REMEMBERING – AND THE POINT OF FICTION

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I had a friend, now sadly gone, who couldn’t understand the point of fiction. He only read non-fiction and thought the world was too wonderful to want to make things up!

I had some sympathy for that view funnily enough, as I could see what he was getting at, but I did point out that fiction can show truths facts can’t always do. Fiction can show elements of human nature in a better way than just relating a list of what we are capable of.

I also think fiction should encourage empathy. We root for characters we like. Why? Because there is something in them we can identify with or aspire to in ourselves. So does it follow then the more we read, the more we encourage empathy in ourselves? I like to think so.

 

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Very moved by the Remembrance events over the weekend. So many stories we know about, so many still untold (not everyone wants to “open up” about what they went through). So much history recalled – personal, national and international. I was also pleased to see the animals who served in the war (especially horses and dogs) were also remembered at various times over the weekend.

One common theme running through Doctor Who is how one action, no matter how small, can change the history of the individual and, from that, the history of their country, the planet even. Very much a chain reaction.

So when are we planning our characters and stories, look for the pivotal moments that are going to turn everything upside down. What is behind those moments? What makes your characters act and react the way they do (given there is always an opposite reaction to be considered)? Is the motivation of your character strong enough to justify the stance they’re taking?

Glad to hear one of my favourite radio shows, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, is back on Radio 4. Some fantastic word play here. Got to see the live show a little while back. Good fun. If you get the chance to go, do so. Laugh a minute is not an exaggeration!

I’m very fond of a good pun. (Am also very fond of a dreadful one!). I like playing with the language like this. (This is also why the late great Frank Muir and Denis Norden are much missed. They were fabulous at this).

I occasionally get to give my characters a humorous one liner, which I enjoy doing, but I think it has more impact because I don’t do this all the time. Also the humour has to arise out of the situation I’ve put the characters in and mustn’t feel forced. A reader will spot that a mile off.

But having fun with the language is one of the great joys of writing.

My CFT post this week will look at the art of time management and takes in a quick look at time travel too. More on Friday.

How does time work in your stories? I don’t tend to think of it much as most of my flash fiction is very much in the “here and now”. I’m not sure though whether my using the first person encourages that or if the here and now encourages the use of the first person! Jury out here…

Even those pieces where a character is looking back at a period of life have a kind of bracketed time zone. It can only be for so long. I suppose you could argue I use time as a kind of a frame for my flash fiction and that does work well. As ever, though, be consistent with your use of time throughout the story.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

R = Recalling the debt we owe
E = Engaging with the past so we do not end up re-living it
M = Memories to be treasured and learnt from
E = Elegies and the war poetry of Sassoon and Owen amongst others
M = Men fallen and wounded, numbers too vast to comprehend
B = Bugles and the moving notes of The Last Post
R = Regiments, so many of them “old pals” networks. Reflect an almost forgotten era.
A = Armistice Achieved Eventually.
N = Never again they said. Sadly they were wrong. What can WE do then? Remember, recall, DON’T repeat.
C = Creatures such as the horses that also saw active service, amongst others.
E = Edith Cavell, Nurse, who rightly wanted to help the injured of both sides.

Allison Symes – 10th November 2018

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How do the seasons affect your characters? The reduced amount of sunlight throughout the autumn and winter months is known to affect many people in terms of moods, being more prone to depressive attacks (in terms of quantity and how long each episode lasts). Should our characters reflect this too? I think so.

As well as the general point of acknowledging depression openly, (pretending it doesn’t exist or happen helps nobody), I think it unrealistic to have characters in a “set” state of mind. Their moods are bound to fluctuate, whether it is due to the lack of sunlight, the earlier and longer nights, or the circumstances they’re facing or a combination of that.

When we portray our characters, we must show them honestly for them to have any resonance with our readers. While there isn’t the word count room in flash fiction to show a lot of change of moods (you’d need the longer short stories and novels for that), you CAN give an indication of a character’s usual mood and where/what has changed it.

For example, in my They Don’t Understand, I start with my lead character showing us he has blamed himself for something. As the story progresses, he recalls his life with his wife, and then the ending, the “punch in the gut” end as I like to think of it, shows why he blamed himself at the start. This was one of my longer flash fiction pieces and I needed all the words available here to convey this sense of mood well enough. But without those changes of mood, and the reasons for them, the story simply wouldn’t have impact.

