Quizzing and Questioning

It’s not often I start a post using the letter Q (which is generally best saved for getting a high score in Scrabble!).

Image Credit:  As ever, images are from Pixabay or Pexels unless otherwise stated.

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Quizzing your characters can be great fun and often leads to you to finding hidden depths to your creations.

Sometimes you can find your characters are more shallow than you thought initially they would be but you can use that. Shallow characters can be used for comic effect. They can also be a pain in the neck to your lead character.

Work out what their place is in your story. Work out if there is a reason to their being shallow. Do they develop at all? If not, how do they help or hinder your lead?

Work out what you think you need to know about your characters. You should find that leads to other questions but the more you can envisage your creation, the better it is for you to write them into existence. Because you know them well, you will write about/for them with conviction and something of that does come through to your readers.

 

It’s my turn on the Association of Christian Writers’ blog More Than Writers. This time I discuss Feeding Your Writing. (For gardening fans, I will say now it doesn’t involve Baby-Bio, though I admit I love the image from Pixabay below. Given some of my flash fiction is fantasy based this is particularly apt!).

I share some thoughts as to how you can feed your writing and why it is so important. Hope you enjoy.

 

I’m going to be sharing Part 2 of The Chameleons Say Hello series for Chandler’s Ford Today later this week. Their Spring Quartet production, due to be staged in April, is now off, unfortunately but understandably. The Ritchie Hall where they perform does not have a big stage. It is amazing what The Chameleons achieve given the limited space but it does make the 2 meter rule nigh on impossible to achieve. (I’m still in awe at the amazing set they built for Blackadder).

Do check out the interview later in the week and the previous one (there’ll be a link back in the post I put up on Friday). The interviews make for a great look at life behind the stage.

Being the nosey parker that I am, this kind of thing always fascinates me. The world of books can show you different life experiences, real or imagined. Interviews can also you aspects of life that you won’t experience directly but are fascinating to read about nonetheless.

And I hope it is not long, relatively speaking anyway, before The Chameleons get to entertain us again ON the stage.

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I’ve just discovered a new random generator – a random question one! I think I could have some fun with this.

Firstly, you could use the questions to help you develop your characters. Quizzing characters is a great way to finding out more about them before you write their story.

I’ve always found that this leads to better depth of characterisation. I need to know Character A loathes cheese because they were forced to eat it at school because cheese is somehow going to feature in my tale and it will be a major issue for them. Now that’s just a very random example but you see the point.

Secondly, you can use the questions as titles and/or themes.

Thirdly, get your character to answer the question and make that the story!

For example, one question that came up when I found this was:-

If you inherited or won a million pounds/dollars etc, what’s the very first thing you would do with the money?

Now there is definitely a story in that! I shall explore more of this generator. Really pleased to have found it.

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Following on from yesterday’s post, I did write a story based on the random question generator question I shared with you yesterday. Will polish and submit that in due course.

Having another look at the generator, I’ve found you can change category of question as well. That will be useful.

Another thing which will be useful from this is you can ask yourself WHY you have answered the question the way you have.

For example, the question that has come up tonight for me is “If you could start a collection of one kind of item, what would it be?”.

(In my case, books. I already have a good collection but that’s not a good enough reason to stop buying books! All I’m limited by here is budget and, for print books, shelf space! Oh and while I think about it, a big thanks to all of my writing friends for writing wonderful fiction. I’d always been a little bit lacking in reading contemporary fiction. Classics not a problem, contemporary was. Not any more it isn’t! One of my little pleasures in life is walking past my book case with my friends’ books on and even more so at the moment given I can’t see any of them for goodness knows how long. You good people know who you are! Well done and thanks, all!).

Now as well as answering that question directly for a character you’re creating, look at WHY the character would collect antique cuckoo clocks or whatever it is you have chosen. Are they trying to compensate for something they felt is lacking in their life? Are they fixated by time? What problems could that cause them? Have they a deep appreciation for the cuckoo (and yes the possibilities for a funny story are there!)?

So dig deeper. Answer the question. Then look at why. See what you come out with. There will be stories in the answers to the “why” question as well as to the “what” one! Try it and see. Have fun.

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Moving on from random things, which kind of writing competition do you prefer? One with a set theme or one which is open?

I love and take part in both but must admit I do prefer the set theme. It provides a framework for me to work to and I find that useful. It also forces me to think outside the box a bit more because I don’t want to go with a take on the topic that is likely to be a very popular one.

Whatever take I do use is something I want to be able to make unique. So, okay, there’s no new love story in the world for example, but that won’t stop them being written and rightly so. What is wanted is your unique take on a love story and your voice coming through and appealing to an editor.

Taking part and being one of the winners of the Waterloo Arts Festival Writing Competition has been a joy due to this aspect. One theme. One maximum word count set for us all (1000 words so handily just counts as flash fiction!). Fifteen winners. Fifteen different stories and styles. A jjoy to be part of. An even bigger joy to read the collection of stories (and if you want to know more, do check out my Amazon Author Central page – the two collections to date are Transforming Being and To Be…To Become).

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At what point do I know if a story has come to life?

For me, it’s when I can anticipate the character reactions and actions based on the set up I’ve created for them.

If, say, I’ve created a character who is greedy, I can anticipate them carrying out some action which will help them satisfy that greed. (It doesn’t mean I have to like them OR their actions!). The anticipation should be realistically based on how I’ve portrayed the character.

Sometimes a character surprises me but it will still be in keeping. For example, my character could be greedy for money but what if they’re NOT keeping the money for themselves? What if they’re helping someone else or they’re being blackmailed?

Now that would change the course of the story BUT the greed still makes sense. The actions to satisfy that greed makes sense. It’s the motivation that will change what a reader thinks of the character and that is a good place for a surprise to come in I think.

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Goodreads Author Blog –

What Is It About Reading You Love The Most?

Hmm… could write chapter and verse on this one. I mean, where do you start? But here goes:-

My great love is characterisation so the success of a book to me is dependent on how well the characters appeal to me.

To be honest, much as I love Jane Austen, I’m not keen on Mansfield Park. I much prefer the more rounded Austen heroines in Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion etc.

My second great love here is when the book makes me forget time and the world around me because I’m too engrossed in the world of the story. Now that is an undisputable sign of a great story.

I love it when reading shows me worlds I have not known, including right here on Planet Earth. Good non-fiction comes into its own here.

I love it when I discover new genres. I’ve always loved fairytales and still do, but finding the wonderful worlds of well written historical fiction, crime stories etc., has been fantastic.

I love following the development of characters in series novels. It is like catching up with old friends when you come across them in Book 2 etc and discover in this one they’ve married someone they weren’t dating in Book 1! (You’ve got to find out why, right?).

