Bluebells, Beautiful Books, Ants, and Editing

Hmm… now there’s this week’s contender from me for Unique Blog Title!

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Bluebells out all over the place at the moment. It’s always great taking Lady out for her walks but this time of year is special. Not that she appreciates the local fauna. If it’s a convenient place for her to have a wee break, that’s precisely what she’ll do! (No. She hasn’t weed on the bluebells. Have had couple of close calls though).

I don’t tend to write much about nature partly because flash fiction is not the place for lots of lovely descriptions! I prefer to get my characters up and running quickly within their setting.

The weather, the nature of the area my characters are in are gaps for readers to fill in, though the clues are there. In my The Haunting my character is trying to get rid of a hated umbrella that somehow is managing NOT to be got rid of. The implication there is the weather must be reasonably okay. You don’t dump a brolly on a wet day generally. I don’t specifically spell that out but there’s no need to do so.

I’ve found it useful when outlining to work out what the reader HAS to know, ensure that gets put into the story, and get on with the action of said tale. It is all down to selecting what is the most important thing(s) for the reader to know. Often in flash fiction there will be room for one or two things. The trick is to ensure what you can’t put in can be implied in other ways.

Bluebells in Knightwood

Bluebells on a local walk.  Stunning sight.  And this is just a short section of them too.  Image by Allison Symes

When do you know you’ve finished editing a piece?

When you’ve put it away for a while, come back to it and read it, and can’t think of a single thing to change. Also that it has the impact on you that you wanted it to achieve.

Does that always take longer to achieve than you originally hoped?

Oh yes!

Went for a wonderful walk with better half and Lady to round off Bank Holiday Monday. The bluebells were amazing (though frankly I was far more interested than the dog was. Lady didn’t wee on them tonight so I guess that is a plus!).

I remember thinking ages ago that I’d use walking time to work out ideas for stories/articles/blog posts etc. I haven’t done that once! This is partly due to being far too interested (aka nosey) in what is going on around me including, tonight, trying to spot the noisy woodpecker who was clearly doing some DIY. (How apt for a bank holiday weekend!). The other reason is, of course, Lady and the need to keep an eye on her though, if she thinks she needs attention, she’ll give you a nudge with her nose.

But a break away from the desk does refresh the mind and the spirit and that feeds into my writing, so that’s okay. Pleased to say I sent off some submissions over the weekend and made good progress on my novel. Onwards and upwards!

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Enjoyed listening to the new Hall of Fame on Classic FM over the weekend. Mixed bag of results from my votes.

Jupiter (The Planet Suite) – Holst – down 18

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis – Vaughan Williams – non-mover

BUT

Danse Macabre – Saint Saens – (the wonderful piece I use for my book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back again went up a whopping 50 places. It was also used as the theme to Jonathan Creek to great effect).

I love music which conjures up a mood or in the case of the VW piece seems to take you back in time. Perfect background music as I work out what to do with my next batch of flash fiction characters. Will they meet a horrid end? Will I put them in humorous set-ups? Ah! The joy of creating!


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Do you use spider diagrams for working out story ideas? I do sometimes. They can be useful for working out variations on the “what if” question so you can decide which is the strongest to write up.

I like to start with a potential character name and a bizarre situation (but then I love reading and writing quirky fiction). I work out how the character could’ve ended up being in that situation before going on to work out how they get out of it. The nice thing with this sort of planning is I just need rough ideas at this stage.

If Character X is going to end up on Mars with a limited oxygen supply, then logic dictates they’re either going to be rescued or die. For me, the story there is how they got dumped there and above all, why. So a spider diagram for that could be something like this:-

Character X brags, is pain in backside etc – demands lead position on next space exploration. (Motive here immediately)
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Character X has been driving Character Y mad for years without being aware of it. Character Y is a quiet soul and for once would like an uneventful space trip. (More motive here).
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Character Y pushes Character X out of the space capsule and heads off, knowing Character X would insist on leaving the capsule first. Character X would swear profusely at this point but realises the need to save as much energy and oxygen as possible.

