Brainstorming and Rainbows

Image Credit:  All images are from Pixabay or Pexels unless stated.

Facebook – General

I’ve mentioned before that every so often I brainstorm ideas but I do this for non-fiction, as well as for flash fiction and short stories. I jot down thoughts for future Chandler’s Ford Today articles, note ideas for future blog posts for different places including for the Association of Christian Writers, and material for use on my website.

This is a great use of odd five minutes of time which build up every now and then and means I’ve always got ideas to work on. It is usually these ideas I work on further when I’m travelling by train anywhere, though that’s not going to be happening for a while!

The point though is if you’re not sure what to work on, jot down possible ideas. Even if you don’t work on them immediately, it means you’ve got a store of ideas to turn to later on and that is a good thing.

 

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Thought the Queen’s speech tonight was spot on (Sunday, 5th April 2020). Hope it encourages people. I know it did me. Encouragement is needed (and too often undervalued).

Now on to writing matters. Encouragement can come into our stories too. I think the best example is Sam Gamgee’s role in The Lord of the Rings. He literally carries Frodo at times. So how can we show encouragement in our stories? Well, pretty much the same way we show encouragement to each other.

I know a kindly and timely word does me the world of good especially in stressful times. Getting a character to do the same for your “lead” should have an inspirational effect. I also think it important to show our leads under stress, needing help from others, as that adds realism to our characterisation too.

Realistic characters have the ring of truth to them and that makes the world of difference to readers sympathising with your “people” and “buying into” your story.

 

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I am sorry to hear Boris Johnson is so ill and hope and pray he recovers soon. Regardless of political or any other kind of belief, I wouldn’t wish coronavirus on anyone. (Nor should anyone else).

On a more positive note, and the reason I’m late on here tonight, was I was discovering the joys of video calling with friends from the Association of Christian Writers. I’ve “gone” to the odd webinar, had video calls one-to-one on things like What’s App with my sister etc., and am now “doing” Slimming World online via Zoom, but tonight was one of the single biggest online chats I’ve taken part in.

It was good fun and lovely to see everyone, albeit at a distance. We did look like we were contestants on the old quiz show, Celebrity Squares though. For anyone not growing up in the 1970s, it was a quiz show based on the old game of noughts and crosses and celebrities were in boxes of 3 x 3, which is why tonight’s video call reminded me of that.

On Sunday, we’ll be having a virtual Easter Day service with communion (we’ll be bringing our own bread and wine!).

So all very different but the need to stay in touch with our friends and family does not change. Nor should it.

And what can writers contribute?

Stories and articles to entertain – don’t underestimate the importance of entertainment. It can be a coping mechanism.

Stories and articles to cheer – and I think we could all do with that.

Stories and articles to inform.

Stories and articles to encourage other writers in their craft and readers. We don’t know what difficult journeys they might have but if a story or work of ours lifts spirits for a while, that’s good.

And other than walking the dog, I shall be only too glad to be at home tomorrow.

Take care everyone.❤️❤️❤️❤️

black and white laptop

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Pexels.com

 

I’ve had to change how I exercise Lady at the moment (though overall she is doing pretty well). It has been lovely spotting the rainbow pictures, whether they’re chalked on the ground, or on paper in people’s windows. Thanks all. They are cheery.

Question for you: What do you get if you have an upside down rainbow?

Answer: A multi-coloured smile! See below.

So whichever way up the rainbow is, it is always a good thing!

Whatever you are reading or writing, whatever creative work is your “thing”, I hope it makes you, and others smile. We could all do with that.

Facebook – General – and Publication News

Bonus post from me tonight.

Delighted to say I have a new story on Cafelit – Getting the Job Done.

Hope you enjoy.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

So what should a flash fiction piece aim to do? It should illuminate something of a character. It should produce a good response in a reader (whether to make them laugh or cry etc).

There should be a sense of there being nothing else to say and that the story works perfectly as it is – a mini form of fiction. It should never feel as if it has been artificially cropped to fit a word count requirement!

If a short story is a moment in time, then a flash piece could be described as a half moment, a blink if you like, but you can still take quite a bit in during that blink!

 

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How can flash fiction reflect deeper emotions and attitudes such as encouragement? You need another character to do that for the lead, surely, and that increases the word count?

Yes, of course, but this is where the beauty of flash comes in. It has a range of word counts up to the maximum of 1000 to play with. So if your story needs to be 750 words, with your lead person needing support and encouragement along the way, then so be it. Don’t lose vital characterisation for the sake of the word count.

Ask yourself always what is is the reader needs to know.

Ask yourself always what the character has to do and how they can achieve it.

Ask yourself always when the character needs help, how does that happen? Who assists them?

It is generally true in flash fiction you can’t have too many characters. But you can certainly have a couple of them. I also get some of my characters to refer to others who are “off stage” as this shows my character has a life outside of the world of the story I’ve put them in.

Also a character can recall words of encouragement so there are ways to get this kind of deeper characterisation into flash fiction and not exceed the maximum word count.

In darker times, do you prefer to read longer works or shorter ones?

I know regardless of what I read, I want the tone to be uplifting in some way. And flash fiction has a role to play here. Given its brevity, it is a perfect vehicle for the short funny story to cheer people up. I often finish a story with a punchline. Flash lends itself well to that.

For longer works, for me it is always Wodehouse or Pratchett that I tend to turn to first.

