Looking Forward

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

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On days when I don’t have much time to write, I focus on drafting blog posts for future use and/or flash fiction stories. Ironically it can often feel like I’ve got far more done because I’ve written 3 or 4 posts and a couple of 100-word stories. But that’s fine. I don’t mind that at all.

What can feel tough is when you’re on a longer project and it feels like you haven’t got much done. Hang on in there. You have. You’ve written a chapter (fiction or non-fiction) for a book. You’ve drafted a longer story (say 2,500 words plus). You’ve edited a lot of work. You are achieving. It just doesn’t show up so well that’s all.

 

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Loved Part 1 of the Doctor Who series finale, looking forward to Part 2 next week, and that’s all I’ll say there!

A good story makes you wonder, especially on your first read (or viewing come to that). The characters you’ve become attached to? Well, what WILL happen to them? I find I start trying to anticipate how the story will pan out. Sometimes I’m right but I love it even more when I’m wrong and the writer has wrongfooted me.

Of course flash fiction is a great vehicle for twist in the tale stories. The twist has to make sense – none of the “it was all a dream” nonsense, the last author who used that with any conviction WAS Lewis Carroll. This is why, for twist tales, I often know what the twist is first and then work backwards to get to several reasonable starts. I then pick the one I like best. Good fun that!

 

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I can’t recall when books and writing were absent from my life. Nor do I wish to!

I do know they mean a great deal to me, even when the writing is a struggle or I’m not getting as much time as I’d like for them.

Incidentally with the former, it is usually just a question of being dog-tired (sorry, Lady!) and a good night’s sleep restores me and my imagination.

Don’t undervalue the importance of getting enough sleep. People focus on the health benefits of it but it is also true good sleep will help with your creative side. (At least you won’t have tiredness dragging it and you down).

A good writing day is when I head off to the Land of Nod happy with what I’ve written/edited/both and am anticipating another good writing session the next day.

A bad one is when I struggle to get anything down and am fighting to keep my eyes open. Time to give up and just get an early night. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way.

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Looking forward to going to #TheChameleonTheatreGroup‘s Spring Quartet production in April aka the Chandler’s Ford Today works outing, given my lovely CFT editor will be there too. A good time will be had by all though, unlike with TCTG’s last production, there will be no cries of “It’s behind you!” to contend with – well, not unless something goes horribly wrong… 😆😆

More immediately, am looking forward to sharing this week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post which will be an interview with #PaulaReadman. Link up on Friday. Don’t miss it. Some fab insights as to what books and writing mean to her.

Many thanks to #DawnKentishKnox for the shout-out on her Knox Box of Miscellany. It is also a pleasure to highlight Prompts by #GillJames as well. It is a fab book and I’m looking forward to writing up many more of the story ideas.

So lots of looking forward going on tonight but given Lady and I got caught in a downpour earlier today, I think looking forward, especially to spring, is a very good idea indeed!

Prompts 2020 by [James, Gill] Image by Gill James

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I tend to “hit the ground running” with my flash fiction stories. I want to get a reader into the story as quickly as possible (and of course out again at the end of the tale).

I mix up the way I do this as it keeps things interesting for me (and I hope for readers). I sometimes take a reader straight into my character’s thoughts. Sometimes I ask a question I hope will provoke curiosity – the must find out the answer type.

Sometimes I will start with a character action, again the type that will trigger the where will this go reaction (and there is only ever one answer to that – read on!).

I mix up using the first and third person for my stories (though I love the immediacy the first person gives you).

I also mix up my settings. My first love is the humorous fairytale with a sting in the tale but I adore writing crime and historical ones too. That is the thing I love most about flash fiction – its flexibility with setting. It is just the word count I have to watch – and even there I have choice. If something works better at 200 words than 100 so be it. It just go in for a 100-word (aka drabble) competition or market, that’s all.

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What I like with character creation:-

1. The sheer joy of coming up with a fully rounded person you as writer can have fun telling what to do and dropping right in the mire when it suits you!

2. When the character comes alive and, for me, that moment is when I know how they’d react in ANY circumstance. I usually know things such as what kind of music they’d listen to and so on. When I started out writing, I used to find it a little unnerving to hear a piece of music and think oh yes, Character X would like that. Now, I see that as a good sign.

3. When the character makes you laugh, terrifies you etc., just as you want them to do to a reader. If there’s no reaction from you, their creator, there won’t be from a reader either.

4. The challenge of coming up with different characters. Their voices must be different. I don’t want to write “all the same person” any more than a reader would want to read that. So getting the variety in keeps me on my toes.