And, like so many writers, I’ve got a soft spot for quietly overhearing conversations (well, you never know when you’ll hear something interesting that could spark an idea for a story of your own!), reading dialogue in fiction is exactly like that.

Reading helps me unwind, entertains me, informs me – what is there not to like?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading Aloud Allowed

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My CFT post this week is Reading Aloud Allowed. I look why reading out loud is such a good idea for writers but also why it is beneficial for readers too.

I look at performance prose, take a look back at the Waterloo Arts Festival, and sing the praises of audio books too. The latter are great for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is they are a means of getting stories to people who won’t necessarily go to the printed word first, if at all.

Many thanks to Ana Coelho for the picture of me reading from The Professional last weekend. The whole event was huge fun and I’ve practiced what I preach about reading aloud too!

Image Credit:  Ana Coelho as mentioned above (she also took the one of Paula Readman, Gail Aldwin and I in the pub ahead of the Festival).  All other images by Allison Symes bar one Pixabay one.  That won’t be difficult to spot! Captions on the CFT post.

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I love that moment when you’re writing a story and you suddenly know you really have got your character spot on and they seemingly come to life in front of you. It’s at moments like that I can’t write the words down fast enough but it is such a good feeling.

Outlining what you think your character will be like is a good way to generate further ideas which will help that character take off.

I love the Scrivener story templates (character and setting – and I also love the way setting is treated almost as a character here. I’ve found it helps a lot. It makes me think about my setting more and as a result how my characters react to said setting. There can be stories to write in that alone).

Of course you can design your own. Think about what you really need to know about your character before you write their story. What makes them what they are? What are their biggest fears? What makes them laugh? Whatever outlining questions you go for have fun with this. Dig deep too. Look at why they have the fears they do. What are their triggers?

Then write their story. I believe it will come across that you really do know your characters well enough and that you are writing with conviction.

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I’ll be discussing the joys of reading aloud in my CFT post this week. Okay there are some places where it is best not done. (You’d get some funny looks on the bus, particularly if you were the bus driver. 😉😀). There are benefits to reading aloud though both from the viewpoint of reader and author. Link up on Friday.

Practising what I preach here. I’ve added in a couple of additional pictures since I put this post up initially on Facebook.  Many thanks to Ana Coelho, Dawn Kentish Knox, Geoff Parkes, the Hampshire Writers’ Society, and Janet Williams (my lovely CFT editor) for taking various pictures of me at work and for their blessing to use the images. It is very difficult to take selfies of yourself in full flow and certainly would not be a pretty sight!!

 

Reading part of the Professional at the WAF. Photo taken by Ana Coelho

Loved reading from The Professional. Many thanks to Ana Coelho for the image.

Happy writers at the WAF - photo taken by Ana Coelho

Proof positive that Bridge House/Cafelit/Chapeltown authors are a happy bunch. Image taken by Ana Coehlo.

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Paula Readman, Gail Aldwin, and me just ahead of the Festival. Many thanks to Ana Coelho for taking the picture.

I read a few of my flash fiction stories and am pleased they go down well - image by Dawn Kentish Knox

I read some of my flash fiction from FLTDBA and Cafelit. Image by Dawn Kentish Knox

HAMPSHIRE WRITERS PICTURE OF ALLISON

Image from Hampshire Writers Society where I was a guest speaker last year. Great fun! Many thanks to HWS for permission to use the photo.

The Open Mic for Prose night

Many thanks to Geoff Parkes for kind permission to use this shot of me reading at the Swanwick Prose Open Mic Night.

cropped-cropped-version-of-my-reading-at-railway-station

My reading at my signing at our local railway station. Image taken by Janet Williams, CFT editor.

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I’ve found generating stories come into two categories for me.

1. The idea comes quickly, I know it’s a winner, and off I go and write it up. OR
2. I have an initial idea, which builds up over time to a much stronger one.

Option 2 takes longer to write up and edit but I’ve found some of my longer, more thoughtful pieces have emerged that way.

Both options are equally valid. I love that feeling when the words and ideas just flow and you know you are creating something good. Yes, it will need to be shaped later but that’s fine and another enjoyable task. But to run with the story idea is huge fun.

I equally love an Option 2 story when it has taken me a while to get there but I can see how much further the tale has strengthened and developed over that “brewing” period and that it has turned into something special.

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I’m writing directly to screen most of the time now thanks to Evernote on the phone and a good laptop and Scrivener. It’s good fun and it saves a lot of time not having to type up notes the way I used to have to do.

BUT I always carry out a final edit of any stories, posts etc., on paper as it is too easy to miss things on screen. It can be too easy to “fill in the gaps” mentally as you read something but the gaps are still there and will stand out to any editor/publisher/agent.

You’d think with flash fiction being so short that would be easy to edit on screen. Sure, I can do the basic edits that way and do so but I still run out the story on paper for the reasons given above. There must be some sort of psychological “block” at work here helping a writer to see things that aren’t there but should be or in missing blatant errors.

All I know for sure is a final edit on paper works for me.

The important thing with any submission is you have got to get it as good as you can make it and I don’t want to let myself down by sending something in only for me to spot errors in my copy of the MSS later. You make that mistake once – early on as a writer – and not again!

 

How do you know when a flash fiction story is the right length? Not everything suits a 50-word, 100-word tale etc.

The answer for me is when you cannot add another word as it would just tip the balance of the story over. You CAN have too much of a good thing!

Also when you cannot remove another word from it because to do so would spoil the rhythm of the prose or take something away from the character/setting.

It’s then a question of establishing the word count and sending the piece off to the appropriate competition/market. So never worry if you’ve set your heart on writing a 75-word story but it works better if it stays at 150. Far better to leave it at the latter.

Fairytales with Bite – Reading Aloud Allowed

Reading Aloud Allowed is the topic of my CFT post this week.  I show how it benefits readers and writers alike.

Do your characters read? If so, what do they read? Do they read out loud? What is their schooling like (where reading aloud is really encouraged of course)? Do you have characters who struggle with reading or is your fictional setting one which is aggressive to the idea of books and learning?

Is your fictional world one where stories are treasured?  Is there an oral storytelling tradition? What are the legends which generally are the basis of oral storytelling?

Now you are bound to have some story idea triggers from answering at least some of that!

Have fun!

This World and Others – Using Sayings in Fiction

I use sayings and proverbs in fiction as (a) titles and (b) themes for stories. There are so many stories that could be written on the theme of, for example, “revenge is a dish best served cold”. You can also subvert that idea and “prove” the saying wrong if you wanted to do so. See proverbs and sayings as a useful resource both used directly or having your characters react against the saying you’ve picked.

Looking through a book of proverbs can be a great way to trigger story ideas.  It is also useful when you’ve written a piece to look back through it and see what theme emerges from it that you hadn’t planned out. I suspect a lot of the time what you come up with here will link in with a well known saying.  Why?

