Creating Characters

Image Credit:  Pixabay/Pexels unless stated. Also a big thank you to Richard Hardie for the images supplied for my second CFT post which appeared over the weekend, more below.

Facebook – General – bonus Chandler’s Ford Today post

A busy week on CFT for me this time. My second post this week shares news from YA author, Richard Hardie, about his link with Doctor Who. All very exciting and a feather in the cap for Richard. Well done! Check out the post for more details.

Facebook – Association of Christian Writers

More Than Writers blog spot – Creating Characters

It’s my turn on More than Writers, the blog spot for the Association of Christian Writers.

I talk about Creating Characters and share hints and tips, including a list of questions that will help you outline your “people”.

Hope you find it useful. (And many thanks to those who have commented on this. Much appreciated).

A good TV or film adaptation of a book only works if the images shown roughly coincide with the images I had from reading the text. The Inspector Morse series did this, as did the Poirot and Miss Marple series (with David Suchet and Joan Hickson). Film wise, I thought Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings had it spot on.

Are there any books you would like to see made into series or films? Which ones and why? Are there adaptations that haven’t worked for you? (I couldn’t get on with the Marple series. For me, Joan HIckson was perfect in the role and that was that).

When it comes to writing my stories, I put myself in my character’s shoes and see the world their way. I don’t always like my characters by the way! (Oh and a big thanks for a tremendous response to my ACW post on More Than Writers yesterday which was all about Creating Characters. Glad it was useful).

What I have found is you DO have to inhabit your character’s space so you can write about them/for them effectively.

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One very tired Lady on the sofa tonight. Had a great big play with several pals, including her “boyfriend”, a lovely Collie gent, and her best pal, a Rhodesian Ridgeback. I should imagine they’re pretty shattered as well!

Enjolyed listening to the Movie Music Hall of Fame on Classic FM today. I was right about the top two and pleased about them too. Must remember to find out where the Pink Panther theme came in (and there’s an earworm for anyone of a certain age!).

I usually write with classical music on as I find it helps me relax and when I relax, I’m more productive with the writing. Other things I have to have on my desk are my dictionary, my Scrivener for Dummies guide, my publisher guides (Writers and Artists and Mslexia) and plenty of pens (I know! I’m using a laptop, what do I need pens for? I guess I just like to see them around!).

I don’t have any rituals before writing. I just open my laptop and get on with it but I do like to see the accoutrements on my desk. I suppose it’s a case of Allison going into her comfort zone sort of thing.

And now I am IN my comfort zone, time to get on with more writing then!

 

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I can’t say a particular writer made me pick up my pen and start writing. I’ve loved books and stories for as long as I can recall. I loved writing stories in English lessons at school (and I’ll be talking a bit more about that in my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week).

But it took me a long time to figure out I really ought to get around and write seriously. It took two major life events to wake me up here! My only serious regret with writing is NOT starting a lot sooner than I did.

But it is wonderful to say that all of the writers whose books are on my shelves (and the electronic one too!) have added to my love of stories and storytelling. For that I will always be grateful. And then there’s the joy of discovering new writers too.

If I could invent things I would invent:-

1. Elastic time so I never run out of time to read or write.
2. Calorie free chocolate.
3. Calorie free prosecco.
4. A stamina “topper-upper” for those times you could really do with it!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I don’t know about you but I find it unsettling it is 8.30 pm in August in the UK and it is pitch black out there! (Not due to the weather either). The seasons are definitely shifting. Talk about going from light to dark!

I’ve mentioned before that one of my favourite writing exercises is writing to a set opening line. The ones that work best for me are the ones that can be taken in more than one direction. For example:-

1. The door remained locked despite her efforts.
2. He was on time, as the note insisted, but nobody was about.
3. The fairy godmother was on early shift.

Now all three opening lines here have comic as well as dramatic possibilities. (The door could remain locked because it took her a while to realise she was using the wrong key. He might be on time but what if he turned up at the wrong place and forgot to check? As for the fairy godmother, what could she expect to have to do on early shift that she might not face later on in the day? Definitely scope for humour there and that would almost certainly be the way I’d take these story ideas).

I find it useful to jot down initial ideas from an opening line and then go for the one that is a little way down my list. That is the idea which is not likely to be the obvious one and could well be open to my putting a twist on it, which I always love doing.

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One of my favourite stories in my new book, Tripping the Flash Fantastic, involves a librarian and a snake. Can’t say more than that at the moment but it was great fun to write! By all means, let your mind boggle at the thought of that!

But then that is the fun of fiction. You can write in any genre, any time period, and the impossible isn’t so much in things like fantasy, magical realism etc.

Whatever you write, it is important to enjoy it. I mentioned to a friend and fellow author (the lovely #ValPenny) that you have to enjoy what you write, especially if it is a book, because you’ll be promoting said book for a long time.

You as the writer have got to be able to live with what you’ve written and enjoy living with it too! That’s an aspect to the writing life which isn’t often considered I think.

