Word Play

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

One joy of writing is the joy of reading. This is partly because it makes sense to read from (and therefore support) the industry you want to join! Also, you need to read widely to discover the range of writing out there and to find out from that what it is you want to write. There’s also the sheer pleasure of reading well crafted stories that inspire you to work harder on your own!

Playing with Words, as my CFT post this week discusses, is both a fun and invaluable thing for writers to do.  My post this week also pays tribute to Denis Norden and celebrates puns and playing with language.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I like to “hit the ground running” when I write flash fiction and do so in a number of ways.

I can take you straight into the lead character’s thoughts, or show you an image of them doing or reacting to something. I also try to show you their general attitude within the first couple of lines. Attitude in itself can tell you so much about what a character is likely to be like (and whether you would like them or not!).

I can also show you a character’s observations such as in my Circle of Life. That opens with “People throw kittens in the river here. I hate that.” Immediately shows a conflict. Immediately shows an attitude at odds with the view held by others around the character. You also know they’re going to do something about it. It is a question of what and will they get away with it?

With all of these different kinds of opening, I am aiming to provoke curiosity in the reader to make them want to find out more.

My CFT post this week looks at Playing With Words. I also pay tribute to the late Denis Norden, who along with Frank Muir, was a wonderful wordsmith. Link up on Friday. I also take a look at puns. (Muir was wonderful on Call My Bluff years ago and Norden – well, I loved his dry wit and manner – and Take It From Here, written by them both, was a forerunner for modern radio comedy).

Two of my favourite ways to end a flash fiction story are a twist in the tale finish or a punchline. Both of course can revolve around puns. I love playing with language but one of the great joys of loving books is coming across others who are masters at this sort of thing. Their work is a joy to read and/or listen to and if you haven’t come across a copy of Muir and Norden’s My Word Ultimate Collection, do yourself a favour and dig out a copy from somewhere. If you like tall tales and puns, as I do, this is a fabulous book.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Flash fiction can be a great vehicle for (a) puns (as part of a punchline to finish with) and (b) short, sharp humorous moments. A good funny flash fiction will not only make you laugh but you should be able to spot other potential for humour had the story been a longer one.

The lovely thing is you can combine humour with other things such as poetic justice to create a great story. Characters being annoyed at the situation they’re in may well make you smile in recognition of their predicament. The situation is rarely funny for the characters themselves. Shouldn’t stop us smiling though!

My late mum always believed in being short and to the point. Think she’d be pleased I take the same approach by writing flash fiction!

You lose any fear of killing adverbs or cutting whatever isn’t necessary for your story when you write flash and, of course, you can carry that over into whatever other writing you do. There’s no chance of getting confused over your characters either given, realistically, you only have the room for 1, maybe 2, main people.

I admit I do miss the fact you can’t have subplots in flash fiction, that really is the privilege of a short story or a novel, but I do love being able to cut to the chase with the very short tale. Definitely a case of you pays your money, you take your choice here.

Time for some autumnal flash fiction one-liners, I think. Hope you enjoy.

1. There were some things brought down by the autumn winds that would have been best left undisturbed.

2. The mouse scoffed the loaf that was meant for the church’s Harvest Festival display, much to the vicar’s chagrin.

(A case of For what we have received, we are truly grateful, I think!).

3. Would the leaves come down deeply enough to cover a body, she wondered?

4. With the nights drawing in, there was more scope for planning and executing the perfect crime.

5. It would be easy enough to do, he thought, given she always has soup at lunchtime on these cold days.

Hmm…. it looks like I’m in a criminal frame of mind this evening!

 

Is it harder to write longer fiction where you have to keep the readers enchanted enough with your writing to follow the story through to the end or more difficult to write short, sharp stories?

I wouldn’t like to judge on that one as both have their challenges and their joys. Both are vital for ensuring literature has a wide range of styles and lengths of story to suit all tastes.

One problem I face when editing flash fiction is ensuring I keep the important details in as it can be easy to cut far too much out to keep to a set word count and the story is the poorer for it. In those situations, I let the story go what is its natural length whether it’s 50 words or 500 or 1500!

The acid test for me is the editing is done when I cannot add to the story or take away from it. It is a question of not overegging the pudding or cutting back so harshly you have a limited story left. Anything that dilutes the impact of the story on a reader, and that can include harsh editing, is out.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Playing with Language

One of the joys of reading across a wide range of genres, including non-fiction, is discovering the different ways authors play with language.

For me the late Denis Norden and Frank Muir were great exponents of this and one of my favourite paperbacks is their My Word The Ultimate Collection. This is full of puns and tall tales galore! Bliss and an addictive read.

