Creating Characters

Image Credit:  Pixabay/Pexels unless stated. Also a big thank you to Richard Hardie for the images supplied for my second CFT post which appeared over the weekend, more below.

Facebook – General – bonus Chandler’s Ford Today post

A busy week on CFT for me this time. My second post this week shares news from YA author, Richard Hardie, about his link with Doctor Who. All very exciting and a feather in the cap for Richard. Well done! Check out the post for more details.

Facebook – Association of Christian Writers

More Than Writers blog spot – Creating Characters

It’s my turn on More than Writers, the blog spot for the Association of Christian Writers.

I talk about Creating Characters and share hints and tips, including a list of questions that will help you outline your “people”.

Hope you find it useful. (And many thanks to those who have commented on this. Much appreciated).

A good TV or film adaptation of a book only works if the images shown roughly coincide with the images I had from reading the text. The Inspector Morse series did this, as did the Poirot and Miss Marple series (with David Suchet and Joan Hickson). Film wise, I thought Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings had it spot on.

Are there any books you would like to see made into series or films? Which ones and why? Are there adaptations that haven’t worked for you? (I couldn’t get on with the Marple series. For me, Joan HIckson was perfect in the role and that was that).

When it comes to writing my stories, I put myself in my character’s shoes and see the world their way. I don’t always like my characters by the way! (Oh and a big thanks for a tremendous response to my ACW post on More Than Writers yesterday which was all about Creating Characters. Glad it was useful).

What I have found is you DO have to inhabit your character’s space so you can write about them/for them effectively.

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One very tired Lady on the sofa tonight. Had a great big play with several pals, including her “boyfriend”, a lovely Collie gent, and her best pal, a Rhodesian Ridgeback. I should imagine they’re pretty shattered as well!

Enjolyed listening to the Movie Music Hall of Fame on Classic FM today. I was right about the top two and pleased about them too. Must remember to find out where the Pink Panther theme came in (and there’s an earworm for anyone of a certain age!).

I usually write with classical music on as I find it helps me relax and when I relax, I’m more productive with the writing. Other things I have to have on my desk are my dictionary, my Scrivener for Dummies guide, my publisher guides (Writers and Artists and Mslexia) and plenty of pens (I know! I’m using a laptop, what do I need pens for? I guess I just like to see them around!).

I don’t have any rituals before writing. I just open my laptop and get on with it but I do like to see the accoutrements on my desk. I suppose it’s a case of Allison going into her comfort zone sort of thing.

And now I am IN my comfort zone, time to get on with more writing then!

 

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I can’t say a particular writer made me pick up my pen and start writing. I’ve loved books and stories for as long as I can recall. I loved writing stories in English lessons at school (and I’ll be talking a bit more about that in my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week).

But it took me a long time to figure out I really ought to get around and write seriously. It took two major life events to wake me up here! My only serious regret with writing is NOT starting a lot sooner than I did.

But it is wonderful to say that all of the writers whose books are on my shelves (and the electronic one too!) have added to my love of stories and storytelling. For that I will always be grateful. And then there’s the joy of discovering new writers too.

If I could invent things I would invent:-

1. Elastic time so I never run out of time to read or write.
2. Calorie free chocolate.
3. Calorie free prosecco.
4. A stamina “topper-upper” for those times you could really do with it!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I don’t know about you but I find it unsettling it is 8.30 pm in August in the UK and it is pitch black out there! (Not due to the weather either). The seasons are definitely shifting. Talk about going from light to dark!

I’ve mentioned before that one of my favourite writing exercises is writing to a set opening line. The ones that work best for me are the ones that can be taken in more than one direction. For example:-

1. The door remained locked despite her efforts.
2. He was on time, as the note insisted, but nobody was about.
3. The fairy godmother was on early shift.

Now all three opening lines here have comic as well as dramatic possibilities. (The door could remain locked because it took her a while to realise she was using the wrong key. He might be on time but what if he turned up at the wrong place and forgot to check? As for the fairy godmother, what could she expect to have to do on early shift that she might not face later on in the day? Definitely scope for humour there and that would almost certainly be the way I’d take these story ideas).

I find it useful to jot down initial ideas from an opening line and then go for the one that is a little way down my list. That is the idea which is not likely to be the obvious one and could well be open to my putting a twist on it, which I always love doing.

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One of my favourite stories in my new book, Tripping the Flash Fantastic, involves a librarian and a snake. Can’t say more than that at the moment but it was great fun to write! By all means, let your mind boggle at the thought of that!

But then that is the fun of fiction. You can write in any genre, any time period, and the impossible isn’t so much in things like fantasy, magical realism etc.

Whatever you write, it is important to enjoy it. I mentioned to a friend and fellow author (the lovely #ValPenny) that you have to enjoy what you write, especially if it is a book, because you’ll be promoting said book for a long time.

You as the writer have got to be able to live with what you’ve written and enjoy living with it too! That’s an aspect to the writing life which isn’t often considered I think.

But commitment to what you write shows up here and not just in the hard work it needs to get those stories written in the first place.

Writing is good for you as it stretches you and develops your imagination. It is also good fun experimenting with different forms of writing and discovering where your strengths are. But even when you’ve found the style of writing that suits you best, writing should still keep pushing you.

Pushing you to keep on producing good work.

Pushing you to discover new markets/competitions for your work.

Pushing you to get better at editing your work and polishing it as well as you can to give it its best possible chance out there in the big, bad world.

Pushing you to develop new skills including but definitely not limited to reading your work to an audience, making the most of technology to produce items that can help you market your work more effectively, and so on.

What writing doesn’t do is allow you to rest on your laurels and that’s a great thing. Why? Because you want to keep on developing. The writing journey should be as much fun as possible. Different things come up along that journey, things you would not have expected when starting out, and by developing you will be ready to tackle those things and have more strings to add to your bow.

