at it.

I will add some of the laws I’ve listed have directly affected me, others have not, though I suspect that is merely a matter of time, Murphy’s Law being what it is!

Hope you enjoy.

Image Credit:  As ever the marvellous Pixabay. Captions on the CFT post.

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Have had a lovely time this evening looking back at some of my earlier short stories. Let’s just say I hope to do something positive with them! Waste not, want not, though there will be editing… there always will be editing!

But then, over time, you do get better at working out what will suit which market best and you hone your stories accordingly. That in turn gives you your best shot at increasing your acceptance rate.

Top three tips:-

1. A story rejected in one place may find acceptance elsewhere. I’ve had this happen a few times and I know it happens to others. So don’t give up on a piece. Put it away for a while. Look at it as if you were reading it for the first time. Can you find anything to improve? Fine, do so. If not, test another market with it. What have you got to lose?

2. Write, write, write – and accept the fact that to get better at anything takes time. You have got to put the work in but enjoy the process (and when positive results come in, enjoy those even more – you really will have earned it!).

3. Know who you are submitting your work to and why you are sending it there. Sounds obvious but from various publisher talks I’ve been to over the years, I know publishers who only publish romance novels, for example, get sent things that are NOT romance. I’ve never understood why people do that. You do have to target your work well.

I love writing all of my CFT posts but this week’s one was really fun to do. I discuss Murphy’s Law!

And the lovely thing about it? It will always be timeless! No matter what your profession or hobby, Murphy’s Law will come into it at some point. At several points if you’re really unlucky.

I will be sharing some of Murphy’s Law for writers and I’m sure you’ll be able to share some of your own. Link up on Friday.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I’ve talked about Murphy’s Law for Writers in my CFT post tonight but to be more specific for flash fiction scribes:-

1. You’ve got a gem of an idea for a 100-word story and a place to send it which only wants 100 words. Try as you will, your word count remains stubbornly at 101 words. Take anything out and your story loses its sparkle (and therefore any chance of it doing well). Technically this is known as YASSTE – You Are Stuffed Send Tale Elsewhere.

2. You’ve got a great story at the right word count with a spectacular twist ending that suits the theme. You send your story off to the competition concerned and later, knowing your story wasn’t shortlisted, look at the judge’s comments on the website or in the magazine. The first thing you read is something like “there were lots of stories in with XXXX as the theme”. Your heart sinks. And you had thought you were the only one to come up with the idea. Err… apparently not.

Chin up and keep writing anyway! Best thing to do with old Murphy’s Law is laugh at it.

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Flash Fiction “rules”:-

F – Find the word count limit that suits you.

L – Lines to be crisp and still convey information.

A – Animated characters you love to root for or hope desperately for their downfall. Either is good. You’ve got the reaction to your creations there for good or bad!

S – Story to flow at a good pace. (Reflective stories are obviously slower but there must be something about the characters that grips us enough to keep reading).

H – History of characters to be implied but only where crucial to our understanding of them and/or the plot hinges on it.

F – Fantastic and Fun – regardless of your settings, you should be enjoying what you write. Readers do subsconsciously pick up on that. And, yes, you can have a fab time writing a gruesome crime or horror flash fiction piece. I have!

I – Imagination. It’s odd I know but I’ve found the restricted word count in flash makes me flex my imagination more, not less. I have to be more creative in NOT wasting words to get the real story across to a reader.

C – Chat. Not a lot of room for this in flash so ensure conversation is vital to the story and moves it on. Best kept to two characters only. You haven’t the room for conversational ping pong (though I’ve always thought, in other circumstances, that might be fun!).

T – Tension. I know I’ve mentioned this in my recent A to Z but I think it bears repeating. One huge advantage of flash is the shorter word count increases the tension in your story. It is like shining a spotlight on one particular area. Use that to your story’s advantage.

I – Illumination. All stories do shed some light on humanity. Why do you like the characters that you do? Do they reflect your values? What about the ones you love to hate? As well as asking what this might say about you (!), also ask how can the theme of your story shed light on values we hold in common? What do you WANT to shine through in your fiction?

O – One lead character only. Flash fiction makes you focus. Never a bad thing that.

N – Numbers Game. Don’t be fixated by the word count. If your story works better at 250 words, then leave it at that and find an appropriate market/competition for it.

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The only problem with A to Z series (much as I love writing them) is you know certain letters will need some creative thinking to find something for – Q, X and Z for a start! Numbers are so much easier…!

But one of the great things about flash fiction is you are challenged to think creatively all the time. Just how can you tell a story in X (that letter again!) number of words? Just what are the details you must give and the ones you can leave the reader to work out for themselves?

Challenging yourself is a great way to fire up your imagination. And great stories can come out of that. Mixing up the word counts you write to is good for your imagination too.

Fairytales with Bite – Murphy’s Law

My CFT post this week is on the topic of Murphy’s Law and how it can affect writers.
Image Credit:  As ever, the wonderful Pixabay. Captions on the CFT post.

Now we all know Murphy’s Law is no respecter of barriers. Whatever profession you’re in, whichever hobby you enjoy, it will strike at some point. So as to the actual creating of a story, what are the things to look for so you can avoid them?