But take pleasure in your reading and writing. That’s always a good thing to do anyway but particularly now I think.

For a story to work properly as a story, there has to be a pivotal moment of change. In flash fiction, there isn’t much time to set that up of course. This is why I generally start with that moment and the story then shows the consequences.

(And even when I don’t, my opening is written in such a way as to signal to the reader the moment of change is coming soon and you have got to find out what is going to happen, haven’t you? You make the premise so promising, “no” is ruled out as an answer to that immediately!).

For short fiction, the pivotal moment has to be as close to the start as possible (otherwise why would a reader be interested?), so this, for me, is another side benefit to flash fiction. It means I know I have to hit the ground running! That’s no bad thing.

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Goodreads Author Blog –

Titles – What Is It About Them That You Like The Most?

What is it about a book title that encourages you to look inside the book itself?

I like titles (of stories, books or what have you) to give me some idea of the mood of the story and, where possible, its genre too.

My next flash fiction book will be called Tripping the Flash Fantastic which I think manages to do both. From Light to Dark and Back Again, my first flash collection, was specifically chosen to reflect the mood of the stories and the range of moods for the collection as a whole.

I like titles that sum up the book’s contents well. You can’t misunderstand The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection can you?! (Fabulous book too. Conan Doyle was a genius and I’m sure we owe the concept of the flawed detective to him. Certainly he can take the credit for popularising it at least. Holmes’ drug addiction would still be controversial now. As an aside, I wonder if that is why Conan Doyle chose that, believing drug use would never be uncontroversial. Just a thought).

For my flash fiction stories, especially for those competitions and markets where the title is included in the word count, I like to keep titles short. I’m also fond of alliteration every now and again. Well, let’s face it Pride and Prejudice is a much more memorable title than Jane Austen’s first idea, First Impressions. (To be fair that would’ve worked. It’s not a bad title. It is a question, I think, of working out what is better for your work and she certainly did that).

Some of my favourite book titles include:-

The Lord of The Rings. Doesn’t that make you want to find out who the Lord is and why the Rings matter?

Interesting Times (Pratchett). Again, doesn’t that make you want to discover what the interesting times are and who they are happening to?

Murder on the Orient Express. My favourite Christie novel for many reasons but the title is an instant attention grabber.

It is the book title that makes me want to read the book’s blurb and, from there, the opening paragraph or two.

Yes, a good cover will catch my eye and it is important but if the title intrigues me, then even if the cover isn’t as good as it could be, I’ll try the book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanings

Image Credit:  Unless otherwise stated, the images come from the marvellous Pixabay

Facebook – and Chandler’s Ford Today

For this week’s CFT post, I look at Meanings, how comedy writing depends on there being multiple meanings to get the laughs (particularly true for puns), and discuss how certain radio shows can help you as a writer learn about the use of language. Hope you enjoy.

Feature Image - Meanings

My inspiration for my Chandler’s Ford Today post on Meanings this week comes from going to see My Husband’s Nuts, the latest production from the Chameleon Theatre Group. (Review next week).

I guessed that there would be at least some reference to the various meanings of nuts within the play (you can fill in your own gags here!) and that led me to look at how much comedy writing depends on multiple meanings etc.

Ideas can be funny things at times. All it needs is that initial spark to create a starting point and you go from there. You just need to be open to recognising that initial spark for what it is AND to see that it really is just the beginning.

I’ve found reading and writing more makes it easier to recognise those initial sparks. And ideas do come from all over the place (and not always at convenient times either!) but you get used to that.

I have brainstorming sessions every so often and just write down all the ideas I come up with then. A lot I do go on to use either for story ideas or CFT blog posts and some I discard.

Closer examination, after a break away from that brainstorming session, leads me to critically decide which ideas have the “legs” and which don’t. But coming up with ideas I don’t take further later on is not a waste of time. Far from it. Sometimes I have to add another element into that initial idea and then it has the “legs”. What matters is there ARE ideas I can flesh up and write up. I think there is a certain element of having to think through ideas to get to the nuggets you can do something with.

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Posting early today as off to see The Chameleon Theatre Group’s latest production, My Husband’s Nuts, later tonight. I make no comment on the title except to say I’ll be reviewing the play and production next week for Chandler’s Ford Today. This week’s post will be all about Meanings. Read into that what you will! 😀😀

I’ll be meeting up with my lovely CFT editor, Janet Williams. Going to the plays has become something of a CFT tradition for both of us. I like to think of it as a kind of works outing! What I do know is this evening should be a lot of fun!

Have put in my order for the Best of Cafelit 8. Looking forward to that postal delivery. You never lose the thrill of being in a book!

Am working on a story for a competition and hope to get that submitted over the weekend. I really don’t miss the old days of having to get everything sent off in the post – email submissions are so much easier.

I’m looking at Meanings for this week’s CFT post. I look a little at how the use of certain English words has changed.

I also discuss how radio shows like Just A Minute and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, as well as being great fun, are excellent for writers to learn from. This is particularly true for JAM. (If you get the chance, do check out earlier series where grammatical deviation challenges are particularly useful for writers to learn from).

I look at how comedy writing is so dependent on getting the right meaning from the right words to get the laughs. Well, where would puns be without having more than one meaning?