Because we write from the depths of our soul and our life experiences will come into that. This will include things we read, things we have read, things we know to be true or things we know could be true.  Proverbs and sayings will have affected us subconsciously over years too.  Some of course we will have had direct experience of and so know them to be true and so could write stories on these based on our conviction they are true. Proverbs and sayings will influence how we think and therefore how we write.

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Waterloo Arts Festival and Ingesting Stories

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Had a fab time at the Waterloo Arts Festival. Loved hearing the extracts from the winning stories for the WAF Writing Competition. St. John’s Church is absolutely stunning and its own artwork incredible.

The theme, and title for the ebook compilation of the winning stories including my The Professional, was taken in very different ways by the writers.

The compilation is called Transforming Being.

Transforming Being Medium

Transforming Beings. Image via Gill James

I love things like this. It is proof, if it were needed, every writer has a unique voice. It is that voice which comes through in the stories. So how do you develop your writing voice?

By writing of course! Lots and lots of writing. There are no shortcuts for anyone here. This is part of the “behind the scenes” work for every writer, as it applies equally well to non-fiction.

The good news is the work you put in here won’t be wasted. Some of it may well find its way into stories or articles which are published later. You will get to find what works and what doesn’t. That will save you time and help you be more productive later on. See it as the ground work you build on later.

Good luck!

Image Credit:  Most of the images below were taken by me but many thanks to Ana Coelho for taking the lovely shot of Paula Readman, Gail Aldwin and I having a great pub lunch and conversation ahead of the Festival today.  Also thanks to Ana for the images of a happy bunch of Bridge House/Cafelit/Chapeltown writers and of me reading from The Professional. It is always lovely to meet up with those writers that for most of the year you can only “see” online!

 

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Managed to draft a 1500-word short story, draft some posts for FB, and prepared my Goodreads blog on the train and while in Costas at Waterloo yesterday ahead of the Festival. Well pleased with that. I love Evernote! All it meant, when I got home after a wonderful day feeling shattered, was all I had to do was post those blogs and that was me done for the day.

I hope the story, once edited and polished, will be submitted for competition. I’ve got a couple of others in mind I want to have a go at too.

Next event is the Winchester Writers’ Festival over the weekend, though I’m only going on the Saturday. Looking forward to the courses, catching up with friends, and making some new ones! Encouragement and inspiration to come from the event I’m taking as read!

Do you play word games at all? I like online Scrabble but have yet to use any of the odd two and three letter words you’re allowed into any writing. Can’t see any immediate use for them!

I occasionally have a go at a crossword (usually the Quick ones. I’ve got to be feeling particularly brilliant to have a go at the cryptic type and that doesn’t happen often enough!).

I find word games a great way to wind down AFTER a writing session. And I’m still playing with words when all is said and done. It is a kind of reward for getting to where I want to be on my stories.

A big thanks to #AnaCoelho for taking the picture of me reading from The Professional at the Waterloo Arts Festival and for kind permission to use the picture. The venue, St. John’s Church, is lovely and has some stunning artwork of its own. Oh and Ana very kindly provided proof that Bridge House/Chapeltown/Cafelit are a happy bunch of writers!

NB  I make no apology for repeating the pics!

Happy writers at the WAF - photo taken by Ana Coelho

Proof positive that Bridge House/Cafelit/Chapeltown authors are a happy bunch. Image taken by Ana Coehlo.

Reading part of the Professional at the WAF. Photo taken by Ana Coelho

Loved reading from The Professional. Many thanks to Ana Coelho for the image.

Sorry for slight delay in posting tonight. Have no idea why but the create post box has literally just appeared so here I am typing away! No idea why it vanished. If anyone has any thoughts on why and how to fix it, please say!

It’s thrown me as I’d not changed anything. Obviously would like to avoid this happening again. All rather bizarre. Facebook, please note – one not happy author here! Also would like to flag this up as it may well happen to others. I have reported it.

On to happier things. I’m looking forward to going to the Winchester Writers’ Festival on Saturday. It’ll be lovely meeting friends, hopefully making new friendships, learning from the courses, and all the lovely conversations you get into over tea/coffee breaks and lunch! Have often picked up news of competitions etc I’d not heard of previously.

Naturally I shall have a good browse around the Book Shop too. Well, you have to, yes?

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Every story has a theme underpinning it. These are planned of course but what is fun is when you’ve written a piece to your chosen topic and, on re-reading it, you find another theme has emerged.

It can be exciting, and sometimes worrying, to discover just what did emerge from your subconscious as you were writing!

I’m sure you’ll have heard the advice to dig deep for your writing. Sometimes you can do that without realising you have!

Of course, what you then do with that writing is up to you!

Good to see more competitions and markets for flash fiction. Always opportunities about.

The problem I think a lot of writers have, and this includes me, is finding enough time to have a crack at all the competitions I’d like to try. As that never really works, I look at a few and go for the ones where the theme appeals most and discard the others. There are some competitions I enter yearly and where I’d love to be shortlisted. If you don’t have a go…

It pays to work out a strategy that works for you when it comes to story submissions. Look at what your writing strengths are and what you most like writing and then find the market/competition to match. For example, I can tell if a piece is going to work best on Cafelit and sure enough I send it there!

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Pleased to have written and sent off a 100 word story for a competition over the weekend. The competition was flagged up to me by pal, #JenWilson, (who writes the wonderful Kindred Spirit series), and this is one of the great things about the writing community.

Information gets shared. Sometimes you’ll share something that will be of use to others. Other times, you’ll use information that’s of use to you. What goes around comes around etc.

And always take notice of scams doing the rounds. No industry is exempt from these. Sadly, the creative industries are not the exception. If you’re not sure about whether something is a scam or not, check it out. Don’t be afraid to ask.

For competitions, I always check out terms carefully. I don’t submit work to anywhere that wants all my rights (and usually for ever and ever amen at that). If you’re not happy with a competition for whatever reason, move on to others. There are more out there for flash now which is a great thing.

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Glad to be able to post as the create post box on here has only just appeared. Goodness knows where it went or why it vanished at all. Have reported it. Don’t know if this is just me or whether there has been an overall issue on FB tonight.

On to happier things… Very pleased with how reading The Professional went at the Waterloo Arts Festival on Saturday. It was such a treat listening to the other stories too. I’ll be talking about the joys of reading aloud in my Chandler’s Ford Today post later this week.

Flash fiction is great to read at events of course because it doesn’t take too long. It’s a good way to catch a would-be reader’s attention too. And twist endings, which really grab attention work brilliantly in flash. What I love is when I’ve enjoyed a story like that and then realised how brilliantly chosen the title was. It encourages me to up my own game here.

