HOW STORIES SOUND, DESCRIPTIONS AND CLARITY

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I’ve read my stories aloud at times to literally hear how they sound (and have sometimes recorded them so I can play them back too. This is particularly useful if you need to time a story). If you trip over your dialogue, your readers will too so definitely time to get the editing pen out again.

It is an oddity that what looks okay written down suddenly isn’t okay when you read it out loud. You can hear where the text sounds awkward. My More than Writers post, due up on the Association of Christian Writers blog tomorrow, talks about clarity. (Link to come tomorrow). One thing I discovered a while ago is that simple, clear writing is a joy to read and it can take several rewrites for an author to get it to that stage. It is worth the effort though.

I’ve forgotten who said that the professional writer is the amateur who didn’t quit, but there is a lot of truth in that.

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I don’t necessarily choose the mood of the story (or the main character) before I start writing. Often the theme can mean the mood of the story can go in a couple of different directions and my job then is to pick the outline that seems to have the most promising characters that I can do something with!

I like it when one character clearly stands out. You find yourself rooting for that character to succeed (usually). It is their story so it’s my job to let “them” tell their story their way. That disguises a lot of editing and ensuring that all the information you’ve given the reader marries up, is only what they absolutely need to know etc.

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Am glad to share the link to my monthly spot on the Association of Christian Writers’ More Than Writers blog. I talk about clarity this time.

I discovered the Plain English campaign have a gobbledygook generator. Yes, really! Had lots of fun clicking the box and seeing what garbage emerged… all based on real examples too. It’s a great example of how NOT to write!

CLARITY POST - Clarity - image via Pixabay

Should clarity, rather than cleanliness, be next to godliness?  I think so!  Image via Pixabay.

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Clarity of thought should lead to clarity of expression.  Image via Pixabay

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A recent CFT post of mine but the questions can help you ensure your writing is beautifully clear.  Image via Pixabay.

The basic kit for a writer - image via Pixabay

The writer’s basic toolkit – image via Pixabay

Some of the tools of the scrivener's trade here - image via Pixabay

The tools of the scrivener’s trade. We’ve come on a bit since then! Image via Pixabay

Electronically or by print, both face publishing frustrations - image via Pixabay

Ebooks and print – both have their own frustrations when it comes to publishing. Image via Pixabay

Books can be one major key to knowledge - image via Pixabay

Books are the keys to knowledge. Image via Pixabay

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News just in, as they say! Two of my stories will be on Cafelit – one on 5th May and the other on 5th June. Will share links on the days. Very pleased. Don’t think I’ll ever tire of hearing something I’ve written has been accepted!

Having acceptances is obviously one of the highlights of writing, but what about the downside? Yes, the rejections would come into that category but, for me, I’m more despondent when the writing simply isn’t going as well as I’d like. Rejections I see as par for the course and I try to learn from them and see where it is where I may have gone wrong. If it is just down to editorial taste, then I can submit the story elsewhere. So generally I can get something positive out of this.

But when you are keen to write and it seems like a struggle (and it happens to us all), that is more of a challenge to deal with. I tend to have a break away from whatever it was I was working on to write something else or brainstorm ideas for future projects. I’m not sure why it is but whenever I write something else, ideas come to me for the original thing I was struggling with. Distraction therapy perhaps? All I know is that it works.

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I’ve been enjoying the different flash fiction collections put out by Chapeltown Books and this has proved to be a great way of ensuring I read plenty of contemporary fiction. (Reading enough classic fiction is never an issue!).

A good reading “diet” should include contemporary and classic works and non-fiction. I see all of this as feeding the mind as you never know when reading something triggers ideas for your own stories. The more you read, the more you cast your “net”, and the more likely it is you will have those “sparks”.

So happy writing – and happy reading!

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My flash fiction collection from Chapeltown Books!

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Mandy’s flash fiction collection from Chapeltown Books. Image kindly supplied by her.

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Gail’s flash fiction collection from Chapeltown Books. Image supplied by Gail Aldwin. Also note the Chapeltown Books branding of a frame around an image. Simple but effective

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Gill James reading from her January Stones collection. Image by Allison Symes

Paula Readman, Dawn Kentish Knox and Allison Symes and books - with kind permission from Paula Readman

Paula Readman, Dawn Kentish Knox and I celebrate where our stories have appeared! Many thanks to Paula Readman for the picture.!

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Some of the books I’ve appeared in and FLTDBA of course. Image by Allison Symes

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Given flash fiction makes its readers fill in the gaps due to the word count restrictions, it is also a great way to conjure up other worlds which reflect on our own.

A reference here, a name of a character there etc will carry weight based on what we know of that reference and name. The world might be strange but the reference or name are not and it makes filling in the gaps easier. What is really nice is when you know that reference or name will make the reader smile because you know what they will associate it with.

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Descriptions can be tricky. Too much information and you switch the reader off. Too little and you can’t conjure up enough of an image for your reader to “hook into” so they can get right into your story’s world.

Flash fiction, of course, by its nature means you have to be sparing with the details so the trick is to find the most powerful image in the shortest number of words. (Well, it IS meant to be a challenge!).

