Characters, First Person, and Impact

Image Credits:-
All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated. Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing. Screenshots taken by me, Allison Symes.
Hope you had a good weekend. Have a weekend workshop coming up which I’m running – looking forward to that. Also preparing for a weekend conference I will be at in June (and where I’ll run one of the workshops. Naturally mine is on flash fiction). Weather all over the place again but then that is a UK spring for you!

Screenshot 2022-04-23 at 17-00-06 Finding your voice — London Jesuit Centre

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Lady got to play with her pals Coco and Kitima today – a good time was had by all.

Writing wise, I’m looking forward to running my workshop at the London Jesuit Centre on Saturday. Hope to have a visit to the National Gallery in the afternoon.

And my tickets have now come in for the Association of Christian Writers Golden Jubilee weekend at The Hayes, Swanwick in June. I must admit I am seriously impressed when booking my train tickets online. Always with me in a day or two after booking, even at the weekend. And no queues!

Am almost ready to submit a story for one of the competitions I always have a go at but I always make myself slow down a little to do a final “is it really good to go” check. I’ve found it pays to do this.

I’ve picked up last minute errors doing this and that’s despite having gone through the manuscript several times previously. It is easy to miss something. Hope to get the story off tomorrow or Thursday, and still in good time for the official deadline.

Time away

Hope you have had a good Monday. Busy, busy, busy here.

When I read any story, it has to be the characters I get behind, whether I want them to succeed or fail. Their success or failure must make sense and be the right things to happen for those characters. If a character has a problem solved with magic, say, I need to know earlier on in the story that might be a possibility so I don’t feel cheated when the author reveals this to me at the end.

To get behind the characters I have to care about them so there has to be something about who they are and what they do I “get”.

When I invent my own people, I try to keep all of that in mind so readers can identify with the people I put on the page/screen.

Above all, I have got to know what happens, whether I’m reading or writing a story.

Readers understand character failings


I’m back to my In Fiction series for Chandler’s Ford Today this coming week. I’ll be talking about Paragraphs and Punctuation In Fiction on Friday. Both have a crucial role to play for clarity, improving pace in a story and so on.

Am looking forward to running my fiction workshop for the London Jesuit Centre next Saturday.

Now when I write a story or a post like this, I have one question always in the back of my mind – what is in it for my potential readers? I’ve found having that in mind helps me to (a) not waffle and (b) come up with useful writing tips or a story which entertains. That question helps me ensure I deliver something useful and makes me focus. For my flash fiction work, the word count there helps me focus as I cannot go on for too long.

In trying to engage with a potential audience immediately, I write with them in mind and I think that helps me “up my game”. “Upping my game” means I stretch myself creatively too so win-win. Also for book writers, it helps enormously to have your audience in mind from the word go because it will help when it comes to pitching your novel to a publisher and/or agent as they will want to know who you think your potential audience would be.

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Have booked my train tickets for the Association of Christian Writers Worth Our Weight In Gold Golden Jubilee celebration. This will be at The Hayes, Swanwick from 3rd to 5th June and I’ll be running my flash fiction workshop as part of it. Looking forward to meeting everybody in due course.

Many thanks for the comments coming in on One of Those Days, my latest Friday Flash Fiction story. This was fun to write and inspired by two nouns coming up in a random noun generator. What came up here for me was “waitress” and “tiara”, not things you would usually associate together.

But then that’s the joy of random generators. They encourage you to think creatively and to put things together you normally wouldn’t do. Lo and behold, you get another story written which would not have come to you in any other way.

Screenshot 2022-05-06 at 17-04-48 One of Those Days by Allison Symes

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The advantage of writing in the first person is you get into your character’s head immediately. The disadvantage is you can only see or think what your character can see or think. That works well for short pieces though so this is why first person is a good technique to use for flash fiction. (Essential for monologues naturally!).

I didn’t set out with the intent of writing more in the first person but it is something that has sprung from my flash writing. For first person to work, the character has to be a strong one so I find I have to ask myself why does this character “deserve” to get their story told at all and what it is about them that means “they” have to tell the story “themselves”.

Deadline


It’s funny how music can grow on you the more you hear it. Am currently loving listening to my favourite Mendelssohn piece – The Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave) on Classic FM. As at 8.00 pm UK time Monday night but there is never a time when this piece of music does not enthral!

The more I hear this piece, the easier I find to picture the scenery in that fabulous part of the world. (I’ve not been to that part of Scotland, it is on the To Do list, but I’ve seen plenty of photos and it is those I have in mind when I hear this).

When I write my flash fiction pieces, I do have in mind the image or impact I want my stories to leave with the reader. When I review my stories, I check how the tales make me feel. Does this compare with what I had in mind when I was drafting the story? Often the answer is yes and that is how it should be.

Sometimes though the impact is stronger than what I had in mind originally and that is even better!
As for my latest story on YouTube, A Magical Design, I have every sympathy with my lead character. See what you think!


Just to flag up that Amazon have an offer on both of my paperbacks – see screenshot and link for more.

As you know, I love inventing characters so having to do that all the time for flash fiction is a wonderful bonus for me. I also adore mixing up the moods of my stories so I get to write “light” funny tales and I get to write to deeper levels of emotion too. I get to write monologues, I can take you straight into the action by getting you to see what my character sees, and I don’t make you wait too long for the pay-off for twist endings or humorous punchlines. And even if you didn’t want to make flash fiction writing your main “thing”, it is still incredibly useful as a warm up writing exercise.

Screenshot 2022-05-08 at 16-28-17 Amazon.co.uk Allison Symes


Hope you have had a good Saturday. Nice day here. Lady got to play with her gentleman friend, a gorgeous Aussie Shepherd, who is a sweetheart. Both dogs so pleased to see each other. Our other (and much missed) dogs would say “hello” to other dogs but were not sociable in the way Lady is – they had a rotten start in life and having found “doggy heaven” with us didn’t really want anything else.

I’ll be spreading the word about flash fiction workshops over the next couple of months and am currently judging a flash competition.

On the writing side of things, I’m working on something I want to submit shortly to a competition. So busy-busy but in a good way.

Let nobody tell you that you have to have loads of time in which to write. Those odd moments of time we all get are useful for jotting down potential ideas for flash stories and flash non-fiction pieces. A writing session spent brainstorming ideas is never wasted. I often spent my odd five minutes here and there doing things like this. I then have things to refer to later which I can then write up into first drafts.

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Goodreads Author Blog – Is the Film Ever As Good as the Book?

Now there’s a controversial question! And my answer to it is “it depends”.

For The Lord of the Rings, I feel Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films does do justice to the books, though there are scenes missing from the films. I never understood this incidentally. Given the films were so long anyway, I would have had the missing scenes in the films given another twenty minutes to the running time wasn’t going to make a lot of difference in my view.

Where films can help is encourage people to read the original books. I watched Oliver Twist where Alec Guinness played Fagin and Oliver Reed played Bill Sikes. Excellent, and scary, performances from both of them. The story gripped me and I read the book immediately after seeing the film (it was on BBC2 one late afternoon years ago). And I’ve always loved The Muppet Christmas Carol for where Gonzo recommends viewers go and read the original of A Christmas Carol after watching.#

So films can help fuel reading. And if a book I’ve loved is adapted into a film, I’m more likely to want to check the film out, if only out of curiosity to see if they have stuck to the spirit of the book or not.

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Hooks, Simple Ideas, and Character Attitudes


Image Credits:-
All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated. Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing. Screenshots taken by me, Allison Symes.
What does snow, ice-cream chimes, and simple ideas  have in common? They all appear in this post – and I discuss character attitudes too.

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Hope you have had a good Tuesday. Glad to report there is an offer on Amazon on both of my flash fiction collections – see link for more. Go on, pick up a bargain!

I see there is a film about to come out called Operation Mincemeat based on the book of the same name by Ben Macintyre. Loved the book. Film looks promising – hoping they’re faithful to said book.

Looking forward to sharing Laughter in Fiction for Chandler’s Ford Today on Friday. I love writing all of my posts but there are some which are sheer fun and this is one of them. Mind you, the topic helps!

I forgot to mention this last month but I am so pleased to be a member of the Authors’ Licensing and Collection Society. I have free membership of this thanks to being a member of the Society of Authors. I was really pleased with my pay-out from ALCS last month, which was up from last year. Definitely worth looking into to if you have books out there. And updating the online form when you have new works out is easy too.

I joined the Society of Authors years ago after receiving invaluable advice from them over a publishing contact I’d been offered. It was from a vanity publisher. I turned the contract down, got my manuscript back, and joined the Society. Never regretted any of that!

