Put Three Words Together and Questions to Ask Your Characters

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My CFT post this week looks at Put Three Words Together And…

I look at how it only takes three words to make an impact on readers and share positive and negative examples. The latter reflects on a brutal part of our history too, something I’m glad is long gone. The post also looks at alternative meanings of the words in question – there is a wide range! The meaning of the words taken together goes far beyond the meaning of the individual ones. Never underestimate the power of words!

Many thanks to all who have commented on this already. Good discussion going, thanks all.

I must admit I was surprised, when drafting this week’s CFT post, to find it only takes three words to make an impact on readers. (I had always thought it was a little more than that based on Ernest Hemingway’s For Sale: One Pair Baby Shoes). Still I guess it goes to show how you CAN pare things right back when you want to!

Happy writing, editing, re-reading, editing again etc!

Image Credit:  As ever, thanks to Pixabay. Captions over on the CFT page.


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Many thanks to everyone who has liked my Facebook author page. Now up to 100 likes – thanks, all.

Looking forward to sharing my CFT What Books Mean to Me series soon. It’s always interesting discovering the different responses by authors to the same questions.

It’s also why I love taking part in anthologies and competitions where the theme is the same but you just know the take on said theme will be so varied amongst the authors taking part. It is literal proof of some very active imaginations out there (which is always a cause to celebrate).

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

One of the biggest tips I can pass on when writing flash fiction is not to have too many characters. In many of my stories, I only have the one!

I often get a character to refer to another one (usually they’re thinking about Character B – and not always pleasantly either!). Or we see Character A reflecting on what Character B has just said/done or both (!) to them.

But the important thing is to focus on THE important point of your story. There really is no room for anything else. And generally I find one to two characters are plenty enough to convey that.

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I’ve occasionally written all dialogue flash fiction tales but don’t find them particularly easy to do. Firstly, they are best kept very short (I think the novelty of dialogue only would wear thing pretty quickly if you kept it up for long). Secondly, I’ve got a natural preference for showing you a character’s thoughts (and from that you’ll get their attitudes as well). I think you get more mileage from the latter and so I tend to stick to that.

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Publication News

Delighted to share again my Three Wishes story on Cafelit. I also want to flag Cafelit up in general as there is a great mix of stories, authors, and styles on here. There is bound to be at least one to suit you! Do check them out.

And how often is the next big thing on the news unremittingly grim - Pixabay

I can dream!  Pixabay


Fairytales with Bite – Put Three Words Together And…

My CFT post is Put Three Words Together And…  I look at negative and positive impacts of three words when they’re used together (and how those impacts can vary widely from the individual meanings of the words concerned).

As for fiction writing, well we need more than three words for that but you could look at three word catchphrases for your characters. Catchphrases have to be memorable to work, also you need not to get tired of them (and that’s even more true for your reader!), and so are best kept short to help achieve those points.

If your characters were limited to three words as their pet phrase, what would they be and why? (I suspect the most famous one here would be I’ll Be Back from The Terminator). But what would you choose for your creations?

Would your pet phrase match your character? That is, if they’re a feisty character, would their phrase reflect that? Or would they downplay that side of things a bit (especially if they wanted to put off an enemy)? Would they be sarcastic or would their phrase be a cover for what they are really like?

Food for thought, I hope. The important point is to know who your characters are, how they would speak and sound (to a reader) and, if a catchphrase would be appropriate for your characters, to choose one that fits them well.

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This World and Others –

Questions to Ask Your Characters

One great thing about this topic is that it is a timeless one! (Bear in mind also if you’re writing non-fiction, if you are using a narrative voice, you can treat that voice as a character, so some of these questions at least may also be worth trying). So what to ask then as part of your outline?

  1. What do you really want and why?
  2. What stops you getting what you really want?
  3. Why would your life be complete if you achieve what you want?
  4. How are you going to achieve your objectives?
  5. Have you got other characters to support you and, if so, how reliable are they?
  6. Are you making your life unnecessarily complicated? (Worth asking this one – any complications getting in the way of your character achieving what they want should be those that arise naturally out of the plot. There should be nothing that seems “faked” to increase the tension in the story. The tension should be genuine, the obstacles real and so on. For a non-fictional narrator, a good question to ask instead of this one is are you communicating as clearly as possible (i.e. go for clarity, not gobbledegook, don’t make your narration unnecessarily complicated? Are you conveying the facts reasonably? Are you backing the facts up with evidence? What are your sources?).
  7. What has driven you to decide this is what you really want?
  8. What if you’re wrong? (How would your character handle that? That could make for a really interesting story).
  9. Are there limits you won’t cross (and if so what are these? What is your thinking behind this?).
  10. Are there rules you are prepared to break? What would the consequences be? How are you going to limit your risk (or are you not worried about that? Some characters aren’t!).

Now if answering those questions doesn’t generate story ideas, I’d be very surprised!

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A Busy Week and Relishing Flash Fiction

Publication News

Delighted to say my short story, Three Wishes, now out on Cafelit. Hope you enjoy it.

Facebook – General

Am on the train again today so out comes Evernote and my trusty stylus! Lovely early morning sun over Hampshire countryside too.

I use my writing sessions on the move as free writing ones. The only thing I like to get done for sure is to draft my blogs for a Saturday. I post them later on the way home when I’d like to do some writing work but am too tired to do much. The creative work I’ll do shortly after my drafting while the old brainbox is relatively fresh!

So will it be flash fiction, a longer story, or a brainstorming session for future stories and posts? Right now as I draft this at 7.36 am, I don’t know but I will have fun finding out!

Am posting this now at 7.58 pm (on Saturday 21st September). Have drafted a fair amount towards a new CFT post for future use. Well pleased.

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Looking forward to sharing a new short story tomorrow when it goes live on Cafelit (done – see above link!). One of my favourite things about writing (and I think it always will be) is not losing the “buzz” of excitement when you know work of yours is going to be published. It also spurs you on to greater efforts and that’s never a bad thing either.

On the flip side, there’s a couple of competitions I haven’t heard back from (which by now I should have done had my stories got anywhere). Still, I can and will look those stories up, edit as necessary and re-submit elsewhere.

