Getting Started and Moving On

Facebook – General

I often think the hardest part of writing is getting started! Once I’m away on a piece, whether it is a FB post like this, a flash fiction or longer short story, I get the “bit between the teeth” and get on with it until I’ve got that first draft down.

I’m not deliberately procrastinating incidentally. I set myself down to write at pretty much the same time every night and get on with it. It’s just finding those first few words to get the ball rolling…

Ah well, time to get on with the next piece!

Does music help you with your creativity?

I write usually with classical music on in the background (courtesy of #ClassicFM most of the time). It doesn’t matter whether it’s Beethoven’s 5th or his Moonlight Sonata, I find that just having the music on relaxes me and I just get on and write more effectively.

I am very fond of the Saturday Night at the Movies show on Classic and it is amazing how the right music can make a film. I bet you can name at least four John Williams’ themes for a start. Think of the films you’ve thought of WITHOUT that music. Almost impossible, isn’t it?

Sometimes when I create characters, I think of what music would best suit them. It never makes it into the story itself but it does help me to picture them better so I write about/for them with more depth and that DOES show in a story.

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Enjoying the new series of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue on Radio 4. Always love the word play on here. You can’t keep a bad pun down, no matter how much you might want to!

Playing with the language, inventing puns etc, is something I occasionally do as a writing exercise. Always good fun. Makes you think in a different way. (Just how excruciating can I get with a pun?!). Sometimes that has triggered story ideas precisely because I’ve allowed my brain to go off on a tangent for a bit. Try it and see what you come up with. If nothing else, you should have fun with some mental word games here!

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Delighted to share more publication news. My flash fiction piece, Moving On, is now live on Cafelit. Hope you enjoy, especially if you’re considering a career change!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

When do you know if a flash fiction piece has had impact?

If you’re really lucky, a reader will tell you so but for me generally it has been when I can recall most, if not all, of the story days later and it still makes me feel the way I did on first reading it. And that applies whether I’ve written the piece or not. There is a kind of “hits you between the eyes” feeling to stories like this.

 

Looking forward to sharing more publication news next week. Also looking forward to the Bridge House event in London next Saturday and seeing old friends and meeting new ones there!

Plus, as ever, am planning to do plenty of writing on the train journeys. All hail, Evernote, I get so much done!! I find I either write several flash fiction stories or draft one or two CFT posts in an average train journey. So at some point I ought to go on a long train journey – hmm… what could I get drafted on the sleeper train to Scotland I wonder? If I ever find out, I will report back.😀😉

Will be reading some flash fiction pieces at the Bridge House event on Saturday. Looking forward to that. Looking forward to hearing all the other wonderful stories from my fellow authors there as well. I love sitting back entranced. And how often, as adults, do we get to be read TO? Not often enough I suspect.

To love writing you have GOT to love reading (though taking in stories via other forms such as audio is fine but nothing for me will beat a book). I owe a huge debt to my late mum for instilling a love of stories and reading in me at a very young age. She got to see my first published story – A Helping Hand in the Bridge House Alternative Renditions anthology – and my dad got to see my first book, From Light to Dark and Back Again, published. There’s a pleasing symmetry to that.

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My latest flash story, Moving On, which is now on Cafelit, was one of those tales where I started with the opening line and based the story around it. I wanted something different to the normal meaning associated with “learning to let go”. I like taking phrases like that and putting my own take on them. Give it a go, it is good fun!

http://cafelitcreativecafe.blogspot.com/20…/…/moving-on.html

 

Goodreads Author Programme BlogImpact of Writing

The impact of writing on the world in general cannot be underestimated.

As well as the Bible, Shakespeare, Dickens etc., all of which have contributed so much to our language and whose stories have been the inspiration for so many others, there are things like the Domesday Book and Magna Carta.

Historical documents which colour so much else in life and law. Nobody could have foreseen at the time of writing just how much impact these would have (though there would have been many hopes about the Magna Carta. Not least that King John was hoping to get rid of it again as soon as he possibly could! An early recognition of dangerous writing perhaps?).

What makes us love our favourite books and stories the way we do? It is also down to impact. The impact of them stays with us. We want to be like the heroic lead characters perhaps. We feel fear for the characters we love as they face dangers. We feel relief, joy etc when our favourites survive.

