Titles and Quirky Characters

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Ahead of a review on They Came From Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall in Time for the Townswomen’s Coffee Morning, which has to be a strong contender for the all time longest play title (!), I look at titles in general.

I look at the role they play, why I change my use of them for flash fiction, and discuss how they can set a mood you want your reader to pick up on or can be used to keep said reader guessing.

How easy (or otherwise) is finding the right title for you? I share a few thoughts on that too.

Image Credit:  As ever, the marvellous Pixabay.  Captions on the CFT post.

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Looking forward to the Chameleons’ production of “They Came From Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall in Time for the Townswomen’s Guild’s Coffee Morning”. Just try saying that quickly! Should be good for several laughs and I look forward to reviewing this next week.

Lady and I have not enjoyed the heat. Shout out to all our human and doggy friends. You know who you are. Keep cool! Glad it’s going to cool down tomorrow. The thought of the Tube in this heat on Saturday when I’m in town… uggh. Sympathies to all who’ve endured it today (or will do shortly). Still I guess it’s a great test of whether your deodorant works or not…!

How do I go about writing reviews for local theatre productions and the like? I always try to find something positive (I’ve never been a fan of hatchet jobs. I think it says more about the reviewer than whatever it was they reviewed). I look at the story. I look at the performance of that story. I also look at the background to the story (and I am looking forward to researching tonight’s one. Is going to be fun!).

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I thought From Light to Dark and Back Again was a long enough title for my flash collection, but it is well beaten by They Came from Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall in Time for the Townswomen’s Coffee Morning, the play recently staged by The Chameleon Theatre Group.

I look forward to sharing a review on that on Chandler’s Ford Today next week though I do discuss the importance of titles on CFT this week.

I’ve discussed titles before here but I can’t stress enough how vital it is to get them right. I must have a title to work to when writing almost anything but if a better idea occurs to me as I’m writing (and it does), then I’ll switch. Only the Ten Commandments were set in stone!

For flash fiction competitions where sometimes the title is part of the word count, I take extra care. I work out whether I want my title to give a good opening to the story, or whether I want it to set a mood, or to be open to more than one take on it, so I can keep a reader guessing. What I decide here will determine how long that title is and that will then set how much room I’ve got left for the story itself.

Where I don’t have to worry about the title being part of the word count, then I tend to focus on the impact I want it to have and I can give myself a bit more leeway as to how long I want the title to be.

Generally, though unless you are writing a spoof as the play clearly is, you are better off keeping a title relatively short.

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Having spent most of the day feeling like I was being roasted (goodness knows what my cooking time to the pound would be and yes that does show my age!), along with the rest of the country, it’s a relief to get to my desk where it is relatively cool. Note the relatively.

I find with flash fiction I can get the story ideas down fairly quickly (which is fab. Nobody wants to work too hard in this weather). Where the time and effort comes in is in the crafting of those ideas. Have I really used the right words to conjure up exactly the images I have in mind? Can I think of anything better? The answer to that is almost always yes!

The one thing that cheered me up a long time ago was knowing that nobody but nobody has ever written the perfect first draft! So I never worry about perfection in my writing. It’s not going to happen. Even when you send a piece out, it’s as good as you can make it at that time and that’s absolutely fine.

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Fairytales with Bite – Quirky Characters

There are those who might feel that the reason I love quirky characters is because I am one!  Hmm…

So what is it about quirky characters that appeals to me so much, both in terms of reading about them and writing them myself?

  1. Humour – there’s usually a lot of humour, often irony, involved here. That appeals directly ever since I first came across irony in Pride and Prejudice which I read at secondary school many, many moons ago. That book was an eye opener for me in terms of how irony can be used (and the best kind is subtle with it too). It paved the way for me to appreciate more direct irony in the works of Terry Pratchett and P.G. Wodehouse, to name but two, later on
  2. The Unexpected – The irony (!) here is you expect the unexpected from quirky characters. You’d be a bit disappointed to say the least if they didn’t come out with something. Often this is the pivoting point of the whole story too. What is fun is trying to guess what they come up with.
  3. Memorable – You remember quirky characters. It’s why I’ve always loved Jo March in Little Women and George in The Famous Five. Again I wanted to find out what they could do and whether they could surpass what had gone before. It kept me reading! The trick for a writer is to achieve the same thing. It is also the challenge! What is it that makes your characters memorable?

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This World and Others – Titles

I look at Titles in my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week and hope you find it helpful as I share some thoughts on where to find good title ideas. I also discuss the uses of titles. But now to look at the topic from a different angle…

Firstly, the world in which your story is set – do they use titles to denote rank? Do these differ between species? Are some species excluded from any titles at all? How are titles given? Can they be earned and, if so, how?

Secondly, property (you knew it had to come in somewhere!) – how does your world distribute title to property? Can anyone own property? Do your characters have to earn their right to obtain title like this? Or is all land owned by one feudal or royal overlord and all title is held by them?

Can title (of any sort) be challenged or revoked? Who would do so and why?

