All About Time

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest CFT post looks at time management (and oh I would love to be better at that!) and at time travel. Naturally a certain Doctor makes an appearance in the post and I also look at if time travel were to become possible, where would you go and why? What would you do while there? Comments as ever welcome on the CFT page.

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I discuss the art of time management and time travel in this week’s CFT post. (I suppose thinking about it further, you could say one of the earliest forms of time management in the UK was when the railways standardised time for us all).

On the assumption time travel ever becomes possible (and I’m not counting the gags that say something like travelling on XXX railway makes you feel as if you’ve gone back to the 1860s!), where would go and why?

Thinking heads on. Link goes up tomorrow. Comments welcome in the CFT comments box when post goes live. (If you’re really keen it goes live at just after midnight but you may have to wait to get a reply from me! Unlike Cinderella, I know where I’m going to be at midnight and it won’t be at my keyboard… ah the joys of middle age!).

One good thing about the dark nights coming in earlier is it does encourage reading and writing!

I don’t need much of an excuse to curl up with a good book or get on with various writing projects as it is but the lighter evenings during the summer months can make me feel a bit guilty about not getting more gardening done etc. Note the “a bit”. Easy enough to squash so I can get on with reading and writing! I just wish I could stop feeling the slightly guilty feeling at all!

I often prefer lighter reading and writing during the darker months too. Contrast in mood perhaps? Whatever, it’s definitely time to get on with some writing once again!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I often use lightning flashes in my photos for posts like this, given I think they reflect accurately how a flash fiction story illuminates and impacts on the reader. Very briefly and then over, but you don’t forget the impact.

A short story (say 1500 words+) to me is like shining a torch around – more light for a greater period of time but the impact can be diluted.

Sometimes you want that – you want the story as a whole to impact on your reader and you can only know if it‘s done that by reading and re-reading the whole thing.

The novel is like having a great big light on constantly. When you switch it off (stop reading it), that’s when you think about the impact it has made on you. Or that is how it has always seemed to be to me. I didn’t really appreciate the greatness of The Lord of the Rings until I’d finished reading it. You then take a mental step back and realise the huge scale of the trilogy.

Flash fiction makes you focus on the little details but the great thing with that is you can take this and use it to sharpen your longer works of fiction. No dull bits ever, thank you! The sections that are necessary to link the action should still carry the reader with them. The reader should be as keen to read those sections as they are the main scenes. Flash makes you tighten up your writing and this is enormously useful for ensuring your longer stories flow as they should.

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Time is the theme of my CFT post this week (time management and time travel. If the latter ever becomes possible, you will have to be really good at the former to make said travelling work well for you!). I’ve used time as a theme for a few of my flash fiction pieces – Telling the Time (there’s a clue somewhere here!) and Time Waits for No Man (likewise!).

My main use of time though for flash fiction is deciding on when I’m setting the story. Am I going to tell it as it “happens” to the character or will I get the character to look back on an event? I use both regularly and usually it is clear which would work better. So much depends on the character A reflective type would be best suited to looking back at something that had happened (which I do in They Don’t Understand). An active “go get them” kind would probably be better off telling the story AS it happens, implying the passing of time as we go through the events with them.

What do I look for in an opening line for flash fiction? I don’t necessarily need to know who the lead character is funnily enough, but I DO need to know the setting, the attitude of the narrator (especially if this is a first person piece), and some indication of what the problem is. That problem and how it is overcome IS the story of course.

Something about the narrator/lead character has got to intrigue me enough to make me want to read on. A great piece of flash fiction will make you ponder whether YOU would have acted in the same way as the character you’ve just read about!

Fairytales with Bite – Favourite Times

What are your characters’ favourite times? Curling up with a good book? Lazing in the bath? Going for a good walk with the dog?

