Interviews and Characters

Image Credit:  As ever, unless otherwise stated, all images are from Pixabay.

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For my CFT post this week, I look at why writer interviews are so useful. I also share news of an interview I’ve taken part in, more details on that next week, and share memories of an interview that went wrong and another that involved an Emu! Anyone growing up in 1970s Britain will remember the latter!

I look at what I think makes for a good interview too and share my thoughts on interview etiquette. I also share a little of how I go about interviewing authors for Chandler’s Ford Today (and I hope there will be many more of those later this year).

I discuss the art of interviews as part of my Interviews post on Chandler’s Ford Today this week. Good preparation for an interview is important for both parties to it, of course. But it is just as important for writers, as well as interviewers and interviewees, to think of good questions. (In the latter’s case, anticipating questions that are likely to come up gives you time to prepare your answers).

For fiction writers, you may well want to interview your characters to find out more about them and what makes them tick before you write their stories. (I do this as part of my outlining process. I have to ask what the character thinks makes them tick. They don’t have to be right! Other characters may have completely different ideas as to how Character A really ticks!).

For non-fiction writers, it’s a question of working out what research you need to do for your project and there you ask yourself what you think you need to know. As you start working on your project, other questions will inevitably crop up but, having already decided where and how you will research and found answers to those initial questions, you will know where to look to deal with the other ones as they come up!

I often find this to be the case for my CFT posts. I know a thread I need to look into initially to help me write on my topic. Inevitably there will be threads from those initial ones I need to check out to see if they are relevant to what I want to write about. Sometimes they are. Not always. It is important not to be sidetracked but this is where asking yourself what you really need to know first can help. It helps to keep you focussed.

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How well do you know your characters before you start writing your stories?

Particularly for flash fiction, I outline what I need to know about my character before I work out what their story is.

A character who is a loud mouth is going to need a tale that will show this trait in action and the resultant consequences. This could easily be a funny story or a tragic one.

A quiet mouse of a character is going to need a tale that will either show when that trait saves the day or they get so fed up of being treated as a doormat, they rebel. Then you can go into the consequences…

I’m a great believer in getting the character right. Then it is a question of deciding what kind of story they WOULD naturally be at home in and whether that shows them at their best or their worst. Either can be a great deal of fun!

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My CFT post this week will be about interviews and what I think constitutes a good one. It’s a timely post for me as you’ll see when I put the link up on Friday! (I also hope to be sharing more interviews later in the year on CFT too).

Moving on, let’s think of a wish list for writers. My top three wishes would be:-

1. Time expands so you can do all the writing you want and the boring things of life (e.g. housework) somehow magically go away. I do see that as one wish, so there!

2. There are never any tech issues. Computer batteries won’t go too flat. You’ll never get a power cut at any awkward moment (if only!). You’ll always be able to connect to the net. I’m sure you can think of loads to add to that one!

3. Never running out of ideas and enthuasism for writing (again I see that as one wish on the grounds the first bit is no good whatsoever without the second part as well).

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I see a novel as akin to seeing a beautiful tapestry on a wall. You step back and literally see the whole thing. You are rightly taken in by its scale and how much it covers. There are so many wonderful threads to follow and your breath is taken away wondering at the mastery in putting such a thing together. You are immersed in the whole world portrayed.

A novella is like seeing one half of the tapestry, complete in and of itself, with plenty of stunning details to take in but simply not as much as the full novel, which is fair enough. But there is more than enough to capture your interest, plenty of threads to follow, again just not so many as the novel, but exactly the right amount for what you want to take in and enjoy. (I’m very pleased to see the form is back. Why? Well, people have all kinds of tastes in reading, not just in genre, but in length of story that they want too. There is plenty of scope for the novella).

A short story is like seeing one quarter of the tapestry. There is still plenty of detail. There are interesting threads to follow but obviously not so many as for a novella or a novel. You are taking in a world in minature and that’s fine. Maybe you want to enjoy some of these before taking in the whole of the tapestry again. (I often read flash fiction and/or short story collections in between reading novels).

Flash fiction is like focusing on one section of that quarter of the tapestry. You can’t see the whole picture. You are literally too close to it. Everything else around that section is blocked from your view. What you DO do is find those wonderful moments of sheer detail that those looking for the bigger picture will overlook as they have so much to take in and follow. They are standing too far back to spot what you are looking at. You are focusing on the ONE most important thing and can tease out every vital detail from that. You will pick up on things missed by the longer forms of creative writing.

And I love them all! (Whatever your preference is here enjoy! Writing and reading are two of the most wonderful things in life).

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Story time again. Hope you enjoy.

Putting My Face On

If I can fake this, I’ve got it made.

I’ve only got to go and meet John at 3. I don’t want to go but it will be the acid test. If I can keep my act together when I meet him, I can keep it together for anyone. Anyone, I tell you.

