Titles,Writing Magazine, Publication News, and Part 3 of Launches in Lockdown (and Lady news update!)

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

A huge thank you to Val Penny and Jen Wilson for their author pics and book cover images for this week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post.

This post title should indicate what kind of week I’ve had – good but busy! Am just hoping the drink in the Pixabay picture below is a nice hot chocolate… I’m not a coffee fan. (I know, I know, writers are supposed to be but there you go).

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Facebook – General and Chandler’s Ford Today

Delighted to share Part 3 of my Launches in Lockdown series on Chandler’s Ford Today. The advice and tips given in this series so far has been top-notch, not to be missed etc., (and the good news is there is more to come!). A huge thank you to #JenWilson and #ValPenny for their contributions this week.

Jen, Val, and I are huge fans of the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School which is where we met and we are all hoping to meet up again there this year after last year’s event sadly had to be cancelled due to You Know What. We are also part of a team there called the Prosecco Queens (anyone fancy a guess at why we went for that name? Anybody? Anybody at all?!).

Last week’s post was from writers from the Association of Christian Writers. Now I mentioned earlier this week one of the joys of reading Writing Magazine is spotting how many of your writing pals you spot in between the covers, so to speak. I have to say it is usually a fairly even split between people I know from Swanwick and people I know from ACW. Keep going, folks!

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Hope Thursday has worked out okay for you. Glad to report Lady is now running again (and is very happy to be doing so, I can tell you). Mind you, it does look like she’s had a mud bath by the time I get her home. Thank goodness for my late mum’s old towels… perfect for dog cleaning duty! Also thanks goodness for an excellent washing machine!

Writing wise, I am looking forward to sharing part 3 of my Launches in Lockdown series for Chandler’s Ford Today. Link up for that tomorrow.

This week I feature two fabulous guests and writing friends I’ve come to know thanks to the marvellous Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. (So not only have I learned from the wonderful courses there, I’ve made fantastic friends and they are the best support any writer can have. Who else but another writer knows the elation when things are going well and you have work out there? Equally who better to sympathise with when rejections are all that seem to appear in your inbox?).

Further news. I had a fab time appearing on Wendy H Jones’ The Writing and Marketing Show last week. I’ll be writing a CFT piece about that and resharing the link once the Launches series has finished so that is my CFT diary full for February!

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One of joys of subscribing to Writing Magazine is opening it up and spotting your writer friends in there. This month it’s my turn! My February edition has just come in and I’m on the Subscribers’ News page, talking about my happy writing accident in discovering the joys of flash fiction writing. Naturally my website and Tripping the Flash Fantastic get a mention! (And It was fab my publishers Chapeltown Books had a good write-up last time).

Also delighted to see another 5 star rating come in for From Light to Dark and Back Again. A good day then!

Lady had her first proper but limited run today and loved it. Her paw is fine. The only thing we could have wished for was better weather but it is supposed to improve as the week goes on.

Looking forward to my first blog appearing on Authors Electric on the 18th. Meanwhile do check the excellent posts out there at https://authorselectric.blogspot.com/

Towards the end of this month is going to be a bit busy as I’ve lined an interview up amongst other things and I’m looking forward to all of that (and to being able to say more about the other things too).

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I’ve discussed titles before here but it is an important topic and they carry more weight in flash fiction stories than in other types of fiction. Why?

Firstly, the right title will set the mood and tone of the story in and of itself and that will save you on the word count for the tale itself.

Secondly, some websites and competitions do include the title as part of the word count (so always watch for that) so you want the title to do some of the “heavy lifting” for you.

Some other thoughts:-

  • Keep your title short. It makes it more memorable and saves on word count.
  • Impact of title is more important than word count (but that’s true for the story too!).
  • Does your title idea reflect the mood of the story or can it be open to interpretation? I am fond of the latter as it gives so much flexibility but there are times I want to set the mood so I choose an appropriate title accordingly.
  • Alliteration Always An Idea but Don’t Overuse It!
  • Never be afraid to change a title if the one you first came up with isn’t working for you. I find I need a title to work “to” when drafting but have changed it when a better idea comes up.

I’ve had the privilege of judging a flash fiction competition, which was interesting to do, but I was surprised to find some stories didn’t have titles with them. The really important thing to remember about a title is it is your story’s first “advert” to hook the reader in with and you want to make the most of that.

Remember only the Ten Commandments were set in stone so my advice would be to go with a working title and then change it later if you think of better (and that often does happen as you write the story. A better idea will “just come to you”. Note it and then examine it later in the cold light of day to see if it is as good as you thought and/or better than your initial idea. If it is, go for it!).

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I’ve often discussed, especially on my author FB page, the joy of outlining. I find it helpful to outline my characters. Now can you do all of that for a 50 or 100 word piece of flash fiction? Of course you can!

Like the story itself, the outline won’t be a long one, that is all. Less than a short paragraph like this usually does the job nicely – and I then get straight into writing the tale. Prep helps a lot! I’ve found it saves me a lot of time later as the outline has stopped me from going off at a tangent etc. Tangents are fun but are often not relevant to the character or plot so they shouldn’t go in. Everything has to be relevant!

So for a flash fiction outline (and especially for those tales which will be under 500 words), I ask myself a couple of questions.

  • Why do I want to write about this character? (In many ways it is for this character, it is their story I’m telling).
  • What mood is the story going to be? (This does affect the type of character I’m going to produce for the tale. If I want a funny tale, you don’t necessarily need a funny character to service it. What you do want are characters full of their own importance who need taking down a peg or several. That’s where the humour is, not necessarily directly in the character. Often a character who thinks they are funny are not and can often be tragic.).

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Publication News

Many thanks for the great response yesterday to my plug for CafeLit now the list of those appearing in The Best of CafeLit 10 is now known. (And yes this is another crafty way of getting another mention in for CafeLit and the book!). Yes, it does include me – see next post down. Sometimes a date order blog round up goes against you!!

For me the success of any story, regardless of its length, depends on the character(s). If they grip me, I’m reading the rest of the story, book or what you. If they don’t…. Well, life is just too short to perservere with something that just isn’t engaging me.

And that is the continuing challenge for me as a writer. Just how can I make my characters appeal to a reader (and especially one who may well not have come across my work before. There is a certain truth in the saying you only have the one chance to make a first impression and with my stories, I want my characters to hook readers in right from the start. You have got to have that “must find out what happens next” moment and to keep that going until you do reach the end).

One way I try to achieve this is to come up with characters readers can understand. They don’t have to like them but they do have to get where the character is from (and ideally ask themselves if I was this character, would I be doing this? If not, what would I be doing instead? If a reader is asking questions like that from a character, you know what character has intrigued them to keep on reading).

This is where outlining the character helps. And the great thing is you can pick the kind of outline that suits you. I don’t particularly need to know what my character looks like (that can come later) but I do need to know what their major traits are and what their flaws are. Think about what you would want to know from your character if you could interview them “for real” and use that as a basis for a useful outline template you can use over and over again.


Fairytales With Bite – When the Wand Isn’t Enough….

Okay, we’re in a magical world in our stories. How can a wand ever not be enough?

Well, firstly, if a wave of the old wand solves every problem, you haven’t got any stories to write. Where is the conflict in that? Problem A arises. Problem A gets resolved with said wave of magic wand. There’s no character development. And just reading problems being resolved like that will become boring so quickly! Readers want to find out what the characters do and how they react and it takes more than a wave of the magic wand to really show readers what the characters are truly made of. Are they sterling stuff or treacherous rats etc?