I’ve found writing is rarely wasted and that’s true even when I decide not to re-submit a story for some reason. Nearly always the latter decision is due to timing. There has been a spate of stories on Subject X in Magazine Y so they’re not going to need another one on a similar theme from me! But I can “park” my story and see if I can do something with it later on.

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Delighted to find out my posts have been liked 1000 times. Let’s see if we can get that up to at least…. oh I don’t know… 1001!!

Am thrilled to share my latest short story on Cafelit called Three Wishes. See above link. Hope you enjoy. Definitely not a flash piece this one but I am very fond of my two lead characters here. Hope you will be too.

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A big thank you to fellow Swanwicker, Jennifer C Wilson, of the Kindred Spirits series (and The Last Plantagenet and The Raided Heart) for hosting me on her blog today. Good fun!

(Am looking forward to having to update the picture in December when The Best of Cafelit 8 and Nativity (Bridge House Publishing 2019 anthology) are due out!).


Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

One nice thing about train travel is you can get snapshots of scenes and characters by simply looking out of the window and observing, discreetly, your fellow passengers.

Naturally there are times you hear their conversations when you would really rather not! Even there though, you can use how that makes you feel to inspire creating a character who feels the same way.

Do they suppress how they feel or tell people to shut up? What are the consequences? Where is your character going and why? Do they need peace to be able to focus on what they’ve got to do at journey’s end? What is that, do they succeed, and does the journey affect the outcome?

Food for thought there, I think.


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My favourite form of flash tale is the one where not a word could be added or taken out without tipping the balance of it. That can sometimes mean my story has ended up becoming a 25-word tale or, more often for me at least, a 100-worder or more.

It’s also the way I judge a story of mine. I ask myself IS any more needed for this? You CAN over-egg the pudding, to use that wonderful phrase. When I’m pondering, I ask if the details I’m thinking of adding in really will make any difference to the story. If the answer is no, then they stay out. Well, they really would be no point in adding them, would there?

If ever there was a form of fiction where you don’t write a single word more than you have to, it is flash fiction!

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It’s an evening for sharing stories I think. I was pleased to share my latest short story on Cafelit, Three Wishes earlier on. Now for a flash fiction piece. Complete opposite end of the scale when it comes to word count!

The gull enjoyed the look of astonishment on the day tripper’s face, almost as much as the bird loved the stolen battered cod. Dessert was sorted – the gull went back and pinched the same tourist’s mint choc chip icecream.


Allison Symes 2019

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Very pleased to be guest blogger on Jennifer C Wilson’s blog today.

I will be starting a new series on Chandler’s Ford Today soon about What Books Mean to Me and I’m glad to say Jennifer will be taking part in that. I asked a number of writer friends three questions and I look forward to sharing their responses soon. I answer the questions myself right at the end of the series. I didn’t make them easy ones, honest!

It has been a good week with Three Wishes out on Cafelit yesterday and it’s only Tuesday. Hmm… time to press on then.

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Goodreads Author Blog –

Why are your Favourite Books your Favourites?

I don’t have just one favourite book. Do any of us, come to that?!

The reasons for my favourite books being so favoured vary enormously and can depend on how I’m feeling at any one time. What links the favourites is one solid fact – I couldn’t part with any of them!

So I have favourite books because:-

1. They’re classic childhood stories.

2. They were given to me by loved ones, now passed on.

3. They were given to me by friends and family whom I cherish.

4. They first introduced me to irony and humour in fiction. (Wodehouse, Austen, Pratchett).

5. Sherlock and Poirot are just brilliant, albeit in different ways.

6. The Lord of the Rings – no need to say more!

7. Discworld – likewise!

8. The books are written by me or are anthologies with my flash fiction and short stories in them.

9. The books are written by friends!

10. Some are photo books of my dogs with apt captons for my first two collies and now Lady too.

So why are your favourites your favourites then?

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The Power of Language

Image Credit:  Unless otherwise stated, images are from Pixabay

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I think I may have found my favourite image for this week’s CFT post. There is so much truth in it, don’t you think?!

I look at the Power of Language and discuss rhetoric, the role of swearing, putting words INTO the language, and how flash fiction has affected how I use language. I also feel we should celebrate language, its richness and its origins. English of course notably borrows, sorry steals, from other languages and is the richer for it.

I also find proof of someone cheating at Scrabble…

Hope you enjoy! Captions over on CFT.


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If you ask most writers what every new writer needs, I think the answers would be something like:-

1. Comfortable working environment with good support for your back given you can be at your desk for some time.

2. A willingness to commit what time you can to writing and to accept you are in for the long haul.

3. The ability to develop a thick skin when rejections/critical feedback/bad reviews come in, as they do.

4. Pens, paper, laptop, printer, and all requisites.

5. Tea/coffee/other drink of choice which will keep you going.

6. The ability to focus.

7. Accepting rewrites (often many) are a necessary part of the process.

8. A love of books in a wide range of genres and a good reading habit.

9. A willingness to learn and improve your craft.

All of these are vital BUT I would add in:-

10. An appreciation of language and what you can do with it. Play with words, have fun with them.

(It’s not just because I talk about the Power of Language on my CFT post tonight, though it helps!).

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Questions to ask as you outline a story:-

1. What is its mood?

2. Why is it the right mood for the story?

3. What makes the lead character tick?

4. Are they the right lead character for this story? (It doesn’t always work out the way you think it will. I’ve rewritten a story from another viewpoint which proved to be far better than the one I’d originally chosen. If something doesn’t seem to be working, it may be worth looking at whether you are telling the story from the right character’s viewpoint).

5. What does the lead character want?

6. Why does it matter? (This one is crucial. The motivation has got to be strong enough to convince a reader a character would do X, Y, Z etc to obtain it).

7. What gets in the lead character’s way?

8. How are they going to overcome the obstacles? (At outlining, you may only have the vaguest idea but there should be something within the personality of your character that will make all the difference to the resolution of the story).

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I’ll be looking at the Power of Language in my CFT post later this week. I share my thoughts on rhetoric and swearing amongst other things (and there’s a good mix!). Post up on Friday.

It’s one of those topics I should have had a look at before given flash fiction writing has meant I have to concentrate on the impact of the words I use given I can’t use as many as a short story writer (1500+) or a novelist (80K or so).

