Phases, Plays, Prioritising

I do love a good alliterative title!

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I tend to go through phases with my reading when all I will want to read are magazines or short stories, or crime novels, or funny fiction etc. I then come out of that phase and move on to something else entirely.

Writing wise, I like to get a good fix of non-fiction done early on in the week (usually my CFT blog). Later in the week I move on to my fiction and have sessions for my flash fiction and then sessions for working on the novel. By the end of a week I’ve made progress on all the projects I’ve got on the go.

Don’t know if this is ideal. All I do know is it works for me. Planning out your writing time – when it will be, what will you do with each slot etc IS a good idea though, no matter what you write.

 

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Enjoyed writing up a couple of the writing prompts in my diary earlier. One was to think of five words you think of when it comes to Easter and then put them in a piece about an Easter egg hunt.

Another was to complete a piece of writing based on “Cross not the dragon and his wrath” which seems to combine Shakespearean language with a nod to St. George.

I like these sorts of exercises. They make me think and push myself harder. Mind you, the quote does seem to be plain common sense to me! I suppose you could get some interesting tales out of beings who DO cross a dragon. I expect that would end up as flash fiction as I can see the outcome being a greatly reduced life span = end of story in every sense!😃

 

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Association of Christian Writers – More Than Writers

My monthly spot on the Association of Christian Writers’ blog, More Than Writers, focuses on prioritising writing work. Easier said than done? Of course but it is worth doing. Planning out how you are going to use your writing slots enables you to get more written funnily enough.

Oh and no my desk isn’t as neat as this one, far from it! I do know where everything is though…

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Looking forward to sharing my review of the recent Chameleon Theatre Groups’ latest production, Spring Trio of Plays, later in the week.

I see going to watch plays like this as another way of taking in stories and they can be a great way of trying genres out you might not necessarily read. There is also a nice link to the oral tradition of storytelling here too given the audience has to focus on the words. Now what storyteller, in whatever format, doesn’t want that?!

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One thing about writing flash fiction is it does encourage you to keep your titles short and punchy. You want the maximum impact for the least amount of words and if your title can be “open” as to how the story which goes with it can go, so much the better.

My Serving Up A Treat could have been a humorous cooking story. All I’ll say is it isn’t! I took a very different take but the title is still highly appropriate. Take your time working out what the best title is and don’t be afraid to change it if you have to. I have to have a title to work to but will change it if a better one crops up as I’m writing the story, which does happen sometimes. Usually the title I originally came up with is fine and I stick with it.

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Is there any writer out there who doesn’t wish they had more time for reading? (Yes, I do make sure I read something daily whether it is fiction or non-fiction – and when I can I try to make sure I read both. It can vary from a short piece to chapters of novels etc but I do read something. I switch between paperback and the Kindle too).

One of the great joys of flash fiction is that they make the perfect form to dip into when time is short for reading. I also think that technology (especially smartphones) have helped boost the growth of the form given flash fiction is so easy to read on a screen, no matter how small that screen is.

So read and write on. Pockets of time mount up and you will get stories written/you will finish books you’re reading but keep going and keep going and don’t give up on either!

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Can you create a sense of mystery in flash fiction given its limited word count?

Yes but it is best done through implication. In my So Close the title should make you wonder WHAT could be so described! The opening line “It has taken centuries to reach this point but you overcome anything to get what you crave” should imply quite a bit on its own.

Firstly, whoever the narrator is must be old (at least by our standards) or you could imply the possibility of time travel here (it would be centuries for us but not for the narrator).

Secondly, you wonder what on earth (or elsewhere) the narrator has overcome. Thirdly you wonder what the narrator is craving. The story does go on to reveal that.

It is a question of putting in the right telling details so a reader then goes on to put two and two together and reads the story to find out if they’re right or not.

I talked about Fads and Fancies in my most recent Goodreads blog where I ‘fessed up to having reading fads. I can sometimes be at the point where all I want to read is crime fiction or humorous prose or what have you, and where all I want to write is flash fiction or longer short stories and so on. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But the great joy of a flash fiction collection is you can write across the board of genres and moods and even vary the word counts of each story in said collection. As long as you don’t go above 1000 words, it still counts as flash!

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And talking of my Goodreads post…

Goodreads Author Blog – Fads and Fancies

Do you find you have reading “fixes” you just have to indulge in for a while?

I find I read in cycles. There will be periods when all I will want to read are magazine articles. Other times I will want to read short stories. Then again I will have periods when it is nothing but crime I read and so on.

Equally there are times when nothing but “proper” books will do. Other times you can’t prise me away from my Kindle!

