Kindness and Killing in Fiction – and Snow!


Image Credits:-
All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated. Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing. Screenshots taken by me, Allison Symes. My CFT post this week has the most unusual title I’ve ever written to but I show there are plenty of examples of kindness and killing in fiction and not just in the usual genres. It’s good to be back on Friday Flash Fiction as well though I could have done without the snow coming back! But then that’s April in the UK for you!

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Facebook – General

Two posts from me for 1st April 2022 – not an April Fools Day joke, honestly!

The first of the month is a busy time! Am delighted to share the link for the April edition of Mom’s Favorite Reads. As ever, the magazine is packed full of articles, photos, and, of course, stories!

My column this time talked about Dialogue and there was a fabulous response to my challenge to create an all-dialogue piece of flash fiction with a maximum word count of 300 words. Do check the column and stories out – as well as the rest of the magazine. You’ll be in for a great read but don’t just take my word for it – there is only one way to find out, isn’t there?!

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Second post!
Okay – not so much sleet and snow today. Lady ran around like a mad thing this morning so almost certainly was unaware of just how cold it is right now. I got my gloves and scarf out! Hmm… I thought I had finished with them for a few months but never mind.

Author newsletter out this morning. Many thanks to those who have opened it so far. Hope you find it useful and informative.

My latest Chandler’s Ford Today post is called Kindness and Killing in Fiction, which is probably the oddest contrast I’ve ever written about. The funny thing is though there are plenty of examples of both across the fictional world and not just in the “obvious genres”.

Screenshot 2022-04-01 at 09-18-41 Kindness and Killing in Fiction - Chandler's Ford Today

I take a look at why characters must have a good reason (or reasons) for their actions and attitudes, though it doesn’t mean the author and/or their readers have to agree with them. We do need to see where the characters are coming from though – that is where realism comes in I think.

I also share my thoughts on why we read crime/horror when the world is the way it is and discuss signs of strength (kindness for me is one of them) and the role of justice in these stories. As ever, comments are welcome on the CFT page.

Kindness and Killing in Fiction

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Am still not impressed with the weather – have had sleet, hail, snow today. I thought March was supposed to come in like a lion and go out as a lamb. No sign of that happening today. Lady literally shakes it all off though she can have little “snow mountains” on her back until she decides to shake it off. She does this with rain too. I’ve learned to side step her when she does that! Having an extending lead is useful…

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Writing wise, I’m getting on with various blogs and I’m planning to get back to actual flash writing at the weekend. By the end of a week, as long as I have managed to get a good mixture of fiction and non-fiction writing done, I’m happy.

And odd moments of time I use to draft a flash tale or brainstorm ideas which I can use as I see fit. Sometimes I will have a specific brainstorming session where I focus on ideas for future blogs. These sessions always pay off because I have things to come back to later when I’m not feeling so inspired.

And you learn to recognize every writer gets periods like that (and in my case I know it can be fuelled if I’m feeling especially tired). Having a notebook stuffed with ideas though is a great thing to fall back on!

When I haven't much writing time

Hope you have had a good day. Not impressed with the weather suddenly turning cold though it was lovely seeing Lady having a riotous time with her best buddies, a lovely Rhodesian Ridgeback and Hungarian Vizler. (Good rule here is to stand back and enjoy the show. You don’t want any of the three dogs cannoning into you!).

Looking forward to sharing my Chandler’s Ford Today post on Friday. I’m talking about Kindness and Killing In Fiction this time. The whole crime genre has a major focus on the latter, of course, as a good whodunnit depend on there having been a crime to solve but kindness turns up more often than you might think.

A huge thank you to all who commented on my More Than Writers blog about Spring-like Writing yesterday.

My author newsletter goes out again on Friday. I enjoy putting these together and I hope you make good use of the tips and prompts shared.

One thing I’ve found useful to remember when rejections/no hears happen is to recall every writer goes through this and there’s nothing to stop you revisiting a story, polishing it some more, and sending it out elsewhere. I’ve had work published doing that. Good luck!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Am delighted to be back on Friday Flash Fiction with my The Way Time Smells and a huge thanks to all the who have sent in fabulous comments on this already. This story is loosely based on fact and I evoke how a particular scent takes my character back in time. The scent I use here is one that does take me back in time in a similar way. Hope you enjoy it.

