Writing Prompts, Contract News, and An Artful Story

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated. Some images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos. Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Images from the Share Your Story Writing Summit kindly supplied by the organisers. Image of Wendy H Jones kindly supplied by her.

Hope you have had a good week. Have had exciting contract news in the last couple of days which I share below. (Images of me signing said contract taken by Adrian Symes).

Thrilled to be taking part in a book about writing by Wendy H Jones

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Pleased to share Writing Prompts, my latest Chandler’s Ford Today post. I share a few differing kinds, discuss why prompts are useful, and why it is a good idea to practice them. Hope you enjoy this and find it useful.

A number of my published stories started life as responses to writing prompts so you now know why I am fond of them!

Oh and I’ll get a quick plug in for my monthly author newsletter too as I share writing prompts there too. If you would like to sign up for this, please head over to my landing page right here at https://allisonsymescollectedworks.com

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Contract News!

Big news! Thrilled to say I have just signed a contract to produce a chapter on flash fiction for a book #WendyHJones is editing on writing. Look forward to sharing more as and when possible but meanwhile here are the pics of one very happy author!

Don’t forget my Chandler’s Ford Today post is up tomorrow and is all about Writing Prompts. Hope you find it useful. Link up tomorrow. (See above!).

(I couldn’t tell you how many writing prompts I’ve used in my time but they are a fantastic way to kickstart some writing and I have had published stories as a result of using them. What’s not to like about that?!).

Am also thrilled to bits that a dear friend of mine has a piece of flash fiction up on CafeLit. Do check this wonderful online magazine out. There is a wonderful mix of stories and styles here. Yes, yes, I know. I am biased, I write for CafeLit, yes, of course I’m biased but that’s not the same as being wrong! And I’m not here – go on, pop over and have a good read. You really will find several things to suit you here. 

Happy to sign a contract


Sun turned up today – hooray – and Lady got to play with many of her best buddies including the loveliest Rhodesian Ridgeback, a cute mini Jack Russell, a Hungarian Vizler, and a new chum, a lovely Whippet called Sky. Lady went home shattered but happy. Job done there then!

Questions to ask your characters. Bear in mind also if you’re writing non-fiction, if you are using a narrative voice, you can treat that voice as a character, so some of these questions at least may also be worth trying. So what to ask then as part of your outline?

  1. What do you really want and why?
  2. What stops you getting what you really want?
  3. Why would your life be complete if you achieve what you want?
  4. How are you going to achieve your objectives?
  5. Have you got other characters to support you and, if so, how reliable are they?
  6. Are you making your life unnecessarily complicated? (Worth asking this one – any complications getting in the way of your character achieving what they want should be those that arise naturally out of the plot. There should be nothing that seems “faked” to increase the tension in the story. The tension should be genuine, the obstacles real and so on.
  7. For a non-fictional narrator, a good question to ask instead of this one is are you communicating as clearly as possible (i.e. go for clarity, not gobbledegook, don’t make your narration unnecessarily complicated? Are you conveying the facts reasonably? Are you backing the facts up with evidence? What are your sources?).
  8. What has driven you to decide this is what you really want?
  9. What if you’re wrong? (How would your character handle that? That could make for a really interesting story).
    Are there limits you won’t cross (and if so what are these? What is your thinking behind this?).
  10. Are there rules you are prepared to break? What would the consequences be? How are you going to limit your risk (or are you not worried about that? Some characters aren’t!).

Now if answering those questions doesn’t generate story ideas, I’d be very surprised!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Pleased to say I have another 100-word story on #FridayFlashFiction.
Assumptions is about Mary who thinks she is good at art but is she? Hope you like it.

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I have very good cause to appreciate flash fiction. It has led to me having two books to my name (From Light to Dark and Back Again and Tripping the Flash Fantastic). It has led to me taking part in an international summit (the Share Your Story Writing Summit back in March).

It has led to me giving Zoom talks to a WI group and writing groups. It led to me having a book signing in a railway station (yes, really and obviously before You Know What).

It has led to me being on internet radion and being interviewed by the lovely #HannahKate for her Hannah’s Bookshelf show on North Manchester FM.

Then there is the podcast appearance on #WendyHJones’ The Writing and Marketing Show. I’ve also judged flash fiction writing.

