What Writers Need/Would Like

Naturally, what writers need and what they would like are not necessarily the same!

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What do all writers need?

1. Stamina.

2. The ability to accept rejections happen.

3. Commitment (10 minutes a day IS commitment so don’t be put off if your time is limited. The time you can spend on writing mounts up and besides this is not a competition). It is a case of working out what you can do and then sticking to it.

4. Reliable PC/laptop and printer (for running out those stories you need to edit on paper).

5. The ability to accept feedback, especially when it is critical. (What you’re looking for here is feedback that is honest but also says why something didn’t work for the reader concerned. “I didn’t like it” is not exactly helpful! “I didn’t like it because I thought the character was weak” is better. You then need to look at the character carefully and see if they are weak. If they are, there is work to do. If you honestly feel they’re not, then this may be this reader’s perception but something didn’t come across well and that is something you could look at).

6. Willingness to allow enough time to feed your own imagination and that means reading widely and across genres, including non-fiction.

7. The ability to plan out what work you will do when. My shorter writing sessions I use for flash fiction. Longer ones I give over to the novel or longer short stories. Planning how to use the time you’ve got will help you get more done.

8. Pens and notebooks. Jotting down ideas has to happen somewhere so it may as well be in a nice notebook. (Do ask non-writer family and friends for notebooks and pens as presents. You can’t have too many…!).

This is by no means a comprehensive list but I didn’t want this rivalling War and Peace for length!!

 

I listed yesterday some of the things writers need including stamina, the ability to accept rejections happen and so. Tonight I thought I’d flip the coin, so to speak, and look at what writers would like to happen.

1. Publication, obviously (and then to keep on being published).

2. Reviews (on Amazon and Goodreads particularly. They don’t have to be long reviews either).

3. Support from other writers and family/friends. It really does help especially for those times when your writing seems to be going nowhere.

4. An endless supply of pens/notebooks/toner cartridges/A4 etc etc.

5. An endless supply of tea/coffee etc while writing.

6. Always being able to go to your favourite writing events!

7. To never be short of things to write!

Again, this is by no means an exhaustive list!

What are the things I’ve found most useful as a writer? These are not in any particular order. All are invaluable.

1. Scrivener

2. Evernote

3. Smartphone (am a late convert to these but I get so much writing done when travelling by train thanks to this and it saves me lugging a laptop about. Biggest bugbear = my local train company, on taking over from the old one, blanking out all the recharging points on their trains. Why for goodness sake? This was a useful service to passengers. I can’t believe we’d have drained the train!!). Also incredibly useful for photos.

4. Notebooks and pens, naturally.

5. Good supplies of information on markets/competitions/writing conferences to go to (and this can be from something like Writing Magazine to informative Facebook groups to writing organisations).

6. Supportive writing friends/supportive friends and family who don’t write but root for me doing so!

7. The internet (it is useful for research. The clever bit is focusing on what you want to find out and not allow yourself to be distracted).

8. The indie press! (Take a bow Cafelit, Bridge House Publishing, Iron Press, Chapeltown Books etc).

9. The Society of Authors and ALCS.

10. My laptop and my printer aka Old Faithful. (Has seen off at least three “cleverer” colour printers with duplex printing. Old Faithful is strictly black and white and one side at a time and keeps going and going and going).

11. Liquid refreshments while writing (what I have here depends on time of year and my mood!).

12. My Slimming World Hi-fi bars for when the munchies strike while writing stories or blog posts.

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Murphy’s Laws for Writers – An Occasional Series…

1. You have lots of ideas for stories or none.

2. You have lots of time to enter competitions or very little.

3. A competition that would have suited you perfectly has just passed its closing date by the time you spot it.

4. You run out of pens yet know you have loads on your desk. They just vanish into thin air when you try to find them.

5. You’ve finally got around to picking up a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook but within a week the next year’s edition is out. You are not best pleased.

6. You are delighted to be able to support your friends’ writing and are thrilled when they’re published, you tell them you’re looking forward to their books coming out, plan to get to their launches etc. However, you don’t know what to do when you discover they’re holding book launches on the same day and at opposite ends of the country. Hmm…

Am not going to say which ones I’ve been guilty of!

 

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I’ve mentioned before that flash fiction works best with one character (at a pinch two), but it is also true said character should have only one goal to achieve/problem to overcome. There isn’t the room for more.

You want to keep things simple. Flash is direct. You are focusing on one character, one problem. Anything not to do with that is surplus to requirements and should be cut.

Simple is not the same as (a) easy (it really isn’t!) and (b) simplistic. You are looking for a prose style that flows and carries your readers along, keen to find how you get your character out of the horrible situation you’ve put them in. Do they sink or swim? Have they the right character traits to be able to swim? If they start to sink, how can they turn that around?

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It’s about time for some one-line stories again. Hope you like these.

1. When the red, red robin came bob, bob, bobbing along, the cat had a field day.

2. The problem with wishing on a star is, unless you have space equipment on and a decent supply of oxygen, you’re not going to be wishing for long.

3. The Magic Roundabout can carry on without me – I am currently stuck in Swindon’s version.

(For those not in the know, Swindon is renowned for its system of multiple roundabouts in one big one and The Magic Roundabout was a well known children’s TV programme back in the 1970s. Well, that was when I watched it! Oh and for the record, I’ve only been to Swindon by train to visit their excellent Steam railway museum!).