I’m also looking forward to sharing a new series, What Books Mean to Me, where guest writers share their answers to three specific questions. I finish the series by answering them myself. I didn’t pick easy questions, honestly. One of them is a question all writers would want to “modify” but more on that when the series starts in October.


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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Glad to report I will have a short story called Three Wishes up on Cafelit on Monday. Will share the link then. Yes, I’ve been flirting with the longer form of fiction but have also written new flash work this week. So a very good week then!

But I will always have a very soft spot for the flash fiction with fantasy at its heart. This is a relatively new one of mine which I hope will make it into a future collection.

And it solves a mystery too.. what DID happen to Humpty Dumpty?

‘It’s up to you, I really don’t mind,’ Joe said, swinging his legs idly against the brick wall.
‘Grrr… all I asked was what would you like to do today, as a considerate friend does and as I ask every bloody day, and you still come up with that rot. Are you incapable of giving me a straight answer? I get so bored trying to come up with different things for us at least to try. It is boring sitting on this wall all the time.’
‘Then stop asking me such a stupid question then,’ and with that Joe pushed Humpty Dumpty off the wall.
The mess on the pavement was impressive. Humpty had been a huge egg.
‘Not going to be bored any more, are you, Hump?’

Allison Symes – September 2019

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Do you ever use photos as writing prompts? I do occasionally (and usually use the ones in my writing diary) but there are some pictures I just know I couldn’t write about. Why?

Because I know I can’t have enough distance from the subject in the photos. Therefore I wouldn’t be able to write objectively. Without that objectivity, the story fails. I’ve got to be able to see the characters IN the picture as exactly that.

Landscapes are easier to do but if they are of places I know well or have special memories attached to them, then they’re out, again due to the lack of objectivity.

See what you can do with the ones below then. Pixabay as ever are the image suppliers here (except the ones of sunlight around a Scottish loch. I took that while on holiday earlier this year and was amazed at how the light worked on this one).

As I use first person a lot in my flash stories, I don’t use many names. When I do though, I look for something that will indicate age, class/background, their level of formality they’re likely to countenance etc. It saves on the word count too!

My parents named me thinking you couldn’t abbreviate Allison. Wrong! I never minded being called Ali (and still don’t). I deliberately gave my son a name where all the abbreviations of it we liked as much as the full name. Win-win there.

So what can you do your characters here? An Abigail is likely to be more formal than an Abby. What would you make of a George as opposed to a Georgie (and that can apply to male or female characters)?

Think of how you want your characters to come across to your reader. That should be the benchmark for you to decide on the appropriate names for your people.

Fairytales with Bite – Character Motivation

Character motivations can cover a wide spectrum. There are the “obvious” ones of love, revenge, seeking justice etc but motivations can be more subtle than that – for example the wish to prove someone wrong.

What matters is whatever the motivation is, it is the be all and end all to your character, even if it seems to everyone else they’re making a fuss about very little.

A motivated character will do whatever it takes to get what they want and the important thing is to ensure your people are driven enough.

It’s not enough for a character to just want to stay out of trouble. But if your character goes to extraordinary lengths to stay out of trouble then  a great deal of humour or tragedy can result from that.

What could be behind that? Maybe they’ve got a bet on with a friend to stay out of trouble for six days, say, and the friend has always been right in the past but this time our hero wants to prove them wrong and is determined to do so. They’re fed up with their friend being right all the time and finally want something to go their way.

There, the motivation is powerful enough and understandable. Your readers have to get behind your character to carry on reading their adventures after all. Naturally your character’s friend will know or be able to guess at their friend’s motivation here and will do all they can to scupper any chances of success. Voila! Instant clashes and tension as you work out how your hero does or does not prove the friend wrong.

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This World and Others – The Power of Language

My CFT post this week looks at The Power of Language.  I look at this from a variety of angles, including how flash fiction has affected how I use language.  But let’s turn to this topic from the viewpoint of our stories and created worlds.

Is your created world one where everyone speaks formally? Is it one where you have to know the right language to use to be able to get anywhere in life and only certain people have that knowledge?

Is the power of language suppressed in any way? For example, does your setting allow for free speech, good access to different literature etc. How are journalists and other writers treated? With respect or are they considered threats? (Sadly, they too often are for real of course).

Where magic comes into your stories, does it have a special language all of its own? Is it widely accessible to beings of all backgrounds or again do only certain people have the knowledge? How are they stopped from controlling everything?

Some story ideas there I think!

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Writing for Myself and Perfect Days

Image Credit:  Unless otherwise stated, all images are from Pixabay

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Had a lovely time with visiting family today. Lady is very tired – good walking and lots of cuddles from more people than normal and her favourite dinner. Life doesn’t get any better for her…! Very much her perfect day.

Do you ever think about what would be the perfect day for your characters? Okay, I know. In your story, you’re going to put them through hell, love doing so, and therefore have no interest in working out what their perfect day would be. All perfectly understandable BUT… (you knew there’d be one!)…

Working out what a character would love will reveal to you more of their personality and how they are likely to take things when their desires are thwarted. Ironically, that will help you work out just how far you can push them until they reach breaking point – and that is when you can drop them right in it.

Have fun!


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The weekend has had what I call perfect autumn weather – crisp, dry, reasonably warm. It’s my favourite kind of weather. Lady likes it too. Am not so keen on it getting darker earlier but hey hum, you can’t have everything.

I always think of Keats’s “mists and mellow fruitfulness” at this time of year. It is such a wonderful summing up of the season. I don’t use the weather much in my stories. I tend to imply it with the odd reference to what my character is wearing. (If it’s a big coat it’s either very cold out there or the character’s a softie. You’ll soon find out from the story which is the case!).

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The joy of word play is exemplified in shows like Radio 4’s Just A Minute, but it is something most writers relish too.

I love it, when writing a lighter flash fiction tale, if I can come up with a pun which fits the story and is better than the original idea I came up with. Sometimes this is for the title, sometimes it is for the end of the story or for a quirky piece of dialogue. Great fun whenever it happens though I must admit it doesn’t happen nearly often enough for my liking but that’s another story (and my problem!).

Flash fiction writing has taught me to pick words with greater care because, of course, I want to make the maximum impact on a reader for the lowest word count possible. Playing on the double meaning of words is not only fun but helps enormously with this aspect of writing.