I had the idea for this one because the title came to me quickly and I know I would then need a scent to “latch on to” and why someone would link a scent with something in their past.. I’ve found before when the titles come first that tends to also give me a story structure from the start and I find that really useful. That was the case here.

Screenshot 2022-04-01 at 09-18-31 The Way Time Smells by Allison Symes

I’ve mentioned reading your work out loud before to hear how it sounds and the nice thing with flash is of course that doesn’t take long. The other reason I do it (and record myself to play back later) is to work out a kind of “set” for Open Prose Mic Nights. I like to have a balance of different moods of story, vary the word counts I read to, vary whether I use a first or third person narrator etc. I hope that makes things more interesting for an audience. I know it does for me!

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For humorous flash pieces, such as my Bypassing The System in Tripping the Flash Fantastic, I write my punchline down first and then work out different ways as to how I could logically get to that point. I do the same for twist in the tale stories. To me it makes sense to write down what I know I want to be in the story and then work out everything else around it.

Occasionally I have had a go at competitions where they give you a line they want you to put in the middle of the story. That’s a tough call but the way I’ve tackled this is to work out what must lead from the middle line to get to the end.

Having got two-thirds of the story down, I then figure out what the beginning has to be. Sounds a bit convoluted I know but it does mean that I have completed the “brief” and what leads to the middle makes sense as does what comes out from it to the end. I find with these stories knowing what the ending is, again, helps me to sort out the beginning.

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Fairytales with Bite – Time for a Spell?

I’ve long believed that Cinderella’s fairy godmother was somewhat late for the party when she did finally turn up. Where was she when poor old Cinders was having such a hard time of it being ill-treated by her stepmother and her daughters? Cinders could have done with earlier intervention I think – it would’ve limited the misery for one thing.

That said, when is the right time for a magical being to intervene to help someone? Is there a case for leaving intervention as late as possible to (a) give the character to chance to help themselves and (b) to ensure all other options are exhausted first? (Not a lot of comfort for poor Cinders there!).

Whenever you get your characters to intervene magically, ensure there is a good reason for that intervention and that magic is the only option available at this point in the story. Set something up earlier in the story to show magical intervention is a distinct possibility to avoid any disbelief on the part of a reader.

And if you can get a character on the receiving end of such help to do something to help the process, even If it is only by just fetching possible “ingredients”, then so much the better. They are at least contributing to their own positive outcome here.

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This World and Others – Recollections

Memories matter. They matter to individuals. They matter to countries. They matter to a world, fictional or otherwise. Culture is built up (or destroyed) by what people choose to remember. And what is chosen here will reflect a great deal on the nature of the character or culture doing the reflecting.

We, for example, remember the fallen in world wars etc for Remembrance in November. Others may see remembering the fallen as something they simply do not do – they only recall the heroes, the ones who survived.

For your fiction, you can pick elements like that to show the nature of your fictional world overall. A world that celebrates war is going to be very different from one that remembers and honours more peaceful ways of living. A culture that remembers its failures as well as its triumphs is likely to be a better one in which to live simply because it has learned to be honest with itself about its failures.

So what will your characters recollect? What is officially chosen to be remembered? What is remembered but talked about very quietly for fear of the authorities?

What would your characters do if they come across something that has to be told or recollected in some way yet goes against their world’s policy on what is remembered? Will they dare to cross the line here and what would the outcomes be if so? I would suspect there would be more than one outcome. There would be the obvious one of the authorities punishing the character but what would happen if the words had “got out” and others had got to hear the forbidden truth? What could be the outcome from that?

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A Day in the Life of an Author and Being an Indie Author Part 2 with Maressa Mortimer

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated. Some images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos.

Author images and book covers kindly provided by Maressa Mortimer for the CFT interview.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Hope you have had a good week. It’s been a busy but interesting one on Zoom for me this time.

 

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

It’s a pleasure to welcome back to Chandler’s Ford Today #MaressaMortimer, who balances a busy writing life with an even busier homeschooling life for her family. So you know I’ve said before it is important to make time to write even if that time is only ten minutes or so but you can still achieve a great deal as long as you’re consistent, well Maressa is living proof that is true! Those pockets of time do mount up. Perseverance does count – and makes a great deal of difference.