Screenshot 2022-04-04 at 19-51-16 ALCS

Cold but no snow today so I count that as a win! See post further down for why I say this! Hope you have had a good Sunday. Much as I dislike the clock changes twice a year, I must admit it is nice having the lighter evenings. It means Lady gets a longer evening walk for one thing and she is happy about that.

Regardless of the length of story I write, I do like a good hook in the opening line. I am a great believer in the “hit the ground running” approach.

Sometimes I do this by getting a character to do something. Sometimes I will open with an intriguing line of dialogue. I also open with a set up that has to be followed through in some way and the only way a reader is going to find out is by reading the story through.

And yes I deliberately mix up the approach I take here. It keeps things interesting for me and I hope that comes through to readers too.

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Bizarre weather again today. I was doing some gardening, (”doing” being the operative word as I am no expert!), when snow fell again and at the same time I heard the charming chimes of an ice cream van! (I passed on that).

Many thanks for the wonderful comments coming in on The Way Time Smells, my latest tale on Friday Flash Fiction. Using the senses is encouraged in fiction as they all help readers “picture” things, they also make characters seem more real to me, and I was glad to get in a scent I have fond memories of as a child into this story.

I’m looking at Laughter in Fiction for my Chandler’s Ford Today post next week and look forward to sharing that in due course.

One positive thing about the cold weather is it makes it even more easy to stay indoors and get on with the writing!

Screenshot 2022-04-01 at 09-18-31 The Way Time Smells by Allison Symes

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I was talking yesterday about how I came up with the idea for my latest YouTube video, Away. Link below. It was based on a simple premise and, especially for such a short form as flash fiction, it pays off to keep the idea simple. Flash is not the place for the convoluted idea and again this is another example of the form of flash ensuring you do have to stick to the point.

I’ve also found, naturally, a simple idea is easier to deliver on (and stick to the word count with). There’s an old saying about not “over-egging the pudding” and that comes into play with flash fiction writing too. Just because an idea is simple, it doesn’t mean the story is simple. You can still show a wealth of emotion via the simple tale of one character telling another just what a hellish time they’ve had of it lately. Basic plot right there.

And the other character’s reaction whether it is sympathetic or not can show a reader just how caring or not that other character is and, to an extent, whether the first character deserves that sympathy or not. Yet that all stems from a simple idea.

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It has been another hectic Monday. Time to slow down and enjoy a story then. Hope you enjoy Away, my latest tale on my YouTube channel. I used a random picture generator to come up with the idea for a story based around chairs in a park and thought about who might have put them there.


I’ve talked before about how I sometimes write a punchline or a twist ending first and then use spider diagrams to help me work out how I could get to that closing line. The other advantage of this is this approach usually gives me a good idea of how long my story is likely to be.

If my spider diagram produces a result where I am likely to need more than one character in the story (as opposed to one or more being referred to – a kind of “being offstage” scenario), then I know my tale is likely to be between the 500 and 1000 words mark for flash. For short stories, I’m definitely looking at 1500 to 2000. That then gives me a good idea of where I’m likely to find a home for the finished tale.

What I don’t do is decide on the word count and then work out the story from there. I always go for the spider diagram option that resonates the most with me because it will do the same for a reader. The one that resonates most with me is one I’m going to love writing up because already that idea has triggered me and I will be itching to write it up.

The only times the word count is almost (!) the most important factor for me is when I am writing to a market which calls for a specific word count such as Paragraph Planet or Friday Flash Fiction. And even there I jot down ideas and still go for the one that makes the most impact on me. I am putting myself in my readers’ shoes here and asking myself what would they like from this idea. Then I go for it!

Having your reader in mind from the start is a good idea. It helps you keep on track too.

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Every now and then I write a story where the sentences open with the same words. In my The Wish List from Tripping the Flash Fantastic, all but the last sentence starts with the words I wish.

The advantage of doing this is that it creates a kind of rhythm to my story and, in this case, the “I wish”in each and every sentence ratchets up the tension and that in turn builds up to a conclusion.

It is not something I would wish to do all the time (the I wish being a deliberate choice of phrase there!) because I wouldn’t want it to come across as gimmicky and I fear frequent use of something like this would do precisely that. It does make a refreshing change every now and then though.

Goodreads Author Blog – Character Attitudes

What hooks you into following a character’s story though to those magic words The End? Something about the character has to draw you in and, for me, it is usually to do with their attitudes towards other characters, themselves, and life in general.

One of my favourite characters is Sam Vimes from Terry Pratchett’s wonderful Discworld series. Not only do I like following Sam through one novel I have loved watching that character develop over the series of Discworld novels he stars in – and boy does he develop. That is a sign of a truly great character. They’re never static! And his attitude varies depending on who is dealing with but there’s never any doubt about him wanting to see justice done. (And doing his level best to ensure it is).

I also like characters who acknowledge their own shortcomings but overcome them. (Pride and Prejudice, anyone?). A character who isn’t willing to change when it is clear change would bring them (a) happiness and (b) make them an all round better person is not a character that’s going to hold my interest for long.

Characters reflect us and what we know about life so a character’s attitude generally is something we will need to have understanding of, even if we don’t entirely agree with it.

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Endings in Fiction – and Retreats as a Theme


Image Credit:-
All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated. Some images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos. Screenshots taken by me, Allison Symes. Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.
Having been away at a retreat last weekend, I used the theme of retreat for my YouTube video earlier this week and for Friday Flash Fiction this week! Hope you have had a good week. Not bad here. Looking forward to being part of the Scottish Association of Writers’ conference in March. More news to come on that in due course (and I don’t think you can beat their website image – see below!).

 

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Pleased to share Endings in Fiction for Chandler’s Ford Today. Memorable endings stay with you long after you’ve finished the book or story and make it far more likely you’ll read more work from the author concerned.

I also look at why I feel the “it was just a dream” ending only worked the once and why. I look at linear, circular, and twist endings. (I use the latter a lot for my flash fiction so am especially fond of those). I go on to discuss what I think a good story ending should do. Hope you enjoy the post and do share your favourite story endings in the CFT comments.

Endings in Fiction

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Brrr… after an almost spring-like day yesterday, it has turned cold again. Mind you, it has been nice to see the signs of spring appearing – I’ve spotted primroses out and my solitary clump of snowdrops is doing well.

I’m talking about Endings in Fiction for Chandler’s Ford Today this week and I’m looking forward to sharing the link for that tomorrow. See link above.

A classic ending reverberates long after you’ve finished reading the book. A weak ending lets whatever came before down and a writer risks having readers not want to take a chance on their stories again. Well, you’re not going to risk being disappointed again, are you? So it matters then that you get your ending right. No pressure then! But it is worth taking your time to get this right.

Think about the impact you want your story to have on a reader. Think about what you yourself would want to see in the ending as if you weren’t the writer.

Putting yourself in your Ideal Reader’s shoes is an invaluable thing to do because you want your stories to impact on your reader so they want to read you again and again and again. If you are thinking about them from the start, you are less likely to go off on unhelpful tangents because you are seeking to reach them so you are thinking of what they need to see from your characters and plot.

 

Hope you have had a good day. Very busy one here – from housework to taking the dog to the vet for her annual booster, it’s all glamour here – umm…. maybe not!

There is an offer on the paperback of Tripping the Flash Fantastic via Amazon. See the link for more information.

How did I come up with the title for my second flash fiction collection? Well, one of the stories in it is called Tripping the Light Fantastic but I wanted something indicating the book’s genre so it was an easy choice to just change one word here.

Titles are so important. A good title is your first “hook” to draw the reader in to read your story (and the second one is an intriguing opening line). It is worth giving yourself plenty of time to think of the title that will attract readers to your book. Try to put yourself in the reader’s shoes. What would intrigue them? If you weren’t the writer of the book, what would intrigue you about it? Does the title grab your attention?

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I was away at the ACW Committee Retreat last weekend and I used the theme of retreat for my YouTube video earlier this week. I also used it again for my story this week for Friday Flash Fiction. Hope you enjoy Misunderstanding and many thanks for the great comments in on it so far.

Screenshot 2022-02-11 at 09-39-13 Misunderstanding, by Allison Symes

Yet another advantage to writing flash fiction is you have a form of writing which is ideal for people who want to write but know they haven’t got the time or desire to write longer works.

And flash pieces are easy to share on your website, social media etc to help raise your profile (though do bear in mind this does count as having been published. I don’t worry about that because I do want to reach people with what I do and sharing a story every now and again is an easy way of doing that. I see this as part of my marketing work but you have to decide what you are happy to share here and what you want to keep back for submission elsewhere).