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Am looking forward to taking part in the Zoom session with #GillJames and #DawnKentishKnox on 26th September. I hope to be reading a story or two, including one from Tripping the Flash Fantastic. You did hear it here first!

I will share the link to the event later in September. You do need to register but the event is free. I’ll also be flagging it up via Chandler’s Ford Today in due course.

Flash is great for reading aloud at events etc. It doesn’t take too long to read. It makes an immediate impact and the “deeper” stories resonate with you and linger long in the memory afterwards. Nothing to dislike there!

And I’ve said before it is a good idea to read your work out loud so you can hear how it flows, whether the dialogue etc comes across as smoothly as you’d like etc. If you trip over your words, a reader almost certainly will. Again with flash, this doesn’t take long. I’ve spotted things I’ve needed to change many a time doing this.

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Goodreads Author Blog Book Dilemmas

What book dilemmas, I hear you ask?

Well, there is the obvious one of which book you are going to read next from your naturally huge TBR pile.

I refuse to believe that doesn’t give you pause for thought from time to time! (I get a little annoyed with myself for doing this. I realise the half hour I spent deciding what I’ll read next could have been spent on reading!).

Then there is the dilemma of whether you’ll reduce the TBR paperback pile or the one on your Kindle.

Then there is the dilemma of whether you’ll read short stories or another novel or non-fiction.

There is no one right answer to how you answer these.

I find I read a load of things on my Kindle for a while, then switch back to paperbacks for a bit, and that’s fine with me.

I just need to stop wasting half hours every now and again making up my mind and just get on with what matters – the reading!

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Changing Direction

Image Credit:  Unless otherwise stated, images are from Pixabay or Pexels.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My post this week looks at why changing direction in writing can be benefical and why it is inevitable at some point. After all when you start writing, you cannot know at that point for sure you will always write short stories, say. You may decide to write a novella or a play or what have you.

I share some thoughts about my own changes of direction and flag up a new one but see the post for more on that.

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Did you know what you wanted to write when you first began creative writing? Or was it a case of wanting to try different forms until you found the one you were most at home with?

It was those questions which led to my writing this week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post on Changing Direction.

Writers are often urged to not give up and rightly so. Persistence does pay (it has for me) but it should also be said that it is perfectly okay to change direction if you want to do so. It was a turn of direction that led me to discover flash fiction after all. I hadn’t anticipated this at all when I began writing.

And so often writers will start by writing short stories, say, go on to write a novel, and then come back to the short form again.

The writing journey is not a straight line by any means. What it should be though is fun (at least most of the time!).

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Facebook – General – Book Cover Challenge

I was nominated to take part in this on 5th June. I thought I would share my posts here (and again on my next post) as there are some wonderful books to share. If you haven’t read them already, do consider adding them to your TBR list. (I will repeat this post next time so all of the book covers are together). Oh and do check out the writing of the authors I nominate too!

Day 1
I have accepted a challenge by Jane Brocklehurst to post seven books that I love, one per day, no reviews, just covers. Each day I ask a friend to take up the challenge, let’s promote literacy and build a book list.

Today I nominate Val Penny who I hope will join in the fun.

My choice today? The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Changed my opinion about Richard III. Is also a different kind of detective novel. A gripping read. Hope you check it out.

Image may contain: 1 person, text

 

Facebook – General

It can sometimes be difficult stopping a story because you really love the characters and the setting and you want to keep writing but, of course, you can’t.

The story has to end at the right point for that tale. There has to be a point of change and we should see the results of that change. Literally end of story.

One advantage of writing flash for me is the fact I have to make myself move on to tackle the next 100-worder or what have you. The lower word counts with flash means I can’t have too long to fall in love with my characters and therefore face the temptation of extending the story out beyond where it should really go.

 

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Do you have pet phrases you like to use in your stories? Or do you find yourself coming out with the same turn of phrase more than once in a story as if you are on “hit default phrase selection” mode?!

Writing flash does help against that given the need to keep inventing new characters and situations. What I DO have to watch are my infamous wasted words and ensuring I don’t start each story in the same way. (That is particularly easy to do if you use the first person. Every story starts “I, I, I” etc etc).

I think it is useful to be aware of things like this so you can look out for them in your editing.

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

It seems such a long time ago that I took a change of direction with my writing and discovered flash fiction. Now there is one turning point I really don’t regret! And it has enlivened my reading too. Flash fiction collections are great fun to delve into (and ideal for a quick read when you haven’t much time).

Yes, yes, I know, I’m biased. Course I am. Go on check out some flash collections and see if I’m right or not then!

Do you work out your themes in advance of writing your story or does the theme arise naturally out of the tale you’re writing?

It has been a case of both for me. For example, I think I’d like to write a poetic justice story so I then plan out a character and a situation where that theme emerges.

The nice thing with that theme is sometimes poetic justice can have a humorous element to it (and I do enjoy writing and reading those kinds of stories).

There have been cases where I know who my character is and where they’re going plot wise and the theme then comes out of that.

Though in both cases I do like my heroes/heroines to have some fire in their belly. No time for wishy-washy characters here!😆]

I expect my characters to justify being created in that I WANT to write about them, there is no problem finding things for them to do or land themselves in or so on.

For my quieter characters, I want their trait of quiet determination to win through so it is clear to a reader that there is more to them than meets the eye. Any character like that intrigues me as I want to find out what that “more” is and I would hope a reader would feel the same for my people here.

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What do I like in an opening line, especially for a flash fiction story? Some of the things I look for here include:-

1. An interesting situation or character that intrigues from the start.

2. Dialogue that sets the scene and, usually, indicates the problem the character has to overcome.

3. Internal thoughts of a character showing them in some sort of turmoil. My story, Rewards, has as its opening line: ‘”She must go,” Becky thought.’

I referred to this story when I was on #WendyHJones‘ podcast The Writing and Marketing Show a little while back.

And the reason I went for this as an example of an opening line to hook the reader immediately is because I would hope you would want to find out who the “she” is and why Becky thinks she has to go. After that you would want, I hope, to find out if Becky did get rid of whoever “she” is and how.