5. When someone tells you they really loved or disliked a character but that is the reaction which is meant to happen!

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What I like about writing dialogue:-

1. When the dialogue flows, I know for certain I’ve got into the head of my character properly. It can feel almost as if I’m taking dictation from my characters but that’s a good sign.

2. I can get my characters to say things I’d love to say but wouldn’t dare! Now that’s got you wondering, hasn’t it? Best left there I think. Well, imagination is not fun if you give EVERYTHING away now, is it?

3. For my longer stories, I love getting two characters to spark off each other via their dialogue. My danger point there is to make sure everything is relevant to the story and I’m not just writing it because I love my characters and what they’re saying (though I do!). This is where the edit comes in and I do cut out anything that does not move the story on. I really do kill my darlings, darlings.

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Further to my mini-series so far, what I like about writing in general:-

1. Writing is fun and can be amazingly therapeutic. It is not a cure-all, nor is it meant to be, I think, but just escaping into your created world for a bit I’ve found to be very helpful and relaxing. Sometimes just that is all you need, regardless of what happens to the piece of writing itself. Of course, if you submit it and it is published/wins a competition etc., even better!

2. It is a challenge to do but it stretches you and that, I think, is a good thing.

3. You will expand your knowledge. I’ve looked into all manners of topics for my Chandler’s Ford Today posts, but research comes into fiction writing too. (If you are also a quiz fan, this could be really useful for that too!).

4. You can try all sorts of writing to work out which one suits you best. Nor do you have to stick at one either.

5. The challenge to begin with is to see if you can create a story, then, for me at least, it was to try and be published, and since then to see if I can be published more often. That challenge continues. It combines with wanting to make your storytelling better as you learn from what you write as you go along too.

Whatever you write, enjoy!

Goodreads Author Blog – Sneaking In Reading Time

My main reading time is in bed but the snag with that, of course, is if you’re really tired, you’re going to be lucky to get to the end of a page before your head hits the pillow and the book drops to the floor!

Having said that, there is nothing to beat being nicely cosy and comfortable and settling down for a chapter or so before sleeping. (To my mind this is not the time to read Stephen King though, especially if you dislike clowns!).

So I’ve managed to find little pockets of time during the day when I can sneak in some extra reading time. Five minutes here, five minutes there, and it’s lovely.

At the moment I’m using these pockets of time to catch up with my magazine reading but that’s great. Reading is reading when all is said and done, whether you read magazines, books, graphic novels etc.

When I use the train, I tend to focus on writing. I will occasionally read but I do feel the need to be “doing” something so out comes the smartphone, Evernote, and my stylus and I either draft some flash fiction or blog posts like this one.

So how do you sneak in extra reading time? I realised long ago there is never enough time in the world to do all the reading you would like to do so it’s a question of compromise.

What must I read next? What must I read now? How can I break the book I’ve chosen into manageable reading chunks?

I am grateful for the time I have though and it is a question of trying to make the most of what you can do here. (Same applies for creative writing). Any thoughts and comments on how to sneak in even more reading time are welcomed!

 

 

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The Writing Week, History, and Publication News

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

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Glad to say Nativity, the new anthology from Bridge House Publishing, is now up on my Amazon Author Central page.  I hope it will be added to my Goodreads page soon too. Am getting better at being organised about this sort of thing.

Have finished the first draft of a standard length short story so will probably look at that again to read it afresh next week. Need to outline another story. Want to submit these two stories at the same time. I like to do them in batches!

Am also drafting a couple of blogs, one of which will be my CFT post next week. Picking topics for CFT can be interesting. Times of year can be useful (I nearly always produce a Christmas limerick or piece of festive flash fiction, for example).

When I’ve got events coming up, such as the Richard Hardie/Antony M Brown talk on Tuesday, that gives me the post for that week. I like to do extended posts every so often and invite guest contributions. I’ve found a three part series works well (beyond that, people tend to switch off). Generally though I go for a “wide” topic (this week’s one will be about history) and then look for either my take on it or link it to something in the news or an event which is going on in my area.

What were your favourite subjects at school?

Mine were English and History. No big surprises there. I loved composition as it was called back in the day and enjoyed inventing stories then.

I also used to like the old SRA cards which were colour coded. The card had a story on it, you had to read it and then answer some questions. You could then progress to the next card and so on. I used these at junior school usually either when a teacher was marking or we had a supply teacher in.

History – well it is a great big story when you think about it. There’s “standard” history – the tales of kings and queens. There’s the history of scientific discovery and invention and so on.

And there’s local history too. CFT has two great series going on at the moment on this. One is The Hutments by Peter Russell which I edited. The other are extracts from the journals of Rick Goater’s grandmother who covers social and natural history in her diaries.

