Learning from Stories and Characters

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Writing characters is good fun, especially when you can think of suitable flaws that you know you can use to drop said characters right in it. The important thing is for the flaws to be realistic and not over exaggerated.

I have never really liked larger than life characters in fiction (with the honourable exception of Mr Toad in Wind in the Willows! That’s partly because we know he is OTT from the start of the story!).

I want my characters’ flaws to be reasonable based on what I’ve found out about them. For example, if I know a character is kindly, then their major flaw is unlikely to be anything violent etc. The flaw has to fit with the character.

In this case I would probably make the flaw irritability. This makes sense as a kindly soul pushed too much would be irritable. There should always be a flaw to balance out the virtues.

I find goody two shoes characters difficult to read too and I think most readers would. We want realistic characters, people we can identify with, even if we don’t always agree with them or their actions.

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What have I learned from stories I’ve read over the years?

The big lesson, of course, is I’ve discovered what I love and equally what I don’t!

What is more useful still is in working out why I haven’t liked something. It is almost always that the characters didn’t come across well enough for me. I then look at that and think about how I might’ve portrayed those characters and why.

For stories I love, I study how the dialogue flows,how the chemistry between characters works (and you can always tell the author has put a lot of thought into how their people will be on the page), and what I thought worked well.

From all of this, negative and positive, you can learn a lot to apply to your own tales.

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I use the Scrivener template for outlining my characters though you can easily devise your own. Work out what you think you need to know about your characters and outline from there.

One of the Scrivener settings is for character name. Okay, okay, I hear you say, why the fuss about that? Course you’ve got to know the character name.

That’s true but dig a little deeper and look at why you’re naming the character as you have. Names can reveal much such as likely age of character (Gertrude has not been a fashionable name for a while now!) as well as likely class background and things like that.

The template also has a lovely section on personality and that’s where I get to outline major traits. By the time I’ve done that I know what the character’s personality is like.

I’ve also found outlining like this speeds up the process of writing the story. Outline in place and away I go as I already feel as if I know the lead character(s) in depth.

Looking forward to sharing my CFT post with you later this week. Crime writer, Val Penny, will be looking at her venture into non-fiction with her recently released Let’s Get Published. We’ll be discussing the challenges of writing non-fiction and the aspects of that you simply don’t face as a fiction writer.

Got the first draft of a story for a competition done earlier today so that is now resting, waiting ready for my eagle editor’s eye to attack it with the old red pen!

I now know (by not hearing) a couple of my earlier competition entries this year have not got anywhere in the places I submitted them to but this means I can look at these stories again. Sometimes I can find an alternative market for them and I have been published that way too. So it is always worth considering this as a possibility.

Work might find a different home from the one you originally intended for it but that’s okay.

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Flash characters have to lead from the front given there is not a lot of room to tell their story. This is one reason why I use first person a lot. There is an immediacy about that which helps increase the pace of the story but it also takes you right into the character too.

So when I’m planning a story, I outline my lead character. They’ve got to have a story worth sharing after all. So what makes a character worth writing about?

It has to be someone who intrigues a reader. Intrigue can come from setting up a situation the character has to resolve and a reader wants to find out how they do. It can come from a character being the type that lands themselves in it and a reader wants to see if (a) that stops or (b) what their latest adventure is.

 

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Hope the writing week proves to be a good one for you. Likewise the reading one! And if you count under both categories, have a fab time reading and writing!

I’m reading a couple of collections on my Kindle at the moment and thoroughly enjoying them. I’ve found reading collections to be a good way of getting out of my thankfully temporary reading drought.

I’ve long hoped that flash fiction might also be a good way to tempt reluctant readers in to reading at all as you’re not asking them to commit to too much in one go for a start.

Well here’s hoping!😊

 

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It’s been a while since I’ve shared some flash one-liners with you. Time to rectify that then. Hope you enjoy these.

1. The elephant was in the room and looked around with interest, wondering who would be the first to try and make him leave.

2. Of all the last words she’d heard in her time, she’d never expected to hear “I don’t suppose you’re a vegetarian dragon by any chance?”

3. The witch incinerated the speed camera after she went through it at 180 mph as she didn’t fancy facing Lucinda who had gone through the same spot the week before at over 200 mph.

Allison Symes – 22nd June 2020

 

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Hope you enjoyed the one-line stories. They’re great fun to do. I’d also recommend having a go at this as (a) an interesting challenge and (b) as a warm-up writing exercise ahead of whatever your main writing event is!

One aspect to flash fiction is that all those writing exercises you’ve had a go at over the years might be able to be turned into stories you can submit to a publisher and/or competition. Give it a go! You’ve nothing to lose here. But as with any fiction writing, ensure all is as polished as you can make it before you send your work anywhere to give yourself the best possible chance.

Good luck!

 

Goodreads Author Blog – Outdoor or Indoor Reading

Allowing for the time of year, do you enjoy reading books outside?

