They Came from Mars and Other Top Tips

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When a spoof works… CFT Review – They Came From Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall in time for the Townswomen’s Coffee Morning?

Delighted to share my review of this fabulous production, the latest to be staged by The Chameleon Theatre Company – Chandlers Ford. It was huge fun spotting the references and recalling the musical links.
I also go on to discuss the “rules” for a good spoof and why I think humour is the hardest genre to write well.

Spotting all the references and gags here would take at least two visits to the show!

Images supplied by Lionel Elliott, Mike Morris and The Chameleons. A huge thank you as ever. Captions on the CFT post.

 

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Further to my earlier post about The Chameleon’s latest production, just why is humour so difficult to write well?

(Said production incidentally easily has the longest title of a play I’ve reviewed and I can’t see it being beaten any time soon! Well, what do YOU make of They Came From Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall in time for the Townswomen’s Coffee Morning? Try saying that quickly! Go on give it a go!).

So humorous writing – the pitfalls (and this is not a comprehensive list by any means):-

1. Humour is subjective. Not everyone gets your style of joke.

2. Sometimes you will come across people who really don’t like funny writing of any kind. My late mum loved books across a wide range of genres (including sci-fi) but just didn’t get funny writing. It was her blind spot. This happens. Nothing you can do about it. (And yes I went the other way and LOVE funny writing!).

3. Humour doesn’t always translate well between countries, cultures etc. So to get something that does cross boundaries is pretty special.

What is your favourite form of humorous writing? Where the humour is “in your face” or do you prefer the subtle one-liner etc?

I love all humorous writing but if I had to pick a favourite, I adore those one-liners which can turn a story on its head and make you laugh at the same time.

You can bet the writer would have written and re-written that line several times to get it spot on and it wouldn’t have just been the words themselves. The rhythm of a sentence can make a difference to how funny it is perceived to be. Punchlines are generally short for maximum impact for that reason.

As part of my CFT review of The Chameleons’ latest hilarious production, I’ll also be looking at what makes a spoof work and what I think some of the “rules” are. Link up tomorrow.

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My CFT post this week will be a review of the Chameleon Theatre Group’s latest production. They Came From Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall in time for the Townswomen’s Coffee Morning doesn’t trip off the tongue but is a classic example of a title showing clearly what the story is – a spoof!

I will be discussing spoofs and comedy as well as part of the review. Link up on Friday.

What amazes me with the Chameleons though is I have seen them stage everything from Arthur Miller’s All My Sons to Blackadder to hilarious pantos and all of them have been wonderfully entertaining.

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Five top tips:-

1. Never be afraid to change a title if the one you first thought of just isn’t making enough impact on you. (It won’t on anyone else either. Trust your gut here and don’t be afraid to play around with titles until you find one that does hit home).

2. Think about the emotional impact you want your story to have on a reader before you write it. Take a little time to figure out how best to achieve it. This is where outlining is useful, even if you do a broad outline.

3. Once the story is written, put it away for a while. When you re-read it, read it out loud. Hear how your dialogue sounds. Is there anything in it to trip you up or does it sound clunky? What looks good on paper or screen doesn’t always translate well into being read out loud.

4. Assume you will have to edit more than once. We all do! (But see it as getting your story into shape and helping increase its chances of being published).

5. Be open to trying new forms of writing as you may discover avenues you hadn’t considered but which you discover a skill for. I hadn’t started as a flash fiction writer! ‘Nuff said.

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Favourite endings for flash fiction tales for me include:-

1. A punchline that turns the story on its head.

2. A laugh-out loud moment. (You then read the story again and pick up on the clues that show this moment is coming but which you missed first go, being too eager to find out how the tale did end. Guilty as charged on too many occasions to count on that one).

3. A poetic justice ending. I love those and several of my stories include this. (Subconscious wish to put the world to rights I suspect is coming out here!).

4. A revelation. This can be a character finally showing what has motivated them, some aspect of their personality that hasn’t come out until the end and which makes a huge difference to the outcome, or an action to finish the story on.

Fun with Flash:-

1. Flash stories can be ideal for those characters who would drive people nuts if their tales went on for too long so have some fun with this. Keep your tale short and you can use characters you might otherwise have to discard.

