Fears, Flash Fiction, and Keeping It Simple

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Pleased to say a new flash fiction story of mine is now up on Cafelit. Story below but am sharing the link to Cafelit too.  Do explore the wide range of stories on there. Hope you enjoy Jack of All Trades.

This is influenced by an old Bob Newhart sketch (where a new employee has to report to his boss that King Kong is climbing up the side of the Empire State Building! Newhart is fab – I have a CD of his very best material including The Driving Instructor and highly recommend him).

Jack of All Trades by Allison Symes

chocolate milkshake

Nothing was said about this in the manual. Jack blinked. He hadn’t been mistaken. The purple dinosaur was there and it didn’t look happy. Still, Jack knew he had to report these things so he tapped his supervisor’s number out on his mobile.

It took several minutes for Jack to stop repeating his description of the beast and longer still for the supervisor to stop swearing. The purple dinosaur was munching its way through what had been the supermarket.

At least demolishing the contents of the butcher’s counter was keeping the creature occupied and its attention away from Jack. He felt this was good news. Jack’s supervisor felt differently – his cousin was the butcher at that supermarket. It was made clear Jack was disposable.

Jack hung up. If he didn’t resolve this, he’d be eaten or, if he survived, sacked. If he did resolve it, the supervisor wouldn’t mind having the call cut off.

He saw the dinosaur had finished the meat. The next aisle contained the veg.

It won’t want that, Jack thought. I never do. Still, if a creature comes through from the next world, it can jolly well go back there again and at speed. We don’t want his sort here.

‘Come here, boy,’ Jack did a quick check, ‘sorry, girl. This world is no place for you.’

Jack took a flare out from his tool belt and fired it above the dinosaur. It roared and ran back through the gaping hole in dimensions its body had blocked from Jack’s view.

Jack sighed. He’d have to fix that too.

About the author

Allison Symes is published by Chapeltown Books, Cafe Lit, and Bridge House Publishing amongst others.  She is a member of the Society of Authors and Association of Christian Writers.  Her website is www.allisonsymescollectedworks.wordpress.com and she blogs for Chandler’s Ford Today – http://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/author/allison-symes/

Am enjoying Doctor Who though admittedly tonight’s episode was not for the arachnophobes amongst us. Scary though, as DW is meant to be. I always did sympathise with Ron Weasley in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets over his reaction to the giant spiders in that.

Character fears can be a good area to explore to:-

a. Find out whether or not they overcome them
b. How the fears developed
c. What happens when forced to face up to them.

Fears can be the making of a character if, to use the modern phrase, “they feel the fear and do it anyway”. There have got to be some great stories there!

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Facebook – General – and More than Writers, ACW blog

Time for my monthly spot on More Than Writers, the Association of Christian Writers’ blog. This time, I look at KISS and why Keeping It Simple really isn’t a stupid thing to do.

The irony is that effortless reading (which is a joy) has almost certainly been subject to many an edit to get it to that point. Writing directly can be harder than you think. Fighting the urge to embellish what doesn’t need it is an ongoing thing.

Anyway, hope you enjoy.

Keeping It Simple Is Definitely Not Stupid

I’m not fond of the acronym, KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid), as there’s nothing stupid about “direct” writing. Keeping it simple is much harder to do than whoever invented that acronym supposed. I guess it is meant to imply the other person IS stupid for not keeping it simple but the reality is you have to edit hard to get your prose to the state where it reads as if it has been written effortlessly.

In my honest opinion, keeping your writing simple is never a stupid thing to do.  Pixabay image.

You then repeat the process until you reach the point where you cannot improve the work. Sometimes you reach the point of being heartily sick of it but that’s another story.  It shows it’s time to take a break and come back to it later and look at it again with a fresh perspective.  The distance away from it does help.

Some editing is definitely needed here!  Pixabay image!

I learned a long time ago when someone makes something look easy, whether it is writing or any other creative art, you can bet that same someone has worked their socks off for years, perfecting their craft, to achieve this.  (And, as they say, other hosiery items are available!).

Just how much hard work has gone into getting to this stage?  Pixabay image

I start my editing of a story or a blog post by looking for what I know are my wasted words – “very”, “actually” and “that”.  The first two contribute little to a piece, you do need “that” sometimes but not nearly as often as you might think, and I have found by focusing on removing these words first, I enter straight into “editor mode”.  It is easier when in that mindset to cut what has to be cut.  (I can justify the “that” there!).

I overwrite, which I used to hate, but now I accept it is part of how I write and there is little a good edit or several can’t fix!  Rarely have I written a piece where I’ve needed to “fill” and I hated it when I did.  It felt artificial and was one of those rare instances where I binned the whole idea (and that is needed sometimes if, no matter what you do, it isn’t working).

If an idea isn’t working, despite time away from it, binning it can be the right thing to do. Pixabay image.

