Characters You Love and Loathe

Image Credits:-
All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated. Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing. Screenshots taken by me, Allison Symes. Very, very hot here in the UK right now. Lady and I keeping things as cool as possible. Take care, everyone.

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Facebook – General

Had a lovely swim earlier today. Came back to my car, parked beautifully in the shade and discovered the internal temperature was 38ºC! Am grateful for air con to cool things down quickly. Much quieter day for Lady today (and no car travel for her on days like this either). She has not been sorry about that. Am not a fan of excessive heat (due to the dog and being asthmatic myself).

Still it is relatively cool at my desk so I write on. Many thanks for the great comments which have come in on my Authors Electric post yesterday. It seems my dislike of a certain Jane Austen character has caused comments – good! See link below.

Do I dislike any of my own characters? Oh yes. There are a few I definitely wouldn’t want to meet for real. But that’s how it should be I think. I should be able to come up with unlikeable characters as well as the ones who I am obviously going to root for. Otherwise crime writers, for one example, would never to be to write up their villains would they?

AE - July 2022 - Working out what you dislike can be useful

For Authors Electric this month, I look at Characters You Love and Loathe. Many thanks for the great comments coming in on this one already. Let’s just say I make my dislike of one particular Austen character clear – what do you think about her?

I go on to look at why characters make or break a story and why I have to see where they are coming from. It doesn’t mean I have to agree with their actions though. But I do have to be gripped by a character to enjoy their story.

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Hope you’re enjoying a nice relaxed Sunday. Am looking forward to sharing my new Authors Electric post tomorrow. See above. Later on in the week will be my penultimate post in my In Fiction series for Chandler’s Ford Today. I’ll be looking at Your Lead Character in Fiction for that. I’ll also be including a mini quiz in the post. And yes I have thought of something for the letter Z when it comes around soon. Phew!

Looking forward to being back at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in August. Will be lovely to catch up with friends and make new ones. I’ll be running a one hour workshop there on Editing – Both Sides of the Fence. Would like the weather to be nice but not so hot for all of that though.

And now on to some flash fiction writing – for me Sunday is story time. Hope to share the results later in the week.

Keeping as cool as possible here. Lady doing likewise. It’s about the only time Lady is sensible, bless her. I did go through the drought of 1976 and my abiding memory of that time is of the government appointing a Droughts Minister. Within the week, the heavens opened! Wonder if we’ll see that again.

A big thank you for the lovely comments in on Cookie Surprise, my latest story on Friday Flash Fiction. This is probably as close as I’ll get to writing anything connected to children’s literature. Am so enjoying using various random generators to trigger story ideas for FFF and my YouTube channel. The generators are great for making you think outside of your usual box and I highly recommend using them.

Screenshot 2022-07-15 at 16-53-16 Cookie Surprise by Allison Symes

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Even hotter here today. Lady and I are definitely not keen on it. The impact of the hot weather is being felt everywhere and I do hope those fires are soon put out. Take care everyone.

A more positive impact is the impact of your flash pieces on your readers. What do you want to make your readers feel?

If you want to make them laugh (always a laudable aim), how will you do it? Is your chosen character up to the job? They don’t need to be out and out funny in themselves but capable of producing laughter in others. This is where pompous characters work so well. They kind of set themselves up for a fall almost and that is where we get the laughs.

Equally serious characters who come out with unfortunate turns of phrase where everyone around them laughs but they themselves don’t can also work well.

Funny characters come out of situations

Very hot in my part of the world today – Lady all okay but doesn’t like the heat much. Has spent a lot of the day chilling out.

I don’t tend to use the weather in my stories much. This is because I’m wary of imitating the old infamous beginning to a story “It was a dark and stormy night…”, which is NOT held up as an example of fine writing. Quite the opposite in fact! I really don’t want to go down that route for story telling.

I would also rather show you the weather by how my characters act. I would rather you saw my characters shivering or slapping on the old sunscreen. You can also use the other senses here – characters can be listening to the rainfall. They can taste snow on their tongues etc. They can feel the hail hitting them (and trust me I’ve done that a number of times when out with Lady, it can hurt).

There are ways to bring the weather into stories in ways which won’t switch your reader off or run the risk of you being put up for a bad writing award!

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One lovely thing about creative writing is it can encourage empathy. I do have to understand where my characters are coming from to be able to write their stories up. I have to be able to imagine how they would feel, act, and/or react in any given circumstances.

But the nice thing with empathy is it doesn’t have to be confined to writing stories. The world could always do with lots of it!

The creative arts as as whole can be therapeutic for the people doing them but it can spread wider than that. I hope fiction does help spread empathy.

