Random Generators, Endings, and Exercise

Image Credit:-
All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated. Some images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos.
Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing. Screenshots taken by me, Allison Symes.
A good start to the week – new story up on Friday Flash Fiction and a new video to share. Also getting closer to the Brechin/Angus Book Festival (19th to 21st November 2021) and am so looking forward to taking part in that.

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Hope you have had a good day. Busy but enjoyable one here. Managed to get out for a swim today and set a personal best so well pleased with that. When I started swimming regularly, I did think I would use the time in the pool to think out story ideas etc. Not a bit of it!

I just don’t think of anything other than trying to keep count of what number length I’m up to but I guess in some ways that is the point. I come out of the pool refreshed and it is that which helps get the writing brain going again after a break from the desk.

So having found this to be the case, it gives me reason to plan out my exercise spots to ensure I do get regular breaks from the desk. Writing is wonderful, great for the brain, but is stationary so the swimming and walking the dog are the two things I do to balance that out a bit.

Busy start to the working week. I submitted a new story to Friday Flash Fiction yesterday and created a new story video for my YouTube channel. Sunday is rapidly becoming flash fiction and story day! Not that I mind. I find it helpful to have a writing structure for the week as a whole. It also means I tend to get straight into my writing day by day and end up getting more done so it does pay to plan out what you’re doing over a week.

My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week will be about book lists. I prepare two of these a year – one for my birthday and the other for Christmas. I look at the value of lists like this. Let’s just say it makes me easy to buy for! But posts like this are great fun to write as it is a celebration of books in general and there is always time to write posts like that!

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Pleased to share a link to my recent feature in Mom’s Favorite Reads. My theme for this month was Light and Dark in Flash Fiction. You can have a lot of fun with both of those themes. I share several ways in which you can take these themes too. When I was putting my debut flash collection together for Chapeltown Books, I found my stories fell into these two basic categories so used that to inspire the title – From Light to Dark and Back Again.

Do check out the flash fiction stories other writers have come up with to my theme. There are some fabulous stories coming into the magazine. Don’t miss out. It is free and a good read.


Hope you are having a good weekend. Can’t get over how quickly it gets dark now and we haven’t even turned the clocks back in the UK yet.

A huge thanks for all the comments coming in on Clockwork, my latest #FridayFlashFiction tale. Much appreciated.

Advance notice: I’m not going to be about on 1st November so I will be sending out my author newsletter on 29th October, a couple of days early. This time I’m doing this deliberately! If you’d like to receive said newsletter, please head over to my website at https://allisonsymescollectedworks.com – the landing page takes you straight to the sign up form.

It’s going to be a busy few weeks. I’m off to see Murder with Ghosts staged by The Chameleon Theatre Group on Thursday and I’ve a number of writing things I want to either wrap up and schedule or prepare to take with me as I enjoy a short break from the end of next week.

And I’m getting ready for the Brechin/Angus Book Fest too in November and am looking forward to that and joining up with fellow Bridge House Publishing authors at their celebration event in December. In between all of that, I might just get ready for Christmas!

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I use a variety of random generator (words, numbers, adjectives, questions, nouns – just to list a few) as all of these give me different trigger points for getting “into” a story. They also make me think outside the box a bit too which is a good thing. It keeps me on my toes. It also means I will never run out of prompts!

And practicing writing to these different types also gives useful practice at writing to different prompts set in writing classes, conferences, and the like because you can never know what will come up with those. (Well, not unless you’re the speaker and you set the things anyway!).

I’ve found it gives me even more fun in coming up with stories precisely because I’m stretching myself here to use things I would not ordinarily have come up with by myself. I’ve written a story this week where I had to use the words egg and bear in it. Done. Submitted it. But I would not have come up with those two things in one story. They’re not an obvious combination.

You can also think of using generators as a warm up writing exercise. Write for five/ten minutes on what comes up. Edit and polish later. Submit later!

Hope you enjoy my latest YouTube story, About Time. This story was triggered by my using a random time generator (yes, really!) to give me the time that appears in this tale. I realised after coming up with the title that it was even more appropriate than I realised when I first read through my initial draft of this. Serendipity perhaps? Maybe but I like it when it happens.


Endings don’t have to be happy in stories. They do have to be satisfying though. The ending has to make sense of what has gone before and be appropriate for the character. In the case of A Christmas Carol, that ending would not have worked unless we had seen Scrooge undergo his transformation from the greatest miser to someone who has learned the value of generosity and kindness. It took something spectacular to shake Scrooge up – and he got that in the form of the three spirits. (I refuse to believe that’s a spoiler now after all this time!).