Use questions like this to help you establish your character. The answers may not appear in your story but knowing something about the character before you start writing about them will be enormously helpful. You don’t need to know each and every little detail. What you want is enough information that you can write clearly for them, knowing how they would react to a situation and why. The reader will pick up on the fact you really do know your character (even if they do this subconciously, in many ways it is better if they do pick up on this that way) and the writing will flow better as a result.

Of course, working out what your characters’ favourite times will tell you so much about them. Do they curl up with a good book because they can’t face what is their real life? Why can’t they face it? Dig deep. Maybe you will surprise yourself with what your characters show you about themselves. Use that.

This World and Others – Time

My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week talks about time management and time travel.  Guess which one I want to get better at!  Joking aside, this led me to think about how we use time in stories.

A lot of my flash fiction stories are set within a very short time period (appropriately) and are written in the first person, precisely because I want to achieve a sense of “immediacy”.  For other pieces I have the lead character looking back at their lives and being reflective so the time within stories like that is longer, “stretched” if you like, and the pace of the story is slower.  What grabs you with those kinds of tale is the character – something about them intrigues you enough to make you want to find out more.

Time in itself can make a useful theme for stories (too little of it, too much of it etc) but I’ve found it helpful to think about the kind of story I want to tell and then work out what the best time frame for that tale would be.  In my Pressing the Flesh the opening line is “It was 3 am”.  The impact of that is to make you wonder (a) why the time is important and (b) to assume the character concerned is unlikely to be up to any good at that time of night.  (Quite right too – see my From Light to Dark and Back Again for the whole story!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REMEMBERING – AND THE POINT OF FICTION

Facebook – General

I had a friend, now sadly gone, who couldn’t understand the point of fiction. He only read non-fiction and thought the world was too wonderful to want to make things up!

I had some sympathy for that view funnily enough, as I could see what he was getting at, but I did point out that fiction can show truths facts can’t always do. Fiction can show elements of human nature in a better way than just relating a list of what we are capable of.

I also think fiction should encourage empathy. We root for characters we like. Why? Because there is something in them we can identify with or aspire to in ourselves. So does it follow then the more we read, the more we encourage empathy in ourselves? I like to think so.

 

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Very moved by the Remembrance events over the weekend. So many stories we know about, so many still untold (not everyone wants to “open up” about what they went through). So much history recalled – personal, national and international. I was also pleased to see the animals who served in the war (especially horses and dogs) were also remembered at various times over the weekend.

One common theme running through Doctor Who is how one action, no matter how small, can change the history of the individual and, from that, the history of their country, the planet even. Very much a chain reaction.

So when are we planning our characters and stories, look for the pivotal moments that are going to turn everything upside down. What is behind those moments? What makes your characters act and react the way they do (given there is always an opposite reaction to be considered)? Is the motivation of your character strong enough to justify the stance they’re taking?

Glad to hear one of my favourite radio shows, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, is back on Radio 4. Some fantastic word play here. Got to see the live show a little while back. Good fun. If you get the chance to go, do so. Laugh a minute is not an exaggeration!

I’m very fond of a good pun. (Am also very fond of a dreadful one!). I like playing with the language like this. (This is also why the late great Frank Muir and Denis Norden are much missed. They were fabulous at this).

I occasionally get to give my characters a humorous one liner, which I enjoy doing, but I think it has more impact because I don’t do this all the time. Also the humour has to arise out of the situation I’ve put the characters in and mustn’t feel forced. A reader will spot that a mile off.

But having fun with the language is one of the great joys of writing.

My CFT post this week will look at the art of time management and takes in a quick look at time travel too. More on Friday.