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Pleased to say I’ll have another flash fiction tale up on Cafelit soon. Will share the link obviously. Very pleased with the look of The Best of Cafelit 8. Receiving parcels with books with your stories in is a great joy. It doesn’t dim!

How do I decide what is a great moment in a character’s life that deserves having a flash fiction tale revealing said moment?

Well firstly that moment has to grip ME. A writer is their own first reader and if you’re not gripped by the characters and situation you’ve put them in, nobody else will be.

Secondly that moment should reveal something interesting to a reader.

That can be anything from the character finally learns a much needed lesson (humour can work well here), the character changes their ways or deals with a conflict and resolves it.

I’m always interested in how characters resolve problems and why they’ve gone the route they have. I think most readers are fascinated by that. It’s why we read to the end if we are gripped by the tale. We have to find out what happens and that urge to find out has been with humanity for centuries. It’s not going anywhere any time soon!

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Posting early as off to see My Husband’s Nuts, the latest production by The Chameleon Theatre Group, later on. Oh the power of a title!!

I look at Meanings (including how comedy writing depends on words having multiple meanings to get the laughs at all) for this week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post. Link up tomorrow.

I sometimes know the title of a flash fiction story immediately because I’ve come up with something I really want to write something to and so off I go. At other times, the title emerges from the character and the story but at all times I have to have a draft title to get me started. I do need a “peg” like that but once I’ve got one, away I go!

But I’ve learned not to worry about changing the title if a better one comes to me. Only the Ten Commandments were set in stone, folks.

(Oh and have literally just had The Best of Cafelit 8 delivered – at 5 pm on Thursday 24th October. I like getting parcels like that! So naturally that needs a photo!).

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For someone who writes flash fiction, I can’t say I have that many flashes of inspiration! I don’t usually get an idea out of the blue. What I do hear is a character’s voice and I can detect from that something of what their major traits are likely to be.

Assuming I like the sound of this character (whether they’re hero or villain doesn’t matter – all I need is to see possibilities for them), I ask myself what situations would they hate having to deal with and why. I then dump them in those situations. It’s time for my character to sink or swim then! No shortage of conflict here either (especially internal conflict). And yes, I know, I’m all heart to my characters – NOT!

There’s no point in putting your super duper character in a situation you know they can handle. Where’s the story in that? Give them hell and then some. It will challenge you to work out how your character deals with it and that is where the story is!

Have fun dropping your characters right in it then!

Fairytales With Bite – What I Like in a Fairytale

  • Strong characters (even if they themselves don’t think they are but prove it later)
  • To see wrong being righted (with some help from a fairy godmother and a magic wand. Be prepared for pumpkins to be involved. Just go with it… it’s part of the fairy godmother’s stock in trade).
  • Humour. While the character of Buttons is not in Cinderella to the best of my knowledge, I can understand his addition to the traditional pantomime. If the main character can’t be humorous, for whatever reason, best to get a sidekick to do it then!
  • A good and appropriate ending, usually a happy one though there are exceptions (The Little Mermaid as told by Hans Christen Andersen is a classic example here).

 

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This World and Others – Deciding on a Setting

How do you decide what setting is best for your characters?

  • The setting has to meet the character’s needs. If a character is on a quest, where are they likely to meet those who will help them/supply them etc? Also where are they going to and why? What kind of obstacles must they overcome to achieve their objective?
  • The setting has to be appropriate to the characters. You wouldn’t get a mermaid to live in an inner city etc (well she wouldn’t last for long if you did!).
  • What kind of world do you want to create? Have you got a hankering for forests? Then create a world which has plenty of them and think about what kind of characters would live in woodlands? Which characters would hate that? Would there be conflict between the two types (I should think so but good stories always come out of conflict!)?

 

 

 

Brainstorming, Historical Links, and Publication News

Really exciting week publication wise – more later.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I love historical links and going to events like the Fryern Funtasia on Bank Holiday Monday for CFT makes for a nice link with the medieval fairs.

What our ancestors would make of inflatable slides, train rides etc, makes the mind boggle though I suspect the Hog Roast would go down very well!

Images Credit:  Unless otherwise named, all images were taken by Allison Symes (so you know who to blame).

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Facebook – General – and Publication News

Am thrilled to bits to share more publication news following the news my two stories, Dignity and Injustice and The Art Critic, will be included in the Best of Cafelit 8 due to be launched later this year.

My story The Professional is one of the winners of this year’s Waterloo Festival Writing Competition. Yay!

I was also in last year’s Waterloo Festival ebook To Be… To Become with my story, Progressing.

The full list of Waterloo Festival Winners is below.

Irene Lofthouse Cat and Mouse
Linda Flynn Climbing Rainbows
J S Brown Disarray
Jeanne Davies Everything has changed
Helen Price Havens
Amelia Brown Heat
Laure Van Rensburg Of Salt and the Raw Flesh of Fish
Beverly Byrne Old Masters
Paula R C Readman Over The Wall
Jessica Joy Russian Doll
Sinéad Kennedy Krebs Steam
Gail Aldwin Take Your Place
Yvonne Walus The Father Daughter Club
Allison Symes The Professional
Christopher Bowles The Side of Blue
Louise Rimmer The Undermen
Hannah Retallick The Word Has It
Madeleine McDonald They Lied to Me
Michael Baez Time Will Tell

Many congratulations to all of the other writers who are winners here.

