Favourite Things and Publication News

Image Credit:  Pixabay and Pexels unless otherwise stated.

PUBLICATION NEWS

As you will see from my posts below, Tripping the Flash Fantastic, my second flash fiction collection, is almost ready to be published by Chapeltown Books. I will share more news when I have it but I can say now that the cover is stunning. I hope to share a book cover reveal in due course. Am I excited? You bet! This week has been very busy in working with the cover designer and ensuring there is nothing further to change to the text but it has been a great few days as you can imagine. I do hope to have a cyberlaunch in due course.

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Favourite Things was such a fun post to write but with a title like that, it should be really! I share five favourites in various categories ranging from book genres to dog breeds to TV themes, stopping at favourite meals and drinks along the way.
Do check the post out and send your nominees in via the CFT comments box.
Also check out the fab TV themes I picked, they will bring great memories for many, and it was marvellous hearing them again.

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Gracie, my much missed bearded collie cross (with border collie). Image by Allison Symes

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Mabel, my much missed border collie. Image by Allison Symes.

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Lady, the border collie cross (flat coat retriever and chiahuahua, yes really,the inquisitive and loveable! Image by Allison Symes

Glad to see that the beautifully painted stones around my neck of the woods are still in place. I’ve enjoyed spotting those when out and about with Lady. I’ve no artistry at all when it comes to painting, drawing etc., but I do know what I like when I see it!
My CFT post is all about Favourite Things. I share various categories and pick my five favourites. Link up tomorrow. See what you think and do send comments in. There are also some TV themes from yesteryear as part of this post too and it was fun looking those up and playing them again. Hope you’ll enjoy them too. And with all of the categories I’ve chosen, I could’ve picked a lot more than five!
Incidentally, a good way to outline your characters is to think about what their favourite things are and why “they” would choose them. (By all means use the categories in my CFT post tomorrow to start you off and good luck!).

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Another nice day. I’m shortly going to start the final text checks on Tripping The Flash Fantastic so that will keep me out of mischief for a while.
I was also “on” a hugely enjoyable Zoom creative writing workshop this afternoon which was good fun. Live writing to different challenges and work produced I plan to polish up in the next couple of days. There will be a follow-up Zoom workshop to this one next week so am already looking forward to that.
Good workshops will show you what you can do and then set you the challenge to do it. They’re a great way of stretching your imagination. For example, I wrote a couple of haiku this afternoon. Fun to do, not my normal area of work at all, and will I write some more in due course? I expect so.
I write in notebooks;
I write on laptop and phone;
Edits by red pen!😊😊
Allison Symes – 15th July 2020

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

This week has been a very exciting one as I’ve worked with the cover designer from Chapeltown Books on Tripping the Flash Fantastic. I’ve also checked the text for the final time. So a busy but productive week and a lovely way to go into the weekend.
I hope in due course to post a cover reveal and I plan to hold a cyberlaunch. More details to follow.
This is the lovely side of writing. So much goes on behind the scenes and often for a long time at that. When you get to the point that the book is shortly going to be “out there”, then that’s the exciting and lovely pay off for all that hard work behind the scenes.

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I was at a creative writing workshop via Zoom on Wednesday afternoon. Great fun it was too and I have a few flash fiction pieces from it I will polish up in due course! Now there’s a result.
Okay, I could’ve done without the dog barking an hour into it but she doesn’t like disembodied voices. That’s not going to change any time soon. Even when I’ve been away at events like Swanwick and I call home, I am told she looks at the phone, she can clearly hear my voice, and she backs off from it. (Phone eaten Mum type of scenario in Lady’s head I guess!).
So is Lady an aide to my “muse”? Err…. no. That’s not going to change any time soon either though I have sometimes written dog related flash fiction stories.

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I need stories to make me react in some way, whether I write them or read them. A story that I’m indifferent to is one that has failed for me and it is always a challenge to make sure I don’t write tales that people would be half-hearted about.
This is the biggest reason I think why the characters are the most important element in a story. If I can’t get behind the characters, or see why they are the way they are, then why should I read on?
So when I write stories, I try to ask myself throughout editing, how do my characters make me react? Do they still make me laugh, cry, scream or what have you? Is there anything I can do to “beef up” their portrayal?
Sometimes slipping in an odd extra detail can help make that portrayal more realistic and add depth. But it’s not until I’ve read the story afresh I can see where that odd extra detail might be necessary.
(So for anyone thinking stories just get “bashed out”, they really don’t!).

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Nice day today working with the book cover designer on Tripping the Flash Fantastic. Look forward to revealing more later.
This, of course, is the lovely side to writing where you can see your work almost ready to be out there in the big, bad world. What isn’t seen is the writing, rewriting, editing etc that goes on to get the stories into shape for a collection like this.
It is so true that overnight success usually takes years! Meanwhile a story from From Light to Dark and Back Again to enjoy.

 

Fairytales with Bite – Murphy’s Law

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

Naming Characters

For longer works of fiction, it is too easy to give characters names that are too similar to others (for example Stephanie and Stephan. Two different characters but the problem with names that are similar is they can make the characters forgettable or interchangeable, neither of which you want).

I get around this by ensuring each of my characters has a name that starts with a different letter of the alphabet. It’s simple but it works.

Murphy’s Law can kick in here by making you not spot this until after you’ve got your first draft down. (Yes, it can be fixed at that point but it can be frustrating when you’ve got two similar sounding characters. The last thing you want is anything that might cause confusion in a reader or a sense of “what is that character doing here? I don’t see the point of them” reaction).