Mood of story varies too. There are times I really have to read anything funny. This is particularly true when the news in unremittingly grim. The value of books and stories for escapism should not be under-appreciated or looked down on. Being able to escape for a while I think is good for you.

When I come out from that kind of reading, I tend to go for “nothing but the facts Ma’am” and I catch up with my non-fiction TBR pile.

There is ALWAYS a TBR pile. (I’ve got one on the Kindle too. The advantage with that one is it can’t topple over!).

So what do I fancy reading later tonight then? Hmm… decisions, decisions (but such nice ones to make!).

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Fairytales and “Planned” Writing

Have had a lot of fun with slideshows on my Facebook author page this week!

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Loved the Royal Wedding. Loved the music and the sermon especially. A modern fairytale? Absolutely fine by me.

Ironically, I think one thing that can be overlooked about fairytales by some is the fact that they are based on a sound knowledge of human nature. The classic fairytales call a spade a spade when it comes to jealousy, cruelty etc. There is no pretence about the fate Snow White faced at the hands of the Wicked Queen, or that Cinderella really loved being treated the way she was by her stepmother and stepsisters.

Fairytales, I think, can be amongst some of the most honest fiction there is when it comes to holding a mirror up and reflecting what humanity can be like.

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Looking forward to taking part in the Hursley Park Book Fair next month. I’ll also be giving a talk on flash fiction as part of this. Will be posting more details a little nearer the time (here and via Chandler’s Ford Today).

Pleased I’ve sent off two flash fiction stories for the Bridport Prize. (Nothing ventured, nothing gained). Getting quite a few stories together now for a future third collection, which is great. I also hope to spend some time on non-fiction later this year too. Always good to have plenty to be getting on with writing wise!

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I like a mixture of planned writing to a topic and “free” writing. These posts are always in the latter category as, with the exception of flagging up my CFT posts, I never know quite what I’ll be writing until a few minutes before I get started. It keeps it fresh!

For CFT and other blogs, I do have to think well ahead for topics. How far ahead depends on how much research I need to do and things like the date the post will go out. For example, I know when the Fryern Funtasia will be each year so that tells me what my post for that week will be.

I like the mixture of planning and NOT planning – it keeps me on my toes! As for my flash fiction, I brainstorm opening lines every so often but deliberately don’t write the stories up until later. I want to give myself some thinking time here. I then set aside time (often on a train journey!) to get on and write those stories down. I know the theme, how I’m starting and likely possibilities of where that opening line can take me but that’s all. And away I go!

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My CFT post later this week will be the last in my series 101 Things to Put Into Room 101. I’ve had no trouble whatsoever coming up with 101 things… that DOES say a lot about me/human nature in general I think.

Will be talking about flash fiction at the Hursley Park Book Fair in June. Hursley Park is the home of IBM and is a well known landmark between Hursley and Winchester. Looking forward to this a lot. A number of local writers will be taking part – and the event is free and there is parking! More details a bit nearer the time. (Will be the biggest event I’ve taken part in to date).

Writing wise, do you find it easiest to have a good opening line to “peg” your story to or have a cracking ending that you work backwards from to get to the start point? I use both methods and like them both, though numerically I’ve written more from the starting point of a good opening line. I suppose it does feel more natural to write a story that way.

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Busy preparing a couple of flash fiction pieces for a competition. Been a while since I submitted competition entries (not deliberately, you know how it is. You become engrossed with other writing work etc). Want to do better on this front so am starting to make diary notes to remind me to do it.

Really pleased that my last competition entry, for the Waterloo Festival anthology, did well and will be included in that ebook when it comes out. Naturally I shall post about it nearer the time!

I’ve been making greater use of my writing diary since earlier this year for sending in work to Cafelit and that has worked well. Why is it that almost making an appointment with yourself to do something like this can and does make all the difference to whether you actually do it or not?

I suppose it is because seeing it in the diary makes me block out time to actually get the job done. I need to block out more time!

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What do you like most about flash fiction? I love being able to suggest a whole world in a few words and leave readers to fill in the gaps. I really enjoy having the boot on the other foot as well and filling in the gaps my fellow flash authors leave in their stories. I don’t want the writer doing all the work for me and so I try in my writing to make sure I’m not doing that.

Having the reader fill in the gaps keeps them hooked and reading your stories! The main thing to remember is to make sure they have the crucial points they will need to know to able to fill in those gaps.

Use what you know of our natural world and blend it with some imagination to create your own fictional one - image via Pixabay

Use what you know of our world and your imagination to create something really special. Image via Pixabay

Humans are immensely creative - image via Pixabay

Let those ideas flow! Image via Pixabay,

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

The wonderful world of writing should include non-fiction, which benefits from creative techniques too. Image via Pixabay.

