Writing Tips

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One of the problems I had in writing this week’s CFT post about Writing Tips was picking the those tips that have not only BEEN useful but mostly still ARE and then whittling those down to what I think are the most useful.

One of the great things about going to conferences etc is picking up all sorts of useful advice on the way. Some tips you’ll use immediately, others you will come back to later and I’ll often find, even in advice for say scriptwriting, there are often general pointers useful in other forms of writing. So I’ve learned then it pays to pay attention!

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Other than your PC or laptop, what is the most useful thing on your desk?

For me it is the humble notebook and pen (I count these as one item given they’re not that great without each other!).

I don’t always want to stop what I’m working on in Scrivener to open up a new folder to jot down the latest good idea I’ve had (well I hope it will be a good one!).

But a quick note with paper and pen and I can open up a new file and start researching when I’m ready to do so. I’ve long thought pen and paper really should come into the writing process somewhere, it seems right somehow, and that is despite my writing to screen most of the time.

These days odd notes here and there are generally what I use “old technology” for. And neither the notebook or pen need batteries, charging, discharging, or are at the mercies of power cuts etc etc…. Still I’m not sorry I no longer have to literally cut and paste or have to change typewriter ribbons or faff about with carbon paper…

My CFT post this week will be a a round up of writing tips I have found useful over the years (and still do). Hope it will prove useful. Link to go up on Friday.

One great thing about going to conferences like Swanwick Writers’ Summer School and the Winchester Writers’ Festival is you do get to pick up so many useful hints and tips, some of which are not always useful immediately, but you will come back to them later. And they come not just from the courses but when you get together with fellow writers over tea, coffee, dinner etc. So added reason to (a) go to good conferences and (b) get chatting with your fellow writers.

Like we needed an excuse or something…

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

More six-word stories for you. They should conjure up images and you can see a definite start, middle, and end.

1. The lion ran straight at you.
2. The dentist will see you now.

(Own up, which one scares you the most out of those two? The one that is just about possible or the one where you know you WILLhear those words at some point?!).

3. The fairy godmother trashed her wand.
4. Prince Charming wed an ugly sister.

(Probably as a direct result of story line 3 here!).

5. What was this world, she mused.
6. It really is hell in here.

Hope you enjoy!

Not a new topic I know, but one that is always pertinent: can I put the word out about reviews being really appreciated by authors? The obvious places are Amazon and Goodreads but links to other places so authors can share good reviews on their websites etc are also welcome.

Doesn’t have to be a long review either. I liked or loathed Book X because….. is fine. The crucial point is the review has to be an honest one so if you dislike a book, say why. With my consumer hat on, I do read reviews when I do my online food shop or am buying books myself and I like to see a variety of reviews. I am always suspicious of anything getting ALL 5 or 1 star reviews. I do read the positive and negative reviews and then make my own mind up! But the author is still helped as review numbers make a big difference, especially with Amazon.

Oh and don’t forget reviews are just as welcome for ebooks as they are for paperbacks.

Where do you find your inspiration? I find mine from films, odd sayings I’ve overheard or had said directly to me (so do watch what you tell me incidentally!), proverbs, advertising slogans, the classic fairytales, timeless themes such as love and revenge (and sometimes love and revenge together!), etc etc. The key to being inspired is keeping your mind open to the fact that ideas can be found all around you. It is then up to you to develop that initial spark further.

My Learning the Trade is inspired by the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and naturally my character blames the boss for basically not having an “undo” spell to hand! The Haunting is inspired by the Ladykillers (and if you ever get the chance to see the stage show of this, do. It’s fab in its own right though nothing will top the Ealing comedy with Alec Guinness).

Getting that initial idea is fabulous but what I really love is taking that and seeing what I can do with it. I like to have fun with my words and writing should be fun, most of the time anyway.

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytale A to Z Part 6

On to the next section tonight then and I get to do one of the difficult letters – Q!