I would also say if the thought of writing a longer work is too overwhelming, do think small and start there. With online magazines and competitions for flash available now, you can build up publishing credits here and have something to put on a writing CV if you do decide to submit a longer work to an agent or publisher later on.

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Advantages of writing flash fiction number 999 (or so it seems to me!):-

You can use old writing exercises as the basis for creating new flash fiction pieces. Take what you scribbled down in a writing conference talk and see if you can turn it into a story. Most material produced by exercises like this are far too short for the standard short story market. No problem! Write, edit, polish, and send off to the flash one instead!

Dig out those old notebooks – what can you develop from those initial notes? It is worth doing. I took one of mine (The Balcony Seen) and edited and polished it and it ended up on CafeLit.
Screenshot 2022-02-09 at 20-07-59 CafeLitMagazine

Fairytales with Bite – Justice

One aspect to fairytales I’ve always loved is you know justice will be done – in some form anyway. Evil is generally thwarted. Good will prevail eventually. Simplistic, maybe, but even as a kid I knew real life wasn’t always like that and it was a comfort to see wrong being righted in fiction.

And another lovely aspect to fairytales is characters traditionally considered as villains don’t have to be. Think Shrek. The ogre is the hero there.

So how would justice be seen to be done in your fairytale setting? Are characters reliant on a helpful fairy godmother turning up and waving the old wand about or are they expected to do some of the work themselves and then call for magical backup? You can probably guess which approach I prefer by the way I’ve worded that!

And yes I do like to see characters contributing something to getting themselves out of trouble even if their efforts don’t succeed. Likewise, I prefer characters who try to act justly even if sometimes their actions are misunderstood or they “let the side down” briefly by those odd moments when, perhaps provoked too far, they don’t act justly. We’re not perfect. Our characters won’t be either.

The theme of justice is often tied up with another theme – redemption. A character hasn’t acted justly. They regret that. What do they do to try to make things right and does this ensure justice is done? All interesting possibilities to explore further.

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This World and Others – Law

How does the legal system work in your fictional environment? Is there a civil law, a separate military one, or is there just one? Who ensures justice is done (or do they like to ensure it isn’t done unless it is for them or their cronies)?

Are there trials as we would know them or is everything settled by armed combat? Do ordinary characters have easy access to the law for when they need legal help or is it dependent on whom they know?

As the law stands in your fictional world, what is the history behind it? For example, if people or other beings used to be able to vote but they can’t now, what changed and why? Did your characters try to bring the right to vote back? What stopped them?

How do laws get changed or repealed? Who works for the law (police, barristers, judges etc)? And when punishment is to be inflicted, what form does that take? What does the law in your world allow and what is the basis behind that?

Law underpins a society. Something of that should come through in your fictional world too. Your readers won’t need to know all of the details but they will need to know Character A can’t do this course of action because it is illegal in your setting and your character has to come up with something else instead.

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Back to Earth after Swanwick

Image Credits:-

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

Book cover images from Bridge House Publishing, CafeLit, and Chapeltown Books.

Had a fab time at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School (and a huge thanks to Fiona Park for the image of me signing books there recently), but also glad to be back home and at the old writing desk once again. (Lady went bananas on my return and in such a sweet way!). Image below taken by Adrian Symes.

LADY DISCUSSES TTFF WITH ME

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Have started work on my next author newsletter (to go out on 1st September – to sign up for this just head over to my website – landing page – at https://allisonsymescollectedworks.com). I share news, tips, exclusive stories etc here. I hope later that some of those stories will make it into future flash collections but newsletter readers get “first dibs” on reading these.

Am pleased to say most of my slots for Chandler’s Ford Today are full until towards the end of next month and that’s always a good sign. Plenty of fantastic interviews to come and I will be sharing Part 2 of Writing Humour with Fran Hill and Ruth Leigh this coming week. Link up on Friday.

I will also be looking back at a wonderful week at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School for CFT soon too. (It’s a good way to celebrate the fact Swanwick happened at all and gives me a chance to share some of the benefits of going to it).

Writing Tip Time: One writing tip that has always stood me in good stead is to read work out loud, especially dialogue. What looks good on the page or screen does not always read well. If you stumble on something, your readers will too. I’ve made many an amendment to a story due to that alone. It is worth the time. That extra polishing up can make all the difference to whether a story is accepted or not.


Back to the usual writing week after a fab week at Swanwick. I’ll be drafting blogs later this evening but since coming home I have submitted a flash fiction piece for #FridayFlashFiction and I will be sharing a YouTube video of mine over on my From Light to Dark and Back Again Facebook page shortly.  See further down for the video. (I wrote the story for that video yesterday).

I like to have a good balance of non-fiction and fiction achieved over the course of a week and as long as I manage that, which I normally do, I’m happy. I am also carrying out editing work at the moment which is always interesting.

Funny day with the weather today. Think it’s still trying to make up its mind whether it’s summer or not…

I’ve mentioned before I sometimes use random word generators (nouns, adjectives, questions, numbers even) to trigger story ideas but another way to use them is simply to come up with say half a dozen words and ensure they are somewhere in your tale.

I tend to use the generators to trigger themes and/or title ideas, but the “have to use the words somewhere in the story” ploy is one I need to do more often. I’ve always had fun with this when doing these in the past. So I think it pays every now and then to look at prompt types you used to use and perhaps don’t write to so often now and have a creative trip down Memory Lane and revisit these.


Hope you have had a good Sunday. I know every day this week I’ll be thinking back to what I was doing at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School this day last week! Swanwick gets to you like that but it is in a lovely way.

Just a quick heads up to say my debut flash fiction collection, From Light to Dark and Back Again – the paperback – is currently on offer at Amazon. (Sounds a bit like a film franchise, you know the kind of thing, when I put it like that. I promise not to name my eventual third collection XXX – This Time It’s Personal!).

Looking ahead this week, Part 2 of a fabulous interview with #FranHill and #RuthLeigh will be on Chandler’s Ford Today on Friday. Have blogs to put up and schedule too and there is always flash fiction to work on. I drafted some while at Swanwick and I need to give some thought as to where I’ll submit those. I have ideas for both. I have the nice task of deciding which I like best. And I am working on workshop material ready for events later in the year. I’m looking forward to sharing details nearer the time.

Learning to plan out what I write when has been a useful tip I have made good use of over the years and it is coming into its own for me now.

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Had a lovely afternoon and evening with family members I’ve not seen for months. Today was the first time in so long that we could have a proper chat and Lady was besides herself with excitement. She loves visitors. She thinks they all come to see her of course. (Oh and she did go bonkers on seeing Mum had returned from Swanwick yesterday. Naturally Lady had to make sure Mum really was back by giving big cuddles to said Mum. Mum did not mind in the slightest!).

Have plenty of blogs and stories to get on with but I will resume my usual writing routine from tomorrow. I always find I need a little bit of “come back to earth” time after Swanwick. Am also looking forward to reading the books I brought back with me though I have already made a start on those. One of my great “home treasures” are my book shelves, packed with signed books by writer pals.

Many thanks for the comments in on my It’s an Ill Wind (up on #FridayFlashFiction yesterday). That was lovely to come home to!

Screenshot 2021-08-13 at 19-12-37 It's an Ill Wind, by Allison Symes

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Alliteration Always Advantageous – In titles for flash stories or collections? Not necessarily. (There’s some more alliteration for you!).

I am wary of anything that might come across as gimmicky so I use alliteration sparingly. It can work well but I think as something different to the overall “mix” in a collection. I also want to keep titles open to interpretation and/or mood so trying to dream up something with alliteration can mean I restrict myself unnecessarily here. You wouldn’t want a whole book of alliterative titles. I could see that becoming boring.

As with the stories themselves, your titles should have an interesting hook to them. I’ve used random generators (especially the question one) to come up with ideas for titles I can use directly or adapt. Often changing one word makes all the difference. And I want my titles to have impact. So anything gimmicky could reduce that impact.

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16th August
Pleased to share my latest YouTube video based on a story I wrote yesterday. Hope you enjoy Knowing the Basics though I am glad I do not have Sandra’s attitude to flying. I am even more glad pilots don’t have Sandra’s attitude. See the video for why!


I mix up the kind of prompts I use to produce flash fiction. I will often start with my favourite, an opening line, but have worked to a closing line. I like picture prompts too and random words (either to get into the story somewhere or to use as a title and/or theme) also work well for me.

Stories from viewpoints of alternative characters got me into print in the first place with my A Helping Hand in Alternative Renditions (Bridge House Publishing) but are great fun to do. You do have to put considerable thought into which character you will use for this and why you have picked them.

