Good Writing Topics

Image Credit:-
All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated. Some images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos.
Screenshots taken by me, Allison Symes. Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing. A huge thank you to Fiona Park for taking the picture of me book signing at Swanwick.
Has been a busy few days but am pleased to share a new story (Friday Flash Fiction) which was inspired by my using a random time generator. Yes, there is such a thing. Now if I could only use it to help me be in two places at once when I could do with that facility!

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Pleased to share Good Writing Topics, my latest post for Chandler’s Ford Today. I look at what makes for a good topic and apply this to fiction and non-fiction writing. I also suggest a few ways of picking good topics (so hopefully these ideas will give you a useful place to start). And I discuss some pointers for research too.

I mix up the way I approach my fiction writing because that keeps me on my toes, encourages me to think laterally and outside of the old box, and I do the same for non-fiction. Yes, there are certain tried and tested methods which are my favourites and which I use the most, but I make myself go another way every now and again precisely to trigger ideas and thoughts which would not occur if I stuck to my favourites all the time.

Good Writing Topics

Glad to say my story Clockwork is now up on Friday Flash Fiction. This one was inspired by a random time generator I found online. Hope you enjoy it.
 
Screenshot 2021-10-22 at 18-41-38 Clockwork, by Allison Symes

 

Brrr… it turned cold today. Not that Lady noticed as she had a “puppy party” with several of her pals over the park today. All went home tired and happy. Job done there then!

I was chatting about random generators as part of the ACW Flash Fiction Group meeting on Zoom last night. I use these a lot as they are excellent ways to trigger ideas for stories. The story I’ve submitted for #FridayFlashFiction was inspired by a time generator. Yes, there is such a thing. Yes, I too can “manipulate time” although only for the purposes of a story!

You set parameters (I used 9 am and 5 pm) and how many times you want to trigger between them. I went for five and yes my story made use of them all. Hope to share the link to it once it is, hopefully, up on the FFF site. Good fun to write and a great way to make use of time in your stories too. Link to story, aptly called Clockwork, shared below.

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Managed to get my flu jab today so well pleased with that. Lady wanted to come with me (well, after all I have to take her to the vet for her booster jabs!). Looking forward to the ACW Flash Fiction Group meeting this evening. Always good fun.

My topic for Chandler’s Ford Today this week is Good Writing Topics. I’ll be sharing some thoughts on what makes a good topic and developing ideas from them. Link up on Friday. See above. Ironically the topic itself is a good one as many threads can come from it (for example you could focus purely on fiction for this one or use it for non-fiction articles etc. Equally take a category you’re interested in such as history or fashion and think about how you could get stories or articles from that.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I was walking the dog with my better half earlier this afternoon when we overheard a wildlife squabble. You can’t mistake the noise. One of the parties was a jay, we didn’t get to see what the other annoyed creature was. All I could think of on hearing the racket was, if they were speaking in human languages, both of them would have been swearing profusely and calling the other all the names under the sun. There was just something about the tone of the noise which told me the bird language being used here was anything but polite!

So what has that to do with flash fiction? Simple.

You don’t need a lot of words to convey tone (and imply character attitude).

A few well chosen words will have depth to them. Telling someone where to go is vastly different between characters who are arguing and one character helpfully giving directions to another one because they’ve got lost!

So if you have two characters in an argument, think about what the reader needs to know. They won’t need to know all the ins and outs of how the argument started. You won’t have the room for that but you can drop hints in what the characters do say to each other and let your reader pick up the rest from context. And they will.

I love it when authors leave me enough that I can work something out for myself. It is a question of leaving the right clues so a reader can do that. I dislike it intensely when an author feels they have to spoon feed a reader and I am likely to stop reading.

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Hope you’ve had a good day. When I name a character it is for specific reasons.

I want the name to indicate likely age. I do this in my story Identity from Tripping the Flash Fantastic with my character, Walter. Highly unlikely to be a young person’s name.

I want the name to indicate class/likely social economic background. This can save a lot on the word count! But someone called Charles is likely to move in upper circles unlike someone who goes around known as Chas. I’ve used this for a conman story where my character takes advantage of having a posh sounding name to fleece the unwary.

I often write about characters caught up in unexpected magical events so their having ordinary names helps emphasize the unusual circumstances in which they find themselves.

Also because I do write flash pieces set on other worlds, I can use my character names to immediately flag up this being is not from our planet.

And you can use not just character names, but the names of things like the shops they go to as ways of indicating their background.

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Am off to the online Association of Christian Writers Flash Fiction group meeting tonight. Interesting chat, exercises to have a go at, markets to hear about – what’s not to like there?! Networking for writers can take many forms and Zoom has helped enormously here.

Best bit of all? You will find out info useful to you. You may well be able to give useful info out to others. Nobody knows it all and sharing knowledge and tips is the best way to develop as a writer. Networking can also help you avoid the scammers out there. And I’m all for that!

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Fairytales with Bite – Charms and Spell

C = Character casting a charm but will be it be for good or ill?
H = Have a wish or three but respect the giver.
A = Always respect the wish granters or
R = Risk humiliation at best and probably worse.
M = Magical people don’t always look like they are.
S = Showing humility in a magical world is always a good idea.

A = Arrogance tends to be punished here.
N = Not unknown for animal transformations to be the result.
D = Do you really fancy that? Hmm… choice made. Your life is changing.

S = Spending your life as a wild beast is not fun.
P = Praying your one true love will turn up but now knowing if they will.
E = Eternity – you know a thing or two about what that feels like.
L = Living an animal life is far removed from what you’ve known
L = Love cannot come quickly enough to rescue you.

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This World and Others – Interactions

How do your characters interact with each other? Is technology, as we know it, available in your created world or is it far in advance of what we know? If your characters can use telepathy, are there any rules on how they can use it? If not, what would happen if someone “pushes the bounds” of what is acceptable in your world? Not everyone is going to want their thoughts read and could react badly (or will find ways to disguise what they are really thinking and that may well frustrate the potential eavesdropper here so how would they react to that?).

How does your world interact with other planets near it? How do the countries in your world react with one another? What political systems exist in your created world? Does politics get in the way of more positive interactions between individual characters and/or countries?