P = Princes/Princesses are often the heroes/heroines in fairytales of course but I love the heroines that prove themselves every bit as capable and intelligent as any hero (and are often better!  Think Fiona in the Shrek series basically!). I also like those stories where the characters here have to prove themselves worthy of their calling – i.e.  it doesn’t just all fall into their laps because they are royal.  A character who has to work for something, regardless of their background, is a character that will face conflict, dilemmas, enemies, and will make mistakes and basically give the reader lots of lovely action and drama to follow – and they will.

Q = Questions.  Not such a tricky letter to find an answer for here though as I write this I don’t know yet what I will be coming up with for X!  All characters should ask questions and make your readers question them.  The situations you put your characters in should test them (and make them query whether they are doing the right thing or not – internal conflicts like this add depth to your stories and make your characters seem more real.  We all have internal conflicts to deal with so why shouldn’t fictional characters do too?).  Your readers should be engrossed with what your characters do and their attitudes and perhaps question themselves as to whether they’d act that way or not.  A reader that is asking questions like that is one who is engaged with your characters and stories.  You want lots of those!

R = Reading.  It goes without saying we need to read widely to know what it is we like and what we would like to write as a result.  But what would your characters read and how can you use that to show something of their personality?  What are their world’s myths and legends?

This World and Others – World Building Tips

Whether you write flash fiction or novels (or both!), world building tips should prove useful.  With my flash fiction, when I write in the fantasy genre, I just give enough details to confirm it is a magical setting for my story.  With my novel, I’ve got room to share more but things to consider when creating your world for your characters should include:-

  1. How your characters eat and drink (and what!).  Is the society a hunter-gatherer one? Meat eaters or vegetarians?
  2. How sanitation is dealt with.  If your characters are eating and drinking, they will need to excrete!  Okay this may not be a crucial part of your story, but there should be a general sense of how characters keep clean, and how disease is avoided (or not) due to good sanitation measures (or in the case of not due to the lack of them!).
  3. How their society is organised.  Is it class based?
  4. What their society expects of them especially if it is class based.  What happens to anyone defying expectations?
  5. Is their world a developed or developing one?
  6. If magical, are there limits to what people can do with their powers?  How is anarchy or dictatorship prevented (assuming it is!)?

Food for thought there I hope.

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The Best and the Worst

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My CFT post this week looks at some of the best (and worst!) decisions I’ve made in writing! I also share some thoughts on where to get good advice. Hope this proves helpful.

The writing journey is precisely that – and there are bound to be things like potholes, wrong turnings etc along the way. Doesn’t mean your particular journey has to come to a grinding halt though. I’ve found offen things that were not great at the time, I’ve (a) learned from that experience and (b) gone on to do much better.

What is your favourite one liner?

Mine is an Eric Morecambe classic – “He’s not going to sell much ice cream going at that speed, is he?”. Surreal and very, very funny. (Oh and correct too – nobody sells ice cream at speed!)

In fiction, I love Jane Austen’s, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”. Delicious irony here and a great foretaste of what is to come from Pride and Prejudice.

I don’t know how often Eddie Braben wrote and rewrote that line for Eric Morecambe or how often Jane Austen wrote and rewrote her classic opener – but definitely worth the effort in both cases!

On a sadder note, I was sorry to hear of the death of Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan from Blake’s 7 – great acting and a fantastic character to play).

My CFT post this week will be about The Best and The Worst. I take a look at some of the best and worst decisions I’ve made as a writer. (There will be tears before bedtime… mine!). Link will go up on Friday but what I hope will come from this will be a few thoughts on where to go for advice and not being afraid to say no to something that is not good for you or your writing. You’ve got to to see yourself as being in this for the long haul – the VERY long haul!

It was interesting trying to work out what I considered the best and worst decisions I’ve made (to date at least) when it comes to writing/publishing.

You can see my list on my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week (I’ll put up the link tomorrow). It took me a while to figure these out and even then when it comes to the worst decisions, something positive has come out of those. So, overall, that is okay!

As with so much in life, you can only make the best decision you can at the time, but I found out early on it DOES pay to be as informed as possible. This is why bodies like the Society of Authors and Alliance of Independent Authors are vital.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Time for some six-word stories then:-

1. While the light lasted, danger abated.

2. “Help me”, he screamed to silence.