On switching to Scrivener, I was delighted to discover it comes with character and setting templates in the short story format. I just adjust these to my own use as I don’t need all of the pre-set information given. But it makes a great starting point and thinking about your story before you write it works well for me.

I like to know I have got tracks to follow before getting on with the story. I guess it’s a reassurance to me I have got something to work up into a story in the first place.

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I was glad to take part in the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School Open Prose Mic night again. I chose two stories from From Light to Dark and Back Again (Serving Up a Treat and Calling the Doctor). From Tripping the Flash Fantastic, I chose Judgement Day. See book trailer below for Calling the Doctor. I’ve always been proud of this one – I change the mood of the story with the very last word. Great fun to do.

You have a maximum of five minutes to read (and it is always better to come in a little under that time if possible) and the joy of flash here is you can easily do that with one longer piece or a couple of shorter ones.

It does pay to read your stories out loud and/or record yourself reading them and playing them back. I’ve found dialogue I think looks okay on the paper does not necessarily read well and if you trip over something, your reader will too. At least with flash this does not take long and it is a good thing to hear how your story comes across as that is how your reader will take it in.


Goodreads Author Blog – Book Events and Paperbacks

I’ve just come back from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School which has been my first live book and writing related event for well over a year. (It was fantastic catching up with old friends again and the array of courses and workshops was as amazing as ever).

Swanwick has its own Book Room for the duration of the school and it was lovely being able to put my two flash fiction collections in there and pick up books written by friends. (Naturally I got them to sign them during Swanwick week and it is always a thrill to be asked by others to sign your own books).

Is the paperback alive and well? They certainly went down well at the Swanwick Book Room! I think the paperback is still relevant as a format. After all, you can’t exactly put a Kindle out on a table for a book event! Nor can the writer be asked to sign a Kindle (well, I’m not aware of any way of doing this anyway).

From the writer’s viewpoint, paperbacks are relatively easy to transport to an event (note I only say relatively as it does depend on the size. Thankfully I am not writing a three volume epic so that helps a lot!). But people do still like physical books and I think it is healthy to have a wide range of formats as not one size suits all.

When I’m away I do take my Kindle to save luggage space but I would never want to be without physical books. There is something about the texture and feel of them too (and I still love that new book “smell”). And long may that continue!

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Prompts, Story Collections, and Editing Flash Fiction

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Some images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

I hope my new story video, Acrostic, shared below, puts a smile on your face after what has, in the UK, been a wet and windy week. (It honestly feels more like November than May right now! Brrr…).

Oh and there is an offer currently on at Amazon for the paperback of Tripping The Flash Fantastic (as at 25th May 2021).

Tripping The Flash Fantastic - by night

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Okay, we did actually see some sunshine in my part of Hampshire today but the rain’s back. Not overly impressed as you may be able to tell!

I discuss Writing Prompts in my Chandler’s Ford Today post later this week. I share a few examples of prompts and look at why these are useful. I’ve also contributed to a couple of books of prompts produced by #GillJames – I find these so helpful in encouraging me to think outside of my usual imaginative box. And they’re great practice for when you go to writing conferences and the like where exercises are usually set. (These are often set on giving you a closing or opening line for example so practicing writing to these is a good idea). More on Friday.

Some of my published stories started life as a response to a writing prompt so, yes, I am biased in promoting using them. But you never know if you can write to a prompt if you don’t try, yes?

Occasionally I will jot down a line that I think could make a useful prompt but then end up using it as a theme (and even for my Chandler’s Ford Today posts on occasion, as my post on Friday will share). So there is a lot potentially to be gained from using these.

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What a day! Torrential rain, hailstones, glorious sunshine… I don’t think snow is on the agenda but there’s still a few hours left to the end of the day so who knows?

It was great to “go” to a Zoom event where two authors read from their latest works – #PaulaRCReadman (who has guested on Chandler’s Ford Today before) and #PinarTarhan. It is always lovely being read to but it was great being able to put questions directly to the writers afterwards.

Happily wrote another drabble and submitted it to #FridayFlashFiction. I love the way this site encourages you to produce more work for the following week. Great idea. (And yes there are other categories of flash here but they want you to have two 100-worders published with them first before you submit longer flash tales. Am having a ball writing the drabbles again though so I may be here for some time but that’s fine with me!).

My next author newsletter is due to go out on 1st June so if you would like to sign up please head over to my website (https://allisonsymescollectedworks.com). This time I will be sharing my responses to two writing prompts I set in May amongst other things. And I have set another writing prompt to have a go at too.


It was lovely being back in church today and seeing people I’ve not seen for months. Nice start to the day (though Lady found it odd. For the last few months services have been on Zoom and she has snuggled between us on the sofa while they were on. I suspect she missed that today!).

I’m sharing a post on Writing Prompts for Chandler’s Ford Today later in the week. Hopefully it will prove useful. I’m fond of a wide variety of such prompts. They are a great way to kick start your writing when needed and I am especially fond of opening and closing lines. Can do a lot with those. Link up on Friday.

Talking of blogging, it will be my turn on More Than Writers, the blog spot of the Association of Christian Writers next weekend and I will be sharing a lighthearted post about genres. Looking forward to sharing that.

What is the one writing habit you wish you could ditch forever? Mine is getting off to slow starts. I find when I do get started, I’m up and running and a great deal of useful writing gets done but it is the getting started that can sometimes be tricky for me.

(It’s worse if I’m tired or run down and that is when I will deliberately turn to only writing short pieces, fiction or otherwise. The great thing with doing that is there is still the sense of accomplishment at finishing a piece of work, even if it is only a 100-worder. I find feeling positive is the biggest boost to creativity for me and so completing small pieces of work makes me feel positive, that in turn encourages me to write more and so on).


Hope your Saturday has been okay. Glad the wild winds of yesterday have settled down. Looking forward to getting back to church tomorrow. (Okay still have to mask up etc but it will be so nice being there in person).

Many thanks for the great comments so far on my latest story on #FridayFlashFiction, Sibling Surprise. It’s lovely and useful having feedback. Also welcome to those signing up to my website and/or newsletter. Good to have you aboard.
Will be drafting more flash pieces over the rest of the weekend, one to go to be a story video on Youtube.

I tend to write another piece for #FridayFlashFiction over the weekend and submit that. It’s great writing drabbles again on a regular basis. More recently I have either written the mini (under 50 words) tales for the videos or longer flash pieces of 500 words plus. So it is lovely to return to my first flash love here as it was the 100-word challenge from CafeLit that started the flash fiction ball rolling for me.

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Many thanks for the great response to my story video Acrostic yesterday. (Link below). It was huge fun to write. Writing stories in acrostic form works well for flash fiction given, as with character studies, these things are best kept short.

Now when it comes to editing a flash story, you might be tempted to think because there are not a lot of words, there is less to do. Wrong!

As well as cutting repetition, typos etc., you do need to ask yourself whether the words you’ve chosen do have the maximum impact on a reader. Any weak words will show up horribly clearly in such a short form. I usually find a phrase I’ve used which is good can often be strengthened by a tweak here and there.

It is the tweaking – the paying attention to the fine details – that can take a good flash story and make it a truly great one. Yet another challenge to flash fiction writing here but trying to make your story the best it can be is something that engages me (and hopefully the finished result will be more likely to engage a reader. I believe most people who read regularly will be able to tell when a writer has poured heart and soul into their work, whether it is a 100,000 word masterpiece, or a 100-word drabble).

 

Story video time again. Hope you enjoy this one – Acrostic lives up to its name and I will say it is not based on fact, honest!

I do sometimes use acrostics to come up with a different form of flash story. They’re great fun to do but a fairly short word works best and it needs to be “open” enough to be able to taken in more than one direction.

 


I nearly always know the impact I want to make on a reader when I draft my flash fiction stories. I say nearly always as sometimes I do manage to surprise myself.

For Calling the Doctor, where the mood of the tale turns on the very last word, that did not come to me immediately but I did have the character fully pictured. I wanted readers to sympathise with a character who did not know the truth about the other person referred to in the piece. But it was only as I was drafting their story, the way of ending this tale came to me and I went with it.

It was then on reviewing the story I realised how much I had “upped the ante” on this story by having a dramatic twist like that. A sympathetic character study here would have worked well but twisting the mood on the last word lifted this story to greater heights and it remains a favourite story of mine.

It is also a good example of a dark tale without over-egging the darkness. So much is implied and that of course is the strength of flash fiction. I love it when I read a story or novel and I pick up on the implications by myself. That gets my imagination going and isn’t that part of the joy of a really good read?