Also when everyone has a reasonable amount of magical power, there has to be a way of distinguishing between them (and it helps your readers to tell them apart too).

It is also a reasonable assumption to work on that some species will have more powers than others either by learning or by inheritance or both so what do the weaker species do to ensure they can survive? They’ve got to find ways of beating “their betters” without the use of magic (and that’s when stories can become really interesting. Characters are having to think on their feet here though of course you as the writer have planned this all out!).

So just as writers we shouldn’t rely on magic or coincidences getting our characters out of trouble, the characters themselves need more than the old magic wand waving too.

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This World and Others – What do Characters think of their Environment?

The answer to this question will also tell readers a fair bit about what your characters are like.

Do they care about the environment or are they oblivious to it?

If your created world has different climates and regions, are the characters you’re writing about aware of all of this or is there a certain amount of Here Be Dragons about their attitudes?

Here Be Dragons was something written on old maps where a map maker had literally got to the limits of where they were prepared to go to make their maps so anything unknown had this slogan added to it! They could get away with it because it was highly unlikely anyone was going to challenge them (and I’m sure they worked on the theory, well there could be dragons!). (Never get away with it now due to Google etc!).

How characters treat the world around them is likely to flag up to readers how they are likely to treat other characters. One of my own favourite characters in Losing Myself from Tripping The Flash Fantastic appears to be one who cares much more about the environment and natural world than any other of her own kind. That was an interesting story to write because it made me think deeply about what would make a character be or become that way.

And then there will the opposite – those who do not see or care about the environment around them. How did they get to be that way? And is there a point where they have to change their attitude?

So my lead question here can be a great way into some interesting story ideas.

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Twitter Corner



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Launches In Lockdown – New CFT Series

Image Credit:-

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing. 

Author pics and book cover images kindly supplied by the authors themselves in my new Chandler’s Ford Today series, Launches in Lockdown.

Tonight’s images here are supplied by me, Allison Symes, (!), #TeresaBassett, and #FrancescaTyer.

And whatever you write, being creative with stories, non-fiction etc, is always a good thing!

Whatever kind of writing you do, exercises help you improve what you do

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I have been so looking forward to writing and sharing this post. My new Chandler’s Ford Today series, Launches in Lockdown, starts now and will run for the next few weeks.

I talk to a wide variety of authors about their experiences launching a book in such trying conditions, what they did, what they felt worked well, what they learned from the kind of launch they were able to hold and so on.

Fascinating insights to come from writers from The Association of Christian Writers, Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, and Bridge House Publishing/CafeLit/Chapeltown Books.

But first up tonight are:-

1. Me! I share my experiences from launching Tripping The Flash Fantastic in 2020.
2. Writers from Authors Reach, Richard Hardie’s publishing company. You may recall I interviewed him last week about the challenges he has faced as a writer and as a publisher. Tonight, firmly from the writing desk, I chat to #TeresaBassett and #Francesca Tyer about how they fared as they launched The Time Crystals and The Firestone respectively.

A huge thank you to all of my guests over the next few weeks for taking part in this. If ever I could be said to have written a zeitgeist series, I think this is it! And everyone shares wonderful tips and advice so plenty to take in here.

But for now I hope you enjoy Part 1.

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Nice to have sunshine today after yesterday’s storms. Lady appreciated it too (and playing with one of her other pals, Coco). The mud levels over the park are something else, mind you! Am so glad of my boots and suspect I shall be living in these until March at the earliest.

When is your best time to write? I mainly write in the late afternoons and evenings though if I can sneak in extra time to write, I’ll do so. I just need to start writing and away I go.

Best time for reading is bedtime though I love catching up with various writing magazines over lunch (and it was a real pleasure to discover a mention for Chapeltown Books in Writing Magazine yesterday).

Had a lovely time joining in with #writingchat yesterday. The topics are always interesting and make me thing. Learn a lot from it too. It is the main writing group I’m involved with on Twitter.

And last not but not least just a quick reminder my Chandler’s Ford Today post tomorrow is Part 1 of my Launches in Lockdown. (See above!). As well as sharing my experiences from last year, I talk to Authors Reach writers, Teresa Bassett and Francesca Tyer.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be talking to authors from the Association of Christian Writers, Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, and Bridge House Publishing/CafeLit/Chapeltown Books. Plenty of insights and thoughtful tips tomorrow and in the other posts to come. Looking forward to sharing them all.

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Delighted to read a wonderful piece about my publishers, Chapeltown Books, in this month’s Writing Magazine. Check out the Writers’ News section at the back and the UK Book Market piece. I do like having a quick look through the magazine when it comes in so I can play the “spot the person I know” game on the letters page, the competition winners and runners-up etc. It is a bad month if I spot less than four! I then read the articles at lunch so I’ve only just come to this bit! (CafeLit and Bridge House get a mention too).

I was right on one thing today – Lady and I did get a soaking this morning though it has eased off a bit since. Winds are still high though.

Am still reading London – The Biography by Peter Ackroyd. It is a fascinating read (though it is a long one. Let’s just say you don’t want to drop the paperback on your foot, yet alone the hardback!). All sorts of stories tucked into a wonderful work of non-fiction. It’s easy to take in information when it’s presented in an entertaining way as it is here – and that’s something for all writers to aspire to, whether we write fiction, non-fiction or both.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

One thing I love about working with Chapeltown Books is being able to contribute to what appears on the book cover. That doesn’t always happen with publishers. I must admit I had a lot of fun picking suitable images from Pixabay for From Light to Dark and Back Again and Tripping The Flash Fantastic.

For FLTDBA I chose the rippling circles to indicate stories have impact. Even the smallest flash fiction tale has the impact to move a reader. Also many of my stories have characters who are not always are as they appear to be and the rippling circles to me indicated characters capable of being disturbing and causing ripples in life wherever they go.

For TTFF the castle with the lights on reflects the fact I have historical flash fiction pieces in this book. I also think there is a sense of mystery, the unknown, about that castle and who might live in it. Given I write a lot of fantasy/fairytale with bite type stories, that was an appropriate image for me to convey.

It did take me a while to work out a shortlist of suitable images but it is so worth taking time over. When your book finally reaches you and you take the first one out of your parcel, you want to be so proud of it. You want people to be drawn to and intrigued by your cover (and then hopefully by the contents too!).


Every so often I will write a flash tale in poetic form and some of these appeared in Tripping The Flash Fantastic. This is an interesting challenge as you need to get the story down and ensure it is a proper tale and then get the rhythm of the poem right. I am partial to rhyming poems (and even more so to a good limerick!) so I like that kind of pace in my verses, but I have learned that the language you use has to be natural to you and make sense to the story. Forced rhymes stand out.

But this kind of scrutinizing what you are writing and why and have I really chosen the best word to (a) suit the story and (b) suit the rhyming pattern I’ve set up does keep you on your toes and worth having a go at if you want to stretch yourself a bit.

The majority of my stories will always be in “straight” prose but a spot of variety every now and again does no harm! That is also why I sometimes write tales as acrostics. The nice thing with those is there is a visual element to them and so they work quite well for posts on Facebook, story videos and so on. Even better for the story videos are the one to two line flash stories as you don’t want anything to be too long here. Never give the reader/viewer a chance to lose interest!

Do I identify with my characters? Hmm… now there’s a leading question!

The answer is mostly! I know, I know, very helpful – not! So what do I mean by this?

Most of my characters I like. I can identify with them easily enough. But I don’t like all of them. I can think of a fair few I would not want to meet in life! So how I can write about characters like that convincingly?

