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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Memories and Motivations

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest CFT post, The Importance of Memories, is timely of course as we enter Remembrance Sunday/Armistice Day, but I also look at the topic from the angle of how and why memories are vital to us all as individuals and as countries. I look at the impact of dementia and how singing helps with memory. I also discuss how fiction writers can use memories.

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One tip I’ve found useful when planning out my stories is making sure my characters’ motivations ARE strong enough.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a “do or die” approach either (though the dramatic qualities of that are obvious), but if, for example, Character A wants to buy a special present for Character B, then you must show why Character B means the world to A. Motivations have got to be something any reader is going to be able to identify with (but not necessarily agree about!).

What is your favourite form of writing and/or reading – fiction or non-fiction?

I love (and write) both. Non-fiction can and has inspired ideas for my fiction. It also means having different projects to work on, I never get bored, and I am exercising more “writing muscles” than if I did just write one thing. (I just wish I had more time but then don’t we all?).

I also think where you have a fictional world but which has solid basis in fact (i.e. you have thought about how gravity works in your fantasy setting, what form of government there is etc, based on what we know here), your story has got to be more convincing and stronger as a result.

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The best flash fiction is where the writer has stuck to ONE simple idea/theme and followed it through. There really isn’t the room to do anything else and the impact of the story is greater for keeping it simple.

This is not the same thing as simplistic though. The best flash fiction will hit you emotionally, can make you think, can frighten you, make you laugh etc, all in a few words.

Simple writing is where the editing has been done (and often several times) and, to quote the late great Eric Morecambe, albeit in different circumstances, “you really can’t see the join”!

Favourite themes of mine for flash fiction include rough justice, alien life being as intelligent as ours (and usually more so!), and crime (often showing the criminal’s justification, if only to themselves, as to their course of action). It is perhaps ironic that the really big themes – love, justice etc – can be summed up in one word but the amount of variety of stories you can get from these is vast.

I believe the simpler the theme, the better. It comes across well too. You don’t need your readers scratching their heads trying to work out what the theme is.

Looking forward to the Bridge House celebration event in early December. Less than a month to go!

One of the nice things about writing is getting to meet other writers. It is lovely knowing you are not the only one who wants to get their imaginary world down on paper and send it out there in book form.

I suppose one of the biggest things I’ve learned is never to underestimate how long it takes to get a book together! It always will take far longer than you think, as will the editing process, but it will be worth it in the long run.

Memory is my theme on Chandler’s Ford Today this week but it plays a vital role in fiction too. For characters to seem real and therefore believable, they must have a past. That past doesn’t need to BE the story you’re telling but it should impact on it in some way (if only because it has made the character turn out to be the way that they are).

Also the setting in which your characters live, that world should have values and rules, which will be formed by its history. There are likely to be ceremonies and special days which your characters will observe or note in the course of your story.

With flash fiction of course this has to be condensed right down. In my Helping Out, my opening line has a witch helping a fairy and acknowledging she is not supposed to do so. Those last few words immediately imply a whole history of feuding between the two magical groups and the witch is remembering it and, in this case, ignoring it! The story goes on to explain why but her memory of usual behaviours impacts on her actions here. Memories = realities = more convincing fiction.

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Fairytales with Bite Character Memories

I write about The Importance of Memories in my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week.  I touch on the subject of memories and fiction writing here too but below are some specific reasons why memories should come into your stories (even if they are just implied.  They often are just implied in flash fiction due to the limited word count but to my mind that makes the impact more hard hitting).

1.  Characters need to seem real to be believable.  Real people have memories.  So do real characters.

2.  Our behaviour is affected by memory – memory of what we did wrong, memory of what we did right and the difference between the two!  Our characters should reflect this too.  They’re not going to get it right all the time (good thing too – no story there!) but do need to show they’ve learned from their mistakes.  That is where memory comes in of course.

3.  Your world setting will have rules and values it expects its citizens to live by.  Your characters will know what these are, will know what special days and ceremonies there are, and will live their lives i obedience to all of that or be rebelling against it, but again your characters need to know and remember what these are!

4.  We are shaped by our memories in terms of who we are and why we are the way we are.  Our characters should be too.

5.  We can be haunted by memories, especially of those we’ve loved and lost.  Our characters should be too.

This World and Others – Character Traits

What are the most useful character traits for a writer to use?  My thoughts would be:-

1.  Whichever trait you choose, it has to be “open” enough to go in several directions.  For example, if your character has a “brave” trait, does this mean they are brave all the time?  Are there some fears they really cannot face but because they are brave in other areas that hides this?  Are they brave when out and about with friends but cowardly at home?  Lots of directions you could go in there.

2.  Whichever trait you choose, it should be something most people can identify with/aspire to.  Most of us want to be decent, kind, brave etc.  I love reading characters who have those traits and who overcome against all the odds.  Instant reader sympathy.

3.  Whichever good trait you choose for a character, they should also have a fault that goes against it, something they have to manage and control.  (A good example of that is The Incredible Hulk!  Mild mannered most of the time but boy when he becomes angry the sparks fly!).  You have internal conflict here and also what happens when another character has seen the good side and suddenly comes to see the bad side for the first time?  What are the reactions there?