Judging Book Covers Part 2, Planning, and Openings

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Some images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos. 

Many thanks to Val Penny, Jennifer C Wilson, and Teresa Bassett for their author and book images for this week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post.

Many thanks to Penny Blackburn for her image of me reading at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. I adore Swanwick and am always happy to sneak in extra pictures if I get the chance and given Val and Jennifer are both Swanwick friends, I thought it was a good opportunity to do that again!

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Later on in this post, I’ll be looking at openings for magical stories but you still can’t beat the one below!

Facebook – and Chandler’s Ford Today


Pleased to share Part 2 of my Judging a Book By Its Cover series for Chandler’s Ford Today. This week I chat about book covers with guests from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, Val Penny and Jennifer C Wilson, and from Authors Reach, Teresa Bassett.

Between them my guests have written crime mysteries, romantic historical fiction, ghostly historical fiction, non-fiction, and YA books! Not a bad checklist that!  And a wide range of cover experience to discuss and share with us. Hope you enjoy. I share the final part of this series next week and hope the entire series proves especially useful to those considering their cover designs now.

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Lovely day, despite a chilly breeze, and Lady had a smashing time playing with her friend, Coco.

Looking forward to sharing Part 2 of my new Chandler’s Ford Today series, Judging a Book by Its Cover. This week I chat to guests from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School and Authors Reach about their most recent covers. They share their thoughts on what makes for a good cover. Link up tomorrow.

I don’t know about you but you do know a good cover when you see one. It can be hard to define exactly what it is that has drawn you in. What matters is that the cover has drawn you in to want to find out more. And once you’re drawn in, off you go for hopefully another wonderful read! No pressure then…!!


Lady had a smashing play time with her best buddie, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, and her “gentleman friend”, Bear, who is a lovely tri-coloured Aussie Shepherd. Lady generally prefers playing with her girlfriends but Bear is one of the exceptions and he is a gent of a dog, which is probably why Lady likes him. And she can play with his Chuckit ball while he plays with her Chuckit ball etc. Three tired but happy dogs went home again… Delightful to hear a lot of thundering galloping going on here. Three reasonably big dogs at full pelt is a sight to be seen and heard.

Talking of being heard, how well do your character voices come across? Can you picture your people (or other beings) when you read their stories? When you have more than one character in a story, can you tell them apart by the way they speak? This is where pet phrases or certain words used by certain characters can help. I’ve written stories in the past where one snobby character did not use contractions at all. Good way of telling them apart from everyone else.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again


I’ve mentioned the need to really know your characters before but how does that work for flash fiction with its word count restrictions? Simple! You have a simpler set of questions to ask your characters!

You’re not going to need to go into as much back story as you would if you were writing a novel but what I have found useful to know before writing that first draft of a flash tale can be summed up below.

 

Character Type – Not does not have to be human.
Character Mood – Doesn’t have to be a positive one!
Major Trait – Again doesn’t have to be a positive one.
Theme – And sometimes the theme can make a useful title as well.

I’ve outlined an idea for a mini-flash tale (50 words or under generally) as a quick line or two on a piece of paper as I realised I had two ways of taking that particular story and I needed to know which would work best.

Jotting things down on a piece of paper or in an Evernote file on the old phone still has much to commend it. I’ve always found an outline, no matter what its length, keeps me on track for my story and saves time and heartache later on.

The heartache can come if you find out no matter what you do the story isn’t going to work and you’ve written a load of it already and can’t see ways of salvaging it. That has only happened to me twice and for the same reason – I didn’t know my character well enough.

Lesson learned. A little forward planning pays dividends and if you’re not really a planner just jotting a note to yourself of where you think your character may take you is still useful.

Am currently preparing something to submit to The Bridport Prize in their flash category. (Wish me luck. I would love to be longlisted here!). Hope to sort out the final polish and submit over the weekend.

What is encouraging though is that flash, while now a regular part of this competition and many others, wasn’t always recognized. It is great to see opportunities like this and yes you do have to be in it to have any chance of winning it.
Incidentally my final polish will be to make sure I have followed the entry rules to the letter. I can’t stress how important that is.

I have judged competitions and you don’t want to have to disqualify entries because of that but it is unfair on those who have followed the rules to allow any to go through that have not done so. So don’t make the judge’s life easy. Follow everything to the letter so the judge doesn’t have “easy” reasons to turn your entry down. Much the same applies for submitting work to a publisher and/or agent of course.


There are many things I love about flash fiction but the chief one, I think, is being able to set my characters wherever and whenever I want. So I do! I’ve written historical flash, ghost mini-tales, crime ones, acrostics, and my trademark fairytales with bite (aka fantasy with a twist, often an ironic one).

But I also love using the first person for flash tales as I get to take you straight into the head of my lead character. You see what they do. You see why they think as they do. The immediacy of flash is what gives it its emotional impact I think.


Fairytales With Bite – Once Upon a Time – Opening a Magical Story

Once upon a time is the classic way to open a magical story, of course. Those four words immediately conjure up a world far, far away (in both distance and time) and encourage me to settle down for a good read. It also immediately sets up the magical environment in which the story is going to be set.

Those words are a good example of repetition (in so many stories) setting up a link that goes deep into our subconscious. Everyone who has read or heard a fairytale will know those words and have a good idea of what is come.

Anticipation of having a story delivered is also an important part of reading. After all, what draws you to a book? The thought of a good read? But that good read can only come from you taking in the opening and deciding you would like to buy or borrow said book.

So how to open a magical story? With my flash fiction, I often set a clue in the opening line or two that magic is likely to appear. For example, in my Seeing Is Believing from Tripping the Flash Fantastic, I open with “When Ben was unwell, strange signs appeared in the sky above his house.”.

So I am upfront right at the start of the story magic has to turn up in this tale somewhere – what else could explain the strange signs? Doing this again gives readers a sense of what this story is likely to be and hopefully be intrigued enough to read on to find out whether or not they were right.

For flash fiction, I keep the level of details down to a minimum (as I need to due to the restricted word count of 1000 words maximum. The advantage of that restriction though is it makes you keep in the story only what really matters to the story. For an opening, it means I have to draw a reader in quickly so I want to make the most powerful impact I can with my opening lines).

For any kind of story, magical or otherwise, those opening lines are vital to the success of your story. I’ve found it helps to put myself in the reader’s shoes and ask myself what would I want to read here? What do I absolutely have to know? And those are good questions to ask yourself as you edit your story. They will help you make your opening lines as strong as possible.

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This World and Others – World History

Does your created world have much of a back story in its own right? If you needed to write a history of it could you do so and which aspect would you look at?

History covers a huge field from the traditional wars and battles that changed history to changing cultural history and so on. Most of this would not be directly relevant to your story but is phenomenally useful for you to know. Why? You need to be able to give your characters a sense of the world they belong to – they should know where they come from and that in turn will influence their attitudes and decisions. That will affect your story and rightly so!

So work out what you think you will need to know. If one of your characters is an artist, what kind are they? Does their culture encourage creativity or stifle it? If, say, they’re a painter in a world where only sculptures count for anything, how do they handle that?

History feeds into the lives we lead now and this is just as true for our fictional creations.

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Book Trailers and Story Videos

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated. Some Pixabay images used via Book Brush to create captions within the picture. (Love that facility!).

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Busy week ahead with my WI talk happening mid-week and the Share Your Story Writing Summit starting on 18th March. Images from the Summit provided by the organisers, Creative U.

3. writers IG 2021

23 Presenters, 23 Writing Workshops, Join Now! (FREE for a limited period, paid options available so you can keep the presentations – link below. An affiliate link will apply so if you go for either of the paid for options, I will earn some money from that affiliate link).

Share Your Story Writing Summit Link https://www.creativeu.ca/a/46030/yLSebqrq

Facebook – General

Pleased to share my Book Trailers and Story Videos post for Chandler’s Ford Today. I look at how much has changed between my first book trailer (From Light to Dark and Back Again), which Chapeltown Books produced, and Tripping the Flash Fantastic, which I produced.

