Podcasting, Flash Fiction, and Spring

Now there’s a right mix for you!

Image Credit:  As ever, unless stated, images are from Pixabay.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today x 2!

CFT – Part 1 –

The Writing and Marketing Show – Podcast by Wendy H. Jones

The post below is an amalgamation of the FB posts I shared on my author page and book page during the week.

I thought I’d start by sharing the link to my Local Author News page on Chandler’s Ford Today earlier this week where my news is the podcast interview of yours truly by Scottish crime writer, Wendy H Jones, on my favourite topic, flash fiction. I also share the link to the episode I appear in (and I repeat the link below too).

I was delighted to take part in The Writing and Marketing Show, which is Wendy’s new podcast. It does what it says on the tin, folks! I’m on Episode 4 – How to Write Flash Fiction. Well, I wasn’t going to turn down an opportunity to talk about my great writing love now, was I?

As well as discussing flash fiction, I share some tips, particularly on nailing those crucial opening lines. I also discuss what you can do with cliches – now, now… tune in the show and find out exactly what it is I DO do with them!

Every so often CFT puts up Local Author News posts when local writers have book events etc. It is lovely to put such a post up for myself! (And a huge thanks to Janet Williams, CFT’s very supportive editor who is great at encouraging sharing news like this. It is appreciated and not just by me).

I also want to say a big thank you to Wendy H. Jones for inviting me on to her show. It was huge fun to take part – and do check out the other episodes too. Episodes are released on a Wednesday. Well worth making a note in your diary for especially if you are keen to have insights into the wonderful world of writing.

Episode 4 – How to Write Flash Fiction

CFT – Part 2 – Spring Approaches

It’s always a pleasure to write posts like the above which celebrate something positive. Despite Storm Dennis being on its way, there are still signs of spring out there and I’ve already noted the daylight lasting that little bit longer each evening.

I also look at spring in the terms of new life/new developments. What new developments, as a writer, are you hoping for this year? (The podcast with #WendyHJones earlier this week was a new development for me and so much fun to do). Comments as ever welcome over on the CFT page.

Feature Image - Spring Approaches

As part of my Spring Approaches post for Chandler’s Ford Today this week, I look ahead to the Chameleon Theatre Group’s next production. This has the charming name of Spring Quartet. Love the sound of that. I am hoping throughout the next few months to put up additional posts featuring members of the Chameleons. More details as and when.

Do you find writing easier or harder to do when the weather gets better (it will eventually, honestly!)? I have no real preference here though I can understand the lure of getting out and about when perhaps I should be at my desk writing.

Mind you, when I do go out and about, there is always part of me which sees these trips as great opportunities for “research”.

Now that can be anything from picking up inspiration for characters (e.g. overhearing odd snippets of conversation I know I could use in totally different contexts for a tale or two) to going to a specific place and learning from it. What I learn then ends up in a story.

It’s a great excuse and I’m sticking to it!

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Many thanks, everyone, for the lovely feedback on the podcast interview for those of you who tuned in when the link was shared on Wednesday this week. For those of you who haven’t, do check out the episode via the link above. It was a joy to talk flash fiction with #WendyHJones. (And do check out the other episodes too. The link to all episodes is in the top left corner).

My usual CFT post will be up tomorrow and it is called Spring Approaches. Now I know Storm Dennis is due (named after Dennis the Menace, do you think?) but, hang on in there folks, spring really is on its way.

There are already signs of it out there. Tonight I managed to walk the dog with my better half and we only needed a torch for the last 15 minutes. That figure will reduce week on week too and I love that. Two weeks or so ago, we needed the torch for 25 to 30 minutes so those lighter evenings are slowly coming in! (On a personal note, I find the increased light helps with my writing productivity too and I bet I’m not the only one who finds that).

My post celebrates the approach of spring then but also looks at how, given we rightly associate spring with new life, what that can mean for us. A new life can mean new starts or developments. (Being interviewed for a podcast was a new and enjoyable development for me!).

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

F = Fun to write
L = Length of story can vary but should not go over 1000 words.
A = Alliteration can be effective in titles but best to use sparingly (otherwise readers will tire of it. You don’t want anything to seem “faddy”).
S = Story should focus on ONE important point only as you won’t have room for more, particularly in a sub-500 words tale.
H = Have fun mixing up which genres you write your flash fiction in as the good news is you don’t have to stick to one!

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When you want to mix up your flash fiction writing, how do you go about that?

Some of my favourite ways to mix things up include:-

1. Work out an ending to a story and work backwards to the start instead of working linearly. (If you usually start this way, simply reverse the process and start at the beginning!).