So do writers’ play with their readers’ emotions then? Yes but it is always best done subtly. The reader has to be willing to go along with the writer here. The writer has to deliver on the promise of his/her opening lines. We have got to be able to identify with those in the story to want to find out whether they make it through to the end or not.

So the impact of writing is everything then. As readers then we need to decide what impact we want to experience.

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The Appeal of Writing

Facebook – General – and More than Writers blog (Association of Christian Writers)

It’s time for my monthly post on the Association of Christian Writers’ More than Writers blog. Many thanks as ever to SusanSanderson for flagging this up earlier today.

This month I share my thoughts on writing likes and dislikes and one of my favourite writing quotes from Elmore Leonard.

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What is it about writing that appeals so much? Is it the creating of your own world which you then populate with characters unique to you? Is it the actual story you devise? Is it the feeling of accomplishment when you’ve written a piece, edited it, sent it out to a relevant publication and it has been accepted?

Of course it can be all those things but, for me, it is the challenge of coming up with a story or a post that will appeal to an audience beyond just me and THEN...to keep coming up with more stories and posts!

I’ve found reading widely and, increasingly now, reading non-fiction too, sparks off all sorts of ideas that I explore in more detail later. Reading widely really does feed the mind. When you’re a writer, it does even more than that. It feeds your imagination. Ideas lead to other ideas and you come up with a lovely mix that is unique to you.

Do you work more productively depending on what day of the week it is?

I keep roughly to the same writing time for most days, when life in general isn’t trying to scupper me here (where possible I find ways to scupper it right back again!), but find I write more in the time slot from about Wednesday through to Saturday.

I don’t know what it is about Mondays and Tuesdays. (Sundays are a general wind down day and I tend to get more reading done so that’s okay).

I was sorry to hear of the death of Geoffrey Hayes of Rainbow, another part of my childhood gone.

Delighted to say I will be a guest speaker at the Hampshire Writers’ Society meeting at the University of Winchester next Tuesday, 9th October. It will be nice to be back at Winchester again as I’m normally there for the Winchester Writers’ Festival and it is a long time until next June when it is on again!

I’ll be speaking about flash fiction (and why I think every writer should try it).

POSTER SHOWING ALLISON AS GUEST SPEAKER AT HWS OCTOBER 2018

Poster kindly supplied by Maggie Farran from the Hampshire Writers’ Society.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

A flash fiction story needs to create its own world whether it is in six words, 25, 100, or 500+. Your character needs to “dominate” that world in the short space of time you have to show the story to the reader.

I think this is one reason why I use a lot of first person for flash as I can get straight into the character’s thoughts and attitudes and get the story off to a cracking start. Well, I hope it proves to be a cracking start anyway!

I usually find if I can get get off to a good beginning, then the rest of the story follows nicely. Again, this is where first person helps as I find I want to explore that character’s thoughts and plans as I write their story. It’s a question of writing it all down and then cutting out what isn’t needed. I find there is always material to be cut out but also feel this is a good thing. I think you’re in real trouble if you find you have to add. Also, if lucky, some of the material you cut you may be able to recycle for other stories.

Flash fiction makes a great writing exercise, even if you don’t want to be published in it.

Firstly, the discipline of sticking to a word count is useful.

Secondly, when free writing to “warm up” why not turn the results of that into a flash fiction story? (I would go on to polish the story and see about submitting it somewhere).

The word count aspect comes in useful again because having a warm up exercise to take you to 500 words, say, means you then have to get on with whatever your main writing work is. The advantage of course is you then have a short piece you could submit somewhere if you wanted to.

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What is the most difficult challenge when it comes to writing flash fiction? Funnily enough, I find it isn’t the word count.

For me, it is, having chosen what impact I want the story to make on readers, deciding whether that impact is strong enough or do I need to beef it up further? Very difficult to judge that.

This is where things like reading at Prose Open Mic nights can be helpful. You literally hear the feedback as you hear your audience’s response to your story. Nervewracking and exhilarating all at the same time. Given this isn’t always possible, the next best thing is to put the story aside for a while and then come back to it and read it out loud so you can hear how it sounds. (Recording it and playing it back is even better).