The only time I get to do this is when I’m on holiday. At home I tend to think I should be getting on with some gardening rather than reading a book.

I know! Allison, why don’t you tell the inner critic to go away? That is sometimes easier said than done though!

That said, I do find it easier to grab a magazine and read that outside while enjoying a drink or a bite to eat. (It’s also easier to use as a fly/wasp swat should the need arise!).

So how about you? I do find it far easier to read indoors and ideally at bedtime when my inner critic has gone away for the night and I can read in peace.

I also know my treasured books aren’t at risk of being rained on etc so I guess that comes into it too,

What matters though is finding time to read and unwind. And reading is such a wonderful way to unwind. I can only live one life but through books and stories I can get to experience many at secondhand. That is one aspect to stories I simply adore.

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What Writers Need/Would Like

Naturally, what writers need and what they would like are not necessarily the same!

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What do all writers need?

1. Stamina.

2. The ability to accept rejections happen.

3. Commitment (10 minutes a day IS commitment so don’t be put off if your time is limited. The time you can spend on writing mounts up and besides this is not a competition). It is a case of working out what you can do and then sticking to it.

4. Reliable PC/laptop and printer (for running out those stories you need to edit on paper).

5. The ability to accept feedback, especially when it is critical. (What you’re looking for here is feedback that is honest but also says why something didn’t work for the reader concerned. “I didn’t like it” is not exactly helpful! “I didn’t like it because I thought the character was weak” is better. You then need to look at the character carefully and see if they are weak. If they are, there is work to do. If you honestly feel they’re not, then this may be this reader’s perception but something didn’t come across well and that is something you could look at).

6. Willingness to allow enough time to feed your own imagination and that means reading widely and across genres, including non-fiction.

7. The ability to plan out what work you will do when. My shorter writing sessions I use for flash fiction. Longer ones I give over to the novel or longer short stories. Planning how to use the time you’ve got will help you get more done.

8. Pens and notebooks. Jotting down ideas has to happen somewhere so it may as well be in a nice notebook. (Do ask non-writer family and friends for notebooks and pens as presents. You can’t have too many…!).

This is by no means a comprehensive list but I didn’t want this rivalling War and Peace for length!!

 

I listed yesterday some of the things writers need including stamina, the ability to accept rejections happen and so. Tonight I thought I’d flip the coin, so to speak, and look at what writers would like to happen.

1. Publication, obviously (and then to keep on being published).

2. Reviews (on Amazon and Goodreads particularly. They don’t have to be long reviews either).

3. Support from other writers and family/friends. It really does help especially for those times when your writing seems to be going nowhere.

4. An endless supply of pens/notebooks/toner cartridges/A4 etc etc.

5. An endless supply of tea/coffee etc while writing.

6. Always being able to go to your favourite writing events!

7. To never be short of things to write!

Again, this is by no means an exhaustive list!

What are the things I’ve found most useful as a writer? These are not in any particular order. All are invaluable.

1. Scrivener

2. Evernote

3. Smartphone (am a late convert to these but I get so much writing done when travelling by train thanks to this and it saves me lugging a laptop about. Biggest bugbear = my local train company, on taking over from the old one, blanking out all the recharging points on their trains. Why for goodness sake? This was a useful service to passengers. I can’t believe we’d have drained the train!!). Also incredibly useful for photos.

4. Notebooks and pens, naturally.

5. Good supplies of information on markets/competitions/writing conferences to go to (and this can be from something like Writing Magazine to informative Facebook groups to writing organisations).

6. Supportive writing friends/supportive friends and family who don’t write but root for me doing so!

7. The internet (it is useful for research. The clever bit is focusing on what you want to find out and not allow yourself to be distracted).

8. The indie press! (Take a bow Cafelit, Bridge House Publishing, Iron Press, Chapeltown Books etc).

9. The Society of Authors and ALCS.

10. My laptop and my printer aka Old Faithful. (Has seen off at least three “cleverer” colour printers with duplex printing. Old Faithful is strictly black and white and one side at a time and keeps going and going and going).

11. Liquid refreshments while writing (what I have here depends on time of year and my mood!).

12. My Slimming World Hi-fi bars for when the munchies strike while writing stories or blog posts.

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Murphy’s Laws for Writers – An Occasional Series…

1. You have lots of ideas for stories or none.

2. You have lots of time to enter competitions or very little.

3. A competition that would have suited you perfectly has just passed its closing date by the time you spot it.

4. You run out of pens yet know you have loads on your desk. They just vanish into thin air when you try to find them.

5. You’ve finally got around to picking up a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook but within a week the next year’s edition is out. You are not best pleased.

6. You are delighted to be able to support your friends’ writing and are thrilled when they’re published, you tell them you’re looking forward to their books coming out, plan to get to their launches etc. However, you don’t know what to do when you discover they’re holding book launches on the same day and at opposite ends of the country. Hmm…

Am not going to say which ones I’ve been guilty of!