I’ve only written a couple of characters where I have no sympathy for them at all (these tend to be my darker tales) but even there I understand why the characters are the way they are. I don’t have to approve though! And this is one very good reason why you should never judge the author by their work! (This is just as well for the horror writers I think!).

 

I occasionally use repetition in my flash tales. I know that sounds odd. A limited word count and you’re repeating a word or words you’ve already used, isn’t that a waste of your word count? Not really.

When I do this, I’m doing it for effect. I’m usually trying to get a rhythm going in my prose or the repetition is something important and I want the reader to pick up on that importance. I don’t use this technique a lot but sometimes it’s useful.

Whatever you write, you need to know why you are writing it in that way and does it suit the character and/or their situation? The answer should be yes, naturally.

Allison Symes - Flash Fiction Collections

Goodreads Author Blog – First Audio Books

I love audio books – really useful for long journeys. The first ones I listened to, and which are still great favourites, were the Terry Pratchett Discworld ones, narrated by Sir Tony Robinson. These were great for another reason. I got my better half into these stories thanks to the audio books and it mean for several birthdays, wedding anniversaries etc., presents for him were sorted! Alas no more because we’ve got the lot!

What was the first audio book you enjoyed? What made you go for it? Had you already read the paperback? I had with the Discworld ones but my other half had not.

I’m never worried about book formats. People find different ways into stories. There will always be a need for the printed book but I do love it when those who are not great readers, such as my other half, discover and love stories another way. Audio books are a fabulous invention.

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Geography in Fiction and The Light of the Moon

Image Credits:-
All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated. Screenshots taken by me, Allison Symes. Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.
It has been a dreadful week news wise. I think the image below, which I used earlier this week, says it all.

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Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Delighted to share my latest Chandler’s Ford Today post. This time I’m looking at Geography in Fiction. A strange topic? I don’t think so. Geography plays a major role in so many stories and books. Can you imagine, say, The Lord of the Rings without it? Or Winnie the Pooh? Or The Wind in the Willows? And geography can help create stories simply by the problems it can cause, based on what we know here. Hope you find the post useful.

Geography in Fiction

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News wise, it has been a dreadful day. I wasn’t expecting war in Europe again, ever.

One of the roles of the creative arts, including writing, is, of course, to allow us to escape into what are effectively alternative universes for a while. They can make us reflect. Stories can show us the best and the worst of ourselves. They can console and cheer.

Yet, much as I love stories, I know they’re not the most important thing in the world right now. Despite that, I also believe they do have a vital role to play in emphasizing our humanity. I really cannot stress enough how important it is we don’t lose that.

So keep reading. Writers, keep writing. Stories matter.

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Hope you have had a good day.

I’ve talked before about drafting a story and leaving it for a while before coming back to editing it. Once edited, I take another break from it and then I do a final edit. What is the point of one break, yet alone two?

The first break is to enable me to check my story structure and character works after that initial thrill of creation. (And I do get a real buzz from that. Pity I can’t bottle that feeling really). Happy with that, I make adjustments to my story to strength my characterisation where I feel that is needed. It is also at this point I may well spot an element of the storyline that could be improved so I do that too.

The second break means when I come back to the story again I spot the typos and grammatical errors. There inevitably are some (nobody gets away with these things entirely scot free) but I know to look for them and to trample on the lot!

I want to give my story the best possible chance out there so going over everything and ensuring there are no errors takes time but it is worth doing. I remember in my early days not doing that and spotting a glaring error after I sent the story off. No surprises when I tell you that story didn’t get picked. I did rework the story and sent it off elsewhere and if memory serves me correctly, it ended up on CafeLit.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

It’s Friday. It’s story time again. Pleased to share Light of the Moon, my latest tale on Friday Flash Fiction. Not everyone enthuses about the light of the moon – find out why here. Hope you enjoy the tale.

Screenshot 2022-02-25 at 16-16-25 Light of the Moon, by Allison Symes


It is difficult to know what to write after a dreadful news day. But I do know it is important to write. To tell stories. Stories can unite us, whether we write flash fiction or epic sagas. And stories encourage the imagination and can help with empathy. If you understand where a character is coming from, you’re well on your way to understanding where other humans are coming from, given stories reflect on us.

 


What do I do with flash tales which don’t get picked for a competition win or placing? I look at said stories again, polish them up, and send them out elsewhere. I have gone on to have stories published on the second or third attempt.

But it has to be said, the break away from the stories has meant I can look at them again with a critical eye and try and work out why it might not have been picked. Sometimes it is a question the story is just not to the judge’s taste – and that’s fine. You learn to accept early on that not everyobdy is going to like what you do. There are styles of story I’m not keen on so that’s fair enough.