What will be lovely this year will be getting to go to the Waterloo Festival. I missed it last year due to being in the stunning far North of Scotland on holiday.

Am already keenly anticipating going to the Festival AND having the great joy of meeting up with writer friends again, well ahead of when I’d usually see them for the Bridge House Publishing event in December. Win-win in every sense then.

And it is a really happy author who can report she has had a very good writing week!

Facebook – General

I’ll be sharing a look back at the Fryern Funtasia (held on Bank Holiday) Monday for my CFT post this week.

But meanwhile, my lovely editor, Janet Williams (who founded the site to bring people together), has prepared a very different summary of it including a great selfie pic of the two of us having a fab time. Pic taken by Janet, not me.

Naturally we got to have a good chat about writing, CFT etc over a cup of tea. An outdoor editorial meeting if you like!

If anyone tells you the writing life is glamorous…

If however they tell you it is a lot of fun, then DO believe that!

http://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/fryern-funtasia-6th-may-20…/

 

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, glasses, close-up and outdoor

Janet Williams, my lovely CFT editor, and I at the Fryern Funtasia.  Many thanks to Janet for kind permission to use the selfie which she took.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Have got a long car journey coming up so am I planning to draft flash fiction, blog posts etc while in transit? You bet! The time will fly by and I’ll get lots done, I hope! Naturally I am NOT driving…!

Also hope to catch up with Kindle reading and to write some reviews. All of that should take care of the motorway stint!

The lovely thing with writing is you are never short of things to while away “dead” time and drafting work is always profitable for later on, if only in terms of having more work to submit.

Thrilled to bits to be a winner in the Waterloo Festival again. My story The Professional will appear in an ebook compilation later in the year and I’ll be only too pleased to share further details when I have them!

The Professional is one of my longer flash fiction pieces as it comes in at just a tad under 1000 words but the thing to remember with flash is the word count has to fit the story and NOT the other way round. If a flash piece works better at 500 words than say 250, then go for the former, always. Your story and characters will be sharper and better for it. (I’d say it’d stand better chance of being published too).

When writing to a very small word count (100 words or under), then I’ve found it helpful to select the ONE moment that has to be written about in my character’s life and focus intently on that. There is no room for anything else. But the story still has to be complete in and of itself.

Get the story right in terms of what details you HAVE to include, edit to sharpen it (you will find better ways of phrasing things while keeping the same meaning), and then get it out there and see what happens. Good luck!

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How can I tell if a flash fiction story has worked, whether I’ve written it or not?

Simples to quote a certain advert. (Though if I ever see a meerkat reading or writing stories, I’ll double check what goes in my cups of tea!).

If it makes me react either in support of the character I’ve just read about/written for OR against them. Which way round it is depends on the nature of the story of course but that reaction must be there.

Sometimes the reaction can change as I read the story through. A character I thought to be a villain proves not to be etc but the reaction is there. The writer has successfully connected with me via their prose.

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Fairytales with Bite – Using Historical Links in Fiction

My latest CFT post is a review of the annual Fryern Funtasia, which is a great fun event for all ages.  What I particularly love about events like this is the ongoing links with the medieval fairs.  It was appropriate there was a Hog Roast and an archery practice range (for children) at the event which was held on Bank Holiday Monday, 6th May 2019.

Historical links can be great for inspiring story ideas.  These can range from timeslip novels to ghost stories involving historical characters (do check out the works of Jennifer C Wilson for some great examples here).

I use historical links in flash fiction as a quick way to show when a story is set.  For example, if I mentioned someone’s ruff was distinguished, you’d know from that one detail alone the tale was set in the Tudor court (Elizabeth’s).

You can also be inspired by the stories of historical characters.  Anne Boleyn inspired my Dignity and Injustice which is on Cafelit (and will be in their Best of Cafelit  8 due out later this year).

So think about how you can use history to shape your own fiction. And a character’s sense of history (their own, their country’s etc) will affect how they think and act and can add great drama to your story.

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This World and Others – Brainstorming

Following on from recent posts about writing exercises, another favourite way of generating story ideas for me is to have brainstorming sessions every so often.

I set myself a time limit and just write what comes into mind. It doesn’t matter if the ideas prove to be rubbish later on (most will be!) but out of all of that will come ideas I really can use.

I’ve found I need to give myself permission to just write freely and kick the inner editor out of the arena of my head for a while. It pays to put this writing aside and come back and look at it later with a cold, logical head. That’s where your inner editor is useful. But don’t try to free write and edit together, they really are separate processes.

If you’re not sure where to start on a brainstorming session, think of a character. Jot down anything about them – what they look like, what their habits are, what they think they are like, what others around them think they are like and so on. If it helps to use pictures to think of a character than do so. I tend not to do that. I think of a character who is awkward, for example, and look at reasons why they might be that way.

But whatever method works for you when it comes to starting a useful brainstorming session, stick with it. See what you come out with and have fun with this!

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The Uses of Weather in Fiction

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I’ve finally got around to talking online about the weather in my CFT post this week, though I go on to discuss its uses in fiction. I also share why I don’t tend to use weather in my stories and look at how it can be done realistically.

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Books I chose for the 7 covers in 7 days challenge on Twitter were:-

Men At Arms (Terry Pratchett)
Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkein)
Code of the Woosters (P.G. Wodehouse)
The Daughter of Time (Josephine Tey)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J.K.Rowling)
Murder on the Orient Express (Agatha Christie)

Good fun to do but a challenge, given there are so many other books I could’ve included. I chose these on the basis that if I could only smuggle 7 books away with me somewhere, these would be the first ones I’d go for.