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It is often advised to keep a notebook handy so you can jot down story/blog post/novel ideas etc whenever they come to you. To be fair, this is very good advice.

However, it has never worked for me. Partly because when my head hits the pillow, I’m out like the proverbial light. No chance of me getting ideas during dreams.. I just sleep!

Secondly every other place where I have had ideas for stories has been too awkward for reach out and grab the notebook. It’s not unknown for ideas to come to me while showering or on the loo.

Why do ideas never come like that when you really COULD pause for a moment and jot them down the way you’re advised to? I refuse to believe this is just me!😀😀

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I relish that moment in fiction writing when the character takes off and I know I’ve got a good story in the offing as a result. I do believe a great story, regardless of its genre, is down to the great characters fuelling it. But up until that point, there is always that wondering “is this character going to work as well as I’d thought?”, “what if this falls flat?” etc.

Sometimes the character doesn’t work out and the story does fall flat. What I do here is, after some time away from it, I look at the story again and analyse what worked and what didn’t. It is nearly always a case for me that the character’s voice wasn’t strong enough. I can then look to see if I can improve that and rescue the story. If not, it’s a lesson for next time.

I’ve got to be able to hear a strong character voice coming through the narrative. Without that, I don’t think any story will work properly. To get that strong character, you have to know who they are, what they would risk everything for, and, in your story, are the stakes high enough for them to care about the outcome? If not, then the story will fall flat and no reader would care either.

Goodreads Author Blog – Settings in Books

Does the setting in a book matter to you?

I was always gripped by Kirrin Island in the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton. (I guess the nearest I got to visiting anything like it was when I went on a day trip to Brownsea Island, just off Poole! I lacked the lashings of ginger beer though… sighs…).

One of the things I love about The Lord of the Rings is the way The Shire is conjured up as a lovely place to live. Mordor is anything but! The films did full justice to this too. (Not always true for film adaptations either).

A really good setting is almost a character in its own right and the authors treat them that way too. This is true for Narnia, Winnie the Pooh (I’ve just got to say 100 Acre Wood and that will conjure up the world of Pooh immediately – to me at least!), amongst many, many others.

Do I need intensive descriptions of settings? Not really.

What I look for is enough for me to be able to visualise that setting for myself. Also, the characters should fit the setting – Jeeves and Wooster are great examples of that. There shouldn’t be any feeling of anything of anyone being out of place. Even the villains in a story should fit (think of the weasels in The Wind in the Willows for example – they still fit in that world).

Which are your favourite settings and why?

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The Highs and Lows

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I look at the highs and lows of the writing life in my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week. It’s easy to forget that the writing journey isn’t a straight line going up and up and up etc. It twists and turns, goes up and down, and the one predictable thing about it is it isn’t predictable!

Hope you enjoy the post but also find it consoling to know you’re not alone on that bumpy road!

Image Credit:  As ever, the images are from the fantastic Pixabay.

 

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The writing life has its ups and downs (and that’s the theme of this week’s CFT post, link up tomorrow).

The irony is that without at least one of the downs, rejections, your writing is unlikely to progress. Why?

Because you do have to learn from what you do do wrong. Also because a rejection makes you look at a piece again and either try and improve it or submit it to another, relevant, market to test the water with it there. Onwards and upwards is a good motto to have here!

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I’m very fond of stories told from an alternative viewpoint. This works really well for fairytales and my A Helping Hand, the first story I ever had published (thanks Bridge House!), was a reworking of the Cinderella story but from the viewpoint of the youngest stepsister.

In The Outcome in From Light To Dark and Back Again, I tell the Cinderella story from the viewpoint of the fairy godmother. Both stories were great fun to write (and it shows how powerful the Cinderella tale is given it is capable of being adapted like that. Also, how many other stories over the years have had what we’d recognise as a Cinderella theme?).

If a story isn’t working for you, even after you’ve drafted and edited it, try rewriting it from the viewpoint of another character in it and see what happens. Does the story grip you NOW? Was it the case of the wrong character leading the tale initially? It is worth playing around with a story in this way. If the story STILL doesn’t work, then move on. (Even then it may be worth an occasional revisit later to re-read it and see if there is anything you can do then. There is NO use by date for stories and as you write more and gain more experience, you do pick up all sorts of useful tips to improve your work. You may find that kind of tip will be the key to finally sorting your story problem out.).

The other great thing is if you really do have to abandon a story altogether (which I’ve only done once or twice), you will still learn something from it. I realised with mine the character and situation simply wasn’t strong enough and as a result I realised that I can’t NOT outline. Winging it on stories just doesn’t work for me. I’ve got to put some prep in first. And yes I outline flash fiction too! A line or two to work out in which direction I’m heading with my character and away I go.


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Time for some more one-line stories then as it’s been a while since the last lot. I have great fun coming up with these (and I may or may not write them up into fuller flash fiction pieces later. I do love the flexibility of flash for things like this).

1. Sam would soon find out if there was a barrier against the cliff edge, given he’d decided not to bother looking.

2. When the collie rounded up the sheep, she included the shepherd as part of that process.

3. Gerry was sure wine bottles weren’t supposed to be cleaned out in one gulp and was unsure how Margaret could do it.

4. He’d have to report back there was no intelligent life on earth and that journalist’s stupid questioning put the tin lid on that conclusion.

5. The journalist watched the alien leave in their spaceship and smiled at the thought she’d just managed to give the thing the best fake news ever.

