Storylines, Dialogue, and Publication News

Image Credit:  Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Facebook – General – and Publication News:  Cafelit

Am pleased to share one of my humorous fairytales with bite, Rotten Day, which is now up on Cafelit.

See…/07/rotten-day.html – hope you enjoy!

This kind of story is always great fun to write!

This story came about as a result of an idea suggested in the Prompts book by Gill James. I am slowly working my way through the ideas in here, some of which I contributed.

Is it odd I’m writing a story to my own initial prompt? A bit but still good fun. And I didn’t make my opening lines, my favourite form of prompt, too easy either! There’s no fun in that. You have to rise to the challenge of the prompt but that means it does have to be challenging!

Oh and before you ask I deliberately sent the prompts in without having written the stories for them first. I wanted to come to these prompts “fresh” and tackle them as if they had been written by someone else.

Now that’s not a bad idea for those odd times when you’ve got a few minutes. Jot down ideas. Put them away for a while. Come back to them later and then see what you can do with them. Above all, have fun!

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Hope you’ve had a good weekend. Blustery here, most unseasonable, but Lady’s had plenty of exercise and is now napping on the sofa. I know… ahhh….

I was watching one of my favourite films earlier – The Ladykillers with Alec Guinness and a very young Peter Sellers in it. (Possibly his first movie too as this came out in 1955). It is a masterclass in tight storywriting and seamless editing. The storyline is excellent and there is a lovely twist at the end. All of my favourite ingredients in a story basically.

Important point: not a word out of place. No scene felt unnecessary either. And that I can apply to whatever writing I do too.

So I’m not going to call it taking time out to watch a film. I’m going to call it visual research into storytelling techniques – and that IS my story and I’m sticking to it!😆😆

(I took the image of Lady, of course, the rest are from Pixabay).


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Lady played with her best pal, a lovely Rhodesian Ridgeback, this morning so both of them got their Mondays off to a great start! Why is it when dogs play together they feel the absolute need to run into their owners when they’ve got all the space of the park around them? Answers on a postcard…

You do develop quick reflexes to dart out of the way though!

Writing wise, I’m working on material I will need for later on but can’t say any more than that at the moment.

I’m looking forward to sharing a new CFT series later in the month which will, I hope, prove particularly useful to writers, especially those starting out on their writing journey. More details later in the month though I will say a big thank you now to those authors who’ve already sent wonderful contributions for this. I’m looking forward to putting this together in due course.

I try to write a couple of series a year for CFT where I invite guest contributions, alongside author interviews etc. I find there is always something to learn from these.

One of the great aspects of writing that I love is, no matter where you are in your journey, that learning process is ongoing. You don’t want to stop developing as a writer. There is never a point where you can feel “well, that’s it now”. What you aim for is to be the best you can be in what you do and seek to refine and hone your skills in those areas.

What do you like about writing dialogue the most?

I love it when I’ve got two characters talking and it is apparent to me that, other than the odd he said/she said tag every now and then, it is clear who is speaking and what their attitude is!

To me this shows this is a “live” dialogue and, while it will need editing later (everything does!), it will have the benefit of not being clunky or awkward to read out loud.

When you know how your characters would speak, what kind of words they would use, which phrases they would never use and so on, that’s great. It means you know your characters well and I’ve found when I’ve outlined mine properly, when they are in “conversation”, it almost feels as if I’m taking dictation from them.

Moments like that are lovely because it nearly always means I can’t get the words down quickly enough and my characters and I are on a roll!

I occasionally give a character a pet phrase though I prefer to get them to use a particular word and repeat that every so often. It flags up to the reader when there are no tags this must be Character A speaking because they’ve used the word carbuncle again or what have you! Not that I’ve used carbuncle in a story yet…

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

A new flash fiction story, Rotten Day, is now up on Cafelit. See…/07/rotten-day.html – hope you pop over and enjoy the tale. Let’s just say I think many of us may identify with the way my lead character feels in the closing line! I know I’ve felt this way especially when particularly busy.

Now the problem with any kind of humorous writing is it has to be subjective. People’s sense of humour varies of course. So I am more than happy if a tale like Rotten Day makes one person laugh and another one smile broadly. Absolutely fine with me, that!

What I do when writing these is ensure that the humour arises naturally out of the situation I’ve dumped my character in. That is far more likely to make people smile. It also won’t come across as forced humour, which I loathe.

If someone tells me I have to laugh at this, well often I don’t. I decide what I find funny, thanks very much!

But a situation where I can see the predicament the character is in and empathise with them, then I am much more likely to cry, laugh, scream, or whatever the appropriate response to the story is and which the author intended to be the reaction.

Nothing forced about that at all and that is exactly how I like it in stories whether I read them or write them.