I ask myself what are the images I want my reader to definitely pick up from my story. This is where outlining your thoughts before writing the story is so helpful. It makes it easier to select the telling details that absolutely have to be in the tale.

You can also mark those others that would be useful to have in if you have sufficient word count spare but would not spoil the story if they weren’t included. It has been my experience there usually isn’t the word count spare (unless I am writing right at the upper range for flash). Focusing on what HAS to be in is, I find, the best place to start. Anything after that is a bonus but should still only be included if it does something useful such as giving depth to your tale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ODD COMBINATIONS AND FLASH FICTION TERMS

Again, a mixed bag for you!

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

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

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

MDG NOTICEBOARD

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

MDG NOTICEBOARD PART 2

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

Programme Front

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

Programme - What is on offer during the show

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

THE GAME CARDS FOR WOULD WE LIE TO YOU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LIGHT BULB and OTHER MOMENTS

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It was another get some writing done on the train day on Saturday. Managed to draft most of my next Chandler’s Ford Today post and two new flash fiction stories. On the way back, feeling more than a tad tired, I managed to get some editing done. So pleased with what I achieved!

Let the train take the strain? Yes!

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My CFT post later this week will reference one of my favourite series of books when I was growing up – the Famous Five by Enid Blyton. I never really read any of the Secret Seven and as for Noddy, the less said the better. (In fairness, by the time I discovered Enid’s works, I was way beyond the age range for him!).

Much as I enjoyed the Five’s adventures, I never really did “get” their love of ginger beer. Oh well. I collected the books as the local independent newsagent got them in regularly, which was fab. Back then, most newsagents had a reasonably sized books section (and it wasn’t just W.H. Smiths or Menzies either). I do miss that.

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The lightbulb moment in any story for me is when I have to find out what happens to the main character in it. Then you know you’re hooked! Doesn’t matter what the length of the story is but the characters have to interest you enough to keep you reading.

Plots in themselves aren’t enough. They have to be driven by the right characters. It is possible to have a wonderful plot let down by characters that simply don’t hold the readers’ attention. Get the characters right and the plot will come from them. Why? Because the right characters will find themselves in conflict(s)(they’ll be unable to help themselves!) with something or someone and that’s where the story really lies.

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Hope to submit some more flash fiction stories during the week. Very pleased to be making progress on what I hope will in time become my third book. Train journeys are great for drafting stories. I’m usually far too tired when I get back to do much writing done then, as I normally would, so not only do I feel like I’ve made progress, I feel as if I’ve made the most of the time available to me. I always like that.

I did wonder when I got the smartphone how I would get on with a stylus for writing. No problems! Just hope I don’t lose the thing…!

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I love that moment when I’m drafting a new flash story when you can feel the tale “coming together” and you know exactly how it will end.

I outline my stories but deliberately don’t set everything down to the “nth” degree as there has to be room for the old creative juices to flourish and “do their stuff”. But when you’ve written the ending that comes to you and you look back at the piece and think “yes, that works”, that is a good feeling.

It’s an even better one if you need a bit of encouragement to keep going. It reassures you that you are coming up with the ideas. So keep going!

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Flash fiction can be a great mood reflector (of the main character that is!). I know I wouldn’t want to read page after page of a character’s introspection but a brief flash story showing what a character is feeling and why is fine.

Of course, there is nothing to stop you then expanding that idea out and having a standard length short story which shows how the character got into that state (and ideally out of it again if the state is not a good one. I feel a good story of this kind has to have some sort of hope within it. This is why I personally can’t get on with “misery stories”. There has to be something uplifting, even if at the end of the story, the character has just found what they think may be a way out a dismal situation).

Of course, flash, like any story, can reveal something of the author too so you may want to watch what you write!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIFE’S LITTLE IRRITATIONS AND TEN FAVOURITE THINGS

A nice mixture of moods this time I think!

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What do cooking chocolate, zips that break too easily and roundabouts that are too small for purpose have in common? Easy peasy. They’re some of the items I’ve consigned to Room 101 in the latest part of this series. (I’m now up to No. 75!). I also share my thoughts on product name changes and fake news. So a nice mixed bag here tonight!

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What aspect of writing do you like the least? I suppose for me it would be the line by line edit for typos, grammatical errors etc, anything that I would call the technical side of writing.

Yet without that side, the chances of work being accepted do decrease given you have to present your work as professionally as possible. Anything that reduces a professional impression, such as weak spelling etc, will impact on your story.

The nice thing, though, is that if spelling, grammar etc are weak points, ideas like a writing buddy can be a real boon. (Going to good creative writing classes can help you make friends, get feedback on your work, including on this kind of thing, and help you find someone who might end up being your writing buddy!).

I also think there isn’t a writer anywhere without blind spots as to certain words/grammatical issues. My blind spots are “effect” and “affect” (I always have to double check them against the dictionary definitions to make sure I’m using the right one).

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Do you prefer alien settings in your flash fiction or tales that are firmly rooted on to this planet? I like both, no real surprises there, but here are some advantages to consider.

The biggest advantage to having an alien world as a setting is you get to choose what that world looks like, how it is run etc. Only drawback would be is it is too easy to just keep on creating your world and never getting on with the story. So just stick to the bare bones of what your reader really does need to know.

