Finding Ideas, Themes and Judging a Book by its Cover Part 3

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated. Some images created in Book Brush using Pixabay pictures.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Many thanks to my guests for Part 3 of my Judging a Book by its Cover series for Chandler’s Ford Today. Author and book cover pics were supplied by Amanda Huggins, Dawn Knox (with Colin Payn), Gail Aldwin, Alyson Rhodes (who writes as Alyson Faye), Jim Bates, and Paula R.C. Readman.

A huge thanks to all of my guests over the last three weeks. It has been a joy to discuss and share book cover thoughts! Hope you have all had a good week. Looking forward to giving another talk about flash fiction via Zoom next week.

Oh and my author newsletter goes out tomorrow, 1st May. Do sign up at my landing page – https://allisonsymescollectedworks.com – for more details.


Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Pleased to share the final part of my Judging a Book by its Cover series for Chandler’s Ford Today. Many thanks to all of my guests over the last three weeks for their fabulous contributions. For this post, I chat to guests from Bridge House Publishing, CafeLit, and Chapeltown Books.

Also a shout out goes to #WendyHJones as a comment from her gave me the spark for the idea for this series. As I mentioned for the More Than Writers blog spot I shared yesterday about Finding Ideas (see below), ideas are there. The trick is to spot them and yes they can come from comments from other writers or things you overhear. The clever bit is gathering those ideas up and running with them! (It is also why it is a good idea to keep a notebook on you as we slowly go out and about in the world once again. Never rely on your memory to record a good idea. You do forget!).

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Bonus Post – My Interview by Francesca Tyer for the Authors Reach website

A little while ago I was interviewed by Francesca Tyer for the Authors Reach website. Francesca has been a guest on Chandler’s Ford Today too.

Delighted to now be able to share the link to that interview. Hope you enjoy it and a huge thank you to Francesca and Authors Reach for hosting me.

Facebook – General – and Association of Christian Writers – More than Writers blog spot

Pleased to share my latest blog on More Than Writers, the blog spot for the Association of Christian Writers. I discuss Finding Ideas and hope you find it useful. I share a few thoughts on how I find ideas.

Earlier this week I came up with another useful method which was to use a random word generator to come up with a random word and then use that as a topic for the picture site, Pixabay. I then used a random picture from them based on that topic to inspire me to write a story to fit the theme. Good fun and I hope to use that method again.

For my MTW blog, I also take a quick peek at how I find ideas for blogs. Well, that is useful to find ON a blog, yes?!

Hope you enjoy.

Hope you have had a good day. (Lady went bonkers, in a good way, with her girlfriends, Khaya and Coco, in the park today. Wish I had half their energy but there you go).

Have a new ACW blog post to share tomorrow and the final part of my Judging a Book By Its Cover series for Chandler’s Ford Today on Friday.

Submitted my flash piece to the Bridport Prize. Glad to get that done well ahead of the deadline (end of May so there is still time to enter if you’re interested. There are other categories too including short stories and poetry).

I chatted over on #Val’sBookBundle earlier about whether poor proofreading would put you off reading the story afflicted by it. It wouldn’t necessarily put me off. It hasn’t put me off the book I’ve just read which had so many poor word end splits. But I was itching to get my red pen out. And that is never a good sign.

What is important to remember though is, while books do get out there with this kind of thing happening, we still need to get our books and stories out there and ensure they are at the highest standards possible. We owe it to our wonderful stories to make them the best we can make them so they have the best chance of attracting readers. So take your time over your own proofreading.

For short stories and flash fiction, check them several times before you submit them everywhere.

For a novel, you do need an independent editor here.

The big problem every writer has is we are far too close to our own work to always spot things that need correcting. So it is a question of accepting that and being prepared to invest in our work.

The dream ticket here is having a writer who has got their work polished as much as possible before it goes to an editor. That editor will see what the writer has done, will understand the story, but will pick up the things and ask questions the writer may not have thought of but which, when answered, will strengthen that book and give it a better chance out there.