I don’t always name my characters in flash fiction. Sometimes this is due to my using the first person and it’s simply odd not to use anything but “I” for that.

Also a lot of my stories only feature the one character (though they often refer to other characters). This is due to the story only needing the one character and the one viewpoint. This is useful for oddball characters in particular.

The point of stories like that is not to challenge the oddball view but to show a reader why this character could be like that/do what they have. You are seeing right into that character’s mind. You don’t have to like what you see there though! I do like the immediacy first person gives you though and sometimes that is exactly what the story needs.

Flash fiction is great for showing you a complete little world in a few sentences. This is why I think the form is addictive. You want to see what else you can do with it and push yourself (never a bad thing to do in writing!). Also having tried 100-word stories, can you manage 75-worders or 25-worders and so on?

Another enjoyable challenge is coming up with a suitable title which has a powerful impact on the reader. I like titles which draw readers in, can convey something of the setting or mood of the story (saves word count in the story itself doing that), or is a well known phrase or proverb. (The hope there is the reader will find out how that well known phrase applies to my story).

Fairytales with Bite – Dealing with the Highs and Lows

My CFT post this week looks at The Highs and Lows of the Writing Life from the viewpoint of a writer (though there are some thoughts in there as to how readers can help too.  Okay, buying our books is the obvious way to help but there are others!).

For this post, I want to look at this from a character’s viewpoint.  Your characters are not going to have an easy life where nothing ever troubles them, otherwise you have no story.  Who would want to read about characters like that?  So what a reader is after then is a situation your characters have to cope with.  It can be a threat to life of course, but there are other ways of turning your character’s life upside down, and it is how your people respond to that which will keep readers turning the pages to find out more.

How do your characters cope with the highs and lows of their life? What situations do they find easier to cope with and others nigh on impossible?  (The latter incidentally could be something simple.  They have no problems crossing a haunted forest to get to where they need to be but struggle with communicating with others, which could put them and the others in danger if taken to a logical conclusion).

What are your characters’ emotional strengths and weaknesses?  Do they learn from their mistakes immediately or do they need several “goes” to get something right?  If their core trait is courage, what opportunities do they get to show that and does that trait ever fail them?

Answer questions like that and you should get some interesting story scenarios to write up!

This World and Others –

The A to Z of Story Essentials Part 5

Now for the final section covering U to Z.  Hmm…

U = Uniformity.  Not to hasten to add of characters, readers should be able to tell them apart easily.  What I mean here is if you have decided Character A is going to have a yellow bulging neck because that is how his species is made, then that should be shown uniformly throughout the story. Character A can’t suddenly NOT have a yellow bulging neck by the end of the story.  Whatever is vital to your character in terms of physical existence should be uniformly shown (and for the other characters who will be affected by the same things).

V = Variety.  It had to be this really as it follows on from U above in every sense!  Where variety does come in is via the traits your characters have.  Not everyone is going to be meek and mild (just as well really, there’d be no story!).  Not everyone is going to be hot tempered and causing fights all the time.  The secret to a good story, of whatever length, is getting the balance right.

W = Writing that Flows. Every good story has this.  Readers turn the pages, gripped by your characters, their world, and the situations you’ve put them in and your prose flows.  The pace should be appropriate. The style of words used should be appropriate to the story and your intended audience.  Nothing should jar the reader experience.  And yes it is tough to achieve.  It’s never done on one edit!

X = Xeno.  I’ve been looking forward to using this word again after having discovered it means strange!  A really good story has to grip the reader.  Something about your characters and situation should stir up their “HAVE to know what happens next” gene.  Strangeness can do that in terms of strange characters, strange worlds etc. Sci-fi and fantasy depends on this.  But even in an everyday setting, there should be something that draws your reader in.  I’ve found this is generally down to an intriguing character that I’ve got to know more about.  So what intrigues?  There must be something “xeno” about them.  For example, a fairy godmother who refuses to use magic.  Now that’s strange!  Got to know more… you get the idea.

Y = You.  I might be cheating a little here but I’ll plough on anyway.  What I mean here is you, as the writer, need to decide what tense you’re writing your story in – fine, that’s done, good.  Okay next task is to make sure it is your characters’ voices that your reader hears, not yours at all.  From a reader’s viewpoint, you here is to symbolize being totally engrossed with that story.  The story should entice you in and keep you there until it is finished.  So you and your reaction to a story is hugely important.  A writer should be looking to make impact on the “you” they think will read their story.

And last but not least…

Z = Zest.  A story essential, regardless of genre, is that it should be an enjoyable read.  There should be a zest to it that gives the sense the writer loved writing it.  (It does show).  I’ve also found characters that have some zest to them are more lively and therefore better to read about than those without that quality.

Phew!  Got there!  Whatever you read and write, enjoy it.  It’s the single most important thing about the story.  If you’re the writer and you’re not enjoying the process of writing it, why would anyone else enjoy reading it?  If you’re the reader and the story’s not gripping you, put it aside for a while.  Look at it again after a break. Does it still not grip you?  Then read something else. Sometimes it can be a case of timing.  I recall trying to read books when I was younger, not getting on with them, coming back to them later (sometimes via film adaptations) and loving them then.

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Flash Fiction and Successful Writing

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When is writing considered successful? When you are published? When you submit more work in a year than you’ve done before? When you have more acceptances than rejections? When you can make a living from writing?

All of those things matter, of course they do, BUT if you are committed to your writing, and seek to always improve on what you do, I’d say that was being successful. Why?