Flash fiction isn’t a new idea, far from it. The name of it might be but the concept isn’t. Aesop’s Fables would count as flash fiction as would many of Jesus’s parables in the New Testament. (Many come in at under 100 words!). (The longer story of the Good Samaritan is a great example of the Rule of Three in action too!). Truly, there is nothing new under the sun!

Having said that, the challenge for flash fiction writers now, as with any story writer, is to come up with strong characters and engaging ideas which grip your reader so much they HAVE to read your story through. I call it the “do I have to read this and read it NOW?” test. If the answer to that is a resounding “yes”, you are definitely on to something!

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What are your favourite times for writing? I find late afternoon into the evening works best for me. With most of the day’s cares behind me, I can focus on writing something I love and relish every moment of it.

I’ve found the biggest thing about having a regular writing “slot” is it conditions you to accept this is the time you will write so you settle down and get on with it (never a bad thing that!).

I try to mix up what I write during the week as a whole. I focus on my CFT post first, then get on with the flash fiction and other, longer term, projects I’ve got in mind. Keeps the imagination busy!

 

 

Goodreads Author Blog – Remembering

I write this on the eve of Remembrance Sunday/Armistice Day 2018 when all thoughts turn to remembering those who sacrificed so much.

This is where the war poetry of Sassoon and Owen amongst others hits home. This is where historical writing – fiction AND non-fiction, can truly show what life would have been like in the trenches (and make us devoutly thankful we’ll never face anything like that).

The testimonies and local history records should be treasured. Reading others’ experiences and thoughts should encourage empathy in us (and I think is one of the truly great things about fiction generally).

There are so many stories – someone local to me has found out the stories of those on our War Memorial. Imagine that happening up and down the UK. Every single person recalled and their story told.

Fiction is wonderful and should reflect the human condition but the sheer brutal facts of non-fiction around things like the World Wars should never be forgotten. We owe a huge debt to those who wrote things down so we have those written records. We dare not forget (else be destined to re-live) and writers play a crucial role here.

 

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Reviews and Remembering

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

It was a delightful and very moving experience to watch the Chameleons’ production of Blackadder Goes Forth last week. My review for CFT this week shares some wonderful pictures from the set (and many thanks to Stuart Wineberg and the Chameleons for kind permission to use these). The production was a sell out run and I am not at all surprised.

The way the very famous final scene was carried out on stage worked so well too. For more, see the post.

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Looking forward to sharing my review of the Chameleons’s most recent production, Blackadder Goes Forth, later in the week. Found a particularly nice Youtube clip to go with it which fits in beautifully. It is always nice to uncover gems to go with posts like that.

Remembering is a fundamental part of being human (which is why Alzheimer’s is the tragedy it is). It should feature in your fiction too. What makes your character the way they are? What do they remember that they fight against or go with? Do they join in with their society’s collective memories or would they be what we would know as a revisionist?

What ceremonies are special on the world you’ve set up and what memories have led to these ceremonies taking place at all? Is everyone expected to join in or is it only for the privileged few?

Funny day today. Saw my sister go off to NZ (holiday and catching up with family). Not been to Heathrow for years. Last time was when our parents went over there. Mum and Dad went over at exactly the right time. It wasn’t long after their return that Alzheimer’s became “openly apparent” in Mum. Had they delayed at all, they would not have been able to go. The decisions we make…

What decisions do your characters make that turn out to be pivotal? They don’t necessarily need to be “obvious”. Something as simple as deciding to take a journey at a particular time as opposed to a later or earlier time could make all the difference to your story outcome but you will need to show why and how. Plenty of possibilities for drama and conflict there (especially if your lead is arguing with others as to the best way and time to go about their “mission”).

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I’ve been thinking a lot about journeys today (my sister is off to NZ as I type this), but of course every story is a journey in and of itself, regardless of its length. You have a character, something happens (the moment of crucial change) and then there’s the outcome (not necessarily a happy or good one).

The main difference with flash fiction of course it that this tends to be a short, sharp journey and there’s no hanging around for the outcome!

I sometimes write pieces where a character reflects on their life. My They Don’t Understand is a good example of this. Not an action story as such but one where, hopefully, the characterisation grips you and you have to find out how the character did in the end.

Naturally there has to be something special about the character to get you to keep on reading. Often it is their voice that is compelling. Know how your character would think, act, and therefore speak. It will make a huge difference to how you write them.