Interactions are not single things. One interaction will trigger another. Someone has to respond to it but it will be how and why they respond as they do that will keep the reader’s interests. How can you ratchet the tensions up here? Conflicts have to be realistically based.

Readers need to be able to see why Character A wants what they do and why Character B is determined to prevent Character A getting what they want. Also think about what the trigger for the initial interaction will be – the classic one is someone wanting something desperately enough to do anything to get it. How could you use that? What could you bring to the mix to make it unique? What if other characters don’t understand your Character A’s desperate need for whatever the object or objective is and actively get in the way as they think it will be in Character A’s best interests not to get it?

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Twitter icon

Plenty going on with Twitter this time as I was on Twitter duty for the Association of Christian Writers over the past few days. I share useful writing tips on these so thought I would share again here.

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Swanwick 2021

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Some images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Many thanks to Fiona Park for the picture of me signing Tripping the Flash Fantastic at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School – August 2021. Screenshots taken by me, Allison Symes.

It has been a busy week with Creativity Matters: Finding Your Passion for Writing coming out on pre-order in paperback and ebook. (Out on 1st September 2021 so not long to wait). Book cover image from Wendy H. Jones.

It has been a joy to look back at Swanwick though and I hope my CFT post shares something of why it is special for writers.

Feature Image - Swanwick Writers Summer School - August 2021

Facebook – General

27th August
It’s that time of the week again – time to share my latest Chandler’s Ford Today post. This week, I look back at Swanwick 2021. All of my CFT posts are a joy to write but some stand out as being really special and this one does as it brought back many happy memories of a wonderful week at Swanwick this year, and from previous ones I’d attended.

I look at a little of what the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School has to offer writers (and it can only be a little as otherwise the post would be far too long!). Can’t wait for the booking slot to be open again for Swanwick 2022!

And it was fabulous meeting up with another Bridge House Publishing/CafeLit/Chapeltown Books author for a good chat. #LindaWPayne, I hope to get to see you again at the next Bridge House event!

Swanwick 2021

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Hope you have had a good day. Just sent off some blurb and an author headshot for an event I will be taking part in later on in the year. Loved the Association of Christian Writers’ Flash Fiction Group meeting last night. Great fun – I have a story to work on as a result which is good. Nice talk about markets as well, always useful that.

Meetings like this are wonderful places to exchange information. You never know when something someone says then suddenly is of direct relevance to you. That’s happened to me a lot.

I was told about Chandler’s Ford Today – and now write for it.

I was told CafeLit were issuing a 100-word challenge (and look what has led to – two published flash fiction collections).

I was told about Mom’s Favorite Reads – and now write for it. So if you ever wondered if there was any point to networking with other authors, there’s your answer – yes, there is!

And it is great fun. The support and encouragement along the way is appreciated too – it especially helps with things are not going so well. We all get writing ebbs and flows.


Nice to see some sunshine today and Lady was besides herself with glee. She got to play with her best friend, the Rhodesian Ridgeback today, and her other best pal, a Hungarian Vizler. All three dogs went home tired and very happy.

Looking forward to sharing my Chandler’s Ford Today post on Friday. I look back at my week at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. What has going to that done for me? Well… (takes big intake of breath)…:-

1. Made lots of writing friends.
2. Had so much encouragement.
3. Learned so much from the courses and workshops.
4. Taken part in things I had not done prior to Swanwick, most notably the Open Prose Mic Night. Great fun.
5. Sold my books.
6. Bought even more books! It is one of my great joys to walk past my book shelf and see books by friends, signed by them naturally, on there.
7. Have a week just focused on writing and nothing else. Bliss!
8. Come out of my shell just a bit! Chatting with other authors helps you share what you do and they share with you about their work. You learn to speak about what you do much more naturally. I was a bundle of nerves when I first started doing this kind of thing.

Can’t wait for Swanwick 2022!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

My latest drabble (aka 100-worder) on #FridayFlashFiction is called The Turn Around and I look at how my characters David and Mary spend their tenth wedding anniversary. Does it turn out as either expect? Hope you enjoy reading the story to find out (and a huge thanks for the great comments in on this already. The feedback from this website is encouraging and useful.).


Screenshot 2021-08-27 at 17-10-59 The Turn Around by Allison Symes

 

Repetition can work in flash fiction, funnily enough. You might think it would be the first thing to avoid given the limited word count flash has. But it has been useful, not all the time, but for when I want to produce particular effects.

I’ve sometimes used repetition in titles (Enough is Enough is one example from Tripping The Flash Fantastic).

But what works better, especially if I am writing a “circle” story is have the last line mirror the first line but with a slight tweak to the words so they’re not exactly the same but 90% of the words, say, do match.

Another thing I’ve sometimes done is to start a couple of sentences with the same starting phrase. In my Good to Go, I have two consecutive paragraphs start with “He looked at”.

My The Wish List has all but one line start with the words “I wish”. You can get a rhythm in the prose using this kind of repetition. It can be so effective for emphasis.

It’s not the kind of thing I want to do all the time (I don’t want it to look gimmicky) but repetition, every now and again, can be distinctive and help create the impact you want your story to have on the reader.

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I’m going to be talking about the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School for my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week (link up on Friday). What has been so encouraging has been to see the development of flash fiction as a format over the many years I’ve been going to writing events. When I first started doing this, flash was not “on the radar” so to speak.

Now it is a recognizable form, with all sorts of competitions and markets catering for it. And the bigger established competitions such as The Bridport Prize have added it to their categories. I am sure the switch to more people reading on screens has helped fuel the growth in flash fiction as it is so easy to read on screen.

I would like to say onwards and upwards for flash fiction but it really should be onwards and watch the word count limit!

 

Fairytales with Bite – Writing from an Alternative Character’s Viewpoint

Writing from an alternative character’s viewpoint is great fun and it was how I found my way into print back in 2009. My story, A Helping Hand, was published in Alternative Renditions (Bridge House Publishing).

The idea was to take an alternative character from a fairytale and write their story up. I chose the youngest stepsister to Cinderella to write about. Great fun to do. I could make that character narky about Cinder’s success and so on. (And if you would like to check the book out you can do so here.