  1. Naming Characters – For longer works of fiction, it is too easy to give characters names that are too similar to others (for example Stephanie and Stephan. Two different characters but the problem with names that are similar is they can make the characters forgettable or interchangeable, neither of which you want). I get around this by ensuring each of my characters has a name that starts with a different letter of the alphabet. It’s simple but it works. Murphy’s Law can kick in here by making you not spot this until after you’ve got your first draft down. (Yes, it can be fixed at that point but it can be frustrating when you’ve got two similar sounding characters. The last thing you want is anything that might cause confusion in a reader or a sense of “what is that character doing here? I don’t see the point of them” reaction).
  2. Outlining – The query here is how much to do? Will Murphy’s Law strike in that you either outline too much or not enough? How can you judge what is correct for the writing you’re working on? A rule of thumb I use is have I got enough to get started on the story? Have I got enough to get me to the middle of the story? Have I got enough to be able to conclude the story? You don’t necessarily need to outline everything. You just need enough to get you to the next stage in the story. Think of this as outlining the major markers. Get those right and it will help you get everything else in place. You just want to stop yourself going off at unproductive tangents and that is where Murphy’s Law will trip you up. Stop the unhelpful tangents and you save yourself valuable time too. Work out what you think you need to know.
  3. Settings – The trap here again is detail. How much do you need to know before you write the story? What impact will the setting have on your characters? Preparation is the key to beating Murphy’s Law hitting you here. Again work out what you think you need to know. And bear in mind the setting must have some kind of impact on your characters – they’re either going to love where they are (but it is under threat – which is where your story comes in) or loathe it and want to escape (which is where another type of story can come in).

 

 

This World and Others –

Putting a Fictional World Together

The basic building blocks for putting a fictional world together are, for me, as follows:-

  1. Species – Who will live in this fictional world? One species, a couple, many? If more than one, how do they interact with each other and if they don’t interact at all, what is the reason for that? If you have only one species, how are they sub-divided? Do you have the majority of the species living in an area and a minority live elsewhere? What are the reasons behind this?
  2. Government and Society – This ties in with 1. How are your species governed and by whom? Are they governed well or badly? Can governments be changed? How is society organised? What is expected of everyone and does that vary from species to species? If so, what are the differences and why do they exist? What happens to rebels? (You can pretty much guarantee there will be those who do not like the status quo and won’t accept it so what happens to those who do this?).
  3. Survival – How do the species survive? What do they eat/drink? Is their world an agricultural one and what shape does this take? Do they farm crops as we would know them or farm something very different? Climate and weather and their impact can come into this category too. How much do your readers need to know?

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Tewkesbury and Top Flash Fiction Tips

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I’ve been to the Tewkesbury War of the Roses Re-enactment today for the first time. In previous years I’ve either been on holiday or otherwise engaged, so it has been lovely to finally tick this one off my To Do list. It has also been great catching up with family in this part of the world.

Lady stayed at home with my better half as, not only is it hot, I thought all the sights and sounds would over-excite her and I was right! The sights and sounds were incredible.

I sometimes think of the Wars of the Roses as an earlier English Civil War. There are so many stories here – not just of the victors and defeated but those of people who simply had to do what their lord did here. If the lord backed the wrong side, the consequences would be heavy and would go all the way down to whoever followed him. How many families were torn apart this way?

Historical fiction, when well done, can show you something of that and boost your history knowledge. Flash fiction can show you brief moments but a quick light burst can be enough at times.

This is only a very small section of the Tewkesbury Medieval Fair

This is only a small section of the Tewkesbury Medieval Festival. Image by Allison Symes

A beautiful place to kneel and pray inside the Abbey

A beautiful place to pray in Tewkesbury Abbey. Image by Allison Symes

Tewkesbury Abbey

Tewkesbury Abbey. Image by Allison Symes

TF 2019 - Have never seen basketwork like this before

Incredible basket and weaving work was part of the Festival. Image by Allison Symes

I was amazed at the range of stalls at the Tewkesbury Medieval Fair yesterday. I didn’t get to cover them all either! There really was everything from longbows (including a pink one which I presume is meant for the ladies – hmmm… I’ve never been a pink type of girl anyway. I preferred the dark red ones. Before you ask, no I didn’t get one. Lugging that home on the Great Western Railway would not have been fun!).

What was lovely though was:-

a. Seeing the Richard III Society stand and having a lovely chat with the lady running it.

b. Meeting Alex Marchant of Grant Me the Carving of His Name, an anthology of stories with Richard III at the heart of them. This anthology has a story by #JenWilson in it and the book is raising funds for the Scilosis Society (and apologies if I spelt that wrong!). Alex’s YA book Order of the White Boar was on sale too.

I’m always going to love having a good nose around author stalls at events like this and yesterday was no exception! (It is also lovely to meet face to face people you “meet” on Facebook the rest of the year).

There was also a storytelling tent (aimed at children) but that ties in beautifully with the theme of oral storytelling traditions, which I’ve written about before.

Today has been spent recovering from a lot of walking (it is amazing how much you do walk around for events like this) and anticipating next year’s event!

Does going to events like this inspire story/article ideas? Yes, they can do and have done for me. It’ll be fun to find out what comes from this visit in that department.

Richard III - one document found by George Buck led to a reassessment of the king

Richard III. Pixabay.

Old documents reveal so much about our history including the writer's bias - Pixabay

Old documents can shed light on so much (lots of stories to be found here). Pixabay

Currently in power cut mode. Thank goodness for a smartphone and mobile data! Apparently someone went through the electric cables so SSE engineers now out working to fix things.