The other good thing was this instance made me brainstorm for better ideas, which is what I should have done in the first place.  Lesson learned there.  I don’t mind effort, indeed I expect it as we all should with our work, but I loathe it when it seems to be wasted.  Still, I’m not planning on making that mistake again so I think some good has come out of it.

Also when editing, I look for how the sentences flow.  Do they read easily?  Do they convey the exact meaning I wanted?  Could I express things better?  (The answer to that one is nearly always yes).

No matter how fantastic your fictional world, it still pays to keep the writing simple.  Pixabay image.

Simple writing then is not lazy writing.  It is hard work but well worth the effort.  Simple writing pulls the reader in.  Look at Jesus’s parables.  Straightforward storytelling.  Not a wasted word.  No waffle.  Now there’s a challenge to us all!

Jesus’s stories are the work of the master storyteller.  Pixabay image.

My CFT post this week will be a review of The Chameleon Theatre Company’s latest production, Blackadder Goes Forth. Link up on Friday though I will say now that final scene of the last episode is incredibly moving and the way it was performed on stage was excellent.

Generally I find it is moments in books, TV shows etc that stand out (and in a really good series, say, helps recall the rest of the show. The chandelier scene in Only Fools and Horses is another classic here, as is Del Boy falling “through” the bar).

I suppose the challenge here for any writer is to ensure we put plenty of stand out moments in our stories!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

The writer’s way is strewn with words
Chittering away like the birds.
The issue is how to edit
Would the dialogue really be said
Or does it seem not real somehow?
Does your piece make your reader go “wow”?
Is the tale all action, does it flow?
Is the pace fast enough or, eek, slow?
The advantage to writing flash fiction
Is it teaches writing with precision.

Allison Symes – 30th October 2018

To finish my alphabetical look at flash fiction (in particular attributes useful for writing it), I finish with Y and Z. Now there’s a challenge but at least I know it’s been coming!

Y = Young. Can be taken to mean having a mixture of character ages in your stories or what a character will do to defend their young. Interesting tales to be had from both of these. Also if you tend to write from the viewpoint of older characters, why not switch and see if you can write from the viewpoint of someone, say, 20 or 30 years younger? Mixing things up helps to keep your writing fresh and you will enjoy it far more.

Z = Zealous. Firstly, are your characters zealous enough for their cause to see it through no matter what? They should be. If not, is their cause strong enough? If it is, why isn’t the character engaging with it fully? Look again at what your character wants. Do they want this enough? Secondly, are you zealous about editing your work well, as well as enjoying the more obviously fun creative side of writing? You need both to get work out there and it makes sense then to relish both the writing and the editing.

Now at the tail end of the alphabet for my flash fiction listing.

V = Variation. As with any fiction, vary the pace of your flash fiction tales. There is room for reflective, thought provoking pieces, as well as the action story. Vary how you tell the tale – first person, second etc. Vary the settings. Above all have fun. The first person to enjoy your writing should be you.

W = Writing. What else? Write regularly. Write first, edit later. The lovely thing about flash fiction is you can use it as a warm up exercise ahead of major writing (e.g. a novel) but there’s nothing to stop you editing those exercises and getting them out into the flash fiction markets and competitions.

X = Xerox! I was determined not to use X-rated for this one but Xerox does have a serious point to it. The great joy of writing is inventing something you have created (albeit inspired by what you have read over time). Never ever xerox/copy another writer’s work. Create your own work always. That IS the whole point.

Will have a go at Y and Z tomorrow!

Getting nearer to the end of the alphabet with my flash fiction “requisites”.

S = Story. Has to be really. It is all about the story and that is dictated by the characters. Without memorable characters there is no story. A story is about conflict and resolution in most cases and the characters “carry that”.

T = Turning Point. In flash fiction you obviously reach this point quicker than in standard length short stories. Sometimes the turning point can be revealed in the last line (often via the classic twist in the tale ending). Sometimes you can start with it. In my George Changes His Mind, I start with “He refused to kill the dragon”. There’s the turning point immediately. It is clearly expected George SHOULD kill the beast. The story then hinges on finding out why he didn’t and what the outcome was.

U = Universe. Each flash fiction has to be its own complete universe. By the end of it, a reader should have a sense of your setting, been mesmerised by your character(s), and the conclusion to the tale should be appropriate to the story (and satisfactory as a result, even if the ending is not a happy one). The nice thing is your story universe can be set in a fantastic world or this one in amongst the mundane! Your call but we should be wanting to find out what happens in the world you show us.

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Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Music and Stories

As I’m typing this, I’m listening to a concert of John Williams’ music being broadcast on Classic FM. (I do love the Listen Again feature!).