This kind of thing is a great writing exercise. It makes you think about the “bit part” players and explore their personalities. What stories do they have if they were allowed to take the starring role for once? Is there resentment against the well known one’s success or do they hope that some of that “luck” will rub off on them? Do they do anything to try to earn that “luck”?

Do they have success that surpasses the well known character’s new life? Are they reliant on magical help or do they make their own success? Could the well known character end up envying them? All great ideas to explore.

Screenshot 2021-08-27 at 20-13-07 Allison Symes

This World and Others – Where Magic Is Normal, What Isn’t?

It’s a fair question I think. So your created world has magic as a normal thing. What else is normal that wouldn’t be considered normal here? Is there a price to be paid for magical usage (such as it draining the user so they have to be careful how they use it and ensure they don’t waste their own energy)?

What would your magical creations consider unusual about life here on Earth? They would see the absence of magic as abnormal but what would they make of science, for example? What would they make of technology and medical developments? Would they see them as almost magical?

I’ve mentioned before it is important to set parameters for magic. If everyone can use it, where is the story? Where is the conflict? But have certain species only able to do this kind of magic, others able to do everything, and you can set the scene for clashes (and interesting stories). If your magical world wants to spread its magic to other places, how will it deal with another setting which is resolutely opposed to it but can fight back using non-magical weapons?

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Alternative Twitter image

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Writing Joys, Podcast News, and Launches in Lockdown 2

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Thanks to #RichardHardie, #FrancescaTyer, and #TeresaBassett for supplying images used below too.

A huge thank you to #MaressaMortimer, #FranHill, and #WendyHJones for their images and book cover photos for my Chandler’s Ford Today Launches In Lockdown series this week.

And I am delighted to say I was on Wendy’s The Writing and Marketing Show earlier this week. Will share link further down. I talk about writing regular columns for online magazines.

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Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today – Launches in Lockdown Part 2

What a busy day it has been as there are two posts on here from me tonight!

For this post, I want to say what a pleasure it has been to write the Launches in Lockdown series for Chandler’s Ford Today. I think if I can make a claim to write a zeitgeist series, this one is it!

Part 2 tonight shares wonderful insights from three authors from the Association of Christian Writers (I’m the Membership Secretary). #MaressaMortimer, #FranHill, and #WendyHJones have all had books out in the very recent past and have plenty of useful tips and thoughts to share in this week’s post.

Hope you enjoy it and find it useful.

Next week I’ll be chatting to writers from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School.

 

Facebook – General – and Association of Christian Writers

It is very much an Association of Christian Writers weekend for me as I am at an online Committee meeting tonight and tomorrow. Much will be said. Much will be done. All thanks to Zoom!

And it is my turn on the ACW More Than Writers blog too. This month, I use my spot to talk about Writing Joys. I can’t stress enough how important it is to love what you write. (Okay you won’t all the time, nobody does, but you should be looking forward to your writing sessions and what you’re working on most of the time. It is that love for the work which drives you and can help keep you going during the tougher writing times which happen to us all).

Delighted to say my interview with Richard Hardie recently on Chandler’s Ford Today is now up on the Authors Reach website (very much with my blessing!). Authors Reach is Richard’s publishing company and I was chatting to him about the challenges he has faced as an author and publisher during the pandemic. The AR link is https://www.authorsreach.co.uk/post/richard-hardie-authors-reach-and-lockdown – well worth another read!

And tomorrow sees Part 2 of my CFT series, Launches in Lockdown, go live. This week I’ll be chatting to three lovely writers from the Association of Christian Writers – #MaressaMortimer, #FranHill, and #WendyHJones. One of them has also come up with the funniest book title of 2020 in my view. You’ll have to wait for the post tomorrow to find out who the author is and whether you agree with me or not! (Trouble with doing a blog round up in reverse date order is you will already have spotted the answer to this one!!).

PODCAST NEWS –

WENDY H JONES CHATS TO ALLISON SYMES

Am thrilled to share the link to my interview by Wendy H Jones for her podcast, The Writing and Marketing Show. I talk about writing a regular column (for Chandler’s Ford Today), how I find ideas (and keep coming up with them) and the joys of an online magazine.

With more of us using technology to read (smartphones, I-pads etc), it makes a huge amount of sense to have intelligent, interesting, and entertaining content available for that technology. And online magazines do need writers to provide it. Hope you enjoy. And many thanks, Wendy, for hosting me again. It was such fun to do!

Podcast News:  https://www.stitcher.com/show/the-writing-and-marketing-show/episode/writing-a-newspaper-column-81142120

Screenshot_2021-01-27 The Writing and Marketing Show - Writing a Newspaper Column on Stitcher

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

A huge thanks to everyone for the great responses so far to my CFT series, Launches in Lockdown. Whether you’ve been launching flash fiction collections (as I have) or longer works, I think it is fair to say the last 12 months have been difficult. But social media and Zoom have helped.

And I think this all shows the importance of networking too. Thanks to networking over the last few years, I have a lovely wide range of people to approach for CFT interviews, but it does also mean that same pool can be invited to my launches.

Naturally this is two-way traffic. I get invited to theirs and I go to as many as I can. You learn from what other writers do and they learn from you too. I love the give and take of the writing world here.

I guess also writing flash is excellent practice for writing short, pithy pieces for your online book launches too!

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Am thrilled to see a great number of views for my recent story video, Dress Sense. The thought of Red Riding Hood giving the Big Bad Wolf fashion tips has obviously gone down well! Many thanks, everyone. (Oh and I think she’s right by the way – see the link and see what you think!).

Dress Sense Video Link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVs_GEWh5To

Tripping The Flash Fantastic is on offer in paperback on Amazon at the moment. Go on, pick up a bargain! See http://author.to/AllisonSymesAuthorCent for more.

F = Fun to write
L = Lively character(s)
A = Action immediately
S = Stories great for ending with a twist
H = Heroes/heroines are dropped right in it from the start

F = Finite story length but you do have some choice
I = Imagination intense to make an intense story work
C = Character(s) has/have to grip you immediately.
T = Tension, yes there’s plenty of that and not a lot of space to resolve it.
I = Intensity can vary. Reflective pieces can work well but the character has to be compelling to make that successful.
O = Oh my… what is your flash tale’s ‘oh my’ moment?
N = Narrative take? I often favour first person.

