Finding Ideas, Themes and Judging a Book by its Cover Part 3

Image Credit:-

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

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Many thanks to my guests for Part 3 of my Judging a Book by its Cover series for Chandler’s Ford Today. Author and book cover pics were supplied by Amanda Huggins, Dawn Knox (with Colin Payn), Gail Aldwin, Alyson Rhodes (who writes as Alyson Faye), Jim Bates, and Paula R.C. Readman.

A huge thanks to all of my guests over the last three weeks. It has been a joy to discuss and share book cover thoughts! Hope you have all had a good week. Looking forward to giving another talk about flash fiction via Zoom next week.

Oh and my author newsletter goes out tomorrow, 1st May. Do sign up at my landing page – https://allisonsymescollectedworks.com – for more details.


Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Pleased to share the final part of my Judging a Book by its Cover series for Chandler’s Ford Today. Many thanks to all of my guests over the last three weeks for their fabulous contributions. For this post, I chat to guests from Bridge House Publishing, CafeLit, and Chapeltown Books.

Also a shout out goes to #WendyHJones as a comment from her gave me the spark for the idea for this series. As I mentioned for the More Than Writers blog spot I shared yesterday about Finding Ideas (see below), ideas are there. The trick is to spot them and yes they can come from comments from other writers or things you overhear. The clever bit is gathering those ideas up and running with them! (It is also why it is a good idea to keep a notebook on you as we slowly go out and about in the world once again. Never rely on your memory to record a good idea. You do forget!).

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Bonus Post – My Interview by Francesca Tyer for the Authors Reach website

A little while ago I was interviewed by Francesca Tyer for the Authors Reach website. Francesca has been a guest on Chandler’s Ford Today too.

Delighted to now be able to share the link to that interview. Hope you enjoy it and a huge thank you to Francesca and Authors Reach for hosting me.

Facebook – General – and Association of Christian Writers – More than Writers blog spot

Pleased to share my latest blog on More Than Writers, the blog spot for the Association of Christian Writers. I discuss Finding Ideas and hope you find it useful. I share a few thoughts on how I find ideas.

Earlier this week I came up with another useful method which was to use a random word generator to come up with a random word and then use that as a topic for the picture site, Pixabay. I then used a random picture from them based on that topic to inspire me to write a story to fit the theme. Good fun and I hope to use that method again.

For my MTW blog, I also take a quick peek at how I find ideas for blogs. Well, that is useful to find ON a blog, yes?!

Hope you enjoy.

Hope you have had a good day. (Lady went bonkers, in a good way, with her girlfriends, Khaya and Coco, in the park today. Wish I had half their energy but there you go).

Have a new ACW blog post to share tomorrow and the final part of my Judging a Book By Its Cover series for Chandler’s Ford Today on Friday.

Submitted my flash piece to the Bridport Prize. Glad to get that done well ahead of the deadline (end of May so there is still time to enter if you’re interested. There are other categories too including short stories and poetry).

I chatted over on #Val’sBookBundle earlier about whether poor proofreading would put you off reading the story afflicted by it. It wouldn’t necessarily put me off. It hasn’t put me off the book I’ve just read which had so many poor word end splits. But I was itching to get my red pen out. And that is never a good sign.

What is important to remember though is, while books do get out there with this kind of thing happening, we still need to get our books and stories out there and ensure they are at the highest standards possible. We owe it to our wonderful stories to make them the best we can make them so they have the best chance of attracting readers. So take your time over your own proofreading.

For short stories and flash fiction, check them several times before you submit them everywhere.

For a novel, you do need an independent editor here.

The big problem every writer has is we are far too close to our own work to always spot things that need correcting. So it is a question of accepting that and being prepared to invest in our work.

The dream ticket here is having a writer who has got their work polished as much as possible before it goes to an editor. That editor will see what the writer has done, will understand the story, but will pick up the things and ask questions the writer may not have thought of but which, when answered, will strengthen that book and give it a better chance out there.

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again


Will be sharing my author newsletter tomorrow. I issue this once a month on the 1st and I share exclusive flash fiction tales here. I hope later on to gather some of those into a further collection but you do get to have the first read! For more do go to my landing page at https://allisonsymescollectedworks.com

It is hard to say what I love most about flash fiction. Yes, I am always going to have a very soft spot for the form given it was my way in to having books published with my name on them (and on the front cover too!). But I’ve always loved inventing people. That, to me, has been the big thing about stories so getting to do this all the time for various flash fiction tales is a win-win for me.

I suppose the foundation of all storytelling (and this can apply to non-fiction too) is to have a curiosity about what makes others tick. There has to be a certain amount of curiosity to make you want to find out what happens to the characters or what the writer of the non-fiction piece comes up with as a conclusion.

So my job as a writer is to try to make my characters as intriguing as possible so others will want to read about what happens to them. If I’m intrigued by the characters, others will be too.

