What Makes A Good Story

Image Credit:  Unless otherwise stated, all images are from the fantastic Pixabay.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I share what I think makes a good story and why. I also name some of my favourites and share my reading “diet”. I also invite you to share your favourite stories. Hope you enjoy – and that you have plenty of wonderful books and stories as Christmas presents this and every year!

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Two posts from me tonight. This second one also ties in with my CFT theme of What Makes a Good Story too.

Below is the book trailer for Nativity, this year’s Bridge House Publishing anthology. I’m delighted to have a humorous fairytale in here – What Goes Around.

Do check out the wonderful stories in here. There’s a lovely mixture of styles and moods but of course you don’t just need to take my word for it!

Boxing Day is my chance to catch up on some reading – books old and new – and I relish the opportunity to put my feet up for a bit and get my nose stuck into a good read!

Must admit to being a bit miffed Doctor Who has been pushed back to New Year’s Day. It always was the highlight of my Christmas Day viewing.

Have no idea what I’ll be watching this year. If nothing appeals, it’ll be back to the Morecambe and Wise box set. Can’t go wrong with that! The scripts were wonderfully written and brilliantly performed.

This is also where I particularly miss mum. She loved a good game or two of Scrabble. You knew word play had to come into this somewhere, right?

I’ll be taking a bit of time off from writing naturally but what is lovely about this is (a) a brief break does me good (and does for everyone) and (b) I’m raring to go again when it is time to start again. Gets the New Year off to a good new creative start and I love that.

Am I ready for Christmas yet? Umm…

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I’ll be asking What Makes a Good Story in my CFT post this week. I know – I could’ve gone on at length on that one. I haven’t, honestly (the link will be up on Friday so you can see for yourself!). I look at a good reading “diet” too and share a couple of festive flash fiction stories.

I can’t remember what the first book I read by myself was though the Reader’s Digest Fairytale Collections and Little Women have got to be strong contenders for that. What I do know is once I was hooked on stories, that was it.

What I like now is the range of ways in which you can take stories in – I love audio books for example and a great film adaptation can bring stories to life for many and may drive them to read the book too. The latter is one reason I love The Muppet Christmas Carol so much as The Great Gonzo aka Charles Dickens recommends reading the original book! (And very good advice that is too).

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Good stories (my theme for Chandler’s Ford Today this week) come in so many varieties of style, mood, genre and, of course, word count length! The phrase “less is more” could have been invented for flash fiction writers. It wasn’t but it could have been!

Of course good stories for me are centred around the characters (as I discuss further in my CFT post) but the characters don’t have to be likeable. Well, Hannibal Lecter is memorable, is he not? Would you want to have dinner with him? I’d pass on that one… you’d never know who you would have having with the Chianti, would you? (I refuse to believe that’s a plot spoiler after all this time!).

So how do you make your characters memorable then? For me, they have to have a distinctive voice. This is one reason I use the first person a lot for my flash fiction. I can take you straight into the characters’ heads and show you their thoughts and attitudes. You then decide whether you like them or not!

A good story, whether it is a flash fiction piece or longer work, has to engage with a reader and the characters are, for me, the key to doing that.

As you know, I like a mixture of darker and lighter stories in my reading “diet”. I do find at this time of year when the nights draw in so early, I read more of the lighter side. I guess I’m trying to balance things out here! I know I need something to give me a bit of a lift reading wise and that’s why I head to the funny/amusing side of fiction first.

And, yes, as the light gradually increases, that’s when I turn to the darker stories for a good read.

Whatever your reading diet, I do hope the books you’ve asked for end up under your Christmas tree this year. The best things about winter by are having more time to read and hot chocolate!

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Flash fiction can be written in different styles as after all it is a very short story and tales can be told in varying ways as well as in a variety of word counts!

They’ve been told in many different ways for centuries – from the oral tradition to the printed word from stories told in letters, diaries (think Adrian Mole!) etc.

I’ve occasionally written limericks which tell their own story. Hope you like this one.

TAKING THE PEN AWAY

There was once a cracker joke writer
Whose puns made people curse the blighter
So when his pen was taken
He felt forlorn, forsaken
But the world felt oh so much brighter!