I think the ultimate “rule” here is that an opening line which makes me HAVE to find out what happens next means that opening line has done its job!

Now just to deliver on the rest of the story!

 

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Fairytales with Bite – Character Motivation

Character motivations can cover a wide spectrum. There are the “obvious” ones of love, revenge, seeking justice etc but motivations can be more subtle than that – for example the wish to prove someone wrong.

What matters is whatever the motivation is, it is the be all and end all to your character, even if it seems to everyone else they’re making a fuss about very little.

A motivated character will do whatever it takes to get what they want and the important thing is to ensure your people are driven enough.

It’s not enough for a character to just want to stay out of trouble. But if your character goes to extraordinary lengths to stay out of trouble then a great deal of humour or tragedy can result from that.

What could be behind that? Maybe they’ve got a bet on with a friend to stay out of trouble for six days, say, and the friend has always been right in the past but this time our hero wants to prove them wrong and is determined to do so. They’re fed up with their friend being right all the time and finally want something to go their way.

There, the motivation is powerful enough and understandable. Your readers have to get behind your character to carry on reading their adventures after all. Naturally your character’s friend will know or be able to guess at their friend’s motivation here and will do all they can to scupper any chances of success.

Voila! Instant clashes and tension as you work out how your hero does or does not prove the friend wrong.

This World and Others – 

Top Tips For When Writing Isn’t Working As You Would Like

It happens. You go through phases where writing is either difficult or simply isn’t working out as you’d hoped. Lots of submissions. Lots of rejections. Few acceptances. Do you wonder if you should keep going? Some tips I’ve found useful to keep me going during difficult times include:-

1. Read More. Feed your own imagination. Remind yourself of why you love stories and why you wanted to write any.

2. Remove the Pressure. Deliberately write just for your own pleasure. Make up complete nonsense. Have fun. (Later, if you can do anything with the writing, even if it is just the odd line or two makes it into a story, say, then fab. Even if not, you’re taking time out to play with words and again remind yourself why you wanted to write).

3. Look at Where You’ve Come From Writing Wise. How much have you written over the years? Can you list publication credits (online and in print)? If not at that stage, have you had shortlistings? Are you simply submitting more stories for competitions than ever before?

Remember you define what success in writing is. Yes, publication is the obvious goal but it isn’t the only one. Saying you’ll write 3 or 4 stories and then try and get them published later is a fine goal too. Look at what you’ve learned as you have written more. Have you learned how to improve your editing skills? Have you picked up tips on the way that are helping you write better now (I would be surprised if you hadn’t)? All of these are good and worthy things.

4. Find supportive writing buddies via online groups or in creative writing classes. We all need to be reminded we’re not alone. Others do understand our compulsion to write. Others understand the frustrations of trying to get published. You need that support. It can make all the difference during low times, creatively speaking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Character Types (and Why It Matters to Get Them Right)

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

There’s a nice little Q&A session which has developed from my CFT post this week about character types and why it matters to get them right.

This is one thing I love about my CFT posts. I can never know what reaction there will be until the posts go up and sometimes great discussions take place, sometimes not. Do pop over and have a look at this week’s post and if you have favourite character types I’ve not listed here, please do share them in the comments box.

Comments on the character -v- plot debate would also be welcome. I do come down firmly on one side here but I’ll leave you to find out which one it is!

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My CFT post this week will look at some of my favourite character types and why it matters to get them right.

A good story can only be that way if the characters are strong enough. A decent plot will be let down badly if the characters are not “up to scratch”. More on this and the link tomorrow.

Am looking forward to going to the Association of Christian Writers’ Day at Bath on Saturday. Always good to meet other writers!

 

There will be an expression here which will match your thoughts about most adaptations - Pixabay image

What are your characters like? What emotions do they have? Pixabay image.

It is with great sadness I see from the Winchester Writers’ Festival page that Barbara Large, MBE, who founded the original Winchester Writers’ Conference, passed away on Monday. She will be much missed.

Barbara gave so much support and encouragement to writers across a huge range of genres including me. I have a certificate for a Commended Short Story signed by her from the 31st Winchester Writers’ Conference and it has pride of place on my wall.

Condolences to all of her family and friends.

 

Resized Barbara Large and Anne Wan

Barbara Large MBE (left) will be much missed by the writing community including Anne Wan (right) and myself.  Image kindly supplied by Anne Wan.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

The advantage of flash fiction is you have to learn to write tight to keep to the word count, even though there can be flexibility with that. You don’t have to stick to 50-word stories. You can have a go at the 500-word ones!

The advantage of a novel is you have room for sub-plots and can go much further into character development, which when well done adds layers to your story.

The short story is a cross-over to an extent. Usually there would be room for only one sub-plot (but there’s no room at all for anything like that in flash). You can go into character development but the word count restrictions here will limit how far you can take that. (Though that can vary from 1500 to 8000 or thereabouts as there are some longer short story competitions out there).

And all three are brilliant writing disciplines! All need decent editing and crafting to get your story into shape. Whatever form you’re going for, or if you’re going in for more than one, you can know you will be doing a lot of editing! But above all have fun with them. Writing should be fun.

How do you find coming up with promising opening lines? Is it a pain or is coming out with those just fine but then you struggle with delivering on the promise of that opening line?

I’ve found mixing up how I approach this helps a lot. I outline (briefly, appropriately for flash fiction) how a story could go from that opening line. There is usually some promise from those thoughts that I can develop. Okie dokie then, away I go and write the thing.

Sometimes though I’m not satisfied with what I’ve come out with. Somehow the thoughts don’t seem strong enough. DO trust your gut instincts here by the way, they’re normally right. When I have this happen, I then see if what I thought might be a good opening line would actually work better as a finishing one. I then work backwards to get to the starting point.

