On Characters and Being a “Proper” Writer

Image Credit:  Unless otherwise stated, all images are from Pixabay.

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What I look for in a great character:-

1. I totally understand why they’re acting the way they are. It doesn’t mean I have to approve though!

2. You can see how they got into the situation they’ve got to overcome and are keen to see if/how they get out of it again. You believe the character has the potential to get out of it and it’s a case of seeing whether you were right about that or not.

3. I love characters who come out with great one-liners but only as long as they arise naturally out of the situation and the character. It must never feel forced.

4. They stay with you in your imagination long after you’ve finished reading the story!

Examples of great characters for me:-

1. Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy

2. Jeeves and Wooster

3. Sam Vimes and Lady Sybil Ramkin – Discworld

4. Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee

5. Aslan – Narnia

6. Ebenezer Scrooge (though I prefer him AFTER the visitations! Am very fond of the Muppet Christmas Carol. Thought that was the best Muppet film too).

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I’m delighted to share Part 3 of Peter Russell’s local history series on The Hutments for Chandler’s Ford Today. If you have any memories to share of a part of the community that has now gone, do comment via the comments box. I know Peter would be pleased to hear from you.

Feature Image - Hook Road Hutments and My Family

It has been a good writing week. There has been plenty of progress on the novel. I’m enjoying it ! (That HAS to be a good sign, right? 😊😉).

Short story and flash fiction submitted. Am fleshing out another standard length short story for a competition and have got another “resting” for me to have a look at again, hopefully later this week.

Almost done on next week’s CFT post too. Continuing to add to my website and working on a non-fiction project.

So, no, I’m never short of things to do but that’s how I like things to be!

I’ll be talking about progress and success and how to judge them in the CFT post for Friday.

Am really looking forward to the Bridge House celebration event. Not far away now. It’s a great chance to catch up with friends and to make new ones!

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Word association can be a great way of triggering words to use in a story. You can play the standard way by setting a word and then finding others to link to it – e.g. play, toys, games etc.

Equally you can play the I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue version where there should be no connection at all to the chosen start word – e.g. play, universe, green.

Whichever version you go for, I suggest setting a limit of how many words you are going to use – I find that helps me focus. But of course you can raise or lower that limit for future stories.

 

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How do you know if you’re a “proper” writer?

1. You scorn the very idea you have too many notebooks.
2. You develop a thing for collecting nice pens too, some of which you will actually use.
3. You dread power cuts as they always seem to happen in the middle of a writing session.
4. You have the great joy of having a number of books written by friends on your shelves.
5. You are even more thrilled when your works are on the same shelves!
6. You can’t wait to tell everyone your latest publication news.
7. You open the latest copy of Writing Magazine and look for people you know in the letters page and the Subscribers’ sections in particular.
8. You feel a little miffed when you come across an issue when there isn’t someone you know in it. (It’s a kind of something’s not quite right with the world feeling).
9. Launches, especially online ones, are a regular part of your life and you love them all.
10. Your TBR and TBW piles never diminish but that’s the way you like them.
11. There is no such thing as having too many books. What you CAN have is not enough shelving.
12. You just feel SO at home in book shops and libraries.

Okay, guilty as charged on all those. How about you?

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I always consider impact to be the most important aspect to my flash fiction writing, but do you go about creating the impact you want to achieve?

Some of it is out of your hands. You may write a funny story but a reader doesn’t find it amusing – this is why humorous writing is so hard to do. It is subjective after all but what can you do to level the playing field a bit?

Having decided what the impact of my story is going to be, I look at what would make ME feel that impact. For example, if the tale is going to be a sad one, what would trigger that feeling of sadness in me?

Then it’s a question of picking the most appropriate trigger for your story. I prefer to go for understated emotional impact too. A story that tips overs into melodrama can put people off. I know it would do so for me. But sadness that is shown through the character without laying it on with a trowel will always make me want to read more if only to find out if the character “overcomes” the sadness or is beginning the process of adapting to the sitution by the end of the story.

