Changing Direction

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My post this week looks at why changing direction in writing can be benefical and why it is inevitable at some point. After all when you start writing, you cannot know at that point for sure you will always write short stories, say. You may decide to write a novella or a play or what have you.

I share some thoughts about my own changes of direction and flag up a new one but see the post for more on that.

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Did you know what you wanted to write when you first began creative writing? Or was it a case of wanting to try different forms until you found the one you were most at home with?

It was those questions which led to my writing this week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post on Changing Direction.

Writers are often urged to not give up and rightly so. Persistence does pay (it has for me) but it should also be said that it is perfectly okay to change direction if you want to do so. It was a turn of direction that led me to discover flash fiction after all. I hadn’t anticipated this at all when I began writing.

And so often writers will start by writing short stories, say, go on to write a novel, and then come back to the short form again.

The writing journey is not a straight line by any means. What it should be though is fun (at least most of the time!).

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Facebook – General – Book Cover Challenge

I was nominated to take part in this on 5th June. I thought I would share my posts here (and again on my next post) as there are some wonderful books to share. If you haven’t read them already, do consider adding them to your TBR list. (I will repeat this post next time so all of the book covers are together). Oh and do check out the writing of the authors I nominate too!

Day 1
I have accepted a challenge by Jane Brocklehurst to post seven books that I love, one per day, no reviews, just covers. Each day I ask a friend to take up the challenge, let’s promote literacy and build a book list.

Today I nominate Val Penny who I hope will join in the fun.

My choice today? The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Changed my opinion about Richard III. Is also a different kind of detective novel. A gripping read. Hope you check it out.

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It can sometimes be difficult stopping a story because you really love the characters and the setting and you want to keep writing but, of course, you can’t.

The story has to end at the right point for that tale. There has to be a point of change and we should see the results of that change. Literally end of story.

One advantage of writing flash for me is the fact I have to make myself move on to tackle the next 100-worder or what have you. The lower word counts with flash means I can’t have too long to fall in love with my characters and therefore face the temptation of extending the story out beyond where it should really go.

 

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Do you have pet phrases you like to use in your stories? Or do you find yourself coming out with the same turn of phrase more than once in a story as if you are on “hit default phrase selection” mode?!

Writing flash does help against that given the need to keep inventing new characters and situations. What I DO have to watch are my infamous wasted words and ensuring I don’t start each story in the same way. (That is particularly easy to do if you use the first person. Every story starts “I, I, I” etc etc).

I think it is useful to be aware of things like this so you can look out for them in your editing.

 

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It seems such a long time ago that I took a change of direction with my writing and discovered flash fiction. Now there is one turning point I really don’t regret! And it has enlivened my reading too. Flash fiction collections are great fun to delve into (and ideal for a quick read when you haven’t much time).

Yes, yes, I know, I’m biased. Course I am. Go on check out some flash collections and see if I’m right or not then!

Do you work out your themes in advance of writing your story or does the theme arise naturally out of the tale you’re writing?

It has been a case of both for me. For example, I think I’d like to write a poetic justice story so I then plan out a character and a situation where that theme emerges.

The nice thing with that theme is sometimes poetic justice can have a humorous element to it (and I do enjoy writing and reading those kinds of stories).

There have been cases where I know who my character is and where they’re going plot wise and the theme then comes out of that.

Though in both cases I do like my heroes/heroines to have some fire in their belly. No time for wishy-washy characters here!😆]

I expect my characters to justify being created in that I WANT to write about them, there is no problem finding things for them to do or land themselves in or so on.

For my quieter characters, I want their trait of quiet determination to win through so it is clear to a reader that there is more to them than meets the eye. Any character like that intrigues me as I want to find out what that “more” is and I would hope a reader would feel the same for my people here.

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What do I like in an opening line, especially for a flash fiction story? Some of the things I look for here include:-

1. An interesting situation or character that intrigues from the start.

2. Dialogue that sets the scene and, usually, indicates the problem the character has to overcome.

3. Internal thoughts of a character showing them in some sort of turmoil. My story, Rewards, has as its opening line: ‘”She must go,” Becky thought.’

I referred to this story when I was on #WendyHJones‘ podcast The Writing and Marketing Show a little while back.

And the reason I went for this as an example of an opening line to hook the reader immediately is because I would hope you would want to find out who the “she” is and why Becky thinks she has to go. After that you would want, I hope, to find out if Becky did get rid of whoever “she” is and how.

