Writing Prompts and Publication News

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As ever, images are from the fantastic Pixabay, unless otherwise stated.

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Association of Christian Writers  – More Than Writers

My turn on the Association of Christian Writers’ blog spot, More Than Writers.

I’m on the 29th so that means I get every three Februaries off! 😆😆

Hope you enjoy the post and find it useful. Mixing up how you write stories is fun and keeps you on your toes too!

I talked about writing prompts in my monthly slot for the Association of Christian Writers today. As well as sharing some tips, I share a story I produced using one of the tips. Annoyed librarians may well like it… hmm… go on have a look then!😊

What I’ll add here is that I’ve found it useful to mix up how I approach writing a story. It keeps things interesting for me. It keeps me on my literary toes too.

By mixing up the methods, I avoid the dangers of becoming formulaic too. I don’t want any of my stories to sound the same to a reader after all. What I do want is someone to read my stories and spot my voice through them all, but to also enjoy each tale for its uniqueness. My characters are very different people after all. The way I tell their stories should reflect those differences too.

 

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Loved the finale to Doctor Who but that’s all I’m saying about that. It is nigh on impossible to say anything else without unwittingly revealing a spoiler so best not, I think. Give it a week and then I should be all right on that!

Well portrayed characters, for good or evil, will keep you glued, whether they’re on the page or on the screen. The challenge as a writer is to ensure the characters you create have that quality to keep a reader hooked. How do you make the readers care about what happens to your people?

Firstly, YOU’VE got to care what happens! Thankfully this happens rarely but I have come across instances where I’m bored with a character portrayal and I suspect the author became bored too.

Secondly, your character has got to have a problem that must be resolved somehow. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a life or death problem, though that is obviously a great one for winding up the tension in a tale, but the issue your character HAS to resolve must be something they can’t run away from. Their situation won’t improve until they DO do something etc.

Thirdly, your character mustn’t give up easily. When their initial attempt(s) to get out of their situation fail, how do they react? Do they learn from their failures? What gives them the break through to success?

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Story time again. Hope you enjoy. A little humour at the end of a busy Monday is never a bad thing!

Taking Time Out From the Day Job is my latest tale on Cafelit. (I’ve written flash fiction tales with fewer words than the title for this one in my time but there you go!). I have every sympathy for my lead in this one.

It’s lovely having one of my humorous fairytales with bite up on Cafelit.

Taking Time Out From the Day Job shows what happens when a fairy decides to do just that.

Hope you enjoy reading it. I loved writing it but then I do adore characters like this one.

It is a real contrast in mood from my recent linked stories on Cafelit but now you know why my collection is called From Light to Dark and Back Again. It sums up what I write!

Just to say that #ParagraphPlanet archive stories at the end of each month and the February 2020 “lot” are now available. See the link.My Time Is Everything is amongst the collection here. #flashfiction #amwriting #75wordstories

Is it easier to write to a specific word count or write the story first and then work out what the word count would suit it best?

Hmm… I’ve done both. The discipline of working to a specified word count is a great one and keeps you on your toes. It really does force you to check that each and every word has to be included in your tale. If there’s anything that doesn’t carry its weight, out it goes.

When I am working to a theme or title (often generated by random word generators), I write the story first. I see what I have, edit it, and then decide on whether it would work better at 100 words or 200, for example.

However you write, have fun!

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Conflict in stories can take many forms of course but some of my favourite tales are the ones where a character is in conflict with themselves.

This is why I find Gollum from The Lord of the Rings an interesting character. You know you can’t trust him but I found on reading the tale for the first time, I desperately wanted him to somehow come good at the end. (And I’d say it’s open to interpretation whether he did or not. I am with Gandalf on this one when he says Gollum had his part to play in the history of the Ring and left it there).

In my story, Rewards, which is one of my longer flash tales, I use thoughts to show my lead character’s conflict. The reason this tale needed to be towards the upper end of the flash limit was because I needed some space to show those thoughts and then how my character acted on them.

But then that’s the joy of flash. You can go from the tiny tales in terms of word count to the longer ones but still have a limit you need to stick to. (I do find that a really good writing discipline. It’s why when I prepare my Chandler’s Ford Today posts I set my own word count and stick to it. I have to have parameters!).

The conflict a flash fiction writer has is deciding what word count will work best for their story. Sometimes you do have to go to the upper limit. Sometimes you can say all you need to in 100 words or less. Always think of the impact of the story on a reader. Don’t water it down by padding it out. If the conflict in the story is played out in 250 words, leave it there! But if you need 999, that’s fine too.

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Symbols have a great deal of meaning of course. Can they be used in flash fiction?