2. Punchlines work well in flash. I sometimes use them as twist endings to a story. But again punchlines work best if they’re kept short so flash fiction can be a good vehicle for them.

3. If you have a short scene in a longer work that you’d like to keep in but can’t justify as it is an amusing character sketch (for example) but nothing more, how about turning it into a piece of flash fiction? Let it stand on its own. Flash is brilliant for focusing on one character and one moment in time. Waste not, want not. (You may find in turning it into a story, the scene suddenly develops “legs” after all).

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Fairytales with Bite – They Came From Mars

My CFT post this week is a review of a wonderful spoof staged by The Chameleon Theatre Group. The title is likely to remain the longest of any play I’ve ever reviewed. Try saying They Came From Mars and Landed Outside the Farndale Avenue Church Hall in time for the Townswomen’s Coffee Morning in a hurry!

No matter where your story is set, or how outlandish your fictional world is, it still has to be populated by characters whom we can understand and either root for, or love to hate. They must generate an emotional reaction in us. Their motives must be ones we can understand.

The setting should also be one we can get behind. After all, we know how our planet works/is run. How is this done in your fictional setting? Are there corrupt politicians for example? (I refuse to believe that could just be on Earth!).

Especially in a fantasy world, some ideas of what it looks like, how the species live, what kind of wildlife is there etc deepen your characterisation of the setting itself. (Setting can often be a character in its own right and I don’t think it’s a bad idea to treat it as one. It means you think it out for a start!).

Images for the review are on the CFT post and many thanks to the Chameleons for them.  Images below are from the ever marvellous Pixabay.

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This World and Others –

Top Tips for When Writing Isn’t Working as You’d Hoped

It happens. You go through phases where writing is either difficult or simply isn’t working out as you’d hoped. Lots of submissions. Lots of rejections. Few acceptances. Do you wonder if you should keep going? Some tips I’ve found useful to keep me going during difficult times include:-

1.  Read More. Feed your own imagination. Remind yourself of why you love stories and why you wanted to write any.

2. Remove the Pressure.  Deliberately write just for your own pleasure. Make up complete nonsense. Have fun. (Later, if you can do anything with the writing, even if it is just the odd line or two makes it into a story, say, then fab. Even if not, you’re taking time out to play with words and again remind yourself why you wanted to write).

3.  Look at Where You’ve Come From Writing Wise.  How much have you written over the years? Can you list publication credits (online and in print)? If not at that stage, have you had shortlistings? Are you simply submitting more stories for competitions than ever before? Remember  you define what success in writing is. Yes, publication is the obvious goal but it isn’t the only one. Saying you’ll write 3 or 4 stories and then try and get them published later is a fine goal too.  Look at what you’ve learned as you have written more. Have you learned how to improve your editing skills? Have you picked up tips on the way that are helping you write better now (I would be surprised if you hadn’t)? All of these are good and worthy things.

4.  Find supportive writing buddies via online groups or in creative writing classes. We all need to be reminded we’re not alone. Others do understand our compulsion to write. Others understand the frustrations of trying to get published. You need that support. It can make all the difference during low times, creatively speaking.

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Never give up, work hard, be disciplined... all valuable traits for success, whether you're a tennis player, a writer or a character in a story! Image via Pixabay.

FAVOURITE STORIES, FLASH FICTION AND FURRY FRIENDS

Image Credit:  Unless otherwise stated, all images are either from Pixabay or taken by me.

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My favourite kind of story usually involves a villain getting their comeuppance. This covers everything from episodes of Columbo (great series!) to fairy tales to most fiction genres. I suppose this is because we all know so often justice is NOT done in life so perhaps we look to fiction to “compensate”.

I’m not into gruesome revenge tales (I think the danger with those is if you overdo it, you end up feeling some sympathy for the villain), but I do love poetic justice stories (and have written a few in From Light to Dark and Back Again),

The other reason is when the villain hasn’t got away with whatever evil scheme he/she devised, the story comes to what feels like a natural conclusion. Generally, there is no need to go beyond that point. And I like stories which are complete in themselves – an intriguing opening, an engrossing middle and a satisfying ending. I don’t want “beyond that”.

So what is your favourite kind of story and why?  (Image Credit:  Most below are by Pixabay.  The one of my books is by me).