I usually choose a title and then write but sometimes a better one will occur while doing that. So fine, I change it. As with the body of the story itself, I want the title to be the most appropriate and have the greatest impact on a reader.

Goodreads Author Blog Ingesting Stories

Ingesting? Really? Yes and we all do so more often than you might think, as it’s not just a conscious thing.

You hear snippets of conversation on a train and a writer’s mind will want to fill in the gaps. I refuse to believe that is just me!

A reader’s mind may well be reminded of stories they’ve read based on similar themes to what they’ve overheard. There will be something!

Ingesting stories can also be done via audio books/going to oral storytelling events and so on. We ourselves are stories and our lives reflect tales that have influenced us.

Look at what your favourite stories are and ask yourself why you picked these. It is the reason why these stories speak to your soul that is so fascinating.

Really great stories do reflect what we know of ourselves and humanity in general. We take in those stories with themes that fascinate us most.

The good thing then is to have a healthy reading diet. Stories take us to places we physically cannot go. This is especially true for science fiction and fantasy, but stories should feed our minds and open them.

So ingest plenty of tales (and the best non-fiction is a creative narrative too) and enjoy what’s on the menu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behind the Scenes – and Publication News

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My CFT post this week takes a look Behind the Scenes from the viewpoints of volunteering and writing. Volunteers make such a huge difference in so many ways and what they do often goes unseen. So time for some plaudits and encouragement then.

Writers can feel all the hard work they put in as they submit stories, articles etc goes unseen too. Yes, it does, but it helps you to develop as a writer. You can’t learn from your mistakes unless you make some!

It really is how you develop but the great thing with being involved with writing groups/writing communities online is generally these are very supportive and there are ways of finding out what you need to know so you do NOT make ALL the mistakes ever known to writing kind!

Going to good writing events helps enormously here too.

Does the behind the scenes work pay off? Nobody can guarantee publication or a foolproof way to always earn from your writing but you are much more likely to achieve success (however you define it) by putting the groundwork in. As with so much in life, there are no shortcuts. The encouraging thing here is EVERY writer goes through this.

Image Credit:  The images are from the magnificent Pixabay. I particularly like the grouchy looking face in the comments box. Rumours that this resembles me when another rejection has come in are totally true.  Captions on the CFT page.

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Absolutely delighted to share the cover for Transforming Beings and the link to it on Amazon. My story, The Professional, is one of the sixteen winners of the Waterloo Arts Festival Writing competition.

Every writer all had to write to the same word count and on the same theme. This is proof you can have at least sixteen different writers produce sixteen different takes on the topic!

Am so looking forward to being at the Festival on Saturday and to taking part in the readings. Good luck to everyone who is also taking part. It will be great to catch up with you all.

Transforming Being Medium

My CFT post this week will look at what behind the scenes means in terms of volunteering, but also what it means for writers. It gives me a chance to say thanks to all those who give up their time to help others and, I hope, to encourage writers who feel they may be slogging away for years without their being any visible benefits. Link up on Friday.

In other news, as they say, work continues well on the novel and I’m fleshing out other ideas, fiction and non-fiction, for development later in the year. Want to get some more submissions out before long too.

The joy of writing? One of them is never being short of things to do!

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Reading work out loud is a great way to hear how your story flows, whether your dialogue works properly, and so on. Once your work is out there, and you get the chance to read before an audience at events such as the Waterloo Arts Festival, Open Mic nights etc, give it a go.

You are getting to engage directly with people who love stories so your audience will be broadly sympathetic to begin with. But what is really lovely is when a part of your story which made you laugh as you wrote it generates the same response in your audience. It is a fantastic feeling.

Equally if your story generates any other response which is appropriate to that tale, then you are receiving invaluable feedback that this worked!

Writers need things like that for all the times work gets turned down. There should be an “up” side!

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Following on from my other post tonight, themes work best when open to interpretation. For example:-

Revenge is a dish best served cold – well you could come up with all sorts of ways to show whether that is true or not.

But something like Dreams, while you can get stories from that, for me this is a bit TOO open-ended.

It helps to narrow your focus on something specific so for me Fallen Dreams would be much better. There are stories to be told about how a dream could be fallen.

The other thing that comes to mind would be at least one story on how a fallen dream is overcome and doesn’t blight your character’s life. Equally, how it isn’t and it DOES blight your character (depends on whether you like sad stories I suppose!).

Have fun and play around with your themes but hone them so you have something useful to focus on and work with.

It’s always a thrill when a story of yours is published and I’m delighted to say Transforming Beings, the ebook of the winning entries in the Waterloo Arts Festival Writing Competition, is now available.

My The Professional is in here and my character is one I would not like to meet in life! Naturally no spoilers here…!

If you like a good mix of stories, do give this a try (and if you can review that would be fab, thanks!).

Each story had to be 1000 words max so this is at the upper end of the flash fiction spectrum but there is a great variety here.

Books like this are also a reminder you can take a topic and come up with so many themes on it. Why not try it for your own flash fiction stories?

Link and cover image further up this post. If you do read the book, please review! Thank you!

For a flash fiction story to work well, you have to be totally convinced by your lead (and usually only) character. If you’re not convinced by them, nobody else will be.

That doesn’t mean you always love said characters. I can think of some of mine I loathe and/or would dread meeting in real life were that to become possible. The important point is I DO understand and get why they are the way they are and the story wouldn’t work at all without that.

Also, I think your characters have got to make you feel something for you to be able to write their stories with conviction. Nobody fell in love or hated a cardboard cutout (well at least I haven’t!).

The advantage of a character you hate is the effect they generate on a reader. It should be that your reader will want to read on to see if said character gets the comeuppance they so richly deserve and, if so, how. All good fun to write!

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Fairytales with Bite – Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes is the topic for my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week and I look at it in terms of volunteering and writing. Plaudits and encouragement needed in both I think!

For a piece of work, what would behind the scenes mean? Well, even in fiction, research can sometimes be necessary. This is especially true for any fiction which weaves real life events or people into the narrative. Facts have to be facts. (If it’s an alternative reality or history, that should be made clear at the outset). Just watch how much research you do. Research is fun but can also turn into procrastination when you should be writing. We’ve all done it…

Sometimes research can be as simple as drawing on what you know from life about likely human behaviours. You know humans can be like this in these circumstances so your characters should reflect that too.  Good fiction does reflect our humanity. Nobody said it had to flatter though!

Behind the scenes obviously includes your drafts and edits but also things like ensuring you meet the submission requirements for wherever you are sending work to, as no two places have quite the same needs here. Yes, there will be a lot in common – double line spacing, font size etc – but I take a week off any deadline for a competition to make absolutely sure I’ve got those details right as I don’t want mistakes there to disqualify my story.  (It’s not really fair when you have two equally good pieces come in to allow one that didn’t follow all the rules properly to win over one that DID).