I try to identify why my characters are the way they are and there is usually something I can latch on to there.

Understanding where your characters come from does not mean agreeing with their choices! Understanding where they come from means you will write their story with more conviction. I mean I can see how and why Gollum in The Lord of the Rings turned out the way he did. Do I agree with him? No!

Getting into your characters’ heads is not always a comfortable experience, indeed it often shouldn’t be (as my crime and horror writing colleagues would no doubt confirm!). Even with the characters you like, they can’t be goody-goody. You need to be able to see and understand what their flaws are and how those play out in your story.

You can have the most wonderful character but what will really make them come to life for your reader is when they fail or screw up in some way. Okay your character overcomes that and goes on to better things but it is that failure which drives that change to overcome and that is what fascinates a reader. I know it always fascinates me.

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Fairytales with Bite – The Problems with a Magical World

The major problem with a magical world is it is a magical world! Er… yes… but how come that is the issue? You want to write about a magical world after all!

True but the problems come in simply because if every character can just resolve problems by a wave of the old magic wand, either that world is going to come to a stalemate (as characters cancel other characters’ spells out) or it is going to blow itself apart with all that magic flying around. So there have to be some rules and that is where life gets more interesting. You as the author decide on what the rules will be and yes, that’s the fun bit! But you do need to be consistent with how you apply these.

If you decide certain species in your creation cannot do magic at all, that’s going to give them a major disadvantage against those you’ve decided can do magic. What’s to stop the latter from wiping the former out altogether? So every species then, whether magical or not, has to have something to ensure their survival.

Equally if everyone is going to be magical, what are the limits to ensure nobody can blow the world up by mistake?! Who sets the limits? Who polices them? Those with fewer powers will need to have some safeguards against those with much more (again to prevent them from being wiped out), so what will these be? Can magic, say, only be used in daylight hours? Can using magic drain people of energy so they have to be careful how much of it they use?

The other problem with a magical world is how is it going to treat neighbouring worlds/countries who are not magical? Will they treat them with contempt? Or will they ignore the non-magical kinds even when the latter could do with some assistance because they’re faced with, say, an illness devastating their people that they know the magical lot could help them overcome?

Plenty of food for thought there but I hope this highlights magic can cause as many problems as it seems to solve and that in turn can make for some interesting stories.

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This World and Others – Dilemmas to Solve when World Building

This post follows on from the Fairytales with Bite piece above. There are plenty of dilemmas to resolve when world building, including the use of magic as mentioned above. You also need to decide how much of the geography and history of the world your readers need to know to make sense of your story. Also how do you get that information across?

I like to get characters to show me things wherever possible so I make them look at things and show me what they think of what they are seeing. If I mention Character A takes a brief look at the ugly Civic Hall, you know they’re in a town, they don’t think much of the architecture, and are clearly looking for something of more interest to them and whatever their quest may be. All of that in one sentence too!

There will be certain things you need to spell out to a reader. For example, if your characters need oxygen masks to be able to go outside, you need to mention that early on (and the reason why – it might not be an obvious one!). As the story develops, readers will get used to “seeing” your characters with these masks on and you won’t need much if any description later.

But I think it is a question here of knowing broadly what your story is going to be and from that working out how much your readers need to know. From there you can work out how to dripfeed that information into the story so readers pick it up almost unconsciously. No need for reams of description which can put people off.

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Twitter Corner

 

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Surprises, Titles, Barnes and Noble, and Youtube

Nice combination for a title I think!

Image Credit

All images from Pixabay/Pexels unless otherwise stated.

Book cover images from Chapeltown Books and Bridge House Publishing.

Facebook – General

Had a nice surprise today. Discovered I’m on Barnes and Noble. See link and screenshot further down.

Why the surprise? Well, I guess it is because I hadn’t really thought I could be on there! Nice way to finish a Tuesday having said that! Also note to self: you really should check these things out sooner!

Very happy with progress on my kind of NaNoWriMo project too. So not a bad start to the writing week.

One thing I find about my Chandler’s Ford Today posts at times is picture finding. All hail the mighty Pixabay and all of that because they are brilliant but sometimes I will write a post where I think I will find loads of excellent images to go with it.

What do I find? Precious few.

Using Pixabay has taught me to think laterally and that will often resolve my problem but not always. For example my post on board and card games proved surprisingly difficult to find the right images for and I did think I would have a surfeit of richness there.

Still no such problem this week when I chat to #LizHurst! (Another advantage to interviewing authors – as well as being huge fun to do, you can always rely on them for book cover images, author pics etc!!).

Screenshot_2020-11-10 Tripping the Flash Fantastic PaperbackHope you have had a good start to your week. Lady and I had a wet start to the week…not that she worried. Mind you, she was pleased to see her best buddy, who is the sweetest Rhodesian Ridgeback ever. And the news about a possible Covid vaccine is fantastic news. Definitely need a lift right now.

Looking forward to sharing an interview with #LizHurst later this week on Chandler’s Ford Today. Liz and I are big fans of the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. So looking forward to being back there hopefully in August 2021.

One of the biggest things about the lockdown is missing being able to meet up with people in the way we used to do. Mind you, I love Zoom and like the way that has made events accessible. We want the best of both worlds here.

Had the delightful task yesterday of going through a proof of a short story that will be appearing later in the year in an anthology. More news later of course but this kind of writing work I’m always going to enjoy!

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As promised yesterday, here’s the link to the video for Being Yourself from Tripping The Flash Fantastic, which I uploaded to Youtube yesterday. Hope you enjoy.

I also talk a little about what inspired me to write this story. I love this kind of thing when other authors do this as I always learn something useful that I can apply to my own writing.

In other news, I’m making good progress on my non-fiction book which is my “kind of” NaNoWriMo project so am happy with that. Looking forward to getting back on to that shortly. And for another story here is the book trailer for Tripping The Flash Fantastic.

Have just scheduled another video to go up on my Youtube channel. I’ll be putting up my story, Being Yourself, which I created a video for as part of my cyberlaunch for Tripping The Flash Fantastic. Link in above post!

The story is due to go live a little later on this evening (and I will share the specific link tomorrow) but I am impressed at how easy it is to upload videos on to Youtube.

I’ve been creating videos for the first time this year for both my website and things like the launch so it makes sense for me to develop this side of things further.

Flash fiction works very well for this as it isn’t too long (so download times etc are also good). Hope to have more fun with this and create new stories specifically for the Youtube channel in due course.

Screenshot_2020-10-31 Allison Symes - YouTube

From Light to Dark and Back Again

I tend to keep my titles short for my flash stories. This is partly because some markets/competitions do include the title as part of their word count so that’s all the incentive I need to keep the title short!

But it also pays to do so simply because shorter titles are easier to remember. That in turn makes it easier for that title to impact on the reader.

It is also important for a writer to be able to keep tabs of what they wrote and where it was (hopefully) published so again make your life easier here and keep the titles short!

Most of my titles are from one to five words, though I occasionally use a six or seven worder. In Tripping The Flash Fantastic, my story Time Is For Others To Worry About is deliberately at that length as it intrigues (I hope!). If I’m using a proverb or well known saying as my title, then I will use it in full but again that phrase will be designed to spark curiosity in the reader as to what the story is all about.

So as well as outlining my lead character and story line, I do give thought to the impact I want my titles to have. It pays.

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Had a wonderful catch-up chat with Swanwick pals on Friday night via Zoom. I don’t know if this is just me but I do find Zoom easier to use than Skype.