Much as I loved my Tewkesbury visit at the weekend, I am so glad I live now and not in mediaeval times. I appreciate literacy. The likelihood of my having any back then would be extremely remote. My best chance of any would be to be of high birth but I just know I’d be of peasant stock.

How many stories have there been of those rebelling against their “allotted” pace and role in life? How many lives have been changed due to being literate in a way their ancestors would envy?

Pictures are all from the magnificent Tewkesbury Abbey and taken by me.

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What are the key ingredients to a story, regardless of its length?

1. Strong characters (strong in that they are memorable to readers. Readers don’t necessarily need to like them though).

2. A crisis (or series of them) that must be resolved (not necessarily well or happily) and usually involving great personal cost to the lead character.

3. A good pace as the crisis develops. Readers need to have the “must find out what happens next” reaction to what you have written.

4. A satisfactory conclusion, but again it doesn’t necessarily have to be a happy one.

Strong characters don’t have to be strong in the conventional sense. A character who is weak, backstabbing, treacherous etc can still be a strong one in that their actions will be crucial to your story and readers will remember them. (And if any fellow fans of Richard III are NOT instantly thinking of Lord Stanley here, I would be most surprised!).

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The A to Z of Flash Fiction Writing Tips by Allison Symes

How about an A to Z of flash fiction writing tips? I’ll be holding my breath seeing what I come up with for Q as well but here goes…

A – Alliteration in your titles can make them memorable. (Examples from me are Telling the Time and The Truth, though I haven’t consciously singled out the letter T for alliteration usage, honest!).

B – Backstory. Not a lot of room for this in flash fiction but what you can do is hint at it and leave readers to fill in the rest.

C – Characters. Couldn’t really be anything else. Characters drive the story, regardless of its length. It will be the characters readers remember and either love or love to loathe.

D – Dialogue. Again not a lot of room in flash fiction so keep it to the point. For any story dialogue has to earn its place by moving the story on or revealing information the reader needs to know (and it can be both). This is even more important in flash fiction.

E – Episodes. Yes, you can write linked flash fiction where either one character features in more than one story or they are referred to in another tale. I didn’t do this in From Light to Dark and Back Again but have played with this in my third flash fiction collection (currently in draft form) and it is good fun.

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So on to the next section of my A to Z of Flash Fiction Writing Tips.

F – Flexibility – I do see this as one of the great strengths of flash fiction. As it has to be character led for impact in as short a space as possible, you can have fun setting that character wherever and whenever you wish. Talking of which…

G – Genre – Have fun mixing up the genres for your flash stories. I’ve written in fantasy, historical, crime, and horror to name a few. See what you can do here. Mixing things up keeps you on your toes too, which is great for honing your writing to a particular genre’s requirements.

H – Humour – Flash fiction can be a great place for witty one-liners. I’ve sometimes ended stories this way as they can double up as a twist ending. You can also start stories this way andxsee where a promising witty character takes you. Enjoy!

I – Imagination – Being restricted to a specific word count shouldn’t restrict your imagination. It should fire it up! Why? Because you have to use your imaginative powers to select words which carry as much weight and have as much impact as possible. You choose what a reader has to know and what they can work out. Just what are the telling details that matter?

J – Justice – Poetic justice stories work well in flash fiction as the best of these go for maximum impact and that is best “concentrated”. You don’t want that kind of story dragging as it will lose its effectiveness.

More tomorrow but meantime a flash story tying in with my visit to the Battle of Tewkesbury Re-enactment.

Cut Down

I saw the standard bearer fall. I really thought my master had done it. Victory had to be ours…

But no… Master was cut down, betrayed.

My regret? Not taking the chance to cut down Lord Stanley. Without his command to switch sides, my master would still be here and not slung naked over the back of a horse.

Ends

Allison Symes – 13th July 2019

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So more on the A to Z of Flash Fiction Writing Tips then and we start with K.

K – Knaves. Unless you write to the top end of flash fiction, there isn’t often the room for an out and out battle between good and evil in your stories. But what can be fun is writing a story from the knave’s viewpoint and working out why they are committing the acts they are (or are about to do) and how they justify doing so to themselves. Yes, you can do that in 100 words! (My Getting It Right is an example of this kind of story).

L – Lively Lines. I love writing dialogue but unless it moves a story on in some way, it has no purpose. In flash especially, dialogue between two characters will take up a lot of your word count. Now you might not worry about that, especially if you’re writing an all-dialogue type tale, but I’ve found instead of using dialogue, showing up a character’s attitudes via internal thoughts saves on the word count. I can still give them good lines too. They’re just not spoken out loud, that’s all, but the reader still picks up what the character is like etc and, I think, more directly too.

M – Monologue. I’ve always thought these work best when they are kept short. And so can they work in flash fiction? Oh yes. I write a lot of flash tales from within the viewpoint of one character only so it is as if they are monologuing to a reader. My Telling the Time is just one example of this.

N – Narrative Voice. Has got to be strong. Has got to make an impact. This is another reason why I like to get into the head of one character and write directly from that viewpoint. I can only use one narrative voice doing this and the impact is strong as a result of that. This is why it is a good idea not to have too many characters in flash fiction. It’s not just about the word count.