Yes, as long as readers are likely to know the meaning of the symbol or can get to the meaning from context. As with any writing, clarity is the important thing here.

Could you come up with your own symbols for your characters?

Yes but it would be useful to base them on what we already know.

For example, red roses are associated with love but what could black roses be associated with?

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Reviews are so important for any writer for a variety of reasons but the good news is they don’t have to be lengthy. One or two lines would be absolutely fine. A big thank you, while on topic, to all those who have been kind enough to review From Light to Dark and Back Again.

So if you’re looking for a way to support author friends, do review their books. The one caveat is reviews have to be honest for them to have any meaning. Honest reviews also aren’t usually at risk of being taken down!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/…/B07T…/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

 

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Goodreads Author Blog – Story Openings

What is it about a story opening that makes you want to read on?

For me, either the character has to be “hitting the ground running” in such a way, I’ve got to find out what happens to them, or the set up is intriguing enough to make me want to read on.

Mind you, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the classic fairytale opening of “once upon a time”.

There is the wonderful association with happy childhood reading of those great stories. That opening just, for me, sets the tone for what is to follow.

I know to expect fairy godmothers turning up at surprisingly convenient moments. (I’ve always wondered why Cinderella didn’t berate hers for not coming to her aid a lot sooner but that’s another story).

I know to expect talking animals (and I should imagine the Three Bears had quite a bit to say about Goldilocks that was best kept off the page. I know how I’d feel if someone destroyed my chair and bed – though they’d be welcome to the porridge. I’ve never liked the stuff!).

I know to expect the villains to get their comeuppance. It’s just a question of finding out how and when.

And there is something wonderfully poetical about Charles Dickens’s opening to A Tale of Two Cities (which I confess I’ve not read but is on my To Be Read list), but even I love the sound of “It was the best of time, it was the worst of times” and the rest that follows. The rhythm of that opening paragraph is amazing.

So what I’m saying here is I want a story opening to take my breath away so I have to read on. Now there’s a challenge for any writer (including me!).

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The Long and The Short of It

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

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My CFT post this week is The Long and the Short of It – Reading and is a celebration of literacy, in particular the joy of stories and books across genres and formats.

There really is a genre and format of story and book to suit everyone. I think this is something that is too easy to take for granted.

I look at the advantages and disadvantages of short and long fiction from both the reader’s and writer’s viewpoint. Hope you enjoy.

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It has been a good week on the story front. Three linked stories of mine were up on Cafelit earlier this week and today I had a 75-word piece, Time Is Everything, on #ParagraphPlanet. I could do with more really productive weeks like this!

Time Is Everything was one of those stories when I did actually start with the opening line! I know, duh, every story starts with an opening line. True but sometimes I come up with a line which I know will make a cracking ending to a tale and I then work backwards to get to the beginning. This one I went from A to B rather than from B to A!

The Cafelit stories are three linked ones and are based on an idea from #DawnKentishKnox in the Prompts Book by Gill James. I picked some numbers and wrote stories to those numbers. I also used the numbers as a theme – in this case Time. Seven is for seven days in the week, Twenty Four is for the hours in a day and so on. The whole “package” is called Story by Number and I must thank #GillJames for picking such an appropriate drink to go with these tales. See the link for more! I usually select a drink to go with my Cafelit stories but, confession time, forgot this time.

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Hope to have more publication news to share tomorrow as well as the link to my CFT post.

For the latter, I’m looking at The Long and the Short of It – the It being a celebration of literacy. (Now there is a word you must make sure you spell correctly to spare your own blushes!).

I’ll be looking at the joys and challenges of long and short writing (yes, I include non-fiction). The problem with a post like this one is in keeping it down to one post! I do think literacy is something that is far too easy to take for granted. We are so fortunate having a wonderful wealth of materials to read and enjoy.

One wonderful thing about all of this is there is at least one genre and one format of writing/reading to suit you. And that goes for non-fiction too. Think of the wealth of topics there alone!

If you’re a writer you have the joy of creating said materials too.  Now off to work on more short fiction and non-fiction myself!

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How do I decide what IS the most important thing I have to get across in a flash fiction tale?

Sometimes it’s an obvious thing. I have an interesting character and I simply have to find out what happens to them. That is the single most important point. (That’s always a good sign when the writer is keen to find out what happens. I’m convinced some of that does get through to future readers).

Sometimes I know what the character is going to do to end the story so have to work out what has to happen for them to get to that point – the B to A approach so to speak. So again I’ve got the most important thing to focus on.

Sometimes the character has an attitude problem (!) and here I can go with either finding out what was behind that. There’s the point of the story. Alternatively, I can use the what are the consequences of that attitude approach. Both are fun to write.

