IDEAS, ROOM 101, AND SPECIAL CHARACTERS

Another mixed bag plus a link to my page on US based site, Scriggler, where a new story of mine is now up.

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My CFT post this week is the final installment of my 101 Things to Put into Room 101 series. Good fun to write and therapeutic too! Amongst tonight’s items are debt, fake sincerity and all calories in a 99 icecream. (You can guess where I put that in my list numerically speaking!).

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When is the best time to write? When you can! I write mainly in the evenings but if I can sneak in some writing during the day, I do so. What matters more, I think, here is being consistent with your writing. You know you will always sit down at roughly the same time and you will always write X number of words or accomplish this task or that one.

I keep a list of writing tasks I want to achieve and find it helpful as, whenever I tick off one, there is a sense of achievement. Given rejections happen to everyone, that sense of achievement is very welcome.

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Little things reveal a great deal about people. Anyone who always says “please” and “thank you” was brought up to be polite (and not take anything for granted usually too!). Likewise, those who hold doors open for others (regardless of gender), you can reasonably assume at least try to be considerate in other ways.

So little things should give away clues as to what your characters are really like deep down. I think of this as the kind of trait that a character can’t completely hide/suppress.

For example, a character is shown to be a “loudmouth”. Fine but every so often during the story, we also spot the said character lighting a candle as a prayer for someone else. That tells me well hang on, this character has another side to them. A deep, spiritual side they are either not comfortable showing more openly (they’re wary of showing off their piety perhaps) or they somehow feel the need to cover that aspect of themselves up by being “loud”.

So think about what little things will give away what your character is really like. These little things can also back up the main portrayal (and help make it more convincing).

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One thing that can be overlooked in flash fiction is, as with any story, the character still has to be at a point of change in their lives and the tale shows the results of that. The difference, of course, is that in flash, you have much less room to complete that “task”.

But a good flash fiction story will show you a character changing (for good or ill), or resolving a problem. It really is a question of cutting to the chase with flash fiction. There has to be a resolution to the conflict your character is facing, whether that is an internal or external one. Everything that is most important to the character and the resolution has to be in the story and not a word more.

This is why I think it is a good idea for most writers to have a go at writing flash fiction, even if you don’t use it as your main fiction form. Why? The skills you learn in writing to a tight word count will spill over into other things you write. As I’ve mentioned before, you soon find out what your wasted words are, you discover you don’t need many adjectives and adverbs, you do learn to say in one word what you might have taken three words to do etc.

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Flash fiction is great for giving insights into a character which wouldn’t be enough in themselves for a standard length short story (usually 1500 to 2000 words).

With a novel you get to see the whole “tapestry” of the story with all the different threads coming together. With a novella you would see about half of that. With a short story you would see say part of the left or right hand side. With a flash fiction piece, you are picking one spot on the whole “tapestry” to study – and, despite the limited word count, can still produce an “intense” story. Flash fiction can have layers – it just can’t have too many of them!

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Ideas, I think, are all over the place waiting to be picked up and used by writers who can recognize them for what they are and, more importantly, which ones are the “goers” and worth running with.

I don’t write character biographies (though I understand the point of them) but I do jot down ideas based on themes and then work out “What if?” scenarios. I think it important to recognize that ideas need development time.

Yes, a brilliant idea can occur and you write away but in my experience at least it has been ideas coming together to form a powerful whole that has inspired my stories. The advantage of this is that the ideas are layered and means I am building in depth to my stories. (Yes, you could and should have depth to flash fiction. There should be nuances the reader ponders on later).

But it is theme, motivation, and character types that interest me the most. Again looking at the news you can pick up thoughts as to what motivated someone to do this or that and then apply that motivation to your characters. For example, we all understand jealousy and how that can arise. So why would your characters be jealous and what would they do as a result?

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Scriggler – My page

I have put a new story on this called Night Fright but am including the link to the whole of my page here.  Am hoping to add more to this later in the year.

Fairytales with Bite – Five Signs of a Great Character

I do like a list (!) and it has been a little while since my last one on here so time for another!  I would list the following as my five signs of a great character (fairytale or otherwise).