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Do you have favourite themes for stories? I’m fond of the “underdog” winning through kind of tale (and you can set those in any environment. A lot of fairytales are based on this). I also like to see justice being done stories (again fairytales often have this as a theme, though not always. You could argue there wasn’t any for The Little Match Girl by Hans Christen Andersen).

I also like characters who are not all they appear to be and the great thing with that is you can take this in two directions. Make the character turn out to be a villain or a hero. You can have great fun going with either of those options. Though I would add there should be some indication early on this character is not all they’re cracked up to be otherwise a reader may feel cheated.

I love it when I read a story like this as I look back at it to see where it was the author planted the first clue to flag up to me as reader I really should look out for what this character is going to do and be. I can learn from that for my own writing and I love that too.


A huge thank you to the wonderful response to my story, Hidden Gems, yesterday. This story came about as a result of using the sixth random word to come up on a random generator. That gave me a topic. I then put that topic into the Pixabay search bar and used the sixth image that came up. I then based the story around that image.

I will certainly use the random word and random image idea again. It made me think outside the box and that is always a good thing.

Am looking forward to sending out my next author newsletter (1st May) and I often share exclusive flash fiction stories here as well as useful tips. If you would like to know more please sign up at https://allisonsymescollectedworks.com and you will receive a welcome email with a link to a giveaway too.

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Fairytales With Bite – Defining Happy Ever After

Do your characters have a happy ever after or just a happy for now? And how do you define what happy is anyway? So much depends on what your characters want and whether they achieve that (or something better).

Also does one character’s happy ever after mean ruin for others?

That usually is the case with fairytales. Cinderella is a classic case in point but there is no question that the wicked stepmother and the Ugly Sisters had that ruin “coming”. But you are not told that. You see the “coming to ruin” play out as the story goes on and the attitudes and actions of the characters show you whether or not said characters deserve to be brought down.

So we need to set up our characters so a happy ever after or happy for now is seen to be merited. You want the reader to root for their success. (Wishy-washy characters simply don’t do that for me which is why I dislike Miss Price from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park).

Likewise the characters deserving to be brought down – they too need to be fully rounded individuals, who by their actions and attitudes, show the reader they’re not going to be redeemed. And again you get the reader rooting for these folk to get their well deserved comeuppance.

All stories focus on actions and consequences, conflicts and resolutions so a happy ever after or happy for now has to be the logical resolution to what comes before.

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This World and Others – Making Your Characters Stand Out

How do your characters stand out? What is special about them? I feel it is vital for the author to be totally committed to their characters to be able to write their stories up effectively. Therefore something about the character has to grab the author. That same something is likely to be the element which grips a reader.

So ask yourself what is it about characters you yourself love to read about? Can you apply that to your own characters? If you like characters who are feisty but with hearts of gold, those are the kind of characters you want to write because you will write from the heart because you yourself love these.

It may help to list qualities you want to find in a character (and don’t forget the villains here. You need to give plenty of thought to them too. Your hero/heroine has to have an opponent who will test them, bring out the best in them and so on). Then work out ways in which you can show those qualities.

For example, if you love honesty in a character, then you can use that honesty to land that character in trouble. (This could make a great comic piece). They are bound to say things that, with hindsight, might have been better expressed and with less bluntness, for example. That will have consequences.

It will also imply they have got to come up against another character who doesn’t appreciate that honesty. And the second character has to have good reasons not to appreciate it so work out what those reasons could be. Perhaps they dislike being spoken to like that because it reminds them of a family member who used to do so and it caused great upset. Perhaps they don’t like the main character speaking out because the second one is up to no good and they’re concerned they’ll be found out.

Have fun playing with ideas here. But think about the one thing that will make each of your characters stand out. What is it they are best known for? How does that play out in your story? What makes your characters deserve to be written up?

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Effects, Impact, and Hidden Gems

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Hope you have had a good week. Lady, so far, has had a brilliant one though she wasn’t impressed at my signing copies of Tripping the Flash Fantastic! Image taken by Adrian Symes.

Lady looks distinctly unimpressed! Image by Adrian Symes

Facebook – General

Hope you have had a good day. Lady played with her “gentleman friend”, Bear, today. Bear is a lovely tri-coloured Aussie Shepherd. Lady generally prefers to play with her girl friends (and she got to do that again today with the smashing Coco) but Bear is one male dog Lady does have a soft spot for. And boy can they both run! Took home a tired but very happy dog.

Looking forward to giving a talk about flash fiction on Zoom next week.

For my Facebook book page a couple of days ago, I suggested a new way of finding ideas for a story (using a random word generator and Pixabay) and mentioned I would have a go at this myself. I duly did so and I will be posting the results on my From Light to Dark and Back Again page shortly. (Also see below in my From Light to Dark and Back Again section here – the image below is the image I’ve chosen for my flash story idea).

Always good to keep ways of finding story ideas fresh and challenging. Mixing up ways of approaching a story I find makes things interesting for me (and hopefully for a reader). The one thing that does not change, whichever method I use, is ensuring I do know the character well enough first. For me, that is the only way to be sure the character is “worthy” of having a story told about them! Well, they are the leading character. They’ve got to be up to the role!