I think the ultimate “rule” here is that an opening line which makes me HAVE to find out what happens next means that opening line has done its job!

Now just to deliver on the rest of the story!

 

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Fairytales with Bite – Character Motivation

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

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

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

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

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

There, the motivation is powerful enough and understandable. Your readers have to get behind your character to carry on reading their adventures after all. Naturally your character’s friend will know or be able to guess at their friend’s motivation here and will do all they can to scupper any chances of success.

Voila! Instant clashes and tension as you work out how your hero does or does not prove the friend wrong.

This World and Others – 

Top Tips For When Writing Isn’t Working As You Would Like

It happens. You go through phases where writing is either difficult or simply isn’t working out as you’d hoped. Lots of submissions. Lots of rejections. Few acceptances. Do you wonder if you should keep going? Some tips I’ve found useful to keep me going during difficult times include:-

1. Read More. Feed your own imagination. Remind yourself of why you love stories and why you wanted to write any.

2. Remove the Pressure. Deliberately write just for your own pleasure. Make up complete nonsense. Have fun. (Later, if you can do anything with the writing, even if it is just the odd line or two makes it into a story, say, then fab. Even if not, you’re taking time out to play with words and again remind yourself why you wanted to write).

3. Look at Where You’ve Come From Writing Wise. How much have you written over the years? Can you list publication credits (online and in print)? If not at that stage, have you had shortlistings? Are you simply submitting more stories for competitions than ever before?

Remember you define what success in writing is. Yes, publication is the obvious goal but it isn’t the only one. Saying you’ll write 3 or 4 stories and then try and get them published later is a fine goal too. Look at what you’ve learned as you have written more. Have you learned how to improve your editing skills? Have you picked up tips on the way that are helping you write better now (I would be surprised if you hadn’t)? All of these are good and worthy things.

4. Find supportive writing buddies via online groups or in creative writing classes. We all need to be reminded we’re not alone. Others do understand our compulsion to write. Others understand the frustrations of trying to get published. You need that support. It can make all the difference during low times, creatively speaking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Language

Image Credit:  Unless otherwise stated, images are from Pixabay

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

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

I also find proof of someone cheating at Scrabble…

Hope you enjoy! Captions over on CFT.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. The ability to focus.

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

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

9. A willingness to learn and improve your craft.

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

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

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

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Questions to ask as you outline a story:-

1. What is its mood?

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

3. What makes the lead character tick?

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

5. What does the lead character want?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Ends
Allison Symes – September 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fairytales with Bite – Character Motivation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This World and Others – The Power of Language

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

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

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

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

Some story ideas there I think!

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Memories and Motivations

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest CFT post, The Importance of Memories, is timely of course as we enter Remembrance Sunday/Armistice Day, but I also look at the topic from the angle of how and why memories are vital to us all as individuals and as countries. I look at the impact of dementia and how singing helps with memory. I also discuss how fiction writers can use memories.

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One tip I’ve found useful when planning out my stories is making sure my characters’ motivations ARE strong enough.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a “do or die” approach either (though the dramatic qualities of that are obvious), but if, for example, Character A wants to buy a special present for Character B, then you must show why Character B means the world to A. Motivations have got to be something any reader is going to be able to identify with (but not necessarily agree about!).

What is your favourite form of writing and/or reading – fiction or non-fiction?

I love (and write) both. Non-fiction can and has inspired ideas for my fiction. It also means having different projects to work on, I never get bored, and I am exercising more “writing muscles” than if I did just write one thing. (I just wish I had more time but then don’t we all?).

I also think where you have a fictional world but which has solid basis in fact (i.e. you have thought about how gravity works in your fantasy setting, what form of government there is etc, based on what we know here), your story has got to be more convincing and stronger as a result.

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The best flash fiction is where the writer has stuck to ONE simple idea/theme and followed it through. There really isn’t the room to do anything else and the impact of the story is greater for keeping it simple.

This is not the same thing as simplistic though. The best flash fiction will hit you emotionally, can make you think, can frighten you, make you laugh etc, all in a few words.

Simple writing is where the editing has been done (and often several times) and, to quote the late great Eric Morecambe, albeit in different circumstances, “you really can’t see the join”!

Favourite themes of mine for flash fiction include rough justice, alien life being as intelligent as ours (and usually more so!), and crime (often showing the criminal’s justification, if only to themselves, as to their course of action). It is perhaps ironic that the really big themes – love, justice etc – can be summed up in one word but the amount of variety of stories you can get from these is vast.