The biggest advantage to setting a world here is that the background information we know already. You really do just to fill in relatively minor details such as what part of the world they’re in (can give your readers ideas about likely weather patterns and so on).

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Although flash fiction by its nature might seem quick to write, it still needs careful crafting to ensure every word carries its weight and justifies its place in the story.

Yes, obviously, novels do take far longer and the joy of those is having the room for sub-plots and being able to characterise more deeply. Having said that, one of the great joys of flash fiction for me is being able to shine a sharp light on say one aspect of a particular character. That IS the story. Nothing more to be said. Nothing more needs to be said.

 

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

Preparing a talk or a flash fiction story perhaps. Image via Pixabay.

Stories can be created and read on just about any modern device - image via Pixabay

Big screen, little screen, LOTS of stories on either! Image via Pixabay

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Let your stories have impact. 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

Fill that blank sheet with ideas from non-fiction as well as other fiction works - image via Pixabay

The basic necessities of the writer’s life!

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Flash – for light or dark fiction! 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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1. Books can take you into worlds beyond anything we know here. This is especially true for science fiction and fantasy.

2. Books can shed light on history both in non-fiction accounts and historical novels. The latter also has the advantage of being able to show what a historical figure could’ve been like as an individual, based on what is known about them. The author is not saying they are definitely like this, just that they could’ve been.

3. Reading a book encourages you to keep reading others. Not only is this relaxing, this improves your own appreciation of the written word by reading different authors and types of book.

4. You learn so much about characterisation by reading widely, in and out of your own genre.

5. Reading across non-fiction and fiction will help feed your own imagination. What can you do in your stories the authors you’ve read have not etc? (Also different writers have sparks for story ideas from varying sources. Where you get your sparks from will almost inevitably not be the same as where I get mine. At best there MIGHT be some overlap but we are all inspired by different genres and styles, What we do with what inspires us is unique to us too).

6. If you want to try out an author new to you, but are not sure about committing to the cost of a hardback etc, you can always borrow from the libraries and support them while you indulge in a good read!

7. Short story collections, including flash fiction, are increasingly popular so if the thought of a full length novel is not for you at this stage, why not try shorter fiction? There is something out there that will suit you! I love the fact there is a book out (and usually several) for anyone and everyone.

8. I suppose I am particularly conscious of this being a woman, but literacy is not something that has always been available to so many of us. So therefore I want to make the most of being able to read and write. There is a whole world of stories out there to explore.

9. Especially reading non-fiction, you can increase your own education significantly. Above all, it should be fun to find out things you didn’t know.

10. Last but not least, as a writer, by reading as well you are supporting the industry you hope to join or have become part of. Whether you are self or traditionally published, I can’t help but feel this is a good thing to do. I also can’t see how you can write without reading well. You have to know what you like and dislike to come up with your own stories and how can you do that, other than by reading?

Comments welcome!

Fairytales with Bite – Life’s Little Irritations

My current series on Chandler’s Ford Today is all about life’s little irritations (and is called 101 Things to Put into Room 101)From a fictional viewpoint, it doesn’t matter whether you write short or long fiction or, indeed, what genre you write in, but you can guarantee your characters will have more than their fair share of life’s “little irritations”.

So what are these and why do they rile your characters so much?  Do some of your characters handle the trials of life better than others and, if so, why and how?  What would count as an irritation in your fictional world that here on our own planet might be seen as a catastrophe or something your characters shouldn’t be wound up about at all?

Are the irritations you portray shared by other characters in your stories?  Is there anything that the society/world you’ve created considers an irritation and how did it come to be seen this way?  (There is always a reason for these things!).  Answering all of these will help you flesh out your world and your characters better and that is always worth doing.

This World and Others – Ten Favourite Things about Characters

I do love a list!  Ten favourite things I like about well portrayed characters include:-

1.  Such characters show me something about my own nature (for good or bad!).
2.  I can identify with the characters, sympathise even.
3.  I will “root for” characters and “feel” their struggles, which is not quite the same as 2 above.  For this, I have to really like the characters concerned.  With 2, I can identify with say what a villain is up to (they’ve been crossed once too often and are now out for revenge), but I’m not going to root for them to succeed in their aims.  I often hope ambiguous characters will not turn out to be villainous in the end or at least have motivations that are understandable.  The best of these will do both.
4.  You can “see” exactly where a character is coming from.  That leads to empathy (which I believe can encourage empathy generally and that is no bad thing).
5. Characters will show you the world they live in and how they handle it.  Is there something I can learn here?  (That includes what not to do!).
6.  For a character that’s set in a historical period, you can compare how they handle their situation and ponder how you would do so.  (I love Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice but can see her situation as almost being prison like.  For her not to marry Mr Collins, when it would have meant helping her family, was a brave thing to do.  It would also be seen as selfish, especially by her mother.  Here, I am so glad I have never faced something like that).
7.  As a writer, you can put your characters through the emotional wringer!  Heartless though that may sound, it is also huge fun – and it will be where your story really is.  It is all in the conflicts.
8.  Sometimes a historical character can change your mind about a period in time or a well known historical figure.  The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey did this for me with regard to Richard III and Henry VII.
9.  Characters can show up injustice clearly.  Think To Kill a Mockingbird here or something like Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
10. Characters can say things you would love to say to others but for whatever reason rightly decide it’s best not to!  And I’m not saying more than that….!