Outlining –

The query here is how much to do? Will Murphy’s Law strike in that you either outline too much or not enough? How can you judge what is correct for the writing you’re working on?

A rule of thumb I use is have I got enough to get started on the story? Have I got enough to get me to the middle of the story? Have I got enough to be able to conclude the story? You don’t necessarily need to outline everything. You just need enough to get you to the next stage in the story. Think of this as outlining the major markers. Get those right and it will help you get everything else in place.

You just want to stop yourself going off at unproductive tangents and that is where Murphy’s Law will trip you up. Stop the unhelpful tangents and you save yourself valuable time too. Work out what you think you need to know.

Settings –

The trap here again is detail. How much do you need to know before you write the story? What impact will the setting have on your characters? Preparation is the key to beating Murphy’s Law hitting you here.

Again work out what you think you need to know. And bear in mind the setting must have some kind of impact on your characters – they’re either going to love where they are (but it is under threat – which is where your story comes in) or loathe it and want to escape (which is where another type of story can come in).

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This World and Others – Making Space and Characters

Where does making space come into your creation of characters?

I think the best way to answer that is to list what I think a truly great character needs to have. Also, it really does pay to take time out (make space) to think about your characters in advance and plan them out. It doesn’t mean you have to plan everything but you do need to know about your people in enough detail to be able to write about and for them with utter conviction. You need to decide what you need to know first!

I am convinced that when a writer writes with conviction something of that does show through in your writing and readers subconciously pick up on that. I also think they pick up when a character really doesn’t work and I know, for me, when that has happened, it is nearly always due to my not taking the time to flesh my character out properly in the first place.

So a truly great character should:-

Be Memorable – (and that usually means having distinctive traits a reader will love to love or love to hate. Both work but not usually in the same character!).

Be Someone –  Be someone a reader would want to identify with or be happy they’re nothing like them!

Be Put in Situations – Be put in situations a reader has to find out whether the character resolves or not (and how. Failure to resolve something can ironically be a resolution of sorts. For example, a character wants to achieve a goal, they find they can’t do it, but they do achieve something positive they had not done before despite the overall “failure”. Readers will pick up on something being achieved, a positive point of change for the character, and everyone accepts not all endings are happy ones necessarily. Endings do have to be appropriate).

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Writing for Myself and Perfect Days

Image Credit:  Unless otherwise stated, all images are from Pixabay

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Had a lovely time with visiting family today. Lady is very tired – good walking and lots of cuddles from more people than normal and her favourite dinner. Life doesn’t get any better for her…! Very much her perfect day.

Do you ever think about what would be the perfect day for your characters? Okay, I know. In your story, you’re going to put them through hell, love doing so, and therefore have no interest in working out what their perfect day would be. All perfectly understandable BUT… (you knew there’d be one!)…

Working out what a character would love will reveal to you more of their personality and how they are likely to take things when their desires are thwarted. Ironically, that will help you work out just how far you can push them until they reach breaking point – and that is when you can drop them right in it.

Have fun!

 

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The weekend has had what I call perfect autumn weather – crisp, dry, reasonably warm. It’s my favourite kind of weather. Lady likes it too. Am not so keen on it getting darker earlier but hey hum, you can’t have everything.

I always think of Keats’s “mists and mellow fruitfulness” at this time of year. It is such a wonderful summing up of the season. I don’t use the weather much in my stories. I tend to imply it with the odd reference to what my character is wearing. (If it’s a big coat it’s either very cold out there or the character’s a softie. You’ll soon find out from the story which is the case!).

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The joy of word play is exemplified in shows like Radio 4’s Just A Minute, but it is something most writers relish too.

I love it, when writing a lighter flash fiction tale, if I can come up with a pun which fits the story and is better than the original idea I came up with. Sometimes this is for the title, sometimes it is for the end of the story or for a quirky piece of dialogue. Great fun whenever it happens though I must admit it doesn’t happen nearly often enough for my liking but that’s another story (and my problem!).

Flash fiction writing has taught me to pick words with greater care because, of course, I want to make the maximum impact on a reader for the lowest word count possible. Playing on the double meaning of words is not only fun but helps enormously with this aspect of writing.

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I started writing purely for myself to begin with. I wanted to see if I could write a short story. Then could I do so again. Then could I write a short story in a different genre etc etc. It was some time before I decided to see if I could get the stories published.

I don’t regret that. To a certain extent any apprenticeship was served in all of those stories that (rightly!) never saw the light of day. Learning to cope with rejections was another step on the way. Starting to get positive rejectiosn was another huge milestone.

The writing journey is made up of steps. Publication is the biggest step I think but the journey continues after that. The important thing is to make sure you’re enjoying the journey!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

When I outline a piece of flash fiction, I usually ask myself the following questions.

1. What mood would I like the story to be? (There are some competitions or themes where the mood is clearly dictated, but for open competitions, you get to decide this. I’ve always found it has paid me to think about this one way ahead of writing the story).

2. Who is my lead character and why have I selected them?

3. What is my lead character seeking? Do they succeed? How?

4. What gets in my lead character’s way and how do they overcome these things?

You can set your own questions for outlining purposes, of course, but anything that helps you to get to the nitty-gritty of what your story is about and who your character is will be of enormous benefit to you. I’ve found outlining like this has saved a lot of time (and stops me going off at unhelpful tangents).

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The one good thing about the nights drawing in is that should help me get more writing done. My main writing session is in the evening after we’ve taken Lady out for her evening walk and had dinner.

We will be coming back earlier due to falling light levels soon and Lady will have to wear her fairy light on her collar again. She’s not keen on it but she lights up the world like a little ray of sunshine (albeit a green coloured one most of the time) and it is the only way to see her in the dark!