I love history for its glimpses into the past (and it makes me so grateful I live when I do now. I wouldn’t have made it to anywhere near my age had I lived in medieval times. I am assuming here I would have been a peasant!).

English obviously feeds directly into my writing and reading. History influences the topics I come up with. (Oh and the other reason I’m grateful to live when I do, despite all that is currently going on, is that in medieval times, it would have been highly unlikely I could read or write at all. The thought of not being able to do either makes me shudder).

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When do you know a book has really got to you?

1. You can’t wait until you can continue reading it.
2. You fear for the fate of your favourite characters (and usually with good cause).
3. You re-read it often.
4. You worry when you discover there will be a film or TV adaptation. How can it do the book justice?
5. You are overjoyed when the film or TV adaptation IS faithful to the book and brings to your eyes the scenes you’d only seen in your head as you read the book.

For me that’s fulfilled by The Lord of the Rings in particular but I also loved the adaptations of Going Postal, Hogfather, and The Colour of Magic.

For me adaptations only work if it comes across that whoever is behind said adaptation HAS been faithful to the book. There’s no point in going away from the original material.

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Publication News

Pleased to receive my copies of Nativity, this year’s anthology from Bridge House Publishing. My humorous fairytale, What Goes Around, is in there. Love the cover (and honestly I still would even if I wasn’t in it!). The joy of opening a parcel with your books in it never lessens.

I’ll be looking at Why I Love History later this week for Chandler’s Ford Today. History plays a major role for all writers and not just historical fiction authors. More details and the link will be up on Friday.

 

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Let’s see what I can do with a phrase taken from a random generator as an acrostic flash fiction story.

TALK THE TALK

T = Touche, the witch thought, someone’s trying to frighten me.

A = All the people I’ve cursed in my time and someone’s fighting back; it has to be one of them.

L = Less than five seconds in and my feet have turned into concrete.

K = Keyword here is preparation; someone’s put so much thought into this, so who’s got the skills for that round here?

T = Turns out I’ve a magical rival who’s clearing the opposition, me!

H = Hell, no; they’re not getting away with this.

E = Extending her arm, the witch reached for her wand and cursed the concrete away.

T = Turning to her desk diary, yes every magical being needs one, the witch flipped the pages.

A = Ah, yes, it’ll be her – she’s had her eye on my cottage and the privileges of being head witch here for ages.

L = Likely she’s assumed I’d die – well let’s show her I’m still very much alive and well and bloody annoyed, how dare she try this on me.

K = Kind of got to admire her nerve, the witch thought, as she uttered the spell that would turn her rival’s cottage into millions of splinters, hopefully with said rival still inside it.

Allison Symes – 16th November 2019

Hope you enjoy.

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Many thanks for all who read Talk The Talk, my flash story that I created yesterday, using a random phrase generator to come up with this as a title (and theme. My character really did talk the talk!). I created this live. I only edited a few words where I realised a tweak here or there would improve the impact.

Normally of course I would prepare a story, put it aside for a while and, once happy with it, I would then share it here or submit it somewhere. But I deliberately use the random generators (word, phrase, number) to create a “live” story with only a light editorial touch on it afterwards.

Can stories created this way be improved? Oh yes, almost certainly but I find it fun to create stories this way sometimes. It also keeps me on my toes.

It makes for a really good writing exercise even if you don’t share the results. You can pretend you are and see what you can come up with in a set time limit, say. You then leave the story at that and move on to the next one.

You can come back and “edit properly” later on. But there is a freshness to a newly created story I adore, which is another reason why I like to create stories this way and then leave them be. Often I find when I DO come back to them later, I still sense that raw energy of creating them and it is usually a case of tweaking words to create stronger images and impact. I always think about the impact of the story on the reader. It helps to keep me focused.

Oh and random number generators can be useful. I’ve used the numbers that come up as times to be used in the story, or as a countdown to something happening. The number 13 could in itself be taken as a theme given it has its own phobia – Triskaidekaphobia. (Just don’t try saying that quickly!). How could that manifest itself in a story?

And do have fun with the random generators. They’re excellent triggers for stories.

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Flash fiction is a great vehicle for dropping your characters right in it! They also have to get out of the situation quickly too but it must all be plausible, even if your characters and/or setting are magical. The characters need to be seen to get themselves out of the situation which is why I have to outline before I get the first draft down. It’s also why I sometimes start the story by working out what the ending is and then deducing how the character could have got to that point.

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I tend to “hit the ground running” with my flash fiction stories. I want to get a reader into the story as quickly as possible (and of course out again at the end of the tale). I mix up the way I do this as it keeps things interesting for me (and I hope for readers).