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I’m going to be talking about the weather (and its uses in fiction) for my CFT post this week. I avoid using it in my stories, the post will explain why. Link up on Friday.

Lovely to see crocuses and snowdrops out. One great thing about walking the dog is you do get to see things like that which you might not otherwise notice. I’ve seen some spectacular wildlife sights too – sparrowhawks have been known to be in Chandler’s Ford – and buzzards often circle the park. You can always tell when they’re about – the sky goes quiet. Can’t see a little bird anywhere…

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Had a fantastic time visiting the family tonight but a nightmare journey getting over there. What should have taken a maximum of 30 minutes took 90!! Naturally on the way home, it did take under 30.

So this led me on to think about what would be a nightmare journey for your characters. Is it just down to transport problems or what they are facing on that journey? Why are they making that trip? Can they avoid it or change it so it is better? If not, why not? There has to be a good reason for the journey to be made otherwise the reader will think why on earth didn’t Character X just stay at home and avoid all the bother!

The ultimate journey in fiction for me is Frodo Baggins’s “trip” to Mordor in The Lord of the Rings but a journey much shorter than that can still be a nightmare. For example, does your character need to walk a mile to fetch something but they have to go through a neighbourhood known to be hostile to his family?

What does your character fear that would turn any journey into a nightmare? What do they do to overcome that?

Hope these thoughts can seed some story ideas! Good luck!

Many thanks, everyone, for the likes and comments on yesterday’s post about how I produce a flash fiction story.

I also have brainstorming sessions every now and again where I’ll outline a possible story idea or an idea for a character in a line or two. I put those notes aside for a while before revisiting them and deciding then if the ideas were as strong as I first thought they were!

Usually they are, sometimes not (and I discard those), but in the majority of cases, the idea is okay but needs strengthening. That is where I need to dig even deeper into what my character is capable of as that is where I’ll find the trigger for turning an idea into a story. A character that I discover is capable of doing anything for a laugh because they think it is the best way to make and have lots of friends is someone with at least one story to tell (and probably a poignant one).

What if is the classic question to ask both of your character and your idea to get the best out of both.

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My process for producing a flash fiction story goes like this.

1. Have idea for interesting character. (Flash fiction works best with one or two characters at most, though others can be referred to or implied).

2. Work out what to do with interesting character! As you can imagine, this is the REALLY fun bit!

3. Draft the story and check it makes sense.

4. Put it aside for a while and get on with my CFT posts, my novel, more flash fiction stories etc

.5. Come back to the story and read it with a fresh eye. Ask myself what impact it makes on me. Is it the impact I want it to have on a reader?

6. Edit the story based on 5 above but also check for the usual typos, grammatical errors etc. (I wish I could say there were never any but life’s not like that!).

7. Re-read it and if happy submit it to an appropriate market or competition.

I really enjoy reading and writing flash fiction stories which end with a punch. Sometimes that can be literal (!) and is most satisfying when the character has deserved it (and that will be the view your readers will take too). One huge advantage of fiction is wrongs can be righted in a way they’re so often not in real life. I believe that is one reason why fairytales are always popular!

I also love the witty one-liners that can close a story. It’s good to finish a story on an “uplift” where that is appropriate. Of course the set up for that finish happens much earlier in the story and it can be as simple as showing your character has the type of attitude which will make a witty one-line retort likely. (It usually is a retort!).

Above all, it is fun, which is what writing should be after all.

Goodreads Author Blog – Hooks Into Books

I seem to have a “thing” for rhyming titles at the moment. Sure it will be a passing fad…!

What attracts you to a book? Is it the title, the blurb, the cover, or a combination of the lot?

For me, the cover draws me in but the blurb is what clinches a sale for me, whether I’m reading on Kindle or a paperback. If I like the premise of the blurb, I will “look inside” a Kindle book or look at the opening page of a paperback. If it seems to deliver, I’ll go ahead and buy.

There is no such thing as a foolproof system but this works for me!

Of course, another great hook is reading a book by an author whose works you know you like. I love series novels and my favourite of these has to be Discworld. Each book original and entertaining but there’s enough familiarity with the world to make you feel right at home as you continue to enjoy the series.

Whatever you read, enjoy!

Fairytales with Bite – Signs Your Character Isn’t Strong Enough

This is by no means an exhaustive list but signs your character isn’t strong enough include the following.

1.  Forgetting their name!  It can happen. It’s bad enough when a reader does it but if the writer does so, then the character is in real trouble.  If they’re not memorable enough to you, they certainly won’t be to anyone else.

2.  Running out of things for them to do.  Yet the plot is strong, the other characters are ticking along very nicely with plenty of dialogue, action etc.  You need to ask yourself whether you really need this character in the story after all.  If you feel you do, look at why.  Could this character be combined with another in the tale to make one really strong creation that keeps the reader’s (and writer’s) interest?  You need to keep in anything and anyone that moves your story onwards.  You also need to ruthlessly cut what you really don’t need.

