Stories – and why Flash Fiction isn’t new

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest CFT post The Story of Stories – Ali Babais effectively a two parter in that I discuss how I discovered the story of Ali Baba and next week’s post will be a review of that as a panto recently performed by The Chameleons.

It is always a great joy when writing these posts coming up with suitable Feature Images and I can’t recommend Pixabay and Pexels (both free to use sites) highly enough. Tonight’s image is my favourite to date. Many thanks, Pixabay!

I also discuss some of my favourite character types in this post and why fairytales definitely are NOT twee.

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Had a great time at Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, the pantomime staged by The Chameleons this year. Review to follow on CFT next week though for tomorrow’s post I do share where I came across this story and the special memories the book it was in has for me.

Yes, everyone did join in at the appropriate times in the panto.

Oh yes they did!

Reorganised my TBR pile earlier today. It is as large as ever but in a much neater heap now! To be fair, the pile IS slowly coming down but it is always the way I finish a few books, then somehow a few new ones make their way on and I’m back where I was!

Have almost finished drafting a story I want to submit later this month/early in February for a competition I took part in last year. Have got ideas for the annual Bridge House story too and want to flesh those out and go with what I like best.

I’m talking a little about the story of stories and why I think oral storytelling will never die out in my CFT post this week. Link up on Friday.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

In many ways flash fiction isn’t something new. It just hasn’t been known by that name. Many of the parables of Jesus come in at under 500 words (and quite a few under 100!) and I suspect that many of Aesop’s Fables would also qualify.

The ideals of the very short story are conciseness and clarity. There really is nothing more to be said! It is an art form to get to the level of conciseness required though but this is why I think every writer should try flash fiction. It beefs up your editing muscles a LOT!

I don’t have an issue with serious stories. They serve a major purpose and can be a great way of getting a message across and usually on causes needing that.

However, I am a huge fan of stories “just” being for fun and things like pantomimes, where the story is acted out, and a great time is had by the cast and the audience are, I think, vital for keeping a proper balance.

There has to be light AND dark in fiction I think.

Can you cover concepts such as freedom in flash fiction, given its limited word count?

I think so. You can show what it means to ONE character. You can show your character’s attitude to it. You can’t go into much depth due to that word count restriction but you can imply so much with your character’s attitude and reaction. The reader can then figure out just how important (or otherwise) the concept is to that character.

You can show a character’s attitude to freedom by what they do to attain it (and that can be to restrict the freedom of someone else or to remove them if they are seen to be the obstacle to that freedom). Actions and attitudes then are the way to convey what a character really holds dear.

Fairytales with Bite – Where Stories Go Wrong

Where stories go wrong can be down to a number of factors but I list what I think are the most important points below.

1.  Character not strong enough.
By this I mean the character does not grab the reader’s attention.  There is not enough in the character to make the reader want to have their attention grabbed!  A reader needs to either identify with the character and so follow the story to see if all works out in the end, or be very happy to see your character get their comeuppance and again follow the story through to find out if they do!  (I remember wanting to cheer when Molly Weasley in Harry Potter “dealt with” Bellatrix Lestrange – and sorry but I refuse to accept that’s a plot spoiler now!  The point is the characters or Molly and Bellatrix grabbed my attention.  One I wanted to succeed, the other not to and so I was hooked).

2.  Story not strong enough.
There isn’t enough conflict or drama to warrant there being a story!  Things have got to happen in a story and sometimes those things are not necessarily dramatic but they are everything to your characters.  The reader needs to find out how your people will react if things do or don’t turn out well in the end.  Is there enough in your story to make readers want to find out what happens next?  It can be a good test to step aside from your work for a bit and come back to it as a reader would.  Is your story the kind you would eagerly pick up from a book shop because its opening lines and its blurb grip you?

3.  Characters not distinguishable from each other.
Each major character has to have their own voice.  A reader should be able to tell who is who.  If they can’t confusion sets in and nobody will read a story like that.

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This World and Others – The Story of Stories

I look at this in my latest CFT post and it was a temptation to go straight into a history of stories.  Instead I focused on one – Ali Baba (partly because I’m reviewing the panto of it next week!) – but what is fascinating about stories like this which cross cultures and time is why they have.  My own feeling is that the characters and themes of the stories still resonate and they will continue to survive because of that.

The challenge for us as writers then is to ensure our own characters and themes resonate so readers will want to engage with them.  How can we do this?  By ensuring that our characters have virtues we aspire to and failures we can sympathise with!  No goody-goodies.  No villains who act in ways we can’t understand.  There has to be a reason for them acting the way they are, even if the reason isn’t a good one.  A reader has to be able to see where the character is coming from even if they think (rightly or wrongly) the character is going in totally the wrong direction!