Thought I’d share another story video here – hope you enjoy.

Fairytales with Bite – Magical Reading

What kind of books would your magical characters read? Would they read about uses of magic or do they want to get away from all of that? Well, it would make sense if they did. I know when I read I want to escape the every day world and its cares. In a magical world, the magic is the everyday world and its cares! Same old, same old, and all that!

Having said that, maybe they would want to carry out research and use it to improve their skills.
Some suggestions for possible research reading material then though I accept the titles could do with some work (and abbreviating!):-

Fairies – 10001 Things To Do With Your Wand Not Involving Turning People Into Frogs

Witches – How to Sabotage Fairy Spells So They Produce Useless Things Like Glass Slippers – A Beginner’s Guide.

Wizards – How to Produce the Perfect Smoke Ring Without Appearing to Use Magic To Do It

Elves – How To Be A Right Cobbler (see the story of The Elves and the Shoemaker here).

Dwarves – Gold and How To Find It (always of interest)

Dragons – Wing Technique for the Bigger Flying Animal and How To Get It Right and Surprise Your Prey (and I am assuming dragons are very intelligent creatures who can read, so there!).

And talking of dragons, let’s hear another story from their viewpoint.

 

This World and Others – Education, Education…..Er…. What Does Your Fictional World Consider to be Education?

So what would your created world consider to be a good standard of education? Is it just the ability to read and write? Would there be topics like history, geography, any of the sciences etc? And is the education open to all but only a few?

In an uneducated world (judging by our standards only), how would news be communicated to those who cannot read? Does the lack of an education hold people back or have they not known anything else? Is there any sense of people wanting to improve their situation here?

And if so, what or whom is stopping them and for what purposes? (Usually it is a question of being able to control people who don’t enough to question things but what if the ruler has genuine reasons for fearing what education could do? Are they right? What are those fears? How can those fears be misproved and the ruler shown a good standard of education would be beneficial?).

If there are schools, colleges etc., do they resemble what we have here? What are the differences?

And if education has always been around, how has it progressed or is it progressing during the course of your story?

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Twitter Corner

 

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Crucial Characterisation and a Charity Cookbook

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest CFT post shares news of a very special cookbook written by Barbara Large MBE. Barbara was the founder of the Winchester Writers’ Festival (as it is now known) and her book is raising funds for the Nick Jonas Ward at the Royal County Hospital, Winchester.

Barbara shares her thoughts on the joys and challenges of writing this book, as does Anne Wan, who through imprint North Oak Press, published the book. There is also a delicious recipe to try!

 

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Shooting Star - Barbara and Anne 1

Barbara Large and Anne Wan at the launch of Anne’s book.  Image kindly supplied by Anne Wan

Anne Wan and Allison Symes at Bay Leaves Larder

Anne Wan and I enjoying a cup of tea as I interview her for Chandler’s Ford Today a while ago.  Image taken on Anne’s phone by the cafe staff!

When Writing Magazine comes in, I flick through and see if I know anyone who has written in to the letters page or the Members’ News section. I’m glad to say there usually is someone I know in either section in most editions!

Going to writing courses, conferences etc., is the best way I know of for networking with other writers and connections build up over time. Though a week at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School speeds that process up a LOT!

Talking of connections, how do your characters build up their relationships with other characters? What kind of networking exists in the world you’ve created? Often it is a case of showing Character A has this relationship (of whatever nature) with Character B but can you hint at how it all kicked off? Is there a solid basis to how your characters interact with each other? There should be…!

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My CFT post this week will share news of a charity cookbook called Scrumptious Recipes Shared with a Pampered Patient, written by Barbara Large, MBE, who founded the Winchester Writers’ Festival (formerly the Winchester Writing Conference). More details and the link on Friday.

I look forward to sharing thoughts on the recent Bridge House/Chapeltown/Cafelit celebrations the week after. As ever, can hardly believe how the year has raced by. Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for the pic of me reading some of my more recent stories from Cafelit and also from From Light to Dark and Back Again.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Have fun mixing up the settings you use for your stories too. Some of mine are set in a magical or fantasy world but others are very much here on Earth.

My Time for Tea is set with the opening showing an old man arranging the tea things as he is expecting his adult children to visit. But this is no ordinary tea party.

And I guess that is the point of this post. The setting may be ordinary but it is what you do with it that will turn your story into something special.

A random word generator can be fun to play around with sometimes. Having a look at one tonight, and having set the first and last letters I wanted, my haul was “bloody”, “biography”, “biology”, and “beneficiary”. Hmm… definite possibilities there.

DANGEROUS WORDS
The biography of my long dead great-aunt whom I cared for, well it was well over a decade in the end, was a revelation, a bloody one at that. No wonder she didn’t want this coming out during her lifetime and I’m heartily wishing I hadn’t been sent this book. Someone wanted me to have it but who and why? And why send it now?

Frankly, I’m not sure what I want to do with this. The logical thing would be to burn the wretched book but how many copies were produced? How could I find out without revealing what I know? And whoever sent this to me is expecting some sort of reaction I guess. There’s nothing to stop them sending me other copies either is there? Have they gone to the police? Well let them… I’ve done nothing wrong except be a beneficiary to a sick old lady whose family abandoned her. Except I now know why they dumped her. Has one of them finally decided I ought to know? Or are they going to try to take my inheritance from me?

What did I find out? That my aunt knew quite a bit about biology as it turns out and where exactly to stick the knife. She wasn’t always crippled with arthritis! Said knife ended up right in the backs of anyone to whom she was a beneficiary. Collected quite a sum in the end – well over £500 K. People have been killed for less than that. What I can’t figure is how she got away with it. All I know is I’m keeping that money and I am getting out of here NOW.

Ends.

Allison Symes – 6th December 2018

See a random word generator as another way to conjure up ideas for you to play with. You don’t have to use all the words that come up – a lot will depend on how much of a challenge you feel up to tackling! But have fun with this and hopefully you’ll get some stories down as a result.