 

WRITING DIARIES, REVIEWS AND CLARITY

Another nice mixed bag I think!

I am on Goodreads and part of their author programme so if you wanted to send me questions about flash fiction, blogging, writing for online magazines, I’d be pleased to hear from you.

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Do you keep a writing diary? I find mine useful for planning out when I want to have work done by etc. (I don’t always achieve what I originally set out to do, life can get in the way sometimes, but I find I end up achieving what I set out to do, albeit occasionally later than I’d have liked. I think if I didn’t plan out what I think I’d like to get done, then I wouldn’t get as much written).

It’s also useful for keeping a note of submissions sent, where to, results etc. Naturally acceptances are written down in capital letters! I don’t think I’ll ever get over the buzz you have when you know a piece is going to be online or in print and that is how it should be.

 

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My CFT post this week will be Part 5 of my 101 Things to Put into Room 101. I’m up to No. 75! Link up on Friday.

Off to see a local show with my lovely CFT editor tomorrow and again next week. Seems like ages since I’ve watched a play so am looking forward to both of these plays. Reviews will probably follow! I have to say I have been impressed by the quality of the local theatre productions I’ve seen. Always a good sign when the time seems to whizz by as you’re watching.

I must try and get around to seeing one of the Discworld plays at some point. Love the novels, curious to see how the plays work. The great thing about seeing plays is that it is another way of taking in a story. I think it is a good idea to mix up the “formats” in which you do take in stories. No chance of being bored, sometimes a play will get across something in a way a novel doesn’t quite do and so on.

I admit though it would be a challenge to make a play out of a piece of flash fiction though!

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Reading widely is a sensible thing to do regardless of what genre you work in, given doing so helps you feed your own imagination. Ideas for stories spark from all over the place. The trick is to be open to receiving those ideas. (Also it does make sense to support the industry you want to be part of!).

What drives a story are the characters, of course, but knowledge of human nature/how politics works/history etc can inspire how you create the world your people live in. By knowing what we’re capable of as humans, you can create your own worlds based on what we know here. If we act in this manner, how will your people act? Are they better than us or worse? As a result, it will make your world seem more “possible” and believable to a reader.

What will change here is the length of the story you are writing. For flash fiction, you have to convey a sense of the world your people are set in quickly. A few telling details are key here. If you say your character lives under a dictatorship, that is enough for the purposes of your flash fiction. We all know what dictatorships can be like so our imaginations will fill in the details your flash fiction piece doesn’t have the room for. If you were writing a novel, you would want more details as to what that dictatorship is like, possibly how it came into being, and what happens to those who rebel against it.

 

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Clarity is important to any storyteller but when you have limited word count as with flash fiction, it is vital. The words you use can often carry more weight as you select the ones that will give you the most meaning without using up too much of your word count.

I’ve come across some annoying examples of how NOT to write in adverts, business speak etc, and I think the main reason why these things irritate so much is because they lack clarity. Someone somewhere with these examples has equated lots of words with lots of meaning. To quote George Gershwin, “it ain’t necessarily so” as any flash fiction writer would tell you!

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MAKING TIME AND WRITING CONFERENCES

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Why is it you never have as much time as you’d like for reading and/or writing? Time flies when I write, it drags when I’m doing the housework! There’s probably some natural law about this somewhere…

It’s important then to make the most of the time you do have. Never despise the fact you might only write or read for 15 minutes a day because those pockets of time mount up. At the of a week, you would have had 105 minutes (1 hour, 45 minutes) and you can complete a short story, some flash fiction etc.

 

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Books – love them, don’t mind the format. Image via Pixabay

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Books are a fantasic form of escapism. Image via Pixabay

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What do I like most about going to writing conferences? Difficult to say but I love the interaction with other writers and it is always good to know it’s not just you that’s faced rejections countless times. Also great to be able to celebrate any good publishing news with others and for them to do the same back. It is vital, I think, to know others do know the same frustrations with writing you feel and experience the same joys with it too.

Naturally, there is what you learn from the courses too, but I think you can’t beat the “buzz” of inspiration that comes from these things. You go home again looking forward to drafting out those new thoughts and ideas that came to you, maybe even try a new style of writing. The encouragement that comes from a good writing conference is invaluable for those times when writing doesn’t come easily or for whatever other reason, you’re not able to write as much as you’d like to.

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Will be off out on the train again this coming weekend so am automatically seeing it as “draft some more flash fiction stories” time! The great thing about writing is you are never short of things to create, edit, edit again, submit, receive rejections on, submit, receive acceptances on etc.

I must try and get some more work off to competitions this year. I have been shortlisted in a couple, which always gives me a buzz, but need to get back to this again. One great thing about competitions is having different themes to work to – I never mind a set theme. The challenge there is in coming up with something which meets the criteria but is engaging and different enough to hook the judge. (If you’ve hooked them, you’ve hooked potential readers).