Because you do need stamina to cope with the ups and downs of the writing life. You need to recognize you do need to keep striving.

And whether you seek publication for one book, lots of books, or just want to win short story competitions from time to time, then that’s fine. Decide what you would like to achieve and give it your best shot.

Good luck!

 

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Whatever writing you do, I think the two most important things are to enjoy it and use it to help you develop.

If you write flash fiction, as I do, seek to find more ways of generating ideas and find more markets/competitions for your work.

Writing is a journey after all and, even after publication, you will still face rejections. You will want to get better at what you do. There are always things to spur you on.

My overall goal? To be the best writer I can be.

 

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West Bay Beach on a gorgeous day in December 2018.  Image taken by Allison Symes.  Walks along a beach can be a good place to reflect on what you would like to achieve as a writer.

Enjoyed the writing prompt in my diary tonight. I had to use certain words to come up with an opening to a story or a poem. A poem emerged! Needs a lot of work mind you but enjoyable to draft. What was nice about this was I could “hear” the rhythm of the draft and knew from that, this would a poem and not a piece of flash fiction.

I like the mixture of writing prompts in this diary. They’re going to keep me on my toes this year. I also like prompts as a chance to play with words and just see what comes out. Later will come more fun when I look at these drafts in the cold light of day and assess what works and what doesn’t and then obviously go with what does. I know now NOT to try and write and edit the same piece in the same session. Doesn’t work. I find I need to give myself some distance before appraising anything.

 

Off to the panto later this week. Oh yes she is! Oh no… etc etc.

Don’t think I’ve seen Ali Baba before and it’s been a long time since I last read the story. Should be a good fun evening and panto I think is about the only time nobody cares too much how noisy the theatre audience gets. (That may just be me remembering childhood pantos too vividly though!). Review will follow on CFT in due course.

My favourite panto story is probably Robin Hood though as I’ve always adored that tale.🏹🏹 Recently rewatched Prince of Thieves. (The much missed Alan Rickman IS the definitive Sheriff of Nottingham.)

Back to normal after a lovely weekend away. Why is it that, wherever it is you go, no matter for how short a time you’re away for, you always come back feeling jetlagged, even if you’ve been nowhere near a plane?!

My CFT post later this week will take a brief look at why the oral tradition of storytelling will never die out. I also look at how I came across the story of Ali Baba, the panto I’ll be off to see on Thursday, and the special memories of the book I have where I first read the tale. Much as I can see the point of decluttering, I draw the line at books!

Practically all of mine have special memories attached to them and it is a great pleasure to have a shelf of books written by friends of mine. (Take a bow, #ValPenny, #JenniferCWilson, #BeatriceFishback, #DawnKentishKnox, #GillJames, #RichardHardie, #BrendahSedgwick amongst others!). I look forward to filling other shelves with books by friends and, of course, my own!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Drafted another flash story on the train yesterday. Plan to polish that and submit it I hope sometime next week.

Never despise “only” having 5 minutes to write or what have you. These pockets of time are really useful for getting some drafts written. You’d be surprised at how much time those pockets can mount up to and therefore how many drafts you can get done!

Some one-line stories for tonight’s post, I think.

1. The red dragon thought it would defy being out of time by sitting on the clock tower and crushing it.

2. The fraud would work, she knew, but did she have the guts to go through with it?

3. It had a 90% risk of failure, and that would mean death, but he liked odds like that for bringing out the best in him.

Flash fiction lends itself well to having fun experimenting with genre writing. Why?

Because it has to be character led, you can set that character anywhere you want. So you can write fairytales, crime stories, historical fiction etc. The framework is that you are writing a flash story. It may even help you discover what your favourite genre to write in is – I will always have a very special fondness for humorous fairytales. But I do enjoy coming out with crime flash fiction every so often.

Mixing things up keeps ME thinking and stretching the old imaginative muscles, which is always a good thing.

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I’m enjoying tackling the weekly writing prompts in my diary. Some are picture prompts, others you have to use certain words, and still others you have to write a description of a particular thing. All good creative stuff. Loving the mix too.

The one for last week was to use certain words as an opening for a poem or story. What was lovely was I heard the voice of my narrator immediately and they were demanding their words be written as a poem. Well, when you’re told like that, you have no choice do you?!

When writing is really going well, it can seem as if you are taking dictation from your characters, but that is a very good thing. It shows they’re real and if they engage you, they’ll engage readers too.

Flash fiction is wonderful for stories which are moments in time for a character. These moments are not enough in themselves to make a standard length short story but are of enough interest and insight to justify being “out there”. And those moments can be as funny or as sad or as horrific as you care to make them.

The great irony with flash fiction is, despite its restricted word count, it does actually give the writer a great deal of freedom as the stories HAVE to be character led. Of course it is up to you where and when and how your characters lead us! The important thing is you as the writer have fun here and we as the readers will pick up on that and love reading what you write.

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Goodreads Author Blog – Going Away

Sorry, post a day later this week, as have been away this weekend, but I use opportunities like that to revise what I am reading and what I want to take with me while away. It helps with packing too! I won’t take the huge volume of stories which takes up far too much room. I WILL take the Kindle and one of my slimmer paperbacks..

So when you go away what crucial books do you HAVE to take with you?

I was catching up on Peter Ackroyd’s The Civil War over the weekend – like his style and this is a period of history I know a bit about but am conscious I ought to know more. Good to get back to this book again.

