Achievements and Descriptions

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When you write descriptions, do you just focus on what a character can see? Do you bring in what they can feel/touch/taste etc? Also an interesting perspective can be to take what is a normal everyday object but show it from the viewpoint of someone who has never seen it before. (The reasons why they haven’t seen it would be interesting too).

In flash fiction, of course, you can’t be overly descriptive. You simply haven’t got the word room. In my Telling the Time I refer to an object as a “beautiful grandfather clock”, leaving it to the reader to imagine what THEY would think such a thing would look like. In my Rewards, I do bring in a thick red carpet but that purpose is to show my character, Becky, pacing around on it!

Description then, like any other element of a story, has to serve a purpose. If it doesn’t, it really shouldn’t be there even if you are writing an epic saga and word count isn’t an issue!

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What do you want to achieve most with your writing?

For me, it is knowing I’ve created a piece of work (of whatever word count) that entertains others. Course I wouldn’t object to being a bestselling author etc but then who would?!

But given there are no guarantees the latter will ever happen, it is far better to focus on writing because you love it and to do so to the best of your abilities. Then put it out into the market and see what happens!

You also have to accept from the outset I think that you are in for the long haul and adapt expectations accordingly. Persistence pays only when you put in the work to get your MSS up to publication standard and that takes time and more effort than non-writers realise.

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What made you decide to write and why? Did you find what you wanted to write immediately or did you have to try short stories/novels etc before finally settling on what you really want to do?

The fascinating thing here is no two writers have exactly the same journey, even if a lot of their paths cross.

I started off with an idea for a novel, wrote that book, it was longlisted for a competition years ago and then I wrote short stories and flash fiction. I am now revisiting that early novel given flash fiction has taught me so much about editing and I know applying that to the book will do it the world of good.

As for why I decided to write at all, it was one of those things I knew I would have to at least try. I’ve always loved working with/playing with words. My only regret here is not starting a lot sooner than I did. But what matters is starting and then keeping going.

Biggest joy of writing? Yes, being published, but making so many writer friends is right up there too.

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I’m looking at the highs and lows of the writing life in this week’s CFT. I hope it’ll be an eyeopener for readers, or indeed anyone who knows a writer, especially on why reviews and supporting writer events matters so much. Link up on Friday.

NB: This post definitely comes into the “write what you know” category!

Also pleased to say I’m in the Spring edition of Christian Writer talking about Making Your Characters Count.

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For the flash fiction collection I’m currently working on, I’ve had a great deal of fun with linked stories. That is I’ve used the same character(s) in a follow up tale.

I’ve also used a viewpoint of a character in one story and then flipped it to show the viewpoint of another character, who isn’t necessarily in agreement with the first one.

Plus there have been the acrostics, the one-line stories and so on. Flash fiction can be amazingly versatile and the fact you have to work to a word count is a good thing. It helps you write (and edit) with precision. You work to find exactly the right words to convey as much meaning as possible in as short a word count as possible. That discipline can and does spill over into other things you write, which is always a good thing.

When do you know if a flash fiction piece has real bite? When you read it again after a break from it (say a few days) and it still hits you hard, as you originally intended the piece should do.

When I’m editing, I’m always asking myself how the reader would see what I’ve written. CAN they fill in the gaps the way I intend they should? HAVE I given them what they need to know to do that (but no more)? IS the impact what I think it will be? Could what I intend be misconstrued? Is the language used appropriate for the piece? Do I still like or loathe my characters (as appropriate)?

I think it is vital to see editing as a totally separate job to the act of creation. Creation is the fun bit. Editing is the bit which makes sure your created work IS as fun as you meant it to be when read by a stranger. Without good editing, your story will not work as nobody can really claim to ever write a perfect first draft. Shakespeare didn’t so I think it’s safe to claim we won’t either. My attitude to editing changed entirely when I saw it as what would make the difference to my being published or not (and it does).