As for themes, you can’t beat the big ones of love, justice, redemption etc.  What matters is the take we bring to these themes.  My voice (and therefore my characters) will be unique to me, yours will be unique to you.  Mix things up.  Often the themes of love and redemption are used together and very powerfully too.  So write about what matters to you.  If justice is your raison d’etre, then how can you convey that in a story?  Do you have a character who fights passionately for justice or who has been a victim of injustice?  What makes your character special that they’re going to stand out to, firstly, an editor and, secondly, readers?

Work out what you would like your story to convey.  Planning is vital, I find, to stop me going off at a tangent.  Focus.  Edit. Fine tune your story so you ensure it meets your theme.  Cut out anything that doesn’t help the story with that objective.  And have fun doing it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time To Read and Heroes and Villains

Image Credit:  Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for taking the picture of me reading at the recent Bridge House event and for kind permission to use it.

Facebook – General

My To Be Read pile is increasing again! Do you find you have moods where you just want to read books and, at other times, you just want to read magazines? I do. I used to ride an exercise bike and read while on that but frankly it is a very boring form of exercise. I prefer to walk the dog and swim, both of which exclude reading!

Am planning to have Christmas reading time as a treat to me. I do read something each day but I’d like solid periods of reading time. I don’t want it to be a choice between writing time and reading time. I want both! Thoughts on how to get a good balance here would be welcome.

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I looked at finding time to read in my latest Goodreads blog the other day. It is just as important as finding time to write given we have to feed our own imaginations and by far the best way of doing that is to read widely ourselves. It also supports the industry we want to be part of!

So whether you borrow from the library (always a fab idea, that!), buy books, stick to reading on the Kindle, the important thing is to read, read, and read. A tip often passed on to new writers is to write what you want to read. How can you know what that is unless you read widely and discover what that is? (Sometimes you can discover what you don’t want to write as well!).

Naturally I’m going to put in a plug for the small indie presses such as Bridge House Publishing and Chapeltown Books since this is very much book buying season.

Can I also put a shout out for reviews for books you’ve read? Reviews don’t have to be long – one or two lines is enough. People do read them. (I always read product reviews whether it is on my online shopping or what have you!).

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Which night of the week, if any, do you find it the hardest to write anything? For me, it is always a Monday. Yes, I write, but I write more on every other day of the week! Maybe I need a “slow day” to make me get a move on for the rest of the week. Maybe it’s just a Monday thing…

The good thing is I’ve learned over time not to worry about this. The important thing is I am writing and loving it. I’ve learned to focus on that. I am also convinced a writer’s love of writing will show through in what they actually produce.

And the “little” bits of writing mount up over time so I’ve learned never to underestimate only having small pockets of time to write in at times (whether it is due to it being a Monday or not!).

It is often said you can tell much about a person by how they treat others who can do nothing for them. This is true but it should also be true for your characters. How do they react to those they would consider weak? (Incidentally, are they right on that or are THEY themselves the weak ones but just don’t know it?).

In the setting of your story, what are the rules? Are older people treated with respect (perhaps even venerated) or are they considered of little worth and belittled? Does your character go along with what is the status quo here or do they rebel against it? If they rebel, what are the consequences? Are they the catalyst for positive change here?

Plenty of food for thought and story ideas there, I hope!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Great article on flash fiction in Writing Magazine. It is good to see the form get more publicity. I still find the question I’m asked most frequently is just what is flash fiction? While technically it is any story under 1000 words, I must admit I prefer flash to be 500 or under, though From Light to Dark and Back Again contains a good mix from across the word count spectrum here.

Also good to see more competitions for flash and having it added as a category to festival competitions. Sure signs flash is in a very healthy state and long may that continue!

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Whether I read novels, short stories, plays etc, I nearly always find a few stand out moments that stay with me long after I’ve finishing reading. I suppose that looking out for specific moments in fiction that stand out might have subconciously drawn me to flash fiction given you have to make an impact quickly there.

Some of my favourite stand out moments include:-

Frodo offering to take the Ring to Mordor. You know everything changes from that point.

The fairy godmother turning up at Cinderella’s. Again you know everything will change then.

The Little Mermaid realising the Prince is not going to fall for her. Just such powerful stuff, given all she has gone through and you must read the original Hans Christen Andersen story to get the full impact of that.

Inspector Alan Grant in The Daughter of Time discovering the picture he has been given is that of Richard III and wondering what mystery he will find in the king’s story. You just know he’ll find something otherwise there is no story here. Again a major change point.

 

Sometimes selecting the right “moment in time” to be your flash fiction story can be tricky. My guiding rule is to go for whichever of the choices I have which makes the most impact on an impartial reader.

Incidentally I don’t “tug on the heartstrings” here. Any impact has to arise naturally out of the situation I’ve put my characters in and therefore any reaction is genuine. No matter how fantastical your setting, you have to keep it real!

And there must be something about your character that fascinates your reader in some way. It will be that which makes them read on.