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again


Will be sharing my author newsletter tomorrow. I issue this once a month on the 1st and I share exclusive flash fiction tales here. I hope later on to gather some of those into a further collection but you do get to have the first read! For more do go to my landing page at https://allisonsymescollectedworks.com

It is hard to say what I love most about flash fiction. Yes, I am always going to have a very soft spot for the form given it was my way in to having books published with my name on them (and on the front cover too!). But I’ve always loved inventing people. That, to me, has been the big thing about stories so getting to do this all the time for various flash fiction tales is a win-win for me.

I suppose the foundation of all storytelling (and this can apply to non-fiction too) is to have a curiosity about what makes others tick. There has to be a certain amount of curiosity to make you want to find out what happens to the characters or what the writer of the non-fiction piece comes up with as a conclusion.

So my job as a writer is to try to make my characters as intriguing as possible so others will want to read about what happens to them. If I’m intrigued by the characters, others will be too.

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Do you have favourite themes for stories? I’m fond of the “underdog” winning through kind of tale (and you can set those in any environment. A lot of fairytales are based on this). I also like to see justice being done stories (again fairytales often have this as a theme, though not always. You could argue there wasn’t any for The Little Match Girl by Hans Christen Andersen).

I also like characters who are not all they appear to be and the great thing with that is you can take this in two directions. Make the character turn out to be a villain or a hero. You can have great fun going with either of those options. Though I would add there should be some indication early on this character is not all they’re cracked up to be otherwise a reader may feel cheated.

I love it when I read a story like this as I look back at it to see where it was the author planted the first clue to flag up to me as reader I really should look out for what this character is going to do and be. I can learn from that for my own writing and I love that too.


A huge thank you to the wonderful response to my story, Hidden Gems, yesterday. This story came about as a result of using the sixth random word to come up on a random generator. That gave me a topic. I then put that topic into the Pixabay search bar and used the sixth image that came up. I then based the story around that image.

I will certainly use the random word and random image idea again. It made me think outside the box and that is always a good thing.

Am looking forward to sending out my next author newsletter (1st May) and I often share exclusive flash fiction stories here as well as useful tips. If you would like to know more please sign up at https://allisonsymescollectedworks.com and you will receive a welcome email with a link to a giveaway too.

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Fairytales With Bite – Defining Happy Ever After

Do your characters have a happy ever after or just a happy for now? And how do you define what happy is anyway? So much depends on what your characters want and whether they achieve that (or something better).

Also does one character’s happy ever after mean ruin for others?

That usually is the case with fairytales. Cinderella is a classic case in point but there is no question that the wicked stepmother and the Ugly Sisters had that ruin “coming”. But you are not told that. You see the “coming to ruin” play out as the story goes on and the attitudes and actions of the characters show you whether or not said characters deserve to be brought down.

So we need to set up our characters so a happy ever after or happy for now is seen to be merited. You want the reader to root for their success. (Wishy-washy characters simply don’t do that for me which is why I dislike Miss Price from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park).

Likewise the characters deserving to be brought down – they too need to be fully rounded individuals, who by their actions and attitudes, show the reader they’re not going to be redeemed. And again you get the reader rooting for these folk to get their well deserved comeuppance.

All stories focus on actions and consequences, conflicts and resolutions so a happy ever after or happy for now has to be the logical resolution to what comes before.

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This World and Others – Making Your Characters Stand Out

How do your characters stand out? What is special about them? I feel it is vital for the author to be totally committed to their characters to be able to write their stories up effectively. Therefore something about the character has to grab the author. That same something is likely to be the element which grips a reader.

So ask yourself what is it about characters you yourself love to read about? Can you apply that to your own characters? If you like characters who are feisty but with hearts of gold, those are the kind of characters you want to write because you will write from the heart because you yourself love these.

It may help to list qualities you want to find in a character (and don’t forget the villains here. You need to give plenty of thought to them too. Your hero/heroine has to have an opponent who will test them, bring out the best in them and so on). Then work out ways in which you can show those qualities.

For example, if you love honesty in a character, then you can use that honesty to land that character in trouble. (This could make a great comic piece). They are bound to say things that, with hindsight, might have been better expressed and with less bluntness, for example. That will have consequences.