 

Ideas for flash fiction stories can come from many sources (and I’ve used advertising slogans, scenes from films, well known phrases, and sometimes puns – e.g. my Raising the Stakes. Yes it IS a vampire story but told from the viewpoint of…. well no spoilers here!).

Mix up your sources of ideas from time to time. Never use just one source. You want to have a nice wide “net” to scour for story ideas. Don’t forget pictures either. They can be a great starting point for a story. What could you do with the images below for instance?

Above all have fun with your writing. It does show through!

Fairytales With Bite – Editing Your Story

Some of the ways I edit a story are:-

1.  To put it aside for a while.  Sounds odd I know but you need to put some distance between you as the writer of the piece before you can become you, the editor of that piece.  You are too close to the work to be objective about it just after you’ve written it.  You’re either going to think it is the best or worst thing ever written (there seems to be no happy medium here!) so remind yourself, you will look at the piece when it will seem like new to you again.  Then and only then can you judge it properly.  Assuming you have done that:-

2.  Read work out loud.  This is great for literally hearing whether your dialogue works as well as you think it does.  If you stumble over words or phrases, so will your reader.  I’ve sometimes recorded a story (using Audacity) and played it back.  You get to listen to it as a listener would then.

3.  Do a basic edit first.  I start by getting rid of my known wasted words, repetitions, and go through for spelling and grammatical errors.  You will need to do this again at least once more once you’ve got a final draft but I have found it useful to use this to get me into “editor mode” and to get started on the whole business!

4.  Look at whether the structure makes sense.  Are there gaps the reader can’t follow?  Where you have hinted at something happening in the story, did you follow through on it later?

5.  Do all of your characters have a vital role in the story?  If not, can you get rid of some or amalgamate them into one person?

6.  Do all of the plot lines tie up and make sense?  Have you shown a point of change in the characters?  Have you ensured the story reaches a logical conclusion (which doesn’t need to be a happy one)?

Good luck!

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This World and Others – Crucial Characterisation

Characterisation is always crucial, of course, but pointers I have found really useful include:-

1.  Ensure there is something about your characters that your readers can identify with.  They don’t necessarily have to agree with your characters but should be able to see why your characters are acting as they are.  Part of the challenge of a story is to get your readers to wonder whether they would have done the same as your characters and, if not, why not and what would they have done!

2.  The goal should be an understandable one.  From the character’s viewpoint, naturally, it has to be a life or death matter.  It should be something they are prepared to risk all for.  It should be something they can’t refuse to do.

3.  Characters should be memorable.  Doesn’t matter if they’re heroes or villains, the crucial point is your characters should stay in the minds of your readers long after they’ve finished your story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stand Alones, Flash Fiction and Fairytales

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Many thanks again to Jennifer C Wilson, Val Penny, #AnneWan, Wendy Jones, and Richard Hardie for their further insights into the joys and challenges of writing series fiction. Amongst tonight’s topics is how to ensure each book in a series works as a stand-alone, given our series writers can never know which book a reader will actually start with. It isn’t necessarily book 1!

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What five things do I like to see in a character? Ideally they have all of the traits I list below but as long as a character has the majority of them, I’m likely to enjoy spending time in the company of that character as I read their story.

1. Courage.
2. Sense of Humour.
3. Loyalty.
4. They, at the very least, respect books; at best they have their own library!
5. Kindness.

Does that rule out the villains? No! Even villains can be kind to their pet cat, have a decent library etc.

Looking at that list, it’s what I like to see in myself and, before you ask, I’m working on the personal library bit! (It’s nowhere near as grand as the one in the pictures below though!).

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One of the things I love about going to writing conferences is that I always learn something pertinent to what I write. And it is not always an obvious link.

I’m off to the Association of Christian Writers’ Day on Saturday, the topic is Writing for Children and Young Adults, which is not directly what I do, but I just know I will pick up useful tips that I can apply directly.

And you never know – looking at what other writers do can help you re-examine whether you are working in the best way you can. It may also inspire a new direction of writing too! What I do know is it will be fun finding out if it does or not and what useful tips I’ll bring home with me.

The great thing with writing is you never stop learning how to improve what you do and that is so good for your brain!

(And networking is always fun!).

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A = Alliteration. Can be useful for titles in flash fiction (though I don’t use it much) but as with any story, it can grab the attention and help set the mood. Best not overused I think. You want each title to set the tone for what it is to come and a variety of methods for doing that is best. Keeps it fresh for you as the writer too.

B = Backstory. Not a lot of room for that in flash fiction! Best to hint at it through one or two vital details the reader has to know and leave it at that.

C = Character. The kingpin of fiction I think. Get the character right and the plot will come from them. Know your character inside and out – I find it useful to know their chief trait (and I piece together a mental picture of what they are like from there). Find the appropriate starting point for you but it is worth taking the time to know your character well before you start. Your writing will flow better because you write with that knowledge. It does come through in what you write.

As ever, am planning to write flash fiction on the train journey to and from London on Saturday as I head off to a writing day run by the Association of Christian Writers. It’s amazing what you can get done on a smartphone with no interruptions! (Daren’t do this on the Tube though. Always worried I’ll miss my stop! I do think the Tube is a wonderful invention and you never get cold down there either…).

I also sometimes draft non-fiction articles and future blog posts when out and about. I just need a long enough train journey to draft a novel now. 😉😁Hmm….

 

When planning your story (you do, yes?), I find it useful to work out what the obvious ideas might be from a title I’ve thought of, and then work out what could come from those. I don’t plump for the first ideas that come to me. I try to make myself dig that bit deeper to come up with something that fits the theme, makes sense, but is also different precisely because I haven’t gone for the obvious ideas!

Spider diagrams or flowcharts can be useful here. I find I must have a title to kick start the process with, even if I do end up changing it for something better later. It is always a tad annoying that a better title idea crops up when you are writing the story and NOT before you get started, but that is one of those quirks of writing!

Picture of me reading was taken by the lovely #DawnKentishKnox at last year’s Bridge House event. Am very much looking forward to this year’s one too!

