Reading Journeys and the Role of Stories

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I look at how what I’ve read has changed over the years in my CFT post about Reading Journeys this week. I also look at how the Kindle has impacted on my reading life too (and boy has it! My suitcase is a lot lighter thanks to it!).

I can’t remember what the first book I read all by myself was but wouldn’t be surprised if it was a picture book. I am still very fond of The Reader’s Digest Collection of Fairytales which is beautifully illustrated. I’m also a sucker for a good map (see The Lord of the Rings!).

I’ve said it before, and will no doubt say it again, but adult fiction writers owe a huge debt to those who write for youngsters. So many readers of fiction for adults come from a background of having always read books/had books read to them. It is just a case of tastes changing over time. It is difficult to understate how important it is to create that wish to read spark off in the first place.

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My favourite moment when writing a story or a CFT post is when the piece “takes off”.

For a story, this is when the character hits their stride and there’s no holding them back. You, as the writer, are keen to find out what happens next (which is always a good sign!). And yes I outline but I deliberately don’t put down every detail. I need signposts but what happens between them is the really fun bit!

For a post, it is when one idea leads to another and that leads to more and before you know it, an article is written.

The scary moment? When you’ve outlined an idea and you begin writing and at that point you don’t know whether it is going to “go the distance”. There’s always a certain amount of relief when things “take off” and you realise the post or story will be fine (after editing later, naturally).

Image Credit:  The picture of From Light to Dark and Back Again was taken by my cousin, Raewyn Berry.  My book is on display at her guest house in New Zealand.  It is easily the furthest my book has travelled!

My CFT post this week will take a look at reading journeys and how they change and develop over time (as they should). Good excuse to put lots of pictures of lovely books up too! Win-win! I also look at how methods of reading have developed. Who would have predicted the Kindle when I was growing up in the 1970s?

Do you have a reading list of books you simply must read (in whatever format suits best) before the Grim Library Keeper tells you that you are way overdue and it is time to go?

One of my favourite cartoons is the one of a woman in bed ringing to tell someone her other half has been crushed by his To Be Read pile. I have a nasty feeling life could imitate art for many of us here on that front! So don’t pile them too high, eh?

And I really must go and reduce the height of mine!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

The spark for a new flash fiction story comes from a variety of sources for me. These include:-

1. Hearing a turn of phrase which catches my fancy.

2. A well known saying or proverb. (I can often twist these too so double whammy as far as I’m concerned).

3. I sometimes use a question as the story title. The story of course is then found in answering that question!

4. Writing prompts – picture based, theme set or what have you, I find all of these useful. (My writing diary is a boon for these. I should have 52 new stories by the end of the year at least given there is a prompt set every week!).

5. What is lovely is when a character I’ve created sparks off an idea for a follow-on story but the character and the follow-on idea both have to be strong enough for this to work.

6. I will sometimes put a character name into my title (for example George Changes His Mind). The idea here is to provoke curiosity as to find out who the character is and, in this example, what he changed his mind about! The implication also is that it has to be something reasonably important otherwise there would be no story.

F is for Fun which writing should be
L is for Lines for your characters to say
A is for Action without which a story is dead
S is for Story, the “must know how it ends” reaction
H is for Heroes, of all kinds, caped or not.

F is for Flashbacks which should be kept brief
I is for Imagination – feed yours by reading well
C is for Characters we all want to root for
T is for Truthful Narrators or ARE they? Make us guess!
I is for Illumination, that lightbulb creative moment
O is for Original – you have a unique writing voice
N is for Names – what do they reveal about your “people”?

Allison Symes – 14th February 2019

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Flash fiction can be great for giving little insights into a character and/or their setting which would not be enough for a standard length short story. You can imply their world without going into lots of description.

My Every Little Detail doesn’t spell out who the reader mentioned in the story is until literally the last word but so much is implied in the run-up to that, my closing word acts as a confirming punchline in many ways.

I relish writing stories like that. The fun comes from working out what clues to put in and how best to do so. The reader needs to work things out without you spelling everything out but the clues must enable them to do that.

Fairytales With Bite – Character Traits

I like to look for a major trait in a character and use that to help “round them out”.  For example, if I decide a character is a coward, I dig deeper and look for what has led to the character being like that.  I can also look at whether they’re ashamed of this or not.  Not everything I outline here will make it into my story but I know that if I know what the answers are here, I will write my character with more confidence (and therefore conviction as well) and I believe THAT comes through to the reader.

So useful character traits to consider then could include:-

  1. Cowardice/Heroism;
  2. Being a Liar/Being Honest (the latter could cause as much trouble as the former and the potential for comedy is here too);
  3. Stubbornness/Being Flexible;
  4. Being Unfriendly/Being Sociable;
  5. Being Prejudiced/Being Open.

There are of course many more traits than these and practically every trait has its opposite flaw/virtue which could also be used.