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I started writing purely for myself to begin with. I wanted to see if I could write a short story. Then could I do so again. Then could I write a short story in a different genre etc etc. It was some time before I decided to see if I could get the stories published.

I don’t regret that. To a certain extent any apprenticeship was served in all of those stories that (rightly!) never saw the light of day. Learning to cope with rejections was another step on the way. Starting to get positive rejectiosn was another huge milestone.

The writing journey is made up of steps. Publication is the biggest step I think but the journey continues after that. The important thing is to make sure you’re enjoying the journey!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

When I outline a piece of flash fiction, I usually ask myself the following questions.

1. What mood would I like the story to be? (There are some competitions or themes where the mood is clearly dictated, but for open competitions, you get to decide this. I’ve always found it has paid me to think about this one way ahead of writing the story).

2. Who is my lead character and why have I selected them?

3. What is my lead character seeking? Do they succeed? How?

4. What gets in my lead character’s way and how do they overcome these things?

You can set your own questions for outlining purposes, of course, but anything that helps you to get to the nitty-gritty of what your story is about and who your character is will be of enormous benefit to you. I’ve found outlining like this has saved a lot of time (and stops me going off at unhelpful tangents).

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The one good thing about the nights drawing in is that should help me get more writing done. My main writing session is in the evening after we’ve taken Lady out for her evening walk and had dinner.

We will be coming back earlier due to falling light levels soon and Lady will have to wear her fairy light on her collar again. She’s not keen on it but she lights up the world like a little ray of sunshine (albeit a green coloured one most of the time) and it is the only way to see her in the dark!

What do your characters make of the dark? Do you have any that are scared of it and have to learn to overcome that fear? My characters tend to see it as more of a nuisance than anything else. (As does Lady!).


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I looked at favourite film adaptations of books in my last Goodreads blog. That doesn’t happen with flash fiction, given the form is far too short for that (though famously Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was based on Daphne du Maurier’s short story. I think the standard length short story is the shortest material that could be turned into a film.).

I have expanded flash fiction ideas into standard length short stories (1500 to 2000 words) where the idea is one I really love and is up to being extended. But I don’t do this often as I’m busily moving on to the next idea most of the time. And I do relish the challenge of coming up with different ideas and characters. It keeps me on my toes!

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Flash fiction is a great outlet for those moments which are not long enough to form a standard short story or novel, but which still have interest and good characterisation. I’ve read many an excellent character study in flash fiction and you can learn a lot about how to portray your own characters studying things like this. (It’s also fun!).

The phrase less is more could have been written for flash fiction fans. You don’t always want lots of details for your characters. You want your reader to find the heart of the character quickly and focus on that.

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Goodreads Author Blog – Books Into Films

My favourite adaptation has to be Peter Jackson’s take on J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings – the vision conjured up seemed to match what I had thought when I first read the trilogy.

It was wonderful “seeing” The Shire. The darkness of Mordor was vividly brought to life too.

I’ve also loved the adaptations of Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal, Hogfather, and The Colour of Magic.

I would love to see an adaptation of Men at Arms and Raising Steam.

I still don’t understand how you can get three films out of The Hobbit though!

Having said all of that, I am all for film adaptations of books as long as they stay faithful to the book. I don’t “get” changing endings, character roles etc. It makes it a different story to the one the author originally intended and I really can’t see the point of that.

What are your favourite adaptations and why?

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Rules That Need to Exist

Image Credit:  Unless otherwise stated, all images are from Pixabay

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Thinking further about my CFT post this week about Rules That Need to Exist made me consider which rules I absolutely follow when writing. The ones below are not in any order of importance but I think they are all necessary.

1. Keep my prose, punctuation, grammar etc simple. It helps clarity and pacing.

2. Always edit on paper, not on screen.

3. Read work out loud.

4. Accept the first draft is only that. Of course it won’t be perfect and that’s fine. That is what editing and polishing are for.

5. Be entertaining whether I’m writing blog posts, flash fiction, or short stories. I want my readers to engage with what I’m writing and a simplistic, entertaining style is a good way to do that. Incidentally never confuse simplistic with simple. It really isn’t the same thing. It’s easier NOT to write simplistically. I’ve forgotten who it was who apologised to a friend for sending a long letter because they hadn’t time to write a short one but whoever that was SHOULD have been an editor!

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I’m a fan of Pointless, the game show where the idea is to score as few points as possible while still coming up with correct answers.

Am I annoyed when I don’t get as many as I think I should on the literature/author rounds? Oh yes. Am I equally annoyed when nobody gets the Terry Pratchett or P.G. Wodehouse question right? Yes and yes.

I really enjoy the words rounds. You know the kind of thing – name a word ending with two or three particular letters. I find with these that the first ones I name are the obvious ones. It’s only when I make myself think that bit deeper I come up with some good low scoring words. (My dilemma then is working out whether something is hyphenated or not – great for a flash fiction story as it counts as one word but not for the Pointless words round when it counts as two! That really does scupper me.).

Having said that, the thinking deeper bit is relevant for all writers, regardless of what you write, because the same point is true. We DO think of the obvious ideas and links first and we need to clear those away before coming up with something much better. When I have brainstorming ideas, I just write down what comes to me, knowing the first few on the list I’m almost certainly not going to use. But that’s okay. It’s what I’m left with that gives me the most interesting material to work with.

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W = Writing is my idea of a brain workout.
R = Rigorous challenges range from the word count limits of flash fiction to ensuring your Great Novel is not TOO great in terms of size and fits in with the kind of size your publisher usually brings out. (Or the publisher you would LIKE to be your publisher!).
I = Integrity – you’ve got to be true to your characters. They need to be realistically drawn (no matter how fantastical a world they live in or whether they’re magical beings themselves). Readers have got to be able to identify with the characters and either love them or loathe them.
T = Tension. Is there enough in your story? Does the tension increase as you get closer to the end of the story or book?
I = Identifiable. Is your writing voice identifiable as you? Do you have a distinctive style?
N = Names (of characters). Are they memorable? Are any too close in sound to others in the same story? The answers should be yes and no respectively!
G = Genre. Can you say where your book or story would fit? Can you target your work to the right genre of competition or the right publisher for it?