Talking of Wendy though, the latest big news is I will be contributing a chapter to her book on writing and naturally I’ll be writing about flash fiction. Am thrilled to bits. Will share more news as and when I can but meanwhile here are the very happy author pics!

(I don’t know whether it is a case of my finding flash fiction or flash fiction finding me but I am truly not sorry for a form of writing I discovered by accident thanks to CafeLit!).

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I sometimes have flash pieces published in the CafeLit anthologies and my Humourless is an example of this in the current book, The Best of CafeLit 9.

It is especially nice to have a flash story published here given CafeLit introduced me to flash fiction in the first place (and I am looking forward to sharing details of The Best of CafeLit 10 later on in the year where again I will have work published).

Do check out the CafeLit site. CafeLit are great in publishing a wide range of fiction, flash and otherwise, and from a diverse group of authors. It is always a joy to see friends’ work on here too.

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Fairytales with Bite – Changes

No world or character should stay static. A story revolves around change. The character does this, then that happens, this is what happens after that and so on. Of course, some changes are far more welcome than others and interesting tales can be generated by working out how your characters would handle the less welcome developments.

But changes shouldn’t be something that come out of nowhere. For example, if your change is where your character faces a magical disaster of some kind, there should be some hint early on in the story that magical disasters are a possibility here. For example if the build up of spare magical capacity can trigger earthquakes, your created world should have that as part of its history. Perhaps your story can then revolve around people not taking the necessary steps to prevent the disaster happening again. This means when your disaster happens your reader will not feel cheated. They know the possibility exists. The possibility happened.

Once the change has happened, there should be change in the characters too. Nobody remains unmoved by changes and that applies to characters too.

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This World and Others – Environments

What kind of environment is your story set in? Is it comparable to what we know here or something beyond the capabilities of our little planet?

Do your characters care about the environment they live in and how does that manifest itself?

Also think micro-environments – the immediate world around your characters. How does that impact on them? What are the threats they face? What are the nice things about their world they love?

Then there are things like political environments – dictatorships or democracy? How do your characters survive or thrive in these? Again, what is similar to here? It will be those things readers will latch on to – it is literally what we know and understand.

What dilemmas do your characters face as a result of their environment? The classic theme is survival in a hostile to life environment where the overall dilemma is to survive but there can be others. For example, if your character has to survive in their environment by killing something or someone, will they and how do they build themselves up to actually do that?

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Titles,Writing Magazine, Publication News, and Part 3 of Launches in Lockdown (and Lady news update!)

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

A huge thank you to Val Penny and Jen Wilson for their author pics and book cover images for this week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post.

This post title should indicate what kind of week I’ve had – good but busy! Am just hoping the drink in the Pixabay picture below is a nice hot chocolate… I’m not a coffee fan. (I know, I know, writers are supposed to be but there you go).

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Facebook – General and Chandler’s Ford Today

Delighted to share Part 3 of my Launches in Lockdown series on Chandler’s Ford Today. The advice and tips given in this series so far has been top-notch, not to be missed etc., (and the good news is there is more to come!). A huge thank you to #JenWilson and #ValPenny for their contributions this week.

Jen, Val, and I are huge fans of the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School which is where we met and we are all hoping to meet up again there this year after last year’s event sadly had to be cancelled due to You Know What. We are also part of a team there called the Prosecco Queens (anyone fancy a guess at why we went for that name? Anybody? Anybody at all?!).

Last week’s post was from writers from the Association of Christian Writers. Now I mentioned earlier this week one of the joys of reading Writing Magazine is spotting how many of your writing pals you spot in between the covers, so to speak. I have to say it is usually a fairly even split between people I know from Swanwick and people I know from ACW. Keep going, folks!

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Hope Thursday has worked out okay for you. Glad to report Lady is now running again (and is very happy to be doing so, I can tell you). Mind you, it does look like she’s had a mud bath by the time I get her home. Thank goodness for my late mum’s old towels… perfect for dog cleaning duty! Also thanks goodness for an excellent washing machine!

Writing wise, I am looking forward to sharing part 3 of my Launches in Lockdown series for Chandler’s Ford Today. Link up for that tomorrow.

This week I feature two fabulous guests and writing friends I’ve come to know thanks to the marvellous Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. (So not only have I learned from the wonderful courses there, I’ve made fantastic friends and they are the best support any writer can have. Who else but another writer knows the elation when things are going well and you have work out there? Equally who better to sympathise with when rejections are all that seem to appear in your inbox?).