So much has changed in terms of software available to writers and this is wonderful. There are so many more ways we can be creative without it costing a fortune.

I also look at learning how to be creative in different ways, including learning to think laterally. I often have to do this with my blog posts, including for CFT, as some of my topics don’t lend themselves to obvious picture links but there is usually a theme I can peg to, so that’s okay. And I take a quick peek at getting the balance right between marketing and writing new material. It’s not an easy juggling act!

Hope your Thursday has gone well. Just a quick reminder my usual Chandler’s Ford Today post is up tomorrow and I’ll be talking about book trailer and story videos.

I’ll be sharing a few thoughts on my involvement with these and how they’ve helped me learn to think laterally. That in turn has helped fuel my creativity.

One interesting thing about the writing life is how so often one thing learns to another. For example, my first book trailer was produced by my publishers, Chapeltown Books. For Tripping The Flash Fantastic, I produced the trailer myself. Between the two I learned so much about how to do these things as I found I needed to be able to do this kind of thing to help with my marketing.

Nearly everything I have learned over the last five years especially were things I had not anticipated needing to know when I started out. In some cases the technology simply wasn’t available!

But the writing journey is not meant to be a static one after all so this is a good thing indeed!
Link up tomorrow. (Also nice to put this video up again!).


Have posted a bonus article on Chandler’s Ford Today about the Share Your Story Writing Summit. All the details you need are here.

As well as having the info in one handy place on CFT, I wanted to give at least a week before the summit starts so those who wish to can take advantage of the special discount if you decide you want to go for a paid version of the workshops (23 in all!).

The paid for versions do have the advantage of your being able to keep the presentations for ever and means you can refer to them whenever you wish, rather than have to be about on the day you want or for a limited time afterwards.

As ever with these things, the earlier you book in for a paid version, the greater the discount. There is an affiliate fee so I will earn some money if you go for any of the paid for versions using the link in the post itself.

Am looking forward to taking part in this and to catching up with the other presentations. There will be much to learn!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Many thanks for the responses to my post yesterday and in particular to my opening line from My Life (which you can find in From Light to Dark and Back Again).

Hooks for a reader have to include an enticing book cover, a promising blurb, and an interesting title but, for all forms of writing, the opening line is essential to get right. It is that one line which will lead your reader on to read the next one, the one after that, or not as the case may be!

My favourite hooks for opening lines are to intrigue a reader with a setting or a character who is about to do something odd or which will grab the reader’s attention in some other way. I also love promising dialogue (who doesn’t like “eavesdropping” a conversation between interesting characters? I refuse to believe that is just me!).

But I do know that if the opening line doesn’t grab me, well… time to scrap it and come up with something much better. It won’t grab anyone else. You are your own first reader (so if you’re not grabbed by the line, why should anyone else be?) and it helps, after you’ve set aside the piece for a while, to come back to it and read it as a reader would.

You’ve almost got to pretend you haven’t written it to be able to do that but it does help you look at the work from a different perspective. I ask myself if I would like a story of mine if it had been written by someone else and I’ve found that a good technique to use. And yes, to quote that famous writing phrase, I do kill my darlings on a regular basis!

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What I love about flash fiction is how a few well chosen words can take you straight into a setting. For example, in My Life in From Light to Dark and Back Again, I start with “It is all white dresses, lace, and flowers now but I hated him when I first saw him”.

No prizes for guessing the setting here or the genre of the tale. The pivotal word here is “but” of course. I love “but” used like this as you know something is about to happen or be revealed. And you’ll hopefully want to find out what happened so the “white dresses, laces, and flowers” bit makes sense. All ways of drawing your reader in, which is what you want.

Flash fiction does make you think carefully about what description you have to show (and it is a case of showing the reader here, so win-win there too). It makes you focus on what the reader has to know and that is a good thing, regardless of what else you write.

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I’m currently leafing through the latest edition of Writing Magazine, which has its phenomenally useful writing competition guide with it. Am impressed to see a huge number of flash fiction competitions (and am sure this is up on last year too). Must go through with a red pen and circle some to have a go at myself!

One nice thing to look out for here is some of these are ongoing rolling competitions, so if you miss one deadline, you can get a piece ready for the next one. Must make a note of a few of those in my diary too.

And good luck if you are entering competitions.

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Fairytales With Bite – Mood Music for Fairytales

Music is wonderful for soothing the soul (especially classical) but it can also inspire and somehow “suit you”. So what music would suit certain fairytale characters then?

Cinderella – I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass – can imagine her the moment Cinders was able to smash those wretched glass slippers. I find it hard to believe they would have been comfortable.

Snow White – Poison Apples – Snow White should have heard this before her stepmother came to visit.

The Little Mermaid – Under the Sea – what else?

Okay so let’s flip this and look at music in general that would suit a magical world.

One obvious one stands out – Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens – to reflect the quirky nature of the magical world. Also a good one if you have Death as a character (though for me nothing will ever beat the wonderful creation of Terry Pratchett here)

Another obvious one is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I’ve never seen Fantasia in full but always have images of Mickey Mouse when this music comes on Classic FM. But this is a great track for almost any magical setting.


Thinking about your own stories, what music would suit it and why? Can you think of any anthems that would suit your characters? This kind of thing is just for fun but what you work out here will help you get further insight into your characters’ personalities and that is always useful to know.

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This World and Others – Promotions and Demotions

What kind of careers exist in your created world? Are all jobs manual, magical, or a mixture of both? Can people/beings/what have you (!) work their way up the career ladder? Could they also come tumbling down it and, if so, what would the consequences be? I would suspect in some settings losing a job would be nothing compared to what else a character would lose!

So how do promotions and demotions work? Are rewards made in money or magical gifts? Is there corruption in your setting and do people accept it or rebel against it?

What are the careers people could follow? Do certain backgrounds mean those folk from them can only do certain jobs? What would happen if someone decided to break out from that?

Is work compulsory for all or are certain groups exempt? Do other groups resent them for that?

What political links are there to career advancement (or otherwise)? Who controls those links and can that control be broken or opposed?

Lots of interesting story ideas to come from answering these, I think!

Happy writing!

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Surprises, Titles, Barnes and Noble, and Youtube

Nice combination for a title I think!

Image Credit

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Facebook – General

Had a nice surprise today. Discovered I’m on Barnes and Noble. See link and screenshot further down.

Why the surprise? Well, I guess it is because I hadn’t really thought I could be on there! Nice way to finish a Tuesday having said that! Also note to self: you really should check these things out sooner!

Very happy with progress on my kind of NaNoWriMo project too. So not a bad start to the writing week.

One thing I find about my Chandler’s Ford Today posts at times is picture finding. All hail the mighty Pixabay and all of that because they are brilliant but sometimes I will write a post where I think I will find loads of excellent images to go with it.

What do I find? Precious few.

Using Pixabay has taught me to think laterally and that will often resolve my problem but not always. For example my post on board and card games proved surprisingly difficult to find the right images for and I did think I would have a surfeit of richness there.

Still no such problem this week when I chat to #LizHurst! (Another advantage to interviewing authors – as well as being huge fun to do, you can always rely on them for book cover images, author pics etc!!).

Screenshot_2020-11-10 Tripping the Flash Fantastic PaperbackHope you have had a good start to your week. Lady and I had a wet start to the week…not that she worried. Mind you, she was pleased to see her best buddy, who is the sweetest Rhodesian Ridgeback ever. And the news about a possible Covid vaccine is fantastic news. Definitely need a lift right now.

Looking forward to sharing an interview with #LizHurst later this week on Chandler’s Ford Today. Liz and I are big fans of the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. So looking forward to being back there hopefully in August 2021.

One of the biggest things about the lockdown is missing being able to meet up with people in the way we used to do. Mind you, I love Zoom and like the way that has made events accessible. We want the best of both worlds here.

Had the delightful task yesterday of going through a proof of a short story that will be appearing later in the year in an anthology. More news later of course but this kind of writing work I’m always going to enjoy!

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As promised yesterday, here’s the link to the video for Being Yourself from Tripping The Flash Fantastic, which I uploaded to Youtube yesterday. Hope you enjoy.