I sometimes take a reader straight into my character’s thoughts. Sometimes I ask a question I hope will provoke curiosity – the must find out the answer type. Sometimes I will start with a character action, again the type that will trigger the where will this go reaction (and there is only ever one answer to that – read on!).

I mix up using the first and third person for my stories (though I love the immediacy the first person gives you). I also mix up my settings. My first love is the humorous fairytale with a sting in the tale but I adore writing crime and historical ones too. That is the thing I love most about flash fiction – its flexibility with setting. It is just the word count I have to watch!

Goodreads Author Blog – Book Dreams

Do you ever dream of your favourite characters (written by you or others)?

I can’t say I do. I’m also relieved about that. I can think of several of my own characters who I don’t want to meet in any kind of alley. I certainly don’t want them haunting me at night either!

Where I DO dream of characters is in hoping they have the impact on a potential reader I set out to achieve. It’s not really for me to say whether that works or not, only the reader can know. All I can do is give it my best shot.

When reading works by other writers, the ones that stay with me the most are the ones where the characters have the most impact. So that inspires me with my own writing. I’m still glad they don’t disturb my sleep pattern though! (I would not be a happy bunny…!).

I do a lot of my reading at bedtime so I did wonder if I would have strange dreams based on whatever it was I was reading. Hasn’t happened at all. Given I read fantasy, crime, historical, and a good range of non-fiction books, it is just as well. I think some very strange images would be conjured up.

 

 

 

 

 

Plans, Flash Fiction and Guest Blog Posts

Image Credit:  As ever, the marvellous Pixabay, unless otherwise stated.

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Many thanks to #PatriciaMOsborne for inviting me on to her blog. I always relish an opportunity to talk about flash fiction and it was also great fun to take part in her 100-word challenge earlier this year.

Do check out the other 100-worders on here. There is a wonderful mixture of styles and moods. (My guest spot includes a link to the story I sent in for this earlier in the year).

I share how I became a flash fiction writer at all and some of the things I love most about the form.

 

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One writing tip I DON’T follow, because I know it just wouldn’t work for me, is the one that recommends keeping a notebook by your bed. The thought here is you can jot down any ideas that occur to you as you drop off to sleep/wake up early with the Best Idea of All Time etc etc. (It always is meant to be the Best Idea of All Time).

There are several reasons why this tip isn’t for me:-

1. My reading pile is by my bed. There is no room for a notebook! Yes, it is a seriously impressive reading pile. (I LOVE being surrounded by books).

2. I read to unwind before sleeping and really don’t want to be writing at all at that point.

3. I often don’t dream at all. Once I’m asleep that’s it.

4. When I DO dream, the images are so confused and bizarre, there is no way a story idea is coming out of them. (And before you ask I never eat cheese late in the evening or partake of any other substances that might induce such daft dreams).

5. I have never, ever, woken up with the Best Idea of All Time running through my mind. I haven’t even had the Second Best Idea of All Time. Not sure whether to be sorry or relieved, to be honest. I appreciate my sleep, that’s all I’m saying!

 

I’m looking forward to sharing my CFT post later on in the week as I’m going to be sharing some Rules That Need to Exist!

Posts like this are fun to write. I don’t write many “opinion” pieces but I like to throw one in every so often. What I like to do with these is make them fun so no politicial arguing on these ones but hopefully they’ll generate some good comments back again.

I’m also pleased to say I shall be a guest on a fellow Swanwicker’s blog later this week (see earlier – and many thanks again to Patricia M Osborne) and look forward to sharing the link later. And later in the month I shall be popping up on another Swanwicker’s blog too.

So yes I’ve been doing a lot of blogging! There should be a term for that… what do you think? A brace of blogging?

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Looking forward to sharing a new series on CFT in October. More details nearer the time. I’m also editing a series for CFT on local history which, again, I’ll share details about nearer the time. So the red pen is being kept busy at the moment… plus I’m editing my novel. (These things ALWAYS take longer than you think they will).

The only aspect to editing I don’t like is when I know I’ve gone through a piece of work on screen and on paper and STILL miss an error, which I pick up later. The phrase “why the hell did I miss that” springs to mind. If anyone knows a surefire way to avoid that, they’ll probably end up wealthy, as I know I’m not alone on this one.

 

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Loved taking part in the Tuesday guest spot on the blog page of #PatriciaMOsborne. Many thanks, Patricia, for hosting me.

I shared my love of flash fiction (briefly, honest!) and how I got into the form at all. Flash fiction was a happy accident for me. I could do with more happy accidents like that!