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My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week will be a look back at last weekend’s Book Fair. While I can’t name all the authors taking part (there were LOADS!), I can share several pictures to give a good idea of how things were. I very much hope this will be the start of many such events.

Sadly we lost our independent bookshop some time ago so the Book Fair and other events like it can help plug the gap a little. We are lucky enough to have a fantastic library and one of their staff, the great Jane, came out to support the event too with their information stand. More details tomorrow. But we definitely need more of this kind of event!

At the weekend something special will happen. My family and I have made it our role in life to rescue lady collies down on their luck and regardless of age. Well on Saturday we will be bringing Lady home. Our third rescue dog, our third dog with a name we like so we won’t be changing it, so we still haven’t named any dogs we own!

And up in our front room? Two photo portraits of our Gracie and Mabel, much missed and always loved. We used the images below (on the first picture) and are really pleased with how the portraits turned out. The odd thing is it was about a month between Gracie and Mabel and it will be the same again with Mabel and Lady. Not planned on our part. Just a question of the right dog, the right time, the right place.

(Oh yes and with our innate sense of timing, of course we’re bringing Lady home on Bonfire Weekend. Still, this is the family that had their central heating installed in the middle of a very cold November so we have formhere!).. Pics of Lady to follow, I hope, at the weekend.

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Gracie, my first dog, is on the left.  Mabel is on the right.  Both lovely dogs.  Image taken by me.

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What can you do with flash fiction that it would be difficult to do with longer forms of longer writing?

1. Use flash to convey a strong but short idea that genuinely wouldn’t run to a short story or beyond.

2. Use flash to hone your editing skills. Every word counts here and you know your finished piece has to be at least under 1000 words. With short story competitions, while a lot ask for 1500 to 2000 words, there are many who welcome longer short stories. With flash, you have a definite fixed overall limit.

3, You can come up with any character in any setting or genre because the tight word count means you have no room for description (much) or narrative that doesn’t advance the story. I find it much easier to have my stories character led and it is huge fun finding out where THEY take me!

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When I interview writers for Chandler’s Ford Today, I always ask for their three top tips. Naturally, there is some crossover on ideas here. What’s really interesting is the priority the authors give to those ideas. So what would be MY three top tips for writing flash fiction?

1. Focus on the character. It really is their story. There’s no room for much in the way of description so you need to show what THEY are like by what they say, their attitude to others etc.

2. Only have a couple of characters at most in in a piece. The limited word count almost dictates this, You can have them refer to other characters “off stage” though.

3. Have fun. Set your characters in any era, any world, any genre.

Bonus tip: There are many sub-divisions within flash fiction. I like the 100-word tales but I do write the 250, the 500, the 750 variety of flash tale as well. It is a question of ensuring your story is the correct flash length for the story. Not all will suit the very short (100 or less) forms. Sometimes you do need 500 words! (Besides it is fun to mix it all up a bit!).

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I believe all writers, regardless of their usual genre, would benefit from writing flash fiction from time to time. Why?

Firstly, writing flash fiction really hones up your editing skills. You can kiss goodbye to weak word choices.

In a form where every word has to earn its place in your story, you do learn to select the strongest words possible. No more of the “He made his way quickly up the hill”. It will be “He raced up the hill”.

The image is so much stronger in the second version (yes, you could use “ran”, but I think “raced” is superior. To me it shows more effort being expended).

Secondly, if you can summarise your story or non-fiction work as a flash fiction piece, well you’ve just written a good basis for your synopsis and/or blurb, which I know most writers dread writing.

Thirdly, you have to have strong, memorable characters. As flash fiction is so short with no room for much narrative, I find the tales must be character led.

Therefore, those characters must stick in a reader’s mind. Developing strong characters like this can help you in writing them for longer fiction works too.

Fourthly, you can set your character in any genre or time with flash fiction. You never know but in doing this, you might find a genre you didn’t know you liked to write in becomes a favourite. That’s exactly what happened to me with flash fiction. I gave it a go and quickly became hooked!

Good luck if you do try writing flash fiction and have fun. It is a great form for experimenting with and that is one of the joys of writing overall: to discover new ways of story or genre you want to explore further.

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