I also talk a little about what inspired me to write this story. I love this kind of thing when other authors do this as I always learn something useful that I can apply to my own writing.

In other news, I’m making good progress on my non-fiction book which is my “kind of” NaNoWriMo project so am happy with that. Looking forward to getting back on to that shortly. And for another story here is the book trailer for Tripping The Flash Fantastic.

Have just scheduled another video to go up on my Youtube channel. I’ll be putting up my story, Being Yourself, which I created a video for as part of my cyberlaunch for Tripping The Flash Fantastic. Link in above post!

The story is due to go live a little later on this evening (and I will share the specific link tomorrow) but I am impressed at how easy it is to upload videos on to Youtube.

I’ve been creating videos for the first time this year for both my website and things like the launch so it makes sense for me to develop this side of things further.

Flash fiction works very well for this as it isn’t too long (so download times etc are also good). Hope to have more fun with this and create new stories specifically for the Youtube channel in due course.

Screenshot_2020-10-31 Allison Symes - YouTube

From Light to Dark and Back Again

I tend to keep my titles short for my flash stories. This is partly because some markets/competitions do include the title as part of their word count so that’s all the incentive I need to keep the title short!

But it also pays to do so simply because shorter titles are easier to remember. That in turn makes it easier for that title to impact on the reader.

It is also important for a writer to be able to keep tabs of what they wrote and where it was (hopefully) published so again make your life easier here and keep the titles short!

Most of my titles are from one to five words, though I occasionally use a six or seven worder. In Tripping The Flash Fantastic, my story Time Is For Others To Worry About is deliberately at that length as it intrigues (I hope!). If I’m using a proverb or well known saying as my title, then I will use it in full but again that phrase will be designed to spark curiosity in the reader as to what the story is all about.

So as well as outlining my lead character and story line, I do give thought to the impact I want my titles to have. It pays.

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Had a wonderful catch-up chat with Swanwick pals on Friday night via Zoom. I don’t know if this is just me but I do find Zoom easier to use than Skype.

Good to also catch up with listening to a couple of writer pals who’ve been on Chat and Spin Radio recently too. And one thing that came out of a good old chat on Friday night was the joy of flipping through the latest copy of Writing Magazine and spotting the names of writers you know in there. What is lovely is these days I feel a bit disappointed if I don’t spot the names of at least three people I know in there!

And do bear in mind that some of the magazine’s competitions would count as flash fiction. I’ve seen a 750-word competition in there, a 500 words one and so on. They may not be labelled flash fiction but they are all the same!

And online magazines like Cafelit have a lovely mixture of flash fiction and standard length short stories so bear them in mind too.

My story page on Cafelit can be found here and I deliberately have a mixture of flash and standard length short stories on there.

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Both of my book titles have reflected either the mood of the stories within them (From Light to Dark and Back Again) or the overall genre, flash fiction (Tripping The Flash Fantastic).

A good book title should draw potential readers in and the best way of doing that is for the title to spark their curiosity. Otherwise known as the “I’ve got to find out what that’s about” effect!

I didn’t know either of the titles for my collections until late in the writing stage. I DID have working titles (I do need to have something to “peg” my stories to) but also knew these would not be the final versions (but that was okay as I still had my “security blanket peg” so to speak).

It also pays to jot down ideas for titles as they come to you (and it’s often when you’re not expecting them!). Having a shortlist of possibles is reassuring and there is bound to be at least one that really grabs you (and hopefully would also grab other readers).

 

One good exercise to do is to give yourself five minutes to come up with opening lines. Don’t edit what you’ve come up with either.

Just jot down the ideas and work with those.

I have fun here with coming up with seemingly impossible scenarios that I am going to have to find a way for my character(s) to overcome. The best kind of opening line is open to interpretation and can be taken in different directions. See what you can do with these.

1. The postman may have rung twice but he wasn’t going to do so again.

2. When your living room lights up with blue sparkling fairy lights even though it is nowhere near Christmas, you know you’ve got a problem.

3. The dog was never wrong.

Allison Symes – 7th November 2020

 

Goodreads Author Blog – Favourite Non-Fiction Books

I must admit my favourite non-fiction books tend to be the writing guides. I’m especially fond of Stephen King’s On Writing (which is also a great memoir. There aren’t many writing books which can claim that).

I also like How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman is packed with great advice and is very funny.

I also like the Jane Wenham-Jones books Wanna Be a Writer? and Wanna Be a Writer We’ve Heard Of? Again lots of useful information given in a chatty and funny way. I adore that kind of thing.

I suspect I’m not the only one here but I do take information in better (and retain it) if I’ve enjoyed the books said information is in!

No pressure on the non-fiction writers then!

I also love the Ben Macintyre books – again history presented in an entertaining way. I am glad the days of non-fiction being confined to serious and literally heavy tomes have now gone.

And it is a good idea for any writer to mix up their reading material. Inspiration for our own stories can come from a variety of places so it makes sense to read widely and to include non-fiction in that. You just need to read one fascinating fact and ideas for working that into a story can come.

I’m currently reading on my Kindle Spike Milligan’s Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall and loving it. It is non-fiction because Milligan did serve in the war. It is humorous (as you would expect from him) and it draws you in and is a real pleasure to read.

And that’s what a good read should be after all!

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Learning from Stories and Characters

Image Credit:  Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Facebook – General

Writing characters is good fun, especially when you can think of suitable flaws that you know you can use to drop said characters right in it. The important thing is for the flaws to be realistic and not over exaggerated.

I have never really liked larger than life characters in fiction (with the honourable exception of Mr Toad in Wind in the Willows! That’s partly because we know he is OTT from the start of the story!).

I want my characters’ flaws to be reasonable based on what I’ve found out about them. For example, if I know a character is kindly, then their major flaw is unlikely to be anything violent etc. The flaw has to fit with the character.

In this case I would probably make the flaw irritability. This makes sense as a kindly soul pushed too much would be irritable. There should always be a flaw to balance out the virtues.

I find goody two shoes characters difficult to read too and I think most readers would. We want realistic characters, people we can identify with, even if we don’t always agree with them or their actions.

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What have I learned from stories I’ve read over the years?

The big lesson, of course, is I’ve discovered what I love and equally what I don’t!

What is more useful still is in working out why I haven’t liked something. It is almost always that the characters didn’t come across well enough for me. I then look at that and think about how I might’ve portrayed those characters and why.

For stories I love, I study how the dialogue flows,how the chemistry between characters works (and you can always tell the author has put a lot of thought into how their people will be on the page), and what I thought worked well.

From all of this, negative and positive, you can learn a lot to apply to your own tales.

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I use the Scrivener template for outlining my characters though you can easily devise your own. Work out what you think you need to know about your characters and outline from there.

One of the Scrivener settings is for character name. Okay, okay, I hear you say, why the fuss about that? Course you’ve got to know the character name.

That’s true but dig a little deeper and look at why you’re naming the character as you have. Names can reveal much such as likely age of character (Gertrude has not been a fashionable name for a while now!) as well as likely class background and things like that.

The template also has a lovely section on personality and that’s where I get to outline major traits. By the time I’ve done that I know what the character’s personality is like.

I’ve also found outlining like this speeds up the process of writing the story. Outline in place and away I go as I already feel as if I know the lead character(s) in depth.

Looking forward to sharing my CFT post with you later this week. Crime writer, Val Penny, will be looking at her venture into non-fiction with her recently released Let’s Get Published. We’ll be discussing the challenges of writing non-fiction and the aspects of that you simply don’t face as a fiction writer.

Got the first draft of a story for a competition done earlier today so that is now resting, waiting ready for my eagle editor’s eye to attack it with the old red pen!

I now know (by not hearing) a couple of my earlier competition entries this year have not got anywhere in the places I submitted them to but this means I can look at these stories again. Sometimes I can find an alternative market for them and I have been published that way too. So it is always worth considering this as a possibility.

Work might find a different home from the one you originally intended for it but that’s okay.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Flash characters have to lead from the front given there is not a lot of room to tell their story. This is one reason why I use first person a lot. There is an immediacy about that which helps increase the pace of the story but it also takes you right into the character too.