Further news. I had a fab time appearing on Wendy H Jones’ The Writing and Marketing Show last week. I’ll be writing a CFT piece about that and resharing the link once the Launches series has finished so that is my CFT diary full for February!

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One of joys of subscribing to Writing Magazine is opening it up and spotting your writer friends in there. This month it’s my turn! My February edition has just come in and I’m on the Subscribers’ News page, talking about my happy writing accident in discovering the joys of flash fiction writing. Naturally my website and Tripping the Flash Fantastic get a mention! (And It was fab my publishers Chapeltown Books had a good write-up last time).

Also delighted to see another 5 star rating come in for From Light to Dark and Back Again. A good day then!

Lady had her first proper but limited run today and loved it. Her paw is fine. The only thing we could have wished for was better weather but it is supposed to improve as the week goes on.

Looking forward to my first blog appearing on Authors Electric on the 18th. Meanwhile do check the excellent posts out there at https://authorselectric.blogspot.com/

Towards the end of this month is going to be a bit busy as I’ve lined an interview up amongst other things and I’m looking forward to all of that (and to being able to say more about the other things too).

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I’ve discussed titles before here but it is an important topic and they carry more weight in flash fiction stories than in other types of fiction. Why?

Firstly, the right title will set the mood and tone of the story in and of itself and that will save you on the word count for the tale itself.

Secondly, some websites and competitions do include the title as part of the word count (so always watch for that) so you want the title to do some of the “heavy lifting” for you.

Some other thoughts:-

  • Keep your title short. It makes it more memorable and saves on word count.
  • Impact of title is more important than word count (but that’s true for the story too!).
  • Does your title idea reflect the mood of the story or can it be open to interpretation? I am fond of the latter as it gives so much flexibility but there are times I want to set the mood so I choose an appropriate title accordingly.
  • Alliteration Always An Idea but Don’t Overuse It!
  • Never be afraid to change a title if the one you first came up with isn’t working for you. I find I need a title to work “to” when drafting but have changed it when a better idea comes up.

I’ve had the privilege of judging a flash fiction competition, which was interesting to do, but I was surprised to find some stories didn’t have titles with them. The really important thing to remember about a title is it is your story’s first “advert” to hook the reader in with and you want to make the most of that.

Remember only the Ten Commandments were set in stone so my advice would be to go with a working title and then change it later if you think of better (and that often does happen as you write the story. A better idea will “just come to you”. Note it and then examine it later in the cold light of day to see if it is as good as you thought and/or better than your initial idea. If it is, go for it!).

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I’ve often discussed, especially on my author FB page, the joy of outlining. I find it helpful to outline my characters. Now can you do all of that for a 50 or 100 word piece of flash fiction? Of course you can!

Like the story itself, the outline won’t be a long one, that is all. Less than a short paragraph like this usually does the job nicely – and I then get straight into writing the tale. Prep helps a lot! I’ve found it saves me a lot of time later as the outline has stopped me from going off at a tangent etc. Tangents are fun but are often not relevant to the character or plot so they shouldn’t go in. Everything has to be relevant!

So for a flash fiction outline (and especially for those tales which will be under 500 words), I ask myself a couple of questions.

  • Why do I want to write about this character? (In many ways it is for this character, it is their story I’m telling).
  • What mood is the story going to be? (This does affect the type of character I’m going to produce for the tale. If I want a funny tale, you don’t necessarily need a funny character to service it. What you do want are characters full of their own importance who need taking down a peg or several. That’s where the humour is, not necessarily directly in the character. Often a character who thinks they are funny are not and can often be tragic.).

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Publication News

Many thanks for the great response yesterday to my plug for CafeLit now the list of those appearing in The Best of CafeLit 10 is now known. (And yes this is another crafty way of getting another mention in for CafeLit and the book!). Yes, it does include me – see next post down. Sometimes a date order blog round up goes against you!!

For me the success of any story, regardless of its length, depends on the character(s). If they grip me, I’m reading the rest of the story, book or what you. If they don’t…. Well, life is just too short to perservere with something that just isn’t engaging me.

And that is the continuing challenge for me as a writer. Just how can I make my characters appeal to a reader (and especially one who may well not have come across my work before. There is a certain truth in the saying you only have the one chance to make a first impression and with my stories, I want my characters to hook readers in right from the start. You have got to have that “must find out what happens next” moment and to keep that going until you do reach the end).