2. Try writing a flash fiction story in a genre or format you’ve not tried before. If it doesn’t work out, why worry? You were playing with words. I would suspect also some of what you write you would probably be able to use elsewhere. Equally if you discover a new way of writing flash, even better. This is how I started writing historical flash fiction pieces. Until fairly recently, it wasn’t an area I had explored.

3. Write to different word counts. While my natural home is between the 100 to 250 word count limit, I do write much shorter than that. I also go up to the top end of the scale for flash at 1000 words.

And why mix things up at all?

Firstly it keeps things interesting for you. You really don’t want to become bored with what you do.

Secondly, a variety of stories, whether it’s in genre or word count or both, means you have a wider selection of markets and competitions to aim those tales at! Good luck.

Fairytales With Bite – 

When the Magic Wand Isn’t Enough

One of my favourite things about fantasy fiction is when magic is limited in some way. That is a character can only do so much with their powers and no more. Or if they go beyond that, then there is a dreadful price to pay.

What is fascinating there is finding out how the characters get around this. When you can’t or dare not use your special skills, what do you do?

Likewise if two magical characters have the same kind of powers, then you know they’re going to cancel each other out effectively. What does each of them do to try to get the upper hand on the other?

I believe more of the real personality of the characters comes out when they can’t just rely on magic to get them out of trouble (and even more when they know using it will exacerbate their problems).

I love stories which show the downside of using magic and where characters have to use their wit and intelligence to overcome problems. My favourite of all here has to be Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series given, when in doubt, she goes to the library to look things up! What’s not to like about that?!

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This World and Others – 

What Do Your Characters Make Of Their World?

Asking yourself this as you outline your fictional world is useful as:-

(a) it will show you insights into what your characters really think revealing more of their attitudes which should prove useful later and;

(b) it will show you what your characters think is the most important aspect of their world. It might not be what you originally thought!

I would then probe further as to why that is. If you thought the most important thing was your created world’s fantastic lakes but your character thinks the best thing since sliced bread is the mountain behind their village, look at why. Have they got a fear of water, say? Have they got a famous ancestor who was the first to climb that mountain? Could that come into your story at some point?

How do your characters react to their world during the course of the story? What aspects of it get in their way on whatever their mission is? What aspects help them? Does the transportation make their mission easier to carry out or more difficult? How easy is it for them to get provisions? What do other characters think of their mission? What and/or whom gets in their way?

If your character is trying to save their world, are they doing so out of love for that world or knowing that whatever the world is facing is too dreadful to contemplate allowing to happen so has got to be stopped no matter what else they think? Is the world around them grateful for their efforts?

Above all, what changes have to happen in and to the characters to make them want to carry out their mission? It is not uncommon for the hero/heroine to be reluctant to take on their quest and they have to be persuaded into it. So who does the persuading? What makes the character “bite”?

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Rules That Need to Exist

Image Credit:  Unless otherwise stated, all images are from Pixabay

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Thinking further about my CFT post this week about Rules That Need to Exist made me consider which rules I absolutely follow when writing. The ones below are not in any order of importance but I think they are all necessary.

1. Keep my prose, punctuation, grammar etc simple. It helps clarity and pacing.

2. Always edit on paper, not on screen.

3. Read work out loud.

4. Accept the first draft is only that. Of course it won’t be perfect and that’s fine. That is what editing and polishing are for.

5. Be entertaining whether I’m writing blog posts, flash fiction, or short stories. I want my readers to engage with what I’m writing and a simplistic, entertaining style is a good way to do that. Incidentally never confuse simplistic with simple. It really isn’t the same thing. It’s easier NOT to write simplistically. I’ve forgotten who it was who apologised to a friend for sending a long letter because they hadn’t time to write a short one but whoever that was SHOULD have been an editor!

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I’m a fan of Pointless, the game show where the idea is to score as few points as possible while still coming up with correct answers.

Am I annoyed when I don’t get as many as I think I should on the literature/author rounds? Oh yes. Am I equally annoyed when nobody gets the Terry Pratchett or P.G. Wodehouse question right? Yes and yes.

I really enjoy the words rounds. You know the kind of thing – name a word ending with two or three particular letters. I find with these that the first ones I name are the obvious ones. It’s only when I make myself think that bit deeper I come up with some good low scoring words. (My dilemma then is working out whether something is hyphenated or not – great for a flash fiction story as it counts as one word but not for the Pointless words round when it counts as two! That really does scupper me.).

Having said that, the thinking deeper bit is relevant for all writers, regardless of what you write, because the same point is true. We DO think of the obvious ideas and links first and we need to clear those away before coming up with something much better. When I have brainstorming ideas, I just write down what comes to me, knowing the first few on the list I’m almost certainly not going to use. But that’s okay. It’s what I’m left with that gives me the most interesting material to work with.