So when I’m planning a story, I outline my lead character. They’ve got to have a story worth sharing after all. So what makes a character worth writing about?

It has to be someone who intrigues a reader. Intrigue can come from setting up a situation the character has to resolve and a reader wants to find out how they do. It can come from a character being the type that lands themselves in it and a reader wants to see if (a) that stops or (b) what their latest adventure is.

 

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Hope the writing week proves to be a good one for you. Likewise the reading one! And if you count under both categories, have a fab time reading and writing!

I’m reading a couple of collections on my Kindle at the moment and thoroughly enjoying them. I’ve found reading collections to be a good way of getting out of my thankfully temporary reading drought.

I’ve long hoped that flash fiction might also be a good way to tempt reluctant readers in to reading at all as you’re not asking them to commit to too much in one go for a start.

Well here’s hoping!😊

 

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It’s been a while since I’ve shared some flash one-liners with you. Time to rectify that then. Hope you enjoy these.

1. The elephant was in the room and looked around with interest, wondering who would be the first to try and make him leave.

2. Of all the last words she’d heard in her time, she’d never expected to hear “I don’t suppose you’re a vegetarian dragon by any chance?”

3. The witch incinerated the speed camera after she went through it at 180 mph as she didn’t fancy facing Lucinda who had gone through the same spot the week before at over 200 mph.

Allison Symes – 22nd June 2020

 

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Hope you enjoyed the one-line stories. They’re great fun to do. I’d also recommend having a go at this as (a) an interesting challenge and (b) as a warm-up writing exercise ahead of whatever your main writing event is!

One aspect to flash fiction is that all those writing exercises you’ve had a go at over the years might be able to be turned into stories you can submit to a publisher and/or competition. Give it a go! You’ve nothing to lose here. But as with any fiction writing, ensure all is as polished as you can make it before you send your work anywhere to give yourself the best possible chance.

Good luck!

 

Goodreads Author Blog – Outdoor or Indoor Reading

Allowing for the time of year, do you enjoy reading books outside?

The only time I get to do this is when I’m on holiday. At home I tend to think I should be getting on with some gardening rather than reading a book.

I know! Allison, why don’t you tell the inner critic to go away? That is sometimes easier said than done though!

That said, I do find it easier to grab a magazine and read that outside while enjoying a drink or a bite to eat. (It’s also easier to use as a fly/wasp swat should the need arise!).

So how about you? I do find it far easier to read indoors and ideally at bedtime when my inner critic has gone away for the night and I can read in peace.

I also know my treasured books aren’t at risk of being rained on etc so I guess that comes into it too,

What matters though is finding time to read and unwind. And reading is such a wonderful way to unwind. I can only live one life but through books and stories I can get to experience many at secondhand. That is one aspect to stories I simply adore.

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Competitions, Reading, and Publication News

Image Credit:  As ever, unless otherwise stated, the images are from Pixabay or Pexels.

Facebook – General

Every so often, I go through my list of potential competitions and whittle them down. I inevitably don’t get to enter all of them (time!) but I like to have a shortlist of contenders to pick from and I always go for the themes that appeal to me most. I do go in for open theme competitions too but actually prefer the set themes. I like to have a framework to work towards.

I wish I could say tidying the paperwork up immediately triggered inspiration for the Best Writing Idea Ever but I think I’d need the Writing Fairy to make a special appearance for that one to happen! 😆😆 I’ll let you know if she ever shows up….

 

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Have been slowly getting back into reading again via the Kindle.

I talked about how I’ve not read that much since the lockdown began in my CFT post last week so I am pleased the drought is beginning to clear.

I have had patches of not reading much before, mainly at times of great upset/stress etc., but also know that those patches pass so it is a relief to be slowly coming out of this one. (The last time was around the time I lost my dad, just over three years ago and I didn’t start reading properly again until a week after the funeral).

And yes I’m reading humour. It is always what I turn to first to kickstart my reading “diet” again.

And if you find you’re not writing or reading so much (or both), go easy on yourself. See this as a temporary stage only. It is!

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Managed to do a fair bit of editing over the weekend so am pleased with that. My CFT post this week will be looking at books on the radio and will feature YA author, Richard Hardie, as well as yours truly. More on that later in the week.

I must admit one advantage of writing mainly in the evenings is not having the heat browbeat me down! (I never work that well in very hot weather. Mind you, does anyone apart from the ice cream sellers?!😆).

I’ve long found creative writing to be therapeutic. I suppose it is because finding a form of artistic expression that suits me is so relaxing. I see writing as my wind-down time. I like to feel at the end of a session I used the time productively even if I “only” produced two flash fiction stories, say. I want to feel happy with what I’ve written even at first draft stage (because I know the work will only get better after that).

For longer term projects, I want to feel as I’ve made progress and I can see where I’ve got to go next.

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Facebook – General – and Publication News

Bonus post tonight. My story Breaking Out is now on Cafelit. Hope you enjoy.

The opening line comes from a prompt I contributed to the Prompts book produced by Gill James (see picture below). Do check it out in the usual places. You won’t run out of writing prompts!

 

Prompts 2020 by [Gill James]

Facebook – General

As you know, when I’m planning out a character I focus on their major trait(s) and there usually is more than one. After all, someone isn’t just brave, say. They may well be honest, charitable, compassionate and so on as well. It is the combination of traits that sparks a character (and therefore the story).

A character who is generally honest but is forced to lie to protect people they love is going to be a character I want to read about. I will want to find out what happens as a result of that lie but also how the character deals with their internal conflict here. While they’ll be happy to protect loved ones, they won’t be happy to have had to lie so how do they handle that?

 

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Facebook –

From Light to Dark and Back Again – Story Time!

Story time again. Random question generator time again. Hope you enjoy.

The question was what are the two things you would do if you woke up to find you were invisible? My answers? Panic and wonder whether I’d ever “come back”! But I thought it would be fun to write a story on this.

IN TIME

I knew something was up the moment the alarm woke me. Oh it was set for the usual time – 5.40 am – but when I realised I couldn’t see my hand as I went to switch the wretched thing off, I began to panic. I thought at first I’d lost my sight but then realised I was looking at where my hand should be and I could see my wardrobe in one corner of my room. Opposite was my chair.

I got up and went towards the full length mirror which was something I’d inherited from my gran. There was nothing in the mirror. Now I know I’m not a vampire and you’ll just have to take my word for it on that. This is when my panic settings went from mild to through the roof and up into the stratosphere territory. Well, you just would panic, wouldn’t you?

And then I remembered. I was rushing home from work and bumped into a scatter brained old lady who stepped in front of me in such a way I had no time to stop. I shouted at her to look where she was going, was she blind or something, and yes I know I was bloody rude and I am sorry about that. I’d had a horrendous day at work and I just wanted to get home. I know – no excuses but I want you to know I’m not normally rude.

Anyway she called out that she would teach me to look and I just laughed at that and thought nothing of it. I laughed even more when she got a big stick from her handbag and waved it in my direction. Who did she think she was – a fairy godmother or something?

I don’t know what to do. Will this wear off? She did call out I’d have to come and grovel to her soon. I laughed at that too.
Trouble is, it doesn’t seem so damned funny now.

I’ll be off. I’ll get my coat. If I’ve got to grovel, I’d rather get it over and done with.

Ends

Allison Symes – 23rd May 2020

 

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Hope you enjoyed my story, In Time, yesterday. This is the first time I’ve used the random question generator as the theme of the story, rather than as the title, opening or closing line. So yet another use for the generators then!

I’ve sometimes come across writing prompts that I would like to have a go at but I’m not happy with the ideas I come up with so I will bear using the prompt as a theme instead. I think that will give more flexibility.

What I would be inclined to do here is save such stories generated this way for open competitions where you set the theme anyway.

It means an idea could well produce something for you that you might otherwise have written off if you weren’t happy with something you’ve prepared with a specific theme-set competition in mind.