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What do I look for when editing my flash fiction?

1. Wasted words. I’ve mentioned before mine are actually, very, and that, and these add little to a story which cannot be expressed in better ways. Out they go then! The odd that is useful sometimes but nowhere near as often as you think. I have had to learn to cut them out where they’re really not needed.

2. Phrasing which doesn’t trip off the tongue when reading it out loud. Out comes the red pen again then! If I trip over it, a reader will too.

3. A nice mixture of short sentences and longer ones. I want my stories to have a good rhythm to them but too much of one type of sentence length can and does disrupt that. (That was a necessary that – and so were those!😀😀😀).

4. Clarity. Is there anything which could be misunderstood or misconstrued in any way? Could something have a double meaning you really did not intend? All worth checking for, if only to save yourself some blushes when you re-read work later.

5. Looking at the story as a whole, does it fulfil the promise of its title? Does it grip me? Would I like to read more? (That’s usually a good sign as it shows the characters have come to life for you).

What kind of characters do I enjoy inventing for my flash stories the most? It can vary but they include:-

1. Characters who are full of themselves. I just love bringing them down to earth.

2. Characters who see things from a different perspective. I’ve written stories from a dragon’s viewpoint before now! Trust me their view on gold is somewhat different to that of a typical fairytale dwarf. I just know…

3. Characters who are prepared to bend/break the rules. For this kind of story, I love dropping them right in the mire and finding out whether their willingness to break rules helps them or lands them further in it. All good fun!

4. Fairies or other magical beings confronting sceptical humans. Someone is heading for a fall here…

5. Characters who are either secondary in fairytales or are the villain. Very much an alternative rendition! (And I make no apologies for the pun on the title of the first Bridge House Publishing anthology I was in called Alternative Renditions where my A Helping Hand took the viewpoint of Cinderella’s youngest stepsister!).

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F = Fast, frenetic (at times), and fun writing
L = Like being able to set my characters in any time/genre/setting I choose. I just worry about the word count.
A = Animated conversation in the stories? Not really. Not enough space but you can show so much though a character’s thoughts and attitudes coming out of those thoughts, you don’t really need this for this kind of of story anyway.
S = Simplifies your writing and helps increase your clarity. This is always good!
H = Historical flash fiction has been a recent development for me and I hope to write more of this. Using characters who may have witnessed events is a good way forward here.

Fairytales with Bite – Rules That Need to Exist

I discuss Rules That Need to Exist in my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week, but how can we apply this specifically to our fiction writing?

Rules for Writing

When it comes to writing rules, there are specific ones I always follow. These are:-

1. Keep my prose, punctuation, grammar etc simple. It helps clarity and pacing.
2. Always edit on paper, not on screen.
3. Read work out loud.
4. Accept the first draft is only that. Of course it won’t be perfect and that’s fine. That is what editing and polishing are for.
5. Be entertaining whether I’m writing blog posts, flash fiction, or short stories. I want my readers to engage with what I’m writing and a simplistic, entertaining style is a good way to do that.

Rules for Characters

1.  The character must be someone I can identify with, even if I loathe them and their attitudes. There has to be some spark of understanding why someone has turned out the way they have.

2.  The character must be memorable (whether it is for good reasons and they’re the hero, or for bad ones where they’re the villain). What they must never be is forgettable, else why have them in the story at all? If you’ve got a character you think you can cut out of your story, you almost certainly can because they’re not contributing anything and your tale will tighten up in terms of word count and pacing if there is no unnecessary baggage.

3.  The character must have at least one distinctive thing about them that can’t apply to anyone else or handle situations in ways that are unique to them.

What rules for writing or for characters do you use and why?

This World and Others –

Creating Something Out of Nothing

I was listening to UK based radio station Classic FM earlier this week when it was reported a well known composer still suffered nerves when coming up with a new composition. They were still made nervous by the blank page, despite their many years of successful composition. Ironically, this cheered me up somewhat. It’s the same for any creator and I know it’s true for me. That touch of nerves before you start writing is the worst bit. Once you get going, you’re absolutely okay.

I’ve learned over time to just get the words down any old how. Editing and polishing happen much later. Nobody writes a perfect draft. Shakespeare didn’t. Austen didn’t. Dickens didn’t. I’m certainly not going to but that’s fine! So how can you get over the nervous start bit or, at least, make it not so bad and easier to handle?

I’ve found having a range of ways to get started on stories or blog posts helpful. I also find having brainstorming sessions every so often useful to jot down ideas and when I am struggling, I can turn to these and find something to inspire me there. My range of ways to get started include:-

1.  Using a random word generator, pick three, and put them into a story. Using random words like this makes me think deeper and if there is no obvious link between the three words, even better. It makes me think again!

2.  Look back over my old blog posts and stories. Often there will a link there I didn’t follow up at the time but might prove useful now.

3.  Take a well known saying and use it as a theme or title (sometimes both) for a story or article.

4.  Use a spider diagram or flowchart to flesh out basic ideas. That will soon show if ideas in the back of my head do have some “legs” to them or not. Naturally I go with the ones that do! This is especially useful when used in conjunction with a random word generator.

5.  Look up writing competitions. Sometimes I’ll enter said competitions. Sometimes I’ll just write up a story to the theme and not submit it deliberately. I will go back to that story at a later date to polish it up further knowing it is not ready for a competition yet but I can still write to the theme. Who knows? The story might end up in an anthology later. Themes come up reasonably often so there will be other competitions the story the might fit.

However you get over the blank page nerves, happy writing and good luck!

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Plans, Flash Fiction and Guest Blog Posts

Image Credit:  As ever, the marvellous Pixabay, unless otherwise stated.

Facebook – General

Many thanks to #PatriciaMOsborne for inviting me on to her blog. I always relish an opportunity to talk about flash fiction and it was also great fun to take part in her 100-word challenge earlier this year.

Do check out the other 100-worders on here. There is a wonderful mixture of styles and moods. (My guest spot includes a link to the story I sent in for this earlier in the year).

I share how I became a flash fiction writer at all and some of the things I love most about the form.