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Story time again…

GUARANTEE

Genuine? Of course it is, Madam.
Unassuming but pretty little object, isn’t it?
And it can be all yours for £50.
Really, I’d be selling it cheap at twice the price.
Auntie Jo always said my kind heart would land me right in it, but you just have to go with your instincts sometimes, don’t you?
Nah, of course, I’m not conning you.
Tried it on with everyone else in the market today, have I – well, no actually, I really have saved this for you, Madam.
Ever since I was a nipper, I could match a face to a bargain and this one is designed for you.
Everlasting wish maker this is, okay so you know it as a magic lamp, but wouldn’t you say it goes rather nicely with that broom I saw you fly in on?

Allison Symes – 20th February 2020

I used a random word generator to come up with the trigger for this story. I don’t always use the first word that comes up. I look for a word that is open to interpretation. Ideally I’ll use a word that could be used in a funny or serious context. Then I can have some real fun with it!

Hope you enjoy.

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Am having one of those days where everything has run late. I may be a flash fiction writer but not everything I do can be said to be achieved in said flash! Oh well…

What do you do if you find that inspiration is hard to come by? I find a lot of the time when I feel “used up”, it is simply because I’m tired so I rectify that. I accept on those days I don’t write so much. I go to bed early, read, and wake up, hopefully refreshed, and ready to do much better on the writing front the following day.

Unless life gets in the way, as it can do, I usually do have a better “performing” writing day as a result. (One thing I’ve learned late is NOT to beat myself up if I can’t write much. I can and will make up for it. What matters is to enjoy writing as and when you can. If you’re not well or tired, it will affect what you do. Self care matters here too).

Another way to refresh the inspiration pot is of course to read. This is the time to try reading away from what you would usually go for. If you usually read fiction, try something from the non-fiction shelves and vice versa. I find reading longer forms of fiction is a great aid here too because it is different from what I usually work in. I think this mentally refreshes me.

Getting out and about for a good walk with the dog works wonders too though I won’t be sorry when the weather improves. That can’t come soon enough!

Fairytales with Bite – Once Upon A Time

Well, it is a classic opening, but what does it mean for you? For me, it means favourite fairytales, of course, but from a writing viewpoint I take it to be as follows.

Once – I pick the single most important moment to focus on in my character’s life for my flash fiction stories. Flash fiction illuminates briefly so it has to be the single most important thing for that character I then write up.

Upon – What am I going to make my character face? Is it going to test them enough? How will they cope?

A – What is the turning point in my story? There has to be one. Great stories can often change direction completely upon one word and even more where it is placed in the story. My Calling the Doctor is one of my favourite examples of where I’ve done this. Book trailer below but look to see how the final word of the story changes the mood completely of what has come before. I see the “A” word as that tiny moment which is the pivot for change in my character and/or their situation.

Time – When am I setting the story and why have I chosen it? Does the time chosen make sense for the story I am telling?

 

This World and Others – Once Upon a Time

I thought I’d follow on from Fairytales with Bite above with a look at the classic fairytale phrase and how it can be used when it comes to world creation.

Once – Decide what is the most important factor your readers needs to know about the world in which your characters live. Why do readers need to know this? How best can you show them this? For example, if the most imporant element, is the employment opportunities in your world, show what these are and why they matter.

Upon – What could happen to your created world that would have a direct impact on your character and the outcome of your story? Think weather conditions, climate, pollution, earthquakes etc.

A – Attitudes of your created world to other worlds or to countries within it. Are there power blocs? Who dominates? Is there democracy?

Time – Again decide what time is going to be the most appropriate for your story and think about what kind of development your world has got at this stage.

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Light and Dark

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My latest CFT post is called The Light Fantastic and looks at light and dark in terms of fiction, mood, and vision (including photography). I look at how fantastic light is but why we also need darkness – and this is true for fiction writing too. Hope you enjoy.

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Had a lovely evening at the Dovetail Centre watching A Christmas Carol performed by the MDG Players. Review to follow on CFT on Friday week.

A Christmas Carol is one of my favourite stories and Dickens is one of the few authors to add something to the Christmas tradition. (The others include Christina Rossetti with In the Bleak Midwinter, Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander with Once in Royal David’s City etc, Charles Wesley with Hark the Herald Angels Sing etc and Clement Clark Moore with The Night before Christmas). Favourite version of Dickens’ classic for me is The Muppet one though!

Talking of stories, I am thrilled my Doubting the Obvious is on Paragraph Planet. 75 words including the title is a good challenge! Work to come in next few days on Cafelit too.