I know Maressa via the Association of Christian Writers (indeed it was my privilege to enrol her given I’m the Membership Secretary). We both took part in the Share Your Story Writing summit earlier this year and, in November, we will meet up in person again at the Brechin/Angus Book Festival.

Meanwhile, Maressa chats with me about how she feels her writing has developed and shares what she would like to try writing wise in the future amongst other topics.

Mind you, we do disagree about what constitutes flash fiction. It definitely isn’t 3000 words, Maressa, though I appreciate that is on the short side for a novelist!

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Looking forward to sharing the link for Part 2 of my interview with #MaressaMortimer on Chandler’s Ford Today. Link up tomorrow. See above. This week Maressa shares with me her views on marketing, Facebook Live, book tours, and outlining amongst other topics. Plenty of useful insights here.

And that is the great thing with author interviews. There is always something useful to pick up from them. Even if you can’t use a nugget of information now, it may well prove to be useful to you later on. I’ve lost count of how many times that has happened to me. When the need for the information arises, your subconscious will remind you “hang on, I found out something about that” and you will go and look it up. I always check out author interviews regularly, even when I don’t host them, as they are entertaining and precisely to pick up those nuggets of information I know I may well find handy at some point.

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Day in the life of a writer Part 108. Email in from The Bridport Prize. No joy with my story this time but I will at some point have another look at it, polish it up further if I can, and re-submit it somewhere else.

Email in from CafeLit telling me my story with them will be on the website next week! More details and a link on that nearer the time.

When I was first starting writing seriously, any rejection etc would hit me hard. Now it doesn’t so much. Yes, obviously, I’d like every piece of mine accepted but I am realistic enough to know that rarely happens to anyone. Also it is an opportunity to look at the story again, correct any flaws, and get it out somewhere else. I’ve gone on to have work accepted somewhere else, having done that. So I like to see rejections as a “not here but could go somewhere else” kind of thing. It is a more positive approach to take – and it can kind of work like a self-fulfilling prophecy too.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Hope you have had a good week. Am thrilled that my Making Amends is now up on #FridayFlashFiction. I continue the (mis)adventures of my hapless magical being, Sarah. Can she make things up to her neighbour, Tina, after unwittingly letting loose a box of frogs in the latter’s house last time? Or will Sarah unleash something worse?
Screenshot 2021-09-17 at 19-12-46 Making Amends, by Allison SymesAs well as having a story accepted yesterday, I had another turned down. That is the way of things! So at some point I will dig out that story again and see if I can improve it and somewhere else. I’ve had work accepted elsewhere doing exactly that.

Sometimes I’ve edited the rejected piece further, sometimes I can’t honestly see what else to edit but pick a market where I think it is in with a reasonable chance. And you do get better with time and plenty of practice in submitting work in working out which markets are most likely to suit you and your writing style.

The important thing is not to give up (though changing direction is fine. I did that with flash fiction and look where that has led!).

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Delighted to say I’ll have a story on CafeLit next week. Will be one of my longer flashes too. Well, I say longer. It’ll come in at just under the 600 words mark. Be fair, that is a long story by my standards compared with many I write!

Looking forward to the Association of Christian Writers Flash Fiction Group meeting next week. Great exchange of ideas and information and groups like this push (in a nice way) everyone along with their writing. Sometimes you need that kind of push. A good group will encourage and help you develop your writing and get you to try writing techniques you might not have thought of before, as well as helping you to polish up those with which you are familiar.

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Fairytales with Bite – Cause and Consequence

Fairytales are full of examples of cause and consequence. (It is one of the things I love most about them). Annoy a wizened old man or lady and you can bet you are going to be turned into something unpleasant until, usually, true love redeems you. You do just know there is going to be some sort of comeuppance for those less pleasant characters.

Maybe that is why fairytales so often appeal to much older readers than kids. We know life isn’t like that (and kids sense this too, I know I did) so we get some comfort from reading about justice being done in the stories we read.

And if we write stories as well, we can have a lot of fun ensuring causes do have consequences. The bad guys don’t get away with it etc.

