Friends and Traditions

Image Credit:  Mainly the marvellous Pixabay, but also a big thanks to Debz Brown, Paula Readman, and Dawn Kentish Knox for kind permission to use their images of the Bridge House Publishing Celebration Event.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I discuss Friends and Traditions in this week’s CFT post. I think the image below from Pixabay may well prove to be a favourite. Just love the thinking behind it.

It is with great pleasure I look back at the Bridge House Publishing/Cafelit/Chapeltown Celebration Event which was held at St. John’s, Waterloo, last Saturday.

I must say a big thank you to Dawn Kentish Knox, Paula Readman, and Debz Brown for kind permission to use some of their pictures. The big problem with taking part in an event is not being able to take pictures of yourself doing so! If you ever want to know how to help a writer friend out, do consider taking pics for them!

I also look at what traditions writers could have. Hope you enjoy.

Captions as ever over on the CFT link.

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What kind of picture prompts do you find most useful for generating story ideas?

I prefer “open-ended” images which give me ideas for settings and then I work out what characters would live in those places. I don’t want specifics. I want to be able to fill in some gaps for myself.

I also find quirky pictures don’t work well. They tend to dicate the mood of your story (which inevitably will also be quirky and while I LOVE quirky fiction and write it, I don’t want to write it all the time).

And forget cute pictures of kittens etc. Lovely to look at but dreadful for inspiring story ideas. (I know, that’s not the purpose of cute kitten pics, but whenever I do see a photo, if a story idea is triggered, I see it as very welcome input. You just can’t do that with a cute kitten pic!😀).

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I’m looking at Friends and Traditions for this week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post.

I look back at the Bridge House Publishing celebration event held last weekend. I’ll also be looking at how writers can make their own “traditions” by figuring out what works best for them when it comes to settling down and getting the words out.

I also celebrate my lovely celebration of meeting up with other writers. I always come back from doing that with a real “buzz”. Encouragement is contagious! Link up on Friday. Next week I’ll be looking at what makes for a good story. I suspect I’ll have to put a strict word count limit on that one!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Flash fiction can take many forms. I’ve written acrostic stories which can work well and, of course, you can write a story in a poetic form. A lot of the Christmas carols do this. Think of The First Nowell for example. You have the telling of the Christmas story in one carol there. Good King Wenceslas is also a great story told in song.

But the point remains, whatever the length or format of your flash fiction story, there has to be one central theme to focus upon. Everything else hangs off that, of course, but there is no room for sub-plots (and those are wonderful for the longer short stories, novellas, and novels. I love the fact that every aspect of writing has a purpose and a joy of its own).

I’ve found it helpful to sum up my stories in a line, especially for flash, as that becomes the “peg” I write the story to!

(Oh and one other Christmas tradition I’ve happily upheld tonight is watching The Muppet Christmas Carol. Easily the best film they made and a classic telling of a brilliant story).

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Am listening to a hilarious version of The Twelve Days of Christmas on Classic FM narrated by Joanna Lumley (as at 12th December!). Could well count as a flash fiction story though likely to be towards the upper end of the spectrum. Do check the piece out. It is very funny. (Oh and the writer of this piece has stuck to the “golden rule” of flash fiction by not having too many named characters!).

And talking of Christmas related flash fiction, I hope you enjoy this one.

AN UNEXPECTED STOP
‘You do know at what speed you were travelling, sir?’
‘Er… no… officer, I’m afraid I was concentrating on getting to my next destination. I have to cover everyone on my list, you see, and I don’t have much time. Was it important?’
‘I’ll say so, sir. You will cause chaos flying at that speed. If everyone did that there’d be accidents galore.’
‘But, officer, it’s Christmas Eve, I’m Santa Claus, there’s nobody up here except us and I’d love to know how YOU got here.’

ENDS
Allison Symes

 

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Do I ever feel frustrated by word count limits imposed by flash fiction?

No. If a character has a longer story to tell, then I tell it and it goes on to be a competition entry for, say, a 1500 to 2000 word market.

If I can’t enter a 100-worder flash competition, I can always enter a longer piece for a 250 or sub-500 words kind. I do like that kind of flexibility.

The really important thing is getting the story right and if it works better at 150 words rather than 100, you are better off sticking to the longer word count. There will be a home for it somewhere out there.

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Fairytales With Bite – A to Z of Fairytale “Rules” – Part 4

Final section with some tricky letters to tackle but here goes!