 

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I’ve mentioned before that flash fiction works best with one character (at a pinch two), but it is also true said character should have only one goal to achieve/problem to overcome. There isn’t the room for more.

You want to keep things simple. Flash is direct. You are focusing on one character, one problem. Anything not to do with that is surplus to requirements and should be cut.

Simple is not the same as (a) easy (it really isn’t!) and (b) simplistic. You are looking for a prose style that flows and carries your readers along, keen to find how you get your character out of the horrible situation you’ve put them in. Do they sink or swim? Have they the right character traits to be able to swim? If they start to sink, how can they turn that around?

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It’s about time for some one-line stories again. Hope you like these.

1. When the red, red robin came bob, bob, bobbing along, the cat had a field day.

2. The problem with wishing on a star is, unless you have space equipment on and a decent supply of oxygen, you’re not going to be wishing for long.

3. The Magic Roundabout can carry on without me – I am currently stuck in Swindon’s version.

(For those not in the know, Swindon is renowned for its system of multiple roundabouts in one big one and The Magic Roundabout was a well known children’s TV programme back in the 1970s. Well, that was when I watched it! Oh and for the record, I’ve only been to Swindon by train to visit their excellent Steam railway museum!).

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It is often advised to keep a notebook handy so you can jot down story/blog post/novel ideas etc whenever they come to you. To be fair, this is very good advice.

However, it has never worked for me. Partly because when my head hits the pillow, I’m out like the proverbial light. No chance of me getting ideas during dreams.. I just sleep!

Secondly every other place where I have had ideas for stories has been too awkward for reach out and grab the notebook. It’s not unknown for ideas to come to me while showering or on the loo.

Why do ideas never come like that when you really COULD pause for a moment and jot them down the way you’re advised to? I refuse to believe this is just me!😀😀

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I relish that moment in fiction writing when the character takes off and I know I’ve got a good story in the offing as a result. I do believe a great story, regardless of its genre, is down to the great characters fuelling it. But up until that point, there is always that wondering “is this character going to work as well as I’d thought?”, “what if this falls flat?” etc.

Sometimes the character doesn’t work out and the story does fall flat. What I do here is, after some time away from it, I look at the story again and analyse what worked and what didn’t. It is nearly always a case for me that the character’s voice wasn’t strong enough. I can then look to see if I can improve that and rescue the story. If not, it’s a lesson for next time.

I’ve got to be able to hear a strong character voice coming through the narrative. Without that, I don’t think any story will work properly. To get that strong character, you have to know who they are, what they would risk everything for, and, in your story, are the stakes high enough for them to care about the outcome? If not, then the story will fall flat and no reader would care either.

Goodreads Author Blog – Settings in Books

Does the setting in a book matter to you?

I was always gripped by Kirrin Island in the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton. (I guess the nearest I got to visiting anything like it was when I went on a day trip to Brownsea Island, just off Poole! I lacked the lashings of ginger beer though… sighs…).

One of the things I love about The Lord of the Rings is the way The Shire is conjured up as a lovely place to live. Mordor is anything but! The films did full justice to this too. (Not always true for film adaptations either).

A really good setting is almost a character in its own right and the authors treat them that way too. This is true for Narnia, Winnie the Pooh (I’ve just got to say 100 Acre Wood and that will conjure up the world of Pooh immediately – to me at least!), amongst many, many others.

Do I need intensive descriptions of settings? Not really.

What I look for is enough for me to be able to visualise that setting for myself. Also, the characters should fit the setting – Jeeves and Wooster are great examples of that. There shouldn’t be any feeling of anything of anyone being out of place. Even the villains in a story should fit (think of the weasels in The Wind in the Willows for example – they still fit in that world).

Which are your favourite settings and why?

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Writing Legacy

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My CFT post this week is about Writing Legacies. I look back at the Winchester Writers’ Festival and reflect on the wonderful writing legacy left by the late Barbara Large, MBE. I take the subject from her own legacy to the legacy she gave hundreds (possibly thousands) of writers she encouraged over the decades.

I also ask what legacy we should leave as writers, regardless of what we write in terms of genre. Link up tomorrow. This is one of those posts that is a privilege to write but then it was a huge privilege to know Barbara. The writing world needs more like her…

Image Credit:  Mostly Pixabay though the image of Barbara Large and Barbara with Anne Wan were kindly supplied by Anne Wan for a previous CFT post.  The selfie is of crime writer, Val Penny, and I at the Winchester Writers’ Festival on 15th June 2019.

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My CFT post this week is about Writing Legacies. I look back at the Winchester Writers’ Festival and reflect on the wonderful writing legacy left by the late Barbara Large, MBE. I take the subject from her own legacy to the legacy she gave hundreds (possibly thousands) of writers she encouraged over the decades.