I sometimes write pieces where a character reflects on their life. My They Don’t Understand is a good example of this. Not an action story as such but one where, hopefully, the characterisation grips you and you have to find out how the character did in the end.

Naturally there has to be something special about the character to get you to keep on reading. Often it is their voice that is compelling. Know how your character would think, act, and therefore speak. It will make a huge difference to how you write them.

 

Thoughts for starting to write flash fiction:-

1. Pick out or invent a title and see what story ideas can come from that. Ideally try not to go with your first idea, as usually that is a way in to finding deeper, better ones to work with!

2. Know who your lead character is going to be and what their chief characteristic is. Very useful way to get started!

3. Don’t worry about the word count limitations at this stage. Write the story. Edit it. Read it out loud. Edit it again. Then see what its word count length should be. Some stories really do work better at 100 words, others at 500. The great thing is there are markets for both!

4. Keep the idea simple. Don’t try to be too clever. You want the reader to identify with your characters and for the idea to be a plausible one (no matter how fantastic the setting of the story). Being too clever will just tie the story (and you!) up in knots and won’t do anything for a potential reader.

Fairytales with Bite – Character Dialogue

Character dialogue has to sound natural when a reader comes to it, whether they read it aloud or not and whether they read a print or ebook or listen to the story on audio first. Often character dialogue is a “tidied up” version of what we say in life with few hesitations (best used sparingly in writing. It looks gimmicky and is “tiring” to read.).

I’ve found reading work out loud (sometimes recording it and playing it back) is a great way of checking to see if my dialogue is up to scratch. If I stumble over my words, a reader will too as out with the old editing pen again! It is wise to use accented speech sparingly. You want to give a sense of what a character’s accent is. You don’t need to use an accent for each and every word they say. Again, that is tiring to read, especially in a longer work.

You need your characters to speak in different styles so readers can easily tell them apart during “conversational pieces”. Sometimes this can be done by the choice of words a character uses. Sometimes it can be that Character A always speaks in short, sharp sentences, while Character B takes their time in getting to the point!

I love getting my characters to “chat” even if sometimes it is to themselves via their own internal thoughts. This is where you and, later, a reader can find out so much about them.

This World and Others – Packing a Punch With Your Writing

This topic has come about as a direct result of my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week, which was a review of the Chameleon Theatre Company’s recent production of Blackadder Goes Forth.  This last series in the Blackadder canon is by far the best of them and with humour and irony conveyed the horror of life in the trenches in World War One.  Blackadder would have been mad NOT to have tried any means possible to get out of there.  The writing is excellent and the tragedy of what happens is beautifully portrayed.  How?

A lot of the writing is understated.  Blackadder’s final “good luck, everyone” is said calmly and without emotion as the men are about to go over the top.  There is a wealth of emotion behind those three words.  Anyone watching knows those men are about to go to their deaths and that they know it too.  So you don’t need lots of words to make a powerful impact on your reader.  There is a lot to be said about quiet courage (as shown by Blackadder funnily enough).  Think about then what impact you want your readers to experience, then look at the best way of achieving that.

Humour can achieve a great deal here as can quiet acceptance of what is about to happen.  Raging against the unfairness of it all can engender some sympathy but I’ve found a better approach is for characters to fight the odds as much as they can and if they lose, it is clear from the story it is NOT because of anything they’ve said or done.  It is for your reader to conclude that it is unfair on the character, rather than have the character do it (as you run the risk that the character may come across as being whinging).

 

 

Looking into the past... Image via Pixabay

PRIORITIES, REMEMBERING, AND A REVIEW

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This week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post is my review of Murdered to Death by Peter Gordon, recently performed by the Chameleon Theatre Group. I look at what you look for in great spoofs and discuss the wonderful Agatha Christie send-ups in this highly enjoyable play, which was brilliantly performed by the Chameleons to a packed house. I hope they put on more spoofs. I have a very soft spot for funny plays (funny books too come to that) and spoofs are a fantastic part of this.

Image Credit:

All images for Murdered to Death kindly supplied to Chandler’s Ford Today by Lionel Elliott and taken by Liz Strevens and Marilyn Dunbar, all of The Chameleon Theatre Group.

Many thanks.

Image Credit:  All images below are from Pixabay.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

When is less is more? Certainly in flash fiction. Also on Twitter (I’ve been following the debate on the increase in characters from 140 to 280 and agree that the tighter character limit increases creativity. If you can say something in 140 characters, why on earth would you want to say it in more? There is no point to writing which isn’t necessary to the story!).