1Being Memorable.  Sounds easy but can be easier said than done.  The advantage is a character can be memorable for good or villainous reasons but there has to be something about them that sticks in your readers’ minds long after they’ve finished reading about them.  Can you say something about your character that would instantly bring them to mind without you having to refer to the story?  (This can be a useful test!)

2.  Having a Life.  Your characters have a life of their own, which may not necessarily be directly relevant to the story you’re telling about them but which feed into it.  For example, a character may be known for usually being a stay at home and then they suddenly go on a quest and they wonder how those who know them will react to this.  The quest is the story but the fact the character has friends and neighbours who will gossip about what they’re up to brings that character to life.  The obvious examples here are Frodo and Bilbo Baggins from Tolkein.

3.  They would be capable of further adventures.  The great characters have traits and skills that would be easily transferrable to other stories about them.  Your readers should be able to picture your characters going off on other adventures.

4.  The characters are willing to be challenged or overcome initial reluctance to face challenges.  I love stories with characters like these, partly because I think about what I (or my characters) would do if facing the same fictional challenges.  This feeds into 3 above, of course.  It is my experience characters like this always do more than their author originally thought them capable of and that is a very good sign.

5.  Their enemies fear them with good cause.  The irony here is that this can apply to the enemies fearing the hero, but also the hero fearing the enemy.  A worthy hero deserves a decent villain to test them.  You can also see why the fear is justified.

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Creating great characters. Image via Pexels.

person uses pen on book

Outlining your characters, perhaps. Image via Pexel

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All good aids to writing, though the chocolate is not a great diet aid. Image via Pexels

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Always good advice this. Image via Pexels

This World and Others – What is Special about your Characters?

I think this question is the first thing you must ask yourself before writing your story. What is so special about your characters readers have to keep on reading to find out what happens to them?

The basic answer, of course, is that it has to be a mixture of character traits and personality to make a fully rounded “person” to be the star of your story.  So think about where your characters get their traits from and why they have the personality that they do.  What would happen to this personality if they were put under stress (especially the ongoing for some time kind of stress)?  Would your character still be special or crack under the strain and, if the latter, how can they come back from that?  There are stories to be had there!

Also, what is special to your character?  What do they consider to be the most important things about themselves and why?  Who are their heroes and villains, and why?  What possessions do they have that they value the most (and these don’t have to be priceless antiques.  it could be, say, a battered old teddy bear they’ve had since very young etc)?

Happy writing!

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READING AND WRITING PREFERENCES

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What do I like to write best – my flash fiction or non-fiction such as my Chandler’s Ford Today posts? No contest. Love them both. Wish I had more time for both. Also means I never, ever get bored.

I find it helpful to spend some time writing, say, flash fiction and then I switch over to CFT posts. It is just great to be inspired by writing something different to what I had just been working on. I have to take different approaches to what I write and going from one to the other and back again keeps me on my toes.

I am going to try this year to prepare more of my CFT posts (the non-time dependent ones) in advance as I have done this before and find it a great way to free up time overall for other writing work. Didn’t get to do much of this in 2017. I like being able to schedule posts in advance and it is a facility I could do with making more use of.

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Am having a lot of fun writing my 101 Things to be put into Room 101 mini-series for Chandler’s Ford Today. Part 1 went up on Friday and I’ve already drafted Part 2. Am not having any trouble at all coming up with things for this! Grumpy old woman, moi? Surely not!

The joy of writing non-fiction like this is I can have fun with my writing in a different way to my fiction. With that, I love inventing my characters and the situations I put them in but with articles like this, I put my imagination to work and bring facts in to back it up! Well, sometimes anyway. Features like this one are, of course, opinion pieces but it is great to have fun coming up with something you hope will entertain others as well as being able to express views.

And I still want wasps booted into Room 101!

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An interesting point came up in the comments box on my latest CFT post which referred to characters “knowing” they were about to die and later it turned out they hadn’t!

My response was that stories, of whatever length, do have to be logical and make sense. In this case, I would have written the character as genuinely believing they were about to die (and I would also have shown some of her bodily reactions to this – shaking, racing heart etc).

Equally later in the story, if the character had just been plain grateful to have been wrong about her earlier assumption, that would have modified things. But this comment reminded me my characters can only believe things. Their knowledge has to be based on what they CAN know or honestly believe to be true.