3. When the going gets tough, tough!

4. The planet destroyer was wheeled out.

5. So near to the Sun now.

6. I never forget a face, sunshine.

I thought it would be appropriate to have six of those!

 

What are the most important points any flash fiction writer needs to bear in mind?

1. The story has to be character led – and that character has to grab the reader’s interest from the very first words. (No waffling here!).

2. The story’s ending must be appropriate for the tale and be a satisfactory conclusion. Doesn’t mean it has to be happy though!

3. The opening line, in any form of writing, is crucial to hook interest but in flash fiction, where there is no such thing as spare word count, that line must grab your reader immediately. (Does your opening line make you think YOU would want to read this story if it had been written by someone else?).

4. Use the title to set the scene or mood of the story for you. (This is particularly useful for those competitions where the title is NOT included in the word count permitted. Do make the most of that).

5. Whether you’re writing a character study, a crime story, or writing for laughs, each word must contribute to the tale. There must be no wasted words.

6. Have fun with your stories. I love the fact flash fiction has to be character led. It gives you so much scope.

The cat sat on the mat
(Waiting for the postie)
All ready to surprise
While feeling all toastie.
Why should the household dog
Have all the games and fun
The cat, ready to roar,
And see postie was “done”
Would be Number 1 pet
With a prank, the best yet.
Postie duly obliged
With screams to wake the dead
No-one had told him the “cat”
Was a lion instead.

Allison Symes – 6th September 2018

If my regular postman reads this, I’ve only got a pet dog, okay!

Each flash fiction story is its own little world, of course, but the flash of illumination (in terms of what drives a character to act the way they do) can be taken and developed further for longer stories.

I don’t do this as often as I once thought I might because I’m generally moving on to the next idea, the one after that etc., but I have managed to write flash pieces and then get standard length short stories out of the same idea. Double whammy! Different markets and competitions are available to you too doing this. Something to consider…

What I am doing with the book I’m currently working on is having a few flash pieces with the same characters in, showing different aspects to what is happening with them. Am really enjoying that.

 

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Goodreads Author Blog – Favourite Moments

Some of my favourite moments in a book come when a character has to face up to something they would never anticipate and find a way of dealing with it.

For example, my favourite Agatha Christie novel is Murder on the Orient Express, because Poirot has to deal with a situation he would not have guessed at and which in many ways should never have been able to happen. The David Suchet TV adaptation particularly plays on this element. (Not going to say more than that – no spoilers here! But if you’ve not read the book and/or watched the TV adaptation, try and do so. It really is a great story).

This element works especially well with a series character like Poirot when you have already come to know a lot about how they operate and think. To have that all thrown up in the air keeps the character and you, the reader, on your toes. Always a good thing, I think.

It confirms to me that what makes a really good story is the strength of the character, whether they’re a hero or a villain. Plots are fine but you need well rounded characters to carry them out!

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytale A to Z Part 5

M = Myth/Mythology. 
So many of the classic fairytales are based on old legends and myths.  The Brothers Grimm collected German ones. Hans Christen Andersen also collected (and embellished!) and of course went on to write superb tales of his own.  So look into your country’s myths and legends.  Look at the themes emerging from those and write your own fairytales around that.  I do wish people wouldn’t just dismiss something as “just a fairytale”.  There’s no “just” about a fairytale.  There is so much truth in them – and that should be reflected in our own stories too.  Honest writing = characters that grip people because they can identify with them.

N = Numpties
I love this Scottish word for idiot.  And fairytales do need their idiots (especially if they themselves don’t think they’re idiots or realise they are). There is great comic potential here for one thing. The Emperor’s New Clothes is a great example of a numpty in power!  Even the rich and powerful can be taken in by clever conmen.  One of the things I love about Puss in Boots is the miller’s son knows and accepts the cat is cleverer than he is!

O = Origins
This ties in with M above.  Look at the origins of fairytales.  Think about the origins of your characters.  What made you want to write about them?  How do their origins impact on their lives and the stories you are going to write about them?

This World and Others – The Best and the Worst

It is appropriate to come full circle on this tonight!

Following on from my Reflections post last week, I’ve been busily reflecting too this week!  My CFT post looks at The Best and the Worst decisions I’ve made with regard to writing/publishing and I hope this will prove useful.  A faulty step or two does not derail the whole writing journey and I think sometimes that needs to be said out loud.