 

Gill talks with Dawn and I at the BH event, image taken by Paula Readman

Gill James talks with Dawn Knox and I at a networking event held by Bridge House Publishing last December. Am glad to report Dawn will also be in the Waterloo Festival Anthology. Image from Paula Readman and thanks to her for permission to use it.

Paula Readman, Dawn Kentish Knox and Allison Symes and books - with kind permission from Paula Readman - Copy

Paula Readman, Dawn Knox and I at the recent Bridge House celebration event. Many thanks to Paula for the image. Also Paula is another winning entry for the Waterloo Festival.

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Dawn Kentish Knox, fellow flash fiction writer, reads some work from her excellent book, The Great War. Image by Allison Symes

Lovely having an appreciative audience, pic taken by Dawn Kentish Knox

I read three stories from From Light to Dark and Back Again. Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for the picture!

Book Buying News!

From Light to Dark and Back Again is available from The Book DepositoryDelivery time on the paperback is 1 to 3 business days.  As ever, reviews are always welcome in the usual places.  The great thing is reviews do not need to be long but they all help the writer, even the indifferent ones!

Fairytales with Bite – Flash Fiction and Fairytales

Flash fiction is an ideal vehicle for fairytales.  Why?  Because the best fairytales set up their world quickly, have a definite conclusion, and often pack a powerful punch.  Flash fiction does this too so to my mind flash and fairytales are a match made in writing heaven.

Flash fiction has to be character led due to its limited word count but you can set that character wherever and whenever you wish.  A few telling details can set up a magical world quickly.  For example from my George Changes His Mind (in From Light to Dark and Back Again), I set up a magical world with the opening line “He refused to kill the dragon.”  The telling detail there is in one word – dragon! The story goes on to show what happens and that is the important bit of the story after all.  I don’t need to use thousands of words setting up the magical world in which this is set.  This is not crucial to this story.  What matters is it IS in a magical world and what George goes on to do or not do.

A lot of my stories are either reflections of a fairytale world or set in it and they are great fun to write but I always focus on what the lead character is like.  That is the crucial point of any story I think but in flash where every word must work hard to earn its place to stay there, it is even more so.

This World and Others – Stand Alone

Part 2 of my CFT mini series on The Joys and Challenges of Writing Series Novels looks at, amongst other topics, how to ensure a book stands alone given no series novelist can know at which point a reader will discover their writing.  It is highly unlikely to be book 1.  Indeed I’ve discovered series at the mid point! Many thanks again to my marvellous panellists – Jennifer C Wilson, Val Penny, Anne Wan, Wendy H Jones, and Richard Hardie – for some great insights.  Very happy to recommend their books to you too.  Great reads one and all albeit for different audiences!

It is true that every writer stands alone, even those that collaborate as they have to go off to write “their bits” before coming back and swapping notes with the other one(s) in the project.  We have to judge whether our work is strong enough to submit and, if there is a choice of places to submit to, which is the best one.  We have to judge whether we have edited a piece enough or if it still needs work.  The call is with us and we are going to get it wrong.  The joy, of course, is when we get it right and a piece is published.

This is where meeting other writers, whether at conferences, online, at courses etc., is invaluable.  There is nobody like another writer to know exactly how it feels when you’re struggling to get the words out or who knows the joy of the words pouring out and work going well.  You do have to share this sometimes for the sake of your own sanity!

I learned a long time ago no writer is a competitor to me.  I write as I write.  I cannot write as you would.  We all bring our unique perspectives to what we write – and that is the great thing about it!

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FAIRYTALES, TRUTH, AND NETWORKING

Now there’s a combination!

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My latest Chandler’s Ford Today post is called Networking Tips. Fellow Chapeltown Books author, Mandy Huggins, and I both share our thoughts on networking here and we hope you find the post useful. Many thanks to her for her pictures. Also a big thank you to Paula Readman for kind permission to use the picture of Dawn Knox, Paula and I which was taken at the Bridge House celebration event last December.

I remember being so scared of the thought of having to network when I was first starting out as a writer. It was really only when I realised networking meant talking about something I love – books, stories etc (generally, as well as my own) – that I relaxed. Can I talk about these things? Yes! The problem can be stopping me! (But that is how it should be. I don’t see how you can commit to writing as a long term love unless you are enthuasiastic about stories. Given the ups and downs of a writer’s life, writing has to be thought of as a series of hopefully achievable goals over a reasonable period of time. There are no shortcuts).

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Questions I like to ask of my characters from time to time include:-

What would you say was your best trait?
What would you say was your worst one?
What drives you and why?

I inevitably don’t use all of what I come up with here in the stories themselves but have found having a good working knowledge of what my characters are really like makes it so much easier to write convincingly about/for them.

It is worth taking the time out to flesh out your thoughts here before you write your story. (Scrivener is great here with its character and setting outlines in its short story “mode” but you can create your own template of things you should know about your “people” before you write their stories down).

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What are your writing “likes”? Some of mine include:-

Decent one-liners that make me laugh.

A story that shows me motivations or stresses characters are under that I might not have considered before. For example murders are committed for serious reasons and to what appears to others to be trivial ones. Yet a good story will take you into the mind of that murderer and show why the trivial reason isn’t trivial to them.

Good, sharp pace with quiet bits in between giving me good background on the setting and characters, knowing said quiet bits are gearing the reader up for the next big scene.

A satisfactory ending, which is not the same as a happy one necessarily. The ending has to be right for the story and the main character. It won’t feel right if the match isn’t there.

Characters I can rally behind (or metaphorically boo for) but either reaction has to be genuine. I don’t want to see the author’s hand making their characters act in a certain way. The characters’ acting has to be realistic for those characters.

I love getting to the end of a story or novel and in a sense wishing neither had ended. Always a sign of a well told tale! Going back over a story/novel and picking up the bits I missed first go around. This is particularly true for a detective novel. I always miss some of the clues on the first read!

I like a happy ending where the hero/heroine has “earned” it. I also like to see villains get their comeuppance but again in a realistic manner. Villains generally are not going to fall apart. They can be caught out.