All stories pivot on a point of change and it is the character who changes in some way. Not all change has to be positive though!

In my story Rewards from From Light to Dark and Back Again, my character’s point of change is when she gets rid of someone who has been in her way for far too long. You’ll have to read the story to find out what my character did and why and what the outcome of that was but the point remains – change does not have to be positive. We read stories to find out what happens so must ensure that something does happen!

This is why for my twist tales I write that twist down first and then work out what could have led to it. This ensures I do go the best plot line leading to this point. And it means I have my appropriate ending all set up good to go. I just need to go back to the beginning and fill the rest in but I do know where I am heading.

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I’m busy preparing for the Brechin/Angus Book Fest which is from 19th to 21st November 2021. I’m running a flash fiction workshop here and giving an author talk.

So looking forward to doing that and catching up with writer friends at this event too. Always happy to spread the word about flash fiction (and often at events one of the best ways of showing what flash is and can be is to read some. That has always gone down well. I’ve often felt adults like being read to as much as children love being read to – it’s just it doesn’t happen so often for us).

See below for more details on the Brechin event. There is a rather familiar looking book in the top right hand corner! This festival will be my first in-person book fair kind of event for at least two years and it will be lovely chatting to people in that kind of environment again. Book festivals are always great fun (and of course are great places to go if you want to get on with your Christmas shopping!).

Goodreads Author Blog – The Role of the Indie Press

Now I’m not unbiased here. I’m published by the indie press and the big thing they do for the world of literature is give many more authors a voice. The world of books is richer for that. There is more choice out there. It is just a question of knowing where to look (and why it is even more vital for authors to have their own websites so we can point people in the right direction!).

Naturally authors like me who are published by the indie press will support said indie press. It is literally in our own interests to do so but I would like to encourage others to try out books brought out by them too. The indie press does provide more variety so why shouldn’t we have that on our book shelves?

And a lot of the indie press will bring out short story, flash fiction, and poetry collections. That give us so much more variety in our reading and what’s not to like about that?

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Submissions, Housekeeping, and Anthologies

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Pleased to have submitted another story (a crime short) this evening. Am pushing myself to submit more often and am loving doing so. The nice thing is whatever happens to the stories, there will be things I can do with them later on. Nothing is ever wasted. If one competition doesn’t like it, will the tale suit another? Does it need a closer look and then submitting elsewhere? You have options!

Am working on my novel and also my Amazon Author Central pages (particularly for the US and UK). Hope to share the links for these soon. A big thanks to #PaulaReadman for putting me on to this. I blog regularly and use FB and other social media but this one had escaped me. It always pays to network with other writers because (a) it is huge fun, (b) reassures you that you are not alone in the crazy but wonderful world of writing, (c) you learn all sorts of things that can help you and, in turn, (d) you can help others too. All of that is great.

What has been nice has been looking up the various anthologies I’ve had work in over the years and it makes a nice selection to put up on said pages. So what now? Try to get in more anthologies of course!

A big thank you to my better half, Adrian, for taking the pics earlier today. It makes a huge difference when the writing geek in a family has support from the rest of the family (and something I am very grateful for).

PS  Have put the new pics up on other areas of the website. Housekeeping like this is a good habit to get into!

The writing life is made up of a series of special moments. You start by plucking up the courage to submit work somewhere. You then get your first rejection (almost inevitably) and you try again and again and then, hopefully, comes the great day when a piece of work is accepted. Joy!

But rejections continue to come in long after your first publication credit and you realise the writing life is a roller coaster and you need to learn to cope with the ups and the downs. Yes, even to cope with the ups, because you don’t want those to create the sense you can never better that special moment. You can hamstring yourself here!

You need, I think, to work towards making progress all the time. Progress can include trying forms of writing new to you and that’s a great opportunity to just write for fun. I took up flash fiction because Cafelit had put out a 100-word challenge and I just thought I’d give it a go. I didn’t expect anything to come from it but quickly became addicted to the form and things took off from there.

Progress can include looking at the rejections that come in and, if lucky enough to get comments, to see if there is a common thread.

Some competitions offer critiques for a fee in addition to the competition entry fee. I’ve gone for these sometimes.Some critiques are more useful than others but you literally pays your money and take your choice. You need to work out whether such a thing would be useful to you.

I only enter competitions that have been longstanding ones or where feedback on them is positive. I also go for critiques like these where the blurb tells you what to expect. For a short story, it is never going to be a long critique. What I’m after here is the critic’s general view of how well my story and characters come across. Tickbox critiques can work well here too.

Do you finish reading a story that hasn’t gripped you?

