How Has Your Summer Been?

Image Credit:  As ever, Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

ADVANCE NEWS:  Delighted to say I’ll be sharing a platform via Zoom with Gill James of Bridge House Publishing and, fellow flash fiction writer, Dawn Kentish Knox on Saturday 26th September 2020 between 3 and 4 pm UK time. More details further down and I will flag it up again nearer the time. We’ll be talking about the writing life and our books and working with a publisher so plenty to enjoy. Tickets for the event are FREE but you do need to register. Link also below.

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My post for CFT this week is called How Has Your Summer Been?

This could’ve been a short post – two words ending in “awful”. 😄It’s not, honest!

I look back at the summer and share highlights including my video for the Waterloo Arts Festival in July, which includes part of my winning story, Books and the Barbarians.Hope you enjoy.

Reviewing the summer, as I have done for Chandler’s Ford Today this week, is the kind of fun post I like to write every now and then. It is a good opportunity to look back and recall the positives as well as acknowledge the negatives.

This summer has been the strangest one I’ve known (and hope I’m likely to know. I do fervently hope next year is much closer to normal than where we are now.

I know people talk about the new normal and there will be that, but I also believe in the truth of the saying “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”. I want what was good from pre-lockdown to come back/remain and my post reflects this.

 

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EVENT NEWS – 26TH SEPTEMBER 2020

ADVANCE NEWS and bonus post from yours truly.

I’ll be taking part in a special Zoom event on September 26th from 3 to 4 pm (UK time) with Gill James (Bridge House Publishing, Chapeltown Books, Cafelit) and Dawn Kentish Knox, fellow flash fiction writer.

Link for FREE tickets below and the blurb for the event also.

Eventbrite link for Bridge House Publishing event on 26th September 2020.

Some of our writers will read from their work and tell us about their life as a writer. We shall give some insight into the publishing process. There will be free gifts for all attendees.

(Dawn is in the middle of the top picture when you click on the link and her The Great War is such a moving example of what flash fiction can do and be. Always happy to recommend that!).

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Boy, did the heavens open at about 5 pm. So glad I didn’t go out with the dog until 6 pm! Still plenty of idiots not allowing for flooding on the road etc and driving without a thought for anyone else. Mind, I guess they’d do that anyway regardless of what the weather is. Keep well, drive safe, and avoid the huge puddles, everyone!

I’ve TWO CFT posts to share with you this week. My usual spot tomorrow night is my review of the summer (and there are good points, honest! I also get to share my Waterloo Arts Festival video so if you would like to hear an extract from my winning story, Books and the Barbarians, you can do so!).

Meanwhile, I do have a stories page on my website so if you fancy a quick read do pop over (see link below). I hope to add more stories to this page in due course. One lovely thing about flash fiction is it can make a great advert for the other writing you do and it is easy to share.

My second CFT post is a Local Author Post with YA author, Richard Hardie (Leap of Faith and Trouble With Swords). He has special news to share and that post will go out on Saturday.

Also on Saturday will be my spot for the Association of Christian Writers’ blog page, More than Writers. I’ll be looking at Creating Characters which I hope you’ll find useful. I look forward to sharing that.

Above my desk I have a framed print which reads “Don’t give up on your dreams”. I’ve found that very encouraging and no doubt will continue to do so, but if I could add a modifier to it, I would put in something like “it’s perfectly okay to change your dreams if you need to!”.

I say that because I changed direction with my writing to focus on flash fiction (and I am so pleased I did that!).

Just because one dream doesn’t work out quite as you thought, that’s no reason to think ANY dream of yours is bound to fail.

I have unpublished work that I hope at one point might see the light of day somewhere (especially after work on it!) but I will not fret much if it doesn’t happen. (I would like to say I wouldn’t fret at all but writers always have something that niggles a bit and it is usually an unpublished MSS they would like to do something with! It can haunt you…).

Why? Because my dream was to be a writer and then to be a published one. I hadn’t anticipated it would be in short form fiction but that’s fine and it came as a pleasant surprise.

I would say it was more important to be open to trying new forms of writing as you may well discover an avenue that you hadn’t known existed and who knows where that might take you?

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

F = Fun to write and read.
L = Length of story may be short but the impact is powerful.
A = Adjectives are made redundant as you find better choices of word to suit your word count limit! (This is a good thing. Makes you think about word choice more).
S = Story. It is all about the story. Something has to happen that a reader wants to find out about.
H = Hero/heroine – oh yes. But the number of characters in a flash tale are limited. You have to focus on one or two at most AND the most important point.