O – Originality. Is it possible when it has been said there are only a few basic plots? Yes. It is how you treat your characters and the voice you give them that makes your stories unique to you. Use the flexibility of flash fiction to help you here. You might prefer to write just funny flashes or crime ones or what have you (or mix them up, as I do) but play to your strengths and originality will come from that. You will develop your niche.

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Moving on with the next section of my A to Z of Flash Fiction Writing Tips.

P – Pace. Despite the reduced word count, pace is still vital in terms of getting it right for the story. I’ve read and written fast and thoughtful pieces. The important thing is you need to know what pace will be best before you start and hit the ground running with it. Using character thoughts is a great way in here.

Q – Quirky. Flash fiction is a good vehicle for work that defies categories. It has to be character led and you can make your characters as quirky as you like. Have fun here, I do!

R – Reading. Crucial for a writer isthe willingness to read widely in and out of genre. Flash fiction comes in novella form, as well as collections, so explore the form. See what you like to read and it may well be it is what you like to write too.

S – Story. It’s all about the story and that is down to the strength or otherwise of your characters. Look for the impact your story has on you. Is it memorable to you after time away from it?

T – Tension. This will be more intense in flash tales as you have less set up and calm down again time. I think of this as that moment in the spotlight where everything is focussed on one point. Helps with pace a lot! So work out where the tension should be and play up to it. Don’t let your characters off the hook.

U – Universe. Your flash tale is its own universe. Is it somewhere you yourself would want to be? Why? If not, why? Whatever your answer is you need to convey that to your reader.

More tomorrow..

And finally to the last section on my A to Z of Flash Fiction Writing Tips. I start with a tricky letter (to place in Scrabble at times anyway!).

V – Variety. One of the joys of flash fiction is it is so easy to mix up your genres here so do so and have fun with it! It has to be character led so set your character where and when you want. I’ve written historical flash fiction pieces, crime ones, horror stories etc so mix up what you do here. It’ll be fun for you and some of that fun at least will come through in what you write to a reader.

W – Word Count. Had to be really. Don’t forget flash is quite flexible here. It has so many sub-divisions there is bound to be at least one which suits you. Play around with your writing and see where you tend to favour most. I tend to write up to about 500 words mostly, with the occasional longer piece.

X – Xerox! Am I cheating here? Well, maybe. What I mean here is it is good to read what has gone before but don’t copy it directly. Use the flexibility of flash fiction to create marvellous, inventive characters of your own. Read widely to see what characters you love reading about. Can you write a character who would bring out the same reaction in another reader? Look at how and why the character who appeals to you achieves that. You want to “xerox” the technique, not the actual writing or characters.

Y – Yardstick. Think about how you judge what a successful story is. Is it one that has been published? Yes, it can be, but you will have come across published stories that simply don’t work for you. The trick here of course is to make sure none of YOUR stories do that! (Again look at why a story didn’t grip you and look at how you can avoid doing that in your own writing). For me the yardstick is am I proud of the story? Could I make it better? The answers should be yes and no!

Z – Zips. This is what your story should be doing – zipping along with great characters and pace and keeping your readers gripped. Easier said than done? Frankly, yes, but it is worth striving for. A story that zips along and entertains is always going to be of interest to an editor somewhere.

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Goodreads Author Blog Storytelling

I love taking in stories via reading, of course, but also have a very soft spot for the oral storytelling tradition. We owe our oldest tales to that tradition, but there is something wonderful about being told a story.

Whether it brings back happy memories of being read to as a child, or of great jokes told as a story, if you get the chance to go to Open Prose and/or Poetry Nights, do go. As well as supporting those taking part, you are helping to keep this fantastic heritage going.

I always loved the Ronnie Corbett monologues in The Two Ronnies. The ultimate in shaggy dog tales, I think, though I also love the My Word collection by the equally much missed Frank Muir and Denis Norden. I didn’t hear the radio series on which these are based, but if you love puns, do look them up.

Stories on radio and audio books are the modern oral storytelling methods, I guess. What would Chaucer or Shakespeare made of those?!

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Summer Reports/Flash Fiction Tips

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Writing my CFT post this week about Summer Reports brought back many memories. I can report that when I left school, they then went and closed it! Hmm…

Also, do you remember having to put your chair on your desk as the picture shows? (As ever most of the images in this post are from Pixabay, captions on the CFT post). (And yes I do remember the days of school milk. It was either horribly luke warm or ice cold and not in a good way).

Summer is a good time to take stock as there is still enough time left in the year to set a few goals and have a good attempt at achieving them. And that doesn’t just apply to writers either.

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Am finding the muggy weather a bit of a trial as is Lady. Doesn’t slow the writing down, though it DOES slow me down! This is where I’m glad writing is not a sport in any way, shape or form! Currently at desk with French window open, listening to classical music. Bliss!

I used to write in total silence, then I moved to music (pop and rock) but found the mood of the songs could affect what I wrote (which was fine when I wanted that and a pain when not).

I don’t know quite what it is about classical but it doesn’t have that effect. It just soothes me and once in a relaxed state of mind, off I go and write and drop my characters into some enjoyable mayhem. (Well, enjoyable to me that is. Definitely not for them but they’re not meant to enjoy it! Nobody said the life of a character in a story had to be easy, far from it. Where is the drama in that?!).

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My CFT post this week will be Summer Reports. I look back at my school reports (they closed my school after I left – am not kidding!), suggest what a good report should do, and give a writing report on myself too. (That alone should tell you I think it’s been a good year!). Link up on Friday.