Good to also catch up with listening to a couple of writer pals who’ve been on Chat and Spin Radio recently too. And one thing that came out of a good old chat on Friday night was the joy of flipping through the latest copy of Writing Magazine and spotting the names of writers you know in there. What is lovely is these days I feel a bit disappointed if I don’t spot the names of at least three people I know in there!

And do bear in mind that some of the magazine’s competitions would count as flash fiction. I’ve seen a 750-word competition in there, a 500 words one and so on. They may not be labelled flash fiction but they are all the same!

And online magazines like Cafelit have a lovely mixture of flash fiction and standard length short stories so bear them in mind too.

My story page on Cafelit can be found here and I deliberately have a mixture of flash and standard length short stories on there.

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Both of my book titles have reflected either the mood of the stories within them (From Light to Dark and Back Again) or the overall genre, flash fiction (Tripping The Flash Fantastic).

A good book title should draw potential readers in and the best way of doing that is for the title to spark their curiosity. Otherwise known as the “I’ve got to find out what that’s about” effect!

I didn’t know either of the titles for my collections until late in the writing stage. I DID have working titles (I do need to have something to “peg” my stories to) but also knew these would not be the final versions (but that was okay as I still had my “security blanket peg” so to speak).

It also pays to jot down ideas for titles as they come to you (and it’s often when you’re not expecting them!). Having a shortlist of possibles is reassuring and there is bound to be at least one that really grabs you (and hopefully would also grab other readers).

 

One good exercise to do is to give yourself five minutes to come up with opening lines. Don’t edit what you’ve come up with either.

Just jot down the ideas and work with those.

I have fun here with coming up with seemingly impossible scenarios that I am going to have to find a way for my character(s) to overcome. The best kind of opening line is open to interpretation and can be taken in different directions. See what you can do with these.

1. The postman may have rung twice but he wasn’t going to do so again.

2. When your living room lights up with blue sparkling fairy lights even though it is nowhere near Christmas, you know you’ve got a problem.

3. The dog was never wrong.

Allison Symes – 7th November 2020

 

Goodreads Author Blog – Favourite Non-Fiction Books

I must admit my favourite non-fiction books tend to be the writing guides. I’m especially fond of Stephen King’s On Writing (which is also a great memoir. There aren’t many writing books which can claim that).

I also like How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman is packed with great advice and is very funny.

I also like the Jane Wenham-Jones books Wanna Be a Writer? and Wanna Be a Writer We’ve Heard Of? Again lots of useful information given in a chatty and funny way. I adore that kind of thing.

I suspect I’m not the only one here but I do take information in better (and retain it) if I’ve enjoyed the books said information is in!

No pressure on the non-fiction writers then!

I also love the Ben Macintyre books – again history presented in an entertaining way. I am glad the days of non-fiction being confined to serious and literally heavy tomes have now gone.

And it is a good idea for any writer to mix up their reading material. Inspiration for our own stories can come from a variety of places so it makes sense to read widely and to include non-fiction in that. You just need to read one fascinating fact and ideas for working that into a story can come.

I’m currently reading on my Kindle Spike Milligan’s Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall and loving it. It is non-fiction because Milligan did serve in the war. It is humorous (as you would expect from him) and it draws you in and is a real pleasure to read.

And that’s what a good read should be after all!

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Twitter Corner

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Submissions, Reviews, and Publication News

Image Credit:  Thanks as ever to Pixabay for the images here.

Facebook – General

Good evening so far. Submitted a flash piece, pitched a couple of non-fiction ideas. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that.

Also sorted out my bedside cabinet and organised my reading piles (one for books, one for magazines before you ask!). Feel both productive AND virtuous and, trust me, that doesn’t happen often!

Hope the weather isn’t causing too much havoc where you are. Mainly tree debris where I am. Always sad to see trees down (though Lady will end up having more sticks to play with than she ever thought possible so there is that to it).

The other thing to be said about the weather is if you needed encouragement to stay cosy and warm and get on with writing at your desk, you’ve got it. Well, you’re not going to want to go out now, are you?

It WAS a dark and stormy night – and writers everywhere took one glimpse at the horrible weather, got on with their latest epics, only too glad to do so!😀😀

Happy writing, everyone!❤️⭐️

I’m looking forward to sharing two separate items of publication news later on in the week. It has been a good few days. I wish they were always like that but there you go!

Am almost there on a standard length short story I want to submit for a competition. I hope to get that submitted by the end of this week. And I’ve picked out the next competition I want to have a crack at so need to start thinking out some ideas for that.

I’m also going to be working on the edits for my second flash fiction collection, Tripping the Flash Fantastic, so have plenty in the pipeline.

But that’s how I like it – a nice mix of non-fiction writing (CFT particularly), sending stories out to hopefully good homes (!), and editing.

Reading wise, I’ve recently started London: The Biography. It’s an interesting concept for a historical book – a biography of a city – and I anticipate an enjoyable read. I love history – fiction and non-fiction. I won’t be sorry if story ideas spark from reading this book. (I’d be disappointed if I don’t get something. Non-fiction can be a great source of sparks for stories).

Hope the weather rapidly improves where you are. It is calmer here in Hampshire though there is some flooding. Lady gets a bit skittish in high winds (a bit like some young children can do) so it’ll be fun walking her tomorrow when said high winds are back. Still, at least it’s going to be dry.

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What do you love writing the most? I love getting inside my characters’ heads and sharing their thoughts. Sometimes said thoughts surprise me and I think where did that come from but it’s a wonderful feeling when that happens. It confirms to me the character has backbone, is taking on a life of their own, and is going to resonate with readers. All good things to aim for!

But the danger here is to only focus on the things you like writing most. I do enjoy writing narrative but I’ve come across too many books in the past where the narrative has gone on for too long and is keeping me away from the character whose story I want to follow.

For narrative writing, I’ve learned to focus only on what a reader needs to know for the character and/or story to make sense and there are absolutely no massive descriptions of setting etc. That I feel belonged to a bygone era.

I got into conversation with someone (and I apologise now because I’ve forgotten the name) who felt that the long descriptions of setting particularly in classic novels were necessary then – no TV or film back then. I think that’s a valid point. Now, of course, books are just one form of entertainment amongst many. Everyone knows the kind of setting that would be in, say, an ancestral home thanks to things like Downton Abbey, TV adaptations of stories such as Pride and Prejudice, etc., so do you now need to write every aspect of that down? I think not. You just want enough to conjure up the appropriate images in a reader’s mind and leave it there. Less is more and all that.

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PUBLICATION NEWS

Delighted to share not 1, or 2, but 3 of my linked flash fiction stories called Story by Number published on Cafelit. Many thanks to #DawnKentishKnox for her excellent prompt idea in the Chapeltown Books Prompts Book. My stories here are directly inspired by that.

Prompts 2020 by [James, Gill] Image by Gill James

The titles all reflect the number of words in each story. Hope you enjoy.

Will I write more of this kind of story again? I hope so. It is great for the old imagination muscle to mix up how you write a story. It keeps things fresh for you and will do for a reader too.

(The image I’ve added to the link below comes from a recent Chandler’s Ford Today post of mine called Numbers into Writing Will Go. It seemed appropriate! Link to article below.).

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Firstly, a big thank you to Val Penny for her lovely comment on the book on Twitter earlier today (18th February). Much appreciated, Val!

 https://twitter.com/valeriepenny/status/1229794879544479745

If you’re a reader and know some writers, I bet they’ll have asked for reviews of their books etc in the usual places. (My friends know I’ve asked them!).