Ends
Allison Symes

I suspect there are many of us who could identify with this!😊

 

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Fairytales With Bite – Transformations

Fairytales often have transformation as a theme ranging from the changing of an arrogant prince into something ugly (Beauty and the Beast) to changing someone’s life completely (Cinderella).

In all of the stories there is justification for the transformation ranging from deserved punishment to rewarding virtue/delivering from a dreadful environment. So when you use transformation in your stories (especially if it is done courtesy of a helpful and handy to have around fairy godmother), ensure you have a good reason for it.

The actual transformation is a pivotal point of the story of course. The arrogant prince becomes the beast and his story after that point is in discovering whether someone will love him enough to free him from the curse. For Cinderella her life is turned upside down by the fairy godmother’s intervention. Think about how your characters could handle that. Not everybody would handle it well and there could be some interesting stories there.

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This World and Others – When Your World Works…

This is by no means a definitive list but useful pointers for gauging whether your fictional world works include:-

  1. You can imagine living there yourself.
  2. You can picture how the different species in your world could co-exist (whether they do so or not is then up to you!).
  3. You know where your characters fit into the overall picture. Not everyone can be a leader so who are the governed and who does the governing?
  4. You know how your characters live and what they do for housing, food, sanitation etc. You have to convince yourself your world could work if it existed somewhere. You may not need to put all of these details into your story. You just need to convey enough so a reader is convinced you know how your world works!
  5. You know what could threaten your world and its characters and why.

 

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TALKING INTERVIEWS, FICTION, AND ANIMAL CHARACTERS

A good mix of topics for tonight I think!

Facebook – General

So a good interview then should encourage the interviewee to talk. What would be the equivalent for fiction writers? I think a character outline that helps you realise there is more to your creation than you first thought of! I love that moment when characters almost come to life before your eyes. You know then you definitely have someone worth writing about!

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Can’t remember the last time we had snow this late in the UK. Lady had a fantastic time in it again (though I also think she was trying to set some kind of record for how much of it she could (a) roll in and (b) eat! They say border collies are intelligent…😁).

Am pleased that I’ve submitted a short story and a flash piece this weekend. Good to get the ball rolling with both formats (though I am busy drafting ideas for a third flash fiction collection and am enjoying that). Plenty coming up with CFT over the next few weeks too.

What do I like best about writing overall? Tough one to call but I think it is the variety of what I do. The challenges for crafting a CFT post are different from those I face with writing a short story or a piece of flash fiction but I love it all. Absolutely no chance to get bored but would love more time to write… (says she, strongly suspecting that all writers have said this at some point!).

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Do you find yourself writing and/or reading in one particular format for a while before you switch to another? I do with fiction.

I’m just getting back into some short story writing after a gap (though during that time I’ve been drafting ideas for a third flash fiction collection, have been promoting From Light to Dark and Back Again, and finally submitted the second book to the publisher. Not necessarily in that order incidentally!). (Medium-term goal is to get a standard length short story collection out there).

With reading, I seem to need to read all I can in a genre before switching to another. Well, I guess I could call it immersing myself properly in a genre! (Before anyone claims it’s being obsessed in one genre, then being obsessed in another, guilty as charged so to speak, but I think most writers could identify with that. There has to be a certain amount of obsession with characters to be able to write about them properly I think).

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I’ve always been fond of animal characters in stories. I’m thinking of stories from Watership Down to Timmy the dog in the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton. Loved them all. (And The Wind in the Willows is one of the all-time classics!).

Not sure they’re the kind of story I could write but that is the great thing about fiction. What you don’t write yourself, you can love reading in tales by another writer. (It also helps with the old adage about reading widely outside of your own genre, as well as inside it).

So what do you love reading that you don’t feel you could write yourself?

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My CFT post later this week will be Part 2 of my interview with fellow flash fiction writer, Gail Aldwin. She shares her thoughts on “real” and ebooks, writing tips and talks about character creation amongst many other topics. Link to go up on Friday.

What I find particularly interesting about interviews like this (and many others I’ve read elsewhere) is finding out which writing tips writers list as the most important. There will always be overlap (we’re all going to encourage reading for one thing) but the order in which a writer lists these things can be revealing.

It is also interesting to find out what are the joys and woes of writing in a particular genre, especially if it is not one I write in. Good writing is good writing, no matter what the format, but the challenges of that cross the divides. It is the technical challenge of individual genres that fascinate me as there is a wide variety here. But the one single challenge that faces us all is making our stories believable.