I’ve not rejected an opening line altogether yet because if one method here doesn’t work, the other does. It’s just that sometimes you can’t always see the best way to go straight away and that’s where outlining comes into its own and to your rescue!

A quick search of Writing Magazine’s Competition Guide has shown a couple of interesting competitions I’ll try and have a go at. Note to self: go through the guide at the weekend and mark the ones of interest! What is nice is some of the competitions are rolling ones in that there is one per month or something like that so if you miss one deadline, there are others you can aim for.

It proves that the market for very short stories and flash is a healthy one. Hooray for that!

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Fairytales with Bite – Top Five Tips for Characterisation

My theme this week is character type(s) and my CFT post also featured this but I thought a quick run down of tips would be useful.

  1. Be realistic.  Your characters must have motivations that we will all understand, even if we don’t agree with them all!
  2. Show flaws as  well as virtues.  None of us are perfect after all so why should our characters be?  Besides they can get to learn from their mistakes.
  3. Stretch your characters.  Don’t be afraid to put them through hell to find out what they are really made of/are capable of.
  4. Let your characters surprise you, sometimes (don’t overdo it!).  A great example of what I mean here is Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings.  Nobody expects in that wonderful world for a hobbit to be a hero, yet Frodo becomes one.  Frodo shows a determination and courage others far bigger than him are not capable of (and yet he’d have failed completedly without Sam Gamgee’s support).  It would’ve been the easiest thing of all for Frodo to stay in Middle Earth and let someone else do the heroics.
  5. Weaknesses SHOULD get in the character’s way and be something they’re seen to be fighting against.  And that, folks, is where the drama is!  A great story has plenty of that!

This World and Others – Character Types

I look at character types and why it matters to get them right in my CFT post this week.  It doesn’t matter how fantastic your world is, the characters must be believable for your readers to engage with them and want to read your story at all.

One key to getting this right is to examine your characters’ motivations. Why are they acting the way they are?  Is it something we can understand?  I’ve long thought Woody from Toy Story is a truly great character.  Why?  Because his jealousy when Buzz comes into his life is understandable.  There are very few of us, regardless of our age, who haven’t been jealous of something or someone in our time.

Look at how your world is governed. Is it a democracy?  Is there a tier of local government?  What are the politicians like there? (And there will be politicians somewhere along the line.  Where there is any kind of power, no matter how minor, politics and playing people off against one another will come into it.  Sad perhaps but again this is something we all understand and will help make your world seem more real to your readers).

So think about emotions.  What are your characters likely to feel and why?  (This is one reason why the Cybermen as a concept are frightening.  The removal of all emotions?  Those are what make us human.  They can also make your Species X what it is and differentiate them from other character types in your fiction).

 

 

 

Just a Minute and Other Thoughts

Facebook – General

Had to smile today. I receive book recommendations by email sometimes and today it finally happened. Yes, From Light To Dark and Back Again was recommended to me!

Moving on swiftly, I’m pleased to say I’m making good progress with my novel and third collection of flash fiction stories. I’ve ideas for non-fiction that I’m working on as well and I could really do with more hours in the day or to somehow be able to manage without sleep. Given neither of those are going to happen, it’s a case of best endeavours!

Have also started drafting a short story I’ve got in mind for a competition in April. Sounds ages away I know but it’ll be here before we know it and I do like to get a story drafted and then leave it for a while before reassessing and editing it. So starting the story about now is the right sort of timescale for me.

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Have typed up a couple of writing diary prompt stories that I’m considering for my third flash fiction collection. I’m at the 15000 word mark with this so will probably go to 20K and stop there. I know there’ll be a lot of cutting to do – there always is! But I never mind that. I think it shows there IS a story there and it is just a question of getting rid of anything that doesn’t enhance it.

I’ve only consciously padded a story the once and, guess what, I gave up when I realised the idea simply wasn’t strong enough. It remains the only story I’ve ever given up on. So yes I prefer to write and then cut. It always works better for me.

The writing prompts in my diary at the moment are where you’re given an opening line and you then see what you can do with it. I like those. I like to think of them as imagination stretching exercises!

Enjoyed listening to Just a Minute on Radio 4 tonight. The rules of no repetition, no hesitation, and no deviation from the subject are great guidelines for writing fiction too.

You want your story to move onwards and upwards to its conclusion so no repetition (it will also irritate readers). I’ve found outlining a story before I start writing it gives me the confidence to write it at all and so I do (no hesitation). I also think something of that confidence shows through in the final story too.

And as for going off at a tangent… a big no-no. As someone once said “just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts”. What those facts are, as far as your story is concerned, of course is down to you!

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Glad to say a flash fiction story of mine, Mirrored, was in the recent Swanwick Writers’ Summer School newsletter.

I discuss adaptations in my CFT post this week. What makes a good adaptation? What doesn’t? Also, this doesn’t just apply to writing either. Link up on Friday.

Editing of the novel continues to progress well and I’m drafting a 750-word short story too at the moment. Really like my lead character. They have promise! The real issue for me on this one is whether I can keep to the strict word count for this particular competition. Still, I will find out! I do love being able to set a Project Target on Scrivener and find it really useful for competitions like this. I like seeing the bar change colour as I get nearer to my goal!

Scrivener images below werebtaken by me as screenshots.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I’m very fond of flash fiction stories that end with a line which make me laugh. When writing this kind of story, I always write that finishing line first and then work backwards to the beginning.

I’ve found outlining in that way means the ending seems natural to a reader and springs out of what has come before. I can take the time to work out what must come before for that line to work and none of that shows in the finished story. Win-win!

How can I tell if a flash fiction idea is going to work best at 50 words, 75, 100, 500, or what have you?

A lot depends on how strong the character is – can they carry a longer story? Also the story itself is about one moment in the character’s life. The moment you’re writing about must not be dragged out (it shows, trust me, that shows) so if you are finding you are trying to extend a story, stop, think again, and look at the piece as a much shorter one. It will almost certainly work better and pack more of an emotional punch on a reader by keeping it shorter. It is impact you want. That is what a reader remembers. You don’t want to dilute that.