I’ve always found it best to submit the very best stories I can produce. Anything I’m not happy with for any reason doesn’t get binned. Neither does it get submitted. I save it and see if I can salvage something from it later and usually I can. Okay it can’t go in for that competition but that’s fine. If the author’s not happy with the story, the competition judge won’t be either!

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What would you say are your favourite kinds of stories and why?

I love:-

Humorous prose, especially fantasy, as I enjoy a good laugh.

Crime(though not the very violent type) as I enjoy the puzzle and seeing justice being done.

History – fiction and non-fiction. I learn from both. A well told historical fiction story does seem to transport me back to the era it is set in. (Music can do this too. I love Ralph Vaughan-Williams Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis for that reason). A good non-fiction book will show me aspects of a historical character I’d not considered before.

Fairytales –first love, storywise. Always enjoy seeing the deserving get what they deserve (and this is even more true for the villains!).

And what I love most about flash fiction is the form is open enough for you to write in those genres and many more. All you need worry about is the word count and even there you have flexibility from the very short to the right on the 1,000 words limit. There are competitions and markets to suit the entire range too.

 

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I mix up how I approach writing flash fiction in terms of word count. There are times I know I want to write to a specific count (usually 75 or 100 words) for a chosen market and/or competition.

At other times, having outlined my story and character(s), I write it and then work out what word count it works best at. I then keep that story one side until a suitable market/competitiion comes up.

If a story works best at 250 words, I keep it there and won’t try and edit it down to get to a sub-200 word competition.

And how do I judge where a story works best?

It’s always about the impact of the character for me. The next thing I ask myself is whether there is anything I could add to or take out of the story which would improve the tale and its impact. When the answer is no, I’m there!

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Goodreads Author Blog – Book Events

One of the things I miss most as a writer at the moment is the ability to go to book events.

Much as I do deeply appreciate what is available online, and it is a lifeline, I miss going into libraries and bookshops.

I also miss going to author events and I look forward to being able to do all of these things again in due course.

The Waterloo Arts Festival is going to be online this year. I’ll be taking part in that as one of the winners of their writing competition and I made a video for this.

It was good fun to do but oh I shall miss meeting up in person with my fellow writers. (We will all miss the pub lunch beforehand too!).

But the good news is books can still be celebrated and they should be. Of all the times to need books for escapism, it is now, isn’t it?

Whatever you’re reading, I hope you have a wonderful time “between the covers” and, whoever it is you’re reading, do consider leaving a review in the usual places including here. It really does help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Murphy’s Law For Readers

Time for some lightheartedness I think… hence my CFT post. More in a moment.

Image Credit:  As ever, all images are from Pixabay or Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I thought a lighthearted post would be useful for my slot on Chandler’s Ford Today this week – hence Murphy’s Law for Readers! Hope you enjoy this and do send in your own Murphy’s Law suggestions for Readers via the CFT comments box.

The post takes in readers and books, readers and libraries, and readers and book events etc and so I’ve taken a broad approach here! Hope you enjoy.

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It is always good fun to write humorous posts for Chandler’s Ford Today and I hope the Murphy’s Law For Readers which is this week’s piece amuses you! It amused me when I wrote it so I hope that’s a good sign! (I wrote a piece on Murphy’s Law for Writers a year or so ago so that is everyone on the reading and writing fence covered now I think).

Many thanks to our church for sending a Good Friday service sheet for us to use at home today. It was great but must admit to missing seeing everyone and I hope it is not too long before we meet again. It really does not feel like Easter to me. Mind you, the weekends don’t really feel like weekends either at the moment.

I would be glad to have a writing routine anyway as I am one of life’s planners (as much as possible at the moment anyway) but am finding having this routine now to be incredibly useful. It’s a bit of normality in what is an abnormal situation for us all.

Nice lot of cheering in my neck of the words for the frontline workers. Well done all. (This is happening ever Thursday night at 8 pm in the UK for the duration of the lockdown here – I don’t know whether anything similar is happening elsewhere but I do think this show of appreciation is a very good thing indeed).

Looking forward to hearing where my choices for the Classic FM Hall of Fame come in this year’s chart. They count this down over the Easter weekend. My choices were:-

1. Jupiter (from the Planet Suite) by Holst
2. Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Vaughan Williams.
3. Danse Macabre by Saint Saens (and used as the theme for Jonathan Creek and the book trailer for my From Light to Dark and Back Again – see below! So this music will always have special meaning for me!).

Need a sort out of my writing desk so that is on the cards for me to do tomorrow. Yes, have been putting it off. I refuse to believe I’m the only writer who does that.😆😆

Have resumed playing tennis on the old Nintendo Wii to help with my exercise levels. Well I say playing… let’s say I give it a go! Lady doesn’t like it though and goes and hides while I “strut my stuff” here. Of course it won’t help she can’t possibly get the ball here and no collie will like that.

Writing wise, am working on a book proposal for my non-fiction idea but that will take a while to do. Am also fleshing out ideas for a flash piece for a competition so plenty to be getting on with.

My CFT post this week will be a lighthearted one about Murphy’s Law for Readers. I wrote one about a year ago for writers so it is only fair readers get their turn! Link up on Friday.

Am slowly getting back to reading again which is good. I’ve had no problems writing but think my focus has been on ONE creative activity rather than two.

Reading is a creative activity in its own right in that, for fiction, you should be able to engage with the characters. For non-fiction, you should be gripped by what you are discovering and hopefully go on to find out more about the topic you’re engrossed with.

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Am happily drafting a flash fiction piece for a competition at the moment. Have got the character and her voice as I like it. But she’s spouting on a little bit too much for the word count requirement so she is going to be shortened! It is one of those cases where I know she can be shortened without losing her style and indeed her style will come through better at the reduced count.

This is where I need to work out what is VITAL for the reader to know. Anything that is not something I could honestly call vital comes out.

This is why I do like writing the longer flash fiction stories too as those give you a bit more room to play with and there you can have characterisation that adds depth and strengthens the story. This is where you can have that “little bit more” which adds flavour to a story.

I think it is a good thing to write a mixture of word count stories so you get a real feel for writing short and spare tales and longer ones with added “value” that you simply can’t put into a shorter story. But what I do know is when I’ve got my character and their voice right, the word count has to suit that. I know I can simplify what I’ve drafted for my current story and I should do that anyway. It should take me to the required count but there are times I really can’t get a story down any further without losing something important – so I don’t! You do get better over time I think at working out when to call it a day.

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One thing I have found useful with regard to having an Amazon Author Central page is having my book trailer on it for FLTDBA. I very much hope later in the year when hopefully Tripping the Flash Fantastic is out that a book trailer for this will also appear.

I have had some fun on my website with book trailers too. (https://allisonsymescollectedworks.com/book-trailers/)

As well as the ones for FLTDBA and the Bridge House/Cafelit/Waterloo Art Festival Writing Competition collections I’ve been involved in, I have created a basic trailer for one of my stories from FLTDBA. I hope to do more of this as and when but I mention it because flash fiction is ideal for this kind of thing! You want something nice and short that is easy to read on a screen… hmm… on to a winner there I think!

 

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What do I like best about story and flash fiction collections?

I like the range of moods that can be contained in one book (which directly inspired the title for my own From Light to Dark and Back Again of course).

I love being able to dip in and out of such a book, whether I read it in paperback or via the Kindle.

I love them as they are brilliant for those times when I don’t have time to read or don’t feel like reading a huge amount. Indeed it is often the collections that get me out of the latter mood and into reading novels and non-fiction again.

I also just love the whole idea of reading a book full of little self-contained worlds with a host of characters. They are just fun!

They’re huge fun to write too!

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Fairytales With Bite – 

What Fairytales Have Done For Me

I’ve loved fairytales for more years than I care to remember, encouraged no doubt by my parents buying me The Reader’s Digest Complete Collection of Fairytales. This is a two volume set which I still have. (One of the books is bound up with tape to keep the spine together!). I spent hours reading the stories and admiring the wonderful illustrations. So what have fairytales done for me as a writer then?