If you think well hmm… I wouldn’t know where to start etc., I’ll just add that reviews on Amazon, Goodreads etc., don’t have to be lengthy write-ups. A line or two would do and whatever your tastes in reading, the author will appreciate those reviews. They’ve got to be honest ones though!

(Oh and a good place to start is what YOU liked about the book and yes what you disliked too. Reviews have to be honest to have any meaning and writers will learn a lot from feedback they receive this way).

Making writing friends online is great but meeting them in person is even better

I’ve mentioned before that I like to use character traits to help me “get going” with creating a new person to either write about or to be my narrator for my next flash fiction story.

I also talked about this in my interview with #WendyHJones which went out on Wednesday this week. Naturally that gives me a golden opportunity to share the link again! (Shameless plug and all that….! 😊❤️).

Episode 4 – How To Write Flash Fiction

Feature Image - Local Author News - Allison Symes - Podcast by Wendy H Jones

It was lovely being able to write a bonus CFT post for this. Image by Pixabay

But going on from there, one question could be “could you run out of character traits?”. Surely there are only so many.

Well that’s true but I like to combine them with something else.

For example if I have a character who is feisty, I’ll give them a vice such as greed. There could be a crime story there. There could be a comic story too if their greed dropped them right in it. The reactions from a reader here could range from horror and disgust at my character to laughter as my character makes a complete fool of themselves.

The trick will be making readers care enough to read about a character like that. There will be a certain amount of wanting to see if that character either gets their comeuppance (I love stories like that!) or somehow redeems themselves. Either way there is going to be a significant change in that character or their situation by the end of the tale and I hope I can make a reader curious enough to find out what that is.

Another character who is feisty I may well make charitable but their big mouth lands them in it from time to time. So there I would hope a reader would want to find out if the character can carry on doing their good works and their loudmouth has not ruined things completely. Or perhaps the being outspoken ends up bringing in much needed changes and my character is a catalyst for positive change.

Yes, there’s that word again – change. The single most important thing about any story of any length. There has to be change. Your character has to be different in some way by the end of the story whether it’s 50 words long or 50,000. The challenge is to have a character your reader HAS to follow to find out what happens to them.

Image supplied by Wendy H. Jones

Will have flash fiction publication news to share later in the week so am looking forward to putting the relevant links up.

Will be starting work soon on the edits for Book 2 – Tripping the Flash Fantastic. Looking forward to that. I do enjoy editing. Sure there are some tasks associated with that which ARE less interesting (yet another misplaced comma to remove etc etc!) BUT I keep in mind the overall goal is to improve my work and to get it to the best I can make it. That helps a lot.

I’ll be talking about short and long form fiction in my CFT post later this week and will share more on that on Wednesday. No prizes for guessing which is my big love here!

 

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How do you handle those times when you know your story hasn’t got anywhere with a market or competition?

My practice here is to look at my story again. If I spot anything that could do with strengthening, I do that but I then get the story back out again to another, suitable market or competition.

Another way of using a story that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere is to look at why you wrote it in the first place and analyse it as if it had been written by someone else.

If this story had been in a magazine, would it have appealed to you? If there were bits that didn’t seem to gel with you, ask yourself why?

This is a good editing technique and by putting your reader’s hat on, you might find something about the tale that could do with working on and which, once done, will give it more of a chance in the big, bad world out there.

The one thing I’ve found is you have to be totally honest about what you think works in the story and what doesn’t work so well. The trick of course is to improve those latter sections so there are no bits which don’t work so well!

And be persistent too. One market or competition may feel it is not right for them (they may have taken something similar to your story recently, you will never know), but it doesn’t mean others will feel the same way.

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Just a quick reminder for Writing Magazine subscribers that you can advertise your book on their Subscribers’ Showcase. Proof of the pudding? See this link!

FromLightToDark_medium-2

Image from Chapeltown Books

I hope later in the year when Tripping the Flash Fantastic comes out to put that on here (probably with a link back to From Light to Dark and Back Again).

Meanwhile over on Cafelit, do check out my latest three flash fiction stories. Yes, three of them. They are linked though. Linked flash fiction is relatively new for me and this set was inspired by a prompt in the Chapeltown Books Prompts Book. (Thanks to #DawnKentishKnox for her cracking idea which inspired me here).

 

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Goodreads Author BlogReading Piles

How many reading piles do you have? Mine include:-

1. My book pile.
2. My magazine pile.
3. Everything on my Kindle!

It’s probably enough to be going on with though I suppose I could split my book pile into two categories: novels and short story/flash fiction collections.

Note I said probably just now. I’ve just seen a lovely post on Facebook where someone has come up with a new idea for an escape room – you have an hour to get out of a well stocked book shop!

I don’t know about you but that’s me well and truly stuck then. One hour would just about give me enough time to have a good look around and work out what was where. I might get to decide where I would be starting first if I was efficient with my time!

I’ve mentioned before I like to mix up my reading. There are some evenings where I just HAVE to read magazines, rather than books, and the other way round. I don’t really know why that is but I love reading both overall so that’s okay. So therefore it is absolutely necessary for me to have reading piles that suit all my reading moods.

How do you organise YOUR reading?

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Writing – and Multiple Projects

Image Credit:  As ever, unless otherwise stated, the images are from the marvellous Pixabay

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Full of cold at the moment. Not a happy bunny though booking my place for this year’s Swanwick Writers’ Summer School HAS cheered me up no end!

Also looking forward to the next edition of Writing Magazine because I love turning to the letters page, the subscribers’ news etc and see how many friends have got a mention in there! It’s nice to see the numbers going up!

Writing wise, I’m focusing on non-fiction at the moment though I have got short stories “brewing” ready for me to look at them again with a fresh eye. I find the time away from stories really useful, as when I do go back to them, I will see their strengths and weaknesses with an unjaundiced eye, but I hope to get back to these sometime next week. One I want to submit within the next couple of weeks.

Writing takes you away from the world for a bit. Just a pity it can’t get rid of the sniffles as well…

 

The advantages of having more than one project on the go:-

1. You never get bored.
2. If you get stuck on one thing, work on the other. Ideas for resolving the problem(s) on the first will come to you while you work on something else. One of the chief Murphy’s Laws for Writers, I think. I do know that this has always been the case for me.
3. You can work on smaller projects and see (hopefully) submission successes while still working away on a longer project you know will take longer to place even when you’ve finished writing and editing it.
4. You can try different kinds of writing and see what you like best.
5. When work has been submitted, you’ve always got something else to work on.

I’ll look at the disadvantages tomorrow.

 

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Following on from yesterday’s post, now it’s time to look at the disadvantages of having more than one project on the go.

1. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed. (My advice here is to plan things out as much as you can. When you know you haven’t got much writing time, use what you’ve got to get little pieces done. It makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something – you have! – and the great thing is you can polish these pieces up and submit them later. Also remember if you only have time for say a writing exercise or two, do them because you will get some useful material from them for later, which could feed directly into the projects you’re working on. Likewise, if you can only write a page or two for one of your projects, get it done. Those pages or two mount up over time.).

2. You can feel torn as to which project you should be working on. (It can help to set yourself deadlines here but be realistic. If you’re working on a novel, and say a collection of short stories or flash fiction, it simply IS going to take you longer to complete both but that’s okay. Work out when you would like to get these projects done by in an ideal world, then add time on given it isn’t an ideal world (!), and work to that timetable. Also accept life will get in the way sometimes so don’t beat yourself up if that happens. It does happen to everybody including those who do only work on one project at a time).