This comment also acts as a reminder when editing a story to go back and check that everything does make sense. Otherwise, you will lose your readers as they will see straight through anything illogical like this.

Let creativity spill out - image via Pixabay

Let the creative process flow! Image via Pixabay

The fantastic world of books must include non-fiction too - image via Pixabay

The wonderful world of stories. Image via Pixabay

Books illuminate and fiction is made stronger by using non-fiction to support it - image via Pixabay

Fiction is strengthened when backed by fact. Image via Pixabay

Historical records can be an invaluable source of inspiration - image via Pixabay

Historical records can be an invaluable source of inspiration. Image via Pixabay,

Good books should bring illumination to a situation, make you see things as you haven't before - image via Pixabay

Aiming for more “magic” from my stories this year! Image via Pixabay.

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What is your preferred form of reading? The paper/hardback or Kindle?

I love both but must admit the Kindle is a boon for when I’m away and has saved so much room in my suitcase! It is also nice to know I will definitely not run out of things to read. Also, I find the battery life is reasonable and I do like being able to go to weblinks etc from within an ebook.

However, you can’t beat a good browse in a bookshop and a leisurely half hour with a paperback and a cup of tea, My only complaint here? I wish I could do it more often!

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Benefits of writing flash fiction:-

1. You really do learn to write to a tight word count!

2. Your editing skills improve as you use the more powerful words to conjure up images in your reader’s minds. No room for waffle here!

3. It can act as really good practice for writing a blurb etc.

4. You focus on what is the nub of the story and get to the point quicker.

5. You can now enter all the flash fiction competitions!

 

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Am enjoying drafting some opening lines I plan to write up as flash fiction stories.

I like coming up with the bizarre, the other-worldly and the simple statement which I sometimes twist into something less simple!

For example, in from Light to Dark and Back Again in Health and Safety, the story starts with my character wondering why people are moaning. The tale then reveals the character is Goldilocks and she is sharing her version of events, but that opening line could have been ANY character in ANY setting at ANY time. It did not have to necessarily be a fairytale character.

I do like lines like that which offer so many possibilities.

I write batches of flash fiction at a time, polish them, submit them (and hopefully they then end up in a collection!).

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What is the special something about your characters that mean you absolutely HAVE to write their stories?

I often use the major trait of a character as a starting point (and find it easier to write characters whose traits I like. With the ones where I hate the traits, I have to get inside the head of the character to see how they justify their attitude. That can be disturbing at times when you realise how easily they can justify their stance!).

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Part of the role of fiction is to show up truths that can’t necessarily be proven by pure fact. Truths about the human condition, truths about what love is and so on.

Flash fiction does this too but in fewer words! I like to think of flash fiction as shining a spotlight on a theme and, of course, the shorter the piece, the greater the intensity of that spotlight!

The challenge can be where you direct that beam or sometimes even knowing where you’ve aimed it! Sometimes you write a piece and the theme can take even you by surprise.

I always write to a character. I know who my leading people are and why they are in that role. I don’t always write to a specific theme and sometimes the theme just leaps out at me AFTER I’ve drafted the story.

When I was editing From Light to Dark and Back Again, it struck me then just how many of my stories dealt with some kind of poetic justice. I never set out to write to that theme (though I guess the things you feel strongly about are bound to come out in your writing somewhere along the line!).

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What I Like in a Book Review

This applies to reviews for my From Light to Dark and Back Again as well as those I give for other books!

A good review has:-

1. No spoilers but enough information so the reader knows what they will be reading in terms of genre etc.

2. What the reviewer likes – good characterisation, twist in the tale endings etc.

3. No waffle.

4. No negativity. (The way to criticize a book is to say what you liked, what you thought didn’t work so well etc as the writer will be expecting this. Your thoughts on what didn’t work so well can be very useful to them. What you don’t write is a “hatchet job” on the book or the author).

5. A rough idea of book length and time taken to read it (though I must admit I don’t always remember this one! I DO stress when reviewing flash fiction collections the great thing about this genre is you can read it one sitting but it is also great for dipping in and out of).

6. What you would like to see from the author next time (i.e. next book in the series, continued great characterisation, less of the blood and gore, if appropriate etc).

7. Total honesty from the reviewer.

What would you add to this list?