Lady had a great time playing with her pals over the park today. Came back tired out but happy. And it takes a lot to tire out a collie!

Looking forward to sharing the final part of my Chandler’s Ford Today series, Judging a Book by its Cover, on Friday. This week I’ll be talking covers with guests from CafeLit, Bridge House Publishing, and Chapeltown Books. This has been a great little series. Many thanks to all who have taken part so far and who will be joining me in Friday’s post.

Loving listening to Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams on Classic FM as I type this. It is one of my favourites, I voted for it again in the Classic FM Hall of Fame, and was pleased to see it went up to No. 3. I love this music because it seems to take you right back in time and that is such a wonderful effect to create.

Of course as writers the effects we create are with words but positioning of words, thinking of strongest impact possible on a reader etc., all have a part to play in making sure what we create is exactly what we mean to create. Flash fiction writing, where you are honing your word count right down, encourages the creation of effects via the minimal amount of language so every word I do use really does have to punch its weight to justify being in the story at all.

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Hope you have had a good weekend. It is nice coming back from a long walk with Lady without having to clean all the mud off her! (And you should see where she can get the mud. She also believes in sharing it around – but at least it is only mud!).

Do you remember the first characters who made a huge impact on you at the time of discovering their stories? Mine mostly come from books but there are some TV characters who made a huge impact on me too – mainly because they were girls who did things (Including writing!) and didn’t just hang around waiting to be rescued. I became tired of that very quickly, even as a kid.

My favourite characters include Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice), George (The Famous Five), Jo March (Little Women), Lady Penelope (Thunderbirds), Sarah Jane Smith (Doctor Who).

As for my own characters, unless they do something useful, they’re not making it into any of my stories! After all the whole point of a story is to find out what happens and you need your characters to make things happen.

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Glorious sunny day today. This is more like it! Great to have a Zoom chat with writer pals yesterday – always a great “pick me up”. Looking forward to when we can get together for actual live events again.

Do you find it hard to get motivated to start writing sometimes? I find that is more of a problem if I am really tired so I just go easy on myself. Just draft something useful I can turn into a blog or short story later on. I always feel better for having done something creatively and that in turn helps me for the next writing session. I am encouraged to go on with the thought well maybe I can do something with what I drafted yesterday and if I could write something useful then, I can do it again now.

It is important to be kind to yourself. If you can only manage five minutes writing, for whatever reason, then go with that. Don’t despise small pockets of writing time like that. They build up over time.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again


I mentioned a new way of creating a story using Pixabay and a random word generator the other day. (See post further down). I selected my sixth random word and the sixth image I found on Pixabay relating to my topic. The topic I chose was raindrops. And here is the result! Hope you enjoy.

Hidden Gems
‘Boring, Dad, this is so…’
‘I know, boring!’
I wish I could say I was surprised at Karen’s attitude but unless there was a decent shopping centre within a mile of her, she made it clear to the world at large she was hard done by. Why bring her to this wildflower meadow then?
I promised her mother I would try to get some love for the natural world into our daughter before she hit the terrible teens. Since losing Sarah to the Big C, all Karen wanted to do was shop, shop, shop.
Even the kingfisher in flight hadn’t impressed Karen mainly because I swore she missed seeing it, though I was amazed at that flash of brilliant blue.
‘There are hidden gems everywhere, Karen. Keep your eyes open.’
‘Yeah, Dad, right. I know Mum wanted you to bring me here but this is so boring. And it’s been raining.’
I knelt by a flower. ‘Isn’t this beautiful with the raindrops on it?’
Karen gave me the “you must be kidding me” look.
I sighed. ‘Okay, Karen, tell me, if this was a piece of artwork would you want it? Go on, get down and have a good look at the flower and see what you think.’
To my surprise, she did. And it started something special.
Karen is in her thirties now, just married and I hope at some point she and her chap, Stephen, will present me with a grandchild. But what does Karen now do for a living?
She’s not become a botanist or anything like that.
She’s a jeweller. She creates exquisite items based on inspiration from the natural world.
I guess it is one way of learning to appreciate the joys of our planet!
Her pieces sell well too.
She presented me with a smashing tie pin. It was in brilliant blue and in the shape of a kingfisher. On the card that came with it were the words ‘I didn’t miss the kingfisher, Dad. Is it really twenty years ago since we saw that?’
I smiled. Those words meant I kept my promise to Sarah after all.

Ends.
Allison Symes – 27th April 2021


Pleased to share my latest story video on Youtube with you. Hope you enjoy A Rotten Day. We all get days like these…

One of my nice tasks for the week is to create a story video and schedule it on Youtube. I look forward to sharing my next one with you tomorrow, having set one up today. (I do love scheduling!). But the images I use for my stories don’t always tie in with the tale itself so, as for my Chandler’s Ford Today posts, I have to think laterally. Sometimes I go for a relatively plain background image if there is no obvious link I can get to directly or laterally.