I like crisp, punchy styles of writing but every so often you come across a line or two that are just so engrossing, they almost take your breath away. P.G. Wodehouse was a master at creating worlds within what would be considered now very long sentences, but you simply have to read to the end.

I suppose the real test of a good story is does it provoke your curiosity enough so you read it through regardless of the style or genre in which it was written?

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytales A to Z Part 8

Since the alphabet doesn’t divide neatly into three, I will conclude this mini series tonight with the final five letters – V through to Z.  Hmm… going to have fun here I think!

V = Variation
Whatever genre you write in, there should be variation in the types of character you portray.  A story with all heroes is no story at all!  There has to be a villain somewhere (even if the characters concerned don’t think they’re villainous at all).  Also, in a magical setting, there should be variation in how much magical ability characters have.  If they all have unlimited powers, where is the conflict? You’d have a stalemate situation.  The characters know they can’t better each other, at least not with their powers.  So vary things, mix things up, deliberately drop your characters in it, and see what happens!  This is very much the fun side of writing.  You will soon find out who your strong characters are.

W = World
The world you set your stories in can almost be a character in itself.  It needs to be believable, no matter how fantastical its powers or setting.  There must be things about that world we can identify with here.  For example, every world has to be governed somehow so politics has to rear its (at times) very ugly head.

X = Xeno (meaning strange!  Confession time: did have to look it up.  I could have gone for X-rated for this but felt it was too obvious.  I also want to remember this word next time I play Scrabble!).
So word of the week for me is this one then!  Seriously, though, no matter how strange the world you’ve created is, there still has to be something about it that fascinates a reader.  If it is too odd, you risk alienating the reader.  Does that mean your world has to be a sensible one?  Not necessarily.  There has to be a point to what the world does.  If it mines balloons for example, it would make sense to do that if is that world’s chief export to its nearest neighbour.  I did like Monsters Inc for showing why the monsters had to get the children’s screams (they needed it as it was their power source) and I liked it even more when the monster world discovered making the children laugh was a greater source of power.

Y = You
The first fan of your writing should be you.  Your fairytale, whoever it is aimed at, must first convince you.  Is the magic a vital part of the story?  It should be for a fairytale. Do your characters have to get themselves out of trouble without magic?  Even better!  You should enjoy what you write and at the same time be open to where it can be improved.  Not an easy balance to strike which is why it is such a good idea to put work aside for a while and then re-read it.  You will come back to the story with a more open mind, having had the break from it.

Z = Zippy
There will be many in the UK especially who will remember Zippy as a character from children’s TV show, Rainbow!  However for this, I mean zippy in terms of lively.  Your fairytale should be a lively read from start to finish.  Your characters should be lively and engage with your reader.  (This is why if you enjoy your writing, there is every chance others will too.  As for the feeling after reading something you’ve written “this is rubbish”, bear in mind every writer goes through that.  This is another reason for putting work away for a while before coming back to it).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This World and Others – Playing with Words

Playing with Words is not just the title of my latest CFT post but the theme for this week for me.  I also take a look at this topic on my latest Goodreads blog.

So how do I like to play with words then?

1.   I like twist endings to a lot of my stories so there is a lot of playing with words to be had there in coming up with a twist that works.

2.    I sometimes end stories with a punchline which often revolves around a pun.  Puns are the very definition of playing with language!

3.     I like to take known phrases and play with them to come up with something that has “echoes” but which is also unique to my story.  For example, we usually talk about punishing the guilty for crime etc but my story in From Light to Dark and Back Again is deliberately called Punish the Innocent.  The idea is to get you wondering (a) why would someone want to punish the innocent, (b) do they do so, (c) were the innocent that guiltless after all?

I sometimes use spider diagrams to help me work out in which directions I could take a story idea and then I pick the one that I like the best.  Playing with words here helps me come up with thoughts deeper than my initial “obvious” ideas and therefore I hope a more original story line.

 

 

 

 

STORIES, STEREOTYPES, TRICKS AND UNICORNS

Be fair, that is quite a mix, isn’t it?!  I share links to three new stories of mine on Cafelit this week as well and discuss them in my Facebook posts throughout the week too.  Hope you like the stories.  I loved writing them.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Busy night tonight. My latest CFT post is live and looks at favourite views, literal and metaphorical. I also discuss how to develop “the writer’s eye”.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Delighted to have three new stories due to appear on Cafelit over the next few days. Will share links as and when. But back to the idea of using the same word to start the sentences of a flash piece with. My word for tonight is Restless and I will ‘fess up and admit I have given this one more thought though I did like the environmental theme that came through with Habitat.

