STORY PROMPTS

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When do you know you are really going to enjoy the story or book that you’ve started? For me it’s by the end of the first page. If I’m not gripped by the story by then, I’m unlikely to go much further with it.

I’m pleased to say though that there have not been many books or stories which I’ve given up on. This is why my To Be Read pile is as big as it is! (It’s not that much smaller on my Kindle either but at least that won’t topple over under the weight!).

By the end of the first page, I want to know who the lead character is going to be (even if they are just referred to at this point) and some idea of what the central conflict is going to be about. Then there has to be the “I’ve GOT to find out what happens next” moment. Without that, I don’t read on.

What kind of story prompts do you prefer? Pictures? An opening line? A finishing line?

I’ve used all in my time (and plan to keep on using them too), but my favourite is the promising opening line. I love finding out where that line can take me. I also believe if the writer is having a whale of a time writing the story, something of that enjoyment will show in the tale itself. I think the writing flows better.

Having said that there have been times when what I thought was a promising line turned out to be a dead end. I see this as a false start scenario and I abandon the tale and start again. I have tried seeing if I can make what I’ve come up with better but the answer is inevitably no as I think it is clear to me that my heart wasn’t really in it. I think that can show through in the writing too.

The great thing with the latter situation is if, later, an idea comes to you that resolves the problem with the story (or you think it will), there’s nothing to stop you digging that tale out and giving it another go. I suppose what I’ve learned here is not to panic if a story doesn’t work out right. Go on to the next one. Come back to the old one if better ideas occur as I’m writing something else (and that happens a LOT. I can be writing my next CFT post when a good story idea crops up. So I pause, jot the idea down, go back to my CFT post and then have a look at the story idea later. The benefit of this is I can take a good hard look at that idea and judge better whether it really is a “goer” or not. As a result, my “abandon a story because it really isn’t working” rate has decreased significantly).

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Looking forward to being at the Hampshire Writers’ Society tomorrow night to talk about flash fiction.

Also looking forward to the Bridge House celebration in London in December and the Association of Christian Writers’ Day in London later this month.

What with writing and taking the dog out, it’s a social whirl! (I get to talk to lots of lovely writers and equally lovely dog owners. Some of course encompass both roles!).

POSTER SHOWING ALLISON AS GUEST SPEAKER AT HWS OCTOBER 2018

Many thanks to Maggie Farran for the poster.

LIKES POST - editing - Pixabay image

The joy of editing! Image by Pixabay

cropped-cropped-version-of-my-reading-at-railway-station

The Open Mic for Prose night

Many thanks to Geoff Parkes for kind permission to use this shot of me reading at the Swanwick Prose Open Mic Night.

FLTDBA in the Swanwick Book Room

FLTDBA for sale in the Swanwick Book Room. Image by Allison Symes

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Back cover of FLTDBA. Image by Allison Symes

BEING THANKFUL - On writing or being appreciative - image via Pixabay

Always good advice. Image via Pixabay.

Am writing this early as I don’t expect to have a lot of creative energy left after the Hampshire Writers’ Society meeting tonight! (But in a very good way of course…😀)

Later in the week, I will be sharing on Chandler’s Ford Today Part 1 of a three part series on the joys and challenges of writing series novels. Many thanks to #JenniferCWilson, #ValPenny, #AnneWan, #WendyHJones, and #RichardHardie for taking part in this. Link to go up on Friday but what I can reveal now is their thoughts about this topic are riveting. Very much looking forward to sharing this over the next three Fridays.

The lovely thing is there is a wide range of fiction represented here from children’s and YA to crime to historical fiction with a twist. Much to learn from here.

I think one of the best things about writing is you never do stop learning how to develop and improve what you write. Nor should you want to stop seeking to improve and develop! As well as making you a better writer, this kind of thing is so good for your own well being anyway.

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Just because a story is short, it doesn’t mean it lacks insight. Far from it. I love well written flash stories for the intensity of the impact they make and the characterisation in them has to be good.

You are relying, rightly, on the character to “carry the story” so they’ve got to be strong enough to do so. Strong enough in the sense that there is enough about them to interest the reader. Strong enough to make the reader care about them and so on.

The great advantage flash has, of course, is that there is NO padding whatsoever. It really does cut to the chase.

Every story should reveal something about a character and their development (or what the lack of that does to/for them).

Flash fiction does that too but in a greatly compressed word count. This is why flash fiction can have such a big impact on readers. If your story is a grim one say, there is no room to “soften the blows”. What the reader sees is what they get and so on…. very much direct and to the sharp point.

Equally flash fiction can be great for a much needed laugh as ending a story on a punchline can work well. (Has to be a great punchline though!).