But it occurs to me there is nothing to stop you (or me for that matter) looking up random images on Pixabay and the like and using them as an inspiration for a flash tale. You could even use a random word generator to trigger words to put in the search bar for Pixabay and perhaps decide you will pick the sixth picture (or whatever number you decide) as the image you will use to generate your next flash tale.

Worth a go? Definitely. And I will give this a go myself and report back I hope later in the week. (See post above). I’ve selected the sixth random word and the sixth image on Pixabay for my topic. Hope to share a new flash tale based on this later in the week.

And do have fun with this!

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I chatted over on my author page about being kind to yourself when you’re finding it hard to start writing anything. Just write for five minutes and see this as something you can polish up later on. The great thing with flash of course is it is perfect for short periods of writing time and, once polished up, those little bits of work can become published stories and, eventually, make it into a collection.

Five minutes of writing time is always better than none and I must admit I always feel better in myself when I have written something. I also feel better knowing what I’ve drafted has the potential to become something that can be published and that spurs me on too.

Goodreads Author Blog – Book Disappointments

Are there any books that have disappointed you? I’m glad to say mine are few and far between and it is almost always because I’ve not been convinced by the characterisation. Something doesn’t quite ring true for me and that lets the whole story down.

The good thing about that is you can learn from it if you’re a writer. I do try to analyse what I liked or disliked about a story and its characters. I also look at how the author shows us what their characters are like. I want to see for myself that Character A is mean to their granny or what have you. I don’t want the author telling me. I want to work it out myself. And great stories and books always allow you to do just that.

After all, what do we look for in a good read? A story and characters that will take us away from our daily lives. Therefore the characters have to “take us with them” on their journeys and be such that we will want to go with them.

Even in the case of a villain, it will be a case of wanting to find out how they get their comeuppance but if you have got to the stage where you want that, the author has written their character well to get you to feel that way.

I must admit I resent book disappointments more now than I used to as I don’t want to waste time on reading something that is going to let me down and make me wish I’d been reading something else instead. Also I am only too aware there are so many wonderful books out there, so I don’t want duff stories getting in the way!

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Judging Book Covers Part 2, Planning, and Openings

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Some images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos. 

Many thanks to Val Penny, Jennifer C Wilson, and Teresa Bassett for their author and book images for this week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post.

Many thanks to Penny Blackburn for her image of me reading at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. I adore Swanwick and am always happy to sneak in extra pictures if I get the chance and given Val and Jennifer are both Swanwick friends, I thought it was a good opportunity to do that again!

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Later on in this post, I’ll be looking at openings for magical stories but you still can’t beat the one below!

Facebook – and Chandler’s Ford Today


Pleased to share Part 2 of my Judging a Book By Its Cover series for Chandler’s Ford Today. This week I chat about book covers with guests from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, Val Penny and Jennifer C Wilson, and from Authors Reach, Teresa Bassett.

Between them my guests have written crime mysteries, romantic historical fiction, ghostly historical fiction, non-fiction, and YA books! Not a bad checklist that!  And a wide range of cover experience to discuss and share with us. Hope you enjoy. I share the final part of this series next week and hope the entire series proves especially useful to those considering their cover designs now.

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Lovely day, despite a chilly breeze, and Lady had a smashing time playing with her friend, Coco.

Looking forward to sharing Part 2 of my new Chandler’s Ford Today series, Judging a Book by Its Cover. This week I chat to guests from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School and Authors Reach about their most recent covers. They share their thoughts on what makes for a good cover. Link up tomorrow.

I don’t know about you but you do know a good cover when you see one. It can be hard to define exactly what it is that has drawn you in. What matters is that the cover has drawn you in to want to find out more. And once you’re drawn in, off you go for hopefully another wonderful read! No pressure then…!!


Lady had a smashing play time with her best buddie, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, and her “gentleman friend”, Bear, who is a lovely tri-coloured Aussie Shepherd. Lady generally prefers playing with her girlfriends but Bear is one of the exceptions and he is a gent of a dog, which is probably why Lady likes him. And she can play with his Chuckit ball while he plays with her Chuckit ball etc. Three tired but happy dogs went home again… Delightful to hear a lot of thundering galloping going on here. Three reasonably big dogs at full pelt is a sight to be seen and heard.

Talking of being heard, how well do your character voices come across? Can you picture your people (or other beings) when you read their stories? When you have more than one character in a story, can you tell them apart by the way they speak? This is where pet phrases or certain words used by certain characters can help. I’ve written stories in the past where one snobby character did not use contractions at all. Good way of telling them apart from everyone else.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again


I’ve mentioned the need to really know your characters before but how does that work for flash fiction with its word count restrictions? Simple! You have a simpler set of questions to ask your characters!

You’re not going to need to go into as much back story as you would if you were writing a novel but what I have found useful to know before writing that first draft of a flash tale can be summed up below.

 

Character Type – Not does not have to be human.
Character Mood – Doesn’t have to be a positive one!
Major Trait – Again doesn’t have to be a positive one.
Theme – And sometimes the theme can make a useful title as well.