Many thanks to Geoff Parkes for the image of me reading at this year’s Swanwick Writers’ Summer School Prose Open Mic night. Good fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STORY IDEAS AND PUBLICATION NEWS

Facebook – General

How do you develop your story ideas? I sometimes use spider diagrams to help me here. I come up with what will often go on to be the opening line and work out different scenarios and then write up the one I like the most. It does help to visualise a story sometimes.

With some stories I can hear the character talking and I’ve then got to work out where that dialogue would lead that character. Sometimes the story can be WHERE that dialogue has come from and the talk itself is actually the end of the story. In my They Don’t Understand, I had the finishing line very early on and then worked the story out backwards from there.

So I’d say be open to what approaches you take here. I’ve found one size/one way of doing things is not necessarily the best. You can constrict yourself too much. I also think it is a good thing to mix things up when creating a story anyway. It’s fun too!

Do you find that when you have a closer look at your favourite books and stories there is a common theme? I’ve often found this to be the case.

I love The Lord of the Rings and practically all of the classic fairytales. The common link there? No matter what the struggle or how long it takes, good will defeat evil in the end. A positive theme (and yes I guess that is how you can tell it is fantasy, sadly!).

So what are your favourite themes in stories? I do like themes that speak of justice prevailing, evil being given the boot, or, in the case of historical fiction, shows me something about a past world I had not known before. I loved Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall for that though must confess I’ve not read Bring Up the Bodies as I am an Anne Boleyn fan and know how that story ends!

Great fiction, regardless of genre, will resonate with readers and the key to that resonance is the lead character, who would have been excellently portrayed.

There will be flaws, there will be virtues, there will be plenty that any of us could identify with, knowing our own flaws and virtues, and we absolutely have to find out whether our hero/heroine succeeds in their quest or not.

The lead character is memorable for all the right reasons then – and this still applies even if that character is the villain. They’ve got to have good reasons for acting the way they are (“because they’re evil” isn’t strong enough) and readers should understand why the villain is acting the way they are. Nobody has to like it though!

I suppose we’ve got to have someone to cheer on as we read the latest flash fiction, short story, or novel. And that someone has to appeal to us so how can writers do that? Characters with a great sense of humour come across well, as do characters willing to make sacrifices for their cause. That too can apply to villains (and I bet I wasn’t the only one who almost wanted to root for the late Alan Rickman’s Sherriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves!).

Make your characters distinctive then and easy to “fall for”. It almost goes without saying the first one to love your characters must be you!

Am delighted to say three stories of mine will be appearing on Cafelit over the next few days. Will share the links obviously but one of the tales is a direct result of an exercise set by Simon Hall in his A-Z of Novel Writing at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. I turned one of the exercises set into a flash fiction piece.

I am always happy to recommend a good read on Cafelit given the site has a wealth of stories and styles of storytelling on there – and not just because I’m on it sometimes but you will just have to take me at my word on that one.

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I set the scene in the opening line or two of my flash stories, though sometimes that scene is the lead character’s thoughts and attitude! In those cases, you are entering their world as they see it. You don’t have to agree with them though (and I often don’t!).

Writing flash really does force you to focus on only those points without which the story makes no sense. It is the best way I know of learning how to write tight.

Scenes don’t have to be convoluted, far from it. You want the reader to get into your world as quickly as possible (especially since it’s not going to be a long ride!). Your job, as writer, is to open the door for the reader to be able to get in and out of the story at the appropriate points.

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The flash fiction stories that mean the most to me are ones which make the most impact on me. Sometimes that will be to make me laugh out loud, other times to recoil in horror, and occasionally make me feel I’m really glad NOT to be the character in the tale I’ve just read!

A good test for a story you have written is to see, after a period away from it, what impact it has on you. Did it make you laugh as you were meant to when you first read it? Is it still making you laugh when you re-read it a week or so later?

I’m looking then for the emotional impact of the story. A story is a moment in time for a character. A flash fiction piece is a fraction of a period of time, so the writer has to make that impact quickly and through the lead character.

For me, a good way in for this is to show the lead character’s attitude. Attitude is indeed everything and is quick, effective way to show what your people are like. Their attitude can also convey how other people are likely to react to them too and then hopefully that will make readers want to read on to see if they are right on that. Usually they will be but that’s fine. It means the writer has delivered.