It will also imply they have got to come up against another character who doesn’t appreciate that honesty. And the second character has to have good reasons not to appreciate it so work out what those reasons could be. Perhaps they dislike being spoken to like that because it reminds them of a family member who used to do so and it caused great upset. Perhaps they don’t like the main character speaking out because the second one is up to no good and they’re concerned they’ll be found out.

Have fun playing with ideas here. But think about the one thing that will make each of your characters stand out. What is it they are best known for? How does that play out in your story? What makes your characters deserve to be written up?

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Non-Fiction Journey and Author Interviews

Image Credit:  Pixabay/Pexels, unless otherwise stated.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

It is always a huge pleasure to chat with fellow authors on Chandler’s Ford Today. There is always something interesting to learn. Every author’s writing journey is unique and I find that endlessly fascinating. Hope you do too.

This week I chat with Scottish crime writer, Val Penny, about her venture into non-fiction publishing with her recently released Let’s Get Published. Not that she has left her (writing) life of crime behind, I’m glad to say.

I love reading as well as writing author interviews. Every writer has their own insights into the business of writing, as well as thoughts on the ups and downs we all face, whether published or not. It is also good to know you are not alone on those ups and downs. (It is also reassuring to know that is normal!).

Hope you enjoy!

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The current hot weather is one of the few times I bless living in a north facing bungalow. It is relatively cool in here. The heat doesn’t affect my writing much in that I still get on and do it but I tend to finish earlier than normal knowing I’ll feel tired earlier than normal. Still I compensate by starting my writing session earlier so that’s okay.

Looking forward to sharing my interview with Val Penny on Chandler’s Ford Today tomorrow. She talks about her venture into non-fiction with her recent publication, Let’s Get Published. I’m always fascinated by other authors’ writing journeys. Each is unique to the writer and you can always learn something useful and interesting.

Am happily editing a short story which I hope will end up being published at some point! As ever, having a bit of time away from it has proved useful. That time away makes it much easier to see where the weaknesses are and therefore do something about them!

Have also been busy drafting flash fiction pieces.

I’ve also recently revised my Linkedin profile.

So not a bad old week so far but I must admit I won’t be that sorry when it cools down a bit. (And neither will Lady!).

Screenshot_2020-06-26 Allison Symes LinkedIn

 

I’ve mentioned before that sometimes I will start a flash fiction story by writing the ending first and work backwards from there. It’s a useful technique but I do sometimes find that by the time I’ve finished, I’ve thought of a better last line. But that’s okay. I just change it.

I remember I used to feel annoyed at that kind of thing. Why couldn’t I have thought of the better last line in the first place etc etc?

Now I know better than to waste time and energy fretting about that. Just change the line and move on. It’s a good sign the story has “go” to it when you can think of things to improve with it.

Yes, it would save a lot of time and effort if you could cut straight to the chase, but writing doesn’t work like that for me. I need to get some ideas down before I can come up with better ones.

What helped me to come to terms with that was on realising other writers find the same thing happens to them. It’s always good to know you’re not alone!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

One thing I’ve learned to watch out for when editing my stories is my pet phrases. Most of the time with my flash fiction, they are amongst the first things to be cut, along with my wasted words of very, actually, and that. (Very few examples of that are actually necessary! If the story works just as well without them, out they come).

Every writer has their pet phrases. Sometimes they’re useful BUT not each and every time! Pet phrases can act as a kind of shorthand for you but if they’re not useful to your readers, it is best said phrases come out. (Another meaning for the phrase “kill your darlings” perhaps).

 

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Finding ideas for flash fiction is generally not an issue for me. It is working out which are the really strong ones and worth pursuing that can be tricky at times.

But I find character outlining helps me with that. By the time I’ve fleshed out what I need to know about my lead character, I can tell whether they’re “up” to being in a story.

I can also tell the kind of trouble they’re likely to land themselves in (with help from yours truly of course as I love landing my people right in it!) and from that the story starts to take shape. Away I go and write it before resting it for a while before editing it.

I also find flash fiction writing to be a useful warm up or warm down writing exercise. From my viewpoint, it’s another piece of work produced which I can polish and hopefully find a home for in due time.

Whatever you’re working on at the moment, I hope the writing is going well and that you’re enjoying it. Enjoying your writing is so important. It helps to motivate you and to keep you going when all you seem to get are rejections or not hearing back from competitions etc.