Equally, I’ve found sometimes a character needs space to show what is happening in their “moment” properly so fine I go with that. The time to stop is when if you add anything at all, it will weaken the story/character and the potential impact. There’s nothing to stop you incidentally from trying out a story in two different word counts and seeing what works best. Read them out loud. What has the most impact on you?

Street Cred

I’m the coolest one on my street. I’ve been here the longest. Know the best places to hang out with pals. Know the best places to get together with the girls, if you see what I mean. It was just a pity a momentary lapse in concentration meant my cool went haywire and I managed to walk into the catflap my owner put in for me, rather than through it.

Don’t let anyone tell you cats have no sense of humour. The rest of the gang were all laughing at me. Still I’m not worried. I’ll just have to fight them all tomorrow. But for now, me the big ginger tom from No. 27, is curling up on the sofa with my so-called owner. (I own HER truth to be told). She is feeding me titbits from her tuna supper. This is the life.

Being cool again can wait until tomorrow.

Allison Symes
25th February 2019

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I love writing twist endings for my stories and, as mentioned before, often work those out first and then write the story “backwards” to get to the starting point.

But my other favourite writing technique is to begin with a promising opening line and then outline a few ideas as to where that could take me. Naturally I then go for the idea that I like the most (which is always the strongest one or has the most potential in it. Definitely not a coincidence that!).

Sometimes I can “see” a 100-word story in its entirety. My The Haunting is an example of that and was inspired by the character of Mrs Wilberforce (aka Mrs Lopsided) in The Ladykillers.

Goodreads Author Blog – Short Stories and Flash Fiction

I’m glad to see the return of short stories and the development of flash fiction for many reasons. One of these is that I write both so I won’t pretend to be unbiased here. But the major reason for loving this development is it expands the kind of reading available.

I love novels but it is great being able to read a collection of short stories or flash fiction after finishing one full length tome. It mixes up what I read. By the time I’ve finished reading an anthology I’m raring to get on with a novel again!

Also if the novel has been a dark one in terms of mood, there’s nothing like a collection of funny short stories to show the opposite side of life and I, for one, find that helpful. I don’t want to read “dark” all the time. I also know life isn’t always one big laugh so I like to have a balance of dark and light in my reading, as well as my own writing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STORIES, STEREOTYPES, TRICKS AND UNICORNS

Be fair, that is quite a mix, isn’t it?!  I share links to three new stories of mine on Cafelit this week as well and discuss them in my Facebook posts throughout the week too.  Hope you like the stories.  I loved writing them.

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Busy night tonight. My latest CFT post is live and looks at favourite views, literal and metaphorical. I also discuss how to develop “the writer’s eye”.

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Delighted to have three new stories due to appear on Cafelit over the next few days. Will share links as and when. But back to the idea of using the same word to start the sentences of a flash piece with. My word for tonight is Restless and I will ‘fess up and admit I have given this one more thought though I did like the environmental theme that came through with Habitat.

RESTLESS
‘Restless, you are, Wilma, that’s what you are – always have been, always will be.
‘Restless, surely not, I just can’t get comfortable, that’s all’.
‘Restless, I said, and restless I meant.’
‘Restless, that’s the last thing I should be in here, George; I always thought I’d have peace HERE.’
‘Restless spirit, restless grave – I did think I’d have a break from your fidgeting when I joined you in here!’

ENDS.

Allison Symes – 18th September 2018

Hope you enjoy.

I do enjoy reading and writing flash stories told from the viewpoint of a minor character looking at the “main action”. Tonight’s story on Cafelit by me, The Balcony Seen, takes this approach. I don’t even name the character in this one. What matters is showing you what they observed and what they felt.

As ever, with flash, it is vital to focus on sharing what the reader needs to know. It is likely you will need to know a lot more before you put pen to paper or write directly to screen but that is what outlines are for. Outlines are fun to write. The difficult bit can be selecting what it is the reader DOES need to know and leaving out all those lovely pieces of information that are good to know but not crucial to the story. What is crucial for you as writer to know isn’t necessarily the same as what the reader needs to know!

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I love writing throw away lines in a story which tell you something about the character and move the tale on. In my Leaving Home (on Cafelit tonight), there is an example of this. But the crucial thing is it moves the story on. Anything that doesn’t is cut. And that’s the way it should be!

 

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The first of my three stories appearing on Cafelit is The Balcony Seen (I make no apologies for the pun!). This story is based on an exercise set by Simon Hall as part of his A-Z of Novel Writing at this year’s Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. Hope you enjoy. Most of the images below were taken by me at a Hampshire Medieval Fair a year or two ago and shows the scrivener’s wares and his accommodation, which was good by the standards of the time.

Woodland Walk - image via Pixabay

A beautiful woodland walk. Pixabay image

The tools of the medieval writer's trade

The medieval scrivener’s wares. Image by Allison Symes

The Scribe's (Scrivener's) Tent

The Scrivener’s tent. Image by Allison Symes

The scribe had good accommodation

The scrivener had good accommodation compared to most! Image by Allison Symes

As promised, story number two from me on Cafelit this week is now live. Leaving Home shows that the problems of kids pinching parents’ transport is nothing new (or necessarily confined to this world!). Hope you enjoy.

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As promised, the third of my three Cafelit stories is now on site. Dignity and Injustice looks at the death of Anne Boleyn from a very different perspective. Hope you enjoy.

 

Another view of the Tower of London - image via Pixabay

The Tower. Pixabay image.

The Tower of London as night falls - image via Pixabay

The Tower at night. Pixabay image.

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytales A to Z Part 7

Marching on towards the end of the alphabet then, this post looks at letters S, T and U.