 

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

The important thing to remember with flash fiction is, despite its very short form, it still needs crafting and editing, as much as any other kind of story would. I find it can sometimes take longer to edit a flash piece over a standard length short story because of the conflict between getting your word count down and still having a decent tale to submit.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

A perfect story is one in which every word is needed to complete it. This shows up sharply with flash fiction, of course, and one huge advantage to writing it is it does sharpen your editing skills. It also makes you choose stronger image creating words given you are using fewer words to begin with!

You also learn to imply a lot of the story given you haven’t got the room to spell it out in detail. I’ve always loved stories which allow me to fill in the gaps or work things out for myself so I guess flash fiction is a natural choice for me.

I am glad to see more flash collections coming out as hopefully this will encourage people to read and write it. I would love flash fiction to be shown as a great way of getting reluctant readers hooked on books given you’re not asking them to commit to too much in one go.

 

Even in the heart of a big city, books are a great form of escape - image via Pixabay

Books are a fantasic form of escapism. Image via Pixabay

A great way to relax - with a book and a cuppa - image via Pixabay

Great way to relax. Now where are those biscuits? Image via Pixabay

The basic kit for a writer - image via Pixabay

The writers’ basic kit. Image via Pixabay

What a fantastic home for books - image via Pixabay

What a beautiful home for books. Image via Pixabay

Another lovely library, this one is in Canada - image via Pixabay

Another beautiful library (this one is in Canada). Image via Pixabay

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

What has happened as a writer that you did not anticipate when you first started out? For me, I never expected to write non-fiction (Chandler’s Ford Today) or flash fiction (From Light to Dark and Back again).

In the former case, it was a writer friend who told me about CFT and encouraged me to send something in (NEVER underestimate the importance of networking, you never know where it may lead!). In the latter case, I saw Cafelit had issued a 100-word challenge and I thought I’d give it a go. Not looked back since, as they say.

So I suppose I have learned to be open to trying new forms of writing and see where it takes me. It’s a fun journey too!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

With flash fiction, you have little room for world building. (Little room for anything, actually!). So you have to convey an impression of a world with a few well-chosen words and leave your readers to fill in the gaps.

I think this is probably my favourite thing about this genre as I love being able to envisage what characters get up to once the “official” story is finished. (I understand fan fiction, wouldn’t write it myself, but do “get it”). I like being made to fill in the gaps and work things out. The challenge for the flash fiction writer is to give the right information so that readers can do this without giving too much away or slowing their story down.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Pleased to share the link with National Flash-Fiction Day tonight. The Day itself is not until 16th June but I love the idea of a whole day devoted to this form of fiction.

Okay, I’m not unbiased but I’ve always loved stories where I’ve had to work things out as a reader. As so much has to be implied in flash, I guess I should’ve realised sooner than I did that this was going to be a major format of writing for me. Still better late than not at all!

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog

Are you someone who only reads “proper” paperback books or are you a full convert to e-books?

I cross the divide. I love paperbacks, they’re a great format, but I have found e-books to be brilliant too. They’ve also saved me a major packing dilemma for when I’m away at writing conferences or on holiday. No more worrying about how many books I can take. Thanks to the Kindle, I can take as many as I like! I only wish it could give me more reading time but devices have their limitations!

But there are certain books I can only envisage reading in paperback – Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series with their wonderful covers for a start.

My main reading session is just before I sleep and I read paperbacks and from the Kindle then. I relish both! I do like the bookmark function and find that useful. I am forever losing “real” bookmarks from my paperbacks. Mind you, I often lose pens too. Hmm… doesn’t sound fab from a writer, does it?

I’ve not really tried e-magazines yet though I suspect that will be the next big area I’ll explore.

So what do you prefer? Do you think one genre works better in one format and, if so, which and why?

In the meantime, happy reading, no matter what format you’re using!

 

 

 

Carols, Stories and Comedy

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Really enjoyed the Carols and Lessons at Romsey URC on Sunday though am so glad I was nowhere near the candles! Lovely though they were, I must admit I’m not much of a fan of candles. The practical side of me keeps thinking “fire hazard”.

