They Came from Mars and Other Top Tips

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When a spoof works… CFT Review – They Came From Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall in time for the Townswomen’s Coffee Morning?

Delighted to share my review of this fabulous production, the latest to be staged by The Chameleon Theatre Company – Chandlers Ford. It was huge fun spotting the references and recalling the musical links.
I also go on to discuss the “rules” for a good spoof and why I think humour is the hardest genre to write well.

Spotting all the references and gags here would take at least two visits to the show!

Images supplied by Lionel Elliott, Mike Morris and The Chameleons. A huge thank you as ever. Captions on the CFT post.

 

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Further to my earlier post about The Chameleon’s latest production, just why is humour so difficult to write well?

(Said production incidentally easily has the longest title of a play I’ve reviewed and I can’t see it being beaten any time soon! Well, what do YOU make of They Came From Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall in time for the Townswomen’s Coffee Morning? Try saying that quickly! Go on give it a go!).

So humorous writing – the pitfalls (and this is not a comprehensive list by any means):-

1. Humour is subjective. Not everyone gets your style of joke.

2. Sometimes you will come across people who really don’t like funny writing of any kind. My late mum loved books across a wide range of genres (including sci-fi) but just didn’t get funny writing. It was her blind spot. This happens. Nothing you can do about it. (And yes I went the other way and LOVE funny writing!).

3. Humour doesn’t always translate well between countries, cultures etc. So to get something that does cross boundaries is pretty special.

What is your favourite form of humorous writing? Where the humour is “in your face” or do you prefer the subtle one-liner etc?

I love all humorous writing but if I had to pick a favourite, I adore those one-liners which can turn a story on its head and make you laugh at the same time.

You can bet the writer would have written and re-written that line several times to get it spot on and it wouldn’t have just been the words themselves. The rhythm of a sentence can make a difference to how funny it is perceived to be. Punchlines are generally short for maximum impact for that reason.

As part of my CFT review of The Chameleons’ latest hilarious production, I’ll also be looking at what makes a spoof work and what I think some of the “rules” are. Link up tomorrow.

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My CFT post this week will be a review of the Chameleon Theatre Group’s latest production. They Came From Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall in time for the Townswomen’s Coffee Morning doesn’t trip off the tongue but is a classic example of a title showing clearly what the story is – a spoof!

I will be discussing spoofs and comedy as well as part of the review. Link up on Friday.

What amazes me with the Chameleons though is I have seen them stage everything from Arthur Miller’s All My Sons to Blackadder to hilarious pantos and all of them have been wonderfully entertaining.

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Five top tips:-

1. Never be afraid to change a title if the one you first thought of just isn’t making enough impact on you. (It won’t on anyone else either. Trust your gut here and don’t be afraid to play around with titles until you find one that does hit home).

2. Think about the emotional impact you want your story to have on a reader before you write it. Take a little time to figure out how best to achieve it. This is where outlining is useful, even if you do a broad outline.

3. Once the story is written, put it away for a while. When you re-read it, read it out loud. Hear how your dialogue sounds. Is there anything in it to trip you up or does it sound clunky? What looks good on paper or screen doesn’t always translate well into being read out loud.

4. Assume you will have to edit more than once. We all do! (But see it as getting your story into shape and helping increase its chances of being published).

5. Be open to trying new forms of writing as you may discover avenues you hadn’t considered but which you discover a skill for. I hadn’t started as a flash fiction writer! ‘Nuff said.

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Favourite endings for flash fiction tales for me include:-

1. A punchline that turns the story on its head.

2. A laugh-out loud moment. (You then read the story again and pick up on the clues that show this moment is coming but which you missed first go, being too eager to find out how the tale did end. Guilty as charged on too many occasions to count on that one).

3. A poetic justice ending. I love those and several of my stories include this. (Subconscious wish to put the world to rights I suspect is coming out here!).

4. A revelation. This can be a character finally showing what has motivated them, some aspect of their personality that hasn’t come out until the end and which makes a huge difference to the outcome, or an action to finish the story on.

Fun with Flash:-

1. Flash stories can be ideal for those characters who would drive people nuts if their tales went on for too long so have some fun with this. Keep your tale short and you can use characters you might otherwise have to discard.

2. Punchlines work well in flash. I sometimes use them as twist endings to a story. But again punchlines work best if they’re kept short so flash fiction can be a good vehicle for them.

3. If you have a short scene in a longer work that you’d like to keep in but can’t justify as it is an amusing character sketch (for example) but nothing more, how about turning it into a piece of flash fiction? Let it stand on its own. Flash is brilliant for focusing on one character and one moment in time. Waste not, want not. (You may find in turning it into a story, the scene suddenly develops “legs” after all).

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Fairytales with Bite – They Came From Mars

My CFT post this week is a review of a wonderful spoof staged by The Chameleon Theatre Group. The title is likely to remain the longest of any play I’ve ever reviewed. Try saying They Came From Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall in time for the Townswomen’s Coffee Morning in a hurry!

No matter where your story is set, or how outlandish your fictional world is, it still has to be populated by characters whom we can understand and either root for, or love to hate. They must generate an emotional reaction in us. Their motives must be ones we can understand.