One way I try to achieve this is to come up with characters readers can understand. They don’t have to like them but they do have to get where the character is from (and ideally ask themselves if I was this character, would I be doing this? If not, what would I be doing instead? If a reader is asking questions like that from a character, you know what character has intrigued them to keep on reading).

This is where outlining the character helps. And the great thing is you can pick the kind of outline that suits you. I don’t particularly need to know what my character looks like (that can come later) but I do need to know what their major traits are and what their flaws are. Think about what you would want to know from your character if you could interview them “for real” and use that as a basis for a useful outline template you can use over and over again.


Fairytales With Bite – When the Wand Isn’t Enough….

Okay, we’re in a magical world in our stories. How can a wand ever not be enough?

Well, firstly, if a wave of the old wand solves every problem, you haven’t got any stories to write. Where is the conflict in that? Problem A arises. Problem A gets resolved with said wave of magic wand. There’s no character development. And just reading problems being resolved like that will become boring so quickly! Readers want to find out what the characters do and how they react and it takes more than a wave of the magic wand to really show readers what the characters are truly made of. Are they sterling stuff or treacherous rats etc?

Also when everyone has a reasonable amount of magical power, there has to be a way of distinguishing between them (and it helps your readers to tell them apart too).

It is also a reasonable assumption to work on that some species will have more powers than others either by learning or by inheritance or both so what do the weaker species do to ensure they can survive? They’ve got to find ways of beating “their betters” without the use of magic (and that’s when stories can become really interesting. Characters are having to think on their feet here though of course you as the writer have planned this all out!).

So just as writers we shouldn’t rely on magic or coincidences getting our characters out of trouble, the characters themselves need more than the old magic wand waving too.

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This World and Others – What do Characters think of their Environment?

The answer to this question will also tell readers a fair bit about what your characters are like.

Do they care about the environment or are they oblivious to it?

If your created world has different climates and regions, are the characters you’re writing about aware of all of this or is there a certain amount of Here Be Dragons about their attitudes?

Here Be Dragons was something written on old maps where a map maker had literally got to the limits of where they were prepared to go to make their maps so anything unknown had this slogan added to it! They could get away with it because it was highly unlikely anyone was going to challenge them (and I’m sure they worked on the theory, well there could be dragons!). (Never get away with it now due to Google etc!).

How characters treat the world around them is likely to flag up to readers how they are likely to treat other characters. One of my own favourite characters in Losing Myself from Tripping The Flash Fantastic appears to be one who cares much more about the environment and natural world than any other of her own kind. That was an interesting story to write because it made me think deeply about what would make a character be or become that way.

And then there will the opposite – those who do not see or care about the environment around them. How did they get to be that way? And is there a point where they have to change their attitude?

So my lead question here can be a great way into some interesting story ideas.

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The Power of Language

Image Credit:  Unless otherwise stated, images are from Pixabay

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I think I may have found my favourite image for this week’s CFT post. There is so much truth in it, don’t you think?!

I look at the Power of Language and discuss rhetoric, the role of swearing, putting words INTO the language, and how flash fiction has affected how I use language. I also feel we should celebrate language, its richness and its origins. English of course notably borrows, sorry steals, from other languages and is the richer for it.

I also find proof of someone cheating at Scrabble…

Hope you enjoy! Captions over on CFT.

 

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If you ask most writers what every new writer needs, I think the answers would be something like:-

1. Comfortable working environment with good support for your back given you can be at your desk for some time.

2. A willingness to commit what time you can to writing and to accept you are in for the long haul.

3. The ability to develop a thick skin when rejections/critical feedback/bad reviews come in, as they do.

4. Pens, paper, laptop, printer, and all requisites.

5. Tea/coffee/other drink of choice which will keep you going.

6. The ability to focus.

7. Accepting rewrites (often many) are a necessary part of the process.

8. A love of books in a wide range of genres and a good reading habit.

9. A willingness to learn and improve your craft.

All of these are vital BUT I would add in:-

10. An appreciation of language and what you can do with it. Play with words, have fun with them.

(It’s not just because I talk about the Power of Language on my CFT post tonight, though it helps!).