  1. Fairytales have a strong message which they get across without lecturing and in an entertaining way.  I find that inspirational (and a challenge to always “raise my game” here).
  2. Fairytales don’t shy away from calling something evil that is evil. There is no mistaking the goodies and baddies here. The characters are clear cut and their actions and thoughts are consistent. That’s all useful stuff for writers.
  3. Fairytales have endings which are appropriate. Generally these are happy ones but there are exceptions and that’s  okay too. What matters is the ending is appropriate to the story.
  4. When magic is used in a fairytale, it is always used to assist and it is rarely the first resort. Characters still have to use their intelligence and take advantage of others forms of help coming to them.

 

This World and Others – The Arts

What place do the arts have in your fictional “other world”? Is there music? Painting? Creative writing? Are these things valued or despised? Does everyone have access to them or only the privileged few?

For your characters, what do the arts mean to them? What role can the arts play in their story?

When fleshing out your creation, think of the arts as a way of adding culture and depth to your created world. You can always use things like statues as well known landmarks your character has to reach to meet someone etc. That tells a reader there is sculpture in your world at least (and therefore likely to be other art forms too. It also reveals there is at least some appreciation of these things and this is a good indicator of likely intelligence levels too).

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As One Season Ends…

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

As part of my CFT post this week, As One Season Ends, I look at how getting older has helped me as a writer. I prefer to use the term mature, though I appreciate that may put you in mind of a fine wine or a good cheese! I am proud to say though my “wine/cheese” still has plenty of life in it and I’m well ahead of my Best Before Date.

One thing I love about writing is it is not the privilege of one age bracket only. Debut writers have had successes when young or old and I find that tremendously encouraging. I hope you do too.

Image Credit: As ever, the marvellous Pixabay. Captions on CFT post.

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What I love about character creation:-

1. You literally get to invent people. People with traits you’d like to have. People with traits you’re glad you DON’T have. It’s huge fun inventing a new person (I suspect Baron Frankenstein may have had similar thoughts but with much more questionable results in his case!).

2. You have great fun inventing dialogue for your characters and I love it when “they” come up with something that surprises me. I then look at this again and think, yes, that suits the traits I’ve given them. It’s proof to me this character is live, working, “their own” person and likely to be distinctive to the reader.

3. You have even more fun dropping said characters right in the mire and finding out how they get out of it (or not as the case may be. In the latter case, does someone else help them out? Why? What do they hope to gain? All sorts of story possibilities there).

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Well, the weather was cooler today, much to the relief of both Lady and me. (The same can’t be said for the political atmosphere in the UK at the moment and that’s all I’m saying about that).

Writing wise, while I believe there is a lot of truth in there only being so many plots in the world, I also believe there are infinite possibilities with said plots. Why?

It’s all down to the characters. Character creation fascinates me as a tweak here or there can make a huge difference to how your character is going to respond to situations and therefore what conflicts ensure. If they’ve got any kind of spirit they will be the cause of problems AND be the type that resolves them (or those caused by others who are worse than they are!).

A meek and mild character is not generally going to be the hero/heroine (I never did like Miss Price in Austen’s Mansfield Park, far too wishy-washy for me) but they can be an irritant (however unintentionally) to your main character and be the cause of further problems for your lead to sort out. So even this kind of character can be useful.

Have fun with your people, people!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

When I was putting From Light to Dark and Back Again together, I didn’t have an overall theme in mind. The stories were a nice mixture of humorous and dark tales and that directly inspired the book’s title.

When writing individual flash fiction stories, I focus on who the character is going to be, what their major trait is, and whether the story is going to be a funny or dark one.

If I’m writing for a competition with a set theme, then I work out different ways of how that theme could be taken and then go with the one I like best. It is very rarely the first idea I came up with either.

It is true for me when brainstorming ideas I do have to get the dross out of my system before coming up with something that has real possibilities. The important bit is not to worry about the dross, after all you’ll be discarding that, but get to those deeper ideas and that’s where you will find promising story ideas and characters to work with.

Open theme competitions can sometimes be more difficult precisely because they’re open. I set my own theme for these and then work to that. I have to have some parameters and then away I go. All I can say is that it works for me.

Whatever you’re writing this weekend, have a fab time doing so!

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My favourite kind of ending for flash fiction stories is the twist one. I like trying to guess at it and feel pleased when I’m right. I’m more pleased when I’m not as the author has kept me guessing and wrongfooted me (and I really don’t mind that at all!).

It’s a tough thing to get right though.This is where I think knowing what your twist ending will be and then working backwards to get to the start point would pay off. I’ve found this to be a technique that works for me and I’m in illustrous company too. Agatha Christie was known to do this and I can see why.

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I hope you had writing fun with the random word, phrase, and number generators. The great thing with these is if you’re ever stuck for something to write about, use any of these and just go with what comes up. It doesn’t matter if what comes up is ridiculous. Have fun with it!

Just free write, say for a set period of time, and have a look at your work later. Don’t expect it to be perfect. It won’t be. (I doubt if there is any such thing as a perfect piece of writing anyway).

What I hope you will find is in having something to work with, it will free up your imagination for other writing projects you have on the go.

I find it to be a fun thing to do and I often do use the generators for flash fiction in particular. (Oh and another great prompt can be pictures of course. See what you can do with the great images from Pixabay below!).

Association of Christian Writers – More than Writers –

– Appreciating Writing

How often do you take time out to appreciate writing – your own, as well as the work of others? Not often enough, I suspect, but this begs the question should we appreciate writing more? Wouldn’t we be better off just writing? I’d argue appreciating writing will help you improve your own.

Inspiring, Entertaining, Informing – all good things to aim for with our writing. Pixabay

Every now and again, I recall what writing has done for me. I look at what the work of others has done for me too. One novel changed my attitude to a king. (The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey if you were wondering. The way it is written is good too).

Appreciating our writing, and that of others, should help us, and them, develop as writers. Pixabay

I believe in realising why you must write and its effects on you (in developing a creative streak, if nothing else), you will end up inspired to write better.

It is in writing my stories and blogs I discovered the hard work needed to (a) keep these going, (b) to continue to be entertaining and, hopefully, share useful information, and (c) how hard other writers must work on their material.

I’m also grateful for technology. I don’t miss carbon paper and typewriter erasers.  Pixabay

I appreciate a great turn of phrase so much more now and often wonder how long it took the writer to come up with the final selection of words that made it into print.

In appreciating the writing of others, you can also analyse what it is you love about it. What can you learn here to apply to your work? There will be something.

In going to conferences and Writers’ Days, you appreciate the breadth of the writing world and find encouragement within your own sphere. Writing has taken me to places I’d never dreamed of reaching. (If someone had told me a couple of years ago, I’d happily take part in Open Prose Mic Nights, I’d have told them not to be so silly).

I used a bigger Olympia. It weighed a ton! I really appreciate not having to lug that around any more! Pixabay

Writing should stretch you and that is good. There is no such thing as the perfect piece of writing but what we can do is the best we can at the time and go on to do better as we learn more about our craft and pick up tips from other writers.

It is also lovely when you can share tips with others. Writing is a lonely enough profession so support and encouragement go a long way. Well, they do for me.

Writing is something not to be taken for granted then. I don’t write to give a message. I write to entertain. I hope my stories and blog posts can lift people when they need that. I see it as giving back to the writing world which has given me so much.

This is always a good idea. Pixabay

There is every point for “message” writing. There is every point just to entertain. We cannot know what hard times readers are going through but to give them opportunities to take time out for a while  is worthwhile. So never be ashamed of just writing to entertain. I do sometimes wonder if entertainment is looked down on as a reason to write. I don’t think it should be.

Fairytales with Bite – As One Season Ends

My CFT post, As One Season Ends, looks at the topic from a personal and writing viewpoint, but here I want to look at how your characters handle the changes in the seasons in their lives.

We all have such seasons and our characters should be no different. After all, there have been times in life when we have been students and other times, say, when we’ve been employees. So what seasons in life do your characters go through?

If your setting is in fantasy or sci-fi, do your characters have education as we know it? What do their young people have to go through to be considered mature? How do your characters cope with expected changes in life (their society expects them to do this and then do that etc)? How do they handle the unexpected ones (the sudden loss of someone special etc)?