But sometimes you do spot a character portrayal didn’t quite work out as you thought, maybe it was a little weak so I look at ways to improve things and then get my story out again somewhere else.

Waste not, want not!

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Fairytales with Bite – Humour

I have a very soft spot for humour in any kind of fiction but especially in the fairytales. Many of them can be grim (some pun intended!) so something to lighten the mood a little I find helpful. While I’m not a huge fan of pantomime, I can understand it and the reason why roles such as the pantomime dame exist. Widow Twankey doesn’t have much of a role in the actual story of Aladdin. “She” does have a major role in the pantomime versions of the story.

I like the humorous one liners and these can work really well in short stories and flash fiction. (If anything they can have more of an impact because the forms are short). This is where creating your own characters and getting them to come out with those one liners is great fun! And they can make fantastic punchlines for your stories too. The key is ensuring that the one liner is something your character as portrayed would come out with. You can’t just tack a funny line on to them.

Humour should arise naturally so if your fairy godmother has a malfunctioning wand, then humorous situations would arise from that.

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This World and Others – The Value of Humour

Does your fictional world value humour or suppress it? I am always wary of anyone who cannot laugh at themselves (as it makes me wonder if they have any empathy with human foibles at all and we all have some!). Is humour encouraged in your creation or firmly kept “underground”? Are there any off limit topics for comedy?

I know I deeply appreciate humour. Something that makes me smile or laugh is bound to add a bit of a shine to my day. It does for most people but how do your characters see it? Does their reaction here show you more about them that you can develop further for your tale?

Perhaps your character likes one-liners but has no time for the longer funny monologues. Does that reflect on them just wanting to get on with things quickly in other areas of their life? Perhaps they appreciate quick wit rather than farce or physical comedy? Maybe they were clumsy (or still are) and find physical comedy with its emphasis on slapstick and falls makes them feel uncomfortable. How do they handle that discomfort if this type of humour is normal for their world?

Reactions to humour vary from person to person. You can show elements of that with your characters too. If someone finds something funny and their closest companions don’t, how does that then change how they get on? Does that change how their overall “mission” pans out?

If humour doesn’t exist as we know it here, what would your created world have instead? How would your people cope with naturally funny things in a world that doesn’t acknowledge humour? And what might happen if someone dares to laugh when all around them dare not?

Food for funny thought there, I think!

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Understanding, Publication News, and Aspects of Character

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Some images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Hope you have had a good week. Have had good publication news this week and I’m particularly proud of this week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post. I hope it encourages reading and sheds light on what is needed to portray realistic characters. 

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Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Am pleased to share my latest Chandler’s Ford Today post called Understanding. I look at how reading promotes empathy and understanding. I also discuss how important it is I understand my characters before I write their stories up. I have got to know where they are coming from regarding their actions and at least a little of how they got to that point.

I also share some thoughts and tips and discuss how a knowledge of human nature is crucial for being able to create characters readers can identify with (and it is okay not to like them by the way. I don’t like all of mine!).

I also look at “point of change” and how this applies to non-fiction as much as it does for fiction. Hope you find the post useful and thought provoking. I hope it encourages understanding of the writing process and encourages you to read even more. Reading is wonderful for encouraging empathy. After all we get “behind” characters we love, yes? Why do we do that? Usually because we can see where they’re coming from and there is your empathy right there!

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In separate news, I am thrilled to say a piece I’ve written about flash fiction will be appearing in Mom’s Favorite Reads (an online magazine) in June. Look forward to saying more about this nearer the time. Lovely way to end the working week (though really every day of the week is a working one for every writer I know – and for me!).

Always a joy to talk or write about flash fiction


Am making progress with swimming. Have got back to doing my old number of lengths per session so am pleased with that. Do I ever think about story ideas while swimming? Not a bit of it. I think about very little – and it’s that aspect I love. It is chill out time especially when, as with today, I swear the water was colder than normal! (I suspect this is done deliberately to ensure you get moving quickly!).

Lady has got used to me going out again well and I am pleased about that. She has loved having us all at home during the various lockdowns and I did wonder how she’d adjust as life slowly returns to some sort of normality but she has been fine.

When it comes to writing characters, do you focus on the glamorous side of things? That is you focus on your heroes and their marvellous qualities? I can understand that but when I’m outlining a character, I look for their major trait first and then how that can be both an asset and a right pain in the proverbial. Most traits can be used that way.

For example, take the trait of courage. The virtues of it are obvious but the downsides? Well, they could range from your brave character simply not being able to understand other characters’ fears and coming across as arrogant and highhanded to your character being reckless for the sake of keeping the brave appearance up to all and sundry.