That is very rough but you get the idea. Must admit though spider diagrams for me look better when drawn out on paper!

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Editing is a crucial skill whatever you write but writing flash fiction is a great way to improve what you do here.

I’ve found I’ve got into the mindset of looking at phrases to double check they make as much of an impact as possible in the fewest possible words once I’ve carried out an initial typo/grammatical error edit.

Often a tweak or two will (a) reduce the word count and (b) strengthen what it was I wanted to say. You never come out with the exact wording immediately. Well, I don’t anyway. Usually a stronger adjective than the one I’d originally chosen will increase the impact of that particular sentence.

It’s a great weight off my mind to know I don’t have to get it right on the first go!

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Managed to submit three flash fiction pieces over the weekend so pleased with that. Would like to try and get more out this coming weekend. I try to carve out a specific writing slot for sending submissions out and weekends tend to be my best time for this.

It always pays to double check submission requirements given these vary from market to market/competition to competition. There have been times I’ve been cross with myself for spotting a typo after I’ve submitted a piece. And that’s despite editing on paper, putting work aside for a while so I come back to the piece with fresh eyes etc The one comfort I take from things like that is this happens. It happens to a lot of writers at some point.

What I don’t want to ever happen is for a piece to fail because I missed something on the submission requirements. To date, it has never happened. So help me, it never will. It really does pay to take extra time to ensure you have got everything spot on here. Don’t rush this aspect.

I’ve found it useful to take at least a week off the official deadline of any competition etc to give me that breathing space I need to ensure everything is as perfect as I can make it. (I usually take two weeks off in fact). Give yourself time and space.

Time to have some fun with the random word generator again. I used a as the start letter and t as the final one and selected six words. These were:-

achievement
account
argument
ant
accept
announcement

Let’s see what can be done with these (and I won’t count the title as one of the words).

ACHIEVEMENT

The ant was of little account in the grand scheme of things. She was just one of thousands of worker ants whose greatest achievement would be to ensure the survival of their colony. There was no room for argument. Her role was her role and that was that. It was best to accept this. Everyone knew a sole ant would never survive long outside of the protection of the colony. For the colony to work, everyone had to fit in with their alloted roles. So when the announcement came the queen ant had died, there was consternation. There would be no more ants. No more worker ants like her. Not in this colony.

Ends

Allison Symes – 23rd April 2019

This is almost certainly the tiniest character I’ve created and is likely to remain so!

But have fun with random word generators and see where they take you. They can be great ways of triggering fresh story ideas.

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Goodreads Author Blog – Beautiful Books

I love books in all their different forms, of course, but I do appreciate the art in a really good book cover.

Difficult to say what my favourite cover is but I must say I love the children’s editions of the Harry Potter series and the original Discworld covers.

I don’t get the tendency to produce plainer covers for “grown ups”. Blow that. I want escapism in a good book and the cover has got to entice me in. A plain black or grey cover with sensible lettering just isn’t going to do it for yours truly.

I also appreciate beautiful bindings. I inherited my late mother’s collection of hardback Dickens (all in green with gold lettering) and they are a joy to look at. They are even more of a joy to read! I also have a fab Agatha Christie collection (red hardbacks with gold lettering). Great stories but my enjoyment is enhanced when I can appreciate the physicality of a book. (This is where the Kindle DOES lose out to “proper” books).

At the end of the day, it is the story which matters most of all, naturally. But I’m all for getting as much enjoyment out of a book as possible and beautiful covers and production standards can make books very special indeed.

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Wishes and Flash Fiction

 

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One week to go to the Chandler’s Ford Book Fair from 10 to 12 at the Age Concern Centre in Brownhill Road. Good range of authors and genres represented. Should be good fun.

If one of my fairy godmother characters could grant me three wishes, what would I choose? (For that matter, what would YOU choose for yourself?). My choices would be:-

1. To send predictive text into oblivion and arrange things so people forgot it ever existed. (I’m counting that as one wish, my fairy godmother character may disagree, but I would sacrifice a wish cheerfully to get this through. Much as I love my smartphone it has confirmed my loathing of predictive text. Complete pain when writing, It rarely predicts anything I can actually use!).
2. To NEVER be interrupted by anything when reading. (Think my fairy godmother character might struggle with this one).
3. For paper jams and power cuts to be a thing of the past. They always happen at the most inconvenient times.