So if a bit of lippy and rouge are what I need to cover how I feel, so be it.

Well, I say I’ll meet him. It’s really a question of seeing him.

John’s in the Chapel of Rest at the local undertakers.

I put him there.

ENDS

Allison Symes – 6th February 2020

Now this is one of those tales where I knew my lead wasn’t looking forward to meeting John but I then had to work out why. So I did! Could’ve taken this in all sorts of directions but that is the joy of flash. It is open to genre and I fancied this one being a crime tale.

The irony is I can change the mood of the story completely by adding a few words to the ending.

If I added “I put him there – and so wished I hadn’t” – the mood of the story completely changes. Yes, there could still be a crime element but tragedy becomes the lead genre here instead.

So have fun with your flash fiction. Think about what impact you want your character and story to have on a reader.

 

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The story I shared yesterday, Putting My Face On, was something I came up with while out on a walk with my dog, Lady. I mentioned yesterday I could’ve changed the mood of the story by adding a few words. That is one of the arts of flash fiction if you like. You can change mood with a judiciously placed word here and there. The fun bit for you as the writer is working out what mood it is you want to go with!

The story on the book trailer for FLTDBA is one of my favourites. Part of the reason for that is the whole mood of the story turns on the very last word of Calling The Doctor. Do check the trailer out and you’ll see what I mean.

One thing I make sure of is that whenever the twist of moods comes in the story, it IS something that could reasonably be expected from the rest of the tale based on the information given.

Calling The Doctor does this because the conversational style of my narrator here is (a) consistent and (b) ties in with the mental image you will form of the character especially their age and such a conversational style would be appropriate for them and their age. The story leads up to … but that would be telling now, wouldn’t it! But the denouement is appropriate given the facts already stated by my narrator.

And very conveniently here is the book trailer with Calling the Doctor for you to check out!

Fairytales with Bite – Favourite Character Types

We all have our favourite kinds of characters, the ones we instantly gel with when we come across them on the page/on audio/on video etc. Some of mine include:-

  1.  The underdog. I always look out for the character who is bullied, despised, overlooked etc. I am never surprised when this character beats all the odds and has transformed their life by the end of the story. I adore stories like that.
  2. The fairy godmother. I love these. They are the agents through which cruelty and neglect will be put right. (Think Cinderella especially). Sadly we only know cruelty and neglect are so often not put right and even as a kid I remember being aware of that. Fairytales are comforting in that in those you know things will be rectified. I think we all need that comfort sometimes.
  3. The one who sees the error of their ways. Firstly, they too can be used to transform the story. Secondly, I like anyone who can see the error of their ways in life as well as in fiction! I am also very fond of redemption stories. I like to see characters being redeemed (it gives hope for us all!) but it has to be done in a way that makes sense. This is why I think gradual realisation of said errors is far more realistic.

Whatever your favourite kinds of characters, happy reading!

This World and Others – 

What I Like to See in Created Worlds

  1. I like to get a picture of the overall world. This is partly because I’m nosey (!) and partly because I like to be convinced the writer really has thought it through.
  2. I like to see a system of government, even if it is a basic one. A world does have to have someone leading it after all. (Best one here: Terry Pratchett’s wonderful Lord Vetinari from the Discworld series).
  3. I like to know how people live. I love the Middle Earth/Shire scenes in The Lord of the Rings. Okay, I could probably make myself very cosy and comfortable living in a hobbit hole as I’m not tall (that’s my example of understatement for this week!). More importantly, again it convinces me the author has thought this through and recognised different species will have different kinds of home and so on.
  4. A sense of how the different species get on, assuming they do. Where there are conflicts, and I would expect some, I want to see how these originated. Both sides in the conflict should have good reasons for holding the views they do, even if they are only good to them and their people. It should be something a reader can understand.

HOW STORIES SOUND, DESCRIPTIONS AND CLARITY

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I’ve read my stories aloud at times to literally hear how they sound (and have sometimes recorded them so I can play them back too. This is particularly useful if you need to time a story). If you trip over your dialogue, your readers will too so definitely time to get the editing pen out again.

It is an oddity that what looks okay written down suddenly isn’t okay when you read it out loud. You can hear where the text sounds awkward. My More than Writers post, due up on the Association of Christian Writers blog tomorrow, talks about clarity. (Link to come tomorrow). One thing I discovered a while ago is that simple, clear writing is a joy to read and it can take several rewrites for an author to get it to that stage. It is worth the effort though.

I’ve forgotten who said that the professional writer is the amateur who didn’t quit, but there is a lot of truth in that.

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I don’t necessarily choose the mood of the story (or the main character) before I start writing. Often the theme can mean the mood of the story can go in a couple of different directions and my job then is to pick the outline that seems to have the most promising characters that I can do something with!

