Competitions, Reading, and Publication News

Image Credit:  As ever, unless otherwise stated, the images are from Pixabay or Pexels.

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Every so often, I go through my list of potential competitions and whittle them down. I inevitably don’t get to enter all of them (time!) but I like to have a shortlist of contenders to pick from and I always go for the themes that appeal to me most. I do go in for open theme competitions too but actually prefer the set themes. I like to have a framework to work towards.

I wish I could say tidying the paperwork up immediately triggered inspiration for the Best Writing Idea Ever but I think I’d need the Writing Fairy to make a special appearance for that one to happen! 😆😆 I’ll let you know if she ever shows up….

 

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Have been slowly getting back into reading again via the Kindle.

I talked about how I’ve not read that much since the lockdown began in my CFT post last week so I am pleased the drought is beginning to clear.

I have had patches of not reading much before, mainly at times of great upset/stress etc., but also know that those patches pass so it is a relief to be slowly coming out of this one. (The last time was around the time I lost my dad, just over three years ago and I didn’t start reading properly again until a week after the funeral).

And yes I’m reading humour. It is always what I turn to first to kickstart my reading “diet” again.

And if you find you’re not writing or reading so much (or both), go easy on yourself. See this as a temporary stage only. It is!

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Managed to do a fair bit of editing over the weekend so am pleased with that. My CFT post this week will be looking at books on the radio and will feature YA author, Richard Hardie, as well as yours truly. More on that later in the week.

I must admit one advantage of writing mainly in the evenings is not having the heat browbeat me down! (I never work that well in very hot weather. Mind you, does anyone apart from the ice cream sellers?!😆).

I’ve long found creative writing to be therapeutic. I suppose it is because finding a form of artistic expression that suits me is so relaxing. I see writing as my wind-down time. I like to feel at the end of a session I used the time productively even if I “only” produced two flash fiction stories, say. I want to feel happy with what I’ve written even at first draft stage (because I know the work will only get better after that).

For longer term projects, I want to feel as I’ve made progress and I can see where I’ve got to go next.

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Facebook – General – and Publication News

Bonus post tonight. My story Breaking Out is now on Cafelit. Hope you enjoy.

The opening line comes from a prompt I contributed to the Prompts book produced by Gill James (see picture below). Do check it out in the usual places. You won’t run out of writing prompts!

 

Prompts 2020 by [Gill James]

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As you know, when I’m planning out a character I focus on their major trait(s) and there usually is more than one. After all, someone isn’t just brave, say. They may well be honest, charitable, compassionate and so on as well. It is the combination of traits that sparks a character (and therefore the story).

A character who is generally honest but is forced to lie to protect people they love is going to be a character I want to read about. I will want to find out what happens as a result of that lie but also how the character deals with their internal conflict here. While they’ll be happy to protect loved ones, they won’t be happy to have had to lie so how do they handle that?

 

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From Light to Dark and Back Again – Story Time!

Story time again. Random question generator time again. Hope you enjoy.

The question was what are the two things you would do if you woke up to find you were invisible? My answers? Panic and wonder whether I’d ever “come back”! But I thought it would be fun to write a story on this.

IN TIME

I knew something was up the moment the alarm woke me. Oh it was set for the usual time – 5.40 am – but when I realised I couldn’t see my hand as I went to switch the wretched thing off, I began to panic. I thought at first I’d lost my sight but then realised I was looking at where my hand should be and I could see my wardrobe in one corner of my room. Opposite was my chair.

I got up and went towards the full length mirror which was something I’d inherited from my gran. There was nothing in the mirror. Now I know I’m not a vampire and you’ll just have to take my word for it on that. This is when my panic settings went from mild to through the roof and up into the stratosphere territory. Well, you just would panic, wouldn’t you?

And then I remembered. I was rushing home from work and bumped into a scatter brained old lady who stepped in front of me in such a way I had no time to stop. I shouted at her to look where she was going, was she blind or something, and yes I know I was bloody rude and I am sorry about that. I’d had a horrendous day at work and I just wanted to get home. I know – no excuses but I want you to know I’m not normally rude.

Anyway she called out that she would teach me to look and I just laughed at that and thought nothing of it. I laughed even more when she got a big stick from her handbag and waved it in my direction. Who did she think she was – a fairy godmother or something?