I also ask what legacy we should leave as writers, regardless of what we write in terms of genre. Link up tomorrow. This is one of those posts that is a privilege to write but then it was a huge privilege to know Barbara. The writing world needs more like her…

 

What do you think your greatest achievement is as a writer? Is it publication? Is it repeated publication? Or is it knowing you’ve written without publication in mind but still produced work to a high standard.

All of that is wonderful. I’d say the real test is writing something, putting it away for a while, looking at your piece again, recognizing its flaws, and then editing it to improve it. And going through that process until you know that piece of work is as good as you can make it.

That, for me, is where the real writing lies.

Nobody but nobody produces a perfect piece of work at the first attempt. For me, there is great consolation in knowing that! What matters is putting the work into your story or article or book and doing what it takes to get it right. There’s a reason writers need stamina – and this is it.

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I had an unusual opportunity to discuss flash fiction (and the wonderful Cafelit today) – and that was while I was in the dentist’s chair waiting for the anaesthetic to work! Never miss an opportunity, folks…

The main point to come out of this was I was discussing how flash fiction are complete stories in and of themselves. They’re not cut off prose. Each flash story must make sense AS a story.

What flash does do is leave more gaps for the reader to fill in. It has to because of the word count restriction. There should be scope for a reader to wonder what might have happened after the story ends. Now that’s true for all forms of fiction (haven’t you wondered about characters in novels you love?) but with flash you just reach that point far quicker!

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Every so often I will jot down some promising opening lines and see where I can go with them. It’s one of the few times I don’t outline something. I wouldn’t call it the white knuckle ride of flash fiction writing exactly but it is the nearest I get to it given I do outline 90% of the time and am glad to do so. Outlining has saved me going off on too many tangents that don’t prove useful.

I am a firm believer in mixing up how you write your stories as it will keep things fresh and interesting for you. It’s a good way of avoiding being formulaic too. It is one of the great ironies of the writing life nobody wants you to be formulaic but they do want you to write more of the stories that have been published etc. More of the same but different… hmm…

One of the things I love most about Scrivener is setting my word count target. For flash fiction competitions and markets, this is invaluable.

Some include the word title as part of the allowable count, others do not, but whichever way it goes, I can set my target accordingly and know I’m not going to go over it.

You can even check how often you use a word if you want to do so. Yes, “the” and “and” are right up there! But if you use Scrivener and you know you use certain phrases or words a lot, this could be a great way of ensuring you don’t overdo it.

Image Credit: The shots of the Scrivener boxes were taken by me as screenshots, something else which is easy to do within the program. I love the traffic light system of red, amber and green as you approach your target.

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Fairytales with Bite – Writing Legacy

My CFT post this week, Writing Legacy, looks at the legacy of the much missed Barbara Large, MBE, who founded the Winchester Writers’ Festival. I also ask what legacy we as writers should try to leave behind.

From a character viewpoint, what is the legacy we as our creators should leave them with?

  1. Have we made them unforgettable characters? We should have done…

  2. Have we given them plenty to do in the story? We should have done…

  3. Have we tested them to see what they are really made of? We should have done…

  4. Have they got good dialogue? If not, why not?

  5. Do they come across well to a reader? They should do (and this applies equally to villains. They need to be convincing too).

  6. Are the motivations of the character strong enough?

  7. Will the reader feel a pang of regret when the story is over?

Better get to it then!

This World and Others – The Longest Day

Today is the longest day (at least it is from my part of the world, the UK), but in writing terms, what would this mean for your characters?

  1. The longest day is taken literally and we follow the character through from getting up to going to bed.

  2. The longest day is taken metaphorically and we see a character going through all kinds of trials in a relatively short time span.

Whichever route you go, the character has to have enough to do and for that to be gripping enough to make the reader want to continue with your story. Their motivations must be strong enough and we need to see what makes them keep going when most would have given up. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a life or death scenario though a situation where the ability to leave is taken away from the character is always interesting and full of dramatic possibilities.

I find it more interesting though when a character could get out of a situation, you can understand why they would do so, but they continue on their current path. What drives that character? What makes them tick? Do they have any sense of failure? Who do they think they would be letting down if they did just walk away?

Definite story possibilities there!

Image Credit:  Pixabay.

 

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The Good Writing Fairy, Research and the Waterloo Arts Festival

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Which writing books have you found most useful? I’d have to list:-

On Writing – Stephen King

Scrivener for Dummies – Gwen Hernandez

Wannabe a Writer?/Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of? – Jane Wenham-Jones

Story – Robert McKee

There are loads of others I’ve found useful, for different reasons, over the years but these ones stick out. I’m also fond of The Seven Basic Plots which is a detailed book and gave me plenty of pause for thought.

What do you want from a writing book? Encouragement, yes. Honesty, yes. (You do need to know you need stamina and persistence but that it is also okay to change direction if you want to do so). Useful tips you can apply to your own writing, yes. A friendly and easy to read style – in most cases, yes. For something like The Seven Basic Plots, the style is more academic but is still a fascinating read.