3.  Their dialogue isn’t distinctive enough.  Your reader should be able to tell who is speaking in a story by the style of the language used by the characters.  Character A talks in clipped tones, Character B tends to laugh a lot after talking, Character C has a lisp, Character D has a strong northern accent (as someone once said, everywhere  has a north!).  If you can’t tell your characters apart by how they speak, they’re not distinctive enough and again I would look at whether you really need them in the story.

This World and Others – The Weather and Its Uses in Fiction

This is my CFT post for this week and I discuss my views on weather being used in fiction, as well as showing some ways it can be done realistically.

Whether you use weather or not, the general point is that your fictional world must seem realistic to the reader, no matter how fantastical the setting.  That may well mean you do need to share some details as to what the climate is etc to help readers get a better understanding of your creation but only put in the details the reader has absolutely got to know and leave it at that.  Your reader will want to fill in some gaps for themselves.  Also, you don’t want them switching off because all that lovely research detail you put in and you found fascinating has done nothing whatsoever for them!

Ask yourself if the reader really needs to know this.  I’ve found the simple approach of “just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts” is a great way of working out what to put into a story.  I’ve also found it best to share those facts in as palatable a form as possible.  No great splurge of information but drip feeding it as and where necessary makes it easier to take in and therefore more entertaining and acceptable to your reader. And that is where the reader will keep on reading and hopefully loving your story!

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Joys and Challenges

Many thanks to the Hampshire Writers’ Society for making me so welcome on Tuesday night.  Also thanks to those who have liked or given other positive feedback via my Facebook pages on my talk.  Much appreciated.

thank you text on black and brown board

Thank you, HWS! Image via Pexels

HIGHS POST - An inspiring thought

Indeed! Pixabay image.

HAMPSHIRE WRITERS PICTURE OF ALLISON

Many thanks to the Hampshire Writers’ Society for their kind permission to use this photo.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My CFT post this week is part 1 (of 3) looking at the joys and challenges of writing series novels. My panel joining me for this are #JenniferCWilson, #ValPenny, #AnneWan, #WendyHJones and #RichardHardie. Between them they cover crime fiction, children’s fiction/YA, historical, ghost and timeslip! Some great insights here with more to come over the next couple of weeks.

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Many thanks to all who sent in likes, encouraging comments etc following Tuesday night’s talk at the Hampshire Writers’ Society. All very much appreciated.

I know that some would like the links for some of the competitions/markets I mentioned. I list only a few below. I hope you can see these as a useful starting point.

http://www.flash500.com/index_files/flashfiction.htm
You do have to pay to enter this one but the competitions are quarterly and on an open theme so if you miss one date, put a story in for the next one!

http://writersfestival.co.uk/competitions
This is for Winchester Writers’ Festival and lists all their competitions. Great to now see flash fiction listed here.

http://www.paragraphplanet.com/submission.php
Free to enter. Always looking for submissions. Want to get around to trying this one myself!

Cafelit – give website details and submission details
http://cafelit.co.uk/index.php/submission-guidelines-2
I started writing flash fiction thanks to their 100-word challenge but do visit the site for a wealth of stories and styles.

Writing Magazine
For their 750 words and 1000 word competitions but very much fits into flash fiction territory. Keep an eye on their website and, of course, the magazine itself.

Earlyworks Press details
http://www.earlyworkspress.co.uk/Competitions.htm

And don’t forget The Bridport Prize, the Bath Flash Fiction Award etc etc. Definitely worth scanning the net every so often to see what is out there.

Trust this helps – and just to finish, something I didn’t have time to share on Tuesday. Two one line stories which, in different ways, conjure up a whole world of fear! You tell me which is the most frightening…

1. The lion ran straight at you.
2. The dentist will see you now.

Well?

Many thanks to the Hampshire Writers’ Society for making me so welcome as guest speaker at last night’s event. Much appreciated.

I discussed what flash fiction is, what I love about it, why I think all writers should try it, and a few hints as to possible markets and competitions – in about 15 minutes! Mind you, isn’t it appropriate that a flash fiction writer keeps her speech short!!😁

The main speaker was Ian Thomas, games writer, (founder of Talespinners – stories for video games etc) and his talk was illuminating as to what is needed in this field of work. What was interesting was two skills needed in flash fiction writing – the ability to edit ruthlessly and the need to leave gaps for readers to use their imaginations and fill in – are both vital for games writing too.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

As part of my talk at HWS yesterday, I discussed what I love most about flash fiction. One aspect is that it is proof you can make a huge impact on your readers but don’t need thousands of words to do so. I’ve read many a thoughtful flash fiction piece which would have LOST impact had it been a longer work.

I find I am always thinking about what impact I want my stories to have on readers (or those I’m reading my work to, come to that!). So even as I am writing the story, I am trying to engage with a potential audience. I think it is a good mind set to be in. It helps make it easier for me to cut out the inevitable waffle that does creep in to any draft writing I do. I have a tendency to overwrite, which is okay. That can be cut after all. But I always DO have to cut and that is just one of those things.

It’s a good thing to look at what your writing weaknesses are (in my case, overwriting) and then work out strategies to deal with them. I accept I overwrite, I get the draft down and then I ruthlessly prune back. Problem solved. The great joy of the first draft is only I get to see it!

If you’re having a brainstorming session for story ideas, how about trying a random word generator?