RESTLESS
‘Restless, you are, Wilma, that’s what you are – always have been, always will be.
‘Restless, surely not, I just can’t get comfortable, that’s all’.
‘Restless, I said, and restless I meant.’
‘Restless, that’s the last thing I should be in here, George; I always thought I’d have peace HERE.’
‘Restless spirit, restless grave – I did think I’d have a break from your fidgeting when I joined you in here!’

ENDS.

Allison Symes – 18th September 2018

Hope you enjoy.

I do enjoy reading and writing flash stories told from the viewpoint of a minor character looking at the “main action”. Tonight’s story on Cafelit by me, The Balcony Seen, takes this approach. I don’t even name the character in this one. What matters is showing you what they observed and what they felt.

As ever, with flash, it is vital to focus on sharing what the reader needs to know. It is likely you will need to know a lot more before you put pen to paper or write directly to screen but that is what outlines are for. Outlines are fun to write. The difficult bit can be selecting what it is the reader DOES need to know and leaving out all those lovely pieces of information that are good to know but not crucial to the story. What is crucial for you as writer to know isn’t necessarily the same as what the reader needs to know!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I love writing throw away lines in a story which tell you something about the character and move the tale on. In my Leaving Home (on Cafelit tonight), there is an example of this. But the crucial thing is it moves the story on. Anything that doesn’t is cut. And that’s the way it should be!

 

Facebook – Publication News – Cafelit

The first of my three stories appearing on Cafelit is The Balcony Seen (I make no apologies for the pun!). This story is based on an exercise set by Simon Hall as part of his A-Z of Novel Writing at this year’s Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. Hope you enjoy. Most of the images below were taken by me at a Hampshire Medieval Fair a year or two ago and shows the scrivener’s wares and his accommodation, which was good by the standards of the time.

Woodland Walk - image via Pixabay

A beautiful woodland walk. Pixabay image

The tools of the medieval writer's trade

The medieval scrivener’s wares. Image by Allison Symes

The Scribe's (Scrivener's) Tent

The Scrivener’s tent. Image by Allison Symes

The scribe had good accommodation

The scrivener had good accommodation compared to most! Image by Allison Symes

As promised, story number two from me on Cafelit this week is now live. Leaving Home shows that the problems of kids pinching parents’ transport is nothing new (or necessarily confined to this world!). Hope you enjoy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As promised, the third of my three Cafelit stories is now on site. Dignity and Injustice looks at the death of Anne Boleyn from a very different perspective. Hope you enjoy.

 

Another view of the Tower of London - image via Pixabay

The Tower. Pixabay image.

The Tower of London as night falls - image via Pixabay

The Tower at night. Pixabay image.

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytales A to Z Part 7

Marching on towards the end of the alphabet then, this post looks at letters S, T and U.

S = Stereotypes.
It could be argued fairytales have a lot of stereotypes in them.  The Big Bad Wolf represents villainy and indeed the saying has passed into the language.  We say someone is known to be “a big, bad wolf”.  The downtrodden types that have their lives turned around for the better are known as Cinderella types.  I think what any fairytale writer should do is use the tropes wisely but not be confined by them.  What does your Cinderella type do to try to help herself/himself out of the situation that they’re in?  Maybe it is that which attracts the attention of the fairy godmother to help them in the first place.  Stereotypes can also be spoofed or reversed as in the Shrek series.  So use stereotypes, they can be a useful shorthand, but put your own stamp on the characters you are creating so they are clearly “their own people”.

T = Tricks
It is fine to use stereotypes to create shorthands for your characters, who should then still go on to be characters that are uniquely your creation, and other writing techniques to improve what you do, but those should be the only “tricks” played in your stories.  Indeed they shouldn’t even show!  Your stories should read “naturally” with nothing drawn to the reader’s attention any “artificial devices” have been used in the making of that story.  As for tricks played by characters on others, there should be ground rules set out early on in your story as to magical capabilities so readers know that character A could be reasonably expected to play such a trick on character B.

U = Unicorns (and other mythical beasts)
Use sparingly if at all!  For me a story is all about the characters. Unless you are writing a story from the viewpoint of the unicorn or other strange creature, there seems to be little use for these, other than as transport, possibly, or to set the scene for how your world works and looks.

This World and Others – Story Moods

I’m pleased to say I have three new flash stories on Cafelit.  I share the link to my author page here.

The Balcony Seen started life as an exercise at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School this year.  Leaving Home and Dignity and Injustice are new to me in that they share a common character.  But these stories remind me of one of the reasons I really love flash fiction.  They all vary in mood and it is easy to switch from one mood to another and back again.