One of the most difficult things about flash fiction is working out where to stop. It is very easy to come up with, say, a 250-word story, which you think needs a little addition or two and then you have a 500-word tale. Well, that’s okay, isn’t it? It’s still flash fiction after all.

Well, yes and no.

Yes, the longer version would still be flash fiction.

No, in that the ideal length of your flash story should be when you have said all that is needed to be said and not a word more.

I gauge what the correct word count is for a story by looking at the impact the story has. If at 250 words it doesn’t have enough impact, then yes I will add to it but only until I’ve got the required emotional resonance from the character(s). I will then edit the piece until I still have that resonance without loss of quality of the story.

My worry about expanding a piece is you could easily dilute the impact, which is something you don’t want. Every word in flash fiction has to justify its place in the story, otherwise out it goes. You do learn to be ruthless about cutting when writing flash but that’s no bad thing.

One useful thing about flash fiction is I’ve often found the best way to explain it is to read a couple of examples. The ultimate in showing not telling perhaps! Also, it doesn’t take too long and you get the idea very quickly. It shows there is a proper beginning, middle and end to the story.

What flash fiction must never be is cut-off prose. The story still has to be a complete story in and of itself. That doesn’t stop you taking the basic idea and developing it further.

For example you like the character in your flash fiction so you want to write more stories about them. Absolutely fine.

Likewise, you love your flash fiction story but know it could be developed into a 1500 word or so standard competition entry story where you have the room to put in a sub-plot which you wouldn’t with the short, sharp flash version of it. Again, absolutely fine.

What flash fiction should be is fun to write (and that will mean it should be fun to read too).

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Classic -v- Contemporary

Which books do you prefer reading? Classic or contemporary? I love both, naturally. A bookworm isn’t going to worry about when a book came out. They just want the book to be good…

A lot of my contemporary reading is either flash fiction collections or crime novels. (I know: it IS a nice mix! Some of the flash fiction collections, including my own, include crime stories in them).

My classic reading includes Austen, Wodehouse, Dickens, Christie and so on. I like to think of these almost as comfort reading. I know the stories. I know I will love them. It’s what I turn to when life gets particularly stressful. I want a known quantity at that point.

Terry Pratchett deserves a category of his own in that I read or listen to his works when I am in good need of a laugh. He never disappoints!

The flash fiction collections in turn amuse me, scare me, make me think and so on. I’ve got to be ready for the challenge of at least some of the stories in these. And that’s fine. Good stories should make you think (even if they make you laugh or scream as well).

I tend to flit between catching up with lots of book reading, then switching to magazine reading. The important thing? I am reading – and loving it all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TITLES AND PROMPTS

How easy do you find coming up with the right title for your story?

I can think of something suitable most of the time nigh on immediately but it is a question, when I am editing the story later, if the “something suitable” is good enough. Could it be replaced with something which will make more of an impact? Yes, it usually could be!

So I often change my initial idea but I find I have to have something to act as a peg to hang my story thoughts from before I write the tale.

I suppose the point here is be open to changing things. If at the end of the editing process, you’re not sure if the title is strong enough, then it almost certainly isn’t. Don’t be afraid to play around with different title ideas. (Often a better title idea will come to me as I edit).

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What kind of story prompts are your favourite? I’ve never used picture ones (though I must give that a go at some point).

My favourite is the opening line prompt. I spend some time working out who the lead character will be (if it is not apparent from said opening line). I also work out different directions a potential story could go in and then write up the one I like best.

I also think of the effect I want the story to have on a reader. Do I want to make them laugh, cry etc? Most of the time I go for the make them laugh route!

 

What do you like best about your favourite characters (whether you’ve created them or not)?

For me, they’ve got to have spirit and the integrity to do what is right (which is not necessarily what their society would consider right. Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice would have been expected to marry the odious Mr Collins).

A good sense of humour is also invaluable in making your characters appeal to readers. I’ve always loved Elizabeth Bennett’s wit and sense of irony and long thought of her being ahead of her time.

What is your favourite creative writing book? I’m very fond of On Writing by Stephen King but another favourite is How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. This also has the bonus of being funny!

I love books which can get their point across humorously, there is an art to it, and I find the message sinks in much better. I suppose this is why if given a choice between reading, say, a crime novel with humour in it or one without, I will always take the “with” option!

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DO WHAT YOU MUST

The monster sat down and cried
No matter how hard he tried
He wasn’t scary any more.
The awful brat showed him the door.
No chance of any street cred here.
He could hear the others jeer.
What to do now? Oh yes, he knew
It bent the rules, that was true
To hell with it; do what you can
He went to the adverts man.
It was a way to earn a crust
He would up and do what he must.
The irony was what he sold
In his world would be like gold.
Rare and only for the few.
Here, it went to anyone who
Had the ready money to pay.
He disliked it but had no say.