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Have caught up on a few writing prompt exercises in my diary. One was based on a lovely picture of a dog having fun at the beach (my Lady could so identify with that!) and another was to list 10 words associated with a train journey which I then had to use on a piece of writing. Very good stretching the imagination type work though what came out was a couple of very rough poems rather than flash fiction.

Whether these pieces will stay as rough poems (and they are VERY rough right now!) or whether I’ll transform them into stories later, I don’t know, but there is something liberating about a writing exercise where you can use any form you like. You don’t feel compelled to write to your normal form. You have fun playing around with words and seeing what happens.

 

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How much research do you do for your writing? I suspect your answer will be the same as mine – it depends on what I’m writing. Correct!

Do I need to do any research for my flash fiction stories? Yes, sometimes. For historical stories, I have to ensure any dates used are accurate and so on. If I mention a piece of furniture, for example, I need to ensure it WAS around at the time I’ve set the story.

For my CFT posts, I have to do more research of course. Can research become procrastination unless you know that’s a risk and don’t allow it to happen? Oh yes. Is it too easy to go down all sorts of interesting byways and be distracted from the task in hand? Oh yes.

But being aware of that risk can help nullify it.

Looking forward to the Waterloo Arts Festival on Saturday and meeting up with fellow writers there. Hope everyone is in good voice. Am looking forward to hearing the different stories. It is a real treat being read aloud to at events like this.

What I like about this is all of us have had to write to the same word count and on the same theme, but there will be 16 different stories here. You can’t have a book with 16 stories all with the same take on the topic as that would be boring to say the least.

This kind of event proves the point that what makes a writer unique is THEIR voice, THEIR take on a topic and nobody can write as YOU do with YOUR voice. So write away!

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The story in one sentence exercise is great for stretching the brain AND cutting your word count, but other uses for it are:-

1. Using what you come up with as an opening line. For example, “She refused to part with the key. This was the beginning of things going wrong for Sharon…”

2. Using what you come up with as a key to “twist” the story. For example, “She refused to part with the key” could lead to a twist being that she knows the key is useless for the purposes her partner in crime wants it for but cannot say how she knows.

3. Deliberately using what you come up with as the closing line. For example, “It was no good Bill arguing. Mary had been consistent. She refused to part with the key.”

Have fun with your one-liners then and put them in different places and see what impact they have.

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I use Scrivener for my writing and one of the things I have found most useful for my flash fiction work is being able to set the word count target you want. I love seeing the bar change colour as I near my target. I know it sounds silly but watching that colour change is great incentive to keep on writing (and especially when you might feel like giving up).

I use the short story character and setting templates for longer stories and these effectively help me get my outlining done. As I flesh out who my character is, what their traits are etc, ideas are beginning to tease away at just what awful situations I can dump that character in (nobody said a writer had to be nice! This is also so much fun!).

In organising my writing in a better way, I do get more done. I don’t use all of the Scrivener features by any means but select the ones I know I’d find most useful. The word count setting is brilliant for flash fiction writers as I can adjust it to take account of those markets where the title IS part of the word count and for those where it ISN’T. I know I’m not going to get it wrong.

The screenshots of Scrivener below were taken by me. It’s also useful being able to see how much you do in a session.

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What do I look for when reading flash fiction? There is no one definitive answer to this but I would include the following.

1. It has to be an entertaining read.
2. It should show me the most important point of change in a character’s life, especially as there won’t be word count room for anything else.
3. It can take me back or forwards in time.
4. It can show me new worlds or make me look at this one with new eyes.
5. The ending should be a powerful one.
6. Any twist should have clues within the story that I can go back and check later on those occasions when I fail to pick them up immediately!
7. I like slices of life stories but would like to see more humorous tales.

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If the good writing fairy turned up, what would most writers wish for? Aside from wanting to know why she hadn’t turned up earlier in my writing life (!), my wishes would be:-

1. To have as much time as possible for writing and to use that time well. (She may count this as two wishes in one here but I’d chance my luck here and see if I could get away with it counting as one!).

2. For reviews to appear at a steady rate against FLTDBA and the Cafelit and Bridge House anthologies in which my work has appeared.

3. To never run out of ideas to write up and energy with which to get on and do so. (Again, she might count that as two wishes. I’d argue it was two sides of ONE coin so ONE wish).

Now while waiting for said fairy to turn up, I’d better get on and write!

Goodreads Author Blog – Mixing Up What You Read

I like to mix up what I read in several ways.

1. I mix up genre. I tend to read a crime book or two, then must move on to, say, fantasy for a book or two, before moving on again.

2. I mix up how I read. I have a “glut” of reading on the Kindle followed by a “glut” of reading printed books, then magazines etc. (The one thing I’ve not really “got” on the Kindle are e-magazines but I suspect I’ll get around to them eventually).

3. I mix up reading novels, short stories, flash fiction, non-fiction. So for a while I will only read novels, then move on to short story collections for a while, then have a non-fiction feast etc.