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I sometimes use alliterative titles for my flash pieces. The most recent for these is Sibling Surprise which went up on #FridayFlashFiction yesterday. (See link given above). I try not to overdo this though as I don’t want titles to seem gimmicky so I like a mixture of alliterative, proverbs/well known sayings etc. For all of them I want something to conjure up the story mood and “advertise” the tale to come.

I usually do know the title first but sometimes a better idea comes along as I draft my tale so I just jot down the idea and switch titles later if the latter idea proves to have more of an impact. I find I have to have a “peg” to work to so I have to have some kind of title. But very little is set in stone so as long as I’ve got something to give me a starting point, that’s fine with me.

What I do know is that shorter titles work best. They’re easier to remember too which is handy when you’re coming up with titles for the next stories. I’ve only repeated once to the best of my knowledge but for both tales, I got very different stories from them so that was okay but it is not something I want to do often for obvious reasons. I do see a title as a story’s first advert so I want each one to be distinctive.

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Goodreads Author Blog – Story Collections

As well as reading novels, I like to read short story and flash fiction collections. I often use these to help me decide which genre of novel I want to read next.

Now I’m not unbiased here, as I am the author of two published flash fiction collections and have been in a number of short story anthologies! But I am going to take the chance to wave the flag for both formats.

There are different challenges in writing short stories and flash fiction as opposed to novels, naturally, but the charm of the short form is in giving you a brief overview of a character’s life. In the case of flash fiction, it is a snapshot only but for things like character studies, which to my mind work best when kept short, this is an ideal format for that kind of story.

I like to mix up the type of story in terms of genre, length, and mood. It gives me a wide reading diet that in turn helps me with my writing. We are all inspired by things we have loved reading after all.

And sometimes less is more so do add short stories and flash fiction to your reading mix. I find them to be a wonderful “appetiser” ahead of the next “meal” of a novel!

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A Novel Approach, Favourite Books and a Free Story

Image Credit:  Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated. A big thank you to Jennifer C Wilson for supplying many of the photos for her interview on Chandler’s Ford Today this week.

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It is with great pleasure I welcome #JenniferCWilson back to Chandler’s Ford Today.

This time, we discuss her venture into non-fiction with her recently released book, A Novel Approach.

The theme for this summer on CFT has very much been one of changing direction and Jennifer’s interview continues that idea.

Do check out her thoughts on the benefits of finding a good writing group amongst many other gems here.

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I always enjoy writing my CFT posts but interviews, I think, are the most fun of all. Why?

Because I always learn something useful, interesting, entertaining, and often all three from my guests. (So thank you one and all!).

No one author can know it all and learning from other writers is a crucial part of how we all develop. Reading interviews and, in my case, hosting them as well, helps enormously here!😊

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We all have favourite books, many of which go back years. So what made you decide Book A was said favourite? Is it a question of working out what books you have you simply can’t manage without and favourite status is conferred upon them due to that?

In my case, one of my favourite books is definitely a nostalgic one as this was given to me by my late parents. Others, such as Josephine Tey’s wonderful The Daughter of Time I came across by accident and I was so happy to find it!

Still others are books written by friends and, not only do I love the stories, but every time I look at the books, I am reminded of happy times meeting up with said friends. (Usually at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, Bridge House Publishing or Association of Christian Writer events it has to be said!).

So what are your favourite stories and why do you love them so much? Do you have room in your life for new favourites? (The answer to that should be of course!). Which book is your most recent addition to the favourites list?

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Am delighted to be welcoming #JenWilson back to Chandler’s Ford Today this week.

Jen will be talking about her change of direction into non-fiction writing with her recently released A Novel Approach. There has been a lot of this change of direction in the air this summer! It has definitely been my theme for this year for CFT.

Jen will be discussing how she came to write the book and shares her thoughts about what a good writing group can do for you amongst many other gems. Link up on Friday. Don’t miss especially if you are thinking about writing a novel.

Meanwhile if you want to check the book out do see the link.

 

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Free Story!

I couldn’t resist having another go at the random noun generator. This time I opted for three random nouns and what came up were “shirt”, “marriage”, and “ladder”. Now there’s an interesting mix!

Hope you enjoy the following. A humorous end to the week is always welcome!

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I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the sign. “Buy a shirt and your dearest wish will come true”. I’ve seen plenty of dodgy advertising in my time. So I went over to the market trader and challenged him. How on earth could a shirt grant wishes? Especially such a bright one. Vivid purple was never my style fortunately.

‘You’ve heard of magical lamps and rings, why can’t a shirt be magical too?’ was his response.

I guess on logic alone, he had a point, but when I think of
shirts and magic, it is only in terms of being able to get leaky ink stains out of a shirt in one go in the washing machine. And that doesn’t happen often I can tell you. Unlike leaky ink stains going flaming everywhere.

‘Anyway,’ I told the guy, ‘how can a shirt know what my wish is to grant it?’

‘You tell the shirt when you get it home, silly.’

That was me told.

Now don’t judge me here. I did buy the shirt. I needed to get a present for my nephew so I thought a vivid purple shirt would be the thing. (You should see the colour of his trousers. You need sunglasses, I tell you, so a bright shirt would suit him beautifully. Okay, I didn’t envy his mother the task of washing the wretched thing. That purple would be bound to run but I’ve long told my sister she ought to get her boy helping around the house more so she can start by getting him to wash the wretched thing).

Did I make a wish? Yes. For a laugh. I know my sister is concerned about her lad’s prospects so I wished that his life would take off in a good way so she could stop worrying. Covers both of them and it’s a nice wish I think.

I didn’t tell my nephew, or my sister, where I got the shirt or about the advertising for it.

But I was taken aback when a week after I’d given the present, he and his mother came around with news. Robbie was to be married to the young lass who worked at the launderette and knew everything there was to be known about washing colours separately.

Apparently, he’d borrowed his father’s ladder, went around to the young lass’s house, and proposed at the top of the ladder on Valentine’s Day Night. He had meant to do so when he took her out for a meal but lost his nerve.

That is so like him. As was tumbling off the ladder but fortunately he landed in a huge shrub and no damage done. The shrub was all right as well apparently.

The marriage takes place next month and now I’m off to the market stall. If there are any more of those shirts, I’ll get him a load. I’ve made a list of wishes that will be of real help to a young, married couple.

It’s the least I can do.

Ends

Allison Symes – 21st August 2020

 

Flash fiction may be a quick read but it isn’t necessarily a fast write! I get a first draft down quickly but the work is in the editing (as it is with all forms of writing I think).

Honing a story to ensure every word justifies its place in the tale takes time. And I will often rewrite a section to maximise the impact of that part of the story.

I ask myself if the impact is strong enough? Will it affect the reader the way I want it to do? A change of word, sometimes where I place the word in a sentence, can make all the difference.

It is only when I know any further changes to a story would weaken it that I submit the story somewhere.

Was listening to #WendyHJones‘ excellent podcast, The Writing and Marketing Show, earlier this evening and discovered a new term for what I call wasted words. The term was weasel words and I love that.

It is some comfort to know every writer has these literary pests (and mine are actually, very, and that, as I’ve mentioned before).

Still, when it comes to the edit, I know what’s coming out first and I find, with this done, it seems to get the rest of the edit off to a flying start. I find that helpful so maybe my wasted words have some use. They just don’t stay in!

Image of Wendy H Jones below kindly supplied by her. (Do check out her podcast. I was on episode 4 talking about flash fiction).

Fairytales With Bite – 

The Influence of Fairytales on Literature in General

The obvious influence is that fairytales are a genre in their own right, correctly so too. The next biggest influence I think is given most children’s introduction to literature is via fairytales, said stories act as a gateway into the wonderful world of books per se. That has to be a good thing! This was the case for me and I’ve never regretted having a lifelong love of stories and books as a result.

With that comes the influence on those children who go on to become writers. The marvellous Roald Dahl with his works aimed at children was, to my mind, clearly the successor to Hans Christen Andersen (especially as he knew children liked to read about characters who were not goody goody. Know your market always!).

Fairytales for children can lead to fairytales for adults and I would say A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is a prime example of that. What an influence that particular story has had on so many of us!

The idea of wrongs being put right isn’t just for crime writing! There’s a good case for saying fairytales were well ahead of the game there.

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This World and Others – Fascinating Facts

When it comes to creating your own fictional world, and thinking of how it is all going to come together, do some research. This is where non-fiction reference books can be so useful to fiction writers. A lot can be done online of course but do go for a variety of books. This will help in ensuring you get facts right but almost inevitably you won’t find all you want in one book.

You want to create a new planet for your characters to live on. Okay. What are they going to breathe? What are they going to eat and drink? What will their climate be like? All of those things you can research based on what you know/can find out here on good old Planet Earth and then adapt for your own purposes.