What would be the best and worst decisions that your characters have made, especially your lead ones?  Do they learn from their mistakes?  How do they handle the fallout?

Often with decisions, it is a question of making the best judgement possible based on available knowledge at the time.  Sometimes the best decisions come as a result of taking time out to take stock and reflect (that word again!), and/or seeking advice from others.  Do your characters do this?  If so, what is the impact on them and your story?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UNWINDING YOUR CHARACTERS AND GOOD WRITING CONFERENCES

Facebook – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I always enjoy writing my CFT posts but tonight’s one, The Benefits of a Good Writing Conference, was particularly nice to do.

There are several pictures from the recent #Swanwick70 in there and many thanks to #GeoffParkes for kind permission to use some of the many fantastic pics he took. My favourite from the ones I’ve used is that of me reading from From Light to Dark and Back Again at the Prose Open Mic but I admit freely I am not exactly unbiased here!

Looking forward to #Swanwick71 already.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Another fantastic element to writing flash fiction is that you can literally write stories set in a fanastic setting and then come right back down to earth again with a setting in the every day.

You can have alien characters (and I do!) and poignant character studies. One of my favourites from the latter category is They Don’t Understand which shows in a couple of hundred words or so the lives of two elderly people as one reflects on what they both went through during the war years and beyond.

What I’m looking to do here is have the right character for the impact I want to make on the reader and that will dictate both the mood of the story and often its setting as well.

Image Credit: Many thanks to #GeoffParkes for kind permission to use the image of me reading from From Light to Dark and Back Again at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School Prose Open Mic night. Also all credit to him for the fantastic group photos celebrating #Swanwick70.

Also thanks to #CherylHolland for using my phone to take the wonderful group pic of friends and I having a laugh on the lawn at Swanwick. (It wasn’t the only laugh that week, far from it!!). Am I missing being at Swanwick? You bet..

Fairytales With Bite – Fairytale A to Z Part 3

On to part 3:-

G = Greatness.  Whether your character is a godmother (of the fairy variety), a villain, or a hero/heroine, there should be some greatness about them to make them memorable characters.  Greatness can be in the form of intelligence (the villain perhaps), moral integrity, actions undertaken etc.  There should be something about your characters that resonates with the readers (even if it is just understanding of where the villain is coming from in terms of attitude and behaviour while at the same time not agreeing with it).  There is greatness behind whatever resonates here.

H = Humour.  Humour is wonderful in a story.  It can provide moments of light relief.  It can show up attributes of a character that would not come out necessarily in any other way.  (Perhaps a character’s wit here could show a good grasp of irony that they might use in a different way later in the story to bamboozle their opponents?  Quick thinking and humour often go hand in hand and the former is usually vital for a character wanting to get out of a tight spot).

I = Imagination.  How imaginative are your characters in dealing with others, making their plots succeed, using others to achieve their ends etc?  Do they need to plan things out thoroughly or can they be intuitive?  How do they handle matters when things go wrong?  Can they use their imaginative skills to correct the situation?

This World and Others – Unwinding Your Characters

I find being in the company of writers from all genres, as I was when I was at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School recently, to be a great way to unwind.  I talk about other benefits of good writing conferences in my latest CFT post – The Benefits of a Good Writing Conference

But this led me to wonder about how characters unwind.  When your characters are in the thick of the action, what favourite memories of special places and people help motivate them to keep going and get through it all?  I always loved the Rivendell sequences in The Lord of the Rings.  (This for me is where the films were particularly fantastic, being able to visualise Rivendell like that). Just ahead of the quest, Frodo particularly needed that time there.  So what do your characters need to prepare them for whatever hell you are going to put them through (all in the name of entertaining fiction of course!)?

Knowing what really makes your characters tick will enable you, as the writer, to know what will spur them on, what will discourage them, what is the right way to motivate them etc.  A really well written villain in your stories will do exactly the same and tweak the strings of your lead like an evil puppetmaster.  Result?  A villain worthy of your hero/heroine.  Drama.  Conflict.  Story, story, story!  What’s not to like about that?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Away From It All and the Fairytale A to Z (Part 1!)