I’ve outlined an idea for a mini-flash tale (50 words or under generally) as a quick line or two on a piece of paper as I realised I had two ways of taking that particular story and I needed to know which would work best.

Jotting things down on a piece of paper or in an Evernote file on the old phone still has much to commend it. I’ve always found an outline, no matter what its length, keeps me on track for my story and saves time and heartache later on.

The heartache can come if you find out no matter what you do the story isn’t going to work and you’ve written a load of it already and can’t see ways of salvaging it. That has only happened to me twice and for the same reason – I didn’t know my character well enough.

Lesson learned. A little forward planning pays dividends and if you’re not really a planner just jotting a note to yourself of where you think your character may take you is still useful.

Am currently preparing something to submit to The Bridport Prize in their flash category. (Wish me luck. I would love to be longlisted here!). Hope to sort out the final polish and submit over the weekend.

What is encouraging though is that flash, while now a regular part of this competition and many others, wasn’t always recognized. It is great to see opportunities like this and yes you do have to be in it to have any chance of winning it.
Incidentally my final polish will be to make sure I have followed the entry rules to the letter. I can’t stress how important that is.

I have judged competitions and you don’t want to have to disqualify entries because of that but it is unfair on those who have followed the rules to allow any to go through that have not done so. So don’t make the judge’s life easy. Follow everything to the letter so the judge doesn’t have “easy” reasons to turn your entry down. Much the same applies for submitting work to a publisher and/or agent of course.


There are many things I love about flash fiction but the chief one, I think, is being able to set my characters wherever and whenever I want. So I do! I’ve written historical flash, ghost mini-tales, crime ones, acrostics, and my trademark fairytales with bite (aka fantasy with a twist, often an ironic one).

But I also love using the first person for flash tales as I get to take you straight into the head of my lead character. You see what they do. You see why they think as they do. The immediacy of flash is what gives it its emotional impact I think.


Fairytales With Bite – Once Upon a Time – Opening a Magical Story

Once upon a time is the classic way to open a magical story, of course. Those four words immediately conjure up a world far, far away (in both distance and time) and encourage me to settle down for a good read. It also immediately sets up the magical environment in which the story is going to be set.

Those words are a good example of repetition (in so many stories) setting up a link that goes deep into our subconscious. Everyone who has read or heard a fairytale will know those words and have a good idea of what is come.

Anticipation of having a story delivered is also an important part of reading. After all, what draws you to a book? The thought of a good read? But that good read can only come from you taking in the opening and deciding you would like to buy or borrow said book.

So how to open a magical story? With my flash fiction, I often set a clue in the opening line or two that magic is likely to appear. For example, in my Seeing Is Believing from Tripping the Flash Fantastic, I open with “When Ben was unwell, strange signs appeared in the sky above his house.”.

So I am upfront right at the start of the story magic has to turn up in this tale somewhere – what else could explain the strange signs? Doing this again gives readers a sense of what this story is likely to be and hopefully be intrigued enough to read on to find out whether or not they were right.

For flash fiction, I keep the level of details down to a minimum (as I need to due to the restricted word count of 1000 words maximum. The advantage of that restriction though is it makes you keep in the story only what really matters to the story. For an opening, it means I have to draw a reader in quickly so I want to make the most powerful impact I can with my opening lines).

For any kind of story, magical or otherwise, those opening lines are vital to the success of your story. I’ve found it helps to put myself in the reader’s shoes and ask myself what would I want to read here? What do I absolutely have to know? And those are good questions to ask yourself as you edit your story. They will help you make your opening lines as strong as possible.

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This World and Others – World History

Does your created world have much of a back story in its own right? If you needed to write a history of it could you do so and which aspect would you look at?

History covers a huge field from the traditional wars and battles that changed history to changing cultural history and so on. Most of this would not be directly relevant to your story but is phenomenally useful for you to know. Why? You need to be able to give your characters a sense of the world they belong to – they should know where they come from and that in turn will influence their attitudes and decisions. That will affect your story and rightly so!

So work out what you think you will need to know. If one of your characters is an artist, what kind are they? Does their culture encourage creativity or stifle it? If, say, they’re a painter in a world where only sculptures count for anything, how do they handle that?

History feeds into the lives we lead now and this is just as true for our fictional creations.

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Judging a Book by its Cover

Image Credit:- 

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

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

I’m starting a new three-part Chandler’s Ford Today series this week called Judging a Book by its Cover. Hope you enjoy it. A huge thank you to my guest authors for taking part and for supplying their author photos and book cover images.

Tonight’s guests are from the Association of Christian Writers – Fran Hill, Joy Margetts, Ruth Leigh, Wendy H Jones, Maressa Mortimer and I all contribute to this week’s edition.

Images of me reading at Open Prose Mic Nights were taken by Geoff Parkes (Swanwick) and Dawn Kentish Knox (Bridge House Publishing events) and Ana Coelho (Waterloo Arts Festival events).

Hope you have had a good week. Will have publication news from CafeLit next week and am looking forward to sharing that.