Every word to count… Funnily enough that doesn’t necessarily mean everything has to be short but that each word is appropriate for the story being told. In P.G. Wodehouse’s stories so often he uses very long sentences (he’d never get away with it now!) but not a word is out of place and indeed especially when Wooster’s narrating the long-windedness is part of (a) the character’s charm and (b) the character’s characteristics!

Positive developments in characters, especially a character that goes on to make something good out of themselves.

I like pinpointing moments of change in a story and watching the drama unfold.

Feeling a slight sense of envy I didn’t write the story/novel I’ve enjoyed is a good sign – and nothing but a compliment to the actual author!

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It is only in looking back at stories that make up a collection, you really get to see what influences came out. FLTDBA has a nice mixture of influences – fairytales, nods to films, Frankenstein, poetic justice, and Pride and Prejudice to name just some.

I guess this shows why you should read widely (in whatever format and including non-fiction) because you are feeding your imagination. What drives you to write the stories you do? Your own influences/thoughts. Why have you got those influences and thoughts? Almost certainly thanks to things you have read that rang true for something deep inside your creative self.

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The right ending for a story is the one that is most appropriate for it. It doesn’t need to be happy necessarily. Indeed, quite a few of mine in From Light to Dark and Back Again are definitely not of the traditional happy ever after variety!

I remember being stunned when I first read Hans Christen Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. You expect everything to work out okay (after all, isn’t that how fairytales are supposed to turn out?) and then it doesn’t! And I won’t say more than that. No spoilers here. It does pay to read the fairytales. They’re often darker than people think and have more layers. The Little Mermaid is a tale of sacrifice when all is said and done.

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What do I most like about writing? Well, here’s a few thoughts.

Coming up with characters who spring to life and develop in front of your “eyes”.

Coming up with world(s) that fascinate you.

Coming up with villain(s) that fascinate you!

Coming up with hero(ines) that also fascinate but show why they are the good guys. They’ve got to have a good cause, literally.

Being able to write short length stories from flash to standard length (up to 2000 words) to novels to plays… the only limit is your imagination.

You can explore ideas.

You can discover ideas from the characters you develop, not just in terms of new story ideas, but you get to learn how your “people” think and why. Could it change how you feel about issues? Can be fun finding out!

Receiving feedback which helps you improve your work (this is not necessarily complimentary, though nice responses are obviously nice, but so you can see how well you “got through” to your reader).

Winning or being shortlisted for competitions is a huge morale boost.

Getting to talk about your work at writing festivals and enjoying hearing about others’ work. I love both aspects here. I think it’s like a kind of celebration of the work of the imagination.

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytales and Truth

I’m sure you must have come across at some point someone saying something like “it’s just a fairytale”.  That phrase has always annoyed me.  There is nothing “just” about a fairytale.

When examined closely, the vast majority of fairytales contain at least one element of truth in them (and often much more).  Yes, fairytales do tend to follow character type but there is a lot of truth in those.  What does the wicked witch represent?  Those who are prepared to use the power they’ve got to control others or who are prepared to do anything to gain power.  Who does the good fairy represent?  Those who use their powers for the good of others.  And that’s just to name two examples. We can all think of real life people who can fit into those categories so fairytales do reflect humanity as we know it.

Hans Christen Andersen showed that fairytales do not always have happy ever after endings.  (While it surprised me the first time I read his The Little Mermaid here, I have a greater appreciation now of the truthfulness of his characterisation and the way the story does end).  Fairytales can sometimes get across a certain amount of social commentary (again see Hans Christen Andersen’s The Little Match Girl here).

So I do wish some people would stop being dismissive of fairytales.  There is a lot more to them than may at first be apparent.

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This World and Others – Networking In Your Stories

My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week is all about networking.  Fellow Chapeltown Books author, Mandy Huggins, and I share our thoughts on this and I hope you find it useful. But it led me to wonder what kind of networking goes on inside the world of our stories.

How do our characters meet each other?  Have they known each other for years?  What are the social networks in the worlds you’ve created?  What happens to those who defy convention here?

Our stories won’t necessarily spell out all of that but readers should know why the characters are interacting the way they do.  If they hate each other, that is bound to be a major factor in how your story develops and the reason for the hate should be shown.  (I don’t think you can ignore the fact they hate each other, it must be what is driving your story.  I can’t see how it would be otherwise).

Is there such a thing as an old boys’ network in your world?  Who benefits or suffers because of it?  Is there a class system and can people/beings cross the divides?  If your world just has one major species, there should be some sort of hierarchy within it.  How does this work?

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My latest CFT post. Mandy Huggins and I discuss networking. Image via Pixabay

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My flash fiction collection from Chapeltown Books!

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Mandy’s flash fiction collection from Chapeltown Books. Image kindly supplied by her.

Amanda Huggins reading from the Ink Tears showcase anthology Death of a Superhero at the launch party in London December 2017

Mandy Huggins – reading is a great way to network with your readers. Image kindly supplied by Mandy Huggins.

It is always good to meet readers and even better when they read you - image via JW

Networking with readers at the Chandler’s Ford Book Fair in 2017. Image from Janet Williams, CFT’s amazing editor.

Setting the mood classically perhaps - image via Pixabay

Setting the mood with music. Image via Pixabay

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Humans are immensely creative - image via Pixabay

Let those ideas flow! Image via Pixabay,

A familiar desk scene for writers - image via Pixabay

The familiar sight of the writing desk, regardless of genre! Image via Pixabay.

The best advice for any writer - image via Pixabay

Sound advice. Image via Pixabay

From diving board to keyboard via Pixabay

The keyboard beckons…

 

 

 

 

TALKING CRIME, RESEARCH IN FICTION AND NETWORKING

A good mix tonight, I think!

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I talk crime and research, amongst other things, in Part 2 of a fab interview with crime writer, the lovely Val Penny.  Val is the author of Hunter’s Chase, which is the first book in her Edinburgh Crime series. We also talk about writing conferences and I know both of us are looking forward to networking in person later in the year at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School!

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Also a big thanks to Gail Aldwin for sharing details about other Chapeltown books including Badlands by Alyson Faye and my own From Light to Dark and Back Again. Much appreciated.

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How do you feel when you reach the end of writing a story or, even more, a book?

A little bereft perhaps but at the same time eager to get on with the next one. That’s my position at the moment.