S = Stereotypes.
It could be argued fairytales have a lot of stereotypes in them.  The Big Bad Wolf represents villainy and indeed the saying has passed into the language.  We say someone is known to be “a big, bad wolf”.  The downtrodden types that have their lives turned around for the better are known as Cinderella types.  I think what any fairytale writer should do is use the tropes wisely but not be confined by them.  What does your Cinderella type do to try to help herself/himself out of the situation that they’re in?  Maybe it is that which attracts the attention of the fairy godmother to help them in the first place.  Stereotypes can also be spoofed or reversed as in the Shrek series.  So use stereotypes, they can be a useful shorthand, but put your own stamp on the characters you are creating so they are clearly “their own people”.

T = Tricks
It is fine to use stereotypes to create shorthands for your characters, who should then still go on to be characters that are uniquely your creation, and other writing techniques to improve what you do, but those should be the only “tricks” played in your stories.  Indeed they shouldn’t even show!  Your stories should read “naturally” with nothing drawn to the reader’s attention any “artificial devices” have been used in the making of that story.  As for tricks played by characters on others, there should be ground rules set out early on in your story as to magical capabilities so readers know that character A could be reasonably expected to play such a trick on character B.

U = Unicorns (and other mythical beasts)
Use sparingly if at all!  For me a story is all about the characters. Unless you are writing a story from the viewpoint of the unicorn or other strange creature, there seems to be little use for these, other than as transport, possibly, or to set the scene for how your world works and looks.

This World and Others – Story Moods

I’m pleased to say I have three new flash stories on Cafelit.  I share the link to my author page here.

The Balcony Seen started life as an exercise at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School this year.  Leaving Home and Dignity and Injustice are new to me in that they share a common character.  But these stories remind me of one of the reasons I really love flash fiction.  They all vary in mood and it is easy to switch from one mood to another and back again.

I also think really short stories can carry the most impact at times.  Yes, there are exceptions (the sadness of Hamlet goes beyond saying) but I generally find the shorter the story the more powerful the reaction.  I suppose part of the reason for that is there is no room to dilute that impact with sub-plots etc.  In a novel, you would need those sub-plots to give a proper ebb and flow to the overall story and avoid having a monotone.  No need to worry about that for flash fiction!

Anyway, hope you enjoy these.

Goodreads Author Programme Blog – Opening Lines

What is it about an opening line that makes you want to read on?

For me, that opening line has to intrigue me, show me something of the fictional world to come, or show me something about the lead character. The very best opening lines combine at least two of these.

I’m thinking especially of Orwell’s 1984 “It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”. I’m immediately intrigued by the thirteen and I want to know about what kind of world it could be to have clocks capable of doing this. The opening line has definitely fulfilled its role there!

The challenge then for the writer is to make sure that everything which follows lives up to the promise of that opening line and delivers on it! And some people think writing is easy…hmm… I learned a long time ago that when someone makes something look easy, that same someone has almost certainly worked their socks off for years to get to that point.

So what are your favourite lines and why?

I also love the opening to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. Very different in style but they intrigue and set the tone for what is to come.

Happy reading, and writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STORY IDEAS AND PUBLICATION NEWS

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How do you develop your story ideas? I sometimes use spider diagrams to help me here. I come up with what will often go on to be the opening line and work out different scenarios and then write up the one I like the most. It does help to visualise a story sometimes.

With some stories I can hear the character talking and I’ve then got to work out where that dialogue would lead that character. Sometimes the story can be WHERE that dialogue has come from and the talk itself is actually the end of the story. In my They Don’t Understand, I had the finishing line very early on and then worked the story out backwards from there.

So I’d say be open to what approaches you take here. I’ve found one size/one way of doing things is not necessarily the best. You can constrict yourself too much. I also think it is a good thing to mix things up when creating a story anyway. It’s fun too!

Do you find that when you have a closer look at your favourite books and stories there is a common theme? I’ve often found this to be the case.

I love The Lord of the Rings and practically all of the classic fairytales. The common link there? No matter what the struggle or how long it takes, good will defeat evil in the end. A positive theme (and yes I guess that is how you can tell it is fantasy, sadly!).

So what are your favourite themes in stories? I do like themes that speak of justice prevailing, evil being given the boot, or, in the case of historical fiction, shows me something about a past world I had not known before. I loved Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall for that though must confess I’ve not read Bring Up the Bodies as I am an Anne Boleyn fan and know how that story ends!

Great fiction, regardless of genre, will resonate with readers and the key to that resonance is the lead character, who would have been excellently portrayed.

There will be flaws, there will be virtues, there will be plenty that any of us could identify with, knowing our own flaws and virtues, and we absolutely have to find out whether our hero/heroine succeeds in their quest or not.

The lead character is memorable for all the right reasons then – and this still applies even if that character is the villain. They’ve got to have good reasons for acting the way they are (“because they’re evil” isn’t strong enough) and readers should understand why the villain is acting the way they are. Nobody has to like it though!

I suppose we’ve got to have someone to cheer on as we read the latest flash fiction, short story, or novel. And that someone has to appeal to us so how can writers do that? Characters with a great sense of humour come across well, as do characters willing to make sacrifices for their cause. That too can apply to villains (and I bet I wasn’t the only one who almost wanted to root for the late Alan Rickman’s Sherriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves!).

Make your characters distinctive then and easy to “fall for”. It almost goes without saying the first one to love your characters must be you!

Am delighted to say three stories of mine will be appearing on Cafelit over the next few days. Will share the links obviously but one of the tales is a direct result of an exercise set by Simon Hall in his A-Z of Novel Writing at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. I turned one of the exercises set into a flash fiction piece.

I am always happy to recommend a good read on Cafelit given the site has a wealth of stories and styles of storytelling on there – and not just because I’m on it sometimes but you will just have to take me at my word on that one.

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I set the scene in the opening line or two of my flash stories, though sometimes that scene is the lead character’s thoughts and attitude! In those cases, you are entering their world as they see it. You don’t have to agree with them though (and I often don’t!).

Writing flash really does force you to focus on only those points without which the story makes no sense. It is the best way I know of learning how to write tight.