U = Unique. Your fairy godmother will always come up with a unique way to help you. Pumpkins are often involved and she seems to have a bit of a thing for extremely uncomfortable footwear (for you that is) but she means well so bear with her. Her unique approach will work out.

V = Variety.  Where the fairy godmother will demonstate variety is in the number of ways they transform errant beings into hideous beasts and so on. Naturally there will be a need for someone to set said errant beings free from their horrendous transformation. Naturally the errant being needs to have learned enough humility to recognise they need to be set free. There is no room or point in continued arrogance here. It is that which led to the horrendous transformation in the first place.

W = Wands. A magical being will have their wands on them at all times of course. Fairy godmothers will still have the star on the end. Tradition is a big thing in the magical world and also the end client expects to see something of that nature. Letting people down is not what a fairy godmother does!

X = X-Ray Vision. A fairy godmother won’t “do” a Superman here. Where her vision is at her sharpest is in assessing character. Let’s just say when a being gets transformed into something hideous, there’s always a good reason for it. Nobody has been wrongly transformed to date. So when it comes to reading a character’s soul, your average fairy godmother has wonderful X-ray vision and will not be fooled. (Indeed trying to pretend you’re something you’re not is even more likely to encourage her to ensure you are next on her “to bring down several pegs or so” list).

Y = Yarns. Not wool! What your average magical being likes is a good story. Sometimes they like being the star of said yarn but it naturally has to have a happy ending and make them look good (even if they don’t do so at the beginning).

Z = Zest. Every magical being is expected to be full of zest. Nobody wants a bedraggled and tired looking fairy godmother turning up to help out. Magical beings are expected to keep themselves looking and feeling good, no matter what it takes to do so. (This may explain Snow White’s stepmother’s attitude towards her own looks).

discovery-space-shuttle-1757098_640Even in a fantasy world, the author will share some of its history to make the world seem more real to the readerEven in time travel stories there is a history involved

The best books take you right into their world - it's a painless procedure

Books take you into other worlds.

The perfect way to end a day - with a good book - Pixabay

Fab end to a day I think. Pixabay.

This World and Others – What Is A Good Fictional World

For me a good fictional world has to have the following attributes.

  1. I’ve got to be able to see it in my mind’s eye and either wish to live there or avoid it like the proverbial plague. Sounds like a contradiction, right? What matters here is being able to visualise that world so well it will trigger either reaction in you. That world has drawn you in – job done!
  2. A good fictional world will reflect the lives of different species/classes/genders within it. There generally isn’t one species/class/gender etc. Okay, the story may focus on only one but you should be able to see how that one reacts and acts to the others living in that same world. (They’ll often be the source of conflict driving the story or will be supporting your hero/heroine in some way).
  3. A good fictional world will give some details on its virtues and shortcomings. What do your characters love and loathe about being where they are?

 

 

Celebrating Writing

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

A very big thank you to Paula Readman, Debz Brown, and Dawn Kentish Knox for kind permission to use their photos which were taken during the Bridge House Publishing celebration event.

Facebook – General

On my way to the Bridge House Publishing celebration event as I draft this post at 7.30 am on Saturday, 7th December 2019. Not going to see much of the lovely Hampshire countryside this time – it’s pitch black still and will be again on the way home.

Am happily ensconced in a comfy seat plugged in and listening to Classic FM as I write. Generally I find classical music soothing unless they put on the 1812 Overture when I have to resist the urge to use my stylus as a conductor’s baton! You’ve heard of air guitar. This is my equivalent!😀

When I get to read my stories publicly, I like to pick a mixture of tales in terms of length and mood. For today’s event I’ve picked short humorous (which can also be used as a description for yours truly!), a mid-range fantasy with a twist, and a crime tale. Hope they go down well. Will be writing the event up for CFT for next Friday.

What I am looking forward to most is meeting up with my fellow writers. It will be fun!

And the pics below prove it was fun!

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Loved the Bridge House event yesterday. Got home shattered but happy – always a sign of a good event, that! Many thanks to Paula Readman and Russell for the group pic of us holding up the books we were in this year. It’s a smashing photo. And this gives me the perfect excuse to repeat showing it!

Was very happy with my work during the day too. Drafted my FB and Goodreads blogs on the way up to London, posted them on the way home. Drafted two new flash fiction stories and wrote a reasonable section for a non-fiction book I’m working on as well. On getting home I started drafting my CFT post for this week so plenty of writing done I’m pleased to say. Naturally I came home with books to read too…

I do love Evernote and a smartphone! Even better was being on a train where I could keep my phone charged up as I actually had a power socket! (I know, I know, writers can be pleased by strange things indeed but I’ve been on too many trains where there is no power socket for phone charging or, worse, where there were some and they’ve been blanked out so I don’t take this kind of thing for granted!).