(On the other hand, I DO love four candles… Two Ronnies anyone?).

The church looked lovely, I enjoyed the Christmas story as ever and there were some thoughtful poems too. Had a good old sing too. Good for the lungs and the soul!

Over the next week or so, I’ll probably watch A Christmas Carol. (My favourite version is the Muppet one with Michael Caine. I love Marley and Marley with the two old hecklers).

Then I must try and watch Hogfather but I must admit I don’t think you can beat Dickens for a corker of a Christmas story. Indeed how many writers can say they add to the Christmas traditions? (I’m thinking Christina Rossetti for In the Bleak Midwinter and Clement Clark Moore for The Night Before Christmas but it is Dickens I think of first when it comes to festive tales).

Facebook – General – Stories

Which type of stories grip you the most? The twist in the tale or the “slow burn” story where it takes a while for the tale to “get going”? I love both. The slow burn story often resonates with me for a long time after initially reading it. I would count many of my character studies as being slow burn type tales.

I like a story to have a good pace (and for it to be appropriate to the tale). I like a good ending (i.e. one that’s suitable for the type of story. I love story endings that surprise me even better as I enjoy guessing how the story will finish long before I get to that point. I like being right but all kudos to any writer who can outfox me.). I look to be totally immersed in the world of that story for the duration of it.

Character types that particularly appeal to me are those that overcome adversity (especially if they are not expected to). I like brave characters, even if their bravery is limited to a domestic environment. Which type of characters appeal to you the most?

 

 

Facebook – General – Story Formats

Following on from my recent post about what stories grip you, what story format do you prefer? I must admit nothing, to my mind, will ever beat the paperback but I love the Kindle (especially when going on holiday. It makes packing books a doddle!).

I’m also very fond of audiobooks, as are other members of my family who wouldn’t wade through a “proper” book. (Given the size of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, to name one example. I can understand this. Don’t agree with it but do understand it!).

Facebook – General – Classic Comedy

My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week will take a look back at my writing year. I’ll also be sharing some Cafelit stories of mine too. Well, you have to have stories at Christmas, don’t you? More on Friday.

Have been doing plenty of carol singing the last couple of days in church and whenever Classic FM puts some on. The latter has meant Lady has been a bit bemused. (She has almost certainly put it down as one of those strange things her human does – and quite right too!). I do like a good sing.

Am enjoying reading the joint biography of Morecambe and Wise on Kindle at the moment. It’s bringing back many happy memories and I still love Eric and Ernie. Happily, this means I can link back to classical music again. Anyone for Grieg’s Piano Concerto by Grieg as played by Eric Morecambe?

 

Classic music can make a classic film

Classical music is wonderful.  Combine it with classic comedy and it’s even better.  Image via Pixabay.

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Rudolph the red nosed reindeer
Knew the others would just sneer
At his odd nasal arrangement
Their teasing was just torment
What he wouldn’t give for a beer!

Copyright:  Allison Symes – December 2017

Okay, the Poet Laureate’s joke is safe but I am partial to the odd limerick. Some of mine are very odd!

Am editing what I hope will be book 2. Hope enjoying re-reading what I wrote some months ago now is a good sign. Below is a link to a recent story of mine on Cafelit. For some reason, there seems to be a Christmas theme!

Facebook From Light to Dark and Back Again – Talking Flash!

Flash fiction has to condense all that you look for in a standard short story into a much tighter word count, yet still be entertaining/gripping etc. Learning to write for flash fiction has improved my editing skills a lot for I know now what my wasted, often repetitive, words are (so those can be cut immediately).

Stories often shed light on what it is to be human. With flash, it is a case of shedding a powerful spotlight! Dare you be caught in its beam?!

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Flash fiction for impact. Image via Pixabay

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Flash – for light or dark fiction! Image via Pixabay

Not all of my flash fiction ends up at the 100-word mark. I find that my next category tends to fall anywhere between 150 and 500 words and these are often my character studies, where I need just that little bit more room to “show the characters off”.

The most important thing is that the story is the correct length for what you want to convey in that tale. Some of my tales simply wouldn’t work if I tried to compress them to 100 words. Simple answer – don’t compress them! When editing I look at the story first, has it said all I wanted it to say? Then I look to see if can do that in fewer words. Often I can, sometimes I can’t, but I have learned not to worry about that!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FORMATS AND FAIRYTALE REVENGE

Facebook – General – Formats for Reading

Pleased to catch up on some magazine reading this week. I tend to have weeks where I get little chance to read much or am able to read loads. There seems to be no happy medium for me. Not sure why this is but do know it can be annoying!