Does your created world have physical seasons as we understand them here? If so, what function does each season serve? I would expect there to be some sort of growing season (which logically must be followed by some kind of harvest).

How do your characters mature? Are there rituals they must follow and what happens to anyone who defies that?

Plenty of food for thought there I think.

Image Credit:  As ever, the photos are from the fantastic Pixabay. The ones I originally used on this on FWB are up above under my CFT link. Here are some other beautiful seasonal pictures. I always love an opportunity to use photos like these.

This World and Others –

What Every Good Story or Non-Fiction Piece Needs

While every genre has specific requirements, what every good story needs can be summarised as follows. (A lot of this can apply to non-fiction too).

  1. Memorable characters with distinctive voices. For non-fiction, this equates to a memorable narrative style and voice. Think of documentaries you have loved. What made them stand out? A lot of that will be down to the narrative voice.
  2. A plot that keeps the reader enthralled and has plenty of ups and downs. For non-fiction, it is a case of setting out what you want to share with the reader in an entertaining and informative way. No dull list of facts etc. You want to engage with your reader and draw them into the world you’re trying to show them.
  3. To meet the needs of the reader whether it is to entertain them with a story or show them something they hadn’t known with non-fiction. You really do need to know your audience.
  4. A powerful ending that delivers on a promising start.
  5. No sagging middles!
  6. A good, memorable title which hooks the reader.
  7. To be a good advert for the other writing you do!

Image Credit:  The fantasic Pixabay.

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Swanwick Report 2 (This Time It’s Personal!)

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I was on way home from Swanwick as I drafted this earlier this afternoon. Not sure I’m ready to face the real world yet but the weekend will help.

Mind, it was lovely getting home to the family again, and I was mugged by Lady in a totally good way as well! One happy dog…

My CFT post this week is Making Space Part 2 and here I share thoughts and tips on this for writers. Hope you find at least some of them helpful.

Planning is key to my getting writing done at all and it pays to make space for that planning. It really does help you be more productive. Try it and see!

Image Credit:  Pixabay.  Captions on CFT.

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Publication News:  Cafelit

Busy night for me! I forgot to share this earlier this week but better late than never…

Am pleased to say my story, Life is What You Make It, went up on Cafelit on 12th August. Hope you enjoy.

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Why does Swanwick week always speed by? Glad to see sun come out in time for the Dregs Party held on the main lawn though.

Really encouraged on the non-fiction front and have written flash fiction stories too. Plenty to be getting on with when I get back home (and not just my laundry!).

The joy of writing is in being creative and discovering and enjoying new forms in which to write.

The joy of Swanwick is you know there are close to 300 people there with you who totally understand that.

Image Credit:  Swanwick pictures taken by me but a huge thank  you to Penny Blackburn for the one of me reading at the Open Prose Mic Night.

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I picked Getting Lost, Mirrored, and Test Pilot to read at the Swanwick Prose Open Mic night. Many thanks to Penny Blackburn for the pic (above).

Another full day of inspiring courses and workshops. It takes a while after you get home to process all you know will be useful to you but that’s fine. Knowing what you want to do is key and coming to Swanwick can and has been helping me hone in on that.

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Have three flash stories drafted as a result of Swanwick. All need polishing though. I never get as much writing done as I think I will at Swanwick, because your head (and notebooks) are full of ideas to follow up when you get back.

I also want to cherish time spent with other writers, most of whom I won’t see for another year. This is where social media is such a blessing in that it makes you able to stay in touch that way.

What was great was coming across a number of other flash fiction writers. The form is growing and that will lead to more fantastic stories. Win-win there!

The nice thing with writing for competitions is if a place doesn’t get placed, you have a story you can look at again and rework and submit elsewhere.

Most of the time you won’t be placed. Does that sound depressing? Perhaps but on the assumption there’s nothing wrong with your story, other factors happen such as:-

  1. The judge has already read a story very similar to yours and, for whatever reason, the other has the edge. There’s not much you can do here other than make your work as polished as possible and try not to go for the too obvious interpretation of a theme.

  2. For open competitions especially, judges may genuinely have a preference for a particular story type or genre and yours doesn’t float their boat. Just get the work out somewhere else appropriate.

Good luck!

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I love it when flashes of inspiration strike though nobody says they have to come at convenient times, unfortunately.

My awkward-to-get-to-a-pen moments include:-

Being in the shower when a real cracker of an idea turns up.

Being on the loo when etc etc.

Being stuck in traffic and I’m driving.

Longing to write when on a train but you’re packed in so tight even an exceptionally skinny ant would have trouble finding space. {Anyone come across an obese ant? Just thought I’d ask!).

Oh well…

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Fairytales with Bite – Making Space

My CFT post this week discusses why Making Space is a great idea for writers. See http://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/making-space-part-2-the-writing-view/

I believe fairytales and fantasy fills the spaces between reality and chaos. Why? Because so many tales in these genres reflect what we can be like, while others give strong moral messages. Why do we need such things?

  1. To guide us as to what our behaviour should/should not be;
  2. To show us what life could be like without kindness, gratitude etc. Would you really not want things to come right for Cinderella, for example?

As writers, we also need to give our characters space to develop in themselves and as part of the plot development. A character who doesn’t change will be of little interest to readers.

This World and Others – Entering Another World

You do feel as if you enter another world when you go to Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. For a week, I do! Coming out of that world again can be a wrench too.

Image Credit:  Photos of Swanwick taken by me with the exception of my reading at the Open Prose Mic Night. Many thanks to Penny Blackburn for that. ALREADY SHARED ABOVE.

But going home with ideas to work on will take me back into the fantastic world of the imagination in no time. So that’s all right then!😀 The really nice thing about this?

It applies whether you write flash or other fiction and non-fiction.

When you want to escape this world for a bit, write!

Your title needs to make an impact quickly and especially if writing flash fiction as it can set mood and save you word count - PixabayThe first title idea you have may need to change later but that's okay - PixabayAnd the first thing people will want to know is the title - Pixabay918521_S.jpg

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Still room for pen and paper drafts. Pixabay

 

 

Work In Progress/Flash Fiction Ideas

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

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A week today and I’ll be at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School again. Can’t wait! Always good to catch up with old friends, make new ones, and learn so much from the different courses and workshops. The usual dilemma of which ones to go to applies… but I know I’m in good company with that!

Many thanks to all who’ve read Stolen on Cafelit.

Hope to get another story off for a competition this coming week. Am making a conscious effort to increase my throughput (so to speak) and am pleased I’ve done better this year on this than I did at the same time twelve months ago.

As for where I don’t hear what the results are or where I receive outright rejections, I will review those stories later in the year and see if I can submit them elsewhere. Usually, I can. Sometimes I can spot something, after a break away from it, that could do with strengthening so I work on the story and then re-submit it. Very little is wasted!

Update:  Am pleased to say I will have another story up on Cafelit on 12th August. More nearer the time.

And the first thing people will want to know is the title - Pixabay

I can’t remember what the first story I wrote was. It was not published but to begin with I didn’t write with publication in mind. My first thoughts were to see if (a) I could write a story at all and then (b) can I repeat the process?

I kept doing that for a while until I had a reasonable number and then started submitting work (on the grounds I had absolutely nothing to lose so may as well give it my best shot. If I was published I’d be thrilled to bits. I was – and I was! I still love that thrill of knowing something of mine has been accepted for publication. That’s the nice thing. That thrill does not diminish!).

I will always remember the first story that was published though! (A Helping Hand in Bridge House Publishing’s Alternative Renditions anthology. I suspect time will stand still long before I forget that!).

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Pleased Just a Minute is back on Radio 4. That and Clue are the main comedy shows I listen to now. JAM is a wonderful way of discovering just how hard it is NOT to repeat, deviate, or hesitate when talking on a topic. Know I couldn’t do it.

Repetition in writing is something I have mixed feelings on. I sometimes repeat a word or phrase deliberately for emphasis. Sometimes I get a character to use a particular word so whenever it comes up, you know it’s that character who is speaking. (I avoid tags as much as possible but generally stick to he said/she said/it said when I do need to use them).