One writing tip I DON’T follow, because I know it just wouldn’t work for me, is the one that recommends keeping a notebook by your bed. The thought here is you can jot down any ideas that occur to you as you drop off to sleep/wake up early with the Best Idea of All Time etc etc. (It always is meant to be the Best Idea of All Time).

There are several reasons why this tip isn’t for me:-

1. My reading pile is by my bed. There is no room for a notebook! Yes, it is a seriously impressive reading pile. (I LOVE being surrounded by books).

2. I read to unwind before sleeping and really don’t want to be writing at all at that point.

3. I often don’t dream at all. Once I’m asleep that’s it.

4. When I DO dream, the images are so confused and bizarre, there is no way a story idea is coming out of them. (And before you ask I never eat cheese late in the evening or partake of any other substances that might induce such daft dreams).

5. I have never, ever, woken up with the Best Idea of All Time running through my mind. I haven’t even had the Second Best Idea of All Time. Not sure whether to be sorry or relieved, to be honest. I appreciate my sleep, that’s all I’m saying!


I’m looking forward to sharing my CFT post later on in the week as I’m going to be sharing some Rules That Need to Exist!

Posts like this are fun to write. I don’t write many “opinion” pieces but I like to throw one in every so often. What I like to do with these is make them fun so no politicial arguing on these ones but hopefully they’ll generate some good comments back again.

I’m also pleased to say I shall be a guest on a fellow Swanwicker’s blog later this week (see earlier – and many thanks again to Patricia M Osborne) and look forward to sharing the link later. And later in the month I shall be popping up on another Swanwicker’s blog too.

So yes I’ve been doing a lot of blogging! There should be a term for that… what do you think? A brace of blogging?

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Looking forward to sharing a new series on CFT in October. More details nearer the time. I’m also editing a series for CFT on local history which, again, I’ll share details about nearer the time. So the red pen is being kept busy at the moment… plus I’m editing my novel. (These things ALWAYS take longer than you think they will).

The only aspect to editing I don’t like is when I know I’ve gone through a piece of work on screen and on paper and STILL miss an error, which I pick up later. The phrase “why the hell did I miss that” springs to mind. If anyone knows a surefire way to avoid that, they’ll probably end up wealthy, as I know I’m not alone on this one.


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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Loved taking part in the Tuesday guest spot on the blog page of #PatriciaMOsborne. Many thanks, Patricia, for hosting me.

I shared my love of flash fiction (briefly, honest!) and how I got into the form at all. Flash fiction was a happy accident for me. I could do with more happy accidents like that!

Now, is there anything about flash fiction I dislike? I think it is fair to follow up with that question.

Yes, there is one thing, and that can be other people’s reaction to it. I know, I know. How can anyone not be IN to flash fiction at all?

I think a lot of this is due to misunderstanding what the form is – flash fiction has to be a complete story in and of itself. It isn’t truncated prose.

Still, we can but spread the word – literally!


Many thanks to Penny Blackburn for taking this image of me at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School Open Prose Mic. Patricia and I both adore Swanwick and have made many friends there, including each other!

I was talking on my author page about a writing tip I deliberately don’t follow because I know it just wouldn’t work for me. So here I thought I’d share the ones I can’t live without.

1. Always edit on paper and not on screen. Your mind “fills in” missing words on screen. Really annoying that!

2. Read work out loud, particularly dialogue, to literally hear if it flows as well as you think it does. You may be surprised! If you trip over something, your readers will do too.

3. Write first, edit later. Never worry about a first draft being rubbish. Nobody writes a perfect first draft. You’re not going to change the universe there. Neither am I.

4. When entering competitions, take AT LEAST a week off the official deadline to give yourself a little extra time to make sure you have followed the rules to the letter, formatting is as they want it, there are no last minute typos etc to trip you up. I always aim to submit a story with several days to spare before the deadline.

5. Outlining your thoughts for your main character and the story they’re going to be in can save so much time (and you going off at unhelpful tangents). How much of an outline you want to do is up to you but I find them to be like a road map and they do help keep me on track.

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I like to start my flash fiction stories by “hitting the ground running”. Often this means I take you straight into the head of my character so you see their attitudes and thoughts (and from that try and work out just how far in the mire they’re going to drop themselves!).

Sometimes I set a scene with a time. (My Pressing the Flesh starts with “It was 3 am. The neighbours were sleeping”. Well, yes they would be, but it is important for my character here to have been certain they WERE sleeping! And that tells you at once said character is unlikely to be doing something wholesome! The title is a clue here too).

The key to my opening line is to try to intrigue. With any fiction, you have to hook a reader in quickly. With flash fiction, I say you’ve got to do so immediately.

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Goodreads Author Blog – Choosing What to Read Next

How do you choose what to read next?

If I’m reading a series, fine – problem solved. I carry on until I finish said series. But what about when I reach that point?

I often don’t feel like reading another series immediately, This is where stand-alone books come into their own, of course.

I’ve mentioned before a lot hinges on my mood when reading. If I’ve just finished reading a dark novel, I’ll inevitably got for something lighter just to balance things up a bit.

If I’ve been reading lots of novels, I’ll switch to short story and flash fiction collections for while.

If I’ve been reading books, I’ll switch to magazine reading for a time too.

The good thing with all of this?

I’m never going to run out of good things to read – and neither are you!

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Is It A Good Idea to Have Favourites?

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My CFT post this week – Is It a Good Idea to Have Favourites? – was an interesting one to write as I looked at both sides of the argument here.  I also look at favourites from a writing/reading viewpoint. I think I may have found my favourite “eyes” image from Pixabay here too!

Prior to writing this, I’d considered favourites as just something you have, whether it is for food, books or what have you, but, of course, the big danger with having favourites at all is that can make you unwilling to accept or try anything new.

From a writing viewpoint, that is definitely not a good thing. I wouldn’t be a flash fiction writer had I taken that view.

Anyway, see what you think and, as ever, comments are welcome over on the CFT page.

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

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What has writing done for me? This is by no means a comprehensive list though I admit I could probably bore for Britain on the topic!

1. Given me an all engrossing creative art. I’m not an arty person (though I appreciate photography, wonderful landscapes, beautiful sculptures and, of course, music) so to have something I know I can do and be creative in is, for me, fantastic. It confirms my belief there is an art for everyone. It’s a question of finding which is the one (or more) for you.