I believe the simpler the theme, the better. It comes across well too. You don’t need your readers scratching their heads trying to work out what the theme is.

Looking forward to the Bridge House celebration event in early December. Less than a month to go!

One of the nice things about writing is getting to meet other writers. It is lovely knowing you are not the only one who wants to get their imaginary world down on paper and send it out there in book form.

I suppose one of the biggest things I’ve learned is never to underestimate how long it takes to get a book together! It always will take far longer than you think, as will the editing process, but it will be worth it in the long run.

Memory is my theme on Chandler’s Ford Today this week but it plays a vital role in fiction too. For characters to seem real and therefore believable, they must have a past. That past doesn’t need to BE the story you’re telling but it should impact on it in some way (if only because it has made the character turn out to be the way that they are).

Also the setting in which your characters live, that world should have values and rules, which will be formed by its history. There are likely to be ceremonies and special days which your characters will observe or note in the course of your story.

With flash fiction of course this has to be condensed right down. In my Helping Out, my opening line has a witch helping a fairy and acknowledging she is not supposed to do so. Those last few words immediately imply a whole history of feuding between the two magical groups and the witch is remembering it and, in this case, ignoring it! The story goes on to explain why but her memory of usual behaviours impacts on her actions here. Memories = realities = more convincing fiction.

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Fairytales with Bite Character Memories

I write about The Importance of Memories in my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week.  I touch on the subject of memories and fiction writing here too but below are some specific reasons why memories should come into your stories (even if they are just implied.  They often are just implied in flash fiction due to the limited word count but to my mind that makes the impact more hard hitting).

1.  Characters need to seem real to be believable.  Real people have memories.  So do real characters.

2.  Our behaviour is affected by memory – memory of what we did wrong, memory of what we did right and the difference between the two!  Our characters should reflect this too.  They’re not going to get it right all the time (good thing too – no story there!) but do need to show they’ve learned from their mistakes.  That is where memory comes in of course.

3.  Your world setting will have rules and values it expects its citizens to live by.  Your characters will know what these are, will know what special days and ceremonies there are, and will live their lives i obedience to all of that or be rebelling against it, but again your characters need to know and remember what these are!

4.  We are shaped by our memories in terms of who we are and why we are the way we are.  Our characters should be too.

5.  We can be haunted by memories, especially of those we’ve loved and lost.  Our characters should be too.

This World and Others – Character Traits

What are the most useful character traits for a writer to use?  My thoughts would be:-

1.  Whichever trait you choose, it has to be “open” enough to go in several directions.  For example, if your character has a “brave” trait, does this mean they are brave all the time?  Are there some fears they really cannot face but because they are brave in other areas that hides this?  Are they brave when out and about with friends but cowardly at home?  Lots of directions you could go in there.

2.  Whichever trait you choose, it should be something most people can identify with/aspire to.  Most of us want to be decent, kind, brave etc.  I love reading characters who have those traits and who overcome against all the odds.  Instant reader sympathy.

3.  Whichever good trait you choose for a character, they should also have a fault that goes against it, something they have to manage and control.  (A good example of that is The Incredible Hulk!  Mild mannered most of the time but boy when he becomes angry the sparks fly!).  You have internal conflict here and also what happens when another character has seen the good side and suddenly comes to see the bad side for the first time?  What are the reactions there?

 

 

 

Plans and Mini-Series

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Happily enjoying some of the latest Chapeltown publications on Kindle. That is the great thing with flash fiction – it is so easy to read on a screen (no matter the size of the screen!).

Am also drafting some challenging opening lines that I hope to create stories from soon. Sometimes this challenge leads to a longer story than expected (but that can always go to a short story – 1500 words+ – collection in due course).

I’d like to enter more competitions this year too as doing that is always good practice for writing to a deadline and if you are lucky enough to be shortlisted or win, then that does look so good on the old writing CV. You feel pretty good about it too!

One of the nicest things about writing is when you are well “into” it and enjoying what you are coming up with. You are your own first audience. If you don’t enjoy what you write, why should anyone else? Later, trusted readers who can tell you what does and doesn’t work are invaluable.

Happy writing!

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One great thing about writing is it does give you a much deeper appreciation for the works of other writers, especially the classics. For a work to stand the test of time, it really does have to have something special about it, but it is highly unlikely the author concerned set out to achieve that. They would’ve wanted to write a good, entertaining story, for it to be published (and ideally sell in vast quantities too!).