For example if your story is about a fairy godmother rapidly approaching retirement and she really doesn’t want to retire, you could take that in a humorous or sad direction. So decide what you want it to be first.

If funny, what would make you laugh? Would setting your character into a ridiculous situation do it or are you better off having a wise cracking character who comes out with tremendous one liners?

Think about what you would like to read here as if the story was being written by someone else. I’ve found this to be really useful and hope you do too.

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Have you tried writing a piece of flash fiction to, say, 25 words, and then separately, writing it out to, say, 250 words?

It’s all perfectly legitimate but there will be different markets and competitions for the two stories.

I sometimes do this as a writing exercise (it’s a good way to get into a session of writing).

Not all stories or characters will be capable of being expanded. If the impact you are seeking to make on a reader is over and done with in 25 words then leave it at that. Never ever pad out a tale.

But if you CAN expand the story because the character is capable of so much more (and that’s the key way to judge whether a story IS capable of being expanded), explore what else you can do with that character and then you can either submit the two stories to two DIFFERENT places or pick the one you like the best and just submit that.

I like my titles to give a flavour of what is to come in the story without giving away too much. I like the title to lead people into wanting to read the rest. Of course, the challenge for me is to make sure I deliver on that promising title!

I occasionally use questions as story titles but prefer the statement, though I try to keep this as open as possible. Most of my titles could be taken in a humorous or serious direction.

I’ve mentioned before I have to have a title to work to as I draft my story but I am more than happy to change it if something better comes along as I am writing. It does sometimes and it is best to go with the flow here. Again, as with the story itself, I am looking for the likely impact of the title on the reader. The stronger impact title always wins.

 

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Do you ever think of music to suit your flash fiction stories?

The main time I have was coming up with ideas for the music for the book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back Again. I plumped for Saint-Saens Danse Macabre – quirky music to suit quirky fiction.

One of the things I love about music (and especially classical) is that, like flash fiction, there is something to suit every mood. I’m not going to be at any risk of running out of ideas for suitable musical themes any time soon either!

I’ve not yet used a piece of music to influence a story idea but may well give it a go and see what happens. The potential is there!

Goodreads Author Blog – Juggling the TBR Pile

I must admit I couldn’t physically juggle my TBR pile. There would be an almighty crash and some inventive language on my part, I think, if I tried that.

I love reading a mixture of fiction across many genres, non-fiction, short stories, novels, articles etc. I also like to mix up reading on the Kindle with reading “real” books but I also want to put magazine reading into the overall mixture too.

Over the course of a week, I try to cover most of those bases. I’m currently reading historical fiction, true crime, short stories, flash fiction, and my own novel (on Kindle. I’m reading it as a reader would. It has been illuminating!).

Over the course of a week, I have been thoroughly entertained too!

And yes I have a TBR pile on my Kindle too. One of the reasons I don’t put a Kindle app on my phone is so I don’t have a TBR pile on there as well.

It is true – too many books, too little time!

Still I’ll press on and have a fab time doing so.

Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

 

Working Out What Works

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My CFT post this week is Story Analysis – Why Bother? I doubt if there’s an English Literature student who HASN’T thought that at some point!

I look at why story analysis benefits writers, how I do this with flash fiction (yes, it can be done), and look at differing types of analysis.

For example, you can look at whether your story works in terms of structure. You can look at whether the sentence length is appropriate given your type of story. You can look to see if your tale is following the Three Act structure.

Story analysis is a useful tool. Hope you enjoy.

Image Credit:  Pixabay

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What do you most enjoy writing – dialogue or description?

I must admit I adore writing dialogue but I have to watch I don’t overdo this. Mind, writing flash fiction with its tight word count helps a lot there!

I can understand the appeal of writing plays given dialogue has to be a prominent part of them.

When I’ve finished a standard length short story (1500 words or so), one of my editing processes is to ensure the balance of dialogue to description is (a) right and (b) specifically right for that story. Some of my longer tales genuinely need a lot of dialogue. The rule is to cut out anything which doesn’t move the story onwards in some way.