Golden rules of competitions?

1. Make sure it is a genuine competition. Check out the background of it first.

2. Assuming it is a genuine competition, follow the rules. Stories ARE dismissed if rules are broken. (To do otherwise isn’t fair on other entrants who have stuck to them).

Oh and if you’re entering writing competitions, have fun, good luck and remember if nothing happens this time, you have still written a story that may suit a publication elsewhere. Waste nothing (but be prepared to rewrite).

 

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One of the great things about flash fiction is that a few telling details can conjure up a whole world very quickly. It really is a question of feeding your reader the right information so they put two and two together. (Sometimes of course you throw in the odd red herring!).

The Truth in FLTDBA is a good example of the right detail being a pivotal part of the story. I don’t directly tell you this is an aliens from another world story. I tell you the name of the spaceship the alien flies in and you take the rest from there.

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I use a variety of methods to generate stories including setting myself an opening line and taking the tale from there. I sometimes set myself a closing line and work out the story from a “backwards” point of view. Agatha Christie did this too.

What I’ve not done, and I guess I should give it a go at some point, is set myself an “in the middle” line and work either side of it! I do know of one competition a year at least that does set a middle line like that and I should imagine it’s an interesting challenge.

I’ve been brainstorming ideas for a third flash fiction collection and some of the lines I’ve come up with I will definitely save as closing lines. I’ll have a go at setting one or two as middle lines and see how I do!

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Flash fiction can be used to reflect moods (your own and that of your characters). My story, They Don’t Understand, is an example of that. It is a poignant piece about an older man looking back at the life shared with his wife. I would also describe this as a character sketch.

I do sometimes write pieces that would never make a standard length short story (1500 words or so) but make ideal reflections on character (circa 100 to 300 words) and make an interesting sideline to my “standard” flash fiction stories.

I like character pieces as a good one will make you reflect on what the “star” has shared with you in the story and make you ponder as to whether you would do the same.

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I write flash fiction so my first priority is to tell an entertaining story yet keep the word count down.

One great way of doing this is to give the reader the information what they need to know, but no more than that. They are the ones who put two and two together. For example in one of my stories I mention the name of the spacecraft the alien narrator flies. It is all you need to know to get the gist of the story.

Great books across the genres have been doing this for years, long before flash came on to the scene (though I think flash, as a format, is the “flagbearer” for this now).

I love Agatha Christie, as I’ve mentioned before, for the puzzle element to her stories. I like authors who give me space to work things out (and later in the story I find out whether I was right with my conclusions or not). I also think those books are more memorable because you and me, as readers, are taking an active part in those books as we read them.

I also like P.G. Wodehouse for the details he seemingly without effort puts into his story. He sometimes refers to the meals being offered. I think that’s a great way to draw people into the story, it also gives an idea of the wealth and status of the characters.

 

 

 

 

 

FAIRYTALES, TRUTH, AND NETWORKING

Now there’s a combination!

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My latest Chandler’s Ford Today post is called Networking Tips. Fellow Chapeltown Books author, Mandy Huggins, and I both share our thoughts on networking here and we hope you find the post useful. Many thanks to her for her pictures. Also a big thank you to Paula Readman for kind permission to use the picture of Dawn Knox, Paula and I which was taken at the Bridge House celebration event last December.

I remember being so scared of the thought of having to network when I was first starting out as a writer. It was really only when I realised networking meant talking about something I love – books, stories etc (generally, as well as my own) – that I relaxed. Can I talk about these things? Yes! The problem can be stopping me! (But that is how it should be. I don’t see how you can commit to writing as a long term love unless you are enthuasiastic about stories. Given the ups and downs of a writer’s life, writing has to be thought of as a series of hopefully achievable goals over a reasonable period of time. There are no shortcuts).

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Questions I like to ask of my characters from time to time include:-

What would you say was your best trait?
What would you say was your worst one?
What drives you and why?

I inevitably don’t use all of what I come up with here in the stories themselves but have found having a good working knowledge of what my characters are really like makes it so much easier to write convincingly about/for them.

It is worth taking the time out to flesh out your thoughts here before you write your story. (Scrivener is great here with its character and setting outlines in its short story “mode” but you can create your own template of things you should know about your “people” before you write their stories down).

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What are your writing “likes”? Some of mine include:-

Decent one-liners that make me laugh.

A story that shows me motivations or stresses characters are under that I might not have considered before. For example murders are committed for serious reasons and to what appears to others to be trivial ones. Yet a good story will take you into the mind of that murderer and show why the trivial reason isn’t trivial to them.

Good, sharp pace with quiet bits in between giving me good background on the setting and characters, knowing said quiet bits are gearing the reader up for the next big scene.

A satisfactory ending, which is not the same as a happy one necessarily. The ending has to be right for the story and the main character. It won’t feel right if the match isn’t there.

Characters I can rally behind (or metaphorically boo for) but either reaction has to be genuine. I don’t want to see the author’s hand making their characters act in a certain way. The characters’ acting has to be realistic for those characters.

I love getting to the end of a story or novel and in a sense wishing neither had ended. Always a sign of a well told tale! Going back over a story/novel and picking up the bits I missed first go around. This is particularly true for a detective novel. I always miss some of the clues on the first read!