Stamping on an adverb until it is dead is not the problem it once was for me. Turning to flash fiction writing cured me of any addiction to these. If it can be cut out, I cut it. Just as well I didn’t go into medicine I think!😊

Wanting to achieve the maximum impact on a reader has also helped me with editing my own work. It IS a question of cutting to the chase here. Ironically I was going to put in the word “really” in that last sentence but cut it as it wasn’t going to add any extra to what I was trying to say.

And that’s the whole point. I’ve learned over time to not add words which don’t serve a purpose and/or to cut them when editing. Nobody writes the perfect first draft but adverbs are amongst the first things I look for when I’m brandishing my red pen.

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Some of the tips I’ve found most useful for writing flash fiction include:-

  1. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus handy. I use the Compact Oxford which covers both nicely. You will want alternative words and to check on meanings, especially if you’re writing humorous tales, which are often dependent on double meanings to work.
  2. Learn what words can be hyphenated. They count as one word for flash fiction! I’m sure you can make good use of that!
  3. Always think about impact on your reader. You want them to respond to your story, whether it is to make them laugh, cry, scream, or what have you. When you read your story through after a break away from it, ask yourself what impact the tale has on you? Is it what you intended?

I love flash fiction collections, not just because I write them (honest!), but I’ve always been a big fan of books where I can dip into stories as and when I want to. I can read those stories individually, as well as read the whole collection reasonably quickly. Just love having that flexibility.

I also like reading short forms in between reading novels. I like to think of this as the equivalent of having an appetiser before enjoying the main course! There is much to be said for appetisers like that. They can make a meal. Sometimes they can be the best bit of it!

So what do I want my flash fiction appetisers to do then?

I’d say whet a reader’s appetite so they look forward to the next collection but then I would say that, wouldn’t I?! But it is a good thing to aim for. Always leave your audience wanting more and then they’ll be pleased to see you again!


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Goodreads Author Blog – Reactions to Stories

How do you react to stories? I know, I know, what kind of question is that? So much depends on the story you’re reading, right?

Yes, fair comment and all that, but what I am getting at here is do you react to a story in the way the author intended?

Now I must admit if someone tells me “oh, Allison, you’ve got to laugh at this”, a lot of the time I won’t! I want to decide what I find funny, thanks!

But it is true that in whatever story I read, if the situation and the characters come across as natural to me, I am much more likely to react in the way the author wants.

Puppet on a string here? Perhaps. But I want the author to put in the work to set up a situation and character so I will want to react the appropriate way. I see that as part of the “deal”.

The author has set up a funny situation (though it often isn’t to the character, which makes a situation even more funny a lot of the time) and I will react to it. What I don’t want is something coming across as forced.

Even in the most fantastical worlds and situations, there has to be something that I as a reader can empathise with and react to – as the author would want, of course!








The Power of Language

Image Credit:  Unless otherwise stated, images are from Pixabay

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I think I may have found my favourite image for this week’s CFT post. There is so much truth in it, don’t you think?!

I look at the Power of Language and discuss rhetoric, the role of swearing, putting words INTO the language, and how flash fiction has affected how I use language. I also feel we should celebrate language, its richness and its origins. English of course notably borrows, sorry steals, from other languages and is the richer for it.

I also find proof of someone cheating at Scrabble…

Hope you enjoy! Captions over on CFT.


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If you ask most writers what every new writer needs, I think the answers would be something like:-

1. Comfortable working environment with good support for your back given you can be at your desk for some time.

2. A willingness to commit what time you can to writing and to accept you are in for the long haul.

3. The ability to develop a thick skin when rejections/critical feedback/bad reviews come in, as they do.

4. Pens, paper, laptop, printer, and all requisites.

5. Tea/coffee/other drink of choice which will keep you going.

6. The ability to focus.

7. Accepting rewrites (often many) are a necessary part of the process.

8. A love of books in a wide range of genres and a good reading habit.

9. A willingness to learn and improve your craft.

All of these are vital BUT I would add in:-

10. An appreciation of language and what you can do with it. Play with words, have fun with them.

(It’s not just because I talk about the Power of Language on my CFT post tonight, though it helps!).

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Questions to ask as you outline a story:-

1. What is its mood?

2. Why is it the right mood for the story?

3. What makes the lead character tick?

4. Are they the right lead character for this story? (It doesn’t always work out the way you think it will. I’ve rewritten a story from another viewpoint which proved to be far better than the one I’d originally chosen. If something doesn’t seem to be working, it may be worth looking at whether you are telling the story from the right character’s viewpoint).

5. What does the lead character want?

6. Why does it matter? (This one is crucial. The motivation has got to be strong enough to convince a reader a character would do X, Y, Z etc to obtain it).

7. What gets in the lead character’s way?

8. How are they going to overcome the obstacles? (At outlining, you may only have the vaguest idea but there should be something within the personality of your character that will make all the difference to the resolution of the story).