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My CFT post this week looks at story analysis and discusses why it is worth doing by writers (both for their own work and on their own favourite authors). I also look at whether you can over-analyse and share how I analyse my flash fiction (yes, it can be done!). Link up on Friday.

Making progress on the novel, an idea I have for a non-fiction book, and, of course, I’m drafting flash fiction too. Hope to get some of that edited and submitted soon. Never short of things to work on but that’s how I like it!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

As part of my CFT post on Story Analysis this week, I look at how I do this for flash fiction. It can be done!

The most important part of any story though, regardless of its length, is getting that idea out of your head and down on to paper or screen though!

I use story analysis to review my stories thoroughly once the first draft and basic edit (typos and grammatical errors – there is always at least one!) are done.

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One of my favourite word games used to be Word Association. (These days it’s Scrabble on the phone, though the ads are annoying! I’ve also just got into Countdown as an app. No. Have not yet made a 9 letter word. I’m working on it!).

I still use Word Association sometimes as a brainstorming exercise. It can be a great way to find links (and as a result story ideas). Be prepared to dig deep though. Your first reactions to a word will be to come up with the obvious links. It’ll be what comes after you’ve used all those up that will be interesting.

For example:-

Bell = ring = clanger = Jo drops a clanger. Who is Jo? What was the clanger? What were the consequences?

Hmm…

You get the idea. Have fun and play with words like this. It will boost ideas and since when has that been a bad thing?!

What writing task do you dread doing most?

I suppose if I’ve got one, it is the line by line edit for typos and grammatical errors. The thing that keeps me going there is the thought that all of this will vastly improve my story or book.

I think of this task as a bit like dusting. Nobody will notice when you have done it but when you haven’t, that’s another matter! (I loathe dusting… no surprises there).

It helps to focus on getting your MSS as near perfection as it is possible for us mere mortals to do. In a way you don’t want people to notice it. Your work should read seamlessly and well. If it is any small comfort, I learned a long time ago that something which appears to be an easy read is the same something the author slogged their guts over to achieve that. It’s also taken them a long time to get to that level of experience to know it needs doing, IS worth doing etc!

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Fairytales With Bite – Working Out How Things Work

My CFT post Story Analysis – Why Bother? looks at why story analysis works and why it is useful for writers.  But how do your characters work out if things are working the way they should be?

Usually your characters take a while to work out when things are going wrong (and this is particularly true if someone is a traitor to a group of characters.  It takes time to figure out something is not right and then deduce who the guilty party is).

I suppose it is a reflection of human nature that characters often have to realise something is wrong (as opposed to knowing things are going well).  But therein lies the drama and conflict and without all of that, there is no story.

Interesting lines of thought to follow for stories are when characters are put in situation where they are in a different culture and have to adjust their thinking.  How easy is it for them to do that?  Do they manage to blend in with their new surroundings or do they stick out?

But there you have a character who has to got to work out how things work in their new environment.  Also work out what the consequences are for if/when your character gets this wrong.  Is the new situation they’re in welcoming to strangers or not?  Increase the tensions and the pressures on your characters to get this right to ratchett up the stakes the character has to “play for” to achieve whatever goal has been set as the story aim.

This World and Others –

My Favourite Things About Stories

Where do I start with this one?  Well, here goes:-

1.  Stories take you into another world.  Sometimes that world is this one but we see it in a light we’ve not considered before.

2.  Stories show you a wide range of characters, some of whom you’ll love.  Others you’ll love to hate of course but all of them draw  you in and make you feel something!

3.  Stories, when they convey messages/morals, do this subtly.  The writers rightly don’t want to lose their audiences by preaching.  Subtlety generally works better in any case.  It is better that the reader works out what the message/moral is and have their own lightbulb moment. The message hits home all the better for the reader working it out for themselves.

4.  Stories entertain.  In what is a mad world, the escapism element shouldn’t be despised.

5.  Stories can show you different aspects of history and culture from around the world.  (I find it fascinating how so many of our beloved fairytales go back such as long time and there are many cultures which have very similar versions to the ones we know).