If you want your creations breathing something other than oxygen, what do they breathe instead and how do their bodies manage this? Think about fish breathing through their gills. What would your people do?

Have fun working this all out and then show readers what they need to know to make sense of it all.

 

 

 

 

 

Editing, Haiku, and Swimming

A lovely mixture tonight, I think!

Image Credit:  Pexels/Pixabay if not stated otherwise.

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When you edit your stories, what are you looking for first and foremost? I look for the impact. Does the character make me react the way I want them to make me react? The way I thought they would when I drafted the story?
Of course, I check for typos and grammatical errors too. Yes, I’ll inevitably find some. We all do! But it is the impact of the character that is the most important thing for me. Why?
Simply because if the character doesn’t make me feel something, I, as a reader, am not going to care that much about the perfect grammar and the exquisite spelling!
Grammar and spelling do matter (and this is where writing buddies can be so helpful if these things are not your strong point. They will see things you do not etc). But I would argue get the story right first and then tidy the other matters up.
It will be the story and the characters readers remember.
Incidentally when people don’t notice the spelling and grammar, that is a very good sign. It shows you’ve got these things right. It also shows people were so gripped by your story and characters they had to keep reading.
Where spelling and grammar do matter is when people are enjoying your stories, you don’t want them to have their reading flow interrupted by an annoying typo. But get the story straight, then polish the spelling and grammar up.

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Hope you’ve had a nice weekend. Lovely to have family around in the garden yesterday. Weekends are starting to feel a little more like weekends.
Writing wise, I’m working on a new series for CFT. Details later in the week. It is going to be one of those series with plenty of tips and advice which I, and my lovely guest contributors, all hope you find useful.
And naturally I’m itching to reveal the book cover for Tripping the Flash Fantastic so am looking forward to when I can do that.
Am also working on “homework” as a result of pieces created during the creative writing workshop on Zoom I “went to” on Wednesday. That was good fun as I mentioned yesterday. Definitely liked the haiku challenge.
My longer term projects, including a non-fiction one, are on the backburner at the moment but I hope to get back to those before too long.
I also need to find another short story competition to try and polish up those entries from earlier in the year I now know didn’t get anywhere in the competitions I submitted them for.
But I’ve sometimes had success with a reworked story submitted to another competition or market so this is worth doing. Occasionally I find I can’t do anything else with the story but the character really grabs me (and I would hope other readers) so I see if I can do something else with them.
Must admit though I am also looking forward to when the writing conferences etc come back and I can meet up with friends in person. Zoom is an asset but it is not/cannot be quite the same. (For one thing, whether I’m drinking tea or prosecco, I much prefer to do that in company!).

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Hope Monday has not been too tricky for you. Lady has had a cracking start to her week. She got to play with her best doggie buddie today. Tonight she is zonked (and I suspect her pal is too). There’s a link there somewhere.
I’ve started my writing week by updating the blurb which appears on this author page. It’s about time I had something about the flash fiction in there! Ooops. Still sorted now.
It’s easy to forget, I think, there is a whole wealth of things going on behind the scenes for most writers. Updating websites, profiles etc., takes time but I see this as part of the marketing work. I try to do something on that side of things most days even if it is just joining in with a writing topic of interest somewhere on the web. I see that as engaging with other people and THAT is a big part of what writers do. We want people to engage with our stories, of course, but they’ve got to know we write them in the first place!😊

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Bit of good news today. I should be able to book swimming soon. I have missed that. But it is good that this aspect of life is coming back.
I had thought I’d use my time in the pool to think out story ideas etc. As with walking the dog, not a bit of it, but it is wonderful “down time” and I always go back refreshed. So there’s the mental benefit I think.
I swim the front crawl. It IS going to be a crawl for a bit I should think!
Am catching up with some reading on Kindle and thoroughly enjoying that. Hope to post a couple of reviews by the end of the week. (Reviews matter!).
I read inside and outside of my genre, flash fiction, and I love the mixture of what I read. My absolute go-to has to be humour though. And if ever there was a period of time in my lifetime where a laugh from a good book has been a blessing, it really has been over the last few months.

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This week has been a very exciting one as I’ve worked with the cover designer from Chapeltown Books on Tripping the Flash Fantastic. I’ve also checked the text for the final time. So a busy but productive week and a lovely way to go into the weekend.
I hope in due course to post a cover reveal and I plan to hold a cyberlaunch. More details to follow.
This is the lovely side of writing. So much goes on behind the scenes and often for a long time at that. When you get to the point that the book is shortly going to be “out there”, then that’s the exciting and lovely pay off for all that hard work behind the scenes.

I’ve been drafting some haiku this week as part of a Zoom creative writing workshop I enjoyed this week. Can you tell a flash fiction in haiku I wonder? Let’s see, shall we?
1. The bear squashed the chair
To stop Goldilocks, that mare
Revisiting house.
2. Spinning wheel needle
Pricks the girl’s finger and then
Extended nap time!
Allison Symes
18th July 2020
Hope you enjoy!

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If you have a scene with a character that can’t go into a story, why not turn it into a stand alone flash fiction tale?
The most common reason for a scene not making it into a story is that the scene doesn’t add anything so what’s the point of having it in there?
That’s the right response incidentally. Anything that doesn’t move your story on should be cut.
I’ve had an issue since the new look Facebook came in re posting pictures to my FLTDBA page. Have reported it. No response as yet! It is a pity as I like the new look one but if not sorted out, may have to return to the old. Still I CAN post pictures for you good people here!

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It may seem an odd mix to be both a flash fiction writer and a blogger but I like the contrast. I like making things up for one and sticking to the facts for the other. I’ll leave it to you to work out which way around that works out!😆
One thing on my fairly long To Do list is to have a crack at writing what I’ve heard called flash non-fiction. I do wonder if that is just another name for blogging which is 500 words or under. Any thoughts on that? It is interesting there are calls out now for factual pieces kept to a tight word count.
I can see the point of that. Short, sharp pieces to encourage people to read further into a subject later – yes, I like that idea.

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1. The click of the mouse
Means I am writing again;
I still love my pen.
2. A flash fiction tale
Often has one character
With one main focus.
Allison Symes – 21st July 2020
I really DID enjoy the haiku challenge set on the Zoom creative writing workshop I was on last week. There is a follow-up session tomorrow which I am looking forward to but the point in the second haiku here remains!
Oh and it proves I can count to 5, 7, and 5 again so I guess that’s a bonus!
Flash is remarkably open to form. I’ve written flash in poetic form (and there will be some examples of that in Tripping the Flash Fantastic). I’ve also written flash in diary format too (and again see the next book when it is out). I’ve written flash in all sorts of genres. It is a great vehicle for strong characters and having fun with said strong characters.

Goodreads Author Blog – 

First Books You Chose For Yourself

Do you remember the first book you chose for yourself?

The first single book I chose was Jane Austen’s Collected Works. It is handy having them in one volume!

The first book series I collected (and still have) was the Agatha Christie series published via Odhams Books. Remember them? The nice thing with that series is it covers all of her major characters from Poirot to Marple to Tommy and Tuppence. Great stories.

The first fantasy book I chose for myself was The Lord of the Rings.

The first history book I chose was Simon Schama’s History of Britain which tied in with his TV series of the same name.

The first comic series I went for was P.G. Wodehouse’s wonderful works. (I don’t have them all but do have a fair number). I started with Jeeves and Wooster, thanks to the fab TV adaptation where Stephen Fry played Jeeves and Hugh Lawrie played Bertie.

I then went on to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. I started with Jingo and then worked backwards to the beginning with The Colour of Magic.

Oh and I mustn’t forget Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series. My local (at the time) ITV network, Southern TV (sadly long gone), produced a great adaptation of these and the books were reissued with the covers showing the child actors in their roles. Sadly Southern lost their franchise and I believe the series ended. I don’t know what happened to the books I managed to collect (I used to be able to buy them from the local newsagent – how times have changed!) but loved the stories.

So can TV and film have a great influence on book buying? Oh yes!

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Times and Story Games

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

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

For my CFT post this week, I discuss the interesting times we’re living in right now but I also share thoughts and tips on how to start creative writing. I also share a story game which is good fun to play and can be played by all ages!

Any writer will tell you that writing is therapeutic and fun. Inventing your own people and situations stretches you, is good for the old brain, and is a lovely art form for those of us who can’t draw for toffee, sew etc (and yes that does include me). To have a finished piece of work is fabulous. You created that story. The buzz of that never palls.

So have fun. If you’ve wanted to try creative writing but have wondered where to start, have a look at my post. And writing just for the sheer fun of it is a great joy to do. It is how most of us, who have gone on to be published, started after all.