What do your characters make of the dark? Do you have any that are scared of it and have to learn to overcome that fear? My characters tend to see it as more of a nuisance than anything else. (As does Lady!).

 

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I looked at favourite film adaptations of books in my last Goodreads blog. That doesn’t happen with flash fiction, given the form is far too short for that (though famously Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was based on Daphne du Maurier’s short story. I think the standard length short story is the shortest material that could be turned into a film.).

I have expanded flash fiction ideas into standard length short stories (1500 to 2000 words) where the idea is one I really love and is up to being extended. But I don’t do this often as I’m busily moving on to the next idea most of the time. And I do relish the challenge of coming up with different ideas and characters. It keeps me on my toes!

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Flash fiction is a great outlet for those moments which are not long enough to form a standard short story or novel, but which still have interest and good characterisation. I’ve read many an excellent character study in flash fiction and you can learn a lot about how to portray your own characters studying things like this. (It’s also fun!).

The phrase less is more could have been written for flash fiction fans. You don’t always want lots of details for your characters. You want your reader to find the heart of the character quickly and focus on that.

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Goodreads Author Blog – Books Into Films

My favourite adaptation has to be Peter Jackson’s take on J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings – the vision conjured up seemed to match what I had thought when I first read the trilogy.

It was wonderful “seeing” The Shire. The darkness of Mordor was vividly brought to life too.

I’ve also loved the adaptations of Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal, Hogfather, and The Colour of Magic.

I would love to see an adaptation of Men at Arms and Raising Steam.

I still don’t understand how you can get three films out of The Hobbit though!

Having said all of that, I am all for film adaptations of books as long as they stay faithful to the book. I don’t “get” changing endings, character roles etc. It makes it a different story to the one the author originally intended and I really can’t see the point of that.

What are your favourite adaptations and why?

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Is It A Good Idea to Have Favourites?

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My CFT post this week – Is It a Good Idea to Have Favourites? – was an interesting one to write as I looked at both sides of the argument here.  I also look at favourites from a writing/reading viewpoint. I think I may have found my favourite “eyes” image from Pixabay here too!

Prior to writing this, I’d considered favourites as just something you have, whether it is for food, books or what have you, but, of course, the big danger with having favourites at all is that can make you unwilling to accept or try anything new.

From a writing viewpoint, that is definitely not a good thing. I wouldn’t be a flash fiction writer had I taken that view.

Anyway, see what you think and, as ever, comments are welcome over on the CFT page.

Image Credit:  As ever, the marvellous Pixabay! Captions over on CFT.

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What has writing done for me? This is by no means a comprehensive list though I admit I could probably bore for Britain on the topic!

1. Given me an all engrossing creative art. I’m not an arty person (though I appreciate photography, wonderful landscapes, beautiful sculptures and, of course, music) so to have something I know I can do and be creative in is, for me, fantastic. It confirms my belief there is an art for everyone. It’s a question of finding which is the one (or more) for you.

2. Increased my circle of friends no end and long may that continue! (It’s one of the best things about social media too – you can maintain those friendships, albeit at a distance).

3. The lovely thing with writing is when you go to conferences etc., you have an instant topic of conversation. You don’t have to explain why you write. People get it. Of course any snippets of information (e.g. competition news, scams to avoid, publishers to approach etc) are also incredibly useful.

4. Writing has stretched my imagination and given me confidence to try new forms of writing, such as flash fiction!

5. Helped me develop a tougher skin as I learned to cope with rejections. To be honest, they’re still annoying now when they come in (though these days it’s more often a case of realising you’ve not heard from someone for months), but learning to accept they are all part and parcel of the writing life takes time. It helps though. When you get to that point, it is easier to take them on the chin. It also helps to know you’re not alone.

6. Expanded my reading, both for research purposes, and entertainment. One of the joys I cherish is having a book shelf with my book and anthologies I’ve had work in and along side those are books written by people who are now my friends. Can’t put a price on that. Cheers me no end every time I walk past the shelf in question!

7. Well, I wouldn’t be a published author and blogger without writing, would I?!

Does it pay sometimes to look at what writing actually does for you? I think so. I like to use this sort of thing to spur me on. We all need that sometimes.

Happy writing!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Are there any topics in flash fiction (or my general writing come to that) which I deliberately don’t tackle? Oh yes.

1. Politics. What I DO write here is set up a mythical world and show some of the politics in that, where it is appropriate to the story to do so. This is particularly true for my longer short stories. Naturally some of those thoughts will have echoes with what we experience here.

2. Romantic love. Just not my topic, I’m afraid. Where it forms part of an overall story, I’m happy reading it, but for it to be the whole story isn’t for me. The story of Arwen and Aragorn as part of The Lord of the Rings works well for me and I like it a lot but it is the overall story with Frodo and the Fellowship that matters most.

Having said that, there is so much scope with flash fiction to cover a wide range of topics through the characters so do I feel the lack of not writing about these two? Absolutely not!

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Getting the mixtures of stories in a flash fiction collection, especially in terms of mood, isn’t always easy. If you’re working to a theme, that helps a lot. It can help keep you focused.

With FLTDBA I wasn’t working to a theme, as such. I graded my stories in terms of mood and then worked out where I thought they would best appear.

I didn’t want to end the book on a dark piece or start it with one so that indicated to me the title had to show some kind of “scale”. (Though one person’s dark story is someone else’s light horror so you can’t grade things to completely satisfy everyone. What matters is you and your publisher are happy with it when all is said and done!).