A wonderful palette of colours - image via Pixabay

A wonderful palette of colours. Image via Pixabay.

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Grow as a writer? Grow your reading! Image via Pixabay

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What impact do your stories have on your readers? Image via Pixabay

Themes pour out of good books - image via Pixabay

Let the writing flow and if music can help it along even better! Image via Pixabay

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There can be reality behind fairytales. Image via Pixabay (and image used as part of book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back Again)

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Flash fiction for impact. Image via Pixabay

 

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Need to send more material off for flash fiction competitions. Have just sent off two new stories for the Bridport Prize. Would love to have a shortlisting there. I know, who wouldn’t?!😀

Am pleased with the stage I’m at for a potential third flash fiction book. Going on all those train journeys has helped no end! Alas, I’m not due on a train again for a while…

I find when I’m writing the stories, I tend to write a “batch”, then have to switch back to non-fiction for while, before getting on with the next “batch”. Not sure why that is but I have found switching like this keeps me alert to the challenges of both forms of writing. The other advantage, of course, is there is zero chance of becoming bored!

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What is your favourite way of opening a flash fiction story? I am very fond of using the first person and taking you straight into the character’s head. In the space of a few words, you will know what that character is like and what dilemma they’re facing. I like efficiency (and you have to be spot on here when writing flash).

The other major way I use to start a story is to set the scene quickly. For example, from Pressing the Flesh, I start with “It was 3 am. The neighbours were sleeping”. (I would hope they were incidentally but this tells you that the character has somehow made sure of this point. That should immediately make you want to know why they would do that and what on earth they’re up to!).

 

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Do you set out to write a collection of stories based on a specific theme or wait and see what emerges from the stories you have written? FLTDBA was really a case of the latter, though I did surprise myself a bit at how many of my stories involved rough/poetic justice of some kind!

I don’t think there is a right or wrong way here incidentally. It’s just I can’t see myself writing to a specific mood of story. You do have to write with conviction, whether you are writing funny tales or deeply serious ones. I suppose the answer if you prefer to write to a theme is to set one which is fairly broad and can be interpreted in different ways/moods/settings to give yourself as much flexibility as possible. I do know you’d need that! Writing can be hard enough without putting too narrow a restriction on yourself.

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This post has been inspired by the Royal Wedding (which I loved). I suspect there will be a book about it before long! There was a lot of talk during the commentaries about modern fairytales, which is fine with me. I’m all for fairytales, ancient and modern. My first reading love was the classic fairytales.

Thinking about it further, maybe children are drawn to the classic fairytales because they know they are honestly written?

Your average fairytale does not pull any punches about exposing what is wrong. There is no pretence Snow White didn’t face an awful fate at the hands of the Wicked Queen. There is no “acceptance of her situation” by Cinderella! Change has to happen, injustices need to be righted, but in this world some magic is needed to make that happen.

Now if we could only make it happen in this one! Mind, if I could bring my fictional fairy godmothers and the like to life, they’d have a huge shopping list of things to put right, so it is probably just as well I can’t.

Back to the reading and writing of books then!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My stories are in The Best of Cafelit 4, 5 and now 6 and also by Bridge House Publishing (Alternative Renditions). My first collection From Light to Dark and Back Again is published by Chapeltown Books.

WRITING DAYS AND WORKING OUT WHEN TO STOP

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What counts as a good writing day? When you’ve got the right amount of words down (whether it’s a few hundred or a few thousand)? When you’ve completed a specific writing task? As ever with these things, so much depends on the writer.

For me, either completing a task or getting to the stage I wanted to reach for a longer one is my definition of a good writing day.

There is no way I can complete my Chandler’s Ford Today posts in one go for instance so I aim to write the post as one/two tasks, edit it and put it up on site ready to go (but not scheduled yet) as another, and then I sort out the images and feature image as the third part. The final, fourth part, is checking I’m happy with the text, images, links and feature image overall and, if I am, I then schedule the post.

So I think I’ve had a good writing day when I can tick off all those specific tasks.

Another great joy of writing flash fiction is I can count writing the first draft as one task because I CAN complete that in one go! There is a huge advantage in writing 100-word stories as opposed to 100,000-word novels (though I love both!).

Writing first, editing later but both needed - image via Pixabay

Get those ideas down, then edit. Image via Pixabay

What is the best thing about writing a story of any length – flash, short or novel (and script come to that too)? For me, it’s that moment when I realise I’ve “got something here”. I usually find I’m about halfway through my draft when I get to that point. The great thing is it really motivates you to finish the piece!