Weave, say, the first three words you come up with into a story. Having a quick look on the net, I found one of these that lets you choose how many words and the first and last letters of the words. You could even select the number of syllables or word length! I chose the first letter of a and the last letter to be t, and a word length of six letters. The words that came up were:-

appointment
accountant
appoint

So what can be done here? How about:-

A QUESTIONABLE CHOICE

It was a grim day in the magical realm when the Dark Lord decided to appoint an accountant. This was not the way things were done here. The Dark Lord was supposed to rob and plunder and then spend his ill gotten gains in a frenzy. The appointment even made the headline news. People dared to question what the Dark Lord was doing and ask what would happen next.

Allison Symes – 11th October 2018

Naturally you can expand this out to trying the first five words you come up or vary the syllable and/or word length, but there is a lot of fun to be had here playing with words and ideas. When is that ever a bad thing?!

Many thanks to #HampshireWritersSociety for taking this picture of me (see top of tonight’s post!) speaking at their meeting last Tuesday (and for permission to use it). I usually take my own pictures of my book stall etc at events and so on but it’s a bit tricky doing it when you’re the one who’s speaking!

One thing I love when talking about flash fiction is getting to read some of it as part of this. It is by far the best way of showing people exactly what it is and, of course, does not take too long. It also mixes up your talk with some storytelling (and I know I love listening to this sort of thing when I’m at other writers’ talks etc).

Says it all really. Image via Pixabay.

Says it all really. Image via Pixabay. And am glad to say my poorly border collie, Mabel, has very much been showing this spirit.

Never give up, work hard, be disciplined... all valuable traits for success, whether you're a tennis player, a writer or a character in a story! Image via Pixabay.

Never give up, work hard, be disciplined… all valuable traits for success, whether you’re a tennis player, a writer or a character in a story! Image via Pixabay.

Fairytales With Bite – Story Loves

What do you love most in a story?  I look for the following:-

  1. Gripping characters – I’ve got to really root for them to succeed or get their just desserts for me to stay with them during the story.
  2. Good pacing – What pacing is required obviously depends on the type of story but generally I’m looking for a pace that keeps the tension up until the end.
  3. Unforgettable settings – This doesn’t have to be an invented world (though it often is).  Here I’m looking for the setting being appropriate to the story and characters and be a place I’d love to visit or equally be glad I’m nowhere near.  The latter depends on the type of story but whichever way it goes, the setting has to provoke a reaction in me.
  4. Entertaining dialogue – Sure sometimes this will be funny dialogue (when appropriate) but even when not I want to feel as if I’m eavesdropping on a conversation that I have absolutely got to finish listening to!
  5. Strong Resolution – The story definitely has to end.  Not on a cliffhanger – that should be for the chapters leading up to the end in a novel or in the middle section of shorter works before the issue is resolved.

This World and Others – Joys and Challenges

My CFT post this week is the start of a three-parter looking at The Joys and Challenges of Writing Series NovelsMany thanks to my panel of Jennifer C Wilson, Val Penny, Anne Wan, Wendy H Jones, and Richard Hardie for their great contributions.  Am looking forward to sharing the rest of the series over the next couple of weeks.  Between them, these fine writers cover children’s/YA, crime, historical, ghost, and timeslip!  (Some of them cover more than one of these!).

The title of this piece led me to think about the joys and challenges our characters face. How do they handle these?  Which do they cope with better?  (Not everyone handles happiness that well – they literally don’t know how to cope with it or live in such dread that the happiness is going to end any moment, any enjoyment of it is lost!).

Are others pleased for your characters in their joyful times or is there resentment there (openly or hidden)?  In the challenges your characters face, do they have friends and family to support and encourage?  When your characters overcome a challenge, do they go on to learn from the experience or does their success change them (and not necessarily for the better)?

This is where the core central values and attitudes your characters have really matter.  Someone who is generally a decent character is not going to upset others by showing off about their successes.  They will have friends who are genuinely pleased for them.  Someone who aggravates others will only find said other characters will be rooting for their downfall!

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BRAINSTORMING AND IDEAS

Facebook – General

How do you know your ideas are strong enough for a story?

1. When the ideas haunt you and you are almost literally itching to get back to your desk to get on with the writing. (These days I use Evernote on my phone so I can at least make a head start! Great way to make the most of “dead” time. Last time I had to wait while my car was being serviced, I’d drafted three pieces of flash fiction on my phone!).

2. When you can’t wait to find out how the story ends!

3. When the characters seem so real to you, you feel a bit disappointed you know you can’t meet them in “life”.

4. When that initial idea, the spark, triggers other ideas and you can suddenly see the story opening up before you.

Of course, you can’t beat the nitty-gritty of getting on with the writing itself. If the ideas are really strong, the writing will flow. It has been my experience that when I’ve not thought out the ideas enough, that is when I can get stuck. I’ve only ever abandoned two stories in my time due to that (which I don’t think is a bad return rate) but I want to make sure there are no other incidents of that!

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Facebook – General

Am happily brainstorming opening lines I hope to use for flash fiction pieces. I love doing that and then I love the challenge of writing to that line. Am also getting back into writing standard length short stories. (Have just submitted one and am outlining another). I would like to write more flash and more short stories than I did last year so I think that would be my goal for 2018.

I’d also like to try to write more of my blog posts ahead of time and schedule them as appropriate. I do this sometimes but last year for some reason didn’t. I wrote the blog post in the week that I knew it would appear. So I am planning to block time out more to do specific tasks and see if, overall, I achieve more. I think I will.