These days, I’m afraid I don’t – life’s too short etc – but I am pleased to say I can’t remember when I last abandoned a story. That’s partly I think because I’m getting better at picking out a tale that’s likely to appeal to me. It’s also because the moment a character has gripped me, I’ve got to find out what happens to them.

So of course you try to replicate that in your own writing. For me, it is always down to the characters which determines whether a story or book is successful or not. For non-fiction, it is the voice of the “narrator” of the piece that has to grip me and therefore determine whether I’m going to like the article or not.

Do you ever find you start a story slowly, then the pace quickens, and before you know it you can’t get the words down fast enough? I’ve likened this to almost taking dictation from your characters and that’s a good sign.

The other positive is that the slow start means you’ve started the story in the wrong place and that will be what you look at first to edit, cut, or rewrite later. You sometimes need to write a start like that to help get you going. The important thing IS to get going and have that first draft down. This is why I always write a story in full and then edit. I know it won’t be perfect straightaway (what is after all?) but that’s okay. The improvement works come later on.

Only the Ten Commandments were written in stone so just be aware you’ll need to go back and change that slow start. It if serves no purpose get rid of it. If there is useful material in there, what can you do to retain that and get it across to the reader in a better way? Sometimes that material can make a separate scene later once the pace has picked up and be a useful “take a breather” scene. Sometimes you can get the character to convey the information. There are options!

By the time you’re drafted your story and then re-read the whole thing, you should also have a better idea of where your tale should have begun. Hey presto, you take it from there!

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Am pushing myself on story submissions though I’ve mixed this up with flash tales, standard length short stories and so on. All good fun!

One of my longer term projects is my third flash fiction collection (which is at a reasonable length as it is now but needs editing. I’ve got some linked flash stories in this one and some historical pieces but would like to add a few more tales to this before I really edit the lot).

My starting point for a flash fiction story is always to work out who is the character who is leading it, what their motivations are, what they stand to win or lose by the end of the tale. All of these have got to be strong enough to keep my interest going (yet alone anyone else’s!) and if the three strands together, then a promising flash fiction story should be the result.

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I use first person a lot in flash fiction as it is so immediate but when I do name a character, it’s usually by Christian name only. This is partly due to the word count restriction but, much more importantly, I can convey what I need a reader to know about a character called Mary just by using that name only.

When I do bring in a surname it’s either a means to show what class/background that character belongs to OR another character is referring to them. That tells a reader immediately the named character is important to my narrator. It makes a useful flag!

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Another advantage to flash fiction is when you are really pressed for time to write, you can jot down something to work with. Whether you then extend those jottings to a full length 1500 words+ story or keep it as something that could work in the flash market is up to you, but you have the option! So never despair if you only have 10 minutes to write, you can get something down in that time.

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My CFT post this week will be about Moments that Matter but in flash fiction every moment matters!

Whatever kind of story you write, you select what the reader has to know, you leave gaps for them to work things out, and end with a satisfying conclusion to your tale. With flash, that whole process is more intense.

Every word must count and play its part. For example:-

She always wore velvet.

She always wore moth-eaten velvet.

Which of those lines would I use in a story? The second one.

This is because the “always” implies there’s a character here who may well be obsessed with what she wears. The “moth-eaten” tells you something about her financial well being (or she’s exceptionally careless about how she looks after her clothes). Yes. these are two extra words to the count but both add weight and meaning to the story so stay in.

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Goodreads Author Blog –

What Do You Look For in a Story?

What people look for in a story differs of course but, for me, the primary wish is to be entertained.

I don’t like it when genre fiction is looked down on for not being “highbrow”. That isn’t the purpose of genre fiction. Besides genre fiction CAN be challenging and make readers think.

There is nothing wrong in writing or reading “merely” to be entertained. A good story that can make you forget your troubles for while is wonderful.

One of the lovely things about books/stories is they can take you out of yourself for a while and that is invaluable. In difficult times, I’ve relished those periods when I’ve been able to escape with a good book. The ability to escape for a while is crucial.

I can understand the point of misery memoir but frankly it isn’t for me. I hope others find healing and help through it but I want to switch off the real world when I read and deliberately venture into something I know is totally made up!

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AMAZON CENTRAL

Below is the link to the US and UK pages I’ve set up on Author Central. More will be added as and when I have news/further publications out (there’s optimism for you!).  Hope you enjoy.

https://www.amazon.com/Allison-Symes/e/B07T3HT18L?ref_=pe_1724030_132998060

(American)

https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B07T3HT18L

(UK)

There are also pages for me on Author Central France, Germany, and Japan!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TALKING INTERVIEWS, FICTION, AND ANIMAL CHARACTERS

A good mix of topics for tonight I think!

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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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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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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

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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!

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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.

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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!