Now there are some thoughts for story ideas for you!

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Publication News

I look forward to next week when I can share publication news of a story that has a special place in my heart. More details next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bluebells, Beautiful Books, Ants, and Editing

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

Facebook – General

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!


Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

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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AUTHOR INTERVIEWS AND INSPIRING YOUR WRITING

Facebook – General – Author Interviews

What do I love about author interviews? Well, firstly, you can learn a lot from them. I’ve found out about competitions this way and also was alerted to the joys of Scrivener. (It’s amazing how many writers use it). Often you can adapt the questions so you can ask them of your own characters and build their profiles up further. Thirdly the questions should make you think about what you write and why you write at all. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to take stock of that every now and again. I find it encouraging.

When I interview writers for Chandler’s Ford Today, I always ask for their three top tips. There’s a lot of overlap, of course, but what is fascinating is the priority each writer gives to each tip! No two writers are the same here!

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Facebook – General – Inspiring Your Writing

What inspires your writing? For me, it is not just one thing or person. There are the many authors whose books I’ve loved for years (and still do), writers new to me whose works I’m enjoying, and my general love of stories. Behind all of that is the debt I owe my mother for teaching me to read and instilling that love of books in the first place.

Why the need for stories at all? To try to make sense of the world is a valid reason but I’m all for stories being “just” for entertainment. Given the news is grim, always has been, unlikely to change anytime soon, stories that can take you to different places or times are a great form of entertainment (and possibly therapy too).

 

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Facebook – General – Chandler’s Ford Today post sneak peek

My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week will be another in my Hidden Hampshire series. One lovely thing about owning a dog is discovering walks to take them on and that gives me material to blog about, so it’s a win-win situation for me! Lady likes it too, as did Mabel before her. More details tomorrow.

Lady currently curled up on the carpet happily dozing after a busy afternoon making new dog friends and generally having a ball (sometimes it was her own!) at the Rec earlier. Am blessing my late mum for leaving me a huge bundle of old towels as the Rec is currently a quagmire in places and the towels are proving extremely useful.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again – Quizzing Your Characters

How often do you quiz your characters? I tend to ask mine what their motivation is (“darling”!) and it can surprise me just what is behind my initial thoughts as to why they’re acting the way they are. There IS a lot of psychology in writing! The chief thing I want from my characters is honesty. They have to be true to themselves whether they’re a heroine or an out and out villain.

What do you look for in your characters? What drives them and is that drive strong enough to overcome any obstacle in their way?

 

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again – Concentration Levels!

Does flash fiction, due to its brevity, mean less concentration is needed because there is less to read? Not a bit of it! If anything, I think more concentration is needed on the part of both writer and reader, as so much has to be implied.

I must admit I realised on re-reading one of my crime tales in From Light to Dark and Back Again that I had unwittingly written in more than one way for my heroine to achieve justice against the brute who had bullied her for so long. I just didn’t realise it until after I’d written the story! Not that I am sorry about this, but, had I thought about it more when I was writing the tale, I could’ve been more selective with my words. And that is where concentration is needed. Word selection counts for so much more the shorter the form of fiction you’re writing in!

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again – The Joy of the Writing Life

Can you identify with this I wonder?

When everything is said and done
This writing lark is such fun
But what nobody then tells you
Is that it can be hell too.

Characters won’t leave you alone.
You cut word counts to the bone.
You’re never sure a piece is done
Though acceptance proves you’ve “won”.

But something drives you on to write,
Work hard and get your piece right
As much as it could ever be.
You have to prove yourself, see.

Allison Symes – 4th January 2018

I can think of a few writers who can identify with at least some of the above!

Learning with others in a writing conference is huge fun, image via Pixabay

Sharing the joys and woes of the writing life. Image via Pixabay,

Note taking is an invaluable aid to retaining what you learn at conferences, image via Pixabay

Write, edit, write, edit… image via Pixabay

So many writing conference rooms look like this, image via Pixabay

A writing conference room. Image via Pixabay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interviews and When Less is More for Horror

Facebook – General – Interviews

What are the best questions to ask in interviews? Any that encourage your interviewee to share insights as to why they do what they do and what they think is most important. This is why I always ask writers I talk to for their three top tips.

Yes, there is some overlap (we all encourage people to read widely and well and rightly so), but there are differences too. Also, the order in which writers think certain things matter can be interesting too.

It has also been fascinating, when talking with indie authors, to find out what they loved and loathed about the whole process of self-publishing.

One reason why it pays to read writer interviews is you learn so much from them. Sometimes they can show you a path to follow, other times you realise that this particular way is not for you, but you still learn from it!

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Facebook – General – Settling In

Lady is settling in well though very excitable. Loving the big walks. Fresh air and exercise doing me the world of good too.

Talking about side benefits, how do your characters benefit from what others do? Do those others resent this? After all, nobody likes someone who gets all the glory without doing anything to earn it or, worse, gets the glory THEY earned!

When benefits are unintentional, how do your characters make the most of them? How can they turn a situation to their advantage?