But commitment to what you write shows up here and not just in the hard work it needs to get those stories written in the first place.

Writing is good for you as it stretches you and develops your imagination. It is also good fun experimenting with different forms of writing and discovering where your strengths are. But even when you’ve found the style of writing that suits you best, writing should still keep pushing you.

Pushing you to keep on producing good work.

Pushing you to discover new markets/competitions for your work.

Pushing you to get better at editing your work and polishing it as well as you can to give it its best possible chance out there in the big, bad world.

Pushing you to develop new skills including but definitely not limited to reading your work to an audience, making the most of technology to produce items that can help you market your work more effectively, and so on.

What writing doesn’t do is allow you to rest on your laurels and that’s a great thing. Why? Because you want to keep on developing. The writing journey should be as much fun as possible. Different things come up along that journey, things you would not have expected when starting out, and by developing you will be ready to tackle those things and have more strings to add to your bow.

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Am looking forward to taking part in the Zoom session with #GillJames and #DawnKentishKnox on 26th September. I hope to be reading a story or two, including one from Tripping the Flash Fantastic. You did hear it here first!

I will share the link to the event later in September. You do need to register but the event is free. I’ll also be flagging it up via Chandler’s Ford Today in due course.

Flash is great for reading aloud at events etc. It doesn’t take too long to read. It makes an immediate impact and the “deeper” stories resonate with you and linger long in the memory afterwards. Nothing to dislike there!

And I’ve said before it is a good idea to read your work out loud so you can hear how it flows, whether the dialogue etc comes across as smoothly as you’d like etc. If you trip over your words, a reader almost certainly will. Again with flash, this doesn’t take long. I’ve spotted things I’ve needed to change many a time doing this.

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Goodreads Author Blog Book Dilemmas

What book dilemmas, I hear you ask?

Well, there is the obvious one of which book you are going to read next from your naturally huge TBR pile.

I refuse to believe that doesn’t give you pause for thought from time to time! (I get a little annoyed with myself for doing this. I realise the half hour I spent deciding what I’ll read next could have been spent on reading!).

Then there is the dilemma of whether you’ll reduce the TBR paperback pile or the one on your Kindle.

Then there is the dilemma of whether you’ll read short stories or another novel or non-fiction.

There is no one right answer to how you answer these.

I find I read a load of things on my Kindle for a while, then switch back to paperbacks for a bit, and that’s fine with me.

I just need to stop wasting half hours every now and again making up my mind and just get on with what matters – the reading!

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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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Bluebells, Beautiful Books, Ants, and Editing

Hmm… now there’s this week’s contender from me for Unique Blog Title!

Facebook – General

Bluebells out all over the place at the moment. It’s always great taking Lady out for her walks but this time of year is special. Not that she appreciates the local fauna. If it’s a convenient place for her to have a wee break, that’s precisely what she’ll do! (No. She hasn’t weed on the bluebells. Have had couple of close calls though).

I don’t tend to write much about nature partly because flash fiction is not the place for lots of lovely descriptions! I prefer to get my characters up and running quickly within their setting.

The weather, the nature of the area my characters are in are gaps for readers to fill in, though the clues are there. In my The Haunting my character is trying to get rid of a hated umbrella that somehow is managing NOT to be got rid of. The implication there is the weather must be reasonably okay. You don’t dump a brolly on a wet day generally. I don’t specifically spell that out but there’s no need to do so.

I’ve found it useful when outlining to work out what the reader HAS to know, ensure that gets put into the story, and get on with the action of said tale. It is all down to selecting what is the most important thing(s) for the reader to know. Often in flash fiction there will be room for one or two things. The trick is to ensure what you can’t put in can be implied in other ways.

Bluebells in Knightwood

Bluebells on a local walk.  Stunning sight.  And this is just a short section of them too.  Image by Allison Symes

When do you know you’ve finished editing a piece?

When you’ve put it away for a while, come back to it and read it, and can’t think of a single thing to change. Also that it has the impact on you that you wanted it to achieve.

Does that always take longer to achieve than you originally hoped?

Oh yes!

Went for a wonderful walk with better half and Lady to round off Bank Holiday Monday. The bluebells were amazing (though frankly I was far more interested than the dog was. Lady didn’t wee on them tonight so I guess that is a plus!).

I remember thinking ages ago that I’d use walking time to work out ideas for stories/articles/blog posts etc. I haven’t done that once! This is partly due to being far too interested (aka nosey) in what is going on around me including, tonight, trying to spot the noisy woodpecker who was clearly doing some DIY. (How apt for a bank holiday weekend!). The other reason is, of course, Lady and the need to keep an eye on her though, if she thinks she needs attention, she’ll give you a nudge with her nose.

But a break away from the desk does refresh the mind and the spirit and that feeds into my writing, so that’s okay. Pleased to say I sent off some submissions over the weekend and made good progress on my novel. Onwards and upwards!

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Enjoyed listening to the new Hall of Fame on Classic FM over the weekend. Mixed bag of results from my votes.