The setting should also be one we can get behind. After all, we know how our planet works/is run. How is this done in your fictional setting? Are there corrupt politicians for example? (I refuse to believe that could just be on Earth!).

Especially in a fantasy world, some ideas of what it looks like, how the species live, what kind of wildlife is there etc deepen your characterisation of the setting itself. (Setting can often be a character in its own right and I don’t think it’s a bad idea to treat it as one. It means you think it out for a start!).

Images for the review are on the CFT post and many thanks to the Chameleons for them.  Images below are from the ever marvellous Pixabay.

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This World and Others –

Top Tips for When Writing Isn’t Working as You’d Hoped

It happens. You go through phases where writing is either difficult or simply isn’t working out as you’d hoped. Lots of submissions. Lots of rejections. Few acceptances. Do you wonder if you should keep going? Some tips I’ve found useful to keep me going during difficult times include:-

1.  Read More. Feed your own imagination. Remind yourself of why you love stories and why you wanted to write any.

2. Remove the Pressure.  Deliberately write just for your own pleasure. Make up complete nonsense. Have fun. (Later, if you can do anything with the writing, even if it is just the odd line or two makes it into a story, say, then fab. Even if not, you’re taking time out to play with words and again remind yourself why you wanted to write).

3.  Look at Where You’ve Come From Writing Wise.  How much have you written over the years? Can you list publication credits (online and in print)? If not at that stage, have you had shortlistings? Are you simply submitting more stories for competitions than ever before? Remember  you define what success in writing is. Yes, publication is the obvious goal but it isn’t the only one. Saying you’ll write 3 or 4 stories and then try and get them published later is a fine goal too.  Look at what you’ve learned as you have written more. Have you learned how to improve your editing skills? Have you picked up tips on the way that are helping you write better now (I would be surprised if you hadn’t)? All of these are good and worthy things.

4.  Find supportive writing buddies via online groups or in creative writing classes. We all need to be reminded we’re not alone. Others do understand our compulsion to write. Others understand the frustrations of trying to get published. You need that support. It can make all the difference during low times, creatively speaking.

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HOT AND BOTHERED AND BLOGGING!

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Does the hot weather affect your writing? In my case, not directly. I’m at my desk, everything is as comfortable as possible, and off I go.

What I do dislike is the lethargy that can set in so I find it harder to stay up and write, write, write. So, accepting that is how it is is, I just squeeze more writing into the time I know I can work with before I simply HAVE to go to sleep. Must admit this is where I loved the weather in Scotland – generally good, but a few degrees cooler. Lady loved that too.

I’ll be looking at blogging in my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week and next. I’ll look at some of the joys of blogging and share some fantastic contributions from fellow writers and bloggers. Looking forward to that.

Hope to get some more flash fiction out to Cafelit before too long. Plus I hope to put more stories up on Scriggler, the US based site as well. I’ve got longer term plans for non-fiction writing, revamping my novel, as well as more flash fiction books so will be busy, busy, busy. All in a good way.

Must admit I am finding the heat a bit much (Lady is being pretty sensible about it to her credit for such a young dog). So the idea of sitting in the garden to write does not appeal. I’m definitely one for the shade!

What is the best thing about a story, regardless of genre? Is it the tale being written well enough to make you forget your cares for while?

Or is it that the characters are so well drawn you sympathise with them and can see why they are acting the way they are? The best stories contain elements of both, of course, but I don’t think it is something the writer can set out to do deliberately.

What we can do deliberately is give the most honest portrayal of our characters as we can and then it is up to the reader whether they identify with them or not. A really good story will leave you with no choice but to do so!

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One thing I mentioned in my talk on flash fiction on Saturday at Hursley Park was the fact I love the way flash forces you to fill in the gaps. For example, if I give you a story about a time travelling alien, you fill in how/what it looks like as I get on with the important bit of showing you what happens to said alien in the story. There is no room for anything else.

The great thing here is your experience of time travelling aliens will be down to how much sci-fi you read or watch, whether you’re a fan of Doctor Who or not, and so on. You will fill in the gaps in description based on what YOU think a time travelling alien should look like. My interpretation will be different (even allowing for some overlaps). And that is where flash can be such fun.

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My favourite ending for a flash fiction story, whether I write them or read them, is easily the twist one.

This is partly because I like to guess ahead and then see if I guessed correctly (and all kudos where it is due to flash fiction writers who wrongfoot me!).

I also like to see a twist that really works well and makes me go back into the story to look for the clues I know the writer will have planted there. There is always lots to learn from reading other fiction, whether it is in your own genre or not. If you needed an excuse to read more, please use that one!

Flash fiction encourages readers to fill in the gaps, given there isn’t room for much in the way of world building. I love that, both as a reader and writer.

You can infer so much more with flash too, indeed inference is a major tool in the “kit” to write it. It is true that with any story, you have to give the reader what they need to know to make sense of it, but with flash, that is fine tuned to the nth degree.

Write what you need to write and then get out is a useful guiding principle. Another is to check each line and ask myself, well why do I need this? The answer has got to be strong enough to justify that line’s inclusion in the story. Any hesitation on your part and at best you need to rewrite that line, at worst cut it.