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When outlining a new story, I work out who the main character will be and what their major traits are and then what I think the mood of the tale will be. I love writing humorous stories but I also like darker tales, so it is a question for me of deciding what mood would suit my lead character best.

Sometimes it’s obvious. A dark character fits into a dark tale and so on, but sometimes a character will prove to have a sense of humour which I can use to lighten the darkness.

I know when I read stories with characters like this in them, I am more engrossed. There’s a kind of “well, they can be funny, are they really that evil” and you have to read on to find out. (Oh and generally yes they are and often use the humour to manipulate other characters but that’s another matter! What’s important is I have kept reading. The challenge to me as a writer is to produce characters that fascinate and keep a reader engrossed like that).

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Fairytales with Bite – Characters with Bite

My favourite types of character are those with bite (and I’m not a vampire fan either!). So what does with bite mean here? I adore characters who:-

1.  Say what they mean and follow up on what they say they will do (equally applies to villains!).

2.  Are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in (and can apply to villains too!).

3.  Have good, understandable reasons for their actions, even if you don’t agree with them.

4.  Are memorable. Some will have distinctive phrases but for me the most memorable ones are the ones with attitudes I remember and agree with or loathe. Whatever way it is, they stick in the mind, which is precisely what you want your characters to achieve.

5.  I love characters with a sense of humour (and even more so if they can laugh at themselves).

6.  I adore characters with courage. (Frodo Baggins, Sam Gamgee and a host of others).

7.  I love characters who fight for their own happy ever after, even if they fail. I loathe wishy-washy characters. I’ve got to feel the character has done something and that the story would be incomplete without them. If I feel why is this character in here then there’s something amiss.

What would you list as the attributes your characters must have?

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This World and Others –

Is It A Good Idea to Have Favourites?

Linking in with my CFT post this week, I thought I’d look at this topic from the viewpoint of our characters and how we create them. So do you have favourite characters of your own making and, if so, should you?

I must admit I can’t see how any writer can avoid having favourites amongst their characters. There are bound to be creations we prefer over others, simply for things such as we like Character A’s sense of irony, which Character B, noble as they are, simply doesn’t have. What DOES matter is that we are scrupulous about how we create our characters.

By this I mean when planning out characters, we should ensure each and every one of them has flaws and virtues. Each and every one of them must have good reasons for acting the way they are. Each and every one of them should feel real to a reader. No cardboard cut-outs here!

You, as the writer, have got to know what makes them all tick. You need to know what drives them, what would frustrate them, what would tempt them away from the path they’re supposed to be on, and how they handle weakness in themselves, yet alone in others.

A good sign of a “proper” favourite character is knowing you’ve created a character that for many reasons you dislike (e.g. you disagree with their attitudes) but have brought them to life in such a way your reader will be intrigued by them and there will be no sign of your antipathy towards them either. Good luck!

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Bluebells, Beautiful Books, Ants, and Editing

Hmm… now there’s this week’s contender from me for Unique Blog Title!

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Bluebells out all over the place at the moment. It’s always great taking Lady out for her walks but this time of year is special. Not that she appreciates the local fauna. If it’s a convenient place for her to have a wee break, that’s precisely what she’ll do! (No. She hasn’t weed on the bluebells. Have had couple of close calls though).

I don’t tend to write much about nature partly because flash fiction is not the place for lots of lovely descriptions! I prefer to get my characters up and running quickly within their setting.

The weather, the nature of the area my characters are in are gaps for readers to fill in, though the clues are there. In my The Haunting my character is trying to get rid of a hated umbrella that somehow is managing NOT to be got rid of. The implication there is the weather must be reasonably okay. You don’t dump a brolly on a wet day generally. I don’t specifically spell that out but there’s no need to do so.

I’ve found it useful when outlining to work out what the reader HAS to know, ensure that gets put into the story, and get on with the action of said tale. It is all down to selecting what is the most important thing(s) for the reader to know. Often in flash fiction there will be room for one or two things. The trick is to ensure what you can’t put in can be implied in other ways.

Bluebells in Knightwood

Bluebells on a local walk.  Stunning sight.  And this is just a short section of them too.  Image by Allison Symes

When do you know you’ve finished editing a piece?

When you’ve put it away for a while, come back to it and read it, and can’t think of a single thing to change. Also that it has the impact on you that you wanted it to achieve.

Does that always take longer to achieve than you originally hoped?

Oh yes!

Went for a wonderful walk with better half and Lady to round off Bank Holiday Monday. The bluebells were amazing (though frankly I was far more interested than the dog was. Lady didn’t wee on them tonight so I guess that is a plus!).

I remember thinking ages ago that I’d use walking time to work out ideas for stories/articles/blog posts etc. I haven’t done that once! This is partly due to being far too interested (aka nosey) in what is going on around me including, tonight, trying to spot the noisy woodpecker who was clearly doing some DIY. (How apt for a bank holiday weekend!). The other reason is, of course, Lady and the need to keep an eye on her though, if she thinks she needs attention, she’ll give you a nudge with her nose.

But a break away from the desk does refresh the mind and the spirit and that feeds into my writing, so that’s okay. Pleased to say I sent off some submissions over the weekend and made good progress on my novel. Onwards and upwards!

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Enjoyed listening to the new Hall of Fame on Classic FM over the weekend. Mixed bag of results from my votes.

Jupiter (The Planet Suite) – Holst – down 18

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis – Vaughan Williams – non-mover

BUT

Danse Macabre – Saint Saens – (the wonderful piece I use for my book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back again went up a whopping 50 places. It was also used as the theme to Jonathan Creek to great effect).