But the consequence has to be in proportion to the cause. In the fairytales, there is always a chance of redemption (usually by the caring actions of another character, usually unseen at the start of the story). And that I think is the aspect I like best. I like the possibility of redemption even if a character in need of it turns it down or doesn’t realise they have this chance. You have to be open to the possibility and not every character will be.

So what consequences will your characters face in relation to their causes? Is their cause just in any way? How do they handle the consequences which result? The answer to that will also reveal a great deal of their personality too.

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This World and Others – The Basics

The basics of world building for me must mean looking at what characters need to be able to survive. How do they breathe? How is food grown? What do they drink?

Then it is a question of looking at how the societies here organise themselves. Who governs whom? Do your societies live in peace with each other and/or within themselves? Thinking about what we need here can help you visualise what your fictional world needs to make it seem real to a reader.

While it is true you will need more description to help a reader, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need pages and pages of it. What are the telling details people need to know? Characters chatting about the latest atrocities carried out by Lord XXX of YYY will show a reader your creations are living under a tyranny without you needing to spell out each and every detail of that tyranny.

The golden rule here is to include only that which is directly relevant to your story and will move it on in some way. Characters can reveal information but ensure they don’t talk about things that, logically, they should already know. That will come across as the info-dump that is it is and switch a reader off. Getting characters to talk about latest developments will show a reader what is going on and you would expect characters to talk about that kind of thing and how it is likely to affect them.

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Submissions, Housekeeping, and Anthologies

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Pleased to have submitted another story (a crime short) this evening. Am pushing myself to submit more often and am loving doing so. The nice thing is whatever happens to the stories, there will be things I can do with them later on. Nothing is ever wasted. If one competition doesn’t like it, will the tale suit another? Does it need a closer look and then submitting elsewhere? You have options!

Am working on my novel and also my Amazon Author Central pages (particularly for the US and UK). Hope to share the links for these soon. A big thanks to #PaulaReadman for putting me on to this. I blog regularly and use FB and other social media but this one had escaped me. It always pays to network with other writers because (a) it is huge fun, (b) reassures you that you are not alone in the crazy but wonderful world of writing, (c) you learn all sorts of things that can help you and, in turn, (d) you can help others too. All of that is great.

What has been nice has been looking up the various anthologies I’ve had work in over the years and it makes a nice selection to put up on said pages. So what now? Try to get in more anthologies of course!

A big thank you to my better half, Adrian, for taking the pics earlier today. It makes a huge difference when the writing geek in a family has support from the rest of the family (and something I am very grateful for).

PS  Have put the new pics up on other areas of the website. Housekeeping like this is a good habit to get into!

The writing life is made up of a series of special moments. You start by plucking up the courage to submit work somewhere. You then get your first rejection (almost inevitably) and you try again and again and then, hopefully, comes the great day when a piece of work is accepted. Joy!

But rejections continue to come in long after your first publication credit and you realise the writing life is a roller coaster and you need to learn to cope with the ups and the downs. Yes, even to cope with the ups, because you don’t want those to create the sense you can never better that special moment. You can hamstring yourself here!

You need, I think, to work towards making progress all the time. Progress can include trying forms of writing new to you and that’s a great opportunity to just write for fun. I took up flash fiction because Cafelit had put out a 100-word challenge and I just thought I’d give it a go. I didn’t expect anything to come from it but quickly became addicted to the form and things took off from there.

Progress can include looking at the rejections that come in and, if lucky enough to get comments, to see if there is a common thread.

Some competitions offer critiques for a fee in addition to the competition entry fee. I’ve gone for these sometimes.Some critiques are more useful than others but you literally pays your money and take your choice. You need to work out whether such a thing would be useful to you.

I only enter competitions that have been longstanding ones or where feedback on them is positive. I also go for critiques like these where the blurb tells you what to expect. For a short story, it is never going to be a long critique. What I’m after here is the critic’s general view of how well my story and characters come across. Tickbox critiques can work well here too.

Do you finish reading a story that hasn’t gripped you?

These days, I’m afraid I don’t – life’s too short etc – but I am pleased to say I can’t remember when I last abandoned a story. That’s partly I think because I’m getting better at picking out a tale that’s likely to appeal to me. It’s also because the moment a character has gripped me, I’ve got to find out what happens to them.