I don’t know what to do. Will this wear off? She did call out I’d have to come and grovel to her soon. I laughed at that too.
Trouble is, it doesn’t seem so damned funny now.

I’ll be off. I’ll get my coat. If I’ve got to grovel, I’d rather get it over and done with.

Ends

Allison Symes – 23rd May 2020

 

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Hope you enjoyed my story, In Time, yesterday. This is the first time I’ve used the random question generator as the theme of the story, rather than as the title, opening or closing line. So yet another use for the generators then!

I’ve sometimes come across writing prompts that I would like to have a go at but I’m not happy with the ideas I come up with so I will bear using the prompt as a theme instead. I think that will give more flexibility.

What I would be inclined to do here is save such stories generated this way for open competitions where you set the theme anyway.

It means an idea could well produce something for you that you might otherwise have written off if you weren’t happy with something you’ve prepared with a specific theme-set competition in mind.

I’ve always found it best to submit the very best stories I can produce. Anything I’m not happy with for any reason doesn’t get binned. Neither does it get submitted. I save it and see if I can salvage something from it later and usually I can. Okay it can’t go in for that competition but that’s fine. If the author’s not happy with the story, the competition judge won’t be either!

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What would you say are your favourite kinds of stories and why?

I love:-

Humorous prose, especially fantasy, as I enjoy a good laugh.

Crime(though not the very violent type) as I enjoy the puzzle and seeing justice being done.

History – fiction and non-fiction. I learn from both. A well told historical fiction story does seem to transport me back to the era it is set in. (Music can do this too. I love Ralph Vaughan-Williams Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis for that reason). A good non-fiction book will show me aspects of a historical character I’d not considered before.

Fairytales –first love, storywise. Always enjoy seeing the deserving get what they deserve (and this is even more true for the villains!).

And what I love most about flash fiction is the form is open enough for you to write in those genres and many more. All you need worry about is the word count and even there you have flexibility from the very short to the right on the 1,000 words limit. There are competitions and markets to suit the entire range too.

 

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I mix up how I approach writing flash fiction in terms of word count. There are times I know I want to write to a specific count (usually 75 or 100 words) for a chosen market and/or competition.

At other times, having outlined my story and character(s), I write it and then work out what word count it works best at. I then keep that story one side until a suitable market/competitiion comes up.

If a story works best at 250 words, I keep it there and won’t try and edit it down to get to a sub-200 word competition.

And how do I judge where a story works best?

It’s always about the impact of the character for me. The next thing I ask myself is whether there is anything I could add to or take out of the story which would improve the tale and its impact. When the answer is no, I’m there!

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Goodreads Author Blog – Book Events

One of the things I miss most as a writer at the moment is the ability to go to book events.

Much as I do deeply appreciate what is available online, and it is a lifeline, I miss going into libraries and bookshops.

I also miss going to author events and I look forward to being able to do all of these things again in due course.

The Waterloo Arts Festival is going to be online this year. I’ll be taking part in that as one of the winners of their writing competition and I made a video for this.

It was good fun to do but oh I shall miss meeting up in person with my fellow writers. (We will all miss the pub lunch beforehand too!).

But the good news is books can still be celebrated and they should be. Of all the times to need books for escapism, it is now, isn’t it?

Whatever you’re reading, I hope you have a wonderful time “between the covers” and, whoever it is you’re reading, do consider leaving a review in the usual places including here. It really does help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Writing Does For You

Image Credit:  As ever, the images are from Pixabay or Pexels, unless stated.  A big thank you also to The Chameleon Theatre Group for their pictures in the Chandler’s Ford Today post.

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I’m delighted to share Part 3 of the mini-series from The Chameleon Theatre Group’s look at life off the stage.

This week they share what their favourite performances have been. I would be hard pressed to name my favourite show from them. I’ve relished their classic drama and some wonderful comedy and hope it is not too long before they are able to be back on stage again.

Good writing, for me, is all about character portrayal convincing the audience (a reader) but it is also true for acting. Actors have to convince those watching them and a good show always leaves you with that feeling you have left the real world to enter another one for a short while.

A good show can leave you feeling a bit disorientated when you have to come back to the real world again, as indeed finishing a good book can do. And I am pleased to say every Chameleons show I’ve been to has left me with that feeling of total immersion in the world they’re showing me on the stage, which is a very good thing indeed.

It really is all about the characters and how they are put across, whether you are writing them or acting them!