I will add now though that a good report, as well as writing successes, should always spur you on to greater efforts!

So happy writing and good luck for future endeavours!

 

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How about an A to Z of flash fiction writing tips? I’ll be holding my breath seeing what I come up with for Q as well but here goes…

A – Alliteration in your titles can make them memorable. (Examples from me are Telling the Time and The Truth, though I haven’t consciously singled out the letter T for alliteration usage, honest!).

B – Backstory. Not a lot of room for this in flash fiction but what you can do is hint at it and leave readers to fill in the rest.

C – Characters. Couldn’t really be anything else. Characters drive the story, regardless of its length. It will be the characters readers remember and either love or love to loathe.

D – Dialogue. Again not a lot of room in flash fiction so keep it to the point. For any story dialogue has to earn its place by moving the story on or revealing information the reader needs to know (and it can be both). This is even more important in flash fiction.

E – Episodes. Yes, you can write linked flash fiction where either one character features in more than one story or they are referred to in another tale. I didn’t do this in From Light to Dark and Back Again but have played with this in my third flash fiction collection (currently in draft form) and it is good fun.

More next time…

Advantages to writing one line stories:-

1. They can be expanded later for a longer flash fiction story/standard short story (1500 words+).

2. Easy to share on a FB post or on Twitter!

3. Great practice in honing your editing skills.

4. They’re the ultimate proof, I think, people DO have time to read. Come on, how many people really can’t spare the time to read one line?

5. They can make a great introduction to the wider ranges of flash fiction formats.

6. They can “break up” longer flash stories in a collection. I like a mixture of word count flash stories in a book (no surprises there, I know!).

7. Playing with words is fun and coming up with different styles of stories keeps you on your toes as a writer. That includes varying your word count ranges. Varying your word count ranges will increase the number of competitions/markets you can try.

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Top tips for flash fiction writers:-

1. Read plenty of flash fiction yourself. You’ll get a feel for what you like and dislike and you see what is already out there. Where can your work fit in?

2. Engage with other flash fiction writers at writing conferences etc. No one person knows all the markets and competitions out there (and new ones spring up which may well be worth investigating).

3. It is lovely when YOU can pass the word on about a useful market/competition. What goes around does come around. I can’t stress enough that supporting other writers is not only a kind thing to do, it is a hugely sensible one. Partly because as mentioned in 2 above, others can tell you things you didn’t know (including on the scams that happen – it pays to be aware), which may help your own career but mainly because writing is a lonely profession. When all that seems to come in are rejections, you will be glad of the support of other writers who know exactly that this is like.

4. Experiment across the word count ranges and see what suits you best. You may find your niche at 250, 50, 1000, or pretty much in between.

5. Do send work into competitions regularly. It helps you hone your skills. As an aside to this, read winning entries, especially when accompanied by judge’s comments as you can learn so much from those.

6. Write, write, write. Edit, edit, edit!

Fairytales with Bite –

Ten Things I look for in a Good Story

I suspect there won’t be any great surprises here but each one should be a challenge to all of us to ensure we keep doing these!

  1. Characters I love or love to loathe. They’ve got to be memorable.

  2. Situations which are critical for the characters. They’ve got to strive for something important.

  3. A setting I would love to visit! (Anyone fancy a trip to The Shire in The Lord of  the Rings? Mordor, I’d be happy to miss!).

  4. Great pace.  Absolutely no boring bits!

  5. It’s a story I’d be happy to re-read at any time and enjoy it all over again.

  6. Humour, where apt for the story and the characters. I have a very soft spot for irony.

  7. Tragedy, when necessary as it often is, not to be overdone. (I think tragedy has much more of an impact when it does not become melodrama).

  8. Snappy dialogue.

  9. Catchphrases I can remember – and enjoy doing so.

  10. The story shows me something of the human condition which I’d either not considered before or reaffirms something. Funny stories can do this surprisingly well.

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This World and Others – Summer Reports

I look at Summer Reports in my CFT post this week and discuss, amongst other things, what a good report should do, irrespective of whether someone is academic or not. I also give a summer writing update for me!

But from a writing viewpoint, what reports could you write, for whom, and how could they help you?

1.  Character Reports
I use Scrivener and in their story template they have outlines for characters (and settings) which you can fill in with as much or little detail as you want.  You can of course create your own, but I have found these enormously useful in working out what my characters are really made of and, therefore, I write them with more conviction. I hope they come across that way too! So writing a report on  your characters can help you discover things about them, help you give depth to how you portray them and so on.

2. Report on your Story
I find it useful as part of the editing process to look at the story as if I hadn’t written it and was discovering it for the first time as a reader would. I look at what my overall impressions are, what I think worked well and, as importantly, what didn’t! The crucial thing is to be totally honest here, otherwise this idea won’t do anything for you.

Sometimes my “report” here is just a series of notes such as Character A comes across well, they’ve got great humour, but where do their flaws come in? Is Character A too perfect? Once you’ve made notes like this, put the story and the notes aside for a while. Re-read the story after a week. Look at your notes and see if you still think the same.

If you have trusted beta readers available, this is where they could be invaluable but total honesty about what works and what doesn’t is key here. Keep in mind you want to produce a story that is as good as you can make it. If several people tell you something doesn’t work, take this seriously. If one says that, then it could just be opinion and you will then need to decide if it has weight or not.