Perseverance and patience are invaluable qualities for a writer though!

This World and Others – When Life Throws You Lemons

… make lemonade, as the old saying goes, but how can a writer do this? Are lemons such a bad thing anyway?

From the viewpoint of developing characters, the more lemons you throw at them the better.  Well, you do want to find out what your characters are made out of, yes? You want to find out their hidden depths, yes?  Chuck them in the deep end and have fun finding out how they get themselves out of it. If they need to resort to the help of friends to get out of said horrible deep end, what did they try to do first before calling for back up? Is the back up reliable? You want plenty of tension and drama and writing these scenes should easily produce that. You can work out later on what  you want to keep for your story and what might prove to be useful background knowledge to you only.

As a writer, when all that seems to come your way are rejections, firstly bear in mind nothing worthwhile was ever easy and, secondly, most writers go through this. Even after publication in one avenue, rejections still come in. I find it useful to look at work that has been turned down and see if I can revamp it and send it out elsewhere. Usually I can and I have had work accepted by another outlet after doing this. The important thing is not to give up but it is perfectly okay to change direction with your writing. If you decide flash fiction isn’t for you but the longer short story form is, then that’s fine. Play to your writing strengths. It is also fine to pause from writing. I generally only do this when on holiday or ill and I use the time to catch up on reading (I always have reading to catch up on!) and that helps feed the imagination beautifully.

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The Good Writing Fairy, Research and the Waterloo Arts Festival

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Which writing books have you found most useful? I’d have to list:-

On Writing – Stephen King

Scrivener for Dummies – Gwen Hernandez

Wannabe a Writer?/Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of? – Jane Wenham-Jones

Story – Robert McKee

There are loads of others I’ve found useful, for different reasons, over the years but these ones stick out. I’m also fond of The Seven Basic Plots which is a detailed book and gave me plenty of pause for thought.

What do you want from a writing book? Encouragement, yes. Honesty, yes. (You do need to know you need stamina and persistence but that it is also okay to change direction if you want to do so). Useful tips you can apply to your own writing, yes. A friendly and easy to read style – in most cases, yes. For something like The Seven Basic Plots, the style is more academic but is still a fascinating read.

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Have caught up on a few writing prompt exercises in my diary. One was based on a lovely picture of a dog having fun at the beach (my Lady could so identify with that!) and another was to list 10 words associated with a train journey which I then had to use on a piece of writing. Very good stretching the imagination type work though what came out was a couple of very rough poems rather than flash fiction.

Whether these pieces will stay as rough poems (and they are VERY rough right now!) or whether I’ll transform them into stories later, I don’t know, but there is something liberating about a writing exercise where you can use any form you like. You don’t feel compelled to write to your normal form. You have fun playing around with words and seeing what happens.

 

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How much research do you do for your writing? I suspect your answer will be the same as mine – it depends on what I’m writing. Correct!

Do I need to do any research for my flash fiction stories? Yes, sometimes. For historical stories, I have to ensure any dates used are accurate and so on. If I mention a piece of furniture, for example, I need to ensure it WAS around at the time I’ve set the story.

For my CFT posts, I have to do more research of course. Can research become procrastination unless you know that’s a risk and don’t allow it to happen? Oh yes. Is it too easy to go down all sorts of interesting byways and be distracted from the task in hand? Oh yes.

But being aware of that risk can help nullify it.

Looking forward to the Waterloo Arts Festival on Saturday and meeting up with fellow writers there. Hope everyone is in good voice. Am looking forward to hearing the different stories. It is a real treat being read aloud to at events like this.

What I like about this is all of us have had to write to the same word count and on the same theme, but there will be 16 different stories here. You can’t have a book with 16 stories all with the same take on the topic as that would be boring to say the least.

This kind of event proves the point that what makes a writer unique is THEIR voice, THEIR take on a topic and nobody can write as YOU do with YOUR voice. So write away!

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The story in one sentence exercise is great for stretching the brain AND cutting your word count, but other uses for it are:-

1. Using what you come up with as an opening line. For example, “She refused to part with the key. This was the beginning of things going wrong for Sharon…”

2. Using what you come up with as a key to “twist” the story. For example, “She refused to part with the key” could lead to a twist being that she knows the key is useless for the purposes her partner in crime wants it for but cannot say how she knows.

3. Deliberately using what you come up with as the closing line. For example, “It was no good Bill arguing. Mary had been consistent. She refused to part with the key.”

Have fun with your one-liners then and put them in different places and see what impact they have.

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I use Scrivener for my writing and one of the things I have found most useful for my flash fiction work is being able to set the word count target you want. I love seeing the bar change colour as I near my target. I know it sounds silly but watching that colour change is great incentive to keep on writing (and especially when you might feel like giving up).

I use the short story character and setting templates for longer stories and these effectively help me get my outlining done. As I flesh out who my character is, what their traits are etc, ideas are beginning to tease away at just what awful situations I can dump that character in (nobody said a writer had to be nice! This is also so much fun!).

In organising my writing in a better way, I do get more done. I don’t use all of the Scrivener features by any means but select the ones I know I’d find most useful. The word count setting is brilliant for flash fiction writers as I can adjust it to take account of those markets where the title IS part of the word count and for those where it ISN’T. I know I’m not going to get it wrong.

The screenshots of Scrivener below were taken by me. It’s also useful being able to see how much you do in a session.

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What do I look for when reading flash fiction? There is no one definitive answer to this but I would include the following.

1. It has to be an entertaining read.
2. It should show me the most important point of change in a character’s life, especially as there won’t be word count room for anything else.
3. It can take me back or forwards in time.
4. It can show me new worlds or make me look at this one with new eyes.
5. The ending should be a powerful one.
6. Any twist should have clues within the story that I can go back and check later on those occasions when I fail to pick them up immediately!
7. I like slices of life stories but would like to see more humorous tales.

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If the good writing fairy turned up, what would most writers wish for? Aside from wanting to know why she hadn’t turned up earlier in my writing life (!), my wishes would be:-

1. To have as much time as possible for writing and to use that time well. (She may count this as two wishes in one here but I’d chance my luck here and see if I could get away with it counting as one!).

2. For reviews to appear at a steady rate against FLTDBA and the Cafelit and Bridge House anthologies in which my work has appeared.

3. To never run out of ideas to write up and energy with which to get on and do so. (Again, she might count that as two wishes. I’d argue it was two sides of ONE coin so ONE wish).

Now while waiting for said fairy to turn up, I’d better get on and write!

Goodreads Author Blog – Mixing Up What You Read

I like to mix up what I read in several ways.

1. I mix up genre. I tend to read a crime book or two, then must move on to, say, fantasy for a book or two, before moving on again.