Captions over on the CFT post.

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Another good show of support at 8 – well done all. Tonight, Lady decided to join in. Okay she can’t clap but she can bark so that counts! Now back on the sofa, dozing, duty done!

I’ll be sharing the latest in the Chameleons mini-series on CFT tomorrow. This time they’ll be sharing some of their favourite productions. I’ve been to a number of their shows now and I would be hard pressed to name a favourite though Blackadder was outstanding, as was All My Sons. Very different moods too

!What do I look for in a good show? There is a lot in common here with what I look for in a good book. I want great writing, moments that move me whether to laugh or cry etc and to be totally convinced by the characters (as written or as performed in the case of a show).

How does a character convince me enough to believe in their portrayal? For me, a series of different things need to add up. The main one is I need to know what their main trait is and how that manifests itself. It isn’t always directly either. Characters can fool themselves as to what their main trait is – it is how the great hypocrites of literature work after all. They never see their own hypocrisy!

I also need to see how characters react when things go wrong. Their reaction should be true to that major trait.

For example, take The Ladykillers (brilliant film and stageshow – The Chameleons performed it a while back but alas I didn’t get to see their version).

We know from the outset that the Professor is a master planner. As the story develops we see how that plays out but we also see how he unravels as things go wrong. That makes sense. Someone of that kind of nature would be thrown when their very clever plan is wrecked by something they didn’t anticipate. Couldn’t anticipate even.

Do check The Ladykillers out if you don’t know it. It’s a fab story and you’ll see what I mean about the Professor!

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Facebook – General – and

Association of Christian Writers – More Than Writers –What Writing Does For You

It’s my turn on More Than Writers, the blog spot of the Association of Christian Writers. My topic this time is What Writing Does For You.

I also ask how we can make the most of writing and how to ensure we keep on enjoying it. Enjoyment of writing is vital. It is that spark which keeps you going no matter how many rejections etc that come your way. I share a few tips too.

Hope you enjoy.

 

 

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Following on from yesterday’s post about the random generator (see below!), one of the questions from that would also be useful for setting up clashes between characters.

What is the meaning of life will have different meanings and nuances for different characters.

If Character A thinks the meaning of life is to be found in nature but Character B thinks it is all about development (both as an individual and as a society), there will end up being conflict. The latter is far more likely to consider development worth it regardless of the cost. Character A is unlikely to agree! And off you go with your story!

Also consider whether your particular clash could be used for comedy or tragedy. Some themes are useful for either so exploit that. There’s nothing to stop you taking a theme and using it in two different directions for two different stories after all.

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I had a quick look at the random question generator tonight for ideas on developing story ideas.

For example what emerged tonight included:-

1. What is the meaning of life?
2. Name three beautiful things in nature.
3. What is the biggest personal change you’ve made?

Firstly, you could use 1 for a character who is trying to find out the answer to this! I could see both funny and adventure stories emerging from how your character DOES try to find out an answer to this. Also do they succeed and how do they define success here? Is their meaning to life different from everyone else’s around them and if so how and why? What are the consequences? Definitely stories to be had there!

You can also use this question to work out what drives your character the most and again stories can come from finding that out especially if their driving ambition is at odds with those around them.

Secondly, you could use 2 to find out what your character thinks here. Can they easily come up with answers here or do they despise nature? What would they do to defend what they really like in the natural world? There are definitely stories to be told there!

Thirdly, you can obviously apply 3 directly to a character. What made them make their biggest personal change? Why couldn’t they have stayed as they were? Again there would be good stories to come from that.

Good luck and happy writing!

 

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As well as interviewing your characters prior to writing their story, a writer can always ask questions of their “stars” as they get the first draft down. It’s useful to check every so often that your characters are “up to the job” of being in your story.

Putting your characters through the emotional wringer is a lot of fun (for the writer naturally) but it is a good way of finding out what it is your people are capable of and whether they can surprise you.

If you envisaged Character A as being timid, quiet, unassuming etc., what would a dramatic event do to them? Would it change their personality for good and if so, how? Would having to say, come to the rescue of someone else, bring them out of their shell?

All worth thinking about. The point of change is not just about the dramatic events in the story. It is about the point of change in the characters too.

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Fairytales with Bite – When The Magic Wears Off

There are times I wonder what happens when the magic wears off in a classic fairytale. Does Cinderella become fed up with her Prince Charming or he with her come to that? There are stories to be written there of course (and a fair few humorous ones at that!) but while magic is an important part of a fairytale, it is not the only one.

You still have to like the characters enough to root for them. You still have to think that, once the fairy godmother has packed up her wand and gone home for the weekend, the characters can get on with their happily ever after without her. They have to be strong enough characters in their own right to do that. No amount of magic wand usage in a story is going to save a weak character (in terms of how they appeal to a reader).

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This World and Others –

What Do You Need to Know About Your Created World Before You Write It?

Even for a piece of flash fiction or a short story set in another world, you ought to work out what you need to know before writing your story. It will affect how you write the tale for one thing (in terms of approach as well as what you put in the story).

If, say, your created world doesn’t have oxygen, your character is going to have to be breathing something else (!) – so what is this and how do they manage it? For example if your world is an underwater one, do all of your characters have gills? (They don’t necessarily need to be fish).

If it is a magical world, is your character able to perform magic or is he/she/it part of a lowly underclass forbidden from using it? (There could be some interesting stories there).

If your character is from one of the “lesser” species in your created world, why are you writing about them as opposed to the “top dogs”? What do you need to show us? (An obvious theme here would be to show that “lesser” species could produce heroes etc).

For a short story, a few notes will probably be enough to get you started. Working it out in advance will save you so much time later. I’ve found it helps me “cut to the chase” far more efficiently when getting that first draft down.

For a longer work, you will need a decent outline as it will be even more important for you to know your way around your own creation before committing too much to your story. Inevitably you won’t put everything in but the material you have left over may well be suitable for a second story or be excellent background material to share with future fans on your website.

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Quizzing and Questioning

It’s not often I start a post using the letter Q (which is generally best saved for getting a high score in Scrabble!).

Image Credit:  As ever, images are from Pixabay or Pexels unless otherwise stated.

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Quizzing your characters can be great fun and often leads to you to finding hidden depths to your creations.

Sometimes you can find your characters are more shallow than you thought initially they would be but you can use that. Shallow characters can be used for comic effect. They can also be a pain in the neck to your lead character.

Work out what their place is in your story. Work out if there is a reason to their being shallow. Do they develop at all? If not, how do they help or hinder your lead?

Work out what you think you need to know about your characters. You should find that leads to other questions but the more you can envisage your creation, the better it is for you to write them into existence. Because you know them well, you will write about/for them with conviction and something of that does come through to your readers.

 

It’s my turn on the Association of Christian Writers’ blog More Than Writers. This time I discuss Feeding Your Writing. (For gardening fans, I will say now it doesn’t involve Baby-Bio, though I admit I love the image from Pixabay below. Given some of my flash fiction is fantasy based this is particularly apt!).

I share some thoughts as to how you can feed your writing and why it is so important. Hope you enjoy.

 

I’m going to be sharing Part 2 of The Chameleons Say Hello series for Chandler’s Ford Today later this week. Their Spring Quartet production, due to be staged in April, is now off, unfortunately but understandably. The Ritchie Hall where they perform does not have a big stage. It is amazing what The Chameleons achieve given the limited space but it does make the 2 meter rule nigh on impossible to achieve. (I’m still in awe at the amazing set they built for Blackadder).

Do check out the interview later in the week and the previous one (there’ll be a link back in the post I put up on Friday). The interviews make for a great look at life behind the stage.

Being the nosey parker that I am, this kind of thing always fascinates me. The world of books can show you different life experiences, real or imagined. Interviews can also you aspects of life that you won’t experience directly but are fascinating to read about nonetheless.

And I hope it is not long, relatively speaking anyway, before The Chameleons get to entertain us again ON the stage.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I’ve just discovered a new random generator – a random question one! I think I could have some fun with this.

Firstly, you could use the questions to help you develop your characters. Quizzing characters is a great way to finding out more about them before you write their story.

I’ve always found that this leads to better depth of characterisation. I need to know Character A loathes cheese because they were forced to eat it at school because cheese is somehow going to feature in my tale and it will be a major issue for them. Now that’s just a very random example but you see the point.

Secondly, you can use the questions as titles and/or themes.

Thirdly, get your character to answer the question and make that the story!

For example, one question that came up when I found this was:-

If you inherited or won a million pounds/dollars etc, what’s the very first thing you would do with the money?