Questions to ask yourself when using these:-

 

  1. How did the character develop this flaw/virtue?
  2. Do they see it as a flaw or virtue?  Are they right about this?
  3. How do others around the character react to them and their flaw/virtue?
  4. What are their society’s expectations?
  5. Does the character change – for better or worse?

Have fun!

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This World and Others – The Role of Stories

We all know how important stories are to us personally and to our society but when creating your own world, what thought have you given to the role of tales there? Does your world have its own legends? What are these? How are these legends shared?

Was/is there an oral storytelling tradition? Are only certain stories allowed (and who chose these and why)? Are books easily available to all (or the technological equivalent)? Is reading encouraged? Are there libraries?

How does your world decide whether something it is civilised or not? You’ll guess from the questions I list above I consider the ready availability of books, libraries, stories being generally available etc to be major considerations as to whether I think something is civilised!

How do the characters in your stories treat books and stories? Do their views agree with those held by their society or not?

The role of stories is important (they’re a great way of getting a message across without preaching and are a wonderful form of entertainment. Does your fictional world treat them in the same way? If not, why not?).

Publication News:  Cafelit

I will have two new stories up on Cafelit on 16th February and 16th March.  Will share links as and when.  I am also pleased to say two stories of mine are being voted on for consideration for the Best of Cafelit 8 print anthology due out later this year.  Will keep you posted on how I do but do check out the Best of books as there are wonderful stories in here from a lovely variety of writers.  (How do I know they’re lovely?  I’ve met them!).

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ODD COMBINATIONS AND FLASH FICTION TERMS

Again, a mixed bag for you!

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest CFT post combines two things in a review, which I never anticipated I would ever combine – the Famous Five and William Shakespeare! Yes, really.

I review Five Go Mad for Shakespeare staged by the MDG Players at the Dovetail Centre in Chandler’s Ford last Thursday. They were ably assisted by the Romsey Players with their “play within a play”, which is another nod to the Bard!

The evening was a mixture of spoofs, well known scenes from Hamlet and Macbeth, and songs. It was good fun and very well put together.

MDG NOTICEBOARD

The MDG Players cast and notice board. Image by Allison Symes

MDG NOTICEBOARD PART 2

All the seats were taken at the show. Image by Allison Symes

Programme Front

The front cover of the programme. Image by Allison Symes.

Programme - What is on offer during the show

A mixed menu of delights in the show are listed here. Image by Allison Symes

THE GAME CARDS FOR WOULD WE LIE TO YOU

The green and red cards were used for a game during the show, Image by Allison Symes.

Facebook – General

Went to see an April Trio of Plays by the Chameleon Theatre Company tonight. Review on CFT next week. This week will be a review of Five Go Mad For Shakespeare put on by the MDG Players last week. So yes, I’ve been out and about and seeing some wonderful plays! I like this. I like it a lot! (Hope it won’t be too long before I get to see some National Theatre Live productions again too).

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One of the problems I face with writing is prioritising! Writing for Chandler’s Ford Today helps as I know I’m posting on Friday so I plan my posts so usually I’m carrying out final checks on Wednesday.

However, it is fitting everything else in that I’d like to do, both for fiction and non-fiction, that is the problem. The one comfort? I know I’m not alone in this. (And things like using Evernote on a phone on a train does help me get a lot more done with time that would otherwise be wasted. Just how much staring out of the window can you do?!!).

The one good thing is I am well ahead on coming up with ideas for stories for what I hope will end up being my third flash fiction collection. I’ve also drafted some of the stories out. (I hope some of them will appear online at some point).

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

There are times I wish there were better terms for flash fiction writers. We’re flashers for a start! Anyone writing 100-word stories is a drabbler and I have occasionally written at the 50-word mark too (though this has been more for my second collection which is under submission).

Therefore, this makes me a flasher, a drabbler and an occasional dribbler. Doesn’t sound good, does it?😀 Does anyone know who came up with these terms in the first place?!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I’ve talked before about one benefit of writing flash fiction being that it shows up your wasted words. This carries over into any other creative writing you do as you learn to look out for these wasted words and they’re the first to be cut out.

However, another huge benefit to writing flash fiction is having to write with absolute clarity. As your word count is limited, you want every word to carry its weight so your readers pick up the meaning you intended.

That clarity can (and I think should) carry over into other writing too. Also, because flash fiction really does have to be character led, it beefs up your ability to create convincing characters! They have to “lead” the story, there simply isn’t the room for an elaborate plot. But the great thing is genre isn’t an issue. I’ve written flash fiction pieces in fantasy, fairytale, crime, horror, and so on.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Managed to draft another flash fiction piece while waiting to give blood this afternoon. Best thing to come out of the afternoon too given there was trouble with my veins and I had to come home without donating. Ah well… try again. (I cherish the thought if the National Blood Service had trouble with my veins, so would your average vampire! You have got to find the things to use them!).

That aside, I’m pleased with the progress I’m making on this batch of stories and hope to submit some more to Cafelit before long.