So reports then are useful to a writer but honesty is key. I can’t stress that enough.

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What Writers Need/Would Like

Naturally, what writers need and what they would like are not necessarily the same!

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What do all writers need?

1. Stamina.

2. The ability to accept rejections happen.

3. Commitment (10 minutes a day IS commitment so don’t be put off if your time is limited. The time you can spend on writing mounts up and besides this is not a competition). It is a case of working out what you can do and then sticking to it.

4. Reliable PC/laptop and printer (for running out those stories you need to edit on paper).

5. The ability to accept feedback, especially when it is critical. (What you’re looking for here is feedback that is honest but also says why something didn’t work for the reader concerned. “I didn’t like it” is not exactly helpful! “I didn’t like it because I thought the character was weak” is better. You then need to look at the character carefully and see if they are weak. If they are, there is work to do. If you honestly feel they’re not, then this may be this reader’s perception but something didn’t come across well and that is something you could look at).

6. Willingness to allow enough time to feed your own imagination and that means reading widely and across genres, including non-fiction.

7. The ability to plan out what work you will do when. My shorter writing sessions I use for flash fiction. Longer ones I give over to the novel or longer short stories. Planning how to use the time you’ve got will help you get more done.

8. Pens and notebooks. Jotting down ideas has to happen somewhere so it may as well be in a nice notebook. (Do ask non-writer family and friends for notebooks and pens as presents. You can’t have too many…!).

This is by no means a comprehensive list but I didn’t want this rivalling War and Peace for length!!

 

I listed yesterday some of the things writers need including stamina, the ability to accept rejections happen and so. Tonight I thought I’d flip the coin, so to speak, and look at what writers would like to happen.

1. Publication, obviously (and then to keep on being published).

2. Reviews (on Amazon and Goodreads particularly. They don’t have to be long reviews either).

3. Support from other writers and family/friends. It really does help especially for those times when your writing seems to be going nowhere.

4. An endless supply of pens/notebooks/toner cartridges/A4 etc etc.

5. An endless supply of tea/coffee etc while writing.

6. Always being able to go to your favourite writing events!

7. To never be short of things to write!

Again, this is by no means an exhaustive list!

What are the things I’ve found most useful as a writer? These are not in any particular order. All are invaluable.

1. Scrivener

2. Evernote

3. Smartphone (am a late convert to these but I get so much writing done when travelling by train thanks to this and it saves me lugging a laptop about. Biggest bugbear = my local train company, on taking over from the old one, blanking out all the recharging points on their trains. Why for goodness sake? This was a useful service to passengers. I can’t believe we’d have drained the train!!). Also incredibly useful for photos.

4. Notebooks and pens, naturally.

5. Good supplies of information on markets/competitions/writing conferences to go to (and this can be from something like Writing Magazine to informative Facebook groups to writing organisations).

6. Supportive writing friends/supportive friends and family who don’t write but root for me doing so!

7. The internet (it is useful for research. The clever bit is focusing on what you want to find out and not allow yourself to be distracted).

8. The indie press! (Take a bow Cafelit, Bridge House Publishing, Iron Press, Chapeltown Books etc).

9. The Society of Authors and ALCS.

10. My laptop and my printer aka Old Faithful. (Has seen off at least three “cleverer” colour printers with duplex printing. Old Faithful is strictly black and white and one side at a time and keeps going and going and going).

11. Liquid refreshments while writing (what I have here depends on time of year and my mood!).

12. My Slimming World Hi-fi bars for when the munchies strike while writing stories or blog posts.

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Murphy’s Laws for Writers – An Occasional Series…

1. You have lots of ideas for stories or none.

2. You have lots of time to enter competitions or very little.

3. A competition that would have suited you perfectly has just passed its closing date by the time you spot it.

4. You run out of pens yet know you have loads on your desk. They just vanish into thin air when you try to find them.

5. You’ve finally got around to picking up a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook but within a week the next year’s edition is out. You are not best pleased.

6. You are delighted to be able to support your friends’ writing and are thrilled when they’re published, you tell them you’re looking forward to their books coming out, plan to get to their launches etc. However, you don’t know what to do when you discover they’re holding book launches on the same day and at opposite ends of the country. Hmm…

Am not going to say which ones I’ve been guilty of!

 

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I’ve mentioned before that flash fiction works best with one character (at a pinch two), but it is also true said character should have only one goal to achieve/problem to overcome. There isn’t the room for more.

You want to keep things simple. Flash is direct. You are focusing on one character, one problem. Anything not to do with that is surplus to requirements and should be cut.

Simple is not the same as (a) easy (it really isn’t!) and (b) simplistic. You are looking for a prose style that flows and carries your readers along, keen to find how you get your character out of the horrible situation you’ve put them in. Do they sink or swim? Have they the right character traits to be able to swim? If they start to sink, how can they turn that around?

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It’s about time for some one-line stories again. Hope you like these.

1. When the red, red robin came bob, bob, bobbing along, the cat had a field day.

2. The problem with wishing on a star is, unless you have space equipment on and a decent supply of oxygen, you’re not going to be wishing for long.

3. The Magic Roundabout can carry on without me – I am currently stuck in Swindon’s version.

(For those not in the know, Swindon is renowned for its system of multiple roundabouts in one big one and The Magic Roundabout was a well known children’s TV programme back in the 1970s. Well, that was when I watched it! Oh and for the record, I’ve only been to Swindon by train to visit their excellent Steam railway museum!).