It was also lovely to chat to different people during the speed “dating” exercise at the event yesterday. Books, whether writing or reading them (or both), are a great conversational ice breaker. (Many thanks also to Dawn Kentish Knox for the pic of me reading from From Light to Dark and Back Again).

Oh and the Christmas tree at Waterloo was lovely. More pics in my CFT post later in the week.

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Am enjoying singing along with the carols on Classic FM. Lady doesn’t really know what to make of it all though… 😀😀 – mind you, she does love Christmas. For a household with a collie in it, there is no such thing as left over turkey! And we get to go on post-Christmas walkies, which always goes down well – with Lady at least.

One of the nice things about coming back from events like the Bridge House one on Saturday is I can be sure of being “mugged” by the dog (demanding a big cuddle, how dare you go away, Mum!) on my return home! (Lady has almost followed me on to the train to Swanwick before now!).

I’ll be writing about Friends and Traditions for my CFT post this week. The Bridge House event has become a tradition for me and it involves lots of friends so win-win there! Link up on Friday. (I’ll also be looking at the benefits of meeting up with other writers).

Oh and I was delighted to find one fellow Bridge House author, #LindaPayne, is a fellow fan of the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. Another instant topic of conversation right there!

I remember being a very nervous newbie when I went to my first writing event aeons ago. Now, I can hardly wait for my favourites to come around. What has helped here? Why, making writer friends of course. It makes a huge difference. And I’ve always found that when you meet up again, you continue your conversations as if there hadn’t been a break of months or what have you since you last spoke directly.

There is so much much to enjoy about writing and this is one aspect of that. All hugely encouraging too and we all need encouragement on a regular basis.

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A very wet day (as Lady would testify if she could) and I spent a lot of it fervently wishing my glasses came with mini windscreen wipers!

I don’t tend to use the weather much in my stories as, if I wish to add atmosphere to a story, I can usually do it in some other way. If I want to show my characters under stress, there are usually better ways of doing it.

I tend to save the weather for when the story wouldn’t make sense if it wasn’t brought in. That way I can avoid parody (“it was a dark and stormy night”, anyone?) and any description of the weather is kept to the minimum I need to achieve my objective.

 

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Flash fiction lends itself well to being read publicly and also gives an instant demonstration of what flash is. Its brevity is its strongest selling point. Not got enough time to read?

Well, you can read a 50 or 100 worder quickly enough! See it as a great way to enjoy a fiction fix! A good friend has described it as a bus stop read, which is a great way of summing it up as well as suggesting where you can read it!

I love to read shorter fiction in between novels too. Flash fiction is the story form you can enjoy between “meals” of longer works without ruining your appetite for long or short fiction! Anyone else out there who remembers the old Milky Way advert?!

 

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A story comes to life for me when the lead character comes to life. For flash fiction, that has pretty much got to happen in the opening couple of lines. I try to do this by:-

1. Giving an intriguing situation the character has to solve and you want to find out how the character does it.

2. Take you inside the character’s head immediately and something about their attitude/thoughts will make you want to read on.

3. In my Punish the Innocent, I use a letter format to show my lead character addressing “their” reader and by opening with powerful lines. “Dear Sarah, They say the perfect crime is where the criminal doesn’t get caught. Wrong.” Again I’m seeking to intrigue a reader here into wanting to find out if my letter writer is right or not and if THEY’VE committed the perfect crime as their line clearly implies they think they have. It is the “got to know what happens here” scenario and if there was a kind of holy grail for writers, I would say that was it.

So basically then my way into a story is via an intriguing character or intriguing situation. The ideal, of course, is to have both but often (and I’ve found this in works I’ve read by other writers too), you don’t always realise how intriguing a character is until you have got to end of the story.

After all, if you take A Christmas Carol, you would hardly warm to Scrooge if you only read the first page or two, would you? There has to be something to make you want to read on and it is only at the end of that Christmas classic, you have got to see the depths of the real Ebenezer. In flash fiction, you have to do that much more quickly but it is a fun challenge!

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I sometimes write one liner flash fiction stories. (These are great for the 25 words and under competitions/markets). One of the stories I drafted in London on Saturday was one of these. I saw the potential for expanding it and did so! I’ve got work to do on it but the character comes across better in the longer version so I will stick with that.

The flexibility of flash here is one of its strengths I think. If I want to I can still submit the one line version but to a different, appropriate market for that word count.