4. I switch between books and magazines. I do love a good magazine.

All of this means I’m never short of something to read!

I think mixing things up is good for my old brain and I like to ensure I don’t neglect any type of reading material I like. It would be too easy to “just” read books or magazines and neglect the other.

What would I wish for though?

More time to read, definitely.

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Just a Minute and Other Thoughts

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Had to smile today. I receive book recommendations by email sometimes and today it finally happened. Yes, From Light To Dark and Back Again was recommended to me!

Moving on swiftly, I’m pleased to say I’m making good progress with my novel and third collection of flash fiction stories. I’ve ideas for non-fiction that I’m working on as well and I could really do with more hours in the day or to somehow be able to manage without sleep. Given neither of those are going to happen, it’s a case of best endeavours!

Have also started drafting a short story I’ve got in mind for a competition in April. Sounds ages away I know but it’ll be here before we know it and I do like to get a story drafted and then leave it for a while before reassessing and editing it. So starting the story about now is the right sort of timescale for me.

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Have typed up a couple of writing diary prompt stories that I’m considering for my third flash fiction collection. I’m at the 15000 word mark with this so will probably go to 20K and stop there. I know there’ll be a lot of cutting to do – there always is! But I never mind that. I think it shows there IS a story there and it is just a question of getting rid of anything that doesn’t enhance it.

I’ve only consciously padded a story the once and, guess what, I gave up when I realised the idea simply wasn’t strong enough. It remains the only story I’ve ever given up on. So yes I prefer to write and then cut. It always works better for me.

The writing prompts in my diary at the moment are where you’re given an opening line and you then see what you can do with it. I like those. I like to think of them as imagination stretching exercises!

Enjoyed listening to Just a Minute on Radio 4 tonight. The rules of no repetition, no hesitation, and no deviation from the subject are great guidelines for writing fiction too.

You want your story to move onwards and upwards to its conclusion so no repetition (it will also irritate readers). I’ve found outlining a story before I start writing it gives me the confidence to write it at all and so I do (no hesitation). I also think something of that confidence shows through in the final story too.

And as for going off at a tangent… a big no-no. As someone once said “just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts”. What those facts are, as far as your story is concerned, of course is down to you!

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Glad to say a flash fiction story of mine, Mirrored, was in the recent Swanwick Writers’ Summer School newsletter.

I discuss adaptations in my CFT post this week. What makes a good adaptation? What doesn’t? Also, this doesn’t just apply to writing either. Link up on Friday.

Editing of the novel continues to progress well and I’m drafting a 750-word short story too at the moment. Really like my lead character. They have promise! The real issue for me on this one is whether I can keep to the strict word count for this particular competition. Still, I will find out! I do love being able to set a Project Target on Scrivener and find it really useful for competitions like this. I like seeing the bar change colour as I get nearer to my goal!

Scrivener images below werebtaken by me as screenshots.

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I’m very fond of flash fiction stories that end with a line which make me laugh. When writing this kind of story, I always write that finishing line first and then work backwards to the beginning.

I’ve found outlining in that way means the ending seems natural to a reader and springs out of what has come before. I can take the time to work out what must come before for that line to work and none of that shows in the finished story. Win-win!

How can I tell if a flash fiction idea is going to work best at 50 words, 75, 100, 500, or what have you?

A lot depends on how strong the character is – can they carry a longer story? Also the story itself is about one moment in the character’s life. The moment you’re writing about must not be dragged out (it shows, trust me, that shows) so if you are finding you are trying to extend a story, stop, think again, and look at the piece as a much shorter one. It will almost certainly work better and pack more of an emotional punch on a reader by keeping it shorter. It is impact you want. That is what a reader remembers. You don’t want to dilute that.

Equally, I’ve found sometimes a character needs space to show what is happening in their “moment” properly so fine I go with that. The time to stop is when if you add anything at all, it will weaken the story/character and the potential impact. There’s nothing to stop you incidentally from trying out a story in two different word counts and seeing what works best. Read them out loud. What has the most impact on you?

Street Cred

I’m the coolest one on my street. I’ve been here the longest. Know the best places to hang out with pals. Know the best places to get together with the girls, if you see what I mean. It was just a pity a momentary lapse in concentration meant my cool went haywire and I managed to walk into the catflap my owner put in for me, rather than through it.

Don’t let anyone tell you cats have no sense of humour. The rest of the gang were all laughing at me. Still I’m not worried. I’ll just have to fight them all tomorrow. But for now, me the big ginger tom from No. 27, is curling up on the sofa with my so-called owner. (I own HER truth to be told). She is feeding me titbits from her tuna supper. This is the life.

Being cool again can wait until tomorrow.

Allison Symes
25th February 2019

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I love writing twist endings for my stories and, as mentioned before, often work those out first and then write the story “backwards” to get to the starting point.

But my other favourite writing technique is to begin with a promising opening line and then outline a few ideas as to where that could take me. Naturally I then go for the idea that I like the most (which is always the strongest one or has the most potential in it. Definitely not a coincidence that!).