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It is often advised to keep a notebook handy so you can jot down story/blog post/novel ideas etc whenever they come to you. To be fair, this is very good advice.

However, it has never worked for me. Partly because when my head hits the pillow, I’m out like the proverbial light. No chance of me getting ideas during dreams.. I just sleep!

Secondly every other place where I have had ideas for stories has been too awkward for reach out and grab the notebook. It’s not unknown for ideas to come to me while showering or on the loo.

Why do ideas never come like that when you really COULD pause for a moment and jot them down the way you’re advised to? I refuse to believe this is just me!😀😀

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I relish that moment in fiction writing when the character takes off and I know I’ve got a good story in the offing as a result. I do believe a great story, regardless of its genre, is down to the great characters fuelling it. But up until that point, there is always that wondering “is this character going to work as well as I’d thought?”, “what if this falls flat?” etc.

Sometimes the character doesn’t work out and the story does fall flat. What I do here is, after some time away from it, I look at the story again and analyse what worked and what didn’t. It is nearly always a case for me that the character’s voice wasn’t strong enough. I can then look to see if I can improve that and rescue the story. If not, it’s a lesson for next time.

I’ve got to be able to hear a strong character voice coming through the narrative. Without that, I don’t think any story will work properly. To get that strong character, you have to know who they are, what they would risk everything for, and, in your story, are the stakes high enough for them to care about the outcome? If not, then the story will fall flat and no reader would care either.

Goodreads Author Blog – Settings in Books

Does the setting in a book matter to you?

I was always gripped by Kirrin Island in the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton. (I guess the nearest I got to visiting anything like it was when I went on a day trip to Brownsea Island, just off Poole! I lacked the lashings of ginger beer though… sighs…).

One of the things I love about The Lord of the Rings is the way The Shire is conjured up as a lovely place to live. Mordor is anything but! The films did full justice to this too. (Not always true for film adaptations either).

A really good setting is almost a character in its own right and the authors treat them that way too. This is true for Narnia, Winnie the Pooh (I’ve just got to say 100 Acre Wood and that will conjure up the world of Pooh immediately – to me at least!), amongst many, many others.

Do I need intensive descriptions of settings? Not really.

What I look for is enough for me to be able to visualise that setting for myself. Also, the characters should fit the setting – Jeeves and Wooster are great examples of that. There shouldn’t be any feeling of anything of anyone being out of place. Even the villains in a story should fit (think of the weasels in The Wind in the Willows for example – they still fit in that world).

Which are your favourite settings and why?

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Controlling the Weather and Writing Prompts

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

In my CFT post Controlling the Weather I share a flash fiction story of mine which is shorter than Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s “it was a dark and stormy night”. Do see the post for the full sentence (and take a deep breath before you start too!).

I now know why Snoopy only ever quotes “it was a dark and stormy night” but no more as there wouldn’t be enough room in the caption bubble!

I rarely use the weather in flash fiction as the word count means I have to show you the pertinent detail(s) about the characters. The weather rarely comes into that!

So what would count as pertinent details then? For me these are:-

1. Something of their attitude/outlook on life (I show this via internal thought as well as dialogue).

2. Something of their setting. Setting can change the outcome of the story or have a huge influence on it, for good or bad.

3. Sometimes a brief physical description where it matters to the story. In my Pen Portrait I show Mary as a character who brushes her hair once a day whether she needed it or not. I mention her clothes and shoes would see her through a battlefield but DON’T specify what they are. I don’t think I need to do so either. Those two lines should conjure up an image of Mary well enough! It also shows something of her attitude (double whammy here!).

I’d say 1 is the most important and “where it matters to the story” is THE golden rule of fiction writing, regardless of whether you write flash stories or longer works.

Image Credit:  The magnificient Pixabay. Captions via the CFT post! Also this post was shared on From Light to Dark and Back Again as well as I thought the pertinent details relevant to that page too!

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Managed to catch up with a couple of writing prompt exercises, both of which will become flash fiction stories later. Complete contrast in moods for the exercises too but I like that. It keeps me on my toes, which of course is the idea behind said prompts.

I tend to write up these prompts in batches but that’s fine. It’s a little like not being able to stop at one crisp or what have you once you get started on them!

The nice thing about free writing like this is I know the stories aren’t perfect but that doesn’t matter at this stage. I’ve now got two more stories to work on for submission somewhere in due course and that’s great.

My CFT post this week will be looking at Controlling the Weather. You can tell my other writing hat is fantasy, yes?!

I look at why controlling the weather isn’t a good idea, even if we could do it.

Also I discuss why “it was a dark and stormy night” has gone down as one of the most renowned writing cliches. (Possibly to only be beaten by “and it was all a dream”? Thoughts on that would be welcome when the link goes up on Friday).

I have to say I’ve written flash fiction stories shorter than that infamous opening line from Bulwer-Lytton and I go on to prove it in this post too! And if could control the weather for a day, what would you ask for and why? Thinking heads on in time for Friday’s post then (and those of you of a certain age will remember where that phrase comes from! Clue to those who are not: a former Doctor Who plays a scarecrow, yes really!).

PS Looks like no photos will upload tonight so apologies. Believe this is a FB issue. Hopefully normal service (and photos) will resume soon…  (NB  From Wednesday, 3rd July when FB and What’s App seemed to have an issue with photos. Glad it appears to have been resolved).