Have got a few competitions I’d like to have a go at so those will be my next goal. I deliberately want to get work off to these before I start outlining my thoughts for my next book (and I’ve ideas I want to explore there). I think a break between books is a good idea. By the time you come back to writing a book again, you’ll be keen to get on with it!

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Where do I get ideas for my stories? From all over the place! When I was starting out as a writer, that kind of answer used to annoy me. My thoughts tended to be along the lines of “well, it’s all right for them to say that but I’m struggling, thank you”. Well, words to that effect anyway.

What I have learned over the years (lots of years too!) is you do learn to develop more of an open mind as to what could make a good story idea. What is useful is having a starting point to trigger ideas that can be developed further. Some of my starting points include:-

1. Proverbs/famous sayings to use as a theme.
2. Picture prompts (not necessarily taken by me). For example, landscapes can offer ideas as to where your setting is or if you are writing fantasy or sci-fi, is your world the complete opposite to the picture? Sometimes that can be useful in getting started.
3. Competition themes can be great as you can then enter the competition too!
4. Snippets of conversation can get you thinking about how a character of yours might get to say something similar.
5. I sometimes have a brainstorming session and write down what could be an opening line to a story. I don’t plan these sessions and try to just write freely for a set time. The lines can be as bizarre or as ordinary as I want but the ones I like the most of later are the ones I write up.

I think the most important thing is to have fun with your writing. If you don’t enjoy it, nobody else will!

 

Honest feedback is the only kind worth having - image via Pixabay

Honest feedback is the only kind worth having. Image via Pixabay.

Good historical fiction will make it seem as if you had stepped back in time - image via Pixabay

Could this picture inspire stories? Good fiction will take you out of the world for a while. Image via Pixabay.

The best advice for any writer - image via Pixabay

Sound advice.

Feature Image - Flash Fiction - Books are Gateway - image via Pixabay

Says it all really and applies to non-fiction equally as fiction. Image via Pixabay.

writing in many forms via Pixabay

Planning your work. Image via Pixabay.

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Looking forward to starting work on a third flash fiction collection after a pause to enter some competitions etc. I find a break between books useful.

Indeed, when I write batches of short stories, I like to have a break and switch to writing flash for a while and vice versa. In between all of this I’m writing posts for Chandler’s Ford Today and More Than Writers (the ACW blog though the lovely thing with writing on the 29th of the month is I have most Februarys off!!).

There are other things I’d like to do at some point (including seeing if I could write a radio play) but those will be projects that I might refer to as my “bits on the side”. I do think it is vital writers have fun with whatever it is they write and also to set themselves fresh challenges now and again.

 

Fairytales with Bite – Do You Need Research to Write Fiction?

One of the topics I discuss with crime writer, Val Penny, in Part 2 of my interview with her for Chandler’s Ford Today this week is research. We talk about the resources that are available for crime writers and I go on to mention that even for writing fantasy as I do, some research is useful.

Strictly speaking, for any fiction, of course you don’t have to carry out research.  You make it all up!  However, I’ve found that to root my characters so readers can identify with them, I need to know how we react as people and why (so a basic knowledge of how humans “work” is useful).  Also when it comes to world building, knowing how we work is a building block for making up your own  universe.  After all if you decide your world is going to be nothing like this one, you’ve got to work out in exactly which ways it will differ.  So you do have to bring some knowledge to the writing desk to be able to write effectively.

I’ve also found that researching (whether I do so via the internet, a book or what have you) helps me extend my knowledge (obviously!) but the knock-on benefit of that for my fiction writing is it also expands what I can write about.  Write about what you know is good advice so expand what you know and you can expand what you can write.

This World and Others – Networking

I discuss the value of networking in my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week, which is Part 2 of a great interview with crime writer, Val Penny.   Amongst other topics, we share our thoughts on two conferences we’ve been to – Winchester Writers’ Festival and the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School (and indeed are looking forward to networking in person again then!).

How does networking happen on the world you’ve created for your fiction though?  What is it used for?  Can only certain people/beings/robots/strange creatures etc do this?  Is corruption an issue and does anyone try to fight it, if so?  Which of the creative arts is known on your world and are there conferences/classes for them?  How is successful networking “rewarded”?

Have any of your characters formed friendships, which later they depend on in life threatening situations?  How does networking earlier in their life benefit them now?  (Or does it endanger them because the friends they thought they’d made turn out not to be friends at all?!).

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One of the best ways to escape is with a good book. Image via Pixabay.

THE MAGIC OF WRITING

FAIRYTALES WITH BITE

The Magic of Writing shares what I love about writing and writing get-togethers such as the Bridge House Publishing/Cafelit joint book launch I went to last weekend.  It was huge fun meeting up again with some I met from last year and others who were new to me.

And we all got the chance to practice our networking skills with the speed dating exercise.  You get to chat to a writer or reader for three minutes and ask them for marketing tips (if speaking to a writer) or discuss books in general (if speaking to a reader).  Once the three minutes are up, you then talk to someone else.

The only thing I dislike about this is you inevitably stop half way through an excellent conversation and there isn’t always time to get back to it at the bar again later. However, it does get you mixing and talking and you inevitably learn something really useful.

(Baubles – the Bridge House anthology for this year – and The Best of Cafelit 5 are available in print and on Kindle and via Amazon, as well as from the publishers directly.  I have a short story, Helping Out, in Baubles and a flash fiction piece, Telling the Time, in Cafelit 5).

THIS WORLD AND OTHERS

Writing Books shares some non-fiction how-to-write books I wouldn’t be without.  I deliberately kept this to a short list. Can you add to my list?  I wouldn’t dare list the fiction books I’d hate to part with as I’d be writing that list till Doomsday!

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I discuss the joys of swimming tonight.  I always thought I would end up working out stories as I swam but it hasn’t worked out like that.  I’m more likely to do that when doing the ironing!

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One of my favourite book images. They really are magical. Transportation into other worlds and around this one in a few hundred pages. Brilliant! Image via Pixabay.

One of my favourite book images. They really are magical. Transportation into other worlds and around this one in a few hundred pages. Brilliant! Image via Pixabay.