I do read on my Kindle most evenings and I love the ‘”portable library” aspect of that. Really useful but only this week I’ve ordered a paperback, which has just arrived. Love books, love all the formats they come in is my motto!

Not all formats suit all people. I can think of family members who would never read a paperback (especially if it is of the length of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I adore, though to be fair if you drop THAT on your foot, you’ll know it!), but they do love audiobooks. I only listen to those when on lengthy car journeys but they are fabulous for that.

So what is your favourite format for a book? I think predictions of the death of the paperback are just plain wrong. I think the swing towards ebooks and then back again towards paper books will continue. (New Kindles come out, leads to boost in sales of ebooks etc).

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Facebook – General – Part 2 – Winchester Discovery Centre

Looking forward to taking part in the Winchester Discovery Centre’s 10th-anniversary celebrations next Saturday, 25th November.

A group of local writers, including yours truly, will be giving short talks and readings throughout the day. There will be a range of other activities going on throughout the day too.

There is a video clip on the link below. Hope to put up more details a little later on in the week but, if you can, do come along and enjoy the day at the Centre. Should be fun.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again Part 1

Just sometimes I like to write something different for my blog posts!  This story will end up, I hope, in my second book.

I ran till I could run no more.
I dropped to the thick forest floor.
The sounds behind me had now gone
But I knew it was a big con.
They weren’t fooling me anymore.

I guess it would’ve helped if I had
Chosen not to go to the bad.
But when a girl’s luck is so down
And she can nick a pretty crown,
To not do so would just seem mad.

Who would miss that one little piece?
Not the king. Not even his niece
And she was the one who wore it!
No, I thought, I do need a bit
Of luck my way, the bad to cease.

I’d sell this lovely work of art.
I knew I must make myself part
With it so I could try to use
The money to feed my own muse.
Well, all writers need a good start!

Allison Symes – 18th November 2017

A poem or flash fiction or both? I occasionally write stories in verse though I do prefer the more obvious prose format. It is nice to throw something different into the mix now and again though!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again Part 2 – Vengeful Fairies

If you were ever in any doubt that fairies could be downright nasty when it suited them, have a look at my “mini-series” on this theme in From Light to Dark and Back Again. Job Satisfaction and Collector’s Piece show fairies having a great capacity for revenge (and why it pays never to annoy the Tooth Fairy. And you thought going to the dentist was bad enough…).

I’ve always loved J.M. Barrie’s portrayal of Tinkerbell. Definitely not all cute and sweet. When children are told to clap if they believe in fairies and Tinkerbell wishes she could “get at” the ones who didn’t clap, well I think that one passage alone sums up the fairy folk attitude to life admirably! (Oh and fairies are definitely not twee in Shakespeare either so why fairytales can sometimes be seen that way and “just for kids” is beyond me).

 

GLORIOUS BOOKS AND STORY FORMATS

FAIRYTALES WITH BITE

I discuss my favourite fairytale and collection of fairytales in my blog post called Books, Glorious Books (and they so are!).  Working out what you like to read most can be a great aid to working out what you most want to write.  Sometimes it can help you work out what you love to read but don’t feel “strong” enough to write.  For example, I love crime stories.  I’ve written a few short pieces but know I couldn’t make crime the main category in which I write.  I also briefly discuss the inspiration we get from books and ask if what drives your writing is strong enough to sustain a novel or if it would be better for a short story.

THIS WORLD AND OTHERS

I discuss story formats in tonight’s post and stress the important thing is getting the story across effectively to people.  The actual format in which that can be done varies of course.  I’ve been inspired to read an author thanks to watching a great film adaptation of some of their work.  Other times I’ve read the book and found the film a wonderfully enjoyable way of enjoying the story a second time!

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I discuss story formats again here and wonder what film adapters would do without books!  I think the creative industries would grind to a halt without books – so more power to the book writers then!

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Some of the anthologies my work has appeared in - image by me.

Some of the anthologies my work has appeared in – image by me.