I was wondering when I had my first piece of flash fiction published on Cafelit. It turns out to be A Study in Magic way back in 2013. Wow! That six years has gone quickly. Well here’s to the next six! I still love the very short story form. It has a great deal of potential and can/should make a powerful impact.

When I analyse a flash fiction piece, what am I looking for?

1. Do the characters “grab” me? It doesn’t matter if I love or loathe them. Have they got my attention? Have I GOT to find out what happens to them?

2. Does the story have an impact on me? If it’s funny, did I laugh? If it’s a crime story, did my blood run suitably cold?

3. Are there stand-out lines which, when written by other authors, make me wish I’d written them? (I use that to spur me on incidentally, which is what great writing should do).

4. Is the start intriguing enough?

5. Does the story end with a suitable punch? When it’s twist in the tale, did I see that twist coming? I don’t mind if I do incidentally. Sometimes it’s nice to be right but I adore the ones where the author has wrong-footed me and come up with something really special. Again, I find this encourages me to “up my game”, something all writers should always seek to do.

Goodreads Author Blog – Encouraging Books

Yes, this could mean the self-help books and there is much to be said for those, but for me an encouraging book is one that makes me read further into the subject. This can apply to fiction as well as non-fiction.

For example, Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time is fiction based on Richard III and is one of my all time favourite books. It has also led me to read far more about Richard such as The Maligned King, The Last Days of Richard III and others.

For non-fiction, it is easier to go by topic of course when looking for books to encourage further reading.

For fiction, it is nearly always based on how well the main character comes across and the theme of their story that makes me look for similar themes in other tales.

When the character is based on a real person, and if the story has gripped me enough, I nearly always look up non-fiction material on that character as I did with Richard III.

And there is scope for a lot of crossover – fiction leading into non-fiction and vice versa. Book reading leading into magazine reading etc.

I don’t write historical fiction (though I do read some) but I should imagine one of the great joys of it is the research the writer has to do before starting. I should also imagine the big problem here, and one I know I’d have, is stopping the research and actually getting on with the writing!

So what books have encouraged you to read more on their character/theme etc?

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HOW STORIES SOUND, DESCRIPTIONS AND CLARITY

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I’ve read my stories aloud at times to literally hear how they sound (and have sometimes recorded them so I can play them back too. This is particularly useful if you need to time a story). If you trip over your dialogue, your readers will too so definitely time to get the editing pen out again.

It is an oddity that what looks okay written down suddenly isn’t okay when you read it out loud. You can hear where the text sounds awkward. My More than Writers post, due up on the Association of Christian Writers blog tomorrow, talks about clarity. (Link to come tomorrow). One thing I discovered a while ago is that simple, clear writing is a joy to read and it can take several rewrites for an author to get it to that stage. It is worth the effort though.

I’ve forgotten who said that the professional writer is the amateur who didn’t quit, but there is a lot of truth in that.

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I don’t necessarily choose the mood of the story (or the main character) before I start writing. Often the theme can mean the mood of the story can go in a couple of different directions and my job then is to pick the outline that seems to have the most promising characters that I can do something with!

I like it when one character clearly stands out. You find yourself rooting for that character to succeed (usually). It is their story so it’s my job to let “them” tell their story their way. That disguises a lot of editing and ensuring that all the information you’ve given the reader marries up, is only what they absolutely need to know etc.

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Am glad to share the link to my monthly spot on the Association of Christian Writers’ More Than Writers blog. I talk about clarity this time.

I discovered the Plain English campaign have a gobbledygook generator. Yes, really! Had lots of fun clicking the box and seeing what garbage emerged… all based on real examples too. It’s a great example of how NOT to write!

CLARITY POST - Clarity - image via Pixabay

Should clarity, rather than cleanliness, be next to godliness?  I think so!  Image via Pixabay.

CLARITY POST - Clarity of thought should lead to clarity of expression - image via Pixabay - Copy

Clarity of thought should lead to clarity of expression.  Image via Pixabay

Feature Image - Part 5 101Things to Put into Room 101

A recent CFT post of mine but the questions can help you ensure your writing is beautifully clear.  Image via Pixabay.

