BEING THANKFUL AND ONLINE WRITING

Plus I have a link to a ghost story of mine on Scriggler (US based) which I put up recently so a nice mixed bag tonight!

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My monthly post on the Association of Christian Writers More than Writers blog is up today. I talk about being thankful for the gift of writing. I think it is something easily taken for granted. For one thing, it proves we are literate and have had an education, something that should be a global “given” but sadly so often isn’t.

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My CFT post this week will be about online writing, aptly given CFT is an online magazine. I see online writing as part of the continuing history of writing as a whole but more on this when I put the link up on Friday.

For fantasy and sci-fi writers especially, what form does writing take in your worlds? Is it like ours but the language is different? Does it rely on images like the Egyptian hieroglyphs? Is reading encouraged or only available to the elite (there is ALWAYS an elite, no matter what world you’re on, fictional or otherwise!).

I find it is the details that help make a fictional world real and the great thing is there shouldn’t be any longwinded explanations. A few telling details are enough to conjure up the images you want to create in your readers’ minds.

As for historical fiction, what I love here are the details that show how people lived. It can make you thankful for the developments in education (especially for women) too.

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Scriggler – Night Fright by Allison Symes

And talking of reading, here is the link to my latest short story on Scriggler.  Night Fright is a ghost story with a difference.  Hope you like it.

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One of the tricky things to get right with flash fiction is working out the ending. It is too easy to “go on” beyond the moment when the story should end. I love twist endings as they stop that temptation to just add a little bit more etc. The twist is IT, so to speak.

I sometimes, when brainstorming new ideas, come up with something that I know would make a really good ending to a story. I then work backwards to get to the start of the tale. It makes a refreshing change from coming up with an opening line and working in the conventional way from start to finish. I also think it a good idea to mix up how to do things here as it keeps you on your toes for a start!

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Flash fiction can be a great vehicle for character study. Given the form is so short, it is easier to put yourself in the shoes of the character and ask yourself whether you would have acted in the same way as they did, given the circumstances outlined in the story you’re reading.

I often disagree with the choices my characters make (!) but you do have to put yourselves in their shoes and ask why have they behaved that way? What is their justification (and a well portrayed character will always be able to justify what they do)? Villains always have strong motivations for acting the way they are (and often it is because there is something they want to gain – and there will be good reasons for that too. It isn’t always greed or selfishness. The wish to be secure, for example, can lead to all sorts of strange behaviour).

The good news on all of this is that some of my characters are murderous so you really wouldn’t want me agreeing with them!😁

 

 

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SPECIAL CHARACTERS AND HOW CHARACTERS SPEAK

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Why are your favourite characters in other writers’ stories your favourite? What is it about them that makes them stand out from the other characters in that story or book?

It pays to take time out now and again to think about these questions as the answers to them can inspire you as to how to make your own characters stand out in a way that is appropriate to them and your own story.

Another reason for reading widely and well (and including non-fiction) is you do learn from other writers and you can analyse what works well and what works less well. So the more you read, the more you can learn.

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Glad to say I’ll be taking part in the Hursley Park Book Fair in just under a month’s time. I’m there on the Saturday, 23rd June, and will also be giving a talk on flash fiction. The event is FREE, there is parking and a wide range of authors and genres will be represented. Hursley Park is the home of IBM and is between Romsey/Chandler’s Ford and Winchester and just on the edge of Hursley Village itself. Hope to see you there!

Book fair Flyer

Image Credit:  Many thanks to Glenn Salter for the book flyer image.

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Characters can speak in all sorts of ways, sometimes by not speaking at all! Silence as part of a story can be very powerful. A character usually happy to chat who suddenly clams up – I would want to know why, what happened to trigger the clamming up and so on.

Characters can always speak through “their” writing – diaries, letters to others and so on. Characters can also speak in the way that they talk. For example, you could have a character who refuses to use contractions and as a result their speech is far more formal than everybody else’s.

Characters can also “speak” through how they treat each other. Are they as nice as pie to most people but treat Character X despicably? Wouldn’t you want to read on and find out why?