Allison Symes – 25th August 2018

And before you ask, yes, I loved Monsters Inc!

If a novel is a portrait of a world and its characters, then flash fiction is the equivalent of the old Polaroid instant snap!

I am revealing my age here by saying I can recall when the Polaroid was THE height of camera technology. For the first time your pictures came out immediately instead of having to take a roll of film to the chemists or where have you for developing. Yes, and for younger readers, it really was another world away in terms of technology compared with what we have now! Dinosaurs had only just stopped walking the earth etc etc 😁😉

But instant snaps really do capture moments in time and that is precisely what flash fiction should do. Hone in on what matters and nothing else. The joy of flash fiction is the focus.

The restrictions of flash fiction force you to think about what it is you really want to convey through your story. This is no bad thing in and of itself. I’ve found that kind of thinking through has then carried on into other writing that I do, which has definite advantages.

When it comes to editing, I’ve mentioned before that writing flash has helped me locate those wasted words I use by habit and which don’t add anything to the tale, so they’re the first things I cut. I am finding, however, that more often now as I am writing the first draft, I am instinctively NOT writing those words at all. I hope that continues!

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Flash Fiction Favourite Pointers:-

1. Never forget, no matter what the length of the story, it still needs a beginning, a middle, and an end.

2. There should be conflict pretty much from the start as without that there is no story. You do have to hit the ground running.

3. Limit your characters. You haven’t got the room for subplots. I would focus on two characters or so though there’s nothing to stop you referencing another character as part of the story, as long as that is relevant to the tale. In my story Punish the Innocent, the two characters are the mum and daughter but the mum refers to others in the letter she writes to her daughter. This fills in backstory very quickly in this case and fleshes out why the mum has the attitude she has in this story.

4. Focus on what is most important only.

5. Let your readers fill in gaps. Just show them what they need to know and let them use their imaginations for the rest. From a reading viewpoint, that is the bit which is the most fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Should Be Fun

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Difficult to say which was my favourite course at Swanwick as I learned so much from each one, which is fab. One course I particularly did just for fun was the Secrets of Comedy one and that was enlightening. The lovely thing is all writers are playing with words and it can be fascinating to find out how that is done in formats and genres you don’t work in (as yet anyway!).

Writing should be fun and there should always be a fascination with how others write. It makes you take a fresh look at your own writing and, hopefully, develop it further and appreciate it more.

I was delighted to draft a short story on the train up to Swanwick. I’ve now edited and polished it and sent it off to the competition I had in mind for it. I’ve got a few pieces drafted at Swanwick to now work on and am looking forward to that.

My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week looks at the benefits of a good writing conference, considering things such as the boost to confidence and how writers see themselves, amongst other thoughts. Link to go up tomorrow. Most pics are by me but I’d also like to say many thanks to Geoff Parkes for allowing me to use some of his great photos in this post.

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Story prompts are useful things. Sometimes I’ll use them and enter the competition they’re linked to, sometimes I’ll just see what I can write up and then decide where to try and place it. (Usually, it’s Cafelit! They like quirky there. And I like quirky a lot!).

Occasionally I’ll find a story doesn’t have an obvious home. Then I’ll keep a closer eye out on the competitions and their themes as a suitable one will turn up eventually. Nice thing with that is, after some final editing, I’ve got a story that’s good to go fairly quickly.

Have you tried writing a story in a sentence? Give it a go, it can be great fun. You basically need a subject and some sort of action which will show what the character is like (and make you want to read on were the story to develop further). For example, from me:-

1. He refused to cry again.
2. It was her 25th bank robbery in a month.
3. The dragon wouldn’t eat the girl, he was veggie.
4. Enter that book shop and never be seen in this world again.
5. The used car salesman disappeared up his own exhaust.

The great thing with these is you can, of course, expand the story out but equally they can get a reaction from a reader if you do not. Have fun with this, I often do!

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog What Do I Want From a Story?

Call me fussy but there are certain things I want from any and every story, regardless of genre.

1. Intriguing characters.

2. A life or death situation (this can be life or death in the literal sense or a character making the proverbial mountain out of a molehill but it is still life or death to them).

3. Dialogue that rattles along.

4. A sense of place but not too much physical description, please. I just want enough images to form a vision of the whole thing but a few telling details are enough for that.

5. When the story ends, I’m sorry because I’ve loved being “with” the characters.

All of the above is why I read in and out of my genre as I love to find out how other writers achieve these things. And it has added considerably to both my online and physical bookshelves!