The basic kit for a writer - image via Pixabay

The writer’s basic toolkit – image via Pixabay

Some of the tools of the scrivener's trade here - image via Pixabay

The tools of the scrivener’s trade. We’ve come on a bit since then! Image via Pixabay

Electronically or by print, both face publishing frustrations - image via Pixabay

Ebooks and print – both have their own frustrations when it comes to publishing. Image via Pixabay

Books can be one major key to knowledge - image via Pixabay

Books are the keys to knowledge. Image via Pixabay

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News just in, as they say! Two of my stories will be on Cafelit – one on 5th May and the other on 5th June. Will share links on the days. Very pleased. Don’t think I’ll ever tire of hearing something I’ve written has been accepted!

Having acceptances is obviously one of the highlights of writing, but what about the downside? Yes, the rejections would come into that category but, for me, I’m more despondent when the writing simply isn’t going as well as I’d like. Rejections I see as par for the course and I try to learn from them and see where it is where I may have gone wrong. If it is just down to editorial taste, then I can submit the story elsewhere. So generally I can get something positive out of this.

But when you are keen to write and it seems like a struggle (and it happens to us all), that is more of a challenge to deal with. I tend to have a break away from whatever it was I was working on to write something else or brainstorm ideas for future projects. I’m not sure why it is but whenever I write something else, ideas come to me for the original thing I was struggling with. Distraction therapy perhaps? All I know is that it works.

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I’ve been enjoying the different flash fiction collections put out by Chapeltown Books and this has proved to be a great way of ensuring I read plenty of contemporary fiction. (Reading enough classic fiction is never an issue!).

A good reading “diet” should include contemporary and classic works and non-fiction. I see all of this as feeding the mind as you never know when reading something triggers ideas for your own stories. The more you read, the more you cast your “net”, and the more likely it is you will have those “sparks”.

So happy writing – and happy reading!

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My flash fiction collection from Chapeltown Books!

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Mandy’s flash fiction collection from Chapeltown Books. Image kindly supplied by her.

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Gail’s flash fiction collection from Chapeltown Books. Image supplied by Gail Aldwin. Also note the Chapeltown Books branding of a frame around an image. Simple but effective

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Gill James reading from her January Stones collection. Image by Allison Symes

Paula Readman, Dawn Kentish Knox and Allison Symes and books - with kind permission from Paula Readman

Paula Readman, Dawn Kentish Knox and I celebrate where our stories have appeared! Many thanks to Paula Readman for the picture.!

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Some of the books I’ve appeared in and FLTDBA of course. Image by Allison Symes

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Given flash fiction makes its readers fill in the gaps due to the word count restrictions, it is also a great way to conjure up other worlds which reflect on our own.

A reference here, a name of a character there etc will carry weight based on what we know of that reference and name. The world might be strange but the reference or name are not and it makes filling in the gaps easier. What is really nice is when you know that reference or name will make the reader smile because you know what they will associate it with.

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Descriptions can be tricky. Too much information and you switch the reader off. Too little and you can’t conjure up enough of an image for your reader to “hook into” so they can get right into your story’s world.

Flash fiction, of course, by its nature means you have to be sparing with the details so the trick is to find the most powerful image in the shortest number of words. (Well, it IS meant to be a challenge!).

I ask myself what are the images I want my reader to definitely pick up from my story. This is where outlining your thoughts before writing the story is so helpful. It makes it easier to select the telling details that absolutely have to be in the tale.

You can also mark those others that would be useful to have in if you have sufficient word count spare but would not spoil the story if they weren’t included. It has been my experience there usually isn’t the word count spare (unless I am writing right at the upper range for flash). Focusing on what HAS to be in is, I find, the best place to start. Anything after that is a bonus but should still only be included if it does something useful such as giving depth to your tale.