Lady will be going to additional training classes before too long and I’m sure they’ll do her and us the world of good too. In the meantime, if you see a strange middle-aged woman seemingly being dragged around by her lovable dog, it probably will be me!

FEEDING POST - the road is not always clear to see

Is the way clear enough or is training needed to find it?  Image via Pixabay

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

What are your favourite genres? I love fantasy (especially fairytales), which will hardly be a surprise (!), but I also love crime fiction, historical fiction (and fact), some thrillers and a wide range of humorous writing.

I’m also very fond of a well written and thought out non-fiction book (and have a particular soft spot for railway history). I’m currently reading a number of books (on Kindle) concerning Richard III and the Princes in the Tower. As a contrast, the other non-fiction I’m reading and loving right now is the joint biography of Morecambe and Wise. So a right old mix then but that’s how I like it!

Some of what I like to read comes into what I write, but not all of it does and that’s fine. It is often those genres I turn to first when I most feel the need to switch off for a while. You really can’t beat a good book for sheer escapism (and the best ones entertain you and educate you at the same time with you barely being aware of it).

The magic of stories. Image via Pixabay

The magic of stories. Image via Pixabay

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again – Part 2

I sometimes write dark fantasy/light horror (just where DO the boundaries meet?!) and find flash fiction a good vehicle for this. I don’t read or write a lot of horror stories so there is no way I could write longer work in this genre but I DO know what frightens me and find that a good place to start!

Pressing the Flesh from From Light to Dark and Back Again is a good example of the kind of horror I do write from time to time. The images it conjures up are graphic without being overly gory. The 100-word story here says all that needs to be said (without giving too much away, it is a story of meat supplies. Yes, that kind of horror!).

The story would lose its impact if I’d written more. Sometimes with flash fiction, it really is a question of knowing where to stop”.

 

 

WHEN LIFE GETS IN THE WAY… IN A GOOD WAY

I’ve not managed to achieve much writing wise this weekend due to settling in our new dog, Lady, but for once life has got in the way in a good way!

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Making slow but steady progress on the follow-up to From Light to Dark and Back Again. Have got enough material for Chandler’s Ford Today posts to the end of the year and probably well into January, though this is a good position to be in! Looking forward to the Bridge House Publishing/Cafelit event in early December. Frightening to think it’s not far away now. (Have got precisely one Christmas present so far!).

Lady, our new border collie cross, is now home and does not appear to be fazed by fireworks. This is nice as Mabel and Gracie were petrified of the things. Lady will need additional training, being so young still, but we hope to take her to classes soon. (It will be as much for us as for her). Has a very good temperament.

Pictures below were taken at the Dogs Trust, Salisbury. More will follow in due course!

 

Facebook – General – Part 2

It’s been a busy but lovely weekend as we settle Lady into her new home. Lots of walks, which she has loved, and she’s not fazed by fireworks, which came as a very welcome surprise. Mabel and Gracie loathed them.

We will be taking Lady to training classes (to also help with her socialisation, though she has been very good on the lead when meeting other dogs). She’s not made up her mind yet where she’s sleeping and tends to flit for a while before settling but both Mabel and Gracie did this for a while.

Lady was a bit fazed by the noise of the printer but has now got used to that. She will get used to that – a LOT!

Writing wise, have not got a lot done this weekend. Am not surprised but equally unworried. Will be making up for that!

The bigger ball was a favourite of both Mabel and Gracie.

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

One form of flash fiction I like a lot is to hint at a film or fairytale I love and show an aspect of it from a character that is not the lead. A story I’m working on for my next book focuses on one of the witches from The Wizard of Oz as my lead.

I’ve also experimented with a four-line flash piece, which tells a complete story, but which might just technically count as a poem. It is a real pleasure to play with form like this.

I also have a couple of historical pieces in the next collection and hope to write more on these.

Whether I’ve written novels, short stories, scripts or flash I’ve always loved getting straight into the characters’ heads. Flash fiction almost encourages you to do to that given you’ve got to get the story up and running so quickly – and this is where the character does the work!

Image Credit:  All images below by Pixabay

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again Part 2

Can’t quite believe how quickly the light fails now the clocks have gone back. Book title very appropriate! (Wish they’d choose one time and leave it at that but there you go).

Due to settling in the new dog, Lady, I’ve not got much writing done this weekend but did manage to do some work on the follow-up book, so I’m pleased with that.

Am working on next CFT post which will be a review of a recent spoof I’ve seen (good fun it was too, though my review will go into more detail than that!). My next few weeks of CFT posts are pretty much lined up with an author interview (two-parter) to come and a look at how local places are supporting their local writers. So plenty to get on with when not working on follow-up book.

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Val Penny and I at Swanwick earlier this year. Good luck to Val with her book, Hunter’s Chase, due out in 2018

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My desk in my room at Swanwick.

Local authors' books at Chandler's Ford railway station

Local author books on sale in Chandler’s Ford Railway Station including mine

Allison book-signing Chandler's Ford railway station

Book signing at the railway station earlier this year