Murphy’s Law

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I always enjoy writing my CFT posts but ones like tonight’s Murphy’s Law are really fun to do. I list some Murphy’s Laws for writers (naturally there isn’t just one. That would make the writer’s life far too easy!). Can you add any to the list?

The best thing to do with Murphy’s Law is laugh at it.

I will add some of the laws I’ve listed have directly affected me, others have not, though I suspect that is merely a matter of time, Murphy’s Law being what it is!

Hope you enjoy.

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

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Have had a lovely time this evening looking back at some of my earlier short stories. Let’s just say I hope to do something positive with them! Waste not, want not, though there will be editing… there always will be editing!

But then, over time, you do get better at working out what will suit which market best and you hone your stories accordingly. That in turn gives you your best shot at increasing your acceptance rate.

Top three tips:-

1. A story rejected in one place may find acceptance elsewhere. I’ve had this happen a few times and I know it happens to others. So don’t give up on a piece. Put it away for a while. Look at it as if you were reading it for the first time. Can you find anything to improve? Fine, do so. If not, test another market with it. What have you got to lose?

2. Write, write, write – and accept the fact that to get better at anything takes time. You have got to put the work in but enjoy the process (and when positive results come in, enjoy those even more – you really will have earned it!).

3. Know who you are submitting your work to and why you are sending it there. Sounds obvious but from various publisher talks I’ve been to over the years, I know publishers who only publish romance novels, for example, get sent things that are NOT romance. I’ve never understood why people do that. You do have to target your work well.

I love writing all of my CFT posts but this week’s one was really fun to do. I discuss Murphy’s Law!

And the lovely thing about it? It will always be timeless! No matter what your profession or hobby, Murphy’s Law will come into it at some point. At several points if you’re really unlucky.

I will be sharing some of Murphy’s Law for writers and I’m sure you’ll be able to share some of your own. Link up on Friday.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I’ve talked about Murphy’s Law for Writers in my CFT post tonight but to be more specific for flash fiction scribes:-

1. You’ve got a gem of an idea for a 100-word story and a place to send it which only wants 100 words. Try as you will, your word count remains stubbornly at 101 words. Take anything out and your story loses its sparkle (and therefore any chance of it doing well). Technically this is known as YASSTE – You Are Stuffed Send Tale Elsewhere.

2. You’ve got a great story at the right word count with a spectacular twist ending that suits the theme. You send your story off to the competition concerned and later, knowing your story wasn’t shortlisted, look at the judge’s comments on the website or in the magazine. The first thing you read is something like “there were lots of stories in with XXXX as the theme”. Your heart sinks. And you had thought you were the only one to come up with the idea. Err… apparently not.

Chin up and keep writing anyway! Best thing to do with old Murphy’s Law is laugh at it.

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Flash Fiction “rules”:-

F – Find the word count limit that suits you.

L – Lines to be crisp and still convey information.

A – Animated characters you love to root for or hope desperately for their downfall. Either is good. You’ve got the reaction to your creations there for good or bad!

S – Story to flow at a good pace. (Reflective stories are obviously slower but there must be something about the characters that grips us enough to keep reading).

H – History of characters to be implied but only where crucial to our understanding of them and/or the plot hinges on it.

F – Fantastic and Fun – regardless of your settings, you should be enjoying what you write. Readers do subsconsciously pick up on that. And, yes, you can have a fab time writing a gruesome crime or horror flash fiction piece. I have!

I – Imagination. It’s odd I know but I’ve found the restricted word count in flash makes me flex my imagination more, not less. I have to be more creative in NOT wasting words to get the real story across to a reader.

C – Chat. Not a lot of room for this in flash so ensure conversation is vital to the story and moves it on. Best kept to two characters only. You haven’t the room for conversational ping pong (though I’ve always thought, in other circumstances, that might be fun!).

T – Tension. I know I’ve mentioned this in my recent A to Z but I think it bears repeating. One huge advantage of flash is the shorter word count increases the tension in your story. It is like shining a spotlight on one particular area. Use that to your story’s advantage.

I – Illumination. All stories do shed some light on humanity. Why do you like the characters that you do? Do they reflect your values? What about the ones you love to hate? As well as asking what this might say about you (!), also ask how can the theme of your story shed light on values we hold in common? What do you WANT to shine through in your fiction?

O – One lead character only. Flash fiction makes you focus. Never a bad thing that.

N – Numbers Game. Don’t be fixated by the word count. If your story works better at 250 words, then leave it at that and find an appropriate market/competition for it.

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The only problem with A to Z series (much as I love writing them) is you know certain letters will need some creative thinking to find something for – Q, X and Z for a start! Numbers are so much easier…!

But one of the great things about flash fiction is you are challenged to think creatively all the time. Just how can you tell a story in X (that letter again!) number of words? Just what are the details you must give and the ones you can leave the reader to work out for themselves?

Challenging yourself is a great way to fire up your imagination. And great stories can come out of that. Mixing up the word counts you write to is good for your imagination too.

Fairytales with Bite – Murphy’s Law

My CFT post this week is on the topic of Murphy’s Law and how it can affect writers.
Image Credit:  As ever, the wonderful Pixabay. Captions on the CFT post.