Now, is there anything about flash fiction I dislike? I think it is fair to follow up with that question.

Yes, there is one thing, and that can be other people’s reaction to it. I know, I know. How can anyone not be IN to flash fiction at all?

I think a lot of this is due to misunderstanding what the form is – flash fiction has to be a complete story in and of itself. It isn’t truncated prose.

Still, we can but spread the word – literally!

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Many thanks to Penny Blackburn for taking this image of me at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School Open Prose Mic. Patricia and I both adore Swanwick and have made many friends there, including each other!

I was talking on my author page about a writing tip I deliberately don’t follow because I know it just wouldn’t work for me. So here I thought I’d share the ones I can’t live without.

1. Always edit on paper and not on screen. Your mind “fills in” missing words on screen. Really annoying that!

2. Read work out loud, particularly dialogue, to literally hear if it flows as well as you think it does. You may be surprised! If you trip over something, your readers will do too.

3. Write first, edit later. Never worry about a first draft being rubbish. Nobody writes a perfect first draft. You’re not going to change the universe there. Neither am I.

4. When entering competitions, take AT LEAST a week off the official deadline to give yourself a little extra time to make sure you have followed the rules to the letter, formatting is as they want it, there are no last minute typos etc to trip you up. I always aim to submit a story with several days to spare before the deadline.

5. Outlining your thoughts for your main character and the story they’re going to be in can save so much time (and you going off at unhelpful tangents). How much of an outline you want to do is up to you but I find them to be like a road map and they do help keep me on track.

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I like to start my flash fiction stories by “hitting the ground running”. Often this means I take you straight into the head of my character so you see their attitudes and thoughts (and from that try and work out just how far in the mire they’re going to drop themselves!).

Sometimes I set a scene with a time. (My Pressing the Flesh starts with “It was 3 am. The neighbours were sleeping”. Well, yes they would be, but it is important for my character here to have been certain they WERE sleeping! And that tells you at once said character is unlikely to be doing something wholesome! The title is a clue here too).

The key to my opening line is to try to intrigue. With any fiction, you have to hook a reader in quickly. With flash fiction, I say you’ve got to do so immediately.

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Goodreads Author Blog – Choosing What to Read Next

How do you choose what to read next?

If I’m reading a series, fine – problem solved. I carry on until I finish said series. But what about when I reach that point?

I often don’t feel like reading another series immediately, This is where stand-alone books come into their own, of course.

I’ve mentioned before a lot hinges on my mood when reading. If I’ve just finished reading a dark novel, I’ll inevitably got for something lighter just to balance things up a bit.

If I’ve been reading lots of novels, I’ll switch to short story and flash fiction collections for while.

If I’ve been reading books, I’ll switch to magazine reading for a time too.

The good thing with all of this?

I’m never going to run out of good things to read – and neither are you!

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Word Play

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

One joy of writing is the joy of reading. This is partly because it makes sense to read from (and therefore support) the industry you want to join! Also, you need to read widely to discover the range of writing out there and to find out from that what it is you want to write. There’s also the sheer pleasure of reading well crafted stories that inspire you to work harder on your own!

Playing with Words, as my CFT post this week discusses, is both a fun and invaluable thing for writers to do.  My post this week also pays tribute to Denis Norden and celebrates puns and playing with language.

 

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I like to “hit the ground running” when I write flash fiction and do so in a number of ways.

I can take you straight into the lead character’s thoughts, or show you an image of them doing or reacting to something. I also try to show you their general attitude within the first couple of lines. Attitude in itself can tell you so much about what a character is likely to be like (and whether you would like them or not!).

I can also show you a character’s observations such as in my Circle of Life. That opens with “People throw kittens in the river here. I hate that.” Immediately shows a conflict. Immediately shows an attitude at odds with the view held by others around the character. You also know they’re going to do something about it. It is a question of what and will they get away with it?

With all of these different kinds of opening, I am aiming to provoke curiosity in the reader to make them want to find out more.

My CFT post this week looks at Playing With Words. I also pay tribute to the late Denis Norden, who along with Frank Muir, was a wonderful wordsmith. Link up on Friday. I also take a look at puns. (Muir was wonderful on Call My Bluff years ago and Norden – well, I loved his dry wit and manner – and Take It From Here, written by them both, was a forerunner for modern radio comedy).

Two of my favourite ways to end a flash fiction story are a twist in the tale finish or a punchline. Both of course can revolve around puns. I love playing with language but one of the great joys of loving books is coming across others who are masters at this sort of thing. Their work is a joy to read and/or listen to and if you haven’t come across a copy of Muir and Norden’s My Word Ultimate Collection, do yourself a favour and dig out a copy from somewhere. If you like tall tales and puns, as I do, this is a fabulous book.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Flash fiction can be a great vehicle for (a) puns (as part of a punchline to finish with) and (b) short, sharp humorous moments. A good funny flash fiction will not only make you laugh but you should be able to spot other potential for humour had the story been a longer one.