I also think really short stories can carry the most impact at times.  Yes, there are exceptions (the sadness of Hamlet goes beyond saying) but I generally find the shorter the story the more powerful the reaction.  I suppose part of the reason for that is there is no room to dilute that impact with sub-plots etc.  In a novel, you would need those sub-plots to give a proper ebb and flow to the overall story and avoid having a monotone.  No need to worry about that for flash fiction!

Anyway, hope you enjoy these.

Goodreads Author Programme Blog – Opening Lines

What is it about an opening line that makes you want to read on?

For me, that opening line has to intrigue me, show me something of the fictional world to come, or show me something about the lead character. The very best opening lines combine at least two of these.

I’m thinking especially of Orwell’s 1984 “It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”. I’m immediately intrigued by the thirteen and I want to know about what kind of world it could be to have clocks capable of doing this. The opening line has definitely fulfilled its role there!

The challenge then for the writer is to make sure that everything which follows lives up to the promise of that opening line and delivers on it! And some people think writing is easy…hmm… I learned a long time ago that when someone makes something look easy, that same someone has almost certainly worked their socks off for years to get to that point.

So what are your favourite lines and why?

I also love the opening to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. Very different in style but they intrigue and set the tone for what is to come.

Happy reading, and writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest CFT post is an alliterative one! As Autumn Approaches is a reflective look at the season, I share some thoughts about how the season is for writers.

I also discuss the importance of taking time out to look back, as my church has recently done for its 200th anniversary, but equally how vital it is to move on from periods of reflection, given what stays static dies eventually.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My CFT post this week is a reflective one on autumn. I share what I like about it, why it is an interesting season for writers, and also discuss my church’s recent exhibition to celebrate its 200th anniversary where we took stock of our history and recalled friends past, present, and no longer with us. Oral storytelling and local history are so important.

Facebook – General – and Association of Christian Writers’ More than Writers – The Highs and the Lows

Many thanks to all who commented on my More Than Writers blog earlier. You really can’t underestimate how much persistence, determination, and ability to work hard you will need as a writer. The great comfort is ups and downs are a normal part of the writing life so you’re definitely not alone here.

The Highs and the Lows – Allison Symes

What would you say were the writing highs? 

Your first piece of writing (aka “the I did it” moment!)?

Your first publication credit (the “family start to take you seriously” moment!)?

Your first book acceptance (the “some of the rest of the world start to take you seriously” moment!)?  Sadly, it always is some of the rest of the world…

What would you say were your writing lows? 

That first rejection?
Having your novel come back for the umpteenth time?
Countless short stories turned down?

The great irony, of course, is, with the right spirit and attitude, a writer can use those rejections and set backs to (a) fill them with determination to keep going, (b) to improve on what they do so the turn downs don’t arrive so often as they once did, and (c) recognise all writers go through this.

There are no shortcuts to publication.  Also, even when published, the learning curve goes on and you have to be open to it.  The writer that doesn’t learn is the one who remains static.  What is static dies, eventually.

So then it is a question of relishing the highs and getting through the lows, which is where the support of understanding writing friends is crucial.  One of the things I love about social media is the fact it makes it easier to stay in contact with said writing friends, especially when you can only meet up face to face once or twice a year.Writing forums such as the one we have on the ACW website are also useful for this kind of contact (and for sharing helpful advice and tips too).  Going to a good writing conference is invaluable too given that for most of the year we are at our desks, working alone.

Peter, of course, literally had his mountain top experience but his low was clearly his denial of Christ.  (What I love about Peter’s story is his redemption – it offers hope for us all).  So this pattern of highs and lows then is a reflection of life as it is lived and not just the writing life.

Our characters must have their highs and lows.  Without them, there is no conflict yet alone a story.  The highs and lows are not just the story events but what is in those characters.  No villain should be all evil (there must be a decent reason for them acting the way they are, decent to them at least).  No hero should be a goody two shoes.  Much as I loved Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, I found it easier to identify with Amy or Jo rather than the saintly Beth.  Identifying with your characters is the goal.  The moment a reader does that, the more likely it is they will read on and find out what happens.

Show the flaws.  Show the vulnerabilities.  Show the things the character does well.  Enjoy the process.  And good luck.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Don’t forget if you subscribe to Writing Magazine, you can put your book on their Subscribers’ Showcase. It’s free for a while but after that you pay a small amount per month to have it on there. My own plans later, once hopefully I have more books out, is to switch which ones I put up there to keep things fresh.

n a novel, you would have the space for different moods. Moods in the story itself. Moods of the characters. In flash fiction, you have to focus on one mood (and often on one character). But the advantage of putting a collection together is over the space of the entire book, you can have a range of moods and therefore of stories.