If I could sneak in some extra wishes, I’d go for:-

4. For all people to be able to read and write and to want to read. Reading can easily be dismissed as something people don’t have time for and I’m at a loss as to why. Same people would happily watch a 3-hour film. Maybe reading needs to be seen more as a form of entertainment than it currently is?
5. For genre fiction to no longer be looked down on (though there has been some progress here). Why shouldn’t a book JUST be for entertainment? Why does it have to be worthy as well?

So what would your wishes (+ 2 bonus wishes) be?

More of the books

Local writers’ books  including mine recently on sale at the Hiltingbury Extravaganza.  Hope to see some of you at next week’s larger event, the Chandler’s Ford Book Fair.  Image by Allison Symes

BookFairPoster8

Thanks to Catherine Griffin for the excellent Book Fair poster.  Also to Sally Howard and all in Chandler’s Ford Authors who are organising this event.  Should be good!

Well, what IS your story? Image via Pixabay.

Well, what IS your story? Image via Pixabay.

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A flash fiction tale has to be complete in itself with a beginning, middle and end, but its great joy (for me at least) is the ability to imply so much more.

My story, Serving Up a Treat, is a tale of domestic abuse where the character brings an end to it. (For how you’ll need to see the book!). What is implied in this story is the backstory. It is implied that what has been happening to the character has gone on for a very long time.

The “snap” point should be expected so does the piece deliver on that expectation? Yes, it does. You do have to follow through! However, that doesn’t mean you have to spell out every last detail. In fact, with flash you can’t as there simply isn’t the room with the limited word count.

I’ve found flash fiction to be a great way of improving my blog posts, longer short stories etc because it forces you to ask what is REALLY important. What MUST the reader know? What can I drop hints at and leave them to work things out from there?

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From my railway station signing. The lovely origami boxes were made by my CFT editor, Janet Williams.  Image by Allison Symes

Writer at work. Image via Pixabay.

Writer at work! Flash fiction stories must be complete in themselves but they can imply so much.  Image via Pixabay.

 

Many thanks to all who’ve reviewed my book so far on Amazon and Goodreads. 

Goodreads – Author Programme – Blog Post

Why do you read? Like me, I suspect you have several answers to this. Mine include:-

1. For entertainment.
2. For education.
3. For research (for a story or post I’m writing. Not quite the same thing as for education above. I define that as reading to learn but for its own sake and not necessarily to “use” elsewhere).
4. Because I always have read and reading is simply part of what I am and do.
5. The book is nearly always better than the film!
6. I like to read at bedtime to help me unwind and have a better night’s sleep.
7. To widen my tastes in books and stories, I have to be prepared to try genres new to me so I see this as a kind of exploration of what’s out there. I have no idea at this stage whether I’m going to like what I read or not so can’t say if I will be entertained!
8. I’m thrilled to be published myself and I do see it as necessary to support the industry I’ve entered. How can I best do that? By buying and reading books! (A kind of self-help here I think).
9. To enjoy what my friends are writing!
10. To explore literary culture. In the last two years, for example, I’ve read and seen more Shakespeare plays than I ever have done and part of this is to expand my knowledge here. (It’s a very enjoyable exploration too and I love National Theatre Live for making it easier to go to see productions).

There is no right order for any of the above reasons for reading but they strike me as all being very good ones to do so!

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To write books you need to have a deep love for the written word and how else can you develop that other than by reading widely?  Image by Allison Symes

Other News

Many thanks to Jennifer C Wilson for hosting me on her excellent blog a little while ago.  I share the link to my post here (Falling into Flash Fiction), but highly recommend exploring the rest of her site and her paranormal historical fiction works, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, Kindred Spirits:  Royal Mile, and The Last Plantagenet?  Jennifer is published by Crooked Cat but her most recent book, The Last Plantagenet?, is her first self-published novella.