The lovely thing is you can combine humour with other things such as poetic justice to create a great story. Characters being annoyed at the situation they’re in may well make you smile in recognition of their predicament. The situation is rarely funny for the characters themselves. Shouldn’t stop us smiling though!

My late mum always believed in being short and to the point. Think she’d be pleased I take the same approach by writing flash fiction!

You lose any fear of killing adverbs or cutting whatever isn’t necessary for your story when you write flash and, of course, you can carry that over into whatever other writing you do. There’s no chance of getting confused over your characters either given, realistically, you only have the room for 1, maybe 2, main people.

I admit I do miss the fact you can’t have subplots in flash fiction, that really is the privilege of a short story or a novel, but I do love being able to cut to the chase with the very short tale. Definitely a case of you pays your money, you take your choice here.

Time for some autumnal flash fiction one-liners, I think. Hope you enjoy.

1. There were some things brought down by the autumn winds that would have been best left undisturbed.

2. The mouse scoffed the loaf that was meant for the church’s Harvest Festival display, much to the vicar’s chagrin.

(A case of For what we have received, we are truly grateful, I think!).

3. Would the leaves come down deeply enough to cover a body, she wondered?

4. With the nights drawing in, there was more scope for planning and executing the perfect crime.

5. It would be easy enough to do, he thought, given she always has soup at lunchtime on these cold days.

Hmm…. it looks like I’m in a criminal frame of mind this evening!

 

Is it harder to write longer fiction where you have to keep the readers enchanted enough with your writing to follow the story through to the end or more difficult to write short, sharp stories?

I wouldn’t like to judge on that one as both have their challenges and their joys. Both are vital for ensuring literature has a wide range of styles and lengths of story to suit all tastes.

One problem I face when editing flash fiction is ensuring I keep the important details in as it can be easy to cut far too much out to keep to a set word count and the story is the poorer for it. In those situations, I let the story go what is its natural length whether it’s 50 words or 500 or 1500!

The acid test for me is the editing is done when I cannot add to the story or take away from it. It is a question of not overegging the pudding or cutting back so harshly you have a limited story left. Anything that dilutes the impact of the story on a reader, and that can include harsh editing, is out.

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Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Playing with Language

One of the joys of reading across a wide range of genres, including non-fiction, is discovering the different ways authors play with language.

For me the late Denis Norden and Frank Muir were great exponents of this and one of my favourite paperbacks is their My Word The Ultimate Collection. This is full of puns and tall tales galore! Bliss and an addictive read.

I like crisp, punchy styles of writing but every so often you come across a line or two that are just so engrossing, they almost take your breath away. P.G. Wodehouse was a master at creating worlds within what would be considered now very long sentences, but you simply have to read to the end.

I suppose the real test of a good story is does it provoke your curiosity enough so you read it through regardless of the style or genre in which it was written?

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytales A to Z Part 8

Since the alphabet doesn’t divide neatly into three, I will conclude this mini series tonight with the final five letters – V through to Z.  Hmm… going to have fun here I think!

V = Variation
Whatever genre you write in, there should be variation in the types of character you portray.  A story with all heroes is no story at all!  There has to be a villain somewhere (even if the characters concerned don’t think they’re villainous at all).  Also, in a magical setting, there should be variation in how much magical ability characters have.  If they all have unlimited powers, where is the conflict? You’d have a stalemate situation.  The characters know they can’t better each other, at least not with their powers.  So vary things, mix things up, deliberately drop your characters in it, and see what happens!  This is very much the fun side of writing.  You will soon find out who your strong characters are.

W = World
The world you set your stories in can almost be a character in itself.  It needs to be believable, no matter how fantastical its powers or setting.  There must be things about that world we can identify with here.  For example, every world has to be governed somehow so politics has to rear its (at times) very ugly head.

X = Xeno (meaning strange!  Confession time: did have to look it up.  I could have gone for X-rated for this but felt it was too obvious.  I also want to remember this word next time I play Scrabble!).
So word of the week for me is this one then!  Seriously, though, no matter how strange the world you’ve created is, there still has to be something about it that fascinates a reader.  If it is too odd, you risk alienating the reader.  Does that mean your world has to be a sensible one?  Not necessarily.  There has to be a point to what the world does.  If it mines balloons for example, it would make sense to do that if is that world’s chief export to its nearest neighbour.  I did like Monsters Inc for showing why the monsters had to get the children’s screams (they needed it as it was their power source) and I liked it even more when the monster world discovered making the children laugh was a greater source of power.