So what are your characters telling you and your readers? And are you aware of what your characters are saying or do they surprise you (sometimes)? One of my favourite things as a writer is when I write a line and just know it is exactly what that character would say, but I also relish the “out of the ball park” moments when my characters surprise me. I like to explore where that takes me as I nearly always discover something more about my characters.

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What is the image that you want to leave in the minds of your readers from your flash story? How will you achieve that? What impact do you want your flash tale to have on your readers?

I often ask myself the latter and so think along the lines that I want this story to be a dark one, another a light one and so on. I then ask myself how can I achieve this and prepare an outline. As other ideas come to me I add them to the outline and then work out which would be best.

My outlines for flash are, appropriately, brief but they help me to focus on what I want the story to “do”.

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My next book event will be at the Hursley Park Book Fair on 23rd June. I will be posting more details about this via Chandler’s Ford Today nearer the time but I wanted to flag it up a little early as it is a FREE event, there is plenty of parking and a wide range of authors and genres will be represented. I’m waving the flag, so to speak, for flash fiction and will be speaking about it at the event too.

The Fair is on 23rd and 24th June and my only regret is I can’t be there on the 24th as well, but these things happen! Having said that, I hope there will be a good turnout on both days. Sure to be good fun!

SIDE VIEW MIBI DISPLAY

My book (and a friend’s!) on sale at a local gift shop.  Image by Allison Symes

Books from Bridge House, Chapeltown and Cafelit

Some of my published works, the majority are anthologies.  Image by Allison Symes

Don't think I'll ever tire of signing my books

Don’t think I’ll tire of signing my books!  Image by Adrian Symes

Let creativity spill out - image via Pixabay

Let your creativity spill over.  Image via Pixabay

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Some thoughts to ponder as you create your fictional world. What would happen when push came to shove for your characters?

What do your characters do when under extreme pressure? (What is the first of their virtues to suddenly bite the dust?).

What laws do your government(s) bring in to cope with emergencies? (What freedoms and rights suddenly bite the dust?).

What good qualities does your hero/heroine suddenly discover they’ve got in response to a quest or other task they know they’ve got to see through no matter what?

What would it take for your hero/heroine to either break or compromise with evil?

What would your fictional world do to defend itself (and what could threaten it)?

What is the driving force behind your characters’ motivations and actions?

Are the media still free to operate in an emergency situation or do new rules come in?

How do the “good guys” remain “good guys”? What do they do to fight the temptation to compromise with evil?

What triggers the “push”? Who or what is behind the threats to your fictional worlds ?

Are your characters better for having been put through so much pressure or have they caved in and what are the consequences?

There is definitely plenty of stories to be written here, just answering some of those! Okay, they may be on the dark end of the scale as opposed to the light but there may be a place for your characters to show humour in the face of adversity. (Equally whether it is appropriate humour or not would tell your readers quite a bit about them).

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In every good book or story, there is at least one standout character. Something about that character grips you so you have to keep reading until the end of the story.

So it pays, as a writer, to work out what exactly it is about that character which gives them their unique standout identity. How has the writer treated their character’s faults and virtues?

It pays writers then to read widely and across genres, including non-fiction. The more you read, the more you take in what other writers have done with their characters and that can inspire you with your own.

We all have favourite books and most of the time the reason they’re our favourites is because of the characters. (They don’t have to be the heroes either).

Characters have to be special to make a story work. For me, some of my favourite characters include:-

1. Frodo Baggins/Sam Gamgee
2. Severus Snape
3. Robin Hood
4. Jeeves and Wooster
5. Sam Vimes
6. The Patrician (Ankh-Morpork)
7. Hercule Poirot
8. Sherlock Holmes
9. Jane Marple
10. Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy

All of these have traits that make them unforgettable (even if some of these, as with Sherlock, would make them questionable even now).

So what qualities do you look for in stories you read that really identify the character as the standout one for you?

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IDEAS, ROOM 101, AND SPECIAL CHARACTERS

Another mixed bag plus a link to my page on US based site, Scriggler, where a new story of mine is now up.