Meantime, back to the stories!

 

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Facebook – General

When does a character really catch my attention?

When I find I’m looking forward to the next scene they’re in and am rooting for them to succeed. (This is awkward if the one you’re rooting for is the villain! Go on, who half wanted Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham to somehow get away with it in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves simply because the portrayal was so good? It wasn’t just me, was it?).

So when I am developing my characters, I am looking for that special something about them, which will catch my readers’ attention. The real trick is to then ensure your characters HOLD your readers’ attention! So your characters have plenty of work to do then (as indeed do you!).

I have found a trait that most people will sympathise with or at least understand is a good way in to developing that special something in a character. Courage, for example, is a good trait to use as you can ask where did that come from in your character? Has it ever been tested etc? You’ll get some great stories out of answering those two questions alone on that one trait.

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

What would you like your stories to achieve?

I’d like mine to entertain, whether it is to make people laugh or shudder (so much depends on the mood of the tale here!). I’d like books to be seen as valid forms of entertainment (I think it would help encourage people to read more, which is never a bad thing). I want people to remember my characters.

One sign of a great story is when it is easy to recall your favourite line(s) from it. Another is when you look forward to re-reading it, perhaps for the umpteenth time, but you still have as much joy in this reading of it as you did on the second or third, say.

There are certain stories I do re-read at specific times of the year. I try to re-read Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather in the run-up to Christmas and usually Reaper Man in the run-up to Harvest. Sometimes I don’t get to read the books but listen to the audio versions instead but that’s okay. I get to spend time with some wonderful tales again.

So what do you re-read during the year and why?

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I do like my opening lines in a flash fiction piece to tell you as much as possible in as few words as possible. For example, from You Never Know, I start with “So you think I live a luxurious life as a tour guide?”

So what does that tell you? I’ve established the character is employed and in what capacity. They are clearly at odds with someone – the tone of the line tells you that. It is also clear the character is about to try and justify themselves. But why does that matter and to whom? Of course, reading the story tells you that but in 12 words, I’ve managed to convey quite a bit of information.

I like to think of this kind of opening to a story as “hitting the ground running”. The trick then is to keep running so the story fulfils its opening promise. Game on, then!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

What aspect of book promoting have you liked the most? I’ve enjoyed going to book fairs and having my own signing events (but one thing I learned is I needed to do more of them! Having said that, personal circumstances at the time last year did get in the way somewhat. However, this is something to correct for future occasions!).

The main thing I’ve disliked has been getting the balance between promoting the current book and writing the next one right. I didn’t manage that as well as I could have done with the result being the second book was submitted later than I would’ve liked. Lesson learned: block out time for specific writing tasks and stick to those. That will increase the amount of actual writing achieved. (One thing about writing for Chandler’s Ford Today is it means I have a deadline to work to on that so blocking out time to work on my pieces there is easier to do. I need to set myself deadlines for my fiction and block out time to make sure I meet them).

I have, however, learned to use “dead” time better (especially when on train journeys) thanks to finally getting a smartphone and using Evernote to write and save my drafts. That has helped a lot and I’m sure will continue to do so.

From diving board to keyboard via Pixabay

The keyboard beckons…

Writing first, editing later but both needed - image via Pixabay

Preparing a talk or a flash fiction story perhaps. Image via Pixabay.

Classic Books - image via Pixabay

Classic Books. New Books. Love them all!

book-2134779_640

Grow as a writer? Grow your reading! Image via Pixabay

Stunning place in which to read and review - image via Pixabay

Simply stunning… image via Pixabay

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog

What makes you recommend a book to a friend?

For me, it has to be the great characters in the book. If I think they’re great, my writing and other friends are likely to think so too.

I’ve never understood the character -v- plot debate. Characters drive the plot. Their actions and reactions are pivotal to the entire story.

Characters have to be well enough portrayed to make the plot work. A plot will fail if the characters are not up to it. A strong character can and does make all the difference to whether a story succeeds or not.

So I’ll happily recommend books with great characters. I won’t recommend books with convoluted plots but where the characters, for whatever reason, don’t make me sit up and take notice.

How about you? What are your thoughts here?

 

 

 

 

 

You can't beat pen and paper when it comes to brainstorming ideas. Image via Pixabay.

BRAINSTORMING IDEAS AND CHANGING CHARACTERS

FAIRYTALES WITH BITE

I look at Brainstorming Ideas and share a few thoughts on why I find this useful.  I never worry whether I have a scrap of an idea (it can be enough to get a flash fiction piece written!) or if I have a few paragraphs on something.  I just write with no restrictions in this kind of session.  After all, nobody else has to see the results.  Brainstorming can also be incredibly liberating too.

THIS WORLD AND OTHERS

In Changing Characters I list 10 things I like to see in any character in any story.  This includes always having good (if only to them) reasons for acting the way they do (especially important if you want to avoid your villain being a cardboard cut-out).  Then there’s the ability to learn from their mistakes too.  What else could you add to my list?

FACEBOOK PAGE

I discuss my favourite Terry Pratchett character (and why I chose them) and why I think his Going Postal has one of the great all-time openings.

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Creative writing includes blogging but also brainstorming sessons to generate future ideas. Image via Pixabay.

Creative writing includes blogging but also brainstorming sessons to generate future ideas. Image via Pixabay.