DOUBTING THE OBVIOUS Jemma knew monsters existed, the monsters knew they existed, so why did everyone else scoff at the idea and end up eaten by the things? They weren’t getting her that way. Jemma was prepared. She had her dart gun. She had a fire roaring in the forest clearing. Everyone knew monsters were attracted to the warmth. It meant food. An hour later one monster discovered that was true. Jemma was barbecuing him.

Allison Symes – Published on Paragraph Planet 22nd November 2018

 

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Really loved seeing the moon rising through the trees tonight, both at home, and on a late walk with better half and Lady. Lady has to have a clip on light to her collar, otherwise you really wouldn’t see her, so she goes around lighting up the world like a little Christmas tree. She’s not impressed by this – but I am! And it means I can see my dog!

I was impressed with the amount of light the moon was giving on the walk tonight. Absolutely beautiful. My theme for CFT this week funnily enough is light and dark in terms of mood, fiction, and vision (in every sense). It’s too easy to take too much for granted and the way the brain processes light is one of them.

As for light writing, I have a 75 word piece coming up online tomorrow. More details then but I will say my heroine isn’t afraid of the monsters in the dark! Mind you, most of my heroes/heroines aren’t but then that’s how I like my characters!

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Light and dark is the theme for my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week. Very appropriate given my book’s title! Do you enjoy writing and/or reading the lighter stories in a collection for do your prefer your tales on the dark side?

I love both of course. Much depends on my mood as to which I prefer at any one time. What I do know is the 100-word story is ideal for where I want to make an impact and also the simpler the theme the better. More likely to “deliver” on the promise of the theme set.

Contrasts are often used in fiction as they are a great way to generate conflict between characters or between a character and their situation. I’m reminded of magnets here – contrasts can either attract or repel!

Contrasts can also be internal within a character especially on things they would like to do and things they are actually able to achieve. (There can be some great comedy out of that scenario too! Think of all the comedy characters who’ve clearly thought more of themselves than they should have done and how they always fall flat on their face – in the famous Del Boy falling through the bar scene in Only Fools and Horses, that was quite literally too!).

There can be be the obvious contrast between light and dark between two characters or within one character. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde resonates as a story precisely because we can all identify with a character’s struggles to be “good”.

Looking forward to sharing latest flash fiction story to be published online tomorrow. I will say it is a 75-word one so that will give fellow flash fiction writers a big clue as to where it is appearing! More tomorrow.

I must admit one of my favourite writing sessions is when I have got “the bit between the teeth” and I draft lots ot flash fiction stories of differing word counts. I edit later and eventually submit them to different places. All good fun.

Another thing I love about flash is when I know I won’t have a lot of time for writing, there is always enough to draft a story or two here, even if they are just of the one line variety. Sometimes I expand those stories out when I DO have more time. Sometimes I leave them as they are (and I must try and submit some of these to the 25-word competitions, they’d be ideal for that).

Fairytales with Bite – Light and Dark

The Light Fantastic is my latest Chandler’s Ford Today post and looks at light and dark from the perspectives of vision (including photography), mood and fiction.  Light and dark are crucial to fiction.  If there is no dark in a story, there is no conflict, there is no drama, nothing happens for better or worse, and any potential tale here collapses.

Fairytales are full of the contrasts between light and dark in the way they portray their characters.  Fairytales are often grim and perhaps the antidote here has been what has become the “happy ever after” ending.  Light and dark have to be in the right proportions.  All darkness is just oppressive.  All light would be blinding.

Look at the light and dark qualities of your characters.  Are they in balance?  What weakness in your character really lets them down?  What virtue really makes them?  How did they develop these things?  Do they actively try to fight the weakness?

It isn’t always appropriate for a story to end happily of course but the finish must be appropriate.  I like to see stories end on a note of hope even if the finish is a sadder one.

This World and Others – Pointers for World Building

Some useful pointers for world building include:-

1.  Ensure there is some sense of how your world is run.  We may not need to know how it is done, we need to know it IS done, and your fictional world isn’t in a state of anarchy.

2.  Ensure your characters know what they need to know at a local level.  For example, if there are rules in the region of XYZ citizens can’t go out after a certain time at night, your characters need to know this.  Breaking such a rule could, of course, be a major part of your plot here.  If so, ensure your characters know the consequences of breaking the rules and what they are facing in doing so.  It all helps increase the tension!

3.  Your characters will, presumably, need to eat, sleep, find shelter etc so again there should be some sense of how your characters do this as they have their adventures.  Things don’t “just happen”!

4.  I like to see a general picture of how the different species interact with each other, including whether there could be any Romeo and Juliet situations where two “people” from rival backgrounds fall for each other.

5.  What is expected OF your characters by the world in which you’ve placed them?

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