Every piece of music conjures up memories of films (often Spielberg ones) and with those memories come stories. Stories of when I discovered the film, the story contained within the movie itself etc. Of course so many movies are based on novels too.

So do you find a certain piece of music always conjures up stories for you? I’ve only to hear the opening notes of the Harry Potter film to be whisked away to recalling the books and movies (loved both).

I sometimes use music as a guide to help me create characters for my own writing. Character X would love this, Y would love that, etc.

I also love stories set to music. Up the Junction by Squeeze is a wonderful example of this – and a great ballad in the old tradition too.

When reading I have to read in silence but music is fab for when I can’t just drop everything to pick up a book. I still have the stories and the memories of stories as I work on other matters and that has to be a good thing.

 

 

 

 

 

Music and Stories

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One of the joys of writing my Chandler’s Ford Today posts is when I have a topic where I can go to town on finding music clips! The topic of books is one of them.

Many thanks to my wonderful panel – #JenniferCWilson, #ValPenny, #AnneWan, #WendyHJones, and #RichardHardie – for taking part in my mini-series The Joys and Challenges of Writing Series Novels. Hope you enjoy their fantastic insights AND the music I’ve used to go with these!

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Had a great night out watching the Chameleon Theatre Group perform three episodes from Blackadder Goes Forth, including Goodbyeee. Review to follow on Chandler’s Ford Today in due course but I will say now it was superbly done and the set, made by the company themselves, was brilliant. Looking forward to sharing more on that.

Adaptations I’m generally happy with if they are faithful to the book/series etc. This is why I loved the Miss Marple series with Joan Hickson – they were faithful to the Christie canon – but the Marple series. No. Didn’t watch it. Just couldn’t bring myself to do so when it emerged they were altering the stories and bringing in characters that didn’t belong in the originals. Really don’t like that.

My CFT post this week will be the final part of my series on the joys and challenges of writing the series novel. As ever, my thanks to to #JenniferCWilson, #ValPenny, #AnneWan, #WendyHJones, and #RichardHardie. Nice range of genres between them too – from children’s to crime (and Wendy writes both!) to fantasy to historical crossed with ghost stories. Link up on Friday.

Glad to report I’ll be having more work on Cafelit later this week and again in November. Will share links as and when.

From what I’ve seen of the set the Chameleons have produced for the stage version of Blackadder Goes Forth, I anticipate a packed house and a wonderful and thoughtful evening of entertainment. Will review for CFT in due course. Do check their FB page out.

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thank you text on black and brown board

Pexels image.  There are times when words are inadequate.

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So more on my alphabetical list then.

J = Juicy Storylines! Not just for soap operas, honestly, but something every character wants. Now “juicy” can be taken literally of course, but I see it as the storyline being appropriate for the character and taking them and stretching them to see what they are really made of. There’s nothing like a crisis for bringing out the best or worst in someone and that applies just as well to fiction!

K = Kicker. Must admit I needed to look this one up. (It’ll be interesting to find out what I can research for Q!). In journalism it apparently means a sudden unexpected change of events. In fiction we’d usually refer to it as a twist in the tale. I like kicker though. Has bite. And your stories must too, whether they have a twist/kicker in them or not.

L = Lines. Who is getting the best lines in your story? Your hero or your villain? A great story will have this split between the two to prevent either becoming a stereotype or, worse still, boring! Also a villain capable of humour etc means while your reader will not want them to win (possibly SHOULD not!), they will sympathise and identify with the villain to a certain extent. There should be something about each character a reader can identify with. (My inspiration here is Alan Rickman’s masterly portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves!).

About halfway through the alphabetical listing now. So then:-

M = Muse. The best way to feed said muse is to read widely and often (and do include non-fiction and poetry in this too. Different sources of writing are good for you and inspire your own thoughts and ideas in various ways). I’ve also found writing regularly feeds it too. Never worry about what you come out with at first being awful and needing work. That would’ve happened to Shakespeare too! It can and will be put right in the edits!

N = Narrative. Whose story is it? Whose viewpoint is going to dominate? What can that character see and know that the others cannot? Why have you chosen that character to lead the narrative? Answer those questions and your story will be off to a good start!

O = Originality. Reading widely feeds your originality. Partly this is due to what you read, but sometimes it can be because you read something you really don’t like or feel you can do better and that can be the trigger point for your own writing. Also, your voice is unique to you and will come through in your writing, especially if you write often. Regular writing (even if it is short bouts at a time) really does encourage your imaginative “muscle” to start working.

Pressing on with my alphabet topic then, we reach P, Q and R. (Great letters if you can get them out in Scrabble incidentally!).

P = Performance. Do your characters perform well in your stories? Do they live up to what you outlined them to be or have they gone beyond that? Read your stories out loud. Perhaps record them and play them back. Hear how your characters perform. Are they having the impact on you that you want them to have on your reader?