I love music which conjures up a mood or in the case of the VW piece seems to take you back in time. Perfect background music as I work out what to do with my next batch of flash fiction characters. Will they meet a horrid end? Will I put them in humorous set-ups? Ah! The joy of creating!


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Do you use spider diagrams for working out story ideas? I do sometimes. They can be useful for working out variations on the “what if” question so you can decide which is the strongest to write up.

I like to start with a potential character name and a bizarre situation (but then I love reading and writing quirky fiction). I work out how the character could’ve ended up being in that situation before going on to work out how they get out of it. The nice thing with this sort of planning is I just need rough ideas at this stage.

If Character X is going to end up on Mars with a limited oxygen supply, then logic dictates they’re either going to be rescued or die. For me, the story there is how they got dumped there and above all, why. So a spider diagram for that could be something like this:-

Character X brags, is pain in backside etc – demands lead position on next space exploration. (Motive here immediately)
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Character X has been driving Character Y mad for years without being aware of it. Character Y is a quiet soul and for once would like an uneventful space trip. (More motive here).
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Character Y pushes Character X out of the space capsule and heads off, knowing Character X would insist on leaving the capsule first. Character X would swear profusely at this point but realises the need to save as much energy and oxygen as possible.

That is very rough but you get the idea. Must admit though spider diagrams for me look better when drawn out on paper!

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Editing is a crucial skill whatever you write but writing flash fiction is a great way to improve what you do here.

I’ve found I’ve got into the mindset of looking at phrases to double check they make as much of an impact as possible in the fewest possible words once I’ve carried out an initial typo/grammatical error edit.

Often a tweak or two will (a) reduce the word count and (b) strengthen what it was I wanted to say. You never come out with the exact wording immediately. Well, I don’t anyway. Usually a stronger adjective than the one I’d originally chosen will increase the impact of that particular sentence.

It’s a great weight off my mind to know I don’t have to get it right on the first go!

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Managed to submit three flash fiction pieces over the weekend so pleased with that. Would like to try and get more out this coming weekend. I try to carve out a specific writing slot for sending submissions out and weekends tend to be my best time for this.

It always pays to double check submission requirements given these vary from market to market/competition to competition. There have been times I’ve been cross with myself for spotting a typo after I’ve submitted a piece. And that’s despite editing on paper, putting work aside for a while so I come back to the piece with fresh eyes etc The one comfort I take from things like that is this happens. It happens to a lot of writers at some point.

What I don’t want to ever happen is for a piece to fail because I missed something on the submission requirements. To date, it has never happened. So help me, it never will. It really does pay to take extra time to ensure you have got everything spot on here. Don’t rush this aspect.

I’ve found it useful to take at least a week off the official deadline of any competition etc to give me that breathing space I need to ensure everything is as perfect as I can make it. (I usually take two weeks off in fact). Give yourself time and space.

Time to have some fun with the random word generator again. I used a as the start letter and t as the final one and selected six words. These were:-

achievement
account
argument
ant
accept
announcement

Let’s see what can be done with these (and I won’t count the title as one of the words).

ACHIEVEMENT

The ant was of little account in the grand scheme of things. She was just one of thousands of worker ants whose greatest achievement would be to ensure the survival of their colony. There was no room for argument. Her role was her role and that was that. It was best to accept this. Everyone knew a sole ant would never survive long outside of the protection of the colony. For the colony to work, everyone had to fit in with their alloted roles. So when the announcement came the queen ant had died, there was consternation. There would be no more ants. No more worker ants like her. Not in this colony.

Ends

Allison Symes – 23rd April 2019

This is almost certainly the tiniest character I’ve created and is likely to remain so!

But have fun with random word generators and see where they take you. They can be great ways of triggering fresh story ideas.

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Goodreads Author Blog – Beautiful Books

I love books in all their different forms, of course, but I do appreciate the art in a really good book cover.

Difficult to say what my favourite cover is but I must say I love the children’s editions of the Harry Potter series and the original Discworld covers.

I don’t get the tendency to produce plainer covers for “grown ups”. Blow that. I want escapism in a good book and the cover has got to entice me in. A plain black or grey cover with sensible lettering just isn’t going to do it for yours truly.

I also appreciate beautiful bindings. I inherited my late mother’s collection of hardback Dickens (all in green with gold lettering) and they are a joy to look at. They are even more of a joy to read! I also have a fab Agatha Christie collection (red hardbacks with gold lettering). Great stories but my enjoyment is enhanced when I can appreciate the physicality of a book. (This is where the Kindle DOES lose out to “proper” books).

At the end of the day, it is the story which matters most of all, naturally. But I’m all for getting as much enjoyment out of a book as possible and beautiful covers and production standards can make books very special indeed.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wishing and Outlining

My post is up a night early due to other commitments over the next few days but hope you enjoy.  There is still time to take advantage of the book offers as part of my author of the week promotion but you only have until tomorrow, 18th January.

Meanwhile:-

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Delighted to share my latest CFT post, Three Wishes. Great fun to write. So go on then – what would your three choices be? Have a look at the ground rules and assumptions (they’re not arduous, really, and I think they’re fair too) and then have fun picking your three. Comments on my CFT page would be great.  (And find out why space comes into my choices).

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My CFT post will be going up a night early so look out for Three Wishes tomorrow. What would you wish for if your fairy godmother turned up and allowed you to have said three wishes? There are ground rules (no wishes for more wishes for a start! She has got a busy round you know) – see the link tomorrow. Great fun to write this piece. Looking forward to sharing the link.