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Occasionally a story idea proves to be a better match for a standard length short story (1500 words or so) than flash fiction, which is fine. I find a suitable competition/market for that longer story and don’t try to keep it sub1000. (How do I know incidentally? It is always the character’s voice and sometimes they have more to say than I originally thought they would!).

I sometimes deliberately make myself write longer stories as the discipline of working to very small word counts AND what would be considered an industry standard is very good for you as a writer. Shaping what I’ve written to fit the most appropriate market/competition is something that will always be needed and is a useful skill to develop.

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Looks like the photos will be unavailable for a bit though I understand this is a FB/What’s App issue. Hope it’s resolved soon. Don’t envy those trying to sort it out.

Meanwhile back to good old text only.

In researching my CFT post this week about Controlling the Weather (yes, really – more on Friday when the link goes up), I looked at a very famous opening line that has gone down in the annals of Cliche and Purple Prose, so much so even Snoopy quotes it regularly.

To my surprise, I found I’ve written flash fiction stories which come in at under the word count of that opening line!

So every word counts then in a flash story? Of course but the words have all got to pull their weight. You know when the story’s right (or as much as it can ever be) when you can’t change anything or remove a word without it spoiling the story somehow. One lovely thing about flash is you know you haven’t got the room for purple prose which is a huge encouragement not to write it at all!

Fairytales with Bite – Controlling the Weather and What Writers Should Control

My CFT post looks at why Controlling the Weather isn’t a good idea even if we could do it. I also look at why “it was a dark and stormy night” has gone down as one of the all time “great” writing cliches. But can the weather play a purpose in writing? Can writers control their use of it so it is effective, rather than something that can be mocked (as that infamous opening line so often is)? What should writers control in their writing?

The weather can play a role in writing as long as it matters to the story (in terms of outcome/character development etc).  Generally speaking, it matters to the story is the most important rule in all fiction writing! Weather can also be used to reflect or contrast mood. If someone is singing in the rain, we would generally want to know why!  Interest piqued… now follow through with interesting reasons why!

What writers should seek to control in their writing should be:-

1.  Everything that is in the story has to be in there. Something would be lost in terms of character and/or plot if anything was removed. If anything could be skipped, cut it out. It is what readers/editors will skip.

2.  Their characters. Characters should be well developed and should engage with the reader (even if it is to make the reader hate them!).

3.  Dialogue.  This should reveal information/move the story onwards. Any dialogue without a purpose shouldn’t be in there.

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This World and Others –

When You Know Your World Works

There are certain pointers which will indicate your created world is working and hopefully will encourage you to develop it further.

1.  You know how the world is run. (There has to be some sort of government).

2.  You know who are the powerful and who are the downtrodden (some things are just universal!).

3.  You know the immediate setting for your story intimately. You need to be able to portray this, almost as if it were a character in its own right.

4.  You know where your characters fit into your world (and whether they fit in well or not. Do they defy convention or follow it religiously?).

5.  You have some idea of how your people survive in terms of food/water/sanitation/employment provision. I can’t think of any created world where characters don’t have to eat, be able to resource themselves etc.

Not all of these details need to make it into your story. We don’t need to know everything about politics in your world but we do need to know what matters to the story (which I think is going to be a new mantra for me but it is a useful one!).

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Other News including Publication News

Am delighted to say my story What Goes Around will be in Bridge House Publishing’s Nativity anthology later this year. What with The Art Critic and Dignity and Injustice due to be published in The Best of Cafelit 8 in December, I will have three stories in two books then! I am also still thrilled of course that The Professional was in the ebook Transforming Being, the Bridge House published ebook of the winning entries for the Waterloo Arts Festival Writing Competition.

I have also set up an Amazon Authors Central page and these are set for the US, UK, France, Germany, and Japan. Here you can find out more about the anthologies my stories have appeared in as well as about From Light to Dark and Back Again of course.

It has been a good month!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Good Writing Week

Facebook – General

Do you read or write (or both) outdoors? I don’t write outside. I much prefer being at a desk for that (and right now it is beautifully cool in the study so added reason to stay in! It also means I can turn up the volume when Beethoven’s 5th comes on and I avoid annoying the neighbours so win-win).

I read outdoors sometimes, there’s nothing to beat relaxing in a nice recliner with a book in hand unless it’s doing that, knowing you’ve got a long cold drink besides you too!

I cope with colder weather better than hot (as does Lady naturally). How do your characters react to their environment and weather conditions? Do they cope with anything that can be thrown at them weather wise or do they curl up at the sight of anything more than a fine drizzle?! If you’re writing fantasy or anything other worldly, what would be standard weather conditions in your setting? How does it impact on your characters?

Hopefully you’ll find some ways to deepen your characterisation answering questions like that.

A good writing week is when I can look back and see:-

1. CFT post written, images sourced, and appears on the Friday. (Only times it hasn’t appeared have been either because I’ve been away or ill and once there was a technical issue, which meant I had to post a day late).

2. Progress made on my projects, especially the novel.

3. I have either submitted work to competitions/markets or am drafting work to be sent in the near future.

4. My WordPress website round-ups have appeared on the Tuesday and Friday. I enjoy preparing these as they look like a mini magazine. I hope you enjoy them too!

It has been a good week! Do I get bored? No! Do I wish I had more writing time? Always.

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