Q = Quizzing. I’ve found quizzing my characters to be a very useful part of my outlining. I don’t need to know the minute details. Nor do I put everything I outline in a story. However, I take my character’s basic traits and quiz them from there. If I decide a character is going to be brave, I will quiz them to find out if there are limits to that courage. I try to find out where that courage comes from. Does their “tribe” prize bravery? Or is it noticeably absent and your character is rebelling against that? What are the outcomes? (There WILL be some and that’s where the drama and your stories are to be found!).

R = Right Word Count for your Flash Fiction. I sometimes write a piece deliberately to a word count and that’s it. Sometimes I think a story will come to 100 words but discover it can be done in 75 or needs to run to 250, say. Be flexible on this. The story is the right length when the lead character has done and said all they have to do/say for the situation you’ve put them in. The great thing with flash fiction is there are so many different categories, that even if your treasured 100 word piece comes in at 500 words, there will be markets and competitions for that out there.

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Goodreads Author Programme – Blog –

After the End, What’s Next?

If you’ve enjoyed a really good book, what do you do when you finish it? Go on to read more books by the same author, or read more in the same genre, or do you go for something that is completely different in mood and style?

I have done all three of these (though obviously not at the same time!) and it very much depends on my mood at the end of the story. If I’ve loved a gory crime thriller, I may well want something humorous to show the lighter side of life, albeit a fictional one!

With short stories especially, I tend to read a few by the same author before moving on. With novels, if the book has really gripped me, I’ve got to check out what else the author has done, even if I decide I’ll come back to those later.

The important thing though is that whatever you read, you enjoy it so much, you keep on reading, no matter what author, genre, style etc you choose next. Happy reading!

Image Credit:  many thanks to the Hampshire Writers’ Society for taking the photo of me reading as guest speaker and for kind permission to use the photo.  Both much appreciated!

Fairytales with Bite – Signs of a Fairytale World

What are the signs of a fairytale world?  How can you know quite quickly you ARE in one (via fiction I’m presuming for the purposes of this post!  If you do find a portal to another world, however, be sure to report back with plenty of details, pictures if at all possible.  We will all want to know!!).

1.  Magic.  The biggest giveaway of course is the use of magic.  The interesting thing to work out when planning your stories though is whether everyone can use magic or just a select few.  If everyone can use it, what are the rules so anarchy doesn’t break out?  Boundaries increase the drama in your story.  If everyone can zap everyone else, that doesn’t make for much of a story.  If only a few can do that but the price they pay is their own lives are forfeit, now there’s a potential story.

2.  Inanimate Objects – The Use Of.  We all know from Disney (see Beauty and the Beast) a teapot, to name one example, is rarely just a teapot!  Sometimes they’re an enchanted victim.  Sometimes these things are portals (also see Harry Potter).  So what uses are the inanimate objects put to in your setting?  Does a particular object convey a particular meaning or power and, if so, what and why?  What are the limits to the use of objects?

3.  Creatures.  Ranging from domestic animals that can talk (hello, Puss in Boots!  Loved Puss in Shrek.  Thought they had the portrayal spot on) to odd creatures that are the stuff of legends to monsters of course.   Basically what you wouldn’t see here!  And there’s nothing to stop you inventing your own.  This is where some knowledge of natural history is invaluable.  Knowing what animals need to survive and how their bodies are designed to handle that should inspire some ideas for how the creatures in your stories will do this kind of thing.

Happy writing!

This World and Others – Music and Stories

In my latest CFT post, the final part of my mini-series on The Joys and Challenges of Writing Series Novels, I get to have some fun choosing music tracks to go with my fantastic panel’s insights.  Many thanks again to Jennifer C Wilson, Val Penny, Anne Wan, Wendy H Jones, and Richard Hardie for taking part in this three part series.  Hope you enjoy the insights and the music!

Music and stories have long been intertwined of course.  So many wonderful songs are stories set to music effectively.  Music can and does play a part in stories.  It can be used to show character.  Movies, of course, rely on music to help set mood.  Think of the Jaws theme by John Williams.  Every note of that puts pictures and therefore stories in your head (and possibly might put you off swimming in the open sea but that’s another matter!  There are advantages to just swimming in the local public baths!!).

I write with classical music playing.  (I often listen to Classic FM).  Unlike other styles of music, it hasn’t affected my mood (and therefore what I write!).  It does help me relax and I write more (and I hope better) when relaxed.  I’ve also found it helpful to think of the kind of music my characters would be fans of when I’m creating them.  It almost certainly won’t come into the story I write but it fills out my knowledge of the character I’m about to place before a reader.  That has to be a good thing.

And I must admit I loved choosing the music for my book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back Again.   The track used is an adaptation of Camille Saint Saens Danse Macabre (used as the theme tune for the BBC detective series Jonathan Creek).

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