Scenes don’t have to be convoluted, far from it. You want the reader to get into your world as quickly as possible (especially since it’s not going to be a long ride!). Your job, as writer, is to open the door for the reader to be able to get in and out of the story at the appropriate points.

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The flash fiction stories that mean the most to me are ones which make the most impact on me. Sometimes that will be to make me laugh out loud, other times to recoil in horror, and occasionally make me feel I’m really glad NOT to be the character in the tale I’ve just read!

A good test for a story you have written is to see, after a period away from it, what impact it has on you. Did it make you laugh as you were meant to when you first read it? Is it still making you laugh when you re-read it a week or so later?

I’m looking then for the emotional impact of the story. A story is a moment in time for a character. A flash fiction piece is a fraction of a period of time, so the writer has to make that impact quickly and through the lead character.

For me, a good way in for this is to show the lead character’s attitude. Attitude is indeed everything and is quick, effective way to show what your people are like. Their attitude can also convey how other people are likely to react to them too and then hopefully that will make readers want to read on to see if they are right on that. Usually they will be but that’s fine. It means the writer has delivered.

Bad tempered character annoys everyone else in the story? Yes. Ticks all the boxes. The fun bit here is HOW did they annoy everyone and did they get their comeuppance? Bad tempered character is out done by someone more bad tempered still? Yes. There’s a story there too with the prospect of someone being taught an overdue lesson.

An interesting flash fiction challenge could be to start every sentence with the same word – and nominate a word for this. “The”, “A”, “An” etc will not be allowed. So let’s see what I can start with – I’ll have a go with “Habitat”.

Incidentally I usually prepare these posts as I type them! Very much on the fly writing (though I love the challenge of that). I only schedule posts in advance for holidays etc. Basically, I haven’t prepared this in advance, honest ‘guv’!

HABITAT
Habitat varies from creature to creature, and must include man.
Habitat isn’t put at risk by most, spot the difference if you can!
Habitat is what we all need to survive
Habitat is where our characters thrive.
Habitat is where I will place my heroes.
Habitat is where I will put my no-goes.
Habitat is the world of my story.
Habitat can be blissful or gory.

Allison Symes – 17th September 2018

I think the format of the flash fiction here will depend on the word you choose to use as your opener. Some words will lend themselves more obviously to a “straight story” rather than a flash poem so to speak but there is fun to be had exploring ideas here!

Delighted to have three new stories due to appear on Cafelit over the next few days. Will share links as and when. But back to the idea of using the same word to start the sentences of a flash piece with. My word for tonight is Restless and I will ‘fess up and admit I have given this one more thought though I did like the environmental theme that came through with Habitat yesterday.

RESTLESS
‘Restless, you are, Wilma, that’s what you are – always have been, always will be.
‘Restless, surely not, I just can’t get comfortable, that’s all’.
‘Restless, I said, and restless I meant.’
‘Restless, that’s the last thing I should be in here, George; I always thought I’d have peace HERE.’
‘Restless spirit, restless grave – I did think I’d have a break from your fidgeting when I joined you in here!’

ENDS.

Allison Symes – 18th September 2018

Hope you enjoy.

 

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Goodreads Author Programme – BlogOpening Lines

What is it about an opening line that makes you want to read on?

For me, that opening line has to intrigue me, show me something of the fictional world to come, or show me something about the lead character. The very best opening lines combine at least two of these.

I’m thinking especially of Orwell’s 1984 “It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”. I’m immediately intrigued by the thirteen and I want to know about what kind of world it could be to have clocks capable of doing this. The opening line has definitely fulfilled its role there!

The challenge then for the writer is to make sure that everything which follows lives up to the promise of that opening line and delivers on it! And some people think writing is easy…hmm… I learned a long time ago that when someone makes something look easy, that same someone has almost certainly worked their socks off for years to get to that point.

So what are your favourite lines and why?

I also love the opening to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. Very different in style but they intrigue and set the tone for what is to come.

Happy reading, and writing!

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Scrivener and Stories

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My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week will be Part 4 of my 101 Things to Put into Room 101. Is proving a fun series to write. Link up on Friday.

One of the biggest difficulties I have is prioritising time. I find I have to block out time to write, else guess what? I don’t write!

I use Scrivener on my PC and I find that great for organising my notes, especially for my non-fiction work. See one of my earlier CFT posts. I use Evernote on my phone and am increasingly using train journeys to draft a few flash fiction tales using it. I’m off again on my travels on Saturday so hope to get a few short pieces under my belt (or more accurately on my phone!) before I get home again.

 

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My favourite opening lines to stories are those that take me straight into the world of the tale or the mind of the character. You don’t need a lot of words to convey enough information for the reader to fill in the gaps. Flash fiction as a genre proves that.

For example from my Rewards in From Light to Dark and Back Again:-

She must go, Becky thought.
Becky paced her thick, red lounge carpet a dozen times. The beautiful Gemma had decided one boyfriend wasn’t enough.

You have the main character and her state of mind here. The thick, red lounge carpet is an indication Becky has (a) a home and (b) she probably isn’t poor. She also has a situation to resolve! All in 24 words.

Often I’ll write a flash piece and realise when I read it back, there are more clues to pick out than I originally anticipated. This is no bad thing. It means my subconscious is clearly working and something is coming through into what I write! That can be developed further or left as it is as a hint to the reader. Happy writing – conscious and unconsciously!

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You learn a lot when you write stories. Firstly, you learn about rejections as, unless you are phenomenally lucky, you will receive loads of those. Secondly, you realise fairly early on that write what you know, while a very useful start, is simply not going to be enough. You need to be able to write about what you can find out too!

This is why reading widely, in and out of your own genre, fiction and non-fiction, is so important. The more you feed your mind, the more you will have to draw on when writing your own work.

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A successful flash fiction story is one you’ve read where everything that is needed to be said has been! You should feel as if the writer could not add anything to the story without “over-egging the pudding”.