Y = You
The first fan of your writing should be you.  Your fairytale, whoever it is aimed at, must first convince you.  Is the magic a vital part of the story?  It should be for a fairytale. Do your characters have to get themselves out of trouble without magic?  Even better!  You should enjoy what you write and at the same time be open to where it can be improved.  Not an easy balance to strike which is why it is such a good idea to put work aside for a while and then re-read it.  You will come back to the story with a more open mind, having had the break from it.

Z = Zippy
There will be many in the UK especially who will remember Zippy as a character from children’s TV show, Rainbow!  However for this, I mean zippy in terms of lively.  Your fairytale should be a lively read from start to finish.  Your characters should be lively and engage with your reader.  (This is why if you enjoy your writing, there is every chance others will too.  As for the feeling after reading something you’ve written “this is rubbish”, bear in mind every writer goes through that.  This is another reason for putting work away for a while before coming back to it).

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This World and Others – Playing with Words

Playing with Words is not just the title of my latest CFT post but the theme for this week for me.  I also take a look at this topic on my latest Goodreads blog.

So how do I like to play with words then?

1.   I like twist endings to a lot of my stories so there is a lot of playing with words to be had there in coming up with a twist that works.

2.    I sometimes end stories with a punchline which often revolves around a pun.  Puns are the very definition of playing with language!

3.     I like to take known phrases and play with them to come up with something that has “echoes” but which is also unique to my story.  For example, we usually talk about punishing the guilty for crime etc but my story in From Light to Dark and Back Again is deliberately called Punish the Innocent.  The idea is to get you wondering (a) why would someone want to punish the innocent, (b) do they do so, (c) were the innocent that guiltless after all?

I sometimes use spider diagrams to help me work out in which directions I could take a story idea and then I pick the one that I like the best.  Playing with words here helps me come up with thoughts deeper than my initial “obvious” ideas and therefore I hope a more original story line.

 

 

 

 

Getting Into Character

Facebook – General

I’ve been catching up with some concerts recorded a while back and I finished watching the John Williams Prom today.

Fab music and what is so telling is that in everything he has ever composed, it is clear he has entered the head of the character he has chosen to focus on and come up with the music that would suit them. This is especially true for Indiana Jones and Jaws!

Much as I adore the music, story wise, I’m very fond of only one of those… I leave it to you to guess which one!

But there is an object lesson here: know your characters, REALLY know your characters, if you want to write “for” them well.

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Many thanks, once again, to all the fab writers who shared their thoughts on my recent Why I Blog posts for Chandler’s Ford Today. I find blogging, including on posts like this, wonderful for getting me “into” my writing sessions.

I love the freedom blogging gives but have found it helps to have one major topic. In my case that’s writing of course, but all sorts of things can come off that – such as the importance of reading, editing tips and so on.

The rules I generally follow for blogging include:-

1. Keep it simple. Not in terms of content but in terms of expression. Bullet points for headlines, expand later in the text.

2. Stick to a word count. For CFT I stick to 1500 words absolute max (and it’s usually nearer 1200). More than that, such as the Why I Blog pieces, I split into two or more parts. For the monthly ACW blog, it’s up to 500 words. (I love the discipline of writing to different word counts like this. It makes me “up my game”. It is far easier to write “long” than short).

3. Think of who you are writing for and go for topics which people will find useful, interesting, or would be happy to comment on. The best topics of course combine all of those!

And now on to my other blogs before I turn to fiction for this evening…

The start of another sweltering week in deepest, darkest Hampshire sees me cracking on with more flash fiction for my current WIP. Am happy with how that is going but would like to submit more work as well, so that’s my next mini target.

I’m a little ahead of the game when it comes to my CFT posts (and would like that happy state of affairs to continue). My next post will be a review of the recent Hursley Park Book Fair. More details later in the week.

I’m also drafting some non-time dependent blog posts that I can slot into different places as and when I need them. I must do this more often as it’s useful having material to hand for those on holiday times, down with the dreaded lurgy times, having too good a time at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School time etc etc. I love being able to schedule!

Somewhat cooler today, much pleasanter… Lady appreciated it too.

What is your chief reason for writing? For me, it is a mixture of wanting to share my stories and non-fiction AND wanting to do something positive with that wonderful treasure called literacy, which is so easy to take for granted.

I think most people have some sort of artistic “bent”. It is a question of whether they recognise it or not, and whether they try to develop it or not. Rejections are a pain, especially when there seems to be no “real” reason for them, but you are at least getting work out there. You are being creative.