I usually finish Kindle books before I move on to something else but can sometimes get sidetracked, especially if a friend has a book out I really want to get on and read, but I do catch up in the end. Am always glad to do so too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mixing It Up

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Which author do you turn to when the world is grim and you just need to step away from it for a bit? My mother always used to say “stop the world, I want to get off” when the world seemed particularly madder than usual, a feeling I totally understand at the moment.

My go to choices are Pratchett, Austen or Wodehouse. In a grim world, comedic writing is very much my first choice of escapism. (And unlike alcohol and chocolate has no calories in either!).

One of my big bugbears is why humorous writing can be looked down in certain circles. If something looks easy, that writer worked their socks off to get their prose to that point. Easy writing is hard writing and even harder editing.

I’m a big fan of the “what if?” school of developing story ideas. I look at all possibilities when I’ve got an interesting theme/title/character to play with (one of them is the trigger – it isn’t always the character for example. I would say it’s a pretty even split between my three triggers here).

I start by writing down the “obvious” links and dismiss those but in the act of writing those down, the thought “oh I could do this instead” crops up and that’s when the ideas really start flowing. It’s also when the writing really kicks off and that’s a great place to be.

I do use spider diagrams sometimes. Sometimes I draft a series of sentences outlining possibilities and then go with the one I like the best. (You can guarantee if it’s quirky, 95% of the time I’ll go with it!). But I like to play with ideas before I commit to one. The great thing with this approach is if Idea B appeals to me but Idea A is stronger and appeals to me more, than I’ll go with A. But there’s nothing to stop me having another look at B and developing that further for another story another time.

Busy night yesterday submitting flash fiction pieces so pleased with that. Third collection coming along well too.

I often draft fiction and non-fiction pieces with eyes open to potential markets and then submit at a later date. This is to give me time to put work aside for a while and then look at it with fresh eyes before editing and submitting those pieces.

Regarding the non-fiction, which is relatively new to me, I’m putting those pieces aside for a bit as I need to work on pitching to the markets I have in mind (but I wanted to make sure I had written the articles first. There is no such thing, to my mind, as wasted writing. If I find I can’t sell these pieces, I will end up recycling them in other ways. Also, you do write better the more often and regularly you write even if you can only write a small amount each time. It all builds up over time and I am one of those writers who likes to know they have the work to submit before approaching a market!).

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Am looking forward to seeing a local production of one of my favourite stories, A Christmas Carol, on Thursday night. Review will follow in due course.

Am also pleased to say I’ll have some publication news, from different places, over the next few days and am looking forward to sharing some links to new stories with you.

Am also looking forward to sharing an interview with an author of a very special cookbook via Chandler’s Ford Today in next couple of weeks.

My post this week will be looking at light and darkness. Link to go up on Friday.

Not impressed with the cold weather. Am very much looking forward to dodgy CH boiler pump being sorted out tomorrow. Meanwhile, I am wearing loads of layers! It is just a pity that writing isn’t a warmth generating activity but there you go!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

F = Fun stories, told briefly
L = Lights up the characters
A = Animated dialogue and internal thoughts
S = Show, not tell (and what else could this be)
H = Hard impact from few words

F = Fantasy and fairytales feature in what I do
I = Imagination running riot (what fun!)
C = Characters compel you to find out what they’re up to.
T = Truth emerges in fiction, better than straight telling.
I = Inventiveness emerges from using low word counts
O = Omnipresent narrator, first person or third? I use all.
N = Narrator must be intriguing to your readers.

Some thoughts about flash fiction!

Time for some more one line stories.

1. The swirling leaves made a great disguise for a human-hungry shapeshifter as nobody spotted him turning up for his latest snack.

2. When even the bats find the dark too scary, you know there is going to be trouble.

3. The fairy godmother smashed her wand against a pane of glass and watched as the splinters turned into a pair of beautiful shoes – one user only for these.

4. Find the monster, the people cried, though they screamed when it was found.

5. Being befuddled was Molly’s normal state of being, which is why they didn’t let her have her magic wand any more.

Allison Symes – 18th November 2018

I have three main triggers for writing flash fiction: a character who intrigues me, a theme I just have to write about, or a title with interesting possibilities so I just need to find out which is the most fascinating and go with that!

I’ve found it pays to have different writing triggers. It keeps things fresh and I’ve never believed in the “one approach suits all” school of thought. I’ve never seen how that can work! Being open to different methods helps with competitions where the theme is set for you anyway.

I do recommend having brainstorming sessions every so often where you just jot down potential ideas. I must do so again myself soon but it is great to come back to these later and work them up into stories or articles for Chandler’s Ford Today, as the case may be. It also means never being short of anything to write about!

(And photos can make a great trigger too. Another reason to love Pixabay!).

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Publication news coming later this week with new flash fiction stories from me and in different places too. Looking forward to sharing the links with you as and when. Nice mixture of word counts here too.

What makes me decide when a piece really won’t work as a flash fiction story and that it has to be a standard competition length short tale instead?

When the theme is such a powerful one, I need to give the characters more room to explore it is the basic answer. As you write more, you develop a gut feel for when to stop a story (nearly always turns out to be a piece of flash fiction) or when you need to continue (this is where it can become a 1500 short story instead). Just be open.

 

Goodreads Author Programme BlogMixing It Up

I like to mix up what I read in terms of genre and word count. I love (and write) flash fiction, likewise short stories, but there are times when nothing but a full length novel will do. There is no way Tolkein could have done justice to The Lord of the Rings in three short stories!!