This was one aspect of putting From Light to Dark and Back Again together that I really enjoyed. Themes and moods became apparent and it was so easy to group these together.

Time for some more one-line stories, though one I admit is also useful wildlife advice!

1. The dragon, determined not to be fobbed off with false gold coinage, destroyed the Royal Mint with two blasts of flame.

2. Glass slippers, how the hell did that happen, thought the fairy godmother as she hung up her wand in disgust.

3. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog only to find the canine could bite in places no male animal would ever wish bitten.

4. When the red, red robin comes bob bob bobbing along, it’s looking for food in the winter months, not the chance to be the star of a song.

5. The girl in the red hooded coat took one look at the Big Bad Wolf in her granny’s bed and said, “That gingham really doesn’t suit you, try silk next time.”

Any story, no matter what its length, should create an impact on a reader, whether it is to make them laugh or cry. I concede though No. 3 will probably make a few of you wince!

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog Where Do You Turn First?

So you have limited time to read (it is ever so!) and you can choose between reading one hardback, one paperback, or pick one option from your Kindle? Which would you automatically plump for over the others?

I’d go for the paperback every time (partly because while I have some hardbacks, my paperback collection is far greater). There is still the element of the “go for the real book” here, much as I love the Kindle.

Where the Kindle does come into its own is when I’m away anywhere and the last thing I want to do is lug a lot of books along with me (unless they’re by me and I’m trying to sell them of course!).

The other reason I’d go for the paperback first is I’d want the experience of the “whole book”. You can’t smell a Kindle’s “pages” but you can do it with a paper book – and I have and will continue to do so.

I do like the smell of a book. I like the look of a well designed cover. I like the feel of a paperback in my hands. So there is the whole tactile experience going on here.

I do know I’m not the only reader/writer to feel that way so if I’m weird, I know I’ve got company. Very well read company, I should add!

So what would you pick then and why? Comments welcome.

Fairytales with Bite Fairytales A to Z Part 4

J = Jealousy.  Such a powerful emotion and an excellent trait to exploit in your characters given it is understandable as a motivation for action. People do strange things, motivated by this, in real life.  Your characters can do so too in fiction.  You don’t have to like jealousy as a trait or the character to be able to identify with where the character is coming from here.  It can also act as a kind of shorthand.  If you say someone is the jealous type, it conjures up an immediate image of what that person is likely to be like, doesn’t it?

K = Killer Instinct.  Do your characters have this?  Do you?!  Firstly your characters, particularly your villains, need this (and often in the literal sense), but even the “goodies” need this to keep them going in the face of opposition etc.  They need to know when to “go” for a course of action and it will be their instinct here that will ignite the spark which drives them on.  As for you as a writer, do you have the killer instinct when it comes to editing your work?  Will you take out anything that is really not working (and be open to the idea it isn’t)?  You need to learn to be ruthless about taking out anything that is not pushing your story on.  The “kill your darlings” expression has a lot of truth behind it.

L = Learning and Laughter.  Do your characters learn from their mistakes?  A good story and great characters will have that as a major factor.  Some of my favourite series novels have shown the lead character developing over time and I love that.  It makes the character far more real to me.  As for laughter, even in darker stories, there can be room for this.  In the classic fairytales, for me, the Emperor’s New Clothes is a great example of laughing at those who supposedly are superior but are taken in by conmen (and you do have to hand it to those tailors for sheer nerve).  So where can laughter fit into your stories?

This World and Others Reflections

Reflection is a major theme of my latest Chandler’s Ford Today post called As Autumn Approaches.  (Well, this is true for the UK and Europe anyway!).

What would make your characters reflect on their actions to date/their attitudes to life?  Being made to confront the consequences of what you are doing would be one major reason to take time out to reflect, especially if there was time to reverse matters or limit any damage done.  Love, as they say, changes everything and can be a major influence in making people change their behaviour (usually for the better, but this isn’t always the case).

Sometimes a character will take time out to reflect before heading out on their adventure/quest etc.  What is interesting here is how that period of reflection influences what the character then does.  If your characters do this, how do they reflect?  On their own or do they have a mentor?  Do they look up books (especially history) to find out how others in their world’s past handled certain situations?  If the characters themselves will be setting a precedent, are there general guidelines to give them pointers as to what they should be doing?

Last but not least, are the characters themselves willing to learn from the reflections of others?