As with any story, a flash piece still has to have a beginning, middle and end (even if that end is a twist one). It should not feel like a piece of prose cut down to meet the word count requirements.

I love flash fiction stories where I would love to know more about the characters despite their role being over. That indicates real “life” behind the characters and their story.

 

Plans and Mini-Series

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Happily enjoying some of the latest Chapeltown publications on Kindle. That is the great thing with flash fiction – it is so easy to read on a screen (no matter the size of the screen!).

Am also drafting some challenging opening lines that I hope to create stories from soon. Sometimes this challenge leads to a longer story than expected (but that can always go to a short story – 1500 words+ – collection in due course).

I’d like to enter more competitions this year too as doing that is always good practice for writing to a deadline and if you are lucky enough to be shortlisted or win, then that does look so good on the old writing CV. You feel pretty good about it too!

One of the nicest things about writing is when you are well “into” it and enjoying what you are coming up with. You are your own first audience. If you don’t enjoy what you write, why should anyone else? Later, trusted readers who can tell you what does and doesn’t work are invaluable.

Happy writing!

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One great thing about writing is it does give you a much deeper appreciation for the works of other writers, especially the classics. For a work to stand the test of time, it really does have to have something special about it, but it is highly unlikely the author concerned set out to achieve that. They would’ve wanted to write a good, entertaining story, for it to be published (and ideally sell in vast quantities too!).

I think you gain a deeper appreciation of the work that went into creating the story in question. I know I’ve learned that if someone makes something look easy (and that includes writing which is easy to read), I can bet that same someone has worked very hard for years to get to that point.

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I’m starting a new mini-series on Chandler’s Ford Today this week. Friday’s post will be part 1 of my 101 Things to Put in Room 101 so this new series will keep me out of mischief for a bit then…

Link to go up tomorrow. Had great fun writing Part 1 so am really looking forward to getting on with Part 2!

I don’t know how many writers manage to achieve the accolade of having parts of their best-known work turned into TV programmes but Orwell is one of the few. What he would have made of Room 101 I don’t know (it can be very funny, sometimes thought provoking) but I suspect there might have been some scathing comments about Big Brother! (And I could always add some of my own there!).

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How easy is it to find the right title for your book? Answer: not very!

I used the mood of the stories to get to the title for mine but the title for the one I’ve not long submitted was more difficult to reach. In the end, I picked the title from one of the stories that I liked best and went with that. Am I expecting changes to my MSS? You bet!

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I know “luvvies” get their fair share of being mocked but the famous question attributed to them, “what is my motivation in this, darling?” is a great one for writers to ask of their characters.

Any character without a suitably strong motivation should be cut out. The good thing on that is their role might be a minor one but if it is pivotal to the outcome of a sub-plot, which in turn affects the way the main plot turns out, then that is good enough to justify that character and minor role remaining.

Motivations should be something the reader can understand, if not necessarily agree with. The main characters should, of course, have the most powerful motivations of all given they have the most to lose or gain.

 

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I often use proverbs or well-known sayings and then see what I can do with them to create my stories. Flash fiction in itself is the very definition of “less is more” after all!

Sayings are a useful source of themes and can sometimes give you ideas for character motivation. (For example, revenge is sweet could lead you to work out why your characters would want to make that saying come true for them. You’d need to work out backstory here – who they want revenge against and why? How do they make revenge sweet? Does it work or backfire spectacularly?).

What sayings would you choose to use for a theme? (The great thing is you could base an entire collection around a well-chosen theme. We’re never going to run out of love stories in the grand scheme of things but there is always room for the well-written one that takes a different slant on it. Okay the problem after that is finding the right home for it but at least you know every writer faces that dilemma and it definitely isn’t anything personal).

Creative writing takes many forms, including blogging. Image via Pixabay.

Creative writing takes many forms, including blogging. Image via Pixabay.

What a library! Image via Pixabay.

What a library! Image via Pixabay.

I could spend many a happy hour here - the library at Prague. Image via Pixabay.

I could spend many a happy hour here – the library at Prague. Image via Pixabay.

The magical world of the imagination. Image via Pixabay

The magical world of the imagination. Image via Pixabay

A way into the magical realm, perhaps? Image via Pixabay.

The way to the magical realm perhaps? Image via Pixabay.

The perfect way to unwind. Image via Pixabay.

The perfect way to unwind. Image via Pixabay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BRAINSTORMING AND IDEAS

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How do you know your ideas are strong enough for a story?

1. When the ideas haunt you and you are almost literally itching to get back to your desk to get on with the writing. (These days I use Evernote on my phone so I can at least make a head start! Great way to make the most of “dead” time. Last time I had to wait while my car was being serviced, I’d drafted three pieces of flash fiction on my phone!).

2. When you can’t wait to find out how the story ends!

3. When the characters seem so real to you, you feel a bit disappointed you know you can’t meet them in “life”.

4. When that initial idea, the spark, triggers other ideas and you can suddenly see the story opening up before you.

Of course, you can’t beat the nitty-gritty of getting on with the writing itself. If the ideas are really strong, the writing will flow. It has been my experience that when I’ve not thought out the ideas enough, that is when I can get stuck. I’ve only ever abandoned two stories in my time due to that (which I don’t think is a bad return rate) but I want to make sure there are no other incidents of that!

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Am happily brainstorming opening lines I hope to use for flash fiction pieces. I love doing that and then I love the challenge of writing to that line. Am also getting back into writing standard length short stories. (Have just submitted one and am outlining another). I would like to write more flash and more short stories than I did last year so I think that would be my goal for 2018.

I’d also like to try to write more of my blog posts ahead of time and schedule them as appropriate. I do this sometimes but last year for some reason didn’t. I wrote the blog post in the week that I knew it would appear. So I am planning to block time out more to do specific tasks and see if, overall, I achieve more. I think I will.

Meantime, back to the stories!

 

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