When I edit, I’m looking out for the repetitions I didn’t mean to do and there are always some! (This is another reason for reading work out loud by the way. I’ve found I’ve missed things even looking at a printout. Reading the work out literally brings home your repetitions and other failings as you hear yourself speak and realise you’ve used a phrase several times when you didn’t need to or mean to).

Delighted to say I’ll have another story up on Cafelit next week too. More details a bit nearer the time. Looking forward to sharing the link while I’m at Swanwick too.

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I don’t schedule posts as often as could but I will be preparing a two-part CFT article on Making Space, which I’ll schedule for this Friday and the one after. (I will be very tired but happy after a wonderful week at Swanwick for the second part of my post, which will focus on making space as a writer. More details on the first part tomorrow).

I usually schedule posts for when I’m due to be away but, increasingly thanks to Evernote and a smartphone, I’m drafting posts and then putting up later the same day. I often use train journeys for this as well as my flash fiction. It means I get a nice mixture of writing done.

I need to try to write up posts in batches more often and schedule them, as I’m sure that will prove to be more efficient. The nice thing is as well is if something topical comes up, you just change your schedule for whatever you WERE going to post. You can always use that another time. The only thing to watch is to ensure any batch posts are all timeless and could go up at any time.

Pleased to say I submitted another story yesterday for a competition. Have submitted more work at this time this year than twelve months ago so pleased with that. Need to catch up on the writing prompts in my diary too as I know those will trigger more stories.

As you can no doubt tell, I don’t have time to get bored! But that is a very good thing indeed…

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Favourite things about flash fiction for me:-

1. Can read a story in one sitting. (Invaluable when I’m short of time).

2. Great for twist endings (which I adore).

3. One-liners and punchlines work well here too and again I adore those.

4. You can set your character in any genre you want. It is only the word count you’re watching. I’ve found as a result the story has to be character led as that is more direct. There is no room for descriptions or interaction with many other characters after all.

5. I love writing dialogue. Not a lot of room for that in flash but what I can do is show you some of my character’s thoughts and I love writing those too. The great thing with that is you will pick up on the character’s general attitude to life. In dialogue they may disguise that especially if they want to impress someone.

Sometimes a flash story tips over and becomes a longer 1500+ tale and that’s fine. It just gets submitted to a different market/competition.

I’ve learned over time to let my character(s) have their voice. The trick is ensuring that what emerges IS relevant to the story (or deepens it and makes it more meaningful).

Writers need to come with an in-built “you’re waffling and you know you are, cut NOW” detector!

The critical test for me is to ask myself does a reader really need to know this? Will their enjoyment of the story be greater if this is in the piece? If it’s Yes and Yes, the material stays in. If there’s any doubt on either, out it comes.

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Loving listening to the Pink Panther theme on Classic FM tonight. (You’ll be humming it all night now. I know I will but it is wonderful music! Loved the films AND the cartoons. I don’t know how many other films spawned cartoons either).

So you have distinctive and memorable pieces of music then across the genres. The challenge for writers is to make OUR writing distinctive and memorable.

For me, the only way to do that is to have stand-out characters. It’s never about the plot for me. It’s always about whether the character engages me regardless of whether the story is a 50 word dribble, a 100 word drabble, or a 250,000 word epic saga!

I find working out what my main character’s chief trait is going to be a useful way to unlocking what makes them tick, WHY that trait is their chief one and so on.

For my flash stories (and especially the first person ones), I have to know what my character’s voice is before I start writing them. Are they whiny? Boastful? Remorseful etc etc? Only when I think I’ve got a handle on who they really are do I start writing the story. Outlining like this has saved me a lot of time later.

Where I’ve found ideas for flash fiction stories includes:-

1. Proverbs (to use both as titles and themes).

2. Advertising phrases

3. Taking a period of history I like and writing from the viewpoint of one of my favourite characters from that period.

4. Other well known phrases (e.g. my Circle of Life, Pressing the Flesh, and Coming Up Roses).

5. Turning stereotypes on their head (e.g. my George Changes His Mind. Let’s just say I have an alternative view as to what happened when George met that dragon).

6. Using an alliterative title and seeing where it takes me (e.g. my Pen Portrait). The more open to interpretation the title, the better.

7. Taking a book I like (e.g. Pride and Prejudice) and writing a snapshot story from the viewpoint of one of the characters (e.g. my Changing My Mind is from the viewpoint of Mr Darcy).

8. Picking a fiction genre and seeing if I can write a flash fiction story in it. (I’ve written what I call light horror such as my Calling the Doctor in this vein).

9. Posing a question as the title and again seeing where it might take me.

10. Using a letter format from one character to another to generate a story.

What I like most is mixing up the methods used. It keeps me on my toes and I think makes the writing more interesting. It is really important to have fun with what you write, I think.

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Goodreads Author Blog – Books You Can’t Finish

I’m glad to say there aren’t many books I haven’t been able to finish but I guess this is one of those things that happens to most of us.

I always think it’s a bit of a shame when this does occur and I ask myself just why I couldn’t finish the book. The answer is nearly always that the characters didn’t grip me enough to make me want to find out what happened to them.

These days, given life is short and I have to TBR pile to be seen to be believed (and on my Kindle too!), anything that doesn’t hook me quickly is discarded.

It’s a good challenge to me as a writer to ensure I do put plenty of hooks into my flash fiction and short stories.

It also makes you appreciate those wonderful writers who can keep doing this book after book after book over many, many years. When I think P.G. Wodehouse wrote over 90 books and was consistently funny, well for me that’s genius and should be recognised as such.

Now back to my reading…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Submissions, Housekeeping, and Anthologies

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Pleased to have submitted another story (a crime short) this evening. Am pushing myself to submit more often and am loving doing so. The nice thing is whatever happens to the stories, there will be things I can do with them later on. Nothing is ever wasted. If one competition doesn’t like it, will the tale suit another? Does it need a closer look and then submitting elsewhere? You have options!

Am working on my novel and also my Amazon Author Central pages (particularly for the US and UK). Hope to share the links for these soon. A big thanks to #PaulaReadman for putting me on to this. I blog regularly and use FB and other social media but this one had escaped me. It always pays to network with other writers because (a) it is huge fun, (b) reassures you that you are not alone in the crazy but wonderful world of writing, (c) you learn all sorts of things that can help you and, in turn, (d) you can help others too. All of that is great.

What has been nice has been looking up the various anthologies I’ve had work in over the years and it makes a nice selection to put up on said pages. So what now? Try to get in more anthologies of course!

A big thank you to my better half, Adrian, for taking the pics earlier today. It makes a huge difference when the writing geek in a family has support from the rest of the family (and something I am very grateful for).

PS  Have put the new pics up on other areas of the website. Housekeeping like this is a good habit to get into!

The writing life is made up of a series of special moments. You start by plucking up the courage to submit work somewhere. You then get your first rejection (almost inevitably) and you try again and again and then, hopefully, comes the great day when a piece of work is accepted. Joy!

But rejections continue to come in long after your first publication credit and you realise the writing life is a roller coaster and you need to learn to cope with the ups and the downs. Yes, even to cope with the ups, because you don’t want those to create the sense you can never better that special moment. You can hamstring yourself here!

You need, I think, to work towards making progress all the time. Progress can include trying forms of writing new to you and that’s a great opportunity to just write for fun. I took up flash fiction because Cafelit had put out a 100-word challenge and I just thought I’d give it a go. I didn’t expect anything to come from it but quickly became addicted to the form and things took off from there.

Progress can include looking at the rejections that come in and, if lucky enough to get comments, to see if there is a common thread.

Some competitions offer critiques for a fee in addition to the competition entry fee. I’ve gone for these sometimes.Some critiques are more useful than others but you literally pays your money and take your choice. You need to work out whether such a thing would be useful to you.

I only enter competitions that have been longstanding ones or where feedback on them is positive. I also go for critiques like these where the blurb tells you what to expect. For a short story, it is never going to be a long critique. What I’m after here is the critic’s general view of how well my story and characters come across. Tickbox critiques can work well here too.