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Childhood Books

I sometimes review local theatre productions and a recent one was called Five Go Mad for Shakespeare. Good fun, and I enjoyed the references to Enid Blyton’s adventure series, and to the Bard too.

I used to collect the Famous Five series as the local newsagent stocked them. (Those really were the days… the newsagent’s shop was big compared to the ones I come across now. Its book section was reasonably generous in size).

I loved reading the Five’s adventures and I think those books, plus the fairytale collections I had (and still have!), are the fiction volumes that have had the most affect on me. Of course, the moment I’d got my hands on the latest Five adventure, I had to read it as soon as possible. I don’t remember reading them in one sitting but I know I would’ve been ready for when the next book was due in the newsagent’s!

So what childhood books have had the most impact on you? Have you re-read them since then?

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Fairytales With Bite – Why Children’s Fiction Matters Even When You Do Not Write It

My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week is a review of a show called Five Go Mad for Shakespeare and it was good fun.  I never expected to review something that combined Enid Blyton’s Famous Five with the Bard of Avon but there you go…

This led me on to thinking about the importance of children’s fiction, even for those who do not write it.  My first loves in terms of children’s books were the classic fairytales and the Famous Five series.  I also liked Heidi, Black Beauty, and other classic children’s books.

I think it can be forgotten sometimes that anyone who, like me, writes for adults, “owes” our audience to children’s writers.  Why?  Because most people who read regularly have always read since they were children and all that changes as they become older is their tastes in books!

While I’m sure it does happen, the majority of readers don’t suddenly go into a bookshop and pick out a book to read.  They are going into stores or ordering books online because they already have a love of reading they are developing further.  That love of books nearly always starts in childhood with the classic children’s stories.

This World and Others – What Makes a “Fully Rounded Character”?

You hear the phrase “fully rounded characters” a lot, well I have (!), but what does it actually mean? My take on this is:-

1. You can identify with the character.
2. The character has clear virtues and flaws. (This is usually why you can identify with them!).
3. The character makes mistakes and, usually, learns from them. Often they make the same mistakes more than once before they learn from them, but then so do real people!
4. Their behaviour and attitudes make sense, given the way the writer has portrayed them.
5. You can imagine how this character would live outside of the constraints of the story.
6. They interact with other characters in a way that makes sense, even if the interaction itself isn’t good. (This could be because the character really does not get on well with others or the other characters aren’t great at “people skills”).
7. The character has feelings, tastes in music, food etc so you would feel they “could be” a real person if somehow characters could come to life.
8. The character has emotional depth. Basically this means the reader can see if the character is shallow or is capable of more complex emotions and attitudes. Shallow characters can be appropriate to a story. It’s just their emotional depth isn’t very deep!
9. You can’t imagine the story without them. (Always a good sign).
10. The character has real struggles and difficulties to overcome and finds different ways of overcoming them. (Unless they are a shallow creation, they don’t give up at the first hurdle).

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WHAT EVERY GOOD STORY MUST HAVE IN IT

FAIRYTALES WITH BITE

I list four things that should appear in every story we write and explain why.  Please feel free to comment if you can think of other things that should appear, regardless of story length or genre.  None of the four things will come as a surprise!

THIS WORLD AND OTHERS

Why Fiction Matters shares my views on this topic.  It also ties in with my Chandler’s Ford Today post for this week.  More on that below.  As for this post, I look at how fiction can present truths in a way that can make them easier to accept at times.  And never despise stories that are “just” entertaining.  Those kind of tales bring much needed relaxation to anyone under pressure (I find this myself at times).  The nice thing with this is writing those tales can also bring much needed relaxation!

CHANDLER’S FORD TODAY

This week’s post is one I’ve wanted to write up for a while and I look at why children’s fiction matters to all writers.  I write for adults yet know the vast majority of my audience will have been brought up on books as children and kept the reading habit going.  Adult fiction writers do owe a huge debt to children’s fiction writers for this.  I also share some of my favourite childhood books.

FACEBOOK – GENERAL

This refers to my CFT post for this week.

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FACEBOOK – FROM LIGHT TO DARK AND BACK AGAIN

Has been a busy week on the book front this week.  I’ve managed to place some books in a local outlet (as well as putting postcards there).  I’ve also submitted a Press Release about my upcoming book signing on 8th July at Chandler’s Ford Railway Station and the local Discovery magazine, w hich gets put through every door in the area, has agreed to take it!  I hope to submit the PR elsewhere but am very pleased with this.  I also discuss briefly why I like flash fiction.

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Special Note

Family issues have meant I haven’t had as much time to write as normal, which is why I’ve not been posting quite so often to my websites and to here.  I hope to rectify this as and when I can but I will be aiming to post three times a week when I can’t do so nightly.  I also still hope to sort out a mailing list for a newsletter where I plan to share exclusive material not found here such as story extracts, good writing advice from old CFT posts and so on.  Still not certain about timing due to ongoing family issues but will put a note up when it is ready.

Feature Image Why Children's Fiction Matters