And every time you try to develop your skills further, you (a) learn and (b) that in turn will help improve your chances of success. The great irony is that success can come after learning to deal with rejections.

The rejections do make you look at your work again and, especially after a gap between sending it out and getting the bad news, it is easier to take a fresher look at your story. Where you see room for improvement, do the necessary work and resubmit elsewhere. Where you really can’t see what you could do better, see if there are other markets which may be interested and submit there, following their guidelines.

Above all, keep writing. Be open to different forms of writing and enjoy what you do!

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I like to give my characters a “matter of fact” tone to them. I think it makes their portrayal more realistic and, as a reader, I love to find out what characters like these end up doing.

Why? Because characters who are “matter of fact” can end up clashing with those who do not appreciate their honest approach to life. That is where the conflict is, and therefore where the story is too.

I also need to convince readers to stay with my characters so giving them a tone many will identify with is another way of encouraging people to read on.

I like to get into my stories “hitting the ground running” so to speak. One of the best ways I find of doing this is by getting into the lead character’s head quickly and showing their thoughts and attitudes.

The great thing with this is that it doesn’t necessarily mean the character has to be likeable and generate the readers’ sympathy. All any potential reader has to be able to do is see where the character is coming from. It doesn’t mean you have to like the journey this character is on!

Having said that, the truly great characters will spark a reaction in readers, whether it is a good reaction or not. Sometimes a character’s attitude will encourage the reader to keep reading to see if they can get away with said attitude or will the character be brought to earth crashing. I love reading stories like that.

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As well as writing flash fiction, I’m thoroughly enjoying reading it. It is a very simple way of ensuring I get to read contemporary fiction (and in my genre) and it is lovely to have my reader’s hat on and just enjoy the stories. It reminds me of why I wanted to write flash in the first place and you kind of end up falling in love with the genre all over again.

I think the biggest thing for me has to be the fact flash has to be character led but you can set that character in any time, place, or world you choose. There is so much freedom there despite the demands of the tight word count.

Sometimes I will start a flash fiction piece but realise, usually fairly quickly, that this character is going to “run” and the story will end up be standard competition length (1500 to 2000 words generally). That’s fine and it is a joy to write to that length of story too.

However, the reverse is true sometimes too. What I think would make a good competition entry story really is best written as a flash story. There is one pivotal moment, which is entertaining enough, but if you were to add more, it would (a) spoil it and (b) be obvious padding.

So when writing I’ve found it to keep an open mine and judge what the story needs (which is not always what I think it will be!).

The ever useful post it note - image via Pixabay

The ever useful post-it note. Image via Pixabay.

Part 5 - Keeping the language simple and above all clear

No room for gobbledygook here. Image via Pixabay.

The fantastic world of books must include non-fiction too - image via Pixabay

The wonderful world of writing should include non-fiction, which benefits from creative techniques too. Image via Pixabay.

Time to find a new place to call home perhaps - what stories could that lead to - image via Pixabay

Time to have another home perhaps? Good stories to be had here! Image via Pixabay

Feature Image - Facts and Fiction - image via Pixabay

What writing triggers will help you create your new worlds? Image via Pixabay

A familiar desk scene for writers - image via Pixabay

The familiar sight of the writing desk, regardless of genre! Image via Pixabay.

Good historical fiction will make it seem as if you had stepped back in time - image via Pixabay

Could this picture inspire stories? Good fiction will take you out of the world for a while. Image via Pixabay.

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A great selection of books. Image by Allison Symes

My book stand at the Discovery Centre

Enjoy what you write and read! Image by Allison Symes

Laptops - all have a global reach - image via Pixabay

Reviews can have global reach. Most impact I think can often be local to the writer.

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – What Makes a Character Work for You?

In all of the best stories I’ve read, certain things have to be true about the characters.

1. They’ve got to be interesting in some way, whether it is by being so different to these around them it is bound to grab your attention, or they do something which goes against what is expected of them. You immediately want to know why and what the consequences are. Result! You read on…

2. They have to have flaws and virtues and, above all, understandable reasons for acting the way they are. It doesn’t mean you have to agree or like them.

3. Personal one here – I’m particularly fond of the underdog. I like to see if they can “win out”. Fairytales of course feature a lot of these (and they do win!) so that fuels my love of this one.

4. They have to overcome adversity in some way, whether that is a major one (or is only major to them).

5. They have to develop in some way over the course of the story or novel and by the end, even if not successful in their aim which is driving the story, have come to a better understanding of themselves and the world they live in. The reader can see they’ve changed for the better.