Sometimes I can “see” a 100-word story in its entirety. My The Haunting is an example of that and was inspired by the character of Mrs Wilberforce (aka Mrs Lopsided) in The Ladykillers.

Goodreads Author Blog – Short Stories and Flash Fiction

I’m glad to see the return of short stories and the development of flash fiction for many reasons. One of these is that I write both so I won’t pretend to be unbiased here. But the major reason for loving this development is it expands the kind of reading available.

I love novels but it is great being able to read a collection of short stories or flash fiction after finishing one full length tome. It mixes up what I read. By the time I’ve finished reading an anthology I’m raring to get on with a novel again!

Also if the novel has been a dark one in terms of mood, there’s nothing like a collection of funny short stories to show the opposite side of life and I, for one, find that helpful. I don’t want to read “dark” all the time. I also know life isn’t always one big laugh so I like to have a balance of dark and light in my reading, as well as my own writing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PROGRESS, PLANS AND MOODS

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Does the mood you are in affect what and how you write? My own answer to that is it depends!

If I’m in a flat state of mind but the writing I’m working on has a character in a similar state, then I can use my own mood to help write that piece! (I get something useful out of being in a flat mood! Ironically that knowledge cheers me up so win-win!).

Sometimes I deliberately write opposite to my mood so, again if I feel flat, I try to put myself in the head of a character in a lighter mood and find myself writing light. Again that can be a mood booster for me. Writing can be amazingly therapeutic at times.

What I do know is writing anything is a good “outlet” and later, once in a better frame of mind, I can evaluate any writing done in a flat state and see what I can do with it. But the great thing is I have still written, I still have work to do something with, so my advice would be, if you feel flat and don’t feel like writing, try to write something, even if it is a very short piece. I’ve found many times once I get started, I keep going, and writing takes me to a different, better place. Again, win-win there, I think.

Drafted first flash fiction story that I’ve created using a picture prompt in my new writing diary. 51 challenges remaining then given there’s one such prompt a week! Also enjoying working on my novel again. I want to try to enter more short story competitions (1500 word type) this year too. I like mixing the writing up. Challenges the old brain and that’s never a bad thing.

Third flash fiction volume coming along nicely though I need to group my stories at some point. Am hoping to get along to Winchester Writers’ Festival and, of course, Swanwick Writers’ Summer School later in the year, also the ACW Writers’ Days. I think one of the best things about writing is you never stop learning whether it is how to improve what you do, new places to try to submit work or what have you. That is also a very good thing.

Feed that brain!

Image Credit:  Many thanks to the Hampshire Writers’ Society for the image of me reading an example of what flash fiction is at their meeting last year.

Having completed a picture prompt generated story yesterday, I see this week’s prompt in my diary has no picture whatsoever! Still will tackle that prompt later in the week I hope.

I’m planning to share a few of my favourite writing tips and why they’re useful on Chandler’s Ford Today this week. You pick up lots of useful tips from conferences, chatting to writer friends etc., but as is the way with these things, some advice will always be more useful to you than anything else. It can be a question of working out what is going to help you most. Anyway, will share the link on Friday.

Made good progress on the novel and short story ideas over the weekend so will resume work on those shortly. A writing session for me is most useful when I know I’ve made progress on work, whether that progress is editing something, adding a line or two to something already down, or writing a whole new flash fiction piece/draft CFT post.

It’s when I feel I haven’t got anywhere that is most discouraging and that’s when encouragement from writer friends is enormously helpful. I still wish my fairy godmother would turn up though and grant me “elastic time” which I could stretch as and when I needed to without any side effects/damage to history etc. You know I’d use it to stretch my writing time!

Image Credit:  Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for the picture of me reading at the 2018 Bridge House celebration event.

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Am looking forward to sharing book offer related news later this week. Will share info and links soon!

Meanwhile, am making progress on a longer term project (non-fiction) I’d been wondering about doing for a while and have finally got around to tackling. I don’t know yet whether I’ll submit this to publishers or self publish but it is good to have both options on the table.

Am also making good progress on my novel too. My writing times are fairly consistent (which helps a LOT) and I’ve learned how to use which sessions for which projects in a way that suits me best.

I suppose the biggest lessons I’ve learned are to make the most of the time you do have AND accept you are in writing for the long haul. Stamina and persistence are key. (Good luck is a useful extra though!). How like life!

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Once I’ve finished a few posts tonight, I’m going to use the picture prompt in my writing diary to draft a new flash fiction piece. The diary has one for every week in the year so that’s potentially 52 new stories to be written!

I do use picture prompts sometimes to trigger stories but tend to use phrases, proverbs, and things like that to get me started on stories. I’ve posted before about mixing up sources for ideas so I will be practising what I preach tonight at least!

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We talk about “moments of illumination” – well, flash fiction could be the written version of those! Such moments are always brief and reveal something not known before. Your flash stories should do that too and be to the point.