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My CFT post this week is the final installment of my 101 Things to Put into Room 101 series. Good fun to write and therapeutic too! Amongst tonight’s items are debt, fake sincerity and all calories in a 99 icecream. (You can guess where I put that in my list numerically speaking!).

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When is the best time to write? When you can! I write mainly in the evenings but if I can sneak in some writing during the day, I do so. What matters more, I think, here is being consistent with your writing. You know you will always sit down at roughly the same time and you will always write X number of words or accomplish this task or that one.

I keep a list of writing tasks I want to achieve and find it helpful as, whenever I tick off one, there is a sense of achievement. Given rejections happen to everyone, that sense of achievement is very welcome.

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Little things reveal a great deal about people. Anyone who always says “please” and “thank you” was brought up to be polite (and not take anything for granted usually too!). Likewise, those who hold doors open for others (regardless of gender), you can reasonably assume at least try to be considerate in other ways.

So little things should give away clues as to what your characters are really like deep down. I think of this as the kind of trait that a character can’t completely hide/suppress.

For example, a character is shown to be a “loudmouth”. Fine but every so often during the story, we also spot the said character lighting a candle as a prayer for someone else. That tells me well hang on, this character has another side to them. A deep, spiritual side they are either not comfortable showing more openly (they’re wary of showing off their piety perhaps) or they somehow feel the need to cover that aspect of themselves up by being “loud”.

So think about what little things will give away what your character is really like. These little things can also back up the main portrayal (and help make it more convincing).

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One thing that can be overlooked in flash fiction is, as with any story, the character still has to be at a point of change in their lives and the tale shows the results of that. The difference, of course, is that in flash, you have much less room to complete that “task”.

But a good flash fiction story will show you a character changing (for good or ill), or resolving a problem. It really is a question of cutting to the chase with flash fiction. There has to be a resolution to the conflict your character is facing, whether that is an internal or external one. Everything that is most important to the character and the resolution has to be in the story and not a word more.

This is why I think it is a good idea for most writers to have a go at writing flash fiction, even if you don’t use it as your main fiction form. Why? The skills you learn in writing to a tight word count will spill over into other things you write. As I’ve mentioned before, you soon find out what your wasted words are, you discover you don’t need many adjectives and adverbs, you do learn to say in one word what you might have taken three words to do etc.

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Flash fiction is great for giving insights into a character which wouldn’t be enough in themselves for a standard length short story (usually 1500 to 2000 words).

With a novel you get to see the whole “tapestry” of the story with all the different threads coming together. With a novella you would see about half of that. With a short story you would see say part of the left or right hand side. With a flash fiction piece, you are picking one spot on the whole “tapestry” to study – and, despite the limited word count, can still produce an “intense” story. Flash fiction can have layers – it just can’t have too many of them!

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Ideas, I think, are all over the place waiting to be picked up and used by writers who can recognize them for what they are and, more importantly, which ones are the “goers” and worth running with.

I don’t write character biographies (though I understand the point of them) but I do jot down ideas based on themes and then work out “What if?” scenarios. I think it important to recognize that ideas need development time.

Yes, a brilliant idea can occur and you write away but in my experience at least it has been ideas coming together to form a powerful whole that has inspired my stories. The advantage of this is that the ideas are layered and means I am building in depth to my stories. (Yes, you could and should have depth to flash fiction. There should be nuances the reader ponders on later).

But it is theme, motivation, and character types that interest me the most. Again looking at the news you can pick up thoughts as to what motivated someone to do this or that and then apply that motivation to your characters. For example, we all understand jealousy and how that can arise. So why would your characters be jealous and what would they do as a result?

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Scriggler – My page

I have put a new story on this called Night Fright but am including the link to the whole of my page here.  Am hoping to add more to this later in the year.

Fairytales with Bite – Five Signs of a Great Character

I do like a list (!) and it has been a little while since my last one on here so time for another!  I would list the following as my five signs of a great character (fairytale or otherwise).