Having said that, I am still stunned they managed to get three films out of The Hobbit, given it was only one book. Hey ho…

The correct word count for any story, of course, is when no more can be said and when to remove anything would be to the detriment of the tale in some way.

I think as a reader of too many years to count, you do develop an instinctive feeling for when a writer has got the word count right. I want to feel at the end of a story disappointed it has come to an end, but at the same time, know within myself, there really was no more to be said. Naturally that’s a challenge to me for my own writing but this is a good thing. It keeps me on my toes!

One of the things I love about creative writing is one of the best tips any writer has to improve their skills is to read widely and across the genres, including non-fiction. You do learn by absorbing what others have done before you. Absolutely no problem with that, then, and bring it on!

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Word Play

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

One joy of writing is the joy of reading. This is partly because it makes sense to read from (and therefore support) the industry you want to join! Also, you need to read widely to discover the range of writing out there and to find out from that what it is you want to write. There’s also the sheer pleasure of reading well crafted stories that inspire you to work harder on your own!

Playing with Words, as my CFT post this week discusses, is both a fun and invaluable thing for writers to do.  My post this week also pays tribute to Denis Norden and celebrates puns and playing with language.

 

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I like to “hit the ground running” when I write flash fiction and do so in a number of ways.

I can take you straight into the lead character’s thoughts, or show you an image of them doing or reacting to something. I also try to show you their general attitude within the first couple of lines. Attitude in itself can tell you so much about what a character is likely to be like (and whether you would like them or not!).

I can also show you a character’s observations such as in my Circle of Life. That opens with “People throw kittens in the river here. I hate that.” Immediately shows a conflict. Immediately shows an attitude at odds with the view held by others around the character. You also know they’re going to do something about it. It is a question of what and will they get away with it?

With all of these different kinds of opening, I am aiming to provoke curiosity in the reader to make them want to find out more.

My CFT post this week looks at Playing With Words. I also pay tribute to the late Denis Norden, who along with Frank Muir, was a wonderful wordsmith. Link up on Friday. I also take a look at puns. (Muir was wonderful on Call My Bluff years ago and Norden – well, I loved his dry wit and manner – and Take It From Here, written by them both, was a forerunner for modern radio comedy).

Two of my favourite ways to end a flash fiction story are a twist in the tale finish or a punchline. Both of course can revolve around puns. I love playing with language but one of the great joys of loving books is coming across others who are masters at this sort of thing. Their work is a joy to read and/or listen to and if you haven’t come across a copy of Muir and Norden’s My Word Ultimate Collection, do yourself a favour and dig out a copy from somewhere. If you like tall tales and puns, as I do, this is a fabulous book.

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Flash fiction can be a great vehicle for (a) puns (as part of a punchline to finish with) and (b) short, sharp humorous moments. A good funny flash fiction will not only make you laugh but you should be able to spot other potential for humour had the story been a longer one.

The lovely thing is you can combine humour with other things such as poetic justice to create a great story. Characters being annoyed at the situation they’re in may well make you smile in recognition of their predicament. The situation is rarely funny for the characters themselves. Shouldn’t stop us smiling though!

My late mum always believed in being short and to the point. Think she’d be pleased I take the same approach by writing flash fiction!

You lose any fear of killing adverbs or cutting whatever isn’t necessary for your story when you write flash and, of course, you can carry that over into whatever other writing you do. There’s no chance of getting confused over your characters either given, realistically, you only have the room for 1, maybe 2, main people.

I admit I do miss the fact you can’t have subplots in flash fiction, that really is the privilege of a short story or a novel, but I do love being able to cut to the chase with the very short tale. Definitely a case of you pays your money, you take your choice here.

Time for some autumnal flash fiction one-liners, I think. Hope you enjoy.

1. There were some things brought down by the autumn winds that would have been best left undisturbed.

2. The mouse scoffed the loaf that was meant for the church’s Harvest Festival display, much to the vicar’s chagrin.

(A case of For what we have received, we are truly grateful, I think!).

3. Would the leaves come down deeply enough to cover a body, she wondered?

4. With the nights drawing in, there was more scope for planning and executing the perfect crime.

5. It would be easy enough to do, he thought, given she always has soup at lunchtime on these cold days.

Hmm…. it looks like I’m in a criminal frame of mind this evening!

 

Is it harder to write longer fiction where you have to keep the readers enchanted enough with your writing to follow the story through to the end or more difficult to write short, sharp stories?

I wouldn’t like to judge on that one as both have their challenges and their joys. Both are vital for ensuring literature has a wide range of styles and lengths of story to suit all tastes.

One problem I face when editing flash fiction is ensuring I keep the important details in as it can be easy to cut far too much out to keep to a set word count and the story is the poorer for it. In those situations, I let the story go what is its natural length whether it’s 50 words or 500 or 1500!

The acid test for me is the editing is done when I cannot add to the story or take away from it. It is a question of not overegging the pudding or cutting back so harshly you have a limited story left. Anything that dilutes the impact of the story on a reader, and that can include harsh editing, is out.

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Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Playing with Language

One of the joys of reading across a wide range of genres, including non-fiction, is discovering the different ways authors play with language.

For me the late Denis Norden and Frank Muir were great exponents of this and one of my favourite paperbacks is their My Word The Ultimate Collection. This is full of puns and tall tales galore! Bliss and an addictive read.