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest CFT post is Getting Away From It All. Appropriate as I am about to swan off to Swanwick! I share some thoughts on the importance of relaxing and how just writing something for the sheer fun of it can be a marvellous way to unwind for writers.

The great thing too is you can always work the piece up “properly” later on and submit it but to just write something for fun is wonderful. Possibly something we don’t do enough of? I’ve found doing this useful (a) to take a break from my main writing work and (b) to remind myself during tough patches just what it is I really love about writing – the creativity of it. I think you can lose sight of that at times.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

More on the ABC of Flash Fiction…

D = Drive. Not only do you need that as the writer, but your characters do as well. Something has to happen in your narrative for it to be a story at all so your characters must be ready to “act” and for that to wrap up quickly. They must be ready to “hit the ground running”. They do something, there is a reaction, there is a conclusion (and of course it doesn’t necessarily have to be a happy one).

E = Entertainment. Whatever your genre, your flash fiction should entertain (even if that entertainment is simply to make your reader think about the theme of your story and whether they would do the same as your character has). Every word has to make your reader want to read on, every line has to move the story on, and at the end you want your reader to feel as if they have had a good read, even if it is only in 500 words, 100 words, 75 words or what have you.

F = Fairytales. I’ve found flash fiction to be a good vehicle for fairytales (albeit of the short and sharp variety. Not necessarily sweet as well though. Many of my fairy characters do have a penchant for justice, the rough kind where they feel it is necessary at that!).

 

Association of Christian Writers – More than Writers – On Criticism

Confession time:  Am certain I didn’t put this up when I was supposed to so will share now.  It IS better late than never and I hope my post for July on On Criticism will prove helpful.

What good judging should be and that includes for reviews etc

What every review should be. Pixabay image,

Fairytales With Bite – the Fairytale A to Z Part 1

I love a list – whether it’s a numerical one or an A to Z format.  So for fairytales and the magical world, what would my A to Z be?  Part 1 then would be:-

A = Anthropomorphism 

Not my favourite word to spell, I must admit!  However, for me, a classic tale will have this as one of its elements.  Think Puss in Boots, Shrek, The Chronicles of Narnia etc etc.  What matters is the traits shown or speech given to an animal character to have/speak must make sense for the way that character has been portrayed.  We see Puss in Boots is a character who would be smarter than his master so the speech given to Puss must reflect that.

B = Beauty
One thing I love about fairytales is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and is not always the classical definition either.  I love the stories of The Ugly Duckling and Beauty and the Beast. Is it just me but I didn’t think the Beast was that ugly incidentally (especially as Disney portrayed him?  Huge, yes, but that’s not the same thing!  That aside, there is a strong emphasis that it is a beautiful heart/character that matters most, which I fervently believe.  I can’t say what single thing makes me love fairytales but this is a very high contender for being the top one.

C = Characters
There isn’t one dull character in fairytales, is there, when you come to think about it.  There shouldn’t be in your stories either.  (And even when a character is meant to be “dull”, there still has to be something about them that will make your reader want to find out if they stay that way or change or if there is a point to the dullness.  Maybe the lead character needs a duller one’s sensible comments to point them in the right direction?).

More next time….

This World and Others – Getting Away From It All

Getting Away from it All is my title for this week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post and my latest Goodreads blog.

What do your characters do to unwind?  Where would they go to get away from it all?  If your fictional world has a hierarchy (and frankly most will have something), are there places where the “commoners” can’t go?  How is that enforced?

I am about to head off to the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School for a wonderful week of courses, catching up with writer friends, and making new ones.  A marvellous time is had by all.  For your longer stories, where would your characters go to catch up with friends and family they can’t see often (and how did that situation happen)?

In my Goodreads blog, I talk about my holiday reading.  What would your characters read?  Does your fictional world have a good literacy rate?  If not, is anything being done about it?  I’ve mentioned in previous posts that a totalitarian world will seek to restrict/ban books (as sadly is seen too often in this world!) but is there an underground system that bypasses/overcomes those restrictions?

Plenty of story ideas there!

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