At other times I will look at my one line stories again and realise they are best left as they are. But this is added reason to put work aside for a while before coming back to it. You need distance to be able to assess whether something would work at a longer word count than the version you originally came up with.

The deciding factors are whether the character is strong enough for their story to be expanded at all and does that character benefit from this.

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Thought it would be nice to share a story tonight. Hope you enjoy it.

WHAT THE NEIGHBOURS THINK
Had the neighbours seen the appearance of a witch in the huge chestnut tree?
Mary fervently hoped not. She also hoped they hadn’t seen her frantically wave at the witch indicating exactly where she could go. Back into the sky on that dodgy looking broomstick and away from Mary.
What is it about me that attracts the oddballs?
Mary poured herself a cup of tea and added a decent amount of brandy to it. She felt in need of it.
Even by her standards, the appearance of a witch was unusual. Annoyingly it was nowhere near Halloween so Mary couldn’t pretend it was one of the neighbourhood kids taking a prank that bit too far.
Looking again out of her kitchen window, Mary sighed with relief. The witch had gone. Mary turned back to her tea only to discover she now had company in her kitchen.
‘Well, aren’t you going to make me a cup of tea then, sister?’
Mary grimaced. She now knew where the witch was.

ENDS.
Allison Symes

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Goodreads Author Blog – What Reading Does For Me

Hmmm….where to start on this one!

1. Reading helps me escape. It doesn’t matter if the day is a good one or not – when I get to read I get to switch off.

2. Reading shows me worlds, real and fantastical, and expands my horizons. You can’t know everything, no one person could, but books are a brilliant way of expanding your knowledge. They can help you develop new interests too.

3. Reading inspires my own writing. I see what other authors do with their characters and think well I would have written them this way instead because… and off I go with my own tales.

4. Reading non-fiction expands your general knowledge. Handy if you like quizzes!

5. Reading expands your vocabulary. Handy if you love word games as It do.

6. People will never run out of present ideas for the book lovers in their lives!

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Celebrations and Acronyms

Facebook – General

Had a fabulous time at the Bridge House celebration event in London today. Great to meet up with friends and fellow writers once again.

In no particular order, I’d like to give a shout out to Paula Readman, Ana and Russell, Dawn Kentish Knox and her lovely mum, Pat, Gail Aldwin, and Amanda Huggins. Meeting for lunch in a pub before the event was a fantastic idea! It was nice that the venue was so easy to find from Southwark Tube Station too.

Lovely to hear some great stories read out. Lots of twists and surprise endings, several of the characters I would be very wary of were I meet them in life (!), and it is SO nice being read to!

I read Circle of Life from From Light to Dark and Back Again, Moving On and Time for a Change which were published on Cafelit fairly recently. Laughs and applause were much appreciated by me so thank you all.

Above all, thanks to Gill James and Debz Hobbs-Wyatt for all their hard work behind the scenes at Bridge House, Cafelit and Chapeltown. (I plan to write a Chandler’s Ford Today post on this event in the not too distance future and will share more photos there and then).

Below are just some of the authors who read works out during the celebrations.  All of the stories read were excellent and had the audience spell bound.  Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for taking the photo of me and for kind permission to use it.  Also thanks to her for other images used further down in this post and for the one I’m using as the feature image for this post.

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Some signs of really good stories include:-

1. Promising opening line that MAKES you want to read on immediately.

2. You loved the story so much you feel disappointed when it ends.

3. You remember it (or in the case of novels, for example, you recall your favourite extracts).

4. You’ve read that opening line but CAN’T read on immediately and rush through everything else you’ve got to do so you CAN! OR If you can’t rush through, part of you is inwardly gnashing your metaphorical teeth, until you can sit down with a cuppa and get on and read the story!

5. The real classics become a tradition. The best example of this, of course, is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

6. In the case of twist stories, you really didn’t see the surprise coming. It is only when you re-read the tale, you spot the clues. Roald Dahl was the past master of this in his Tales of the Unexpected.

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Time for some more writing acronyms. I expect some of these will ring a bell or several.

OFD – On First Draft
SOFD – STILL on First Draft
DAASD – Don’t ask about Second Draft
EWE – Editing, What Editing?
PDHRN – Printer Died Halfway (through) Running (out) Novel
WCINFAP – Why Can I Never Find A Pen (when I call myself a writer)?
RFOMN – Room For One More Notebook
DWD – Deadline, What Deadline? (Theme emerging here I fear!).
PWP – Procrastination, What Procrastination?
WSWPS – Will Start Writing Properly Shortly – linked to PWP inevitably.