Now we all know Murphy’s Law is no respecter of barriers. Whatever profession you’re in, whichever hobby you enjoy, it will strike at some point. So as to the actual creating of a story, what are the things to look for so you can avoid them?

  1. Naming Characters – For longer works of fiction, it is too easy to give characters names that are too similar to others (for example Stephanie and Stephan. Two different characters but the problem with names that are similar is they can make the characters forgettable or interchangeable, neither of which you want). I get around this by ensuring each of my characters has a name that starts with a different letter of the alphabet. It’s simple but it works. Murphy’s Law can kick in here by making you not spot this until after you’ve got your first draft down. (Yes, it can be fixed at that point but it can be frustrating when you’ve got two similar sounding characters. The last thing you want is anything that might cause confusion in a reader or a sense of “what is that character doing here? I don’t see the point of them” reaction).
  2. Outlining – The query here is how much to do? Will Murphy’s Law strike in that you either outline too much or not enough? How can you judge what is correct for the writing you’re working on? A rule of thumb I use is have I got enough to get started on the story? Have I got enough to get me to the middle of the story? Have I got enough to be able to conclude the story? You don’t necessarily need to outline everything. You just need enough to get you to the next stage in the story. Think of this as outlining the major markers. Get those right and it will help you get everything else in place. You just want to stop yourself going off at unproductive tangents and that is where Murphy’s Law will trip you up. Stop the unhelpful tangents and you save yourself valuable time too. Work out what you think you need to know.
  3. Settings – The trap here again is detail. How much do you need to know before you write the story? What impact will the setting have on your characters? Preparation is the key to beating Murphy’s Law hitting you here. Again work out what you think you need to know. And bear in mind the setting must have some kind of impact on your characters – they’re either going to love where they are (but it is under threat – which is where your story comes in) or loathe it and want to escape (which is where another type of story can come in).



This World and Others –

Putting a Fictional World Together

The basic building blocks for putting a fictional world together are, for me, as follows:-

  1. Species – Who will live in this fictional world? One species, a couple, many? If more than one, how do they interact with each other and if they don’t interact at all, what is the reason for that? If you have only one species, how are they sub-divided? Do you have the majority of the species living in an area and a minority live elsewhere? What are the reasons behind this?
  2. Government and Society – This ties in with 1. How are your species governed and by whom? Are they governed well or badly? Can governments be changed? How is society organised? What is expected of everyone and does that vary from species to species? If so, what are the differences and why do they exist? What happens to rebels? (You can pretty much guarantee there will be those who do not like the status quo and won’t accept it so what happens to those who do this?).
  3. Survival – How do the species survive? What do they eat/drink? Is their world an agricultural one and what shape does this take? Do they farm crops as we would know them or farm something very different? Climate and weather and their impact can come into this category too. How much do your readers need to know?

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Aspects of the Writing Life

Facebook – General

This post comes almost live from the Winchester Writers’ Festival. What do you mean by almost, I hear you cry? Well I started drafting this on Evernote just after a fab lunch with the lovely Val Penny (writer of the Edinburgh Crime Mysteries starring DI Hunter Wilson). I swear we stuck to orange juice… whether you believe me is another matter!

So what do I find most useful about coming to Winchester? Difficult to know where to start but here goes.

Information from the courses. You find out information you knew you needed and equally things you hadn’t known you needed to know. Both are useful.

Networking with writer friends, old and new.

The opportunity to hear first hand from published authors, agents, editors, and publishers in keynote speeches and the like. These can be real eye openers.

Coming to events like this can be a confidence booster especially when starting your own writing journey. You start to feel as if you are a real writer. Rejections can knock you back. Events like this help pick you up again.

Already looking forward to next year’s Festival.

Val Penny and I having a selfie moment at Winchester last Saturday

Crime writer Val Penny and I having a selfie moment at the Winchester Writers’ Festival

Amongst the Murphy’s Laws that exist purely for writers must be the following:-

1. Time drags until it is time to write, then it flies by, leaving you wondering where on earth it went. Naturally you have not achieved as much as you would have liked either.

Incidentally that is okay. The big thing to ask yourself here is have you made progress on what you’re writing? Progress can include getting a certain number of words down, of course, but equally valid are things like changing scene orders, re-reading through, and being happy with how you’ve changed things. That all takes time but is as much writing as actual writing, if you see my meaning.

Don’t belittle yourself if “all” you managed to get done was some editing. As long as that editing is tightening up your work, improving it etc., it is a valid part of your writing and you are still making progress.

2. You may be a writer but you are still afflicted by the curse that says you can’t find a pen when you need one.

In public, this is embarrassing. Guess who, whenever she is due out at an event, makes absolutely sure she has pens in bags, pockets etc so she knows she has at least TWO on her person. It has to be two to prevent Murphy’s Law kicking in again by ensuring your solitary pen doesn’t work and if you only take one, it WILL fail on you.

3. Your toner cartridge runs out part way through a print run. It is never anywhere useful such as on the test print you do before you run out a lengthy story.