I like a happy ending where the hero/heroine has “earned” it. I also like to see villains get their comeuppance but again in a realistic manner. Villains generally are not going to fall apart. They can be caught out.

Every word to count… Funnily enough that doesn’t necessarily mean everything has to be short but that each word is appropriate for the story being told. In P.G. Wodehouse’s stories so often he uses very long sentences (he’d never get away with it now!) but not a word is out of place and indeed especially when Wooster’s narrating the long-windedness is part of (a) the character’s charm and (b) the character’s characteristics!

Positive developments in characters, especially a character that goes on to make something good out of themselves.

I like pinpointing moments of change in a story and watching the drama unfold.

Feeling a slight sense of envy I didn’t write the story/novel I’ve enjoyed is a good sign – and nothing but a compliment to the actual author!

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It is only in looking back at stories that make up a collection, you really get to see what influences came out. FLTDBA has a nice mixture of influences – fairytales, nods to films, Frankenstein, poetic justice, and Pride and Prejudice to name just some.

I guess this shows why you should read widely (in whatever format and including non-fiction) because you are feeding your imagination. What drives you to write the stories you do? Your own influences/thoughts. Why have you got those influences and thoughts? Almost certainly thanks to things you have read that rang true for something deep inside your creative self.

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The right ending for a story is the one that is most appropriate for it. It doesn’t need to be happy necessarily. Indeed, quite a few of mine in From Light to Dark and Back Again are definitely not of the traditional happy ever after variety!

I remember being stunned when I first read Hans Christen Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. You expect everything to work out okay (after all, isn’t that how fairytales are supposed to turn out?) and then it doesn’t! And I won’t say more than that. No spoilers here. It does pay to read the fairytales. They’re often darker than people think and have more layers. The Little Mermaid is a tale of sacrifice when all is said and done.

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What do I most like about writing? Well, here’s a few thoughts.

Coming up with characters who spring to life and develop in front of your “eyes”.

Coming up with world(s) that fascinate you.

Coming up with villain(s) that fascinate you!

Coming up with hero(ines) that also fascinate but show why they are the good guys. They’ve got to have a good cause, literally.

Being able to write short length stories from flash to standard length (up to 2000 words) to novels to plays… the only limit is your imagination.

You can explore ideas.

You can discover ideas from the characters you develop, not just in terms of new story ideas, but you get to learn how your “people” think and why. Could it change how you feel about issues? Can be fun finding out!

Receiving feedback which helps you improve your work (this is not necessarily complimentary, though nice responses are obviously nice, but so you can see how well you “got through” to your reader).

Winning or being shortlisted for competitions is a huge morale boost.

Getting to talk about your work at writing festivals and enjoying hearing about others’ work. I love both aspects here. I think it’s like a kind of celebration of the work of the imagination.

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytales and Truth

I’m sure you must have come across at some point someone saying something like “it’s just a fairytale”.  That phrase has always annoyed me.  There is nothing “just” about a fairytale.

When examined closely, the vast majority of fairytales contain at least one element of truth in them (and often much more).  Yes, fairytales do tend to follow character type but there is a lot of truth in those.  What does the wicked witch represent?  Those who are prepared to use the power they’ve got to control others or who are prepared to do anything to gain power.  Who does the good fairy represent?  Those who use their powers for the good of others.  And that’s just to name two examples. We can all think of real life people who can fit into those categories so fairytales do reflect humanity as we know it.

Hans Christen Andersen showed that fairytales do not always have happy ever after endings.  (While it surprised me the first time I read his The Little Mermaid here, I have a greater appreciation now of the truthfulness of his characterisation and the way the story does end).  Fairytales can sometimes get across a certain amount of social commentary (again see Hans Christen Andersen’s The Little Match Girl here).

So I do wish some people would stop being dismissive of fairytales.  There is a lot more to them than may at first be apparent.

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This World and Others – Networking In Your Stories

My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week is all about networking.  Fellow Chapeltown Books author, Mandy Huggins, and I share our thoughts on this and I hope you find it useful. But it led me to wonder what kind of networking goes on inside the world of our stories.

How do our characters meet each other?  Have they known each other for years?  What are the social networks in the worlds you’ve created?  What happens to those who defy convention here?

Our stories won’t necessarily spell out all of that but readers should know why the characters are interacting the way they do.  If they hate each other, that is bound to be a major factor in how your story develops and the reason for the hate should be shown.  (I don’t think you can ignore the fact they hate each other, it must be what is driving your story.  I can’t see how it would be otherwise).

Is there such a thing as an old boys’ network in your world?  Who benefits or suffers because of it?  Is there a class system and can people/beings cross the divides?  If your world just has one major species, there should be some sort of hierarchy within it.  How does this work?

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My latest CFT post. Mandy Huggins and I discuss networking. Image via Pixabay

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My flash fiction collection from Chapeltown Books!

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Mandy’s flash fiction collection from Chapeltown Books. Image kindly supplied by her.

Amanda Huggins reading from the Ink Tears showcase anthology Death of a Superhero at the launch party in London December 2017

Mandy Huggins – reading is a great way to network with your readers. Image kindly supplied by Mandy Huggins.