1Being Memorable.  Sounds easy but can be easier said than done.  The advantage is a character can be memorable for good or villainous reasons but there has to be something about them that sticks in your readers’ minds long after they’ve finished reading about them.  Can you say something about your character that would instantly bring them to mind without you having to refer to the story?  (This can be a useful test!)

2.  Having a Life.  Your characters have a life of their own, which may not necessarily be directly relevant to the story you’re telling about them but which feed into it.  For example, a character may be known for usually being a stay at home and then they suddenly go on a quest and they wonder how those who know them will react to this.  The quest is the story but the fact the character has friends and neighbours who will gossip about what they’re up to brings that character to life.  The obvious examples here are Frodo and Bilbo Baggins from Tolkein.

3.  They would be capable of further adventures.  The great characters have traits and skills that would be easily transferrable to other stories about them.  Your readers should be able to picture your characters going off on other adventures.

4.  The characters are willing to be challenged or overcome initial reluctance to face challenges.  I love stories with characters like these, partly because I think about what I (or my characters) would do if facing the same fictional challenges.  This feeds into 3 above, of course.  It is my experience characters like this always do more than their author originally thought them capable of and that is a very good sign.

5.  Their enemies fear them with good cause.  The irony here is that this can apply to the enemies fearing the hero, but also the hero fearing the enemy.  A worthy hero deserves a decent villain to test them.  You can also see why the fear is justified.

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Creating great characters. Image via Pexels.

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Outlining your characters, perhaps. Image via Pexel

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All good aids to writing, though the chocolate is not a great diet aid. Image via Pexels

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Always good advice this. Image via Pexels

This World and Others – What is Special about your Characters?

I think this question is the first thing you must ask yourself before writing your story. What is so special about your characters readers have to keep on reading to find out what happens to them?

The basic answer, of course, is that it has to be a mixture of character traits and personality to make a fully rounded “person” to be the star of your story.  So think about where your characters get their traits from and why they have the personality that they do.  What would happen to this personality if they were put under stress (especially the ongoing for some time kind of stress)?  Would your character still be special or crack under the strain and, if the latter, how can they come back from that?  There are stories to be had there!

Also, what is special to your character?  What do they consider to be the most important things about themselves and why?  Who are their heroes and villains, and why?  What possessions do they have that they value the most (and these don’t have to be priceless antiques.  it could be, say, a battered old teddy bear they’ve had since very young etc)?

Happy writing!

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Fairytales and “Planned” Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humans are immensely creative - image via Pixabay

Let those ideas flow! Image via Pixabay,

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

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

A wonderful palette of colours - image via Pixabay

A wonderful palette of colours. Image via Pixabay.

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

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

Themes pour out of good books - image via Pixabay

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

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

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Flash fiction for impact. Image via Pixabay

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the reading and writing of books then!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEWS, FAIRYTALE RELATIONSHIPS, AND STORY IDEAS

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My CFT post tonight is the penultimate one in my 101 Things to Put into Room 101 series. I have had no trouble whatsoever in coming up with 101 things! This probably says a lot about me but never mind…

As well as the horror of ripped jeans, I consign “easy to open packets” and the ability to lose scissors into the vault of doom. The latter of course is a real pain when wanting something to cut open the supposedly easy to open packets…

Part 6 - How many of the packets in a supermarket are that easy to open

How many easy to open packets are here, I wonder, and how many REALLY are easy to open? Image via Pixabay.

Part 6 - We'll be with you between 9 am and 6 pm with your parcel, argh

“We’ll be with you between 9 am and 6 pm”. Hmm… not exactly helpful is it? Image via Pixabay.

Part 6 - A ban on trumpet playing wasn't my first thought on bad manners but here things are different

A ban on trumpet playing? Image via Pixabay

Part 6 - End of the world predicted

I can predict there will be more end of the world predictions! Image via Pixabay

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What are the signs of a really good story for you? My top five would be:-

1. Not wanting the story to end.
2. Wondering how the characters would have carried on with their lives after the story ended.
3. Re-reading the story several times. (In flash especially a second or third reading will often reveal meanings and inferences you didn’t pick up the first time. You then really get to appreciate the depth of the story in such a tight word count).
4. Wishing you had written it!
5. The ending is so apt for the story, you can’t imagine it ending in any other way.