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Questions to ask as you outline a story:-

1. What is its mood?

2. Why is it the right mood for the story?

3. What makes the lead character tick?

4. Are they the right lead character for this story? (It doesn’t always work out the way you think it will. I’ve rewritten a story from another viewpoint which proved to be far better than the one I’d originally chosen. If something doesn’t seem to be working, it may be worth looking at whether you are telling the story from the right character’s viewpoint).

5. What does the lead character want?

6. Why does it matter? (This one is crucial. The motivation has got to be strong enough to convince a reader a character would do X, Y, Z etc to obtain it).

7. What gets in the lead character’s way?

8. How are they going to overcome the obstacles? (At outlining, you may only have the vaguest idea but there should be something within the personality of your character that will make all the difference to the resolution of the story).

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I’ll be looking at the Power of Language in my CFT post later this week. I share my thoughts on rhetoric and swearing amongst other things (and there’s a good mix!). Post up on Friday.

It’s one of those topics I should have had a look at before given flash fiction writing has meant I have to concentrate on the impact of the words I use given I can’t use as many as a short story writer (1500+) or a novelist (80K or so).

I’m also looking forward to sharing a new series, What Books Mean to Me, where guest writers share their answers to three specific questions. I finish the series by answering them myself. I didn’t pick easy questions, honestly. One of them is a question all writers would want to “modify” but more on that when the series starts in October.

 

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Glad to report I will have a short story called Three Wishes up on Cafelit on Monday. Will share the link then. Yes, I’ve been flirting with the longer form of fiction but have also written new flash work this week. So a very good week then!

But I will always have a very soft spot for the flash fiction with fantasy at its heart. This is a relatively new one of mine which I hope will make it into a future collection.

And it solves a mystery too.. what DID happen to Humpty Dumpty?

I’M BORED
‘It’s up to you, I really don’t mind,’ Joe said, swinging his legs idly against the brick wall.
‘Grrr… all I asked was what would you like to do today, as a considerate friend does and as I ask every bloody day, and you still come up with that rot. Are you incapable of giving me a straight answer? I get so bored trying to come up with different things for us at least to try. It is boring sitting on this wall all the time.’
‘Then stop asking me such a stupid question then,’ and with that Joe pushed Humpty Dumpty off the wall.
The mess on the pavement was impressive. Humpty had been a huge egg.
‘Not going to be bored any more, are you, Hump?’

Ends
Allison Symes – September 2019

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Do you ever use photos as writing prompts? I do occasionally (and usually use the ones in my writing diary) but there are some pictures I just know I couldn’t write about. Why?

Because I know I can’t have enough distance from the subject in the photos. Therefore I wouldn’t be able to write objectively. Without that objectivity, the story fails. I’ve got to be able to see the characters IN the picture as exactly that.

Landscapes are easier to do but if they are of places I know well or have special memories attached to them, then they’re out, again due to the lack of objectivity.

See what you can do with the ones below then. Pixabay as ever are the image suppliers here (except the ones of sunlight around a Scottish loch. I took that while on holiday earlier this year and was amazed at how the light worked on this one).

As I use first person a lot in my flash stories, I don’t use many names. When I do though, I look for something that will indicate age, class/background, their level of formality they’re likely to countenance etc. It saves on the word count too!

My parents named me thinking you couldn’t abbreviate Allison. Wrong! I never minded being called Ali (and still don’t). I deliberately gave my son a name where all the abbreviations of it we liked as much as the full name. Win-win there.

So what can you do your characters here? An Abigail is likely to be more formal than an Abby. What would you make of a George as opposed to a Georgie (and that can apply to male or female characters)?

Think of how you want your characters to come across to your reader. That should be the benchmark for you to decide on the appropriate names for your people.

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.

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This World and Others – The Power of Language

My CFT post this week looks at The Power of Language.  I look at this from a variety of angles, including how flash fiction has affected how I use language.  But let’s turn to this topic from the viewpoint of our stories and created worlds.

Is your created world one where everyone speaks formally? Is it one where you have to know the right language to use to be able to get anywhere in life and only certain people have that knowledge?

Is the power of language suppressed in any way? For example, does your setting allow for free speech, good access to different literature etc. How are journalists and other writers treated? With respect or are they considered threats? (Sadly, they too often are for real of course).

Where magic comes into your stories, does it have a special language all of its own? Is it widely accessible to beings of all backgrounds or again do only certain people have the knowledge? How are they stopped from controlling everything?

Some story ideas there I think!

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