All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated. Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing. Screenshots taken by me, Allison Symes.
In a horrifying news week, I think we need books and stories more than ever – they encourage empathy and the world could definitely do with more of that. Keep reading, keep writing. Stories matter. Truth matters. And stories share truths in a way that is often more palatable than “preaching”. My CFT post this week takes a look at that.
Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today
I’m pleased to share Human Behaviour in Fiction, my latest Chandler’s Ford Today post. As I mentioned yesterday (see below), I think this may be a timely post. All human behaviour is mirrored in fiction somewhere and fiction doesn’t flatter. Fairytales, for example, call evil out for what it is and rightly so too.
Mind you, fiction does have to reflect us, no matter how fantastical its setting. We read to find out what goes on in the setting, we root for characters to succeed or fail, and this is based on what we know about how we behave.
Fiction gives us ways of exploring through characters what could happen in this circumstance, that one etc., and may well make us reflect on whether we would be as brave as Character Z or as cowardly as Character P.
I’m talking about Human Behaviour In Fiction for Chandler’s Ford Today this week. I look at how fictional characters reflect us and why the big themes, which matter so much to our humanity, come up time and again (and across different genres too). Link up tomorrow (see above).
Just sometimes a post is timely. This one might be I suspect. Not planned either – you can’t always avoid these things as a writer. There is a good case why you shouldn’t – writers need to be honest whether they’re writing fiction or not – and sometimes a theme you pick will resonate with what is going on in the news. There is little you can do about that but you hope the resonance makes people think. What you do need to do is be honest and sensitive.
And my post reflects on the fact characters have to be “true” to what we recognise in ourselves, which is why we root for the “good” characters to come through and be successful and why we want to see the villain fail.
Factors that can affect your writing include tiredness, low mood, and anxiety. Ironically, settling down and doing some writing, even if it isn’t much, helps lift my mood, takes me out of myself for a while, and I head off to bed happily having created something I will polish up and submit later on.
This is where writing flash is a great help because just writing 100 words means I have got a story I can knock into proper shape later. Incidentally I do focus on just writing in these situations. It’s the creative aspect I find most helpful here.
The creative aspect to editing is more challenging so when I just need to be kind to myself for a bit, I just focus on drafting something. And knowing now, in the way I didn’t when I first started writing seriously, it is absolutely okay to come back to something later, it is absolutely fine to accept nothing is going to be perfect on the first go anyway, helps enormously.
Just get something written. Be creative. Have fun being creative. Get yourself ready for the editing stage by being kind to yourself here. It pays off for later on too.
Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again
When I look at a draft of one of my flash pieces, what am I looking to improve?
The first thing I ask myself is whether the story makes the impact I aimed for it to have and is there anything that might weaken that impact?
The second thing I look at is whether the character(s) draw me in or not. Do I absolutely have to find out what happens to them? The answer to that one should be yes, of course.
The third thing I look at is whether I have chosen exactly the right words and phrases to convey maximum impact. I often find I can change the odd word here and there to strengthen things so I do!
Then and only then do I sort out typos etc which inevitably creep in and are the bane of every writer. (I’m a fairly fast typist so I know to expect the odd typo creeping in thanks to that alone!).
I’ve talked before about flash having more impact because of its very short nature (and for once I can justify the use of the word “very” there, it is one of my bugbear words to be cut out usually!). But that doesn’t mean the impact has to be blunt. It can be sensitive and thoughtful and this works well for character studies. My They Don’t Understand in From Light to Dark and Back Again is an example of this. Without giving anything anyway, this tale leaves you with sympathy for my lead character.
I will think ahead as to what kind of impact I want my story to have. That in turn points me to the mood of the story and the kind of character who would best suit that mood. For me, it is another way into writing a flash piece. And I like having more than one way in though the route I choose does then lay out how I approach the writing of the story.
I was talking over on my author page about how certain factors can affect your writing. But you can bring those factors in to play for your characters too. How does your character act and react when they’re tired or anxious? What decisions do they make in this state they wouldn’t usually have done? What are the consequences from that? And when your character understandably decides to take time out to be kind to themselves how do they do this? How does it impact on characters around them?
Fairytales with Bite – The Stuff of Nightmares
What would count as the stuff of nightmares in your fictional magical world? Much would depend on whether your setting is a generally peaceful one or a war-like type. Also what one character would count as a nightmare someone else would dismiss.
So think about what your characters would consider as nightmares and then make them face it. Would your character sink or swim? Would they overcome the nightmare and never be bothered by it again? (I would consider that the best, the happiest and most logical ending to a story of this kind).
You can also use the nightmares you think your characters would have outside of the story itself. It would be a good way for you to find out what your character is truly made of before you write their story up. Do they use their nightmare to drive them to achieve a great deal or does it hold them back? Does their nightmare affect certain aspects of their personality (and therefore what decisions they are likely to make)?
When it is a question of facing a nightmarish situation, what traits do your characters possess to help them deal with this? It is crucial they don’t just cave in (where’s the story there?) but it does make sense to have them struggle and then come through at the end. Most of us would sympathise with that – don’t we all want to overcome our own nightmares in some way?
This World and Others – Peacemaking
Who are the peacemakers in your fictional world? Why have they been chosen for this role or do they find it thrust upon them? Why is the peacemaking necessary and how are the “hawks” overcome? (There are always plenty of those about).
I must admit I do despair at peacemaking sometimes being seen as “weak”. It isn’t. It takes great strength of character to get on with that demanding and often unappreciated work. So it would be realistic to have your characters feel that despair and then find ways to overcome it (and this is where loyal support from friends etc can make a huge difference too).
A positive story would show the rewards of peacemaking too. I like to see vested interests overcome when these are not good ones though you can create a conflict for your peacemakers to overcome here as different people will define what is good here differently.
As with our own world, there are times when a situation is black and white and it is a clear case of wanting the good guys to win through. Mostly though things are often shades of grey (I leave you to decide how many shades of grey there are!) . How do your peacemakers reconcile this to get the best possible outcome for as many as possible? That logically should be the objective here.
When writing a story like this, the need for peacemaking should be clear cut. Why the conflict arose should also be understandable. As in life, people don’t like things that seem to happen for no good reason. We can’t always avoid that in life. We should avoid it in our fiction.
Human Behaviour In Fiction https://t.co/EDPNhAD3TM I look at how human behaviour is reflected in fiction, discuss why that must be so, and why fiction can make us see ourselves in a clearer light. We won't always like what we see – fiction doesn't flatter – we need that honesty. pic.twitter.com/m7uN1M8cIC— Allison Symes (@AllisonSymes1) March 4, 2022