Bad tempered character annoys everyone else in the story? Yes. Ticks all the boxes. The fun bit here is HOW did they annoy everyone and did they get their comeuppance? Bad tempered character is out done by someone more bad tempered still? Yes. There’s a story there too with the prospect of someone being taught an overdue lesson.

An interesting flash fiction challenge could be to start every sentence with the same word – and nominate a word for this. “The”, “A”, “An” etc will not be allowed. So let’s see what I can start with – I’ll have a go with “Habitat”.

Incidentally I usually prepare these posts as I type them! Very much on the fly writing (though I love the challenge of that). I only schedule posts in advance for holidays etc. Basically, I haven’t prepared this in advance, honest ‘guv’!

HABITAT
Habitat varies from creature to creature, and must include man.
Habitat isn’t put at risk by most, spot the difference if you can!
Habitat is what we all need to survive
Habitat is where our characters thrive.
Habitat is where I will place my heroes.
Habitat is where I will put my no-goes.
Habitat is the world of my story.
Habitat can be blissful or gory.

Allison Symes – 17th September 2018

I think the format of the flash fiction here will depend on the word you choose to use as your opener. Some words will lend themselves more obviously to a “straight story” rather than a flash poem so to speak but there is fun to be had exploring ideas here!

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 yesterday.

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.

 

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Goodreads Author Programme – BlogOpening 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!

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HAVING FUN WITH YOUR CHARACTERS AND KEEPING IT LOCAL!

Nice combination of titles for tonight’s posts I think!

Image Credit:  Images are either from Pixabay or, where NOT stated, taken by me.

Facebook – General and Chandler’s Ford Today

Tonight’s Chandler’s Ford Today post looks at local communities and writers and how they can help each other. I also look at the benefits to both of this and discuss sponsorship, how local events (often sponsored) can raise awareness of the writing community’s existence and encourage spending in the local area (and not just on books!).

I use Chandler’s Ford as the “model” and take the opportunity to thank a wide range of people who have been very supportive of our writing community. By community, I do mean everyone from local businesses to our fantastic Grade 2 listed library to the Age Concern Centre to the Post Office! So there’s a good old mix in there!

(I also manage to have a quick moan about Nat West closing our local branch as our shopping centre has had closures, this being the latest, yet has other shops moving in. It has been a bit of a strange time – businesses you think would stay for good now gone, others you think may not last going on for years.).

I also share news of another event on 25th November at Winchester Discovery Centre where several local authors, including yours truly, will be taking part in the Centre’s 10th-anniversary celebrations with talks, readings, etc. Should be fun and I hope to post more details later.

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Facebook – General – Part 2 – When Your Main Character Is a Wimp

What can you do when your main character turns out to be a wimp and a secondary character is “nagging you” for more of the action? I would see this as a sign your main character simply isn’t up to the task of being the lead, unless you significantly re-write them, Equally this can give you the chance to look at whether you have written the story from the right character’s viewpoint after all. You can always rewrite, promoting the secondary character in importance, and see which version of your story works best. (My money would be on the version where the secondary character “takes over”).

The magical world of the imagination. Image via Pixabay

Is your main character really up to the job of leading the story or a bit of a wimp?  Whose story is it?. Image via Pixabay

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Flash fiction is the perfect format for those lovely incidents which are not enough to make a standard length short story (usually 1500 words or so) but are worthy of being told all the same.

I’ve found it lends itself really well to laugh out loud moments and, strangely, those tales that give you a sense of something walking all over your grave. Why there is such a contrast in the mood generated I don’t really know, (of course it could just be me!), but flash fiction, for me, is all about impact. The twist in the tale ending comes into its own with flash fiction too as it is such a great way to ensure you do make that impact.

There are a lot of steps on any writer’s journey but I am pleased to say I’ve made another one. I’ve become a character in Beatrice Fishback’s novella, Winter Writerland. I met Beatrice at Swanwick this year and along with Jennifer C Wilson, Fiona Park and Val Penny, we came up with ideas for a cosy mystery, which Beatrice has now written up! The story is set in the fictional writing conference of Branwick and all four of us have given our blessing to being named characters.