How does time work in your stories? I don’t tend to think of it much as most of my flash fiction is very much in the “here and now”. I’m not sure though whether my using the first person encourages that or if the here and now encourages the use of the first person! Jury out here…

Even those pieces where a character is looking back at a period of life have a kind of bracketed time zone. It can only be for so long. I suppose you could argue I use time as a kind of a frame for my flash fiction and that does work well. As ever, though, be consistent with your use of time throughout the story.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

R = Recalling the debt we owe
E = Engaging with the past so we do not end up re-living it
M = Memories to be treasured and learnt from
E = Elegies and the war poetry of Sassoon and Owen amongst others
M = Men fallen and wounded, numbers too vast to comprehend
B = Bugles and the moving notes of The Last Post
R = Regiments, so many of them “old pals” networks. Reflect an almost forgotten era.
A = Armistice Achieved Eventually.
N = Never again they said. Sadly they were wrong. What can WE do then? Remember, recall, DON’T repeat.
C = Creatures such as the horses that also saw active service, amongst others.
E = Edith Cavell, Nurse, who rightly wanted to help the injured of both sides.

Allison Symes – 10th November 2018

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How do the seasons affect your characters? The reduced amount of sunlight throughout the autumn and winter months is known to affect many people in terms of moods, being more prone to depressive attacks (in terms of quantity and how long each episode lasts). Should our characters reflect this too? I think so.

As well as the general point of acknowledging depression openly, (pretending it doesn’t exist or happen helps nobody), I think it unrealistic to have characters in a “set” state of mind. Their moods are bound to fluctuate, whether it is due to the lack of sunlight, the earlier and longer nights, or the circumstances they’re facing or a combination of that.

When we portray our characters, we must show them honestly for them to have any resonance with our readers. While there isn’t the word count room in flash fiction to show a lot of change of moods (you’d need the longer short stories and novels for that), you CAN give an indication of a character’s usual mood and where/what has changed it.

For example, in my They Don’t Understand, I start with my lead character showing us he has blamed himself for something. As the story progresses, he recalls his life with his wife, and then the ending, the “punch in the gut” end as I like to think of it, shows why he blamed himself at the start. This was one of my longer flash fiction pieces and I needed all the words available here to convey this sense of mood well enough. But without those changes of mood, and the reasons for them, the story simply wouldn’t have impact.

Flash fiction isn’t a new idea, far from it. The name of it might be but the concept isn’t. Aesop’s Fables would count as flash fiction as would many of Jesus’s parables in the New Testament. (Many come in at under 100 words!). (The longer story of the Good Samaritan is a great example of the Rule of Three in action too!). Truly, there is nothing new under the sun!

Having said that, the challenge for flash fiction writers now, as with any story writer, is to come up with strong characters and engaging ideas which grip your reader so much they HAVE to read your story through. I call it the “do I have to read this and read it NOW?” test. If the answer to that is a resounding “yes”, you are definitely on to something!

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What are your favourite times for writing? I find late afternoon into the evening works best for me. With most of the day’s cares behind me, I can focus on writing something I love and relish every moment of it.

I’ve found the biggest thing about having a regular writing “slot” is it conditions you to accept this is the time you will write so you settle down and get on with it (never a bad thing that!).

I try to mix up what I write during the week as a whole. I focus on my CFT post first, then get on with the flash fiction and other, longer term, projects I’ve got in mind. Keeps the imagination busy!

 

 

Goodreads Author Blog – Remembering

I write this on the eve of Remembrance Sunday/Armistice Day 2018 when all thoughts turn to remembering those who sacrificed so much.

This is where the war poetry of Sassoon and Owen amongst others hits home. This is where historical writing – fiction AND non-fiction, can truly show what life would have been like in the trenches (and make us devoutly thankful we’ll never face anything like that).

The testimonies and local history records should be treasured. Reading others’ experiences and thoughts should encourage empathy in us (and I think is one of the truly great things about fiction generally).

There are so many stories – someone local to me has found out the stories of those on our War Memorial. Imagine that happening up and down the UK. Every single person recalled and their story told.

Fiction is wonderful and should reflect the human condition but the sheer brutal facts of non-fiction around things like the World Wars should never be forgotten. We owe a huge debt to those who wrote things down so we have those written records. We dare not forget (else be destined to re-live) and writers play a crucial role here.

 

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