2. I mix up how I read. I have a “glut” of reading on the Kindle followed by a “glut” of reading printed books, then magazines etc. (The one thing I’ve not really “got” on the Kindle are e-magazines but I suspect I’ll get around to them eventually).

3. I mix up reading novels, short stories, flash fiction, non-fiction. So for a while I will only read novels, then move on to short story collections for a while, then have a non-fiction feast etc.

4. I switch between books and magazines. I do love a good magazine.

All of this means I’m never short of something to read!

I think mixing things up is good for my old brain and I like to ensure I don’t neglect any type of reading material I like. It would be too easy to “just” read books or magazines and neglect the other.

What would I wish for though?

More time to read, definitely.

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Good Books and Steps and Contrasts

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So what DO you look for in a good book? I share what I think and name three of my favourite tomes in this week’s CFT post.

I do love a self-explanatory blog post title!

The three books I name are Lord of the Rings, Pride and Prejudice, and Men at Arms (by the much missed Terry Pratchett). What elements do these books share? They do have some.

Do share your own three favourite books. Comments are always welcome on the CFT page.

Image Credit:  Images on the slideshow are all via Pixabay (wonderful site!).  Captions up on the CFT post itself.  I can confirm this is the first (and likely to be last) time I put up a picture of ants reading…

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One of the things I enjoyed doing for my CFT post this week was naming three of my favourite books and looking at what they have in common, despite being in different genres. My problem was limiting my selection to three but it was a nice problem to have! (I’ll put the link up tomorrow. The topic overall discusses what good books should be).

There are certain books I re-read periodically or at certain times of year (Hogfather by Terry Pratchett is always read or listened to in the run up to Christmas for example). I’m glad to say it is a very rare event for me not to be able to finish a book but when that happens it is because the book is awful and I’m at that stage where life is far too short to waste time on books like that. Mind, reading excellent works by other authors is a wonderful challenge to me to ensure I always “up my game” when it comes to writing my stories and that’s no bad thing.

 

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I talk about Steps and Contrasts in my monthly spot on the More than Writers blog (Association of Christian Writers).

I look at how difficult it can be to have faith in the writing process when things are NOT going well and share some tips as to how I’ve got around this.

It is a case of getting around it. I see things not going well, writing wise, as a temporary obstacle. You go through it, bypass it, or what have you but you find ways of NOT letting it get in your way forever, including ignoring it, working on something else for a bit and then coming back to it.

I can’t count how many times I’ve come up with an idea to solve a problem I’ve had on one piece of work while working on something else! Distraction therapy works.

And I suspect most writers will identify with the second image in the picture below!

STEPS - Ideas have to be worked out, I have yet to have light bulb moments like this - Pixabay

I’ve yet to see an idea flash above my head like this! Pixabay

STEPS - Is there a writer who doesn't know how this feels = Pixabay

Most writers will know how this feels… Pixabay

STEPS - It will take time to work out where your writing journey will take you - Pixabay

The writing journey has to be taken a step at a time. Pixabay

STEPS - We all need to recharge at times - Pixabay

Recharge yourself when you need to. Your writing will be better for it. Pixabay

STEPS - Writing is made up of steps - Pixabay

The writing journey – upwards and onwards. Pixabay

STEPS - Writing is not black and white but it can be useful to contrast what your writing is with what you thought it would be - Pixabay

Contrasting can be a useful technique when trying to solve problems with your fiction. Pixabay

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One of the things I love most about flash fiction is it is open to genres within it. I’ve written historical fiction tales, crime stories, fairytales, character studies etc all within the flash fiction limit of up to 1000 words.

Character is everything for me both in reading and writing stories. I don’t necessarily need to like the character I’m reading about or writing but there has to be something I can identify with so I can see why they are the way they are. I then want to find out how things work out for them. It’s that initial hook which is so important (and it is a lot of fun working out what that should be too!).

One technique I’ve found useful for writing flash fiction is to work out what I’ve loved in other very short stories and ask myself can I learn from this to help my writing.

The answer to that is inevitably “yes” as reading widely and absorbing, almost unconsciously, how other writers handle dialogue, changes of scene etc, is the best way to learn. The difference with flash fiction is there’s not so much material to get through!

What I’m looking for is the impact the flash tale has had on me and why it impacted that way. You can then look for clues in the story itself as to how the writer achieved that.

Almost inevitably, what I love most when reading other authors’ works is the strength of their characterisation. I’ve long believed getting the characters right is the key to good fiction. A weak character will let down even the strongest of plots.

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There are days when you have particularly nice writing things to do. Today, I proofread my story, The Professional, which will be in the Waterloo Arts Festival ebook in due course. Love doing things like that.

And other days you are wrestling with a knotty story problem but you will get through it. I’ve found jotting down possible solutions, going to work on something else, and then coming back to look at those possibilities with fresh eyes is a good way forward.

Two advantages here: working on something else frees up your creative juices to mull over your problem. I can’t tell you how often an idea to solve something has occurred while writing something else. The other advantage is you’ve started drafting a new piece of work too!

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Fairytales with Bite –

What Do You Look For in a Good Book?

What Do You Look For in a Good Book is my theme for this week’s CFT post. Hope you enjoy.

The challenge for any writer, whether they’re writing novels or story collections, is to ensure their book could be classed as “good”.  Allowing for differences in taste I think what writers need to achieve with their writing can be summarised as:-

  1. Believable characters.

  2. Characters we can identify with.

  3. A plot with twists and turns to keep a reader guessing.

  4. The story has to have a “got to find out what happens next” element to it. Without that, the whole thing falls down. This element, for me, works best when the characters are so gripping, I’ve got to find out what happens to them. I don’t need to like them. I just need to want to find out what happens to them. Sometimes it can be to follow a horrible character and experience great glee as they get their comeuppance at the end of the story!

  5. An easy to read style. I’ve got to enjoy the way the prose flows. Easy to read takes time to get right and I learned a long time ago that whenever someone makes writing look easy, that same someone has worked for years to get to that point.

Good luck with your own writing! And whoever said writing is easy has never done any…!

This World and Others Changing Direction

I’ve changed direction at different stages of my writing and anticipate doing so again (and probably a few times at that).

Why is this okay?  Sometimes you discover a new form of writing you just love doing (in my case this was flash fiction). At other times, a certain format is just not working for you no matter how hard you try so you focus your skills where you know you can achieve success.  (Incidentally you can define what success here is too.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be publication. It can be getting to a point where you know you could be published, it could be achieving writing X number of stories in a month etc etc).

Naturally, your characters can change direction too. Sometimes this is literally so (see any quest story for that – a map will come into the story somewhere too!). At other times, it can be a change of opinion (with repercussions. There should always be repercussions, that’s where the drama is).