From the writer’s viewpoint, this is the fun bit as you get to decide what that moment is in your story. For me, it has to be a turning point, whether you “turn” the character or the direction your story is going in to surprise the reader. It is where twist endings come in because you can save the moment of illumination until then.

I often, when reading stories like this, then go back through the tale to look for any clues I may have missed that hinted at the story ending up the way it has. I usually spot something on that look again read and of course I can learn from that and develop the techinique for my own writing.

When I work out ideas for a story, I focus on the lead character and then plan all sorts of havoc either for them to experience or to be the cause of – all good fun! But I do need to know the lead character’s main trait/attitude first – I use this as a “driver” for working out who they are, what they know they are capable of, and so on.

For me, character is everything. The right characters for the right stories make them spark and come to life for the reader. A good character in a weak plot – both end up being disappointing. You get the feeling the character has been “wasted”.

I’ve found it pays to take my time in outlining a character (and this is a feature of Scrivener I adore. On their fiction setting, you have a template you can fill in to help you plot out a character and I’ve used this several times. Scrivener also have one for working out what the setting of the story is and I have used this but the character development one is really useful. I don’t tend to use it for flash fiction but for longer stories where I’ve got 2 or more characters to flesh out).

Once I’ve got my character, I’m generally well away into writing the story. While editing is always necessary, outlining at the start does stop you going off at an irrelevant tangent and has saved me considerable time.

Will have book offer related news later this week so stay tuned! Links and info up when I have them.

What are the difficulties of writing flash fiction?

1. It is so easy to overwrite and be well over the word count limit. Okay a very good edit will take care of that but the story still has to flow, make sense, and impact on readers, once that editing is done. There’s the real challenge, I think.

2. Knowing where and when to stop! (Having said that, if the idea is a strong one and you can continue it so you end up with a standard length short story, do so. You just enter that piece for standard length short story competitions and markets instead!).

3. Getting people to take the form seriously, though this situation is improving!

Goodreads Author Blog – Story Idea Spotting

Do you ever indulge in story idea spotting when reading a favourite novel? I do!

I love looking for what I think are the influences for a writer. To me this adds extra enjoyment to the story and gives me the perfect excuse for re-reading a book. Not that I really need one but never mind.

It’s my experience you never find all the influences/links in one read through! Sometimes not in two reads either!

Sometimes I know what the writer’s influences are in advance because I’ve read interviews etc and can then have fun seeing how these play out in what they have produced. Other times I don’t know and I get to play detective here.

What I like best is when spotting an influence in a book and it is clear the writer is a fan of another writer I also love. Double whammy!

Reading is fun anyway of course but for me this is extra and I love that.

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Scrivener and Stories

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My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week will be Part 4 of my 101 Things to Put into Room 101. Is proving a fun series to write. Link up on Friday.

One of the biggest difficulties I have is prioritising time. I find I have to block out time to write, else guess what? I don’t write!

I use Scrivener on my PC and I find that great for organising my notes, especially for my non-fiction work. See one of my earlier CFT posts. I use Evernote on my phone and am increasingly using train journeys to draft a few flash fiction tales using it. I’m off again on my travels on Saturday so hope to get a few short pieces under my belt (or more accurately on my phone!) before I get home again.

 

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My favourite opening lines to stories are those that take me straight into the world of the tale or the mind of the character. You don’t need a lot of words to convey enough information for the reader to fill in the gaps. Flash fiction as a genre proves that.

For example from my Rewards in From Light to Dark and Back Again:-

She must go, Becky thought.
Becky paced her thick, red lounge carpet a dozen times. The beautiful Gemma had decided one boyfriend wasn’t enough.

You have the main character and her state of mind here. The thick, red lounge carpet is an indication Becky has (a) a home and (b) she probably isn’t poor. She also has a situation to resolve! All in 24 words.

Often I’ll write a flash piece and realise when I read it back, there are more clues to pick out than I originally anticipated. This is no bad thing. It means my subconscious is clearly working and something is coming through into what I write! That can be developed further or left as it is as a hint to the reader. Happy writing – conscious and unconsciously!

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You learn a lot when you write stories. Firstly, you learn about rejections as, unless you are phenomenally lucky, you will receive loads of those. Secondly, you realise fairly early on that write what you know, while a very useful start, is simply not going to be enough. You need to be able to write about what you can find out too!

This is why reading widely, in and out of your own genre, fiction and non-fiction, is so important. The more you feed your mind, the more you will have to draw on when writing your own work.

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A successful flash fiction story is one you’ve read where everything that is needed to be said has been! You should feel as if the writer could not add anything to the story without “over-egging the pudding”.

As with any story, a flash piece still has to have a beginning, middle and end (even if that end is a twist one). It should not feel like a piece of prose cut down to meet the word count requirements.

I love flash fiction stories where I would love to know more about the characters despite their role being over. That indicates real “life” behind the characters and their story.