2. Increased my circle of friends no end and long may that continue! (It’s one of the best things about social media too – you can maintain those friendships, albeit at a distance).

3. The lovely thing with writing is when you go to conferences etc., you have an instant topic of conversation. You don’t have to explain why you write. People get it. Of course any snippets of information (e.g. competition news, scams to avoid, publishers to approach etc) are also incredibly useful.

4. Writing has stretched my imagination and given me confidence to try new forms of writing, such as flash fiction!

5. Helped me develop a tougher skin as I learned to cope with rejections. To be honest, they’re still annoying now when they come in (though these days it’s more often a case of realising you’ve not heard from someone for months), but learning to accept they are all part and parcel of the writing life takes time. It helps though. When you get to that point, it is easier to take them on the chin. It also helps to know you’re not alone.

6. Expanded my reading, both for research purposes, and entertainment. One of the joys I cherish is having a book shelf with my book and anthologies I’ve had work in and along side those are books written by people who are now my friends. Can’t put a price on that. Cheers me no end every time I walk past the shelf in question!

7. Well, I wouldn’t be a published author and blogger without writing, would I?!

Does it pay sometimes to look at what writing actually does for you? I think so. I like to use this sort of thing to spur me on. We all need that sometimes.

Happy writing!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Are there any topics in flash fiction (or my general writing come to that) which I deliberately don’t tackle? Oh yes.

1. Politics. What I DO write here is set up a mythical world and show some of the politics in that, where it is appropriate to the story to do so. This is particularly true for my longer short stories. Naturally some of those thoughts will have echoes with what we experience here.

2. Romantic love. Just not my topic, I’m afraid. Where it forms part of an overall story, I’m happy reading it, but for it to be the whole story isn’t for me. The story of Arwen and Aragorn as part of The Lord of the Rings works well for me and I like it a lot but it is the overall story with Frodo and the Fellowship that matters most.

Having said that, there is so much scope with flash fiction to cover a wide range of topics through the characters so do I feel the lack of not writing about these two? Absolutely not!

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Getting the mixtures of stories in a flash fiction collection, especially in terms of mood, isn’t always easy. If you’re working to a theme, that helps a lot. It can help keep you focused.

With FLTDBA I wasn’t working to a theme, as such. I graded my stories in terms of mood and then worked out where I thought they would best appear.

I didn’t want to end the book on a dark piece or start it with one so that indicated to me the title had to show some kind of “scale”. (Though one person’s dark story is someone else’s light horror so you can’t grade things to completely satisfy everyone. What matters is you and your publisher are happy with it when all is said and done!).

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When outlining a new story, I work out who the main character will be and what their major traits are and then what I think the mood of the tale will be. I love writing humorous stories but I also like darker tales, so it is a question for me of deciding what mood would suit my lead character best.

Sometimes it’s obvious. A dark character fits into a dark tale and so on, but sometimes a character will prove to have a sense of humour which I can use to lighten the darkness.

I know when I read stories with characters like this in them, I am more engrossed. There’s a kind of “well, they can be funny, are they really that evil” and you have to read on to find out. (Oh and generally yes they are and often use the humour to manipulate other characters but that’s another matter! What’s important is I have kept reading. The challenge to me as a writer is to produce characters that fascinate and keep a reader engrossed like that).

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Fairytales with Bite – Characters with Bite

My favourite types of character are those with bite (and I’m not a vampire fan either!). So what does with bite mean here? I adore characters who:-

1.  Say what they mean and follow up on what they say they will do (equally applies to villains!).

2.  Are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in (and can apply to villains too!).

3.  Have good, understandable reasons for their actions, even if you don’t agree with them.

4.  Are memorable. Some will have distinctive phrases but for me the most memorable ones are the ones with attitudes I remember and agree with or loathe. Whatever way it is, they stick in the mind, which is precisely what you want your characters to achieve.

5.  I love characters with a sense of humour (and even more so if they can laugh at themselves).

6.  I adore characters with courage. (Frodo Baggins, Sam Gamgee and a host of others).

7.  I love characters who fight for their own happy ever after, even if they fail. I loathe wishy-washy characters. I’ve got to feel the character has done something and that the story would be incomplete without them. If I feel why is this character in here then there’s something amiss.

What would you list as the attributes your characters must have?

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This World and Others –

Is It A Good Idea to Have Favourites?

Linking in with my CFT post this week, I thought I’d look at this topic from the viewpoint of our characters and how we create them. So do you have favourite characters of your own making and, if so, should you?

I must admit I can’t see how any writer can avoid having favourites amongst their characters. There are bound to be creations we prefer over others, simply for things such as we like Character A’s sense of irony, which Character B, noble as they are, simply doesn’t have. What DOES matter is that we are scrupulous about how we create our characters.

By this I mean when planning out characters, we should ensure each and every one of them has flaws and virtues. Each and every one of them must have good reasons for acting the way they are. Each and every one of them should feel real to a reader. No cardboard cut-outs here!

You, as the writer, have got to know what makes them all tick. You need to know what drives them, what would frustrate them, what would tempt them away from the path they’re supposed to be on, and how they handle weakness in themselves, yet alone in others.

A good sign of a “proper” favourite character is knowing you’ve created a character that for many reasons you dislike (e.g. you disagree with their attitudes) but have brought them to life in such a way your reader will be intrigued by them and there will be no sign of your antipathy towards them either. Good luck!

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My Writing Journey

Image Credit:  If not otherwise stated, the images are from the marvellous Pixabay!

Facebook – General

I can’t say a particular story made me decide to write creatively. My journey into writing was a long one. I had always loved composition as it was known at school but I didn’t start writing seriously until I was 30.

It was one of those moments, having always loved books, that made me feel if I am going to have a go at storytelling myself, I had better get on with it then. So I did!

My only regret is not starting sooner as it takes far longer than you can anticipate to find your voice, develop confidence in submitting work, learning how to deal with the inevitable rejections etc. Then there’s the time needed for further development as you work out how to improve your work and so on (usually by trial and error and feedback), until that magical day when the first acceptance arrives. Well worth it though!


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One of the joys of writing my Chandler’s Ford Today posts is sourcing the pictures (take a bow, Pixabay).