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W = Writing is my idea of a brain workout.
R = Rigorous challenges range from the word count limits of flash fiction to ensuring your Great Novel is not TOO great in terms of size and fits in with the kind of size your publisher usually brings out. (Or the publisher you would LIKE to be your publisher!).
I = Integrity – you’ve got to be true to your characters. They need to be realistically drawn (no matter how fantastical a world they live in or whether they’re magical beings themselves). Readers have got to be able to identify with the characters and either love them or loathe them.
T = Tension. Is there enough in your story? Does the tension increase as you get closer to the end of the story or book?
I = Identifiable. Is your writing voice identifiable as you? Do you have a distinctive style?
N = Names (of characters). Are they memorable? Are any too close in sound to others in the same story? The answers should be yes and no respectively!
G = Genre. Can you say where your book or story would fit? Can you target your work to the right genre of competition or the right publisher for it?

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

What do I look for when editing my flash fiction?

1. Wasted words. I’ve mentioned before mine are actually, very, and that, and these add little to a story which cannot be expressed in better ways. Out they go then! The odd that is useful sometimes but nowhere near as often as you think. I have had to learn to cut them out where they’re really not needed.

2. Phrasing which doesn’t trip off the tongue when reading it out loud. Out comes the red pen again then! If I trip over it, a reader will too.

3. A nice mixture of short sentences and longer ones. I want my stories to have a good rhythm to them but too much of one type of sentence length can and does disrupt that. (That was a necessary that – and so were those!😀😀😀).

4. Clarity. Is there anything which could be misunderstood or misconstrued in any way? Could something have a double meaning you really did not intend? All worth checking for, if only to save yourself some blushes when you re-read work later.

5. Looking at the story as a whole, does it fulfil the promise of its title? Does it grip me? Would I like to read more? (That’s usually a good sign as it shows the characters have come to life for you).

What kind of characters do I enjoy inventing for my flash stories the most? It can vary but they include:-

1. Characters who are full of themselves. I just love bringing them down to earth.

2. Characters who see things from a different perspective. I’ve written stories from a dragon’s viewpoint before now! Trust me their view on gold is somewhat different to that of a typical fairytale dwarf. I just know…

3. Characters who are prepared to bend/break the rules. For this kind of story, I love dropping them right in the mire and finding out whether their willingness to break rules helps them or lands them further in it. All good fun!

4. Fairies or other magical beings confronting sceptical humans. Someone is heading for a fall here…

5. Characters who are either secondary in fairytales or are the villain. Very much an alternative rendition! (And I make no apologies for the pun on the title of the first Bridge House Publishing anthology I was in called Alternative Renditions where my A Helping Hand took the viewpoint of Cinderella’s youngest stepsister!).

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F = Fast, frenetic (at times), and fun writing
L = Like being able to set my characters in any time/genre/setting I choose. I just worry about the word count.
A = Animated conversation in the stories? Not really. Not enough space but you can show so much though a character’s thoughts and attitudes coming out of those thoughts, you don’t really need this for this kind of of story anyway.
S = Simplifies your writing and helps increase your clarity. This is always good!
H = Historical flash fiction has been a recent development for me and I hope to write more of this. Using characters who may have witnessed events is a good way forward here.

Fairytales with Bite – Rules That Need to Exist

I discuss Rules That Need to Exist in my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week, but how can we apply this specifically to our fiction writing?

Rules for Writing

When it comes to writing rules, there are specific ones I always follow. These are:-

1. Keep my prose, punctuation, grammar etc simple. It helps clarity and pacing.
2. Always edit on paper, not on screen.
3. Read work out loud.
4. Accept the first draft is only that. Of course it won’t be perfect and that’s fine. That is what editing and polishing are for.
5. Be entertaining whether I’m writing blog posts, flash fiction, or short stories. I want my readers to engage with what I’m writing and a simplistic, entertaining style is a good way to do that.

Rules for Characters

1.  The character must be someone I can identify with, even if I loathe them and their attitudes. There has to be some spark of understanding why someone has turned out the way they have.

2.  The character must be memorable (whether it is for good reasons and they’re the hero, or for bad ones where they’re the villain). What they must never be is forgettable, else why have them in the story at all? If you’ve got a character you think you can cut out of your story, you almost certainly can because they’re not contributing anything and your tale will tighten up in terms of word count and pacing if there is no unnecessary baggage.

3.  The character must have at least one distinctive thing about them that can’t apply to anyone else or handle situations in ways that are unique to them.

What rules for writing or for characters do you use and why?

This World and Others –

Creating Something Out of Nothing

I was listening to UK based radio station Classic FM earlier this week 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!

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