Jupiter (The Planet Suite) – Holst – down 18

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis – Vaughan Williams – non-mover

BUT

Danse Macabre – Saint Saens – (the wonderful piece I use for my book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back again went up a whopping 50 places. It was also used as the theme to Jonathan Creek to great effect).

I love music which conjures up a mood or in the case of the VW piece seems to take you back in time. Perfect background music as I work out what to do with my next batch of flash fiction characters. Will they meet a horrid end? Will I put them in humorous set-ups? Ah! The joy of creating!


Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Do you use spider diagrams for working out story ideas? I do sometimes. They can be useful for working out variations on the “what if” question so you can decide which is the strongest to write up.

I like to start with a potential character name and a bizarre situation (but then I love reading and writing quirky fiction). I work out how the character could’ve ended up being in that situation before going on to work out how they get out of it. The nice thing with this sort of planning is I just need rough ideas at this stage.

If Character X is going to end up on Mars with a limited oxygen supply, then logic dictates they’re either going to be rescued or die. For me, the story there is how they got dumped there and above all, why. So a spider diagram for that could be something like this:-

Character X brags, is pain in backside etc – demands lead position on next space exploration. (Motive here immediately)
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Character X has been driving Character Y mad for years without being aware of it. Character Y is a quiet soul and for once would like an uneventful space trip. (More motive here).
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Character Y pushes Character X out of the space capsule and heads off, knowing Character X would insist on leaving the capsule first. Character X would swear profusely at this point but realises the need to save as much energy and oxygen as possible.

That is very rough but you get the idea. Must admit though spider diagrams for me look better when drawn out on paper!

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Editing is a crucial skill whatever you write but writing flash fiction is a great way to improve what you do here.

I’ve found I’ve got into the mindset of looking at phrases to double check they make as much of an impact as possible in the fewest possible words once I’ve carried out an initial typo/grammatical error edit.

Often a tweak or two will (a) reduce the word count and (b) strengthen what it was I wanted to say. You never come out with the exact wording immediately. Well, I don’t anyway. Usually a stronger adjective than the one I’d originally chosen will increase the impact of that particular sentence.

It’s a great weight off my mind to know I don’t have to get it right on the first go!

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Managed to submit three flash fiction pieces over the weekend so pleased with that. Would like to try and get more out this coming weekend. I try to carve out a specific writing slot for sending submissions out and weekends tend to be my best time for this.

It always pays to double check submission requirements given these vary from market to market/competition to competition. There have been times I’ve been cross with myself for spotting a typo after I’ve submitted a piece. And that’s despite editing on paper, putting work aside for a while so I come back to the piece with fresh eyes etc The one comfort I take from things like that is this happens. It happens to a lot of writers at some point.

What I don’t want to ever happen is for a piece to fail because I missed something on the submission requirements. To date, it has never happened. So help me, it never will. It really does pay to take extra time to ensure you have got everything spot on here. Don’t rush this aspect.

I’ve found it useful to take at least a week off the official deadline of any competition etc to give me that breathing space I need to ensure everything is as perfect as I can make it. (I usually take two weeks off in fact). Give yourself time and space.

Time to have some fun with the random word generator again. I used a as the start letter and t as the final one and selected six words. These were:-

achievement
account
argument
ant
accept
announcement

Let’s see what can be done with these (and I won’t count the title as one of the words).

ACHIEVEMENT

The ant was of little account in the grand scheme of things. She was just one of thousands of worker ants whose greatest achievement would be to ensure the survival of their colony. There was no room for argument. Her role was her role and that was that. It was best to accept this. Everyone knew a sole ant would never survive long outside of the protection of the colony. For the colony to work, everyone had to fit in with their alloted roles. So when the announcement came the queen ant had died, there was consternation. There would be no more ants. No more worker ants like her. Not in this colony.

Ends

Allison Symes – 23rd April 2019

This is almost certainly the tiniest character I’ve created and is likely to remain so!

But have fun with random word generators and see where they take you. They can be great ways of triggering fresh story ideas.

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Goodreads Author Blog – Beautiful Books

I love books in all their different forms, of course, but I do appreciate the art in a really good book cover.

Difficult to say what my favourite cover is but I must say I love the children’s editions of the Harry Potter series and the original Discworld covers.

I don’t get the tendency to produce plainer covers for “grown ups”. Blow that. I want escapism in a good book and the cover has got to entice me in. A plain black or grey cover with sensible lettering just isn’t going to do it for yours truly.

I also appreciate beautiful bindings. I inherited my late mother’s collection of hardback Dickens (all in green with gold lettering) and they are a joy to look at. They are even more of a joy to read! I also have a fab Agatha Christie collection (red hardbacks with gold lettering). Great stories but my enjoyment is enhanced when I can appreciate the physicality of a book. (This is where the Kindle DOES lose out to “proper” books).

At the end of the day, it is the story which matters most of all, naturally. But I’m all for getting as much enjoyment out of a book as possible and beautiful covers and production standards can make books very special indeed.

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