But the funny thing is themes that seem to be open can often prove to be the most difficult to find suitable images for. I have no idea why that is but it is happening again this week with my topic of favourites. Yes, I know. You’d think I’d find loads for that.

The great thing is I have learned to think laterally in looking for suitable pictures so know I will find images that can fit the post. And I suppose it is a good thing to make yourself think laterally too. (It can be annoying at times though!).


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Where do you find the most fun is in writing a story? For me, it’s when I go into a character’s head and show a reader their thoughts and attitudes.

Why? Because If I show you a character who’s irritated, you will conjure up your own mental image of what such an irritated person could look like. I don’t need to spell that out and it saves a lot on the word count, which for flash fiction is crucial.

It also means I get into what makes that character tick so much more quickly and I really love that. I then know what I can do with them, what triggers will really wind them up and that’s when the creative sparks really fly.

Also, it’s at that point when I know what the character’s major trait is (often shown through their thoughts and attitudes), I know whether I’m going to love this character or love to loathe them.

Either reaction is fine as long it is the reaction I want to generate from that character. A character that makes you react is one you want to read about, even if it is just to find out if they get their comeuppance or not. (Confession time: I have been known to cheer to myself when a character who deserves that comeuppance gets it! I had a hard time NOT cheering out loud when Molly Weasley “deals with” Bellatrix in the Harry Potter story. Doing so with the book was fine but I didn’t want to embarrass myself in the cinema!😃😃).

I would far rather read (and write) about a character who I dislike but has purpose and I can kind of understand why they are the way they are than read or write about a character who does nothing for me whatsoever. I have got to react to the characters in some way. It doesn’t always have to be positive.

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The writing journey is not without its ups and downs, but (a) this is true for everyone, and (b) if you can get something out of the downs, great.

In my case, many years ago, I was almost caught out by a vanity publisher. What good came out of that?

Well, firstly I wasn’t caught out! Secondly I joined the Society of Authors as a result of the very helpful advice they gave me when I wasn’t a member. To begin with I joined as an Associate but became a Full Member later once I had enough short stories published.

If you’re ever in doubt about an agent or a publisher, don’t hesitate to check them out.

If you are going to spend money on self publishing, get all the advice you can first, and ensure your money is genuinely spent on self publishing! That does NOT include selling you your own books (which is effectively what vanity publishers do).

There are reputable service companies for self publishers out there. Never be afraid to ask pertinent questions. The decent ones won’t mind answering them (and will be expecting them). If you’re not sure what to ask, go to the Society of Authors or Alliance of Independent Authors for advice on what to look for and what to avoid.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

When I started writing, I was unaware of flash fiction as a form. Am very glad I discovered it though! Mind, I don’t think I would’ve tried the form even if I had been aware of its existence then. Why?

Partly because I really didn’t know what I wanted to write. I wrote a novel. I wrote short stories. I have written the odd script or two as well. All great fun. The short stories were published eventually after many a rewrite and edit! The novel I’m working on again now and I hope to do something with the scripts at some point.

The important thing is to enjoy your writing journey wherever it takes you and not to worry about experimenting with different forms of storytelling. You will find the one(s) that really suit you and which you love writing. The fun bit is finding all of this out!


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Most helpful tips I’ve used for flash fiction writing (and still do) include:-

1. Don’t have too many characters. One to two is best (especially for the 500 words or under type of story).

2. If a word adds impact, leave it in. Word count is important, obviously, but it is not the only thing that matters.

3. If a word does nothing for the story, take it out.

4. Be aware of what your wasted words are and cut them out on your first edit. You may not be able to stop yourself writing them (I can’t with mine) but they don’t have to go anywhere further than the first draft.

5. Always get your story down first and then edit.

6. Outline your character in as much detail or otherwise as you want before writing the story. You need to know enough about them to be able to write “their” tale convincingly. Only you can decide what is “enough”. For me, I have to know the major characteristic. Is the character brave, a wimp, humorous, as miserable as sin etc?

7. For open themed competitions, I’ve found it useful to set my own theme in advance and work to that. I find it helpful to set my own parameters here. It stops me going off at tangents that do nothing for the story or which could stop the story altogether.

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Do I always know in advance what will work best as an opening or closing line for a flash fiction story? The really good lines can be used for either and I have sometimes deliberately written two very different stories, using the same line like this.

I outline my character and often as I do that it will become apparent where the line is likely to work best.

Take, for example, the line is something like:-

She was a clumsy clot.

I would almost certainly put that at the start of a story and then shows what happens to my unfortunate character. It is, if you like, the obvious way to write that particular line into a story. I would also think of it as a negative way to finish a tale. (It sums up the character but there’s no space left to show any redeeming features, which is why I would consider this a negative ending). Sometimes you want that, of course.

But my gut feel here would be to write a humorous tale that ends on a positive note, such as something useful coming out of my character’s mishaps which helps another character.

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Writing exercise time… how about some lines to work on? But unlike the ones you might have been set at school, these should be fun, honest!

It’s up to you whether you use them as opening or closing lines. You could see if you can manage both. Good luck and have fun with these.

1. He would be extinguished if he didn’t get out before the candle burned out.

2. There were rats everywhere.

3. The temptation to go through the portal was just too much.

4. Less is more, she fumed, well I’ll show them.

5. The glittering gold couldn’t tempt him away from the mission but there was something that would.

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Goodreads Author Programme Blog The TBR Pile

How large is your To Be Read pile?

Mine hasn’t quite got to the point where I need scaffolding to keep the TBR pile upright but give me time…

I also have a considerable reading list waiting for me on my Kindle too.

The positives with this are:-

(a) I’m never going to be short of things to read;
(b) I have different things to read to suit my moods;
(c) It doesn’t matter if I want to catch up with reading at home or away – the Kindle takes care of the latter nicely enough.

The negatives with this are:-

(a) Being only too aware of the finiteness of time! There will never be enough time to read every book I want to!
(b) Having to get the scaffolding out in due course to prop up my TBR pile!
(c) It’s going to take me a while to update what I’ve read here on Goodreads!

I read most just before settling to sleep or, on a long train journey and I’ve finished what writing I want to do, I then switch to reading.

However large your TBR pile is, happy reading! Whittle it down gradually and then you’ll have room for more lovely books…!

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