3. I can’t help but sneak in another advantage here in that I’m working on big projects which I know will take ages to complete but that’s okay. Meanwhile I’m getting short pieces written and out and building up publication credits etc. All of that will add to my writing CV when I am ready to submit the big projects later.

But deciding what works for you writing wise, and what YOU feel you can sustain long term, whether you work on one or more projects at a time, is key here. Key to getting things done. Key to you being happy with your output. Good luck!

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W = When you get to invent worlds and people for fiction or present interesting information for non-fiction.
R = Really get to understand why characters are the way they are and, for non-fiction, discovering more about your topic.
I = Imagination fires up and triggers more story ideas and, for non-fiction, imagination helps you see connections that can trigger further blog posts, articles etc.
T = Time – there’s never enough!
I = Insist on carving out writing time for yourself, whether it’s for a short period or longer; you will feel better in yourself for having that time and others will benefit from your having the benefit of the writing buzz for a while too.
N = Never running out of ideas to work up as stories or blogs or articles.
G = Genre – plenty to choose from; there’s bound to be at least one to suit you.

Just some of the many things I love about writing!

 

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

My two favourite kinds of flash fiction stories are those which end on a punchline and make me laugh, or where the twist is so good, the ending take my breath away. Neither are easy to write but are so worthwhile to do. They’re the stories you remember the longest.

I’ve found when writing funny tales, it pays to start with the punchline and then work out what could lead to that coming out “naturally” from the character. It is far more convincing doing it that way. You don’t want the punchline to seem like it is a set-up.

 

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One of the joys of flash fiction is the word count limit means having to leave the reader to infer things.

Now I have always loved “filling in the gaps” in novels and the longer short stories where I’ve become attached to the characters. You know the kind of thing – wondering what other adventures they might have had after the main story is over. On those grounds, I understand fan fiction, though I don’t write it. Nor have any plans to do so.

But where a story has real emotional impact, I find that impact is stronger precisely because the writer has not had the space to spell it all out. I can and do work that out for myself – and love doing so. The challenge for me as the writer is working out what a reader must know to be able to fill in the gaps successfully for themselves.

 

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One of the things I love best about flash fiction is creating characters. I always like to look at what a character’s main trait is as that can be very useful for dropping them right in the mire from a great height should I wish to do so!

For example, if I have a character who believes they are brave, I could then put them in a situation where they have to prove they are (or discover they really are not! The latter especially could have comic potential).

It is when I nail down the main trait(s), I start to have a feel for the character’s voice. Someone who thinks they’re brave is likely to be boastful (well, they’ve got to tell someone else haven’t they? It”s no good thinking you’re brave if you can’t show off about it!). That in turn gives me ideas on how they are likely to speak and the kind of language they are likely to use.

There are many different ways in to character creation but I do like this one.

Creating a Flash Fiction Story

INGREDIENTS

A strong character you can identify with and want to write about (readers will identify with them and will want to read their tale).

An idea as to what impact you want your story to have on a reader. This will affect the story mood and how you craft it.

Simmering in the back of your mind, an idea of which competition/publisher you will submit the work to and, of course, already know what their submission requirements/deadlines are.

METHOD

1. Get the story drafted. (To paraphrase P.G. Wodehouse, it’s time to apply seat of pants to seat of chair).

2. Put aside a for a while and start drafting another!

3. Come back to your original story, read it through (and where possible out loud too so you can literally hear how dialogue etc sounds), and then edit.

4. When you’re happy with the story THEN worry about the word count. Check to ensure there are no wasted words in your tale (cut out things like very, actually etc).

5. Once done, if your story has a strong impact at 250 words but it would be weakened if you tried to get it down to 100, then leave it at 250 and submit it to a suitable competition/market.

6. Apply steps 2 to 6 to the second story!

Have fun!

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Goodreads Author Programme – First Books

Do you remember the first books you read or had read to you?

I can’t honestly say I do though the Reader’s Digest Collection of Classic Fairytales does rank very highly in this list. I still have this two volume set, though the spines are “taped up” thanks to years of use!

The illustrations in these books are lovely and I spent many a happy hour poring over them as a kid. The stories are the originals from Grimm, Perrault, Andersen etc.

I do remember collecting the Famous Five series. Southern TV, as it was then in our ITV region, had adapted the series and paperbacks were reissued to link in with this. Have no idea what happened to those books. Do know they’re not with me now. I recall going to our local newsagent to buy the paperbacks (in the days when you did have independent newsagents!).

The first books I chose for my home after getting married came to me via the old Odhams collections. You paid a subscription and received one new book every month. I collected Agatha Christie novels (and collections of short stories), which I still have.

What is important though is those first books were never last books!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Character Types (and Why It Matters to Get Them Right)

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There’s a nice little Q&A session which has developed from my CFT post this week about character types and why it matters to get them right.

This is one thing I love about my CFT posts. I can never know what reaction there will be until the posts go up and sometimes great discussions take place, sometimes not. Do pop over and have a look at this week’s post and if you have favourite character types I’ve not listed here, please do share them in the comments box.

Comments on the character -v- plot debate would also be welcome. I do come down firmly on one side here but I’ll leave you to find out which one it is!

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My CFT post this week will look at some of my favourite character types and why it matters to get them right.

A good story can only be that way if the characters are strong enough. A decent plot will be let down badly if the characters are not “up to scratch”. More on this and the link tomorrow.

Am looking forward to going to the Association of Christian Writers’ Day at Bath on Saturday. Always good to meet other writers!

 

There will be an expression here which will match your thoughts about most adaptations - Pixabay image

What are your characters like? What emotions do they have? Pixabay image.

It is with great sadness I see from the Winchester Writers’ Festival page that Barbara Large, MBE, who founded the original Winchester Writers’ Conference, passed away on Monday. She will be much missed.

Barbara gave so much support and encouragement to writers across a huge range of genres including me. I have a certificate for a Commended Short Story signed by her from the 31st Winchester Writers’ Conference and it has pride of place on my wall.

Condolences to all of her family and friends.

 

Resized Barbara Large and Anne Wan

Barbara Large MBE (left) will be much missed by the writing community including Anne Wan (right) and myself.  Image kindly supplied by Anne Wan.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

The advantage of flash fiction is you have to learn to write tight to keep to the word count, even though there can be flexibility with that. You don’t have to stick to 50-word stories. You can have a go at the 500-word ones!

The advantage of a novel is you have room for sub-plots and can go much further into character development, which when well done adds layers to your story.

The short story is a cross-over to an extent. Usually there would be room for only one sub-plot (but there’s no room at all for anything like that in flash). You can go into character development but the word count restrictions here will limit how far you can take that. (Though that can vary from 1500 to 8000 or thereabouts as there are some longer short story competitions out there).

And all three are brilliant writing disciplines! All need decent editing and crafting to get your story into shape. Whatever form you’re going for, or if you’re going in for more than one, you can know you will be doing a lot of editing! But above all have fun with them. Writing should be fun.

How do you find coming up with promising opening lines? Is it a pain or is coming out with those just fine but then you struggle with delivering on the promise of that opening line?

I’ve found mixing up how I approach this helps a lot. I outline (briefly, appropriately for flash fiction) how a story could go from that opening line. There is usually some promise from those thoughts that I can develop. Okie dokie then, away I go and write the thing.

Sometimes though I’m not satisfied with what I’ve come out with. Somehow the thoughts don’t seem strong enough. DO trust your gut instincts here by the way, they’re normally right. When I have this happen, I then see if what I thought might be a good opening line would actually work better as a finishing one. I then work backwards to get to the starting point.