Also am off to the local panto next week with my lovely CFT editor, Janet Williams. Will be a hoot, I’m sure. Whenever I go out like this it’s for Shakespeare, a funny or serious play, and panto! Still, I guess it is a good mix!

feature image - three wishes

My latest CFT post. Pixabay image.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Linking in with my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week about Three Wishes, what would you choose as a flash fiction writer? Mine would be:-

1. To always get the word count right for the story. (Not necessarily the competition or market. You may just have to find a competition or market the story suits better but the story HAS to be right).

2. To never run out of ways to find ideas for stories. (Random word generators, slogans, classic themes, the old question of What If? all come into what I use for mine but it is good to have a variety of ways to generate those ideas. For one thing, it keeps things fresh for you).

3. To never run out of ways of generating titles. Due to flash fiction’s restricted word count, getting the title right is hugely important. It can be used to convey the mood of the story and its genre and save you precious words doing that in the body of the tale. As with any story, the title has to tempt the reader in to reading the rest. You want to get it right!

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Am away at the weekend so hope to draft a LOT of flash fiction while on the trains! Great use of dead time. I was pleasantly surprised to discover how quickly I got used to (a) using an app on a smartphone to write stories, blogs etc while travelling and (b) that using the stylus was no problem at all.

Main thing I loathe is my local train company has taken OUT all of the mobile phone recharging points that were on board (and put there by the previous train company, whom I miss a lot). The new lot have literally blank-plated the plug sockets out! Why? I saw the recharging points as a useful customer service and I really can’t quite believe that a lot of power would’ve been drained. Nobody is plugged in ALL the time! Oh well…

Echoes can be useful in flash fiction. In my Pen Portrait I refer to a character that follows the “Shirley Williams school of thought rather than Margaret Thatcher’s” when it comes to caring for hair!

If you recall both of those politicians, you will remember they had very differing hair styles. I’m sure the latter’s would not have moved an inch even in a hurricane. (Also for those who don’t recall but wish to do so, it’s easy enough to look up pictures of these two. Indeed you only need to look up one of them to get some idea of what the other would be like here).

What’s useful is the mention of these two politicians will give a reader an idea of the age of the character without me spelling it out, as well as what their approach is to brushing their hair!

Think about what you could use to convey information across to readers like this. Echoes are a great word count saver!

Fairytales with Bite – Wishing, Just Wishing

My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week is called Three Wishes and asks what would you choose if your fairy godmother turned up and granted you the customary three wishes?  Naturally, there are ground rules but check the post out and have fun picking yours!

For this post, I thought I’d look at what your characters would wish for.  Okay a lot is going to depend on your story, genre, etc but some general pointers I think would cross all of that and be true for most of them.  These then are:-

1.  To be well thought out before my writer puts me to paper or screen
I’ve found outlining a character to be a useful tool.  I don’t put down every single thing but I need to know their major traits, what might send them “over the edge”, what drives them etc. By the time I’ve thought about all of that, I can hear the voice of that character and once I’ve got that, I can write them into existence!  I’ve found that time spent initially in thinking about what I need to know here has saved me time later in editing and not having weaknesses in characterisation and/or the plot.  The lovely thing here is each writer can decide what they need to know.  It will vary from writer to writer.  It can vary from story to story too.  For example if you know you are going to write a humorous tale, you can ask what would your character dread happening to them because they’d be so embarrassed?  There would be a lot of humour potential there!

2.  To give me dialogue I can actually speak and which doesn’t sound like “authorese”.
This is where reading your work out loud pays off.  You can literally hear if the words flow or not.  If you stumble over dialogue, a reader will too.  Time to edit then! Speech itself, as well as speech patterns of characters, must seem natural.  You want to convey that this is something a “real” person in these circumstances might actually say (even if the setting is fantastical).

3.  For the writer to know what they are doing!
We’re back to outlining again.  Your characters need to have a function to justify their place in your story.  So you really do need to know what they are doing in your story and, as importantly, why.  Once you know that, you can write with confidence (and it does show through).

This World and Others – Outlining

Do you outline? Should you outline? Is there one absolute way TO outline?

Firstly, I do outline and I have found it has saved me a lot of time editing and fixing problems in the characters/plot because I’ve worked out the main points first.  That to me is the best reason of all to outline.

Secondly, I think most writers should outline.  Working out your direction before you start off, especially on a major project, makes a great deal of sense.

Thirdly, no!  For a flash fiction piece, I once wrote one sentence as I knew my story idea could go in one of two directions and naturally I wanted to go with the strongest idea.  By writing down that sentence, I could then see what was the strongest idea and I went with it.  For short stories and novels, I obviously outline more.

I don’t outline every single thing.  For characters, I look at what drives them (as that reveals their attitudes to life, to others etc).  For a story I want the beginning and end and a point in the middle which will usually prove to be the turning point.  I deliberately allow room for my imagination to kick in and have found when ideas come to me as I write the story, I can jot them down, look at my outline, work out where they’d fit in and away I go.

I will sometimes outline a setting to help me get a clear picture of it in my head.  For a setting I already know well, I may look at what might surprise me about it and see if I can be surprised by it.

Outlining is a tool.  How you make use of it is up to you but it is good to have that tool in your writers’ toolbox.  Use it to serve your writing.  I’ve found it pays off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Write and Using Writing Prompts

Facebook – General

Scribblers Books also shared details of the special offers on my writing available for this week only, folks!  A reminder about these offers follows shortly.

One of the nicest things a writer can experience is signing one of your books for a reader! Congratulations to Jim Bates who will be receiving a signed copy of my From Light to Dark and Back Again in due course. (You don’t tire of signing books for things like this!).