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It was emotional joining in with the applause for the NHS tonight. Plenty of cheering going on round my way too. Well done, everyone. More appreciation for what is so easily taken for granted is always a good thing.

In other news as they say, and as a flag up to other authors with works out there, if you’re not registered with ALCS, check it out. ALCS is the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society run by writers for writers. Am thrilled to say I’ve had my first modest but lovely payment through on this. Many thanks to ALCS. If you’ve got published works out there, join them! (It’s free if you’re a member of the Society of Authors too).

Writing wise, am editing a story for a competition and hope to get that submitted by the end of the week. Email submission was always a blessing but even more so now.

Keep well, keep safe, God bless. Happy reading and writing. Support Your Authors. Go on, you know you want to!

One thing that is always in the forefront of my mind whether I’m writing fiction or non-fiction is to keep the needs of my reader paramount. I have a mental image of who my ideal reader is likely to be and what they will like and naturally I then do my best to provide it – in terms of flash fiction, short story writing, and the blogging that I do.

One other advantage of reading well for writers is you have a ready made audience in yourself. You know what you like in a story. You know what you like in dialogue. You know what you like in genre and pace etc. You also know what you dislike in all of those things. So use that knowledge to help you tailor what you write. You won’t be the only one who likes or dislikes those things. That will help you hone in on who your ideal reader is going to be. You can then target your work much more efficiently.

Good luck!

 

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Hope to be drafting bits and pieces over the weekend. I draft potential blog posts as well as flash fiction and other stories. This has all proved useful when I’ve been pressed for time.

I hope to get a short story off for a competition tomorrow and then select a few others to have a crack at. It’s good to have something always on the go!

No chance whatsoever of boredom setting in, which is one of the things I love about writing. If I’m not writing, I’m editing and looking to make things better. That’s a challenge all by itself and it does me good I think to make sure I rise to said challenge.

Some aspects of editing are more fun than others to be honest but everything I’ve written has been drastically improved by the red pen. Nobody but nobody writes a perfect first draft first go. And I find there are always things I want to add in later to give extra depth to my characterisation, to make a scene make more sense etc. Those finishing touches make all the difference.

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When do I know a flash piece has worked?

Basically when it hits me emotionally, whether it is to make me laugh, cry, scream, or what have you. I think it is time for a laugh. Hope you enjoy the following. I’ve taken a different approach with this one. I’ve used an acrostic style but with the initial letter of the paragraph spelling out a word rather than the first letter of each sentence.

SPRING

S = Surprise, surprise! So good to see you! What’s up? You look like you’ve sucked a lemon marinated in vinegar. Have you?

P = Purpose? I thought it would cheer you up. And I know what I can do with my marinated lemons. Charming that is, I don’t think! I was trying to be nice.

R = Ring you first? Well yes I could have done but then there would be no surprise.

I = Intentions? No. Not to give you a minor heart attack. You are a misery tonight. See, I brought a box of doughnuts for us to share. Know how much you love them. See I was trying to be kind. Gavin won’t like it? Who the hell is Gavin?

N = Never again. You hate this sort of thing? Since when? And you still haven’t said who Gavin is! Is there something you should be telling me?

G = Gavin’s your Slimming World consultant. You joined tonight. And I know what I can do with those bloody doughnuts. Oh…

Allison Symes – 26th March 2020

(For #SianNdowora and all at SW in my part of the world with love).

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I don’t always know what length my flash fiction will be when I start writing it. This is particularly true when I use the random word/phrase/number generators.

For stories generated that way, I want to get my ideas down, hone and edit them, and then I see what I have left. When I’ve got the story as good as I can make it, I only then take a look at what the word count is for it. That will help me decide which market to send it to and of course markets and competitions have different requirements so there is a certain amount of automatic elimination here too.

For example, if a story works really well at 150 words, I’m leaving it there. I won’t be submitting it to the fabulous #ParagraphPlanet either given they want 75 words in total including the title. I would submit it to a competition or market which was for anything under 500 words, providing I was happy with that competition or market.

I can’t stress it enough but always check competitions and markets out. The reputable ones will be more than happy for you do to that. If a competition or market has FAQs, do check them out. Never be afraid to ask other writers either. This is where the support of writing pals makes a huge difference. You may not have heard of issues with Competition XXX but they may have done and you can check things out further based on what they tell you. I’ve had good cause to be grateful for people flagging things up to me.

Above all enjoy that story creation process. It is a wonderful thing.

Fairytales With Bite – Dodgy Magical Characters

Dodgy magical characters can range from the treacherous wizard to the sly underling who will always seize a chance to gain something for themselves, no matter who they sell out to do so.

Have a look when you’re outlining your story as to how they got to be like that, whether they have any regrets, whether there is any hope for them to be redeemed etc. The consequences of their actions should of course be played out in the story.

The possibility of someone being turned back from the dodgy path they are on increases tension and the reader’s interest. I’ve always taken more interest in characters where I think there is potential than in one where it is clear there is none whatsoever almost from the start. This is why I think Severus Snape is a fantastic character in the Harry Potter series.

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This World and Others – What Makes Your World Tick?

What is the driving force in the world of your characters? Is it local and/or national politics? (People are often affected by what happens locally than nationally, though at this time of the coronavirus pandemic everything and everyone is affected by what is going on. That is an unusual situation in the overall scheme of things though).

Do your characters ignore the reality of their created world and focus on what it is they have to achieve? Does that ignoring of reality affect the chances of a successful outcome? As well as thinking about what drives your characters, think about what drives their created world. You could use that to add extra problems and tensions for your characters to resolve before getting to their main purpose.

 

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Panto, Numbers, and Publication News

A real mixed bag tonight but hope you enjoy!

Image Credits:-

Firstly, a huge thank you to the lovely people at The Chameleon Theatre Group for kind permission to use their photos as part of my review for Chandler’s Ford Today this week. I’ve included a couple of photos I’ve taken but the majority are from them.

Secondly, all thanks to Pixabay as usual for the other images used. Thirdly, thank you to Penny Blackburn for the picture of me taking part in the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School Open Prose Mic Night last year. Great fun! Now down to business…

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Delighted to share my review of the excellently performed show, Atlantis – The Panto. Well done to all at The Chameleon Theatre Group. Also I look at why an eclectic mix of music and a decent villain are vital to a good pantomime. Both are as important ingredients to a successful show as having a convincing Dame is.

I was intrigued by this story as it is not one I knew. How does an underwater adventure work as a pantomime? Well I had to find out…  Captions as ever for the Chameleon photos over on the CFT link.

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I loved going to the panto by The Chameleon Theatre Group last week. (Oh no you didn’t, oh yes I did, oh no…etc etc!). I had no idea what Atlantis – The Panto would be given it is not one of the classic fairytales pantomimes are usually based on. All I knew was it would have to have an underwater setting and I was interested to find out how that would be conveyed. (Good use of suitable music, the right costumes, props etc is the simple answer to that).

For stories, especially flash fiction, inference and implication play a big part in scene setting. If I told you someone was wearing a red coat, that would conjure up possible images for you. (For me, it would conjure up memories of a favourite red coat I had as a kid). If I then add one hyphenated word “moth-eaten”, that image will change, as will the mood of the story. The person wearing said moth-eaten coat is going to be poor, possibly homeless, and that will set the tone of the story too.

Facebook – General – and Publication News – Cafelit

Glad to say I’m Bored by yours truly is now up on Cafelit. If you ever wanted to know the true story of what happened to Humpty Dumpty, now’s your chance! Hope you enjoy it.

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I’ll be reviewing Atlantis – The Panto as my CFT post this week. Definitely a new story for me but that’s one of the joys of going to see the productions put on by The Chameleon Theatre Group. There is such a variety of work staged by them and it always makes for a fantastic evening out. I’m a big fan of taking in stories using various formats and going to see a good show is just another and very enjoyable way to do that.

Link up tomorrow. I’ll be looking at the signs of a good panto, why music matters for shows like this, and why there has to be a decent villain for the audience to boo at! It IS as vital to get the villain right as it is for the Dame to be what audiences expect. I’ll also have a look at why the panto, in my view, is vital for theatre going overall.

All good fun…

 

Facebook – General – Association of Christian Writers – More than Writers – Numbers and Creative Writing

There are more links between numbers and fiction than you might think. Hope you enjoy my latest blog for the Association of Christian Writers’ More Than Writers blog spot, which discusses numbers and creative writing and there are plenty of links between the two. Mind you, my first love will always be words, glorious words!

I also share some thoughts on how to manage word counts and competition deadlines.