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I’ve found it helpful to think of flash fiction as it being from the viewpoint of ONE main character getting across ONE vital point and there has to be transformation in it somewhere.

That’s why we read. We want to find out what happens to the character. Do they get their happy ever after ending? Do they muck it up big time but somehow manage to redeem the situation? (I LOVE those stories!).

One of the aspects of flash fiction I love the most and I think is one of the useful as well is that it does make you focus on what really matters to your character. You do have to work out what the story is so you can focus on it properly.

 

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Fairytales With Bite – Murphy’s Law of Fairytales

So how could Murphy’s Law relate to fairytales then? I offer the following thoughts.

1. Never be unkind to the wizened old crone or man etc. They are bound to be a powerful witch/wizard/fairy godmother in disguise. It will be just your luck to cross them and be turned into something unpleasant. These things happen in the fairytale world.

2. Never be rude to passers-by. You might be glad of their help later on, especially if you HAVE crossed the wizened old crone etc. You’ll need someone to tell you what it is you have been turned into. Then and only then can you scream.

3. You know that downtrodden kid everyone ignores or is rude to? Watch them. They’re either going to end up marrying Prince Charming or somehow do something heroic. In the fairytale world, that kind of character is always marked out for great things. They like humility here.

4. It is best to assume the animals you come across can talk, are intelligent etc., and a quick word to the wise – if you do come across bears who live in a house, never ever pinch their breakfast. It won’t end well.

5. Actively be kind. You may be rewarded. You may not. But you won’t end up crossing the aforementioned wizened old crone etc.

6. If you come across a sweet covered house, run the other way as fast you can. (Well, you don’t want to risk a huge weight gain thanks to gobbling all that sugar now, do you?).

7. Don’t try and eat the Gingerbread Man. He resents that kind of thing.

8. If you need to cross a bridge and you are not sure if there are trolls in the area, see if you can get some friendly neighbourhood goats to cross the bridge first. They are excellent at getting rid of unwanted trolls.

9. If you think Grandma has suddenly become very hairy, it is not a trick of the light. She has. Go and get the woodcutter NOW.

10. If something seems too good to be true, it is. Mind you, that applies to all universes so is a good general principle to go by.

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This World and Others – 

Creating Something Out of Nothing

I was listening to Classic FM when it was reported a well known composer still suffered nerves when coming up with a new composition. They were still made nervous by the blank page, despite their many years of successful composition. Ironically, this cheered me up somewhat. It’s the same for any creator and I know it’s true for me. That touch of nerves before you start writing is the worst bit. Once you get going, you’re absolutely okay.

I’ve learned over time to just get the words down any old how. Editing and polishing happen much later. Nobody writes a perfect draft. Shakespeare didn’t. Austen didn’t. Dickens didn’t. I’m certainly not going to but that’s fine! So how can you get over the nervous start bit or, at least, make it not so bad and easier to handle?

I’ve found having a range of ways to get started on stories or blog posts helpful. I also find having brainstorming sessions every so often useful to jot down ideas and when I am struggling, I can turn to these and find something to inspire me there. My range of ways to get started include:-

1. Using a random word generator, pick three, and put them into a story. Using random words like this makes me think deeper and if there is no obvious link between the three words, even better. It makes me think again!

2. Look back over my old blog posts and stories. Often there will a link there I didn’t follow up at the time but might prove useful now.

3. Take a well known saying and use it as a theme or title (sometimes both) for a story or article.

4. Use a spider diagram or flowchart to flesh out basic ideas. That will soon show if ideas in the back of my head do have some “legs” to them or not. Naturally I go with the ones that do! This is especially useful when used in conjunction with a random word generator.

5. Look up writing competitions. Sometimes I’ll enter said competitions. Sometimes I’ll just write up a story to the theme and not submit it deliberately. I will go back to that story at a later date to polish it up further knowing it is not ready for a competition yet but I can still write to the theme. Who knows? The story might end up in an anthology later. Themes come up reasonably often so there will be other competitions the story the might fit.

However you get over the blank page nerves, happy writing and good luck!