Whatever the reason for the change of direction, and no matter what form it takes, there should be good reasons for it, reasons your readers will understand and accept. They don’t necessarily have to agree with your characters and neither do you (!), but the reasons for the changes should be well thought out, logical etc etc.

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Blogging on the Move

I was away in the stunning far North of Scotland last week and was pleased I managed to blog most of what I would usually do most of the time.  Tonight’s roundup will include two Goodreads blog posts I wasn’t able to share while on the move last week.  I’ll also include the Fairytales with Bite and This World and Others links I also wasn’t able to share last week (and repeat the copy from each blog).

Must say I found the Word Press mobile app a joy to use though and that is encouraging.  (Only things I couldn’t do were coloured headings which is not overly crucial when all is said and done, nor could I share slideshows, so got around that with various individual images instead.  That worked a treat.).

First things first though.

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Learned a lot this week as to which mobile apps really are mobile friendly and those will be the ones I’ll stick to when next blogging on the move.

Having said that, it has been lovely writing overlooking a beautiful loch. From tomorrow it will be back to looking at my study wall! Mind, I can turn and look at the garden.

What matters when writing is being in the right frame of mind. That is, you are ready to write and you want to write because you can’t stop yourself from writing.

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Loved this when I found it on Pixabay.

Back to my desk and now it is time to catch up with my usual writing (though I drafted a lot while on the move last week, which I am going to be so thankful for this week!). Have smartphone, have Evernote, am dab hand with a stylus, and away I go.

I’m planning on submitting a couple of flash fiction stories this week, having drafted them while away. Later this week will be about the right time to look at them again with a “clear view” and if they still grab me, I will submit them. You do have to be grabbed by your own stories. You are your own first audience. If you don’t like what you write, why should anyone else?

The important point is to be objective and above all be honest. What did you like about your story and why? Are there any points you think need strengthening? Do trust your gut instincts here by the way, they’re nearly always right.

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I’ve got a few writing prompts in my diary to catch up on later this week. The one that takes my fancy the most is the picture of the white terrier running along a sandy beach – now I wonder why that is!

Another prompt is to select ten words associated with a train journey and write these up into a piece of writing. The nice thing with this one is you can easily make that fiction or non-fiction. (I suspect for anyone caught up in train delays, broken down trains etc that they’d have no trouble coming up with at least 10 words on the subject! How many of them would be non-swearing is another matter though…).

Am delighted to say I’ll be going to the Waterloo Arts Festival on 8th June. I missed it last year due to holiday.

My story, The Professional, is one of the 16 winners in the Waterloo writing competition. I’m looking forward to meeting up with friends and there will be the opportunity to read out extracts of the winning stories at the event.

I look forward to reading some of my story but also hearing the others. It is a treat to be read to!

If last year’s collection To Be…To Become (where I also had a story published) is anything to go by, it’ll be a good eclectic mix of tales.

Will share the link to the ebook when it is available.

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My favourite kind of flash fiction is where it ends with a punchline that makes me smile. That’s partly because I’ve got a very soft spot for any kind of humorous prose. It’s also because having something that “just” makes you laugh is worth so much. Escapism, especially in humour, is invaluable.

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Haven’t seen this one round my way.  Pixabay

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Good idea!  Pixabay

Looking forward to reviewing some flash pieces I drafted while away last week. (Have smartphone and Evernote, the free version, love both!). Once done, I’ll be sending them off to a couple of competitions. Then it’ll be a case of working out which competitions I’d like to have a go at and getting on with the next batch of stories.

The nice thing with short fiction is being able to get work out there far more quickly than you can with novels.

One of the frequent reminders on the motorway is “Tiredness kills, take a break”. In terms of writing, tiredness saps your mental energy and it can be tough to write when you feel like that.

What has helped me has been seeing writing as something that helps me unwind, whatever I come up with now doesn’t have to be “perfect” now (which is just as well!), and that I always feel a bit better once I have written something, even if it is only a few lines.

I see the writing as the “taking the break” bit of the above phrase. When a day has been particularly tough, I jot down ideas for future blogs and stories, and find it is almost like clearing my mind out for a while. (That in itself can help with unwinding). And, of course, when feeling brighter, there are ideas ready for me to write up into what I hope will be something special!

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June is going to be a busy month. I’ll be going to the Waterloo Arts Festival (where winners of their writing competition will read extracts from their stories – really looking forward to taking part in that and listening to the others).

A week later I’ll be at the Winchester Writers’ Festival.

At both, I’ll look forward to meeting up with friends as well as enjoying the events. I’ve no doubt I’ll learn plenty from them too.

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A Double Dose of Goodreads Author Blogs!

Reading and Travelling

I was never able to read while on a car journey when I was a kid as it used to make me feel sick. Now it’s not a problem and is one of the joys of a long journey.

It is also where the Kindle does come into its own. Not much to pack either, just don’t forget the charger!

I catch up with reading, as well as draft stories, when travelling and have a lovely time doing so.

Do you remember the old I-Spy books? I used to love them but they were no good to me on a trip! I had to remember what I’d seen and fill my books in on getting home!

I don’t pick specific holiday reading as I always have books to catch up on but the joy of holidays is having the time to do that.

Wherever you go this summer, happy reading!

What Do You Love Most About a Story?

My favourite part of any story is in the middle. The characters and situation are set up, the (usually) life versus death scenario is well under way, and it is a question of whether you can outguess the author as to the resolution.

I love it when I guess correctly but love it more when a writer wrongfoots me here. I then go back and re-read the story and inevitably find clues over the unexpected resolution that had been there. I just hadn’t paid enough attention, which is an object lesson in itself!

Naturally, I can apply what I learn here to my own writing, but it is also no coincidence the stories I re-read are the ones that have kept me on my toes. There is just so much enjoyment to be had here.

The great thing with twist in the tail stories is the simpler the twist the better and more effective it is. Simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy to guess at either, as it is easy to overlook or forget the “obvious”.

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Fairytales with Bite – Character Values

In my CFT post this week, I’ve looked at what I value most. It won’t come as a huge surprise to know I’ve included family, friends, and literacy in this, amongst other important things.

What is it that your characters value most? As with me, it is highly unlikely to be just one thing, but you should be able to deduce which your characters would fight for and which they wouldn’t. It should also be apparent why they would feel this way.

It can be useful information for an enemy, of course. What can they use against your heroes here? What does the enemy value that could be used against them? (It’s never a one-way street in fiction but you can exploit that).

See this as an invaluable part of an outline and have fun working out how you can use a character’s values to strengthen their portrayal and against them to generate conflict.

This World and Others – Pointer Checklist

Hope you find the following useful.  The following list is a guide to checking if your created world makes sense to a reader.