I like crisp, punchy styles of writing but every so often you come across a line or two that are just so engrossing, they almost take your breath away. P.G. Wodehouse was a master at creating worlds within what would be considered now very long sentences, but you simply have to read to the end.

I suppose the real test of a good story is does it provoke your curiosity enough so you read it through regardless of the style or genre in which it was written?

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytales A to Z Part 8

Since the alphabet doesn’t divide neatly into three, I will conclude this mini series tonight with the final five letters – V through to Z.  Hmm… going to have fun here I think!

V = Variation
Whatever genre you write in, there should be variation in the types of character you portray.  A story with all heroes is no story at all!  There has to be a villain somewhere (even if the characters concerned don’t think they’re villainous at all).  Also, in a magical setting, there should be variation in how much magical ability characters have.  If they all have unlimited powers, where is the conflict? You’d have a stalemate situation.  The characters know they can’t better each other, at least not with their powers.  So vary things, mix things up, deliberately drop your characters in it, and see what happens!  This is very much the fun side of writing.  You will soon find out who your strong characters are.

W = World
The world you set your stories in can almost be a character in itself.  It needs to be believable, no matter how fantastical its powers or setting.  There must be things about that world we can identify with here.  For example, every world has to be governed somehow so politics has to rear its (at times) very ugly head.

X = Xeno (meaning strange!  Confession time: did have to look it up.  I could have gone for X-rated for this but felt it was too obvious.  I also want to remember this word next time I play Scrabble!).
So word of the week for me is this one then!  Seriously, though, no matter how strange the world you’ve created is, there still has to be something about it that fascinates a reader.  If it is too odd, you risk alienating the reader.  Does that mean your world has to be a sensible one?  Not necessarily.  There has to be a point to what the world does.  If it mines balloons for example, it would make sense to do that if is that world’s chief export to its nearest neighbour.  I did like Monsters Inc for showing why the monsters had to get the children’s screams (they needed it as it was their power source) and I liked it even more when the monster world discovered making the children laugh was a greater source of power.

Y = You
The first fan of your writing should be you.  Your fairytale, whoever it is aimed at, must first convince you.  Is the magic a vital part of the story?  It should be for a fairytale. Do your characters have to get themselves out of trouble without magic?  Even better!  You should enjoy what you write and at the same time be open to where it can be improved.  Not an easy balance to strike which is why it is such a good idea to put work aside for a while and then re-read it.  You will come back to the story with a more open mind, having had the break from it.

Z = Zippy
There will be many in the UK especially who will remember Zippy as a character from children’s TV show, Rainbow!  However for this, I mean zippy in terms of lively.  Your fairytale should be a lively read from start to finish.  Your characters should be lively and engage with your reader.  (This is why if you enjoy your writing, there is every chance others will too.  As for the feeling after reading something you’ve written “this is rubbish”, bear in mind every writer goes through that.  This is another reason for putting work away for a while before coming back to it).

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This World and Others – Playing with Words

Playing with Words is not just the title of my latest CFT post but the theme for this week for me.  I also take a look at this topic on my latest Goodreads blog.

So how do I like to play with words then?

1.   I like twist endings to a lot of my stories so there is a lot of playing with words to be had there in coming up with a twist that works.

2.    I sometimes end stories with a punchline which often revolves around a pun.  Puns are the very definition of playing with language!

3.     I like to take known phrases and play with them to come up with something that has “echoes” but which is also unique to my story.  For example, we usually talk about punishing the guilty for crime etc but my story in From Light to Dark and Back Again is deliberately called Punish the Innocent.  The idea is to get you wondering (a) why would someone want to punish the innocent, (b) do they do so, (c) were the innocent that guiltless after all?

I sometimes use spider diagrams to help me work out in which directions I could take a story idea and then I pick the one that I like the best.  Playing with words here helps me come up with thoughts deeper than my initial “obvious” ideas and therefore I hope a more original story line.

 

 

 

 

Memories and Collections

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What memories are special for your characters and why? Are they shared memories with other family/tribe members or individual ones or both? Does your created world have special events where certain memories are officially recalled? Is the past a good place for your characters to visit or do they block out all memories to avoid inflicting more pain on themselves?

This post came about because I was showing some lovely photos of my maternal grandparents’ wedding (set in the grounds of Chiswick House) to other members of my family today. I only came across these photos after I cleared out my late parents’ house. My only regret is had I known of their existence before, I would have quizzed my mother in particular over one photo where she and her younger sister were bridesmaids. There were people in this photo I didn’t know and the family and I took intelligent guesses at who they were.

I guess this shows the importance of maintaining memories and cherishing what is vital from the past, your past. So how do your characters do that?

When you read a book outside of the genre you write in, what are you looking for?

I’m looking for a world I can identify with (though almost inevitably I wouldn’t want to live there!) and characters whose motivations I understand (and usually sympathise with).

I like a fast pace to the story and other background information to help me make sense of the setting. I also want there to be gaps that I have to fill in with my imagination. I want the dialogue to hook me so that I have to read on and not notice the “he said/she said” tags. Well written dialogue does make me skip over these tags as if they weren’t there.

And when I’ve finished the story, I want to feel as if not one word could be added. I also want to regret coming to the end of the story because I enjoyed it so much.

And the challenge here is to write this way myself so hopefully people will feel the same way about MY stories!

I have collections by several of my favourite authors on my shelves – Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse, Terry Pratchett to name a few. Love all that they wrote. Tremendously difficult to pick a favourite book by any of them.