Oh and before you ask even I don’t know if I’m the murderer yet. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write!😀 The novella is currently in e-book form only but there are plans for a paperback.  Amazon link below. I never thought I’d promote a book where I’m a character but that’s one great thing about the writing life. It can take you down some very interesting avenues! Good luck with the novella, Beatrice. I wonder what we’ll come up with at next year’s Swanwick!

A gruesome murder was inevitable, but how the death would unfold would be anyone’s guess. And the murderer’s identity? That would remain a mystery until the appropriate time…Meet Daisy McFarland, an American spinster…

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again Part 2

Sometimes even I find 100 words are not enough for the tales I want to tell. One of my favourite longer stories in From Light to Dark and Back Again is They Don’t Understand, which is a poignant character study.

The reason for the longer word count here (though it is still under 750 words) is I needed some time to establish the relationship between the two characters in the story. Without that the punchline would not have the impact I wanted it to have. So my guideline here was the impact and had I put in enough detail to support it? Yes, I had but this time it took more than 100 words to do so.

I like the flexibility of flash fiction regarding genre but I also like the fact it has sub-divisions within it so I can vary the word count I use. Whatever word count I go for, it has to be right for that story. There mustn’t be a word out of place, whether it is a 100-word tale or a 1000 word story!

Fairytales With Bite – Having Fun With Your Characters

Do you have fun with your characters?  There should be the initial fun of creating them, of course, but for me I think the most fun comes when they develop and mature and truly take on a life of their own.  You can look back at the earlier stages of their development and literally see how far they have come.

I also enjoy dropping my characters right in it when appropriate to do so but that probably says more about me than them.  I will claim dramatic licence though!  So yes you should have fun with your characters, especially for novel writing, you will be living with them for a long time.  Even in flash fiction writing, while you will generally go from one character to another for each story, you should still know what makes that character tick and enjoy working out how best to get that across to your readers.  If you become tired of your characters, it does show through in your writing so love them, love to hate them, enjoy writing for them, enjoy putting them through the emotional wringer etc!  It will help your writing flow and sparkle.  Characters written like this always draw me to a story.  I think it is the characters, more than anything, that makes a story unforgettable.

Talking of characters and having fun, I’ve become a character in a book, Winter Writerland, written by Beatrice Fishback.  I met her at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School this year and, along with Jennifer C Wilson, Fiona Park, Val Penny and, of course, me, the five of us came up with story ideas for a cosy mystery.  All highly enjoyable and many laughs were had at what we came up with!  Beatrice has written the story up as a novella and I’m very glad to share the link.  (Naturally all four of us have given our blessing to being characters in a book but I must admit it was a development in my writing journey I hadn’t anticipated!).  Oh and don’t ask me if I’m the murderer (a sentence I never thought I would write!).  At the moment I don’t know.  I wouldn’t say anyway.  No plot spoilers here!

Love your writing.  Your readers will love you for it.

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This World and Others – The Joys of Editing

As well as editing my own work, I sometimes edit pieces for Chandler’s Ford Today. I’m currently editing a local history mini-series, which I hope will be up on the website fairly soon. Fascinating material which just needed putting together in the right order to improve clarity. Funnily enough, it’s thrown up a few odd coincidences with my life, which I wasn’t expecting.

I love editing. I love sensing how my story or post is improving because I have taken the wasted words out. Without a decent edit (and ideally at least two to three), I know no work of mine will be accepted anywhere because I always overwrite and so have to cut out the padding. But I don’t mind doing that. I like to write down all of my ideas and then select the strongest, based on my outline. It is always a relief getting that first draft down because I then know I definitely have something to work with and experience to date tells me the edit only improves a piece.

I do think it vital though to keep the creative side away from the editing side. You need that joy of creating something new to help you get that story nailed to the screen but the sensible editing side comes later. They really are two separate tasks. How can you edit something properly that isn’t finished? So write first, edit later is my mantra and I’ve never regretted following that.

Goodreads Author Programme – Quotes

I thought I’d share the link to my quotes page here.  I make no apology that, to date, the majority of quotes come from the much missed Terry Pratchett.

From Light to Dark and Back Again

Allison Symes’s books on Goodreads