  1. Can a reader picture your world in their imagination?
  2. Can a reader identify with your characters? They don’t have to like them though!
  3. Does your world have a system of government that makes sense to your reader? Someone has to be in charge. Your characters should know who they would be answerable to!
  4. How do your characters survive on a daily basis? They will have to eat, drink, breath, excrete, reproduce, and die (unless they’re immortals of course but could anything threaten that?).

By ensuring you can answer these points, you will have a functioning created world of your own.

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Brainstorming, Historical Links, and Publication News

Really exciting week publication wise – more later.

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I love historical links and going to events like the Fryern Funtasia on Bank Holiday Monday for CFT makes for a nice link with the medieval fairs.

What our ancestors would make of inflatable slides, train rides etc, makes the mind boggle though I suspect the Hog Roast would go down very well!

Images Credit:  Unless otherwise named, all images were taken by Allison Symes (so you know who to blame).

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Facebook – General – and Publication News

Am thrilled to bits to share more publication news following the news my two stories, Dignity and Injustice and The Art Critic, will be included in the Best of Cafelit 8 due to be launched later this year.

My story The Professional is one of the winners of this year’s Waterloo Festival Writing Competition. Yay!

I was also in last year’s Waterloo Festival ebook To Be… To Become with my story, Progressing.

The full list of Waterloo Festival Winners is below.

Irene Lofthouse Cat and Mouse
Linda Flynn Climbing Rainbows
J S Brown Disarray
Jeanne Davies Everything has changed
Helen Price Havens
Amelia Brown Heat
Laure Van Rensburg Of Salt and the Raw Flesh of Fish
Beverly Byrne Old Masters
Paula R C Readman Over The Wall
Jessica Joy Russian Doll
Sinéad Kennedy Krebs Steam
Gail Aldwin Take Your Place
Yvonne Walus The Father Daughter Club
Allison Symes The Professional
Christopher Bowles The Side of Blue
Louise Rimmer The Undermen
Hannah Retallick The Word Has It
Madeleine McDonald They Lied to Me
Michael Baez Time Will Tell

Many congratulations to all of the other writers who are winners here.

What will be lovely this year will be getting to go to the Waterloo Festival. I missed it last year due to being in the stunning far North of Scotland on holiday.

Am already keenly anticipating going to the Festival AND having the great joy of meeting up with writer friends again, well ahead of when I’d usually see them for the Bridge House Publishing event in December. Win-win in every sense then.

And it is a really happy author who can report she has had a very good writing week!

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I’ll be sharing a look back at the Fryern Funtasia (held on Bank Holiday) Monday for my CFT post this week.

But meanwhile, my lovely editor, Janet Williams (who founded the site to bring people together), has prepared a very different summary of it including a great selfie pic of the two of us having a fab time. Pic taken by Janet, not me.

Naturally we got to have a good chat about writing, CFT etc over a cup of tea. An outdoor editorial meeting if you like!

If anyone tells you the writing life is glamorous…

If however they tell you it is a lot of fun, then DO believe that!

http://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/fryern-funtasia-6th-may-20…/

 

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Janet Williams, my lovely CFT editor, and I at the Fryern Funtasia.  Many thanks to Janet for kind permission to use the selfie which she took.

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Have got a long car journey coming up so am I planning to draft flash fiction, blog posts etc while in transit? You bet! The time will fly by and I’ll get lots done, I hope! Naturally I am NOT driving…!

Also hope to catch up with Kindle reading and to write some reviews. All of that should take care of the motorway stint!

The lovely thing with writing is you are never short of things to while away “dead” time and drafting work is always profitable for later on, if only in terms of having more work to submit.

Thrilled to bits to be a winner in the Waterloo Festival again. My story The Professional will appear in an ebook compilation later in the year and I’ll be only too pleased to share further details when I have them!

The Professional is one of my longer flash fiction pieces as it comes in at just a tad under 1000 words but the thing to remember with flash is the word count has to fit the story and NOT the other way round. If a flash piece works better at 500 words than say 250, then go for the former, always. Your story and characters will be sharper and better for it. (I’d say it’d stand better chance of being published too).

When writing to a very small word count (100 words or under), then I’ve found it helpful to select the ONE moment that has to be written about in my character’s life and focus intently on that. There is no room for anything else. But the story still has to be complete in and of itself.

Get the story right in terms of what details you HAVE to include, edit to sharpen it (you will find better ways of phrasing things while keeping the same meaning), and then get it out there and see what happens. Good luck!

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How can I tell if a flash fiction story has worked, whether I’ve written it or not?

Simples to quote a certain advert. (Though if I ever see a meerkat reading or writing stories, I’ll double check what goes in my cups of tea!).

If it makes me react either in support of the character I’ve just read about/written for OR against them. Which way round it is depends on the nature of the story of course but that reaction must be there.

Sometimes the reaction can change as I read the story through. A character I thought to be a villain proves not to be etc but the reaction is there. The writer has successfully connected with me via their prose.

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Fairytales with Bite – Using Historical Links in Fiction

My latest CFT post is a review of the annual Fryern Funtasia, which is a great fun event for all ages.  What I particularly love about events like this is the ongoing links with the medieval fairs.  It was appropriate there was a Hog Roast and an archery practice range (for children) at the event which was held on Bank Holiday Monday, 6th May 2019.

Historical links can be great for inspiring story ideas.  These can range from timeslip novels to ghost stories involving historical characters (do check out the works of Jennifer C Wilson for some great examples here).

I use historical links in flash fiction as a quick way to show when a story is set.  For example, if I mentioned someone’s ruff was distinguished, you’d know from that one detail alone the tale was set in the Tudor court (Elizabeth’s).

You can also be inspired by the stories of historical characters.  Anne Boleyn inspired my Dignity and Injustice which is on Cafelit (and will be in their Best of Cafelit  8 due out later this year).

So think about how you can use history to shape your own fiction. And a character’s sense of history (their own, their country’s etc) will affect how they think and act and can add great drama to your story.

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This World and Others – Brainstorming

Following on from recent posts about writing exercises, another favourite way of generating story ideas for me is to have brainstorming sessions every so often.

I set myself a time limit and just write what comes into mind. It doesn’t matter if the ideas prove to be rubbish later on (most will be!) but out of all of that will come ideas I really can use.

I’ve found I need to give myself permission to just write freely and kick the inner editor out of the arena of my head for a while. It pays to put this writing aside and come back and look at it later with a cold, logical head. That’s where your inner editor is useful. But don’t try to free write and edit together, they really are separate processes.

If you’re not sure where to start on a brainstorming session, think of a character. Jot down anything about them – what they look like, what their habits are, what they think they are like, what others around them think they are like and so on. If it helps to use pictures to think of a character than do so. I tend not to do that. I think of a character who is awkward, for example, and look at reasons why they might be that way.

But whatever method works for you when it comes to starting a useful brainstorming session, stick with it. See what you come out with and have fun with this!

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