 

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Can one word make a difference to a story? Oh yes. I talked about this over on my author page tonight (Allison Symes Fairytale Lady – https://www.facebook.com/Allison.Symes.FairytaleLady/).

One word can turn a mood. One word can change how a story ends. I’ve long thought of flash fiction as precision writing and this is why. It’s also why if you’ve got a powerful story that works really well at, say, 250 words, leave it there! Don’t try and edit it down to get it into a 100 word competition or market. Impact on the reader is the most important thing, then the word count, and not the other way round.

Story matters. The format less so. I like to take in my stories via:-

Books, obviously.
Kindle.
Seeing them performed as plays, pantomimes etc. (I love the whole concept of National Theatre Live. Brilliant idea).
Audio books
Magazines
The vinyl version of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds as produced by Jeff Wayne (which is just brilliant. Richard Burton was a wonderful narrator).
Hearing them on radio. (You can count TV drama obviously though I admit I’m watching less TV and I wasn’t impressed with what was on offer over Christmas).
Via film.

For flash fiction the top two have been the main outlets for me. It is a hope of mine that flash fiction can draw in the reluctant reader and if that has to be via electronic means, so be it. Get hooked on books. You know it makes sense!

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I’ve mentioned before I always feel a certain amount of relief when I get a first draft done of any writing. I feel like I’ve “nailed something down” to the screen or paper (I still occasionally write in longhand) and from there onwards the draft is going to get better. It is precisely what editing is all about!

I also like to have more than one project on the go as while I’m working on one, my subsconsious can mull over any issues I’m having with something else. It is almost inevitable an idea to resolve those issues WILL occur when I’m working on something else.

I’ve learned not to fight that and just go with it. It’s what a notebook and pen besides the laptop is for after all so those ideas that suddenly come to me don’t disappear into the author’s hell-hole called Lost Ideas That Were Brilliant But You Will Never Know Will You Because You Did Not Write Them Down At The Time! (Most of us HAVE been there and often more than once!).

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Fairytales With Bite – Keeping Fairytales Alive

As shown above, the pantomime is one great way to keep fairytales alive given most of them are based on the classic stories. Long may that fantastic tradition continue.

I am, of course, very fond of fairytales told from the viewpoints of different characters as my first published story, A Helping Hand, in Bridge House Publishing’s Alternative Renditions anthology, comes into that category. It is a popular theme and I’ve seen it used in other competitions and rightly so too. There are a wealth of stories (and therefore characters) you could do this for.

The Disney adaptations also play a part in keeping fairytales alive though I would always recommend going back to the original stories to compare and contrast what Disney kept in and, often, what they had to keep out to retain a Universal certificate for the cinema.

I also can’t see good old-fashioned reading fairytales to children stopping either. Children know what they like in stories and fairytales do tick the right boxes there. Then the likes of Roald Dahl and David Walliams could be considered to be modern fairytale tellers too.

Long live the fairytale!

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This World and Others – How the Other Half Lives…

While readers don’t need to know the ins and outs of your creative world, they have to be convinced that in some dimension somewhere, your world is realistically enough portrayed to have a chance of existing!

Basically this means your characters need to have shelter, be able to eat, drink and so on and therefore a society has to spring up around them so these needs are met. Some of those societies will be close to what we know here. Others will be different but readers will be able to pick up on how it works. (Can’t say I’d like living in Mordor – it’s the ultimate in grim!).

One of my favourite quotes on this topic is from the much missed Terry Pratchett, who referred to building his Discworld “from the bottom up”. That is, he worked out how waste was disposed of, how water was supplied etc.

You need to decide what you need to know here so you can write with conviction about your setting and the characters in it. I’ve focused on system of government for a longer project I’m working on. Whatever way you go in for this, it does have to be something readers can identify with. Good luck!

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On Characters and Being a “Proper” Writer

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

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What I look for in a great character:-

1. I totally understand why they’re acting the way they are. It doesn’t mean I have to approve though!

2. You can see how they got into the situation they’ve got to overcome and are keen to see if/how they get out of it again. You believe the character has the potential to get out of it and it’s a case of seeing whether you were right about that or not.

3. I love characters who come out with great one-liners but only as long as they arise naturally out of the situation and the character. It must never feel forced.

4. They stay with you in your imagination long after you’ve finished reading the story!

Examples of great characters for me:-

1. Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy

2. Jeeves and Wooster

3. Sam Vimes and Lady Sybil Ramkin – Discworld

4. Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee

5. Aslan – Narnia

6. Ebenezer Scrooge (though I prefer him AFTER the visitations! Am very fond of the Muppet Christmas Carol. Thought that was the best Muppet film too).

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I’m delighted to share Part 3 of Peter Russell’s local history series on The Hutments for Chandler’s Ford Today. If you have any memories to share of a part of the community that has now gone, do comment via the comments box. I know Peter would be pleased to hear from you.

Feature Image - Hook Road Hutments and My Family

It has been a good writing week. There has been plenty of progress on the novel. I’m enjoying it ! (That HAS to be a good sign, right? 😊😉).

Short story and flash fiction submitted. Am fleshing out another standard length short story for a competition and have got another “resting” for me to have a look at again, hopefully later this week.

Almost done on next week’s CFT post too. Continuing to add to my website and working on a non-fiction project.

So, no, I’m never short of things to do but that’s how I like things to be!

I’ll be talking about progress and success and how to judge them in the CFT post for Friday.

Am really looking forward to the Bridge House celebration event. Not far away now. It’s a great chance to catch up with friends and to make new ones!

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Word association can be a great way of triggering words to use in a story. You can play the standard way by setting a word and then finding others to link to it – e.g. play, toys, games etc.

Equally you can play the I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue version where there should be no connection at all to the chosen start word – e.g. play, universe, green.

Whichever version you go for, I suggest setting a limit of how many words you are going to use – I find that helps me focus. But of course you can raise or lower that limit for future stories.

 

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How do you know if you’re a “proper” writer?

1. You scorn the very idea you have too many notebooks.
2. You develop a thing for collecting nice pens too, some of which you will actually use.
3. You dread power cuts as they always seem to happen in the middle of a writing session.
4. You have the great joy of having a number of books written by friends on your shelves.
5. You are even more thrilled when your works are on the same shelves!
6. You can’t wait to tell everyone your latest publication news.
7. You open the latest copy of Writing Magazine and look for people you know in the letters page and the Subscribers’ sections in particular.
8. You feel a little miffed when you come across an issue when there isn’t someone you know in it. (It’s a kind of something’s not quite right with the world feeling).
9. Launches, especially online ones, are a regular part of your life and you love them all.
10. Your TBR and TBW piles never diminish but that’s the way you like them.
11. There is no such thing as having too many books. What you CAN have is not enough shelving.
12. You just feel SO at home in book shops and libraries.

Okay, guilty as charged on all those. How about you?

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I always consider impact to be the most important aspect to my flash fiction writing, but do you go about creating the impact you want to achieve?

Some of it is out of your hands. You may write a funny story but a reader doesn’t find it amusing – this is why humorous writing is so hard to do. It is subjective after all but what can you do to level the playing field a bit?

Having decided what the impact of my story is going to be, I look at what would make ME feel that impact. For example, if the tale is going to be a sad one, what would trigger that feeling of sadness in me?

Then it’s a question of picking the most appropriate trigger for your story. I prefer to go for understated emotional impact too. A story that tips overs into melodrama can put people off. I know it would do so for me. But sadness that is shown through the character without laying it on with a trowel will always make me want to read more if only to find out if the character “overcomes” the sadness or is beginning the process of adapting to the sitution by the end of the story.

For example if your story is about a fairy godmother rapidly approaching retirement and she really doesn’t want to retire, you could take that in a humorous or sad direction. So decide what you want it to be first.

If funny, what would make you laugh? Would setting your character into a ridiculous situation do it or are you better off having a wise cracking character who comes out with tremendous one liners?

Think about what you would like to read here as if the story was being written by someone else. I’ve found this to be really useful and hope you do too.

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Have you tried writing a piece of flash fiction to, say, 25 words, and then separately, writing it out to, say, 250 words?

It’s all perfectly legitimate but there will be different markets and competitions for the two stories.

I sometimes do this as a writing exercise (it’s a good way to get into a session of writing).

Not all stories or characters will be capable of being expanded. If the impact you are seeking to make on a reader is over and done with in 25 words then leave it at that. Never ever pad out a tale.

But if you CAN expand the story because the character is capable of so much more (and that’s the key way to judge whether a story IS capable of being expanded), explore what else you can do with that character and then you can either submit the two stories to two DIFFERENT places or pick the one you like the best and just submit that.