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I’ll be looking at the Power of Language in my CFT post later this week. I share my thoughts on rhetoric and swearing amongst other things (and there’s a good mix!). Post up on Friday.

It’s one of those topics I should have had a look at before given flash fiction writing has meant I have to concentrate on the impact of the words I use given I can’t use as many as a short story writer (1500+) or a novelist (80K or so).

I’m also looking forward to sharing a new series, What Books Mean to Me, where guest writers share their answers to three specific questions. I finish the series by answering them myself. I didn’t pick easy questions, honestly. One of them is a question all writers would want to “modify” but more on that when the series starts in October.


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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Glad to report I will have a short story called Three Wishes up on Cafelit on Monday. Will share the link then. Yes, I’ve been flirting with the longer form of fiction but have also written new flash work this week. So a very good week then!

But I will always have a very soft spot for the flash fiction with fantasy at its heart. This is a relatively new one of mine which I hope will make it into a future collection.

And it solves a mystery too.. what DID happen to Humpty Dumpty?

‘It’s up to you, I really don’t mind,’ Joe said, swinging his legs idly against the brick wall.
‘Grrr… all I asked was what would you like to do today, as a considerate friend does and as I ask every bloody day, and you still come up with that rot. Are you incapable of giving me a straight answer? I get so bored trying to come up with different things for us at least to try. It is boring sitting on this wall all the time.’
‘Then stop asking me such a stupid question then,’ and with that Joe pushed Humpty Dumpty off the wall.
The mess on the pavement was impressive. Humpty had been a huge egg.
‘Not going to be bored any more, are you, Hump?’

Allison Symes – September 2019

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Do you ever use photos as writing prompts? I do occasionally (and usually use the ones in my writing diary) but there are some pictures I just know I couldn’t write about. Why?

Because I know I can’t have enough distance from the subject in the photos. Therefore I wouldn’t be able to write objectively. Without that objectivity, the story fails. I’ve got to be able to see the characters IN the picture as exactly that.

Landscapes are easier to do but if they are of places I know well or have special memories attached to them, then they’re out, again due to the lack of objectivity.

See what you can do with the ones below then. Pixabay as ever are the image suppliers here (except the ones of sunlight around a Scottish loch. I took that while on holiday earlier this year and was amazed at how the light worked on this one).

As I use first person a lot in my flash stories, I don’t use many names. When I do though, I look for something that will indicate age, class/background, their level of formality they’re likely to countenance etc. It saves on the word count too!

My parents named me thinking you couldn’t abbreviate Allison. Wrong! I never minded being called Ali (and still don’t). I deliberately gave my son a name where all the abbreviations of it we liked as much as the full name. Win-win there.

So what can you do your characters here? An Abigail is likely to be more formal than an Abby. What would you make of a George as opposed to a Georgie (and that can apply to male or female characters)?

Think of how you want your characters to come across to your reader. That should be the benchmark for you to decide on the appropriate names for your people.

Fairytales with Bite – Character Motivation

Character motivations can cover a wide spectrum. There are the “obvious” ones of love, revenge, seeking justice etc but motivations can be more subtle than that – for example the wish to prove someone wrong.

What matters is whatever the motivation is, it is the be all and end all to your character, even if it seems to everyone else they’re making a fuss about very little.

A motivated character will do whatever it takes to get what they want and the important thing is to ensure your people are driven enough.

It’s not enough for a character to just want to stay out of trouble. But if your character goes to extraordinary lengths to stay out of trouble then  a great deal of humour or tragedy can result from that.

What could be behind that? Maybe they’ve got a bet on with a friend to stay out of trouble for six days, say, and the friend has always been right in the past but this time our hero wants to prove them wrong and is determined to do so. They’re fed up with their friend being right all the time and finally want something to go their way.

There, the motivation is powerful enough and understandable. Your readers have to get behind your character to carry on reading their adventures after all. Naturally your character’s friend will know or be able to guess at their friend’s motivation here and will do all they can to scupper any chances of success. Voila! Instant clashes and tension as you work out how your hero does or does not prove the friend wrong.

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This World and Others – The Power of Language

My CFT post this week looks at The Power of Language.  I look at this from a variety of angles, including how flash fiction has affected how I use language.  But let’s turn to this topic from the viewpoint of our stories and created worlds.

Is your created world one where everyone speaks formally? Is it one where you have to know the right language to use to be able to get anywhere in life and only certain people have that knowledge?

Is the power of language suppressed in any way? For example, does your setting allow for free speech, good access to different literature etc. How are journalists and other writers treated? With respect or are they considered threats? (Sadly, they too often are for real of course).

Where magic comes into your stories, does it have a special language all of its own? Is it widely accessible to beings of all backgrounds or again do only certain people have the knowledge? How are they stopped from controlling everything?

Some story ideas there I think!

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