Twist endings depend on the less is more principle. In The Truth in From Light to Dark and Back Again the last sentence contains the twist in a total of 10 words (and by my rough tot-up 68 characters including the full stop!). In Serving Up a Treat, the twist was in 8 words (which this time is 39 characters including the full stop).

A guiding principle for me has been to write what needs to be written and get out! (It is in the edit that you work out what does need to be in the story. It can be surprising just how much can be cut too at times).

(From Light to Dark and Back Again can now be found in MIBI Gift Shop in Chandler’s Ford, along with Leap of Faith and Trouble With Swords by fellow writer and friend, Richard Hardie. Images below taken by me and many thanks to MIBI. I hope to write a CFT post about how local communities can help their writers and vice versa).

Image Credit:

All images below taken by Allison Symes.  Many thanks to MIBI.

Image Credit:  All images below are from Pixabay.

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog

What do your book choices reveal about you? Well, for a start, hopefully, that you have excellent taste in books!

Your choices should also reveal you are widely read, with a good selection of non-fiction books, as well as fiction, on your shelves.

Certain titles give themselves away, of course. Having the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook on your shelves points to there being a writer or artist in the household!

Your choices should also reveal which genres are your favourites as these will tend to dominate your bookshelves. (In my case, it’s humorous fantasy and yes I do have a shelf full of Terry Pratchett and Tom Holt’s works).

On the non-fiction front, your choices should reveal what your favourite genre is here (for me, it’s anything historic).

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Fairytales With Bite – Priorities

What are your characters’ priorities and why have they chosen them?  (Did they get to choose them or did family/tribal expectation force them to “choose” the priorities they have?).  What are the priorities for your world’s government(s)?  What stops them or individual characters from fulfilling their priorities?

I must admit I sometimes find it difficult to work out my priorities (given all my jobs do actually need to be done!).  This is where deadlines (actual and ones you set for yourself) can be useful.  They give you something concrete to work towards, can help against procrastination and, I think, help you achieve more in terms of your writing than you would without them.

The biggest but nicest problem I have had this year is giving the right priority to publicizing From Light to Dark and Back Again (including taking part in things like the recent Chandler’s Ford Book Fair) and getting on with my other writing.  I know I will get this balance right eventually (experience does show!) but I also know I haven’t got there yet (as I said, experience does show!  So does lack of said experience!).

Writing directly to screen

Prioritising writing work isn’t always easy.

This World and Others – Remembering

This weekend has Armistice Day (11/11), which given it is on a Saturday this year is followed by special services throughout the UK (where I’m based) on the nearest Sunday to it.  It is a strange thing about us as a species that we need to actively remember especially those things that are the most important.  The biggest lesson from history, I think, is the importance to remember and then maybe some of the worst mistakes we’ve made won’t be repeated.  At the very least that is a good thing to aim for.

This week has also seen the second anniversary of my mother’s passing and I can’t believe where the time has gone.

On a happier note, as I’m settling in our new rescue dog, Lady, happy memories of my previous dogs, Gracie and Mabel, are flooding back as Lady shows some traits common to them all.

On a writing front, what would your characters choose to actively remember?  What are the most important things for them?  What does this say about them as characters?  What made them choose these things?  Do any of these things go against what would be their cultural norm and, if so, what consequences do they face?

Looking into the past... Image via Pixabay

Lest We Forget.

 

A TIME TO REMEMBER, A TIME TO FORGET

ANNOUNCEMENT

Just to say that for the next week or so, posts to all of my websites will be spasmodic.  I’m arranging my late father’s funeral at the moment.  Amongst many things I will miss is his support especially of my short story writing.  He had to have a copy of any book my stories were in and I am so glad he got to see From Light to Dark and Back Again.  It has meant my late mum got to see my first published short story and my dad has seen my first published book.  Am also posting spasmodically on Facebook at the moment.  I’m also taking a short break from Chandler’s Ford Today though I hope to be back later in June with author interviews etc.

FAIRYTALES WITH BITE

I’m starting an occasional new series here – the A to Z of writing tips! I kick off with A to E.

THIS WORLD AND OTHERS

A Time to Remember, A Time to Forget looks at what your characters would remember/deliberately choose to “forget”.

I hope to get back to normal daily postings after 9th June.

Worlds, real and imaginery, are found in books - image via Pixabay