And a huge thank you to everyone who has supported my being author of the week for Bridge House by sharing posts, sending congratulations etc. Much appreciated!🙂💐💐♥️

BOOK OFFER REMINDER

Book news! I’m Bridge House Publishing/Chapeltown’s author of the week and there are free books up for grabs AND special offers on others. What’s not to like?

I’ve had the great pleasure of being published by BHP/CB in various anthologies as well as with From Light To Dark and Back Again. These form the basis of the package below.

BOOK PACKAGE: There are SIX, count them SIX, publications where I have work on offer for £4.00, all as mobi-files. This includes To Be…To Become (the Waterloo Festival competition, anthology), Baubles (BH anthology), The Best of Cafelit 4, 5 AND 6 and From Light to Dark and Back Again, my first flash fiction collection.

And for those of you who would like print paperbacks there’s an offer for you too.

PAPERBACK OFFER: My first published story was A Helping Hand in Bridge House Publishing’s Alternative Renditions. That isn’t available on Kindle BUT is in paperback and that along with From Light to Dark and Back Again is on offer at a mere £7.00 for the two!

GIVEAWAY:  Still available,  I’m giving away one signed copy of:-

Alternative Renditions OR
Baubles OR
One of the Best of Cafelit books I’m in.

 

If you’re interested email my lovely editor, Gill James, at editor@bridgehousepublishing.co.uk with your contact details. Also let her know which of the books you would like and Gill and I will take things from there.

All of the above books are available on Amazon.

And if you would like to try some of my work out first, head over to Cafelit at http://cafelitcreativecafe.blogspot.com/…/l…/Allison%20Symes

 

Scribbler also shared the links to my Chandler’s Ford Today author page where I often write on topics of interest to the writing community (such as The Benefits of a Good Writing Conference, Creativity is Good For You, Fiction -v- Non-Fiction etc etc)

Next challenge? Get more out there! Pic below is of my flash fiction collection on sale at last year’s Swanwick Writers’ Summer School Bookshop. Always a thrill to know your book is in there!

Oh and the offer ends this Friday, 18th January.

What Barbara Large's writing classes will help writers discover - what is their story - image via Pixabay

A good writing group will help you discover this. Pixabay image.

Loving the writing prompts in my diary. (Pictures like the woodland and other landscape ones below are great for suggesting atmosphere and therefore what type of story I’m likely to come up with). Looking ahead a little, there is a nice mixture of picture prompts, suggestions of words to use to create an opening for a story or poem (flash fiction in my case), and pieces asking you to describe something in a setting (for example a journey in winter, which is the one for this week). These are going to make a nice challenge for me. 52 new flash fiction stories at least then this year!

I like coming up with title ideas every so often and will come up with a dozen or so. Then I write the stories to suit. I deliberately choose “open” titles, open in terms of what the mood/setting of the story could be. I like to have plenty of possibilities to play with and then I go with the one I like best. The other ideas I will revisit at a later date. They may suit another story.

Why write?

1. Because you have to. There is just something hardwired into your brain driving you to write.

2. To give something back to the wonderful world of stories you’ve enjoyed (and still enjoy) being part of.

3. Because there are characters and stories you simply have to develop. (Ties in with 1 above though 1 can apply to non-fiction writers just as much).

4. Because you read something awful and know you can do better. So you rise to the challenge and do it!

5. Because it’s a joy to do, whether you seek publication or not.

6. You always loved inventing stories at school so why stop there?

7. To see if you CAN do it and then see if you can improve on what you do.

8. To explore what it is you actually want to write and maybe discover areas of writing you had not known about before.

9. You come across a writing competition you really like the sound of and you think it may have your name on it. There’s only one way to find out if that’s right!

10. You believe most people have some sort of creative/artistic “bent” to them and writing is the most natural for you.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Is it harder to write a book or promote one? Answers on a…well I don’t think a postcard would be big enough.

Both have their challenges and rewards of course. Getting the balance right between doing both is tricky. Always has been, always will be, and I think every writer has to work out what works for them.

It is one of those things that when I first started writing seriously for publication, everything was still sent by snail mail. These days practically every story I submit anywhere is by email.

And to not be involved with social media in some way (even if you focus on one, say) is a serious disadvantage. What I like best about social media is the way it can help you to engage with other people and ultimately isn’t that what we’re trying to do through our writing, whether it is for educational or good old sheer entertainment purposes?

(No time for trolls though – the only place for those is in a fairytale!).

When writing light stories, what are you looking to achieve? I want to write stories that make people smile (I’m not necessarily aiming for the laugh out loud moment). The impact I want to leave on a reader is one of them having had a hugely enjoyable read. I know I’m always cheered up no end reading stories like that.

As for the dark stories, I sometimes want to make the reader shudder, I want to make them see how and why my character would act the way they are, and then be glad they’re not in the situation I’ve put the characters in!

I like a balance of both types of story in my books and I also like reflective character study pieces too. I find, when reading this kind of story by other writers, they’re the stories that make me think the most. The “would I have done that in those circumstances?” kind of story has a quieter impact than the funny or scary tales, but the impact is there all the same.

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When writing a story in flash
Don’t decide you’ll be oh so rash.
By just writing everything down.
Tangents occur to make you frown!
Plan your ideas, a note will do,
Sketchy, detailed, it’s up to you.
Stories are stronger if they’re planned.
Saves many a tale being panned!

Allison Symes – 14th January 2019

This one comes from direct experience! Sometimes my outlines are as little as a sentence. For longer stories, I go into more detail. I deliberately don’t plan everything out. I want to encourage the imagination to “fire up” and not stifle it but a plan sends me in the right general direction.