I use a laser jet so I have no indication of when it’s going to run out. Having said that, my lovely printer, which I call Old Faithful because I’ve had it for YEARS, has seen come and go at least three “cleverer” printers my better half has had, which DO say when their cartridges will run out, print in colour etc. On balance, I think I’ll stick with Old Faithful until it finally bites the dust.

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There are similarities to writing and trying to lose weight.

1. You can be guaranteed frustrations along the way but it is best to face up to that from the start so that when they do come, you’re not surprised/thrown by them. It is important to pick yourself up and dust yourself down and then see how far along the road you can get before the next one hits.
2. Success in either never comes as quickly as you’d like.
3. Persistence pays. The determination not to give up is crucial.
4. You can’t know for sure you will get to your end goal. You can only give it your best shot but your end goal may genuinely change. You may discover your writing skills suit short stories rather than novels, for example, and that’s fine.
5. You need to accept the rough with the smooth and take some comfort from the fact everyone has to come to terms with rejections (set backs on the weight loss) and you are definitely not alone on this.
6. When going well, both writing and losing weight sensibly and successfully make you feel good about yourself!
7. Keeping going is the only way to get to the end destination at all.

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Why does any writer need a decent amount of stamina?

1. The determination to keep going will help a lot when the rejections come in – and they will. Okay you may need to look at revamping what you’ve written or try other markets for it etc, but the important thing here is accepting rejections are par for the course. Everyone gets them. It’s how you react to them that matters. Sometimes you have to accept something isn’t working and move on to new work too. It can be tough to move on from a project you’ve loved but which just isn’t working.

2. There will be wonderful high moments such as when you receive your first acceptance, when you see your story or article in print etc., but the lows come too. All that comes into your inbox are rejections or you don’t hear anything at all. Stamina helps you accept all of this is the normal lot of the writer’s life, regardless of what you write.

3. Seeking out the markets and competitions that are right for what you write takes time and effort.

4. Submitting work to the appropriate outlet also takes time and effort.

5. Being aware there are charlatans out there who will happily take your money for precious little in return and researching who you can genuinely turn to for self publishing or other services which are legitimate etc again takes time and effort.

Spot the theme emerging!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

If anyone tells you writing short fiction has to be easier than writing longer works, don’t believe them! Both have their challenges and joys. Both forms should be celebrated and treasured.

What flash fiction writing has taught me is how to pick words and phrases which will have the maximum impact on readers. The great thing with that is it is a transferable skill, useful for any and every form of writing.


I’m on a theme tonight – Murphy’s Law for writers (see my Allison Symes author page for more) – but let’s look at some specifically for flash fiction writers.

1. You’ve set your heart on entering a story for a 100-word comp. No matter what you do, your story stubbornly persists in coming in at 101 words.

Take out the additional word, I hear you say? Ha! It’ll either muck up your grammar (so spoiling your chances in the competition anyway) or it takes out something that adds depth to your character and is a crucial point in the story. Yes, one word can make a huge difference here. For example:-

She was dressed in velvet.
She was dressed in moth-eaten velvet.

2. You love writing flash fiction on a particular theme or in a certain genre say. Murphy’s Law will dictate the perfect competition with a short deadline will crop up when you’re away or ill. You will discover this when you are back at your desk. You will also discover you have missed that deadline or have a snowflake’s chances in hell of meeting it. You will not be a happy bunny. You will be a distinctly irritated bunny. No prizes for guessing how I know…

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There is something about writing that transforms writers. You can be the sweetest soul imaginable to all around you, but at the drop of a pen, be utterly ruthless as you dump your characters into absolute hell and see how they get out of it, if they do at all. And that’s how it should be!

Your characters sink or swim and it is the hook of finding out which way your characters go that will keep your readers with you. So go on, you know you want to, drop your characters right in the mire and see what happens!

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Flash fiction writers are living proof that great stories do not have to run to thousands of words and pages. A great story is one that keeps a reader gripped, whether it is a 50-word tale, or an epic saga like The Lord of the Rings.

Short writing takes effort. It is so easy to fill your writing with words you don’t really need – and really is one of those words that usually gets the automatic red pen through it when I write it. I wish I could stop myself writing words I know will only be cut later but the next best thing is to know what your weak words are and DO cut them later.

Can there be a genuine use for words such as really? Yes. The only time I use it is is in dialogue when I might want a character to be sarcastic. You can get a lot of emphasis into “really”!


Goodreads Author Blog – Planning Your Reading

Do you plan your reading time? Over a week, I like to make sure I’ve had a good balance of magazine, short story, flash fiction, non-fiction, and novel reading. I like to mix Kindle and paper reading too.

Whether it is better to read one thing before moving on to the next, or reading slices of different forms is best, is down to personal preference, of course. What is good is changing what you read whether you do this sequentially or not.

I’ve gone for the “slices” approach because some evenings I really do just want to read a novel. The next evening I’ll want to read short stories. I don’t want to feel obliged to finish one thing first.

Having said that, a fantastic book will keep me gripped as a reader so I have to complete it. The challenge for a writer is to produce that effect!