Comments welcome!

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Where do story ideas come from? Mine come from a wide range of sources including proverbs and other sayings, books or films that I’ve loved, to objects on my desk that have particular meaning for me.

I’ve learned, over time, to be “open” to ideas and not instantly dismiss them as being “too silly” or what have you. I will explore the idea to see if I can do anything with it and nine times out of ten I can.

I’ve only abandoned an idea once or twice in all my years of writing and I know now that was due to my not having outlined enough. By outlining (and spider diagrams can be useful here), you can work out whether an idea has “legs” or not or whether it needs something else to bring it to life.

 

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It’s funny how often in writing we remember the bad reviews but not the good ones etc. However, there is a flip side to this. I remember my first acceptance (hello, Bridge House Publishing, for my A Helping Hand in their Alternative Renditions anthology). That will always be a special writing moment.

I can’t recall my first rejection though. Nor do I wish to! I do wish I could recall my LAST rejection but that would mean stopping writing and I’m one of those people where the pen would have to be wrested away from me. And that is the way it should be!

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Does mood affect what you write? The jury is out on this one as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve written funny stories when feeling sad (it was therapeutic doing that). I’ve written dark stories when feeling cheerful. (Not entirely sure what to make of that one).

What matters most, I think, is you have to decide what is going to be the mood of your story and then write accordingly. Deciding on the mood will then lead you to think about why you’ve chosen that and what character or type of character would be best for your tale. Sometimes I think putting a story together is exactly like putting a jigsaw together. The pieces are interconnected but you need a starting point and using mood of story can be a useful way to “kick off”.

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What influences your writing? Books and stories you’ve admired by other authors? A cracking film that kept you on the edge of your seat for over two hours? A special symphony?

I expect that your influences come from all over the place. What is lovely is when a couple of them combine and you can create a new story from that combination. For example, your lead character loves gothic novels and classic railway engines. How could you use that in a story? (Could be fun finding out. Indeed, SHOULD be fun finding out!).

What is great here is that by reading/watching films/listening to music etc, you can ensure you never get stuck for an idea again. The “trick” is to read widely/watch films across many genres/listen to several types of music etc. Think of it as casting your net really widely!

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It is only when you are putting a collection together, you realise sometimes just (a) how much you have written and (b) that more work is going to be needed to get that volume right.

Where themes emerge, you will want to group them together (so you’ll need to get your contents page right for one thing and that will keep changing as you move things around).

The importance of VERY accurate proof reading will dawn on you in a way it may not have done before! (You want “your baby” to be perfect, yes?). Also, you will soon realise you cannot rush the proof reading stage to be sure of accuracy.

But enjoy the process. This is a very special part of the writing life – you are that bit nearer to publication.

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

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

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

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

Fairytales with Bite – Relationships in the Fairytale World

I write this post on the eve of the Royal Wedding in the UK between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.  So there will be a lot of talk about “fairytales” as in “fairytale weddings” tomorrow.  And yes, the happy ever after fairytale ending is a classic one.  But if you take a deeper look into fairytales as a whole, you will find that most relationships in a fairytale world are fraught ones!

1.  Cinderella.  Didn’t exactly have the happiest relationships with her stepmother and stepsisters.

2.  Snow White.  Having a stepmother actively trying to kill you puts Cinderella’s woes in the shade!

3.  Hansel and Gretel.  Could sympathise with Snow White.  Would feel, at best, disappointed their father ever agreed to the stepmother’s scheming at all, even if it was reluctantly.

4.  The Emperor in the Emperor’s New Clothes.  Couldn’t rely on his courtiers to be honest with him.  Quite sad really.  Makes me wonder if his vanity was an insecurity issue. How did he react, later, after his foolishness was soundly mocked?  He really needed someone to tell him he was being an idiot (and be honest enough to admit he needed that, as I think we all do).

So jealousy, hatred, and insecurity are huge themes here.  Hmm… fairytