Hair Cuts, Publication News, and Editing

Now there’s a combination for you!

Image Credit: Pixabay/Pexels unless stated.

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Big news in the Symes’ household is we all managed to get our hair cut this week – AND I’ve mowed the lawn so that’s trim too now. Absolutely nothing else here will need a cut for some time so that’s good. (Lady doesn’t need a trim, ever. Cleaning, yes, especially if she’s rolled in rabbit/deer poo again but a trim, no. Funnily enough, she tends to leave fox poo alone and yes I am grateful for that.).

I only wish I could say my writing never needs cutting but alas! Editing is what makes a story come to life for me. Why? Because the wasted words come out, anything that needs trampling does get trampled, and what I’m left with is the real story. I wish there was a quicker way to get to the “meat” of the story but I suspect every writer has wished that at some point before picking up the red pen and getting on with the edit!

 

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Reading widely and well helps fuel your own imagination. It is also a huge challenge to you as a writer. After all, if you read a story that makes you go “Wow”, your next response is probably going to be along the lines of “I want my stories to have the ‘Wow’ factor”.

How to achieve that? There is no one quick fix answer to that (given the wide differences in reading tastes etc), but for me character development is a major part of it. Why?

Because if a reader can follow how your character develops and changes during the course of a 100-word story, a 1500 worder, or a 100,000 words novel, then they are hooked. It is only by being hooked to the story you’re reading the author has any chance of generating that “Wow” factor at all.

And it is always, for me, the character that keeps me reading. I want to find out what happens to THEM rather than discover how clever the plot is (though the really great “Wow” stories achieve both and I can guess at the hard work that has gone into getting to that point).

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How has your Monday gone? As ever, mine went by in a whirl though the best bit by far was Lady having a great playtime with her best buddie, a lovely Rhodesian Ridgeback. Always lovely to watch them play.

There will be a new series coming up on Chandler’s Ford Today by yours truly towards the end of this month where I talk about useful tips for newbie writers to know. There are wonderful guest contributions and it should make a good insight for someone at the start of their writing journey. More details to be put up nearer the time.

And the great thing with series like this is, given there is always something for writers to learn and apply to their own writing, there will be something in this for the more experienced writer too.

No one writer knows everything but the sharing of knowledge and advice is invaluable. I know I’ve been most appreciative of the knowledge and advice that has come my way.

I’ve had one of those lovely tasks to do – choose a book cover pic for my second flash fiction collection, Tripping the Flash Fantastic. Job done. Really enjoyed doing that and can’t wait to share it with you in due course.

Meanwhile, with feet back firmly on the ground, I’ve plenty of editing and writing to be getting on with. Mind you, another task I’ve loved so far this week has been to put the finishing touches on my CFT post for Friday. I’ll be looking at certain favourites covering lots of different categories and there are a few reminiscent Youtube clips with this post too.

Looking forward to taking part in a Zoom workshop tomorrow afternoon. That should be good fun and keep me on my toes. (Just hope Lady keeps quiet while it is on! I guess she could run a Woof workshop if it came to it…!).

 

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Flash fiction may be quicker to write due to the reduced word count but it takes as much craft as its longer cousins in getting the stories ready for submission.

You still need to edit and check that every word you leave in adds to the story and that the tale would lose something important if you take it out. (That “something important” can be anything from character development to the story not making grammatical sense without it).

I’ve mentioned before that I often read stories aloud to literally hear for myself how the tale sounds. What looks good on paper doesn’t always read well so out comes the editing pen.

The huge advantage of flash fiction here is that this reading out loud process is quicker to do – not so much to read out loud for a start! But I think because flash has to make a powerful impact due to its reduced word count, even more care has to be taken to ensure that every word you leave in punches its weight and contributes.

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Pleased to say I’ll have another flash fiction piece on Cafelit soon. Will say more later in the week and share the link in due course.

I do love writing and reading the very short form. I suppose what I like most is there isn’t long to wait until the pay-off! It also means even when pressed for time, I can make time for the two minutes read!

Do I prefer stories that deliver on the premise or the ones that wrongfoot me? I love both.

It can be fun to try and guess at the ending of a tale (though this is harder to do for a 100-worder. Why? Because the 100-word form is roughly a paragraph so it would be very easy to read the whole thing before remembering you were going to try and guess what the ending was!).

I’ve talked about titles before but some tips I’ve found particularly helpful include:-

1. Keep your title short. It makes it more memorable and saves on word count.

2. Impact of title is more important than word count (but that’s true for the story too!).

3. Does your title idea reflect the mood of the story or can it be open to interpretation? I am very 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.

4. Alliteration Always An Idea but Don’t Overuse It!

5. Never be afraid to change a title if the one you first came up with really 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 and it often does as you’re writing that first draft.

Put yourself in a potential reader’s shoes and ask yourself if your title “grabs” you the way it should do. This is again where time away from the story helps. I recommend at least a week away from it (and ideally a fortnight). Time away makes all the difference in terms of the fresh perspective you have on the story when you re-read it.

 

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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!

 

Goodreads Author Blog –

The Short Read or the Three Volume Epic?

Okay, so what would be your first choice? I must admit I’m torn as I love both.

A lot would depend on time available and I love reading, as well as writing, the short forms of fiction. I love the idea of crystallising a whole world in a few hundred words or so.

Short story and flash fiction collections have the huge advantage of giving you a chance to taste an author’s work and see if you like it before you read their longer works. From a writing viewpoint, it is lovely to be able to write and submit short stories and flash tales to different markets and competitions while working on longer term, bigger projects in the background.

But for the creation of a huge world it’s hard to beat the three volume epic and The Lord of the Rings is the definitive version of that for me. (Just don’t drop the book on your foot!).

It is a little ironic that, as a flash fiction writer, I veer between the quick read and the very long one! But then maybe that is why. There are times I need to read the exact opposite of what I do.

Hmm… I guess that means I ought to get around to War and Peace then!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handling Criticism

It has been a very busy week but it was a great joy to welcome Val Penny to my blog on Tuesday last.  Looking forward to her Hunter’s Revenge coming out in September.  I’m also looking forward to the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School later this month.

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My More than Writers blog post for the Association of Christian Writers went up on site yesterday.

On Criticism talks about handling criticism, and how showing how your characters handle that themselves can be used to reveal a lot about them. It can be a good way to get depth into a story given no character should be one-dimensional. They should act and react and then usually act on that reaction! How they handle being criticised is a good way to show how they related to the ones doing the criticising for one thing!

I also share some thoughts on allowing time to elapse before evaluating your own work. Link above.

My CFT post this week will be a review of the Chameleon Theatre Group’s latest production, What a Bunch of Amateurs. A really funny play (writers: Ian Hislop and Nick Newman). Looking forward to sharing the link on Friday.

A great story, regardless of format, is one in which you are very happy to suspend disbelief for the duration of reading it/watching it performed/listening to it etc. Amateurs was easily that and good fun.

Images below kindly provided by Lionel Elliott and the Chameleons (and used with permission). More to come on Friday.

Beginning to heat up in Hampshire again…. Lady not keen. Neither are Lady’s owners! Still our park did perk up a bit after the rain last weekend. It doesn’t ALL look like straw now!

Weather can be used as a descriptive shorthand. If you say someone has a sunny disposition you know exactly what is meant. It can be a useful technique for flash fiction of course – all those words saved on your word count!

However, it is too easy to fall into cliche with it (and that’s what I’ve just done with that phrase I think!) so best to use this sparingly. (Think of it as the writing equivalent of chilli powder – too much and you will know it! Too little and well what was the point?).

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Am hoping to submit some more flash fiction before I head off to Swanwick. Happy with progress of WiP (which is nice – haven’t always been able to say that). Have all sorts of ideas bubbling away for future flash fiction collections, which I’m looking forward to having a go at.

Would like to investigate more flash fiction competitions too, so plenty to be getting on with over the summer, but then that is never a bad thing!

The lovely thing about flash fiction is the freedom it gives you to write in different genres, albeit in a very short format! FLTDBA has everything in it from humour to horror to fantasy to poignant pieces and a little bit of crime too. I adore that flexibility. The only thing I have to worry about is the word count!

I love to use thoughts in my stories (though admittedly in flash fiction, I have to keep these brief. That’s no bad thing though). Thoughts reveal the character’s attitude, what state of mind they are in at the time and so on. Thoughts can also help you cut the word count (something every flash fiction writer is looking to do!) because you can go “straight to the chase”. The character is showing you what they are thinking.

Had a nice time earlier going through the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School brochure, trying to decide what courses I will do when there. The lovely thing about writing flash fiction is all sorts of things can feed into it and spark off ideas so a course on crime writing may well inspire all sorts of very short stories on that topic.

Expecting, Why Stop Now, and Punish the Innocent are just three of my flash stories in FLTDBA where the theme is crime. Other themes in the book are fantasy, Pride and Prejudice, Frankenstein, and abusive relationships. Quite a mix! I can’t stress enough how vital it is to read widely. You need to spread your net wide to “catch” as many sparks to fire off ideas as you can and then the work is in deciding which are the strongest ones to actually write up into stories.

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Goodreads Author Blog – Heatwaves and Reading

Is the hot weather (in the UK at least) encouraging you to read more or less than you would usually?

I find I’m “dipping” into things more, especially magazines, given by the end of the day, when I’d usually like to read for a while before lights out, I’m feeling far too washed out to read much. Oh and I am reading more magazines on Kindle now, which was something I never thought I’d do, but I’ve got on better with it than I thought I would.

Magazine reading is ideal for that feeling washed out to concentrate much scenario, as are short story and flash fiction anthologies. Quick reads when you feel as if your brain has melted are ideal. The literary fiction can definitely wait for when it is cooler!

Looking at my reading patterns over the year, I tend to read more novels over the autumn and winter months. It’s not a conscious thing. I suppose you hone in to the fact that with the nights drawing in, now’s the time to get on with a good, LONG book!

Meanwhile it’s back to the cool drinks and quick reads for me!

 

 

 

 

Finding Ideas

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The challenge of finding new ideas for stories, is, of course, ongoing but the great thing is there are so many avenues to explore.

Proverbs and sayings can give themes for stories. Someone coming out with a strange way of expressing something can be an inspiration. (I was on the receiving end of one of these this week. Am certain I can get a flash fiction story out of it – will keep you posted!).

How about taking advertising slogans and changing a word or two to get your own theme? Instead of the old egg advert which said “Go to Work on an Egg”, how about “Go to Work on a Unicorn”. Now there’s a fantasy story or several behind that. Have fun (I intend to with that one as well).

Items of clothing (for example an odd shaped hat) can lead you wondering about the kind of character who would wear such a thing and what they might get up to while wearing it!

Keep your eyes and ears open. I’ve found, over time, when I hear or see something that could be useful for a story, I tend to hone in on it. It’s almost as if you develop a kind of antenna for this so be open to it. If the ideas don’t work out, well you’ve lost nothing but time trying them. (And I would be surprised if you didn’t get something out of them, if only the core for a stronger story you write up later).

I love stories that mirror others as long as it is done well. The play I saw on Wednesday was a great example of that. More details in my CFT post on Friday. The play was influenced heavily by one of Shakespeare’s finest which confirms something I’ve believed for a long time.

Reading widely is so important for anyone wanting to write. Indeed, it is more than that. It is NECESSARY.

Not only can you see how writers set things out, you DO learn by reading what others have done. You take in things like ratio of dialogue to narrative, where passive tense IS used appropriately, and how the writer you’re reading uses drama and cliffhangers in chapters to make you keep on reading so you have to find out how the story ends. That’s just a few things you take in when reading.

Also, by reading widely you are supporting the industry you want to join so it makes sense on so many levels. Ideas for your own stories come from all over the place and the theme of a novel you love may well be one you’d like to also write about, albeit in a totally different way.

Reading non-fiction can open your mind to ideas that you would want to bring into your fictional world. For example you read about how the phone came into being. Okay, how would that happen on the world you’re creating? What is their equivalent of the phone? Reading history (fictional and otherwise) can not only give you a sense of the past so much so you will want to set your own stories there, but there’s absolutely nothing to stop you writing about a minor character in the court of a monarch. Equally you could take your knowledge of how the court of Elizabeth 1 operated and set up a similar style of government in the world you’re creating.

Happy reading and writing!

 

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Flash fiction, because it has to be character led, can deal with “issues” but, obviously, briefly. That can often work better than a longer story where the writer can feed more into the tale. Short and to the point is what flash fiction does and, with stories that pack a punch like this, I believe brevity is best. No danger of repeating yourself either!

Flash fiction can take you anywhere
You like in terms of worlds, time or space.
Readers find out how your people fare
In whatever word count fits the case.
As long as it is under one K,
You and your story will be okay!

Allison Symes – 29th July 2018

COMING UP NEXT TIME…

Guest Post from crime writer, Val Penny

I’m looking forward to sharing with you on Tuesday, 31st July a guest post from friend and crime writer, Val Penny.  She is behind the Hunter Wilson/Edinburgh Mysteries series and shares with us an extract from her forthcoming novel, Hunter’s Revenge.  It is very good but don’t just take my word for it.  See what you think from the extract on Tuesday!

 

 

 

 

 

WRITING DIARIES, REVIEWS AND CLARITY

Another nice mixed bag I think!

I am on Goodreads and part of their author programme so if you wanted to send me questions about flash fiction, blogging, writing for online magazines, I’d be pleased to hear from you.

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Do you keep a writing diary? I find mine useful for planning out when I want to have work done by etc. (I don’t always achieve what I originally set out to do, life can get in the way sometimes, but I find I end up achieving what I set out to do, albeit occasionally later than I’d have liked. I think if I didn’t plan out what I think I’d like to get done, then I wouldn’t get as much written).

It’s also useful for keeping a note of submissions sent, where to, results etc. Naturally acceptances are written down in capital letters! I don’t think I’ll ever get over the buzz you have when you know a piece is going to be online or in print and that is how it should be.

 

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My CFT post this week will be Part 5 of my 101 Things to Put into Room 101. I’m up to No. 75! Link up on Friday.

Off to see a local show with my lovely CFT editor tomorrow and again next week. Seems like ages since I’ve watched a play so am looking forward to both of these plays. Reviews will probably follow! I have to say I have been impressed by the quality of the local theatre productions I’ve seen. Always a good sign when the time seems to whizz by as you’re watching.

I must try and get around to seeing one of the Discworld plays at some point. Love the novels, curious to see how the plays work. The great thing about seeing plays is that it is another way of taking in a story. I think it is a good idea to mix up the “formats” in which you do take in stories. No chance of being bored, sometimes a play will get across something in a way a novel doesn’t quite do and so on.

I admit though it would be a challenge to make a play out of a piece of flash fiction though!

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Reading widely is a sensible thing to do regardless of what genre you work in, given doing so helps you feed your own imagination. Ideas for stories spark from all over the place. The trick is to be open to receiving those ideas. (Also it does make sense to support the industry you want to be part of!).

What drives a story are the characters, of course, but knowledge of human nature/how politics works/history etc can inspire how you create the world your people live in. By knowing what we’re capable of as humans, you can create your own worlds based on what we know here. If we act in this manner, how will your people act? Are they better than us or worse? As a result, it will make your world seem more “possible” and believable to a reader.