And it seems to have finally stopped snowing…. not before time it must be said.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Delighted to share Part 1 of a brand new series for Chandler’s Ford Today called Judging a Book By Its Cover. Over the next three weeks, I set my guests three questions to answer and they have shared some fabulous information with me. I start the series by having a look at the cover for my own Tripping the Flash Fantastic and then go on to chat to my guests who this week are from the Association of Christian Writers.

I chat to Wendy H Jones, Fran Hill, Maressa Mortimer, Ruth Leigh, and Joy Margetts about what they think their latest book covers “say” to their potential readers. They also share a tip about book covers they have found works for them. I also set a challenge at the end of this post. Anyone who loves reading will be well up for this!

So then – judging a book by its cover – the old proverb says we shouldn’t but for books themselves we absolutely do and rightly so! Covers are a vital element. They are your book’s first advert and have to draw the reader in. So what works for you when you’re choosing your next read? Comments welcome here and over on the CFT post as usual.

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Hope you have had a good Thursday. Had my hair cut yesterday! What a wonderful feeling… and I no longer have a fringe that needed holding back with industrial strength hairspray.

Today I was back in the swimming pool for the first time in well since goodness knows when. For some reason I’m feeling rather tired this evening! But it is great things are slowly returning to normal and I am looking forward to having my second jab in June. That is something I never expected to say! It is an odd world when vaccinations are something you anticipate keenly…

Glad to say Part 1 of my new Chandler’s Ford Today series, Judging a Book by Its Cover, starts tomorrow. Guest authors and I look at some of our covers, analyse what we think they say to potential readers, and share tips on what makes for a good cover. Link up tomorrow and a huge thank you to all taking part in this three-part series. Tomorrow’s guests will be from the Association of Christian Writers. More details tomorrow. See above!


I was chatting over at #Val’sBookBundle earlier about the joy of audio books but what I am greatly encouraged by is that there is a format to suit everyone when it comes to stories. I can think of family members who won’t read a huge book but will watch the film adaptation of it or listen to the audio book of it.

I like to mix up reading “proper” books and ebooks. The Kindle is a great invention. I’m looking forward to taking that with me once again when I hopefully get back to the #SwanwickWriters’SummerSchool in August. I want to save room in my case for the books I’ll buy from the Swanwick Book Room after all!

But what matters is you read, no matter whether you use an e-reader or go for a good old hardback or listen to your stories. It is difficult to overestimate how much reading helps a writer. And you do learn by absorption how books are set out, how dialogue should be and so on, as well as being inspired by the characters you read.

As for my own stories, I try to think about the impact I want my tales to have on a reader and then work out ways of achieving that. As you know, the story for me is all about the characters and they’ve got to interest me to make me want to read on.

So when it comes to editing my own work, I do ask “what is in this for a reader to enjoy?”. It is a valid question.

By putting yourself in your readers’ shoes, you are more likely to write something they will enjoy. You will be thinking about how your character comes across. What is it about them that makes you love or hate them? If you feel that way about them, your readers are likely to do so too.

And it is a useful way, when editing, of ensuring that everything in your story matters to the story and your readers have to know what you are sharing with them. No matter what the length of your story is – 100 to 100,000 words – every word must move the story on and share something important with the reader.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Putting a collection together is interesting in that several things have to be taken into consideration. I’m looking for the right balance in my stories in terms of mood but also in terms of story length. I have more drabbles (aka 100-word) stories in From Light to Dark and Back Again then I do in Tripping the Flash Fantastic. But in the latter I have more of the longer (500 word+) tales and I have taken my characters that bit further as I’ve written historical flash stories for the first time for this book.

I also like to make sure I have “light relief” stories in my collections so they are not overly dark but I also want some of the darker material to ensure there is a bit of “bite” to my books. I am fond of twist in the tale stories and there are plenty of examples in both of my books but I didn’t want either volume to be dominated by them.

I am also thinking of my audience as I get a book ready for submission. (I aim at YA upwards, anyone who can appreciate irony since that does feature in what I do). I want to give a good mixture of stories so people hopefully feel they have had a a darned good read after finishing the books OR it is the perfect thing for them to dip into. (I love “dipping in” books myself).

But overall I want the books to be a good representation of what flash fiction is and can be. And that’s always a great challenge to rise to!


I don’t always name my characters. Sometimes this is because I feel they will be more scary left unnamed (and this is especially true for my stories where the character is an “it”. You can have a lot of fun wondering just what the “it” is!).

What matters more to me is conveying what those characters are like and why their story matters. For example, in my story The Silence (Tripping the Flash Fantastic) I start by saying “It was the perfect way to shut up Mr Know-it-all.”
You don’t need a name there. What you have got is the attitude of the narrator and the attitude of the unnamed character being referred to as there has to be a reason why our storyteller is referring to him like that. Hopefully that would make you want to read on, if only to find out what the perfect way was and was it as perfect as our narrator is claiming?