I’ve not rejected an opening line altogether yet because if one method here doesn’t work, the other does. It’s just that sometimes you can’t always see the best way to go straight away and that’s where outlining comes into its own and to your rescue!

A quick search of Writing Magazine’s Competition Guide has shown a couple of interesting competitions I’ll try and have a go at. Note to self: go through the guide at the weekend and mark the ones of interest! What is nice is some of the competitions are rolling ones in that there is one per month or something like that so if you miss one deadline, there are others you can aim for.

It proves that the market for very short stories and flash is a healthy one. Hooray for that!

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Fairytales with Bite – Top Five Tips for Characterisation

My theme this week is character type(s) and my CFT post also featured this but I thought a quick run down of tips would be useful.

  1. Be realistic.  Your characters must have motivations that we will all understand, even if we don’t agree with them all!
  2. Show flaws as  well as virtues.  None of us are perfect after all so why should our characters be?  Besides they can get to learn from their mistakes.
  3. Stretch your characters.  Don’t be afraid to put them through hell to find out what they are really made of/are capable of.
  4. Let your characters surprise you, sometimes (don’t overdo it!).  A great example of what I mean here is Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings.  Nobody expects in that wonderful world for a hobbit to be a hero, yet Frodo becomes one.  Frodo shows a determination and courage others far bigger than him are not capable of (and yet he’d have failed completedly without Sam Gamgee’s support).  It would’ve been the easiest thing of all for Frodo to stay in Middle Earth and let someone else do the heroics.
  5. Weaknesses SHOULD get in the character’s way and be something they’re seen to be fighting against.  And that, folks, is where the drama is!  A great story has plenty of that!

This World and Others – Character Types

I look at character types and why it matters to get them right in my CFT post this week.  It doesn’t matter how fantastic your world is, the characters must be believable for your readers to engage with them and want to read your story at all.

One key to getting this right is to examine your characters’ motivations. Why are they acting the way they are?  Is it something we can understand?  I’ve long thought Woody from Toy Story is a truly great character.  Why?  Because his jealousy when Buzz comes into his life is understandable.  There are very few of us, regardless of our age, who haven’t been jealous of something or someone in our time.

Look at how your world is governed. Is it a democracy?  Is there a tier of local government?  What are the politicians like there? (And there will be politicians somewhere along the line.  Where there is any kind of power, no matter how minor, politics and playing people off against one another will come into it.  Sad perhaps but again this is something we all understand and will help make your world seem more real to your readers).

So think about emotions.  What are your characters likely to feel and why?  (This is one reason why the Cybermen as a concept are frightening.  The removal of all emotions?  Those are what make us human.  They can also make your Species X what it is and differentiate them from other character types in your fiction).

 

 

 

Time To Read and Heroes and Villains

Image Credit:  Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for taking the picture of me reading at the recent Bridge House event and for kind permission to use it.

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My To Be Read pile is increasing again! Do you find you have moods where you just want to read books and, at other times, you just want to read magazines? I do. I used to ride an exercise bike and read while on that but frankly it is a very boring form of exercise. I prefer to walk the dog and swim, both of which exclude reading!

Am planning to have Christmas reading time as a treat to me. I do read something each day but I’d like solid periods of reading time. I don’t want it to be a choice between writing time and reading time. I want both! Thoughts on how to get a good balance here would be welcome.

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I looked at finding time to read in my latest Goodreads blog the other day. It is just as important as finding time to write given we have to feed our own imaginations and by far the best way of doing that is to read widely ourselves. It also supports the industry we want to be part of!

So whether you borrow from the library (always a fab idea, that!), buy books, stick to reading on the Kindle, the important thing is to read, read, and read. A tip often passed on to new writers is to write what you want to read. How can you know what that is unless you read widely and discover what that is? (Sometimes you can discover what you don’t want to write as well!).

Naturally I’m going to put in a plug for the small indie presses such as Bridge House Publishing and Chapeltown Books since this is very much book buying season.

Can I also put a shout out for reviews for books you’ve read? Reviews don’t have to be long – one or two lines is enough. People do read them. (I always read product reviews whether it is on my online shopping or what have you!).

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Which night of the week, if any, do you find it the hardest to write anything? For me, it is always a Monday. Yes, I write, but I write more on every other day of the week! Maybe I need a “slow day” to make me get a move on for the rest of the week. Maybe it’s just a Monday thing…

The good thing is I’ve learned over time not to worry about this. The important thing is I am writing and loving it. I’ve learned to focus on that. I am also convinced a writer’s love of writing will show through in what they actually produce.

And the “little” bits of writing mount up over time so I’ve learned never to underestimate only having small pockets of time to write in at times (whether it is due to it being a Monday or not!).

It is often said you can tell much about a person by how they treat others who can do nothing for them. This is true but it should also be true for your characters. How do they react to those they would consider weak? (Incidentally, are they right on that or are THEY themselves the weak ones but just don’t know it?).

In the setting of your story, what are the rules? Are older people treated with respect (perhaps even venerated) or are they considered of little worth and belittled? Does your character go along with what is the status quo here or do they rebel against it? If they rebel, what are the consequences? Are they the catalyst for positive change here?

Plenty of food for thought and story ideas there, I hope!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Great article on flash fiction in Writing Magazine. It is good to see the form get more publicity. I still find the question I’m asked most frequently is just what is flash fiction? While technically it is any story under 1000 words, I must admit I prefer flash to be 500 or under, though From Light to Dark and Back Again contains a good mix from across the word count spectrum here.

Also good to see more competitions for flash and having it added as a category to festival competitions. Sure signs flash is in a very healthy state and long may that continue!

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Whether I read novels, short stories, plays etc, I nearly always find a few stand out moments that stay with me long after I’ve finishing reading. I suppose that looking out for specific moments in fiction that stand out might have subconciously drawn me to flash fiction given you have to make an impact quickly there.

Some of my favourite stand out moments include:-

Frodo offering to take the Ring to Mordor. You know everything changes from that point.

The fairy godmother turning up at Cinderella’s. Again you know everything will change then.

The Little Mermaid realising the Prince is not going to fall for her. Just such powerful stuff, given all she has gone through and you must read the original Hans Christen Andersen story to get the full impact of that.

Inspector Alan Grant in The Daughter of Time discovering the picture he has been given is that of Richard III and wondering what mystery he will find in the king’s story. You just know he’ll find something otherwise there is no story here. Again a major change point.

 

Sometimes selecting the right “moment in time” to be your flash fiction story can be tricky. My guiding rule is to go for whichever of the choices I have which makes the most impact on an impartial reader.

Incidentally I don’t “tug on the heartstrings” here. Any impact has to arise naturally out of the situation I’ve put my characters in and therefore any reaction is genuine. No matter how fantastical your setting, you have to keep it real!

And there must be something about your character that fascinates your reader in some way. It will be that which makes them read on.

What is the appeal of a well written villain? They’ve got to have good reasons for being as they are (and even elicit some sympathy from the readers for them). They’ve got to challenge the hero/heroine and make them work for their achievements. Hey, nothing worthwhile ever comes easy, does it? The villain should be reasonably likeable (it gives the reader the lovely dilemma of knowing they really shouldn’t want the villain to win BUT secretly they wouldn’t mind THAT much).

What is the appeal of a well written hero/heroine? Funnily enough there are a lot of parallels with the well written villain. Your hero/heroine should also have good reasons for being as they are (and should elicit FAR MORE sympathy from the readers for them). They should challenge, and ultimately defeat, the villain, no matter what is thrown their way. They WILL work for their achievements. They’ve got to be reasonably likeable (though no character is without flaws) for any reader to engage with them. They shouldn’t be “goody two shoes” as that will just annoy most readers.