What will change here is the length of the story you are writing. For flash fiction, you have to convey a sense of the world your people are set in quickly. A few telling details are key here. If you say your character lives under a dictatorship, that is enough for the purposes of your flash fiction. We all know what dictatorships can be like so our imaginations will fill in the details your flash fiction piece doesn’t have the room for. If you were writing a novel, you would want more details as to what that dictatorship is like, possibly how it came into being, and what happens to those who rebel against it.

 

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Clarity is important to any storyteller but when you have limited word count as with flash fiction, it is vital. The words you use can often carry more weight as you select the ones that will give you the most meaning without using up too much of your word count.

I’ve come across some annoying examples of how NOT to write in adverts, business speak etc, and I think the main reason why these things irritate so much is because they lack clarity. Someone somewhere with these examples has equated lots of words with lots of meaning. To quote George Gershwin, “it ain’t necessarily so” as any flash fiction writer would tell you!

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READING WIDELY AND WORKING BACKWARD

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Why is reading widely so vital for anyone wanting to write seriously?

Partly because you always learn something from whatever you read. (In the case of bad fiction, this can be as simple as learning what not to do! Sometimes this can also encourage you. If that got published, my work must be in with a chance etc!).

Partly when you read, you are filling your mind with ideas. Ideas encourage other ideas and before you know it, you have an original take on a story idea of your own. The more you read (and especially the more widely), the more ideas you will have for your subconscious to think about. I like to think of this as nurturing the creative spirit. It does need feeding regularly!

Also given all writers love books and stories, doesn’t it make sense to support the industry you hope to be part of?

Reading - says it all really via Pixabay

Says it all really.  Image via Pixabay.

Escape with a good book via Pixabay

Losing yourself in a good book.  Image via Pixabay.

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One of my methods of writing flash fiction is to work out the “punch” ending and then work backward from that point. I believe Agatha Christie used a similar technique for many of her novels. I would also be very surprised if she was the only one! I strongly suspect not.

The nice thing about this technique is you have that cracking ending and you have to think of something strong enough to justify it. It means not reaching for the first idea that comes to you but often the second, third, fourth etc.

But in making yourself think more deeply about how the ending could be the way you’ve written it, you come up with something far more original. I like to think of it as mining the imagination – and good mining always goes far beyond the surface!

The world of the imagination should play a role in your stories. I can't imagine any world without some form of the arts. Image via Pixabay.

What is the world of your story? Image via Pixabay.

Whether you write flash fiction or other kinds of story, brainstorming sessions are invaluable. I have, less often, used them to generate ideas for non-fiction work. Image via Pixabay.

Whether you write flash fiction or other kinds of story, brainstorming sessions are invaluable. I have, less often, used them to generate ideas for non-fiction work. Image via Pixabay.

 

ideas-the-spark-for-writing-competitions-image-via-pixabay

Ideas are only the starting point for stories.  Read widely, encourage your mind to fill up with different ideas and mull over them.  Image via Pixabay

 

And a recent post… Favourite Moments in Writing

Favourite moments in writing? Some of mine are:

1. That instant when you know your character has come to life and the story takes off.

2. When your characters surprise you with what they come out with (again proof they have come to life). You will broadly know what your characters are going to be capable of but something coming out of “left field” should make you reassess where the character and story is going. I have found to date that the “left field” experience is always worth pursuing. It nearly always ends up being a stronger idea than the one I first had. Sometimes it takes writing the story for a while to dig out the REAL idea behind it.

3. Knowing you’ve left enough room in your outline to allow for “left field” moments so you are ready for these. You can work out where they would best fit and how they impact on your initial thoughts and that they are not going to totally detail your structure, etc. I find being “open” to these things happening means I handle them better and so can make the most of them. I find that very satisfying.

4. Being told your story is going to be published.

5. Seeing your story in print, online or both!

Themes pour out of good books - image via Pixabay

Let those ideas flow!  Image via Pixabay

 

The wonderful world of stories... Image via Pixabay.

The wonderful world of stories… Image via Pixabay.