Where I do name a character, it can indicate they’re not of this world, or I will pick a name like Mary or Ben and get something extraordinary to occur. Most of us will know people called Mary or Ben. We can conjure up in our own minds what a fictional Mary or Ben might be like – and I can then get to turn the tables on said characters. All great fun!

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Twist endings work well for flash fiction, as do “punchlines”, but everything in the story must lead naturally to that point. This is why for this kind of tale, I write the ending first and then spend some time working out ideas that could have led to that point arising naturally. I then go for the one I like the most as that will be the one which has “grabbed” me and hopefully, later, will “grab” a reader too (in the nicest possible way of course!).

I’ve used spider diagrams for working out different possibilities though a simple flowchart works just as well. (All those years ago when I was working on flowcharts in Maths etc., I never dreamed I would end up one day using them for storytelling but there you go!).

But it does pay to take time out to work out different possibilities. Especially if you are entering a competition, the same ideas will come up time and again but it is your take on them that can make your story stand out and give it more of a chance. Writing down various ideas will help you whittle out and discard the weaker ones.

I’ve also found in jotting down ideas, other ideas come to mind as well. It is almost as if you’re unlocking your imagination here and it will be the ideas that come from that which are most likely to be the strongest ones to go with.

Fairytales With Bite – Magical Hierarchies

There are hierarchies in any created fictional world but I think it is fair to say with magical ones, the sparks could really fly!

So how do you judge who should be the most powerful beings? Who can hold them to account or do they rule over everything and their reign is a tyranny?

If that is the case, there has to be someone or something that can bring deliverance (or at least the hope of it) to the rest of the population, otherwise you have no story. There has to be conflict and resolution.

If you are reading a story where the majority are “subjected”, what we as readers want to find out is whether anything or anyone can free them from that and usher in a better age/better way of governing. (Let’s just say I was relieved Sauron didn’t win in The Lord of the Rings and I refuse to believe that’s a spoiler after all this time).

You could, of course, have two equally powerful magical species and they act as a check on each other but stories here could arise from when those checks go wrong. What happens? Can things be put right so the balance is right again? Who does this and so? Have you got anyone prepared to rebel against their own side if necessary?

Give some thought also as to how those hierarchies develop and what sustains them or breaks them. Conflict, consequences, resolution – the three golden ingredients for any good story.

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This World and Others – Where Magic Fits Into the Non-Magical Elements

Is there anything in your created world where the magical elements are controlled by non-magical ones? If so, how and who is doing the controlling? (That’s always interesting to know!). Can politics be used to control those with powers who, if let loose, could destroy everything?

(One aspect I love about Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is how the wizards are far more fond of big dinners than magic and the Patrician knows this. Do check out Sourcery in this series for what happened when magic did take over Ankh-Morpork. It’s a great tale and an interesting study in magic not being the be all and end all).

If magic is used as a tool to help your fictional world, how is this done? Is it like engineering, say, when it is used to fix specific problems or develop your society in some way? Is the development to the benefit of all or a mere elite? Can anyone study magic or do you have to be from the right background? How does magic affect the lives of the majority or does it pass them by?

Hope you find some interesting story ideas there.

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Snow, Subverting Expectations, and Traffic Rivals

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

A nice mix of topics tonight I think!

My latest story video coming up further in the post.

 

Facebook – General

More snow flurries today. Central heating back on. Thick cardigans etc not being packed away just yet.

Glad to report my new Chandler’s Ford Today series, Judging a Book by Its Cover, will follow on from my Story Types post this Friday and will run for the remaining three weeks in April. Looking forward to sharing this week’s post and the series in due course.

Enjoyed listening to a poetry special on Hannah’s Bookshelf earlier today (I do love catch up listening!) and the imagery created was fantastic. Particularly enjoyed the lines from two poets. One was “thick as a Bible” (I have images of an old family Bible we had that was huge) and, in a separate poem, “Van Gogh stars”. Both just fantastic word portraits. Great examples of two poets making every word punch its weight.

This is one similiarity between poetry and flash fiction. I was not surprised to hear that some of Hannah’s guest poets had also taken part in her flash fiction shows. I don’t know how many flash fiction writers go on to be poets. Is there a correlation there, I wonder?

I do know that when I read the poetry columns in things like Writing Magazine, I pay particular attention to how the words are used and the tips for making every word count. That kind of information is useful no matter what you write.

It’s all about the impact on the reader.

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Brrr… it has been cold today! Had the odd snow flurry too (and yes odd is an appropriate word given I was just getting used to spring being here and then wham the snow turns up again!). Despite all of that, I hope you have had an enjoyable Easter Monday.

Managed to sub another flash fiction tale over the weekend to #FridayFlashFiction. There have been some wonderful comments on my two stories on the site so far so a big thank you for those. Made good progress on my third flash fiction collection too.

Am putting the finishing touches to a new series on Chandler’s Ford Today to be called Judging a Book By Its Cover. Looking forward to sharing this and the wonderful contributions from my guests for this too. Meanwhile, this week my CFT post will be about Story Types.