Now there is definitely a story in that! I shall explore more of this generator. Really pleased to have found it.

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Following on from yesterday’s post, I did write a story based on the random question generator question I shared with you yesterday. Will polish and submit that in due course.

Having another look at the generator, I’ve found you can change category of question as well. That will be useful.

Another thing which will be useful from this is you can ask yourself WHY you have answered the question the way you have.

For example, the question that has come up tonight for me is “If you could start a collection of one kind of item, what would it be?”.

(In my case, books. I already have a good collection but that’s not a good enough reason to stop buying books! All I’m limited by here is budget and, for print books, shelf space! Oh and while I think about it, a big thanks to all of my writing friends for writing wonderful fiction. I’d always been a little bit lacking in reading contemporary fiction. Classics not a problem, contemporary was. Not any more it isn’t! One of my little pleasures in life is walking past my book case with my friends’ books on and even more so at the moment given I can’t see any of them for goodness knows how long. You good people know who you are! Well done and thanks, all!).

Now as well as answering that question directly for a character you’re creating, look at WHY the character would collect antique cuckoo clocks or whatever it is you have chosen. Are they trying to compensate for something they felt is lacking in their life? Are they fixated by time? What problems could that cause them? Have they a deep appreciation for the cuckoo (and yes the possibilities for a funny story are there!)?

So dig deeper. Answer the question. Then look at why. See what you come out with. There will be stories in the answers to the “why” question as well as to the “what” one! Try it and see. Have fun.

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Moving on from random things, which kind of writing competition do you prefer? One with a set theme or one which is open?

I love and take part in both but must admit I do prefer the set theme. It provides a framework for me to work to and I find that useful. It also forces me to think outside the box a bit more because I don’t want to go with a take on the topic that is likely to be a very popular one.

Whatever take I do use is something I want to be able to make unique. So, okay, there’s no new love story in the world for example, but that won’t stop them being written and rightly so. What is wanted is your unique take on a love story and your voice coming through and appealing to an editor.

Taking part and being one of the winners of the Waterloo Arts Festival Writing Competition has been a joy due to this aspect. One theme. One maximum word count set for us all (1000 words so handily just counts as flash fiction!). Fifteen winners. Fifteen different stories and styles. A jjoy to be part of. An even bigger joy to read the collection of stories (and if you want to know more, do check out my Amazon Author Central page – the two collections to date are Transforming Being and To Be…To Become).

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At what point do I know if a story has come to life?

For me, it’s when I can anticipate the character reactions and actions based on the set up I’ve created for them.

If, say, I’ve created a character who is greedy, I can anticipate them carrying out some action which will help them satisfy that greed. (It doesn’t mean I have to like them OR their actions!). The anticipation should be realistically based on how I’ve portrayed the character.

Sometimes a character surprises me but it will still be in keeping. For example, my character could be greedy for money but what if they’re NOT keeping the money for themselves? What if they’re helping someone else or they’re being blackmailed?

Now that would change the course of the story BUT the greed still makes sense. The actions to satisfy that greed makes sense. It’s the motivation that will change what a reader thinks of the character and that is a good place for a surprise to come in I think.

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Goodreads Author Blog –

What Is It About Reading You Love The Most?

Hmm… could write chapter and verse on this one. I mean, where do you start? But here goes:-

My great love is characterisation so the success of a book to me is dependent on how well the characters appeal to me.

To be honest, much as I love Jane Austen, I’m not keen on Mansfield Park. I much prefer the more rounded Austen heroines in Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion etc.

My second great love here is when the book makes me forget time and the world around me because I’m too engrossed in the world of the story. Now that is an undisputable sign of a great story.

I love it when reading shows me worlds I have not known, including right here on Planet Earth. Good non-fiction comes into its own here.

I love it when I discover new genres. I’ve always loved fairytales and still do, but finding the wonderful worlds of well written historical fiction, crime stories etc., has been fantastic.

I love following the development of characters in series novels. It is like catching up with old friends when you come across them in Book 2 etc and discover in this one they’ve married someone they weren’t dating in Book 1! (You’ve got to find out why, right?).

And, like so many writers, I’ve got a soft spot for quietly overhearing conversations (well, you never know when you’ll hear something interesting that could spark an idea for a story of your own!), reading dialogue in fiction is exactly like that.

Reading helps me unwind, entertains me, informs me – what is there not to like?!