I love the Scrivener templates for character and setting outlines. I draft those and they get me into the world of my story idea so quickly. But there is no reason why, if you don’t use that kind of software, you can’t think of a useful template of your own. Think about what you need to know about your characters before you start writing about them. Base a template on that. It will come in handy many times.

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Echoes can be useful in flash fiction. In my Pen Portrait I refer to a character that follows the “Shirley Williams school of thought rather than Margaret Thatcher’s” when it comes to caring for hair!

If you recall both of those politicians, you will remember they had very differing hair styles. I’m sure the latter’s would not have moved an inch even in a hurricane. (Also for those who don’t recall but wish to do so, it’s easy enough to look up pictures of these two. Indeed you only need to look up one of them to get some idea of what the other would be like here).

What’s useful is the mention of these two politicians will give a reader an idea of the age of the character without me spelling it out, as well as what their approach is to brushing their hair!

Think about what you could use to convey information across to readers like this. Echoes are a great word count saver!

Goodreads Author Blog – Good Books

What defines a good book for you?

For me a good book is one that fulfils its purpose, whether that is to make me laugh, show me a world I did not know previously, or help me improve my history knowledge etc.

It has to keep me gripped to The End. I have to be eagerly looking forward to reading the next chapter when I read in bed. (And be mightily miffed if the Sandman comes along a bit early and I don’t get to read for as long as I’d like).

A good book will have writing that takes my breath away with the joy of how it is put together. P.G. Wodehouse is the master there as far as I’m concerned.

Humorous books have to not only make me laugh out loud, but to keep me smiling until The End. I love books which are obviously funny but which raise smiles by their subtle use of language, puns etc. Again Wodehouse is brilliant here and so was Terry Pratchett.

Crime fiction has to bring out the “I’ve got to find out what happens next” feeling. And it must deliver on its promise. Historical fiction has to make me feel “yes, it could have been that way” and so on.

Good books I always re-read. Maybe that is the true test of a great read.

Says it all really and both must balance out Pixabay image

So true. Pixabay image.

 

STORY ENDINGS AND MAKING AN IMPACT

Am definitely on a theme tonight!

FAIRYTALES WITH BITE

In Story Endings I look at how I finish a flash fiction piece. I’m looking at the impact my story will have on a reader and it does influence how I write the story. I also discuss the classic “happy ever after” fairytale ending and how these days I am much more sympathetic with the “happy for now” approach.  (For one thing it is more realistic!).

THIS WORLD AND OTHERS

In Making an Impact (I told you there was a theme!), I again discuss story endings and their impact but I also talk about the advantages of outlining here.  You can work out what impact you want your story to have and, given there is bound to be more than one way you could achieve that with your characters, you can work out what you feel would work best and then go with that.  (This approach can save a lot of rewriting later – and has done for me).

FACEBOOK – GENERAL AND FROM LIGHT TO DARK AND BACK AGAIN

The theme continues!  I also share another joy of flash fiction, which is, having written your piece, there is nothing to stop you from developing it further into a longer, standard length short story or even a novel if the premise/characters are strong enough and you love the story enough to do so. (Both aspects of that would be necessary as the plot really does have to be strong enough and you’ve got to be prepared to put the work in especially for a novel.  This is where your loving the story so much you have to write it up as a book will help you enormously, but it can be done).

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Back cover of From Light to Dark and Back Again

Back cover of From Light to Dark and Back Again

 

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Flash fiction has the capacity to make a very strong impact quickly – image via Pixabay

 

 

Books really are the gatekeepers BUT they can also be investigators as Westminster Bones clearly is. Image via Pixabay.

SAGGY MIDDLES…

There really was only one title for tonight’s post – more to follow on saggy middles!

FAIRYTALES WITH BITE

My A to Z of Character Creation has got up to Part 6 with the letters O, P and Q.  O is for Originality and I discuss why it is difficult to come up with truly original characters, given we all base our characters on what we know in terms of what people are like.  This means there will be a certain amount of natural shared human experiences in our characters but what, I feel, can and will make them unique is how you blend the mixture of traits, motives and other things that make up “your people”.  More on this in the post.  P is for parameters and I look at why boundaries are a good thing when coming up with characters.  Q is for Questioning.  Do your characters have a questioning approach to life and, if so, what kind of trouble can this land them in?

THIS WORLD AND OTHERS

And now we get on to saggy middles.  In Is Your Middle Saggy? I look at why the middle section of your story is, in many ways, the most important part of your tale. Yes, you need the gripping opening to bring your readers in and, again  yes, you need a satisfying ending that will hopefully make people want to read more of your stories.  However, if the middle of the story is lacklustre, readers won’t make it to the end of your story at all.  I like to think of the middle of the story as the loadbearing part of it.  I’ve found outlining the major steps of my story to be the way to ensure all parts of my story make my readers want to read further.  See the post for more.

FACEBOOK – GENERAL

I talk about how I review my writing and work out what I have achieved for one year and would like to achieve in the next one.  (The last two never ever quite tally!  I usually manage to cross one or two items off my Want to Write list but there are always plenty of targets to go for as a writer.  I think that is a good thing).  I also discuss why being open to trying new forms of writing is so important.

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FACEBOOK – FROM LIGHT TO DARK AND BACK AGAIN

I’m back to talking about saggy middles here.  Indeed I wrote this post ahead of my longer Weebly This World and Others one. It sounds odd, I know, but far from finding an outline restrictive, I find it fires up my imagination more, helps me ensure my story middles don’t sag, and I guess it is because I have given the old subconscious mind something to work with in planning things out.

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