I think you gain a deeper appreciation of the work that went into creating the story in question. I know I’ve learned that if someone makes something look easy (and that includes writing which is easy to read), I can bet that same someone has worked very hard for years to get to that point.

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I’m starting a new mini-series on Chandler’s Ford Today this week. Friday’s post will be part 1 of my 101 Things to Put in Room 101 so this new series will keep me out of mischief for a bit then…

Link to go up tomorrow. Had great fun writing Part 1 so am really looking forward to getting on with Part 2!

I don’t know how many writers manage to achieve the accolade of having parts of their best-known work turned into TV programmes but Orwell is one of the few. What he would have made of Room 101 I don’t know (it can be very funny, sometimes thought provoking) but I suspect there might have been some scathing comments about Big Brother! (And I could always add some of my own there!).

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How easy is it to find the right title for your book? Answer: not very!

I used the mood of the stories to get to the title for mine but the title for the one I’ve not long submitted was more difficult to reach. In the end, I picked the title from one of the stories that I liked best and went with that. Am I expecting changes to my MSS? You bet!

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I know “luvvies” get their fair share of being mocked but the famous question attributed to them, “what is my motivation in this, darling?” is a great one for writers to ask of their characters.

Any character without a suitably strong motivation should be cut out. The good thing on that is their role might be a minor one but if it is pivotal to the outcome of a sub-plot, which in turn affects the way the main plot turns out, then that is good enough to justify that character and minor role remaining.

Motivations should be something the reader can understand, if not necessarily agree with. The main characters should, of course, have the most powerful motivations of all given they have the most to lose or gain.

 

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I often use proverbs or well-known sayings and then see what I can do with them to create my stories. Flash fiction in itself is the very definition of “less is more” after all!

Sayings are a useful source of themes and can sometimes give you ideas for character motivation. (For example, revenge is sweet could lead you to work out why your characters would want to make that saying come true for them. You’d need to work out backstory here – who they want revenge against and why? How do they make revenge sweet? Does it work or backfire spectacularly?).

What sayings would you choose to use for a theme? (The great thing is you could base an entire collection around a well-chosen theme. We’re never going to run out of love stories in the grand scheme of things but there is always room for the well-written one that takes a different slant on it. Okay the problem after that is finding the right home for it but at least you know every writer faces that dilemma and it definitely isn’t anything personal).

Creative writing takes many forms, including blogging. Image via Pixabay.

Creative writing takes many forms, including blogging. Image via Pixabay.

What a library! Image via Pixabay.

What a library! Image via Pixabay.

I could spend many a happy hour here - the library at Prague. Image via Pixabay.

I could spend many a happy hour here – the library at Prague. Image via Pixabay.

The magical world of the imagination. Image via Pixabay

The magical world of the imagination. Image via Pixabay

A way into the magical realm, perhaps? Image via Pixabay.

The way to the magical realm perhaps? Image via Pixabay.

The perfect way to unwind. Image via Pixabay.

The perfect way to unwind. Image via Pixabay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I write fairytales with bite as flash fiction and short stories in particular. Image via Pixabay.

THE POINT OF IT ALL

FAIRYTALES WITH BITE

The Point of It All discusses one aspect where fiction is very clearly shown to be fiction.  This is the fact that the main character (and usually more of your “cast”)  know the point of it all in terms of their story.  They know where they are heading.   Also if they were to forget, there is someone else who will always remind them.  Frodo Baggins and Sam are the best examples of this that I can think of.  Think about how your main characters regroup and refocus (and who helps them to do that) when they lost sight of their goal in the story.

THIS WORLD AND OTHERS

Nothing but the Best discusses the fact that we have to present the very best material if we have any hope at all of being published.  So do our characters come across the way we mean them to do?  The very best characters, whether they are evil or good, will ring true in all they say and do (even if they are being false!).

FACEBOOK – GENERAL

I look at character studies tonight and why flash fiction is a great vehicle for them.

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Am making progress with advertising my latest event – the book signing at Chandler’s Ford Railway Station on 8th July!  Will share more news as and when I can but am pleased with how things are going so far.  Also looking forward to the Winchester Writers’ Festival which is next month.  Have not entered any of the writing competitons this year as far too busy on the book (and family circumstances have taken up the rest of my time) but am looking forward to catching up with old friends, hopefully making new ones, as well as enjoying the courses.

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