What I especially adore though is when they take their major characters and put them into situations they would never have anticipated encountering. For example, Murder on the Orient Express gives Poirot a moral dilemma (and I won’t say more than that – no spoilers here). It’s not the kind of moral dilemma he would have anticipated facing. And it is how he handles that which, for me, makes this story fascinating. (The TV version with David Suchet is particularly good on this aspect).

So can you take the usual situations your lead characters would reasonably expect to face and subvert them? That what has worked for your lead characters before cannot possibly work in this new situation so they are forced to come out of their comfort zone and “go for broke” because they have to solve this new condundrum, no matter what?

One thing is for sure: do this and there will be no lack of drama/conflict in your story!

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One of the biggest issues facing writers is getting their book out there and, once that has been achieved, how to market it without annoying everyone! One simple thing is just to let people know where it can be found and leave it at that. So taking my own advice then…!

FLTDBA in the Swanwick Book Room

FLTDBA for sale in the Swanwick Book Room. Image by Allison Symes

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Chapeltown Books have a distinctive central image in a frame such as with mine. Image by Allison Symes

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Back cover of FLTDBA. Image by Allison Symes

I was enjoying an old Doctor Who episode earlier this evening when Catherine Tate came in as companion, Donna Noble, to David Tennant’s Doctor. Great episode. What I liked about the character of Donna was her feistiness, her abilty to think on her feet, and the fact she wasn’t letting the Doctor get away with ANYTHING. Her character claimed that the Doctor needed someone to stop him sometimes. I think it’s a fair assessment too.

But this highlighted for me the fact well written characters shine through whatever story they’re in and make themselves and the tale memorable. Something to always aspire to when writing my own characters I think.

The joy of coming up with one line stories is you can either leave them like that and perhaps enter them into 25-word flash fiction competitions OR you can expand them.

From there of course, you can either have a longer flash fiction story or go to 1500-2000 words (standard short story competition word count). I think if you were to go much beyond that, you would be changing your initial idea as you would need more characters, at least one decent subplot and so on for the story to be able to “stand up” over that greater “distance” and still make sense.

I don’t revisit my one-liners that often but it did occur to me perhaps I should do so more regularly! A case of double whammy for the writer here I think!

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Reflections

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My latest CFT post is an alliterative one! As Autumn Approaches is a reflective look at the season, I share some thoughts about how the season is for writers.

I also discuss the importance of taking time out to look back, as my church has recently done for its 200th anniversary, but equally how vital it is to move on from periods of reflection, given what stays static dies eventually.

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My CFT post this week is a reflective one on autumn. I share what I like about it, why it is an interesting season for writers, and also discuss my church’s recent exhibition to celebrate its 200th anniversary where we took stock of our history and recalled friends past, present, and no longer with us. Oral storytelling and local history are so important.

Facebook – General – and Association of Christian Writers’ More than Writers – The Highs and the Lows

Many thanks to all who commented on my More Than Writers blog earlier. You really can’t underestimate how much persistence, determination, and ability to work hard you will need as a writer. The great comfort is ups and downs are a normal part of the writing life so you’re definitely not alone here.

The Highs and the Lows – Allison Symes

What would you say were the writing highs? 

Your first piece of writing (aka “the I did it” moment!)?

Your first publication credit (the “family start to take you seriously” moment!)?

Your first book acceptance (the “some of the rest of the world start to take you seriously” moment!)?  Sadly, it always is some of the rest of the world…

What would you say were your writing lows? 

That first rejection?
Having your novel come back for the umpteenth time?
Countless short stories turned down?

The great irony, of course, is, with the right spirit and attitude, a writer can use those rejections and set backs to (a) fill them with determination to keep going, (b) to improve on what they do so the turn downs don’t arrive so often as they once did, and (c) recognise all writers go through this.

There are no shortcuts to publication.  Also, even when published, the learning curve goes on and you have to be open to it.  The writer that doesn’t learn is the one who remains static.  What is static dies, eventually.

So then it is a question of relishing the highs and getting through the lows, which is where the support of understanding writing friends is crucial.  One of the things I love about social media is the fact it makes it easier to stay in contact with said writing friends, especially when you can only meet up face to face once or twice a year.Writing forums such as the one we have on the ACW website are also useful for this kind of contact (and for sharing helpful advice and tips too).  Going to a good writing conference is invaluable too given that for most of the year we are at our desks, working alone.

Peter, of course, literally had his mountain top experience but his low was clearly his denial of Christ.  (What I love about Peter’s story is his redemption – it offers hope for us all).  So this pattern of highs and lows then is a reflection of life as it is lived and not just the writing life.

Our characters must have their highs and lows.  Without them, there is no conflict yet alone a story.  The highs and lows are not just the story events but what is in those characters.  No villain should be all evil (there must be a decent reason for them acting the way they are, decent to them at least).  No hero should be a goody two shoes.  Much as I loved Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, I found it easier to identify with Amy or Jo rather than the saintly Beth.  Identifying with your characters is the goal.  The moment a reader does that, the more likely it is they will read on and find out what happens.

Show the flaws.  Show the vulnerabilities.  Show the things the character does well.  Enjoy the process.  And good luck.

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Don’t forget if you subscribe to Writing Magazine, you can put your book on their Subscribers’ Showcase. It’s free for a while but after that you pay a small amount per month to have it on there. My own plans later, once hopefully I have more books out, is to switch which ones I