I like it when one character clearly stands out. You find yourself rooting for that character to succeed (usually). It is their story so it’s my job to let “them” tell their story their way. That disguises a lot of editing and ensuring that all the information you’ve given the reader marries up, is only what they absolutely need to know etc.

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Am glad to share the link to my monthly spot on the Association of Christian Writers’ More Than Writers blog. I talk about clarity this time.

I discovered the Plain English campaign have a gobbledygook generator. Yes, really! Had lots of fun clicking the box and seeing what garbage emerged… all based on real examples too. It’s a great example of how NOT to write!

CLARITY POST - Clarity - image via Pixabay

Should clarity, rather than cleanliness, be next to godliness?  I think so!  Image via Pixabay.

CLARITY POST - Clarity of thought should lead to clarity of expression - image via Pixabay - Copy

Clarity of thought should lead to clarity of expression.  Image via Pixabay

Feature Image - Part 5 101Things to Put into Room 101

A recent CFT post of mine but the questions can help you ensure your writing is beautifully clear.  Image via Pixabay.

The basic kit for a writer - image via Pixabay

The writer’s basic toolkit – image via Pixabay

Some of the tools of the scrivener's trade here - image via Pixabay

The tools of the scrivener’s trade. We’ve come on a bit since then! Image via Pixabay

Electronically or by print, both face publishing frustrations - image via Pixabay

Ebooks and print – both have their own frustrations when it comes to publishing. Image via Pixabay

Books can be one major key to knowledge - image via Pixabay

Books are the keys to knowledge. Image via Pixabay

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News just in, as they say! Two of my stories will be on Cafelit – one on 5th May and the other on 5th June. Will share links on the days. Very pleased. Don’t think I’ll ever tire of hearing something I’ve written has been accepted!

Having acceptances is obviously one of the highlights of writing, but what about the downside? Yes, the rejections would come into that category but, for me, I’m more despondent when the writing simply isn’t going as well as I’d like. Rejections I see as par for the course and I try to learn from them and see where it is where I may have gone wrong. If it is just down to editorial taste, then I can submit the story elsewhere. So generally I can get something positive out of this.

But when you are keen to write and it seems like a struggle (and it happens to us all), that is more of a challenge to deal with. I tend to have a break away from whatever it was I was working on to write something else or brainstorm ideas for future projects. I’m not sure why it is but whenever I write something else, ideas come to me for the original thing I was struggling with. Distraction therapy perhaps? All I know is that it works.

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I’ve been enjoying the different flash fiction collections put out by Chapeltown Books and this has proved to be a great way of ensuring I read plenty of contemporary fiction. (Reading enough classic fiction is never an issue!).

A good reading “diet” should include contemporary and classic works and non-fiction. I see all of this as feeding the mind as you never know when reading something triggers ideas for your own stories. The more you read, the more you cast your “net”, and the more likely it is you will have those “sparks”.

So happy writing – and happy reading!

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My flash fiction collection from Chapeltown Books!

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Mandy’s flash fiction collection from Chapeltown Books. Image kindly supplied by her.

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Gail’s flash fiction collection from Chapeltown Books. Image supplied by Gail Aldwin. Also note the Chapeltown Books branding of a frame around an image. Simple but effective

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Gill James reading from her January Stones collection. Image by Allison Symes

Paula Readman, Dawn Kentish Knox and Allison Symes and books - with kind permission from Paula Readman

Paula Readman, Dawn Kentish Knox and I celebrate where our stories have appeared! Many thanks to Paula Readman for the picture.!

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Some of the books I’ve appeared in and FLTDBA of course. Image by Allison Symes

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Given flash fiction makes its readers fill in the gaps due to the word count restrictions, it is also a great way to conjure up other worlds which reflect on our own.

A reference here, a name of a character there etc will carry weight based on what we know of that reference and name. The world might be strange but the reference or name are not and it makes filling in the gaps easier. What is really nice is when you know that reference or name will make the reader smile because you know what they will associate it with.

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Descriptions can be tricky. Too much information and you switch the reader off. Too little and you can’t conjure up enough of an image for your reader to “hook into” so they can get right into your story’s world.

Flash fiction, of course, by its nature means you have to be sparing with the details so the trick is to find the most powerful image in the shortest number of words. (Well, it IS meant to be a challenge!).

I ask myself what are the images I want my reader to definitely pick up from my story. This is where outlining your thoughts before writing the story is so helpful. It makes it easier to select the telling details that absolutely have to be in the tale.

You can also mark those others that would be useful to have in if you have sufficient word count spare but would not spoil the story if they weren’t included. It has been my experience there usually isn’t the word count spare (unless I am writing right at the upper range for flash). Focusing on what HAS to be in is, I find, the best place to start. Anything after that is a bonus but should still only be included if it does something useful such as giving depth to your tale.