It is always good to meet readers and even better when they read you - image via JW

Networking with readers at the Chandler’s Ford Book Fair in 2017. Image from Janet Williams, CFT’s amazing editor.

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Setting the mood with music. Image via Pixabay

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Humans are immensely creative - image via Pixabay

Let those ideas flow! Image via Pixabay,

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The familiar sight of the writing desk, regardless of genre! Image via Pixabay.

The best advice for any writer - image via Pixabay

Sound advice. Image via Pixabay

From diving board to keyboard via Pixabay

The keyboard beckons…

 

 

 

 

DRAFTS, TLAs AND FAVOURITE GENRE

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Managed to draft a few flash fiction stories on my train journeys yesterday. Great use of time, made even better with my headphones plugged in so I can enjoy classical music while I write. She will indeed have music wherever she goes… unless the train goes into a tunnel of course!

I sometimes draft blog posts on this kind of trip too. This has come in extremely useful. It means I always have ideas drafted down I can refer back to and then flesh out when ready to do so. I did take my Kindle with me yesterday meaning to read as well but ran out of time. Still, I made up for that later…

It did strike me though, as I looked around the carriages to see practically all of us plugged into our phones, what a bizarre sight this could seem for an outsider looking in. All of us in our little virtual worlds, all with a kind of invisible barrier up around us. Hmm… I strongly suspect there’s some story ideas to be had from that image! Good luck…

 

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TLAs turn up everywhere. And it’s fine if you know what the three letter acronym is for. You can feel a bit of a twit if you don’t. Apparently, HFN means Happy for Now and HEA is Happy Ever After, both used in romantic fiction. I can’t think of any TLAs for flash fiction writers (do share if you know any but keep them clean!).

You could use TLAs as part of an outlining process for your characters.

ABB = Awkward but Brave
SBK = Stupid but Kind
NBT = Not (to) Be Trusted
DBD = Daring but Dim

Hmm… some interesting character possibilities there I think What TLAs would you use for your own characters and why?

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What is your favourite genre (whether writing or reading it) and can you sum this up in one line? Name an example.

Mine is fantasy because, while taking you to other worlds, it can also shed light on this one. My example would be The Lord of The Rings. The traits of the main characters, for good or ill, can all be found on our own planet. The places such as The Shire or Mordor can be compared to places on earth (and this is made even easier thanks to the fantastic film version).

The battle between good and evil is something to be identified with too (though, from a fictional point of view, the very “best” villains don’t consider themselves villainous at all. They see themselves as having a just cause. They’re wrong and it’s up to the hero/heroine to prove them so). Can treachery be overcome (it so often isn’t in life)? Will justice be done (it so often isn’t in life!)? Fantasy then can be a vehicle for resolving injustices we know so often aren’t put right on our world.

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I enjoy a lot of flash fiction collections on my Kindle. It’s helped me widen my reading of contemporary fiction (which is no bad thing) and flash does read so easily on a screen.

It is a huge advantage to those who prefer technology to paper books. I hope it encourages those who wouldn’t pick up a paperback to discover reading electronically is absolutely fine and flash is such a great format for that.

I like downloading story magazines now too. I love magazines in any event but one problem is storage space for those ones you really do want to keep. No worries about that for e-magazines!

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It’s difficult to say what I like best about writing flash. It is great when you have completed a piece, have edited it well, and after leaving it aside for a while, you come back to it and discover it is actually a good story! (One of the biggest enemies of all writers is the demon known as self doubt).

I like the process of writing the story out and then going back through it, removing what I realise I don’t need, and discovering it is a much stronger tale as a result. Of course, you don’t realise what is unnecessary material until you’ve completed the story, look again at what its theme is and then know what you have to take out, so the theme is not undermined.

What I do know for sure is there are no shortcuts and you have to persist, while learning from your mistakes too.

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I’m a bit of a traditionalist in that my favourite place to read is in bed shortly before I head off to the land of Nod.

However, the Kindle has widened my choices of location when it comes to reading. I sometimes read from it on a train trip (unless I’m too busy writing something via my phone). I always read from it when I’m travelling up to Scotland for my annual holiday.

One of my favourite things about e-reading is I no longer have to worry about how many books I can take with me when I’m away. I can have loads! I do find I want to get back to paperbacks when I’ve “feasted” on the Kindle for a bit though. Not that this is a bad thing!

I must admit I do hope we get some good weather in the UK soon. It would be nice to be out in the garden again, with book or Kindle in hand, and a glass of something nice close by. I suspect I may have to wait to August for that!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Likes, Dislikes and Using “Dead Time”

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My latest CFT post is Part 4 of my 101 Things to Put into Room 101. I’m up to No. 60! Tonight’s “delights” to go into the vault of doom include rats, overpriced clothing for those of us with height issues (in either direction) and those people who dislike fake flowers. I bet they don’t suffer from hayfever!

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Am planning to get on with some flash fiction writing whilst out and about on the train tomorrow. Great use of dead time and on my last trip out like this, I managed to write at least five stories (which are in the second collection I’ve submitted to Chapeltown Books). I can’t give you an exact number as I stopped counting after that.