And what is it more than anything else that leads to me realising this? It is the characterisation. Something about one or more of the characters in the piece has gripped me and, if they grip me, there’s a good chance they’ll grip other readers.

It is at this point I have to resist the temptation to start editing and make myself wait until I have got the complete first draft down. Editing too early can kill off the joy of creating the characters in the first place so, for me, writing and editing have to be treated as two separate tasks.

 

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What are the challenges of writing flash fiction? Obviously, there is the tight word count but I think the toughest thing is working out what is the real essence of your story so you know when to stop.

The other big challenge is to ensure the flash story is a complete tale in and of itself. It mustn’t be just a short bit of prose. Each flash story must have an impact on your reader (which, to my mind, can only happen if it has a “proper” conclusion!).

If a short story is like a snapshot of a character’s life, then a flash tale is like a tweet. Brief, to the point and then all over. But it should leave you feeling something. There should be a moment of change in the character’s life. It is just a shorter moment than the one you would have experienced from a standard short story.

 

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Cafelit

One thing I love about the Cafelit series of books is there is a good mixture of story lengths in them.

There’s a good range of my favourite flash fiction but it is nice to have these interspersed with standard length short stories and those that fall somewhere between the two. So whatever my reading mood is, there is something to cover it here!

The link below covers the whole range of Cafelit books. I’m delighted to be in 4, 5 and 6 (and I reviewed 3 some time ago too!). So if you know someone who loves their short stories but likes a mixture of styles and story lengths, Cafelit books would be a great place to start.

Now then: note to self – get some more flash fiction into Cafelit!

 

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READING WIDELY AND WORKING BACKWARD

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Why is reading widely so vital for anyone wanting to write seriously?

Partly because you always learn something from whatever you read. (In the case of bad fiction, this can be as simple as learning what not to do! Sometimes this can also encourage you. If that got published, my work must be in with a chance etc!).

Partly when you read, you are filling your mind with ideas. Ideas encourage other ideas and before you know it, you have an original take on a story idea of your own. The more you read (and especially the more widely), the more ideas you will have for your subconscious to think about. I like to think of this as nurturing the creative spirit. It does need feeding regularly!

Also given all writers love books and stories, doesn’t it make sense to support the industry you hope to be part of?

Reading - says it all really via Pixabay

Says it all really.  Image via Pixabay.

Escape with a good book via Pixabay

Losing yourself in a good book.  Image via Pixabay.

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One of my methods of writing flash fiction is to work out the “punch” ending and then work backward from that point. I believe Agatha Christie used a similar technique for many of her novels. I would also be very surprised if she was the only one! I strongly suspect not.

The nice thing about this technique is you have that cracking ending and you have to think of something strong enough to justify it. It means not reaching for the first idea that comes to you but often the second, third, fourth etc.

But in making yourself think more deeply about how the ending could be the way you’ve written it, you come up with something far more original. I like to think of it as mining the imagination – and good mining always goes far beyond the surface!

The world of the imagination should play a role in your stories. I can't imagine any world without some form of the arts. Image via Pixabay.

What is the world of your story? Image via Pixabay.

Whether you write flash fiction or other kinds of story, brainstorming sessions are invaluable. I have, less often, used them to generate ideas for non-fiction work. Image via Pixabay.

Whether you write flash fiction or other kinds of story, brainstorming sessions are invaluable. I have, less often, used them to generate ideas for non-fiction work. Image via Pixabay.

 

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Ideas are only the starting point for stories.  Read widely, encourage your mind to fill up with different ideas and mull over them.  Image via Pixabay

 

And a recent post… Favourite Moments in Writing

Favourite moments in writing? Some of mine are:

1. That instant when you know your character has come to life and the story takes off.

2. When your characters surprise you with what they come out with (again proof they have come to life). You will broadly know what your characters are going to be capable of but something coming out of “left field” should make you reassess where the character and story is going. I have found to date that the “left field” experience is always worth pursuing. It nearly always ends up being a stronger idea than the one I first had. Sometimes it takes writing the story for a while to dig out the REAL idea behind it.

3. Knowing you’ve left enough room in your outline to allow for “left field” moments so you are ready for these. You can work out where they would best fit and how they impact on your initial thoughts and that they are not going to totally detail your structure, etc. I find being “open” to these things happening means I handle them better and so can make the most of them. I find that very satisfying.

4. Being told your story is going to be published.

5. Seeing your story in print, online or both!

Themes pour out of good books - image via Pixabay

Let those ideas flow!  Image via Pixabay

 

The wonderful world of stories... Image via Pixabay.

The wonderful world of stories… Image via Pixabay.