What is the appeal of a well written villain? They’ve got to have good reasons for being as they are (and even elicit some sympathy from the readers for them). They’ve got to challenge the hero/heroine and make them work for their achievements. Hey, nothing worthwhile ever comes easy, does it? The villain should be reasonably likeable (it gives the reader the lovely dilemma of knowing they really shouldn’t want the villain to win BUT secretly they wouldn’t mind THAT much).

What is the appeal of a well written hero/heroine? Funnily enough there are a lot of parallels with the well written villain. Your hero/heroine should also have good reasons for being as they are (and should elicit FAR MORE sympathy from the readers for them). They should challenge, and ultimately defeat, the villain, no matter what is thrown their way. They WILL work for their achievements. They’ve got to be reasonably likeable (though no character is without flaws) for any reader to engage with them. They shouldn’t be “goody two shoes” as that will just annoy most readers.

Goodreads Author Programme Blog –

Finding the Time to Read

Finding the time to read is one of the most important things any would-be writer should do. We need to read widely and well to feed our own imaginations, to work out how we would portray characters and so on.

Like, I suspect, the majority of people, I save my reading time for when I’m in bed, which works fine. It took me a while to figure out that if I do actually want to read, I need to go to bed before my system tells me it wants to get on and sleep, thank you very much! But now I’ve finally figured that out, I relish my quality reading time.

I am planning additional periods of Christmas reading time though. I want to block out times when I do nothing but read. The thought of that is bliss! After all I carve out times for creative writing and stick to those and lo and behold I get creative writing done! The same principle must apply to carving out reading time. I’ll give it a go anyway.

I do find I have moods where I just want to read books. Other times I just want to read magazines. But I think the best gift anyone can give a reader is the time in which to indulge their love of books!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Books, Writing Flash Fiction Almost Anywhere, and a Non-Fiction Favourite

 

Classic Books - image via Pixabay

Non-fiction and especially history should not be deadly dull.  Image via Pixabay.

 

Good range of topics tonight, I think.

Definitely covers the spectrum (well, okay, I left novel writing out but another time perhaps!).

Facebook – General

What is on your to be read list? I have a mixture of history (fiction and non-fiction), fantasy, crime, P.G.Wodehouse, biographies – and that’s just on my Kindle.

Still, it is always good to have plenty of wonderful material to read and I’m in no danger of running out anytime soon.

Logically then you might feel the last thing I need is more books. Get out of it.

Logic does not come into it when it comes to buying books. A title/story (and I include non-fiction in this) grips you and you want to read it as soon as you can or not as the case may be. Therefore, you have to buy!

Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

Looking forward to the Chandler’s Ford Book Fair on Saturday!

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My Bridge House Publishing/Cafelit/Chapeltown Books works to date.  Image by Allison Syme

BookFairPoster8

Looking forward to the Book Fair on Saturday. I buy books as well as write them!  Image from Catherine Griffin (Chandler’s Ford Writers’ Hub).

Feature Image - Flash Fiction - Books are Gateway - image via Pixabay

Says it all really and applies to non-fiction equally as fiction. Image via Pixabay.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Making progress on what I hope will be my second book. I suppose another thing I love about flash fiction is it also easy to write almost anywhere. Naturally, I keep notebooks and pens in my bag but am increasingly using my mobile phone for this kind of thing.

I love using Evernote to scribble down ideas and stories when I’m on trains etc. Really useful program and I can share contents to different places so I know I will always have at least one back up. I’m using the free version of Evernote at the moment but like it a lot.

Nice to be able to use it to take pictures, which I have done. Have not used the audio function as I prefer to write stories, rather than dictate them. Good to have the option though!

And it remains my big hope that flash fiction as a whole will tempt people who are reluctant readers (you’re not asking them to commit to a big read all in one go).

Also, I hope it will encourage those who feel they don’t have enough time to read to realise well actually you do. Five minutes here. Five minutes there. And flash fiction is the answer when it comes to providing a quick read!

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Goodreads Blog – Favourite Non-Fiction

My favourite non-fiction is usually history, based on an era I know reasonably well, but which then goes on to show me aspects I had NOT known.

A good example of this is The Maligned King by Annette Carson, who re-assesses Richard III’s reign and uses source materials to do so. It is a fascinating read.

I like the whole Wars of the Roses history (though thankful not to have lived through it!) but the story of Richard and the “did he or didn’t he?” motif is a particular favourite.

There is so much material here I had not heard of and there has been an update to the book recently given the discovery of the King in the now infamous Leicester car park. I had the original book in hardback, the update gave me the perfect excuse to download it to Kindle!

I am, of course, open to reading about other eras I know less about but, given limited reading time, I “target” my reading accordingly. Why is there never enough time to read as much as you’d like?

Personal history can often be found in things like old exercise books, which in turn reveal things about political history and how much people knew at the time. Image via Pixabay.

Personal history can often be found in things like old exercise books, which in turn reveal things about political history and how much people knew at the time. Image via Pixabay.