If there is one thing I don’t miss from the “good old days”, it is having to cut and paste literally! I also don’t miss carbon paper.

Has the PC spoiled us all? Perhaps but it is a boon knowing I can correct material easily and can move passages of writing around as I want to and without having to then photocopy the new sheet with the amended bit on (as the copy wouldn’t look as if it HAD had anything added to it!).

I suppose the one thing I really DO miss from said good old days is that reading lots of stories and books was something, if you will pardon the pun, that WAS taken as read. Now we have to encourage reading as much as possible. That isn’t a bad thing obviously but it strikes me we are detecting a “reluctance” that has to be overcome somehow. Why is reading seen as a poor relation to other forms of entertainment?

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

There were some great flash fiction pieces read out at the Bridge House/Chapeltown/Cafelit celebration event in London today. Many congratulations to all.

I’ve found the biggest benefit from writing flash fiction is it teaches you quickly how to REALLY edit! You learn to write with precision and that skill can be transferred to whatever other writing you do.

Must confess I am feeling somewhat tired and I swear I was only on tea and orange juice today!! (More pics to come in a future Chandler’s Ford Today post in a couple of weeks time).

(I don’t know when they got the Christmas tree up at Waterloo but it looked nice, as always).

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Questions to ask yourself when writing flash fiction:-

1. What do I want the impact to be on the reader?

2. What mood is the story? (Some titles could take you in several directions so I find it helpful to work out whether it is going to a sad tale, a funny piece, or what have you and then think about a title).

3. Would this story work best as a short, sharp piece (say 25 to 75 words) or expanded a little so there is more depth (say 100 to 500)?

4. Which market/competition am I aiming at? Always have your audience in mind! It directly affects how you write the piece.

5. If writing to a familiar theme, think about the unique take you can bring to it. For example, if you’re writing a love story, what will make that stand out? Dig deep for ideas. The first ones you come up with will inevitably be the “obvious” ones. So search a bit more and a bit more…

It is ironic cliches are usually avoided in fiction (and is that in itself a cliche I wonder?!). However, they can have their uses in flash fiction. Why? Because they can be a useful short cut to conjuring up images you want your readers to conjure up. Because they can tell you a lot about your characters. Because they can save a lot of words!

However, the trick here is to not use the cliche directly. I sometimes use a cliche as a title but in the story itself I twist it. One example was a story I drafted a year or so ago at Swanwick where instead of using “take the biscuit” I came up with “take the Garibaldi”. That made people smile when I read my piece out but it should put a picture in your mind as to what kind of character would think automatically of a Garibaldi as THE biscuit to go to! Equally had I said “take the cheap Rich Tea”, that would, I think, create in a reader’s mind an image of a very different character.

The idea here then is to use the cliche but don’t let it use you. Do something different with it. I know I get tired of reading cliches when I come across a lot of them in a story (and it does happen) but the odd one or two, ideally with a twist to them, is fine.

Advantages to writing flash fiction include learning how to REALLY edit, keeping to word counts, and writing precisely. (That is the only way to keep the word count to where it should be). You have to think of the strongest word to convey the greatest image and to again save on word count. No weak images here, thank you!

You are also thinking about the impact of your story on a reader as giving this some thought early on will dictate the way the story goes and save you some time and work in editing later. Putting yourself into the mind of a potential reader will ensure you are writing with an audience in mind from the outset (which will help when it comes to finding a suitable publication to submit the story to as well).

Goodreads Author Programme Blog Being Read To

When was the last time you were read to as an adult?

For me, that was this afternoon – 1st December 2018 – but more on that in a moment.

I have, as I hope you have, many fond memories of being read to as a child. It instilled a life long love of books in me at a very early age. Thanks to Beatrix Potter, I learned the meaning of the word “soporific” early on too! Good books can do wonders for your vocabulary.

This afternoon I was at the Bridge House/Cafelit/Chapeltown Books celebration event. My favourite time was listening to published works being read out by fellow authors (and I read some too). Let’s just say there are some characters I heard about today I am so glad I can never meet in life. One in particular had a penchant for getting away with… well to say more would give the plot away! Oh and I wouldn’t want to meet all of MY characters either!

But it was such a joy just sitting back and listening. I love audio books but there is nothing to beat hearing an author read out their own work. Dickens was definitely on to something there! I don’t know quite what it is but, even in a tale that has you gripped to the edge of your seat, there is something soothing in being read to.