F = Fabulous settings and worlds are possible.
I = Imagination can be set free. The limits of flash fiction encourage you to think outside the box more. Just where can you set your characters? Anywhere, actually!
C = Characters. They are your stars. Flash fiction has to be character led, even if that character is “just” your narrator. Monologues can be effective flash fiction pieces.
T = Time. The time frame in a flash tale has to be limited but having a framework, I’ve always found, encourages creativity. Just what can you do inside that frame?
I = Intensity. Flash focuses sharply. You are looking at one/two characters and what happens to them in a short span. So a flash tale is intense and can pack a powerful punch emotionally precisely because of its short word count.
O = Originality. I’ve found writing flash encourages this. You learn to think differently. What can I get my character to be/to do in this short space? What reaction do I want to trigger in a reader and how can the character act in such a way so that happens? Your character can be in any point in time and space, can be any species you care to invent etc. There’s a lot of potential for originality there!
N = Nothing new under the sun? Maybe. The very short form of story writing has been around for a long time. Think about Aesop’s Fables, Jesus’s parables in the Bible etc. We just call it flash fiction now. So what can you do with your flash fiction writing? Have fun with it. Explore what YOU can bring to the table here.

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I’ve written a mixture of story moods and word count lengths for Tripping the Flash Fantastic, as I did with From Light to Dark and Back Again.

For TTFF though I’ve written a flash story in diary form for the first time, which was great fun to do, though it does come in at the upper limit for flash. It was good to experiment though and I do love the characters in this particular tale, especially the feisty Rose – and that’s all I can say for now!

I loved putting the collection together for Chapeltown Books. I like a mixture of moods in what I read so it is only natural that should be reflected in what I write.

 

 

Flash fiction might be stories in miniature but they still need to have a proper beginning, middle, and ending. A successful flash fiction story leaves the reader feeling as if no more could be said.

I like to think of flash fiction as precision writing as you need to select words carefully to make the most of the available word count but it does help with any other writing you do.

The habit of selecting words carefully carries over and that is so useful. So often the first choice of word is not necessarily the best one for what you are trying to say. It’s natural to reach for the “obvious” when something with more depth is what is needed to make your story become something special.

That doesn’t mean writing purple prose though. Clarity is everything. Think specifics.

For example:-

Harriet wore a coat that belonged to her grandmother. Granny always said a woman ought to have an outfit or something to match.

Not a lot of info there. Match what exactly?

How about:-

Harriet wore a red coat that belonged to her grandmother. Granny always said a woman ought to have an outfit or something to match.

Better. Have got a little more detail here and we now know Granny clearly liked bright colours and matching accessories. No subdued shades either. That may well reveal something about Granny and Harriet.

Better still:-

Harriet wore a scarlet coat that belonged to her grandmother. Granny always said a scarlet woman ought to have an outfit or something to match.
Allison Symes – 26th August 2020

Now that’s better! (And doesn’t Granny sound an interesting character!).

 

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Fairytales With Bite –

Which Fairytale Character Should You Be Wary Of?

I know, I know. Look out for the witch in the big, black pointed hat with a wand aimed at you. Yes, you should watch for her. But also look out for the disgruntled fairy godmother with a penchant for spinning wheels and very sharp needles.

Generally though I’d look out for the quiet characters in fairytales. They’re either going to end up as the unexpected hero/heroine or are a remarkably sneaky villain. And always look out for anyone who has a reason to get revenge because you just know they’re going to do so.

I’d also watch out for anyone who says they can do a little magic. Why? Because they’re either lying through their teeth and are experts OR they’re telling the truth and could kill everyone with their incompetence. (Think The Sorcerer’s Apprentice here).

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This World and Others – Time

How is time going to work on the fictional world you set up? Will it be the same as we have here or can it run backwards? Or does it run faster or slower than here? What are the impacts on the characters of all of this?

Think about how time is measured. Are your characters’ lives dictated by time (and by implication mortality)? If any of your characters are not worried about time, why is that? Are they immortal and what are the downsides to that? (There will be some and do see Doctor Who’s The Five Doctors for more on that. An excellent storyline!).

Is anyone able to control time? Anyone who could do that would hold a great deal of power so what would they do with that?

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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!).