I also sometimes look at what is behind a trait. Again with courage, what has led to the character developing this? Is it a front to keep their deep down fears at bay? Is it their coping mechanism and so on? What would happen if they were forced to confront those deep down fears? (I would suspect they would not react well – would they be able to get back to their normal courageous front?).

It probably says something about human nature that it is easier to imagine the flaws though!

Character Flaws


Hope you have had a good Wednesday. Lady and her best buddy, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, did. Both went home tired but happy.

Looking forward to sharing my Chandler’s Ford Today post on Friday. I’ll be talking about Understanding and I will look at how reading can encourage empathy as well. I’ll also chat about how I need to understand my characters before I can write their stories up and share a few tips.

Reading widely helps so much with your writing. For one thing, you take in how characters and storylines work. You can even do this by reading a book or story you don’t like. Why? Because you can work out what it was you disliked and then try to avoid that in your own work.

Looking forward to being back at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School later this year. I rolled over my place from last year and it will be so nice to get out and about on the train again too to get there. Will be wonderful to catch up with writing pals and be at a live event again.

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again


Just to flag up I will have a piece about flash fiction appearing in Mom’s Favorite Reads (an online magazine) in June. Will share more details nearer the time. Very pleased about this as you can imagine. It is always good to spread the word about flash fiction writing.

Delighted to say my story Got You! is now up on #FridayFlashFiction. Hope you enjoy it and a big thank you to all who have commented on my stories on this website – the feedback is incredibly useful!


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A standard length short story illuminates an aspect of a character’s life and there is usually room for a sub-plot. With flash you do have to focus on the most important aspect of the character’s life. There is no room for anything else but what I love about this is you can imply so much and leave the reader to make their own deductions.

For example, in my story They Don’t Understand (from my debut collection From Light to Dark and Back Again), I have my character come out with the thought “Same bloody patronizing attitude to us peasants”. I don’t need to tell you what this character thinks about authority given that line, do I? It’s obvious and I have found that this kind of implying things has helped me to show and not tell far more effectively.

Flash fiction, with its tight word count, has encouraged that development in me and of course that is going to help with my other fiction writing as well. Win-win!

Flash Fiction focuses on THE important aspect of a character's life


I often use proverbs/well known sayings as titles for my stories and the great thing about doing that is you not only have your title, you’ve got your theme as well.

In Tripping the Flash Fantastic, for my story A Stitch In Time, I take this idea and get my character to reject it and justify why they are rejecting it. That was a fun take to do on the topic.

In my tale The Power of Suggestion I get my character to live up to that title and face the consequences of doing so. There are always consequences!

But you as the writer can have lots of fun taking these proverbs and sayings and using them as you think best. I am fond of twisting them and it is a great way of mixing up how to approach a story.

My favourite method by far is to start with the character.

My second favourite method by far is to use a proverb or saying in this manner as they highlight the kind of character best placed to be in the story.

Fairytales With Bite – The Fairytale Code

If there was a fairytale code, what would you expect from it? My expectations would be such a code would lay down some guidelines for what you could expect to see in a fairytale.

For that I would include:-

  • Good to overcome evil
  • Calling evil out for what it is
  • Cheering on the underdog
  • Rewarding humility and punishing arrogance
  • Things often not being what they seem
  • Characters coveting power/abusing it
  • Characters wanting to thwart said power-mad characters.

What would you include in your fairytale code and why?

I have a soft spot for humorous fairytales (and have written some) but I do love the way such stories can cover a whole range of emotions. I cheered for when things worked out well for The Ugly Duckling. I was deeply saddened by The Little Match Girl (and rightly so too).

Above all, I want to see fairytales cherished by all and not looked down on. I loathe it when someone dismisses something as “just” being a fairytale. There is no “just” about such wonderful stories!

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This World and Others – Identifying Aspects

What makes your created world stand out? What would you say were its chief identifying aspects? What makes it unique? What is it that would attract readers and help us to “place” where we are so we can see what your characters see? I like to see vivid pictures so I can think I would love to live there or, conversely, be very glad that I don’t! But it is those pictures created by your words that have the most lasting impact on a reader.

Think about The Shire from The Lord of the Rings and certain images immediately come to mind, helped no end by the wonderful film adaptations.

What is it about your created world we have to know? What obstacles, natural or otherwise, do your characters have to live with or find ways of overcoming?

What does identity mean for your characters? Are names used or is social status more important? Are any species more important than the others and how did that come about?

Plenty of story thoughts there I think!

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Twitter Corner

 

I thought I’d share here a tweet from the Association of Christian Writers (I’m their Membership Secretary) and my reply to it. Hope you enjoy though I know several writers whose internet research history would make for far more interesting reading than mine!!

 

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