What was nice was over the weekend CFT’s lovely editor, #JanetWilliams, sent an email to the regular contributors that she had received from a fan of the site. That was lovely and I know the feedback was appreciated and not just by me. (Ties in with my post last week about Reviews nicely too – constructive feedback is invaluable).

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4th April – Easter Sunday

Happy Easter!

Delighted to see this came up on my timeline as a memory today – from four years ago.

My, how the time flies. From my first book launch for From Light to Dark and Back Again. (See photo below of the notebook and pen).

Look what came up on my timeline – a memory from 2017.


So much has changed in that time! I hadn’t heard of Zoom or Facebook Live when my first flash collection was launched. I hadn’t envisaged having my own Youtube channel, being interviewed on the radio, talking to a WI group, or taking part in an international writing summit either!

Memories like this remind me the writing journey is a continuous one. Sure, there will be times when you feel you are going nowhere or have headed straight into a cul-de-sac. But there are those wonderful moments when you know you are progressing. Progress can be anything from having something published to simply getting more work out there over the course of a year than you’ve done before or trying a new market and seeing what happens.

What matters I think is enjoying as much of the journey as possible and developing what you do in a way that you love doing. You are your own first reader so it is crucial you enjoy what you write.

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Hope you have had good Holy Saturday.

Many thanks for the positive comments, tweets etc about my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week called Reviews. I’m not too surprised this one has struck a chord! I can’t say I review every book I read but I do review the majority. I also find reviews useful for anything from books to my groceries. The range of reviews usually gives a pretty good idea of whether I’m likely to like something or not.

A big thanks also for the lovely comments on my two stories on #FridayFlashFiction.

Enjoying listening to the Hall of Fame countdown on Classic FM. That’s my listening for the weekend sorted. I often pick classical/classic like pieces when I’m creating my story videos for Youtube. They have an impressive audio library and often I’m looking for a particular mood when creating my video. Can’t say I’m too surprised it is the classic section I head most often to look for the right mood music.

Looking forward to sharing details of a new Chandler’s Ford Today series soon too.


Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again


A big thanks for the wonderful response to my story video, Traffic Rivals, yesterday. (Video below). I adore writing the very short flash tale, especially quirky ones like this, and story videos are a great way to share said mini tales.

Lady and I were not impressed with the snow today. The weather’s being quirky too.

It pays to mix up how you come up with story ideas. For one thing, it will keep things interesting for you.

With Traffic Rivals, it was a case of working out why a witch would take action against a speed camera. After all it wasn’t as if someone was going to dare book her for speeding, was it?! So I then came up with the answer to why she might care about the thing and the story took off from there. Even for a two-line tale, some initial thinking about who, what, why always pays off.


Delighted to see more subscribers to my Youtube channel. Welcome everybody! And I’m pleased to share my latest short story video which is about a witch’s attitude to a fellow witch and speed cameras. Hope you enjoy!

 

 

4th April – Easter Sunday

I’ve talked about wasted words in flash fiction before and one of mine is the word “very”. Why do I consider it to be a wasted word? Simply, it is because it adds nothing of value to a story. Something either is or isn’t something.
The very in front of a word doesn’t strengthen impact.

For example, “I was very cold” is a statement of fact but “I was freezing” shows you how the narrator is feeling. By cutting out words you don’t need, you will have a tighter writing pace and there will be a more immediate feel to it too. Freezing is also a stronger image. You can picture it. “Very cold” can mean different things to different people after all.

Photo by Immortal shots on Pexels.com


Many thanks for the great response to my post yesterday about using intriguing titles to get me started on a new flash fiction story. The Terrified Dragon is not the only time I “subvert” an expectation in my titles. Well, you wouldn’t expect a dragon to be scared, would you?

I use the technique again for Punish the Innocent in my From Light to Dark and Back Again. Have fun brainstorming title ideas that would draw you in. Then and only then work out what stories could come from them and write up the one you like the most, the one that makes you react the most. It will have the same effect on a reader.

You can also do this with well known proverbs and phrases. Change one word in these and see what you can do. I often use a notebook and pen for brainstorming. That just works for me but it also means if I’ve only got a couple of minutes before, say, I have to go out (I know – possibly not right now but bear with me on this!), I can jot down some ideas to work up later. Well worth trying.


Goodreads Author Blog – What Makes a Book Special For You?

It’s always good to start with a leading question, isn’t it?

Okay then, maybe starting with two of them is then!

Seriously, what does make a book special for you? For me, it is always about the characters. I have to want to know them and come to love or loathe them as the case may be but they’ve got to intrigue me enough to make me want to read their stories.

I’ve got to understand their needs and motivations, though I don’t necessarily have to like or agree with them.

And if at the end of the story, I feel sorry that I am “leaving” the characters behind, that is a good sign. Those characters really have got to me – the way they should do.

The characters don’t have to be human. I can understand the rabbits in Watership Down. Their needs, their quest is an understandable one. But there absolutely has to be something I can latch on to about whoever leads the story. It is their journey I’m following after all.

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