One lovely thing about writing, regardless of genre or whether you write fiction, non-fiction or both, is you are never short of things to be getting on with while out and about on public transport! I also use dead time like this to draft future ideas for Chandler’s Ford Today and Association of Christian Writers’ blog posts.

Am I a convert to the smartphone? You bet! Picture below from one of my CFT posts from late last year but given the topic of this post, I thought it apt to use it again!

Fairytales with Bite – Character Likes and Dislikes

In my latest Chandler’s Ford Today post, I consign various items to Room 101. Amongst the items in Part 4 of my series are rats, people who dislike fake flowers, and overpriced clothing for those of us with height issues (in either direction.  Am not unbiased here!).

I love fake flowers because (a) they are of a much higher quality than they once were and (b) I’m a hayfever sufferer!  Thinking about this made me wonder about what quirky likes and dislikes your characters have.  I’m thinking of those things that would really make them stand out to a reader.  It is vital readers can tell characters apart and distinctive personality traits, likes and dislikes are great ways to achieve those necessary differences.  We’re not all clones after all, so our characters mustn’t be either.

Think about also why your characters have their likes and dislikes.  (Yes, people can and do have irrational likes and dislikes but, in fiction, you have got to convince the reader your characters are believable.  I find having a good reason for them to be the way they are, which would include their tastes, is a surefire way of achieving believability).

Part 4 - I'm all for stopping spam, the electronic and the meat kinds

I loathe spam – the electronic or the meat kind! Image via Pixabay

Part 4 - Success is one thing but being famous for being famous is beyond me

Success but should it be because you’re famous for being famous? Image via Pixabay

Part 4- Ambition is not the same thing as talent or being famous on merit

Ambition is no substitute for genuine talent. Image via Pixabay.

Part 4 - Wastefulness

This sums up humanity’s wastefulness. Image via Pixabay

This World and Others – Using “Dead Time”

Using “dead time” in a more efficient way so I can get more writing done is something I have improved on in the last six months or so. This is partly because I’ve finally got a smartphone (!) and I also use Evernote as an app to draft stories, articles etc when I’m out and about on train journeys etc.

The nice thing with this is not only do I get more work done, I haven’t got the distractions of all I have to do at home getting in the way. I can focus purely on writing for a while, which is bliss. One lovely thing about writing, which I touch on in a Facebook post tonight as well, is that whether you write fiction, non-fiction or both, there are always things to work on, edit or write!

On my last big train journey, I managed to write at least five flash fiction stories (I admit I gave up counting after that). So think about your pockets of time that can easily be lost. How could you use those? I remember being annoyed when I took my car in for service as I was happily drafting stories while waiting for that to be done. I was well into the writing zone when they told me the car was ready!

Main task for me now here is to submit more flash fiction to Cafelit as well as get on with ideas for my third book. My second book is in with Chapeltown Books now so fingers crossed!

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Scrivener and Stories

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My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week will be Part 4 of my 101 Things to Put into Room 101. Is proving a fun series to write. Link up on Friday.

One of the biggest difficulties I have is prioritising time. I find I have to block out time to write, else guess what? I don’t write!

I use Scrivener on my PC and I find that great for organising my notes, especially for my non-fiction work. See one of my earlier CFT posts. I use Evernote on my phone and am increasingly using train journeys to draft a few flash fiction tales using it. I’m off again on my travels on Saturday so hope to get a few short pieces under my belt (or more accurately on my phone!) before I get home again.

 

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My favourite opening lines to stories are those that take me straight into the world of the tale or the mind of the character. You don’t need a lot of words to convey enough information for the reader to fill in the gaps. Flash fiction as a genre proves that.

For example from my Rewards in From Light to Dark and Back Again:-

She must go, Becky thought.
Becky paced her thick, red lounge carpet a dozen times. The beautiful Gemma had decided one boyfriend wasn’t enough.

You have the main character and her state of mind here. The thick, red lounge carpet is an indication Becky has (a) a home and (b) she probably isn’t poor. She also has a situation to resolve! All in 24 words.

Often I’ll write a flash piece and realise when I read it back, there are more clues to pick out than I originally anticipated. This is no bad thing. It means my subconscious is clearly working and something is coming through into what I write! That can be developed further or left as it is as a hint to the reader. Happy writing – conscious and unconsciously!

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You learn a lot when you write stories. Firstly, you learn about rejections as, unless you are phenomenally lucky, you will receive loads of those. Secondly, you realise fairly early on that write what you know, while a very useful start, is simply not going to be enough. You need to be able to write about what you can find out too!

This is why reading widely, in and out of your own genre, fiction and non-fiction, is so important. The more you feed your mind, the more you will have to draw on when writing your own work.

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A successful flash fiction story is one you’ve read where everything that is needed to be said has been! You should feel as if the writer could not add anything to the story without “over-egging the pudding”.

As with any story, a flash piece still has to have a beginning, middle and end (even if that end is a twist one). It should not feel like a piece of prose cut down to meet the word count requirements.

I love flash fiction stories where I would love to know more about the characters despite their role being over. That indicates real “life” behind the characters and their story.