Goodreads Author Programme Blog –

Finding the Time to Read

Finding the time to read is one of the most important things any would-be writer should do. We need to read widely and well to feed our own imaginations, to work out how we would portray characters and so on.

Like, I suspect, the majority of people, I save my reading time for when I’m in bed, which works fine. It took me a while to figure out that if I do actually want to read, I need to go to bed before my system tells me it wants to get on and sleep, thank you very much! But now I’ve finally figured that out, I relish my quality reading time.

I am planning additional periods of Christmas reading time though. I want to block out times when I do nothing but read. The thought of that is bliss! After all I carve out times for creative writing and stick to those and lo and behold I get creative writing done! The same principle must apply to carving out reading time. I’ll give it a go anyway.

I do find I have moods where I just want to read books. Other times I just want to read magazines. But I think the best gift anyone can give a reader is the time in which to indulge their love of books!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crucial Characterisation and a Charity Cookbook

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest CFT post shares news of a very special cookbook written by Barbara Large MBE. Barbara was the founder of the Winchester Writers’ Festival (as it is now known) and her book is raising funds for the Nick Jonas Ward at the Royal County Hospital, Winchester.

Barbara shares her thoughts on the joys and challenges of writing this book, as does Anne Wan, who through imprint North Oak Press, published the book. There is also a delicious recipe to try!

 

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Shooting Star - Barbara and Anne 1

Barbara Large and Anne Wan at the launch of Anne’s book.  Image kindly supplied by Anne Wan

Anne Wan and Allison Symes at Bay Leaves Larder

Anne Wan and I enjoying a cup of tea as I interview her for Chandler’s Ford Today a while ago.  Image taken on Anne’s phone by the cafe staff!

When Writing Magazine comes in, I flick through and see if I know anyone who has written in to the letters page or the Members’ News section. I’m glad to say there usually is someone I know in either section in most editions!

Going to writing courses, conferences etc., is the best way I know of for networking with other writers and connections build up over time. Though a week at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School speeds that process up a LOT!

Talking of connections, how do your characters build up their relationships with other characters? What kind of networking exists in the world you’ve created? Often it is a case of showing Character A has this relationship (of whatever nature) with Character B but can you hint at how it all kicked off? Is there a solid basis to how your characters interact with each other? There should be…!

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My CFT post this week will share news of a charity cookbook called Scrumptious Recipes Shared with a Pampered Patient, written by Barbara Large, MBE, who founded the Winchester Writers’ Festival (formerly the Winchester Writing Conference). More details and the link on Friday.

I look forward to sharing thoughts on the recent Bridge House/Chapeltown/Cafelit celebrations the week after. As ever, can hardly believe how the year has raced by. Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for the pic of me reading some of my more recent stories from Cafelit and also from From Light to Dark and Back Again.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Have fun mixing up the settings you use for your stories too. Some of mine are set in a magical or fantasy world but others are very much here on Earth.

My Time for Tea is set with the opening showing an old man arranging the tea things as he is expecting his adult children to visit. But this is no ordinary tea party.

And I guess that is the point of this post. The setting may be ordinary but it is what you do with it that will turn your story into something special.

A random word generator can be fun to play around with sometimes. Having a look at one tonight, and having set the first and last letters I wanted, my haul was “bloody”, “biography”, “biology”, and “beneficiary”. Hmm… definite possibilities there.

DANGEROUS WORDS
The biography of my long dead great-aunt whom I cared for, well it was well over a decade in the end, was a revelation, a bloody one at that. No wonder she didn’t want this coming out during her lifetime and I’m heartily wishing I hadn’t been sent this book. Someone wanted me to have it but who and why? And why send it now?

Frankly, I’m not sure what I want to do with this. The logical thing would be to burn the wretched book but how many copies were produced? How could I find out without revealing what I know? And whoever sent this to me is expecting some sort of reaction I guess. There’s nothing to stop them sending me other copies either is there? Have they gone to the police? Well let them… I’ve done nothing wrong except be a beneficiary to a sick old lady whose family abandoned her. Except I now know why they dumped her. Has one of them finally decided I ought to know? Or are they going to try to take my inheritance from me?

What did I find out? That my aunt knew quite a bit about biology as it turns out and where exactly to stick the knife. She wasn’t always crippled with arthritis! Said knife ended up right in the backs of anyone to whom she was a beneficiary. Collected quite a sum in the end – well over £500 K. People have been killed for less than that. What I can’t figure is how she got away with it. All I know is I’m keeping that money and I am getting out of here NOW.

Ends.

Allison Symes – 6th December 2018

See a random word generator as another way to conjure up ideas for you to play with. You don’t have to use all the words that come up – a lot will depend on how much of a challenge you feel up to tackling! But have fun with this and hopefully you’ll get some stories down as a result.

 

Ideas for flash fiction stories can come from many sources (and I’ve used advertising slogans, scenes from films, well known phrases, and sometimes puns – e.g. my Raising the Stakes. Yes it IS a vampire story but told from the viewpoint of…. well no spoilers here!).

Mix up your sources of ideas from time to time. Never use just one source. You want to have a nice wide “net” to scour for story ideas. Don’t forget pictures either. They can be a great starting point for a story. What could you do with the images below for instance?

Above all have fun with your writing. It does show through!

Fairytales With Bite – Editing Your Story

Some of the ways I edit a story are:-

1.  To put it aside for a while.  Sounds odd I know but you need to put some distance between you as the writer of the piece before you can become you, the editor of that piece.  You are too close to the work to be objective about it just after you’ve written it.  You’re either going to think it is the best or worst thing ever written (there seems to be no happy medium here!) so remind yourself, you will look at the piece when it will seem like new to you again.  Then and only then can you judge it properly.  Assuming you have done that:-

2.  Read work out loud.  This is great for literally hearing whether your dialogue works as well as you think it does.  If you stumble over words or phrases, so will your reader.  I’ve sometimes recorded a story (using Audacity) and played it back.  You get to listen to it as a listener would then.

3.  Do a basic edit first.  I start by getting rid of my known wasted words, repetitions, and go through for spelling and grammatical errors.  You will need to do this again at least once more once you’ve got a final draft but I have found it useful to use this to get me into “editor mode” and to get started on the whole business!

4.  Look at whether the structure makes sense.  Are there gaps the reader can’t follow?  Where you have hinted at something happening in the story, did you follow through on it later?

5.  Do all of your characters have a vital role in the story?  If not, can you get rid of some or amalgamate them into one person?

6.  Do all of the plot lines tie up and make sense?  Have you shown a point of change in the characters?  Have you ensured the story reaches a logical conclusion (which doesn’t need to be a happy one)?

Good luck!

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This World and Others – Crucial Characterisation

Characterisation is always crucial, of course, but pointers I have found really useful include:-

1.  Ensure there is something about your characters that your readers can identify with.  They don’t necessarily have to agree with your characters but should be able to see why your characters are acting as they are.  Part of the challenge of a story is to get your readers to wonder whether they would have done the same as your characters and, if not, why not and what would they have done!

2.  The goal should be an understandable one.  From the character’s viewpoint, naturally, it has to be a life or death matter.  It should be something they are prepared to risk all for.  It should be something they can’t refuse to do.

3.  Characters should be memorable.  Doesn’t matter if they’re heroes or villains, the crucial point is your characters should stay in the minds of your readers long after they’ve finished your story.