So of course you try to replicate that in your own writing. For me, it is always down to the characters which determines whether a story or book is successful or not. For non-fiction, it is the voice of the “narrator” of the piece that has to grip me and therefore determine whether I’m going to like the article or not.

Do you ever find you start a story slowly, then the pace quickens, and before you know it you can’t get the words down fast enough? I’ve likened this to almost taking dictation from your characters and that’s a good sign.

The other positive is that the slow start means you’ve started the story in the wrong place and that will be what you look at first to edit, cut, or rewrite later. You sometimes need to write a start like that to help get you going. The important thing IS to get going and have that first draft down. This is why I always write a story in full and then edit. I know it won’t be perfect straightaway (what is after all?) but that’s okay. The improvement works come later on.

Only the Ten Commandments were written in stone so just be aware you’ll need to go back and change that slow start. It if serves no purpose get rid of it. If there is useful material in there, what can you do to retain that and get it across to the reader in a better way? Sometimes that material can make a separate scene later once the pace has picked up and be a useful “take a breather” scene. Sometimes you can get the character to convey the information. There are options!

By the time you’re drafted your story and then re-read the whole thing, you should also have a better idea of where your tale should have begun. Hey presto, you take it from there!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Am pushing myself on story submissions though I’ve mixed this up with flash tales, standard length short stories and so on. All good fun!

One of my longer term projects is my third flash fiction collection (which is at a reasonable length as it is now but needs editing. I’ve got some linked flash stories in this one and some historical pieces but would like to add a few more tales to this before I really edit the lot).

My starting point for a flash fiction story is always to work out who is the character who is leading it, what their motivations are, what they stand to win or lose by the end of the tale. All of these have got to be strong enough to keep my interest going (yet alone anyone else’s!) and if the three strands together, then a promising flash fiction story should be the result.

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I use first person a lot in flash fiction as it is so immediate but when I do name a character, it’s usually by Christian name only. This is partly due to the word count restriction but, much more importantly, I can convey what I need a reader to know about a character called Mary just by using that name only.

When I do bring in a surname it’s either a means to show what class/background that character belongs to OR another character is referring to them. That tells a reader immediately the named character is important to my narrator. It makes a useful flag!

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Another advantage to flash fiction is when you are really pressed for time to write, you can jot down something to work with. Whether you then extend those jottings to a full length 1500 words+ story or keep it as something that could work in the flash market is up to you, but you have the option! So never despair if you only have 10 minutes to write, you can get something down in that time.

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My CFT post this week will be about Moments that Matter but in flash fiction every moment matters!

Whatever kind of story you write, you select what the reader has to know, you leave gaps for them to work things out, and end with a satisfying conclusion to your tale. With flash, that whole process is more intense.

Every word must count and play its part. For example:-

She always wore velvet.

She always wore moth-eaten velvet.

Which of those lines would I use in a story? The second one.

This is because the “always” implies there’s a character here who may well be obsessed with what she wears. The “moth-eaten” tells you something about her financial well being (or she’s exceptionally careless about how she looks after her clothes). Yes. these are two extra words to the count but both add weight and meaning to the story so stay in.

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Goodreads Author Blog –

What Do You Look For in a Story?

What people look for in a story differs of course but, for me, the primary wish is to be entertained.

I don’t like it when genre fiction is looked down on for not being “highbrow”. That isn’t the purpose of genre fiction. Besides genre fiction CAN be challenging and make readers think.

There is nothing wrong in writing or reading “merely” to be entertained. A good story that can make you forget your troubles for while is wonderful.

One of the lovely things about books/stories is they can take you out of yourself for a while and that is invaluable. In difficult times, I’ve relished those periods when I’ve been able to escape with a good book. The ability to escape for a while is crucial.

I can understand the point of misery memoir but frankly it isn’t for me. I hope others find healing and help through it but I want to switch off the real world when I read and deliberately venture into something I know is totally made up!

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AMAZON CENTRAL

Below is the link to the US and UK pages I’ve set up on Author Central. More will be added as and when I have news/further publications out (there’s optimism for you!).  Hope you enjoy.

https://www.amazon.com/Allison-Symes/e/B07T3HT18L?ref_=pe_1724030_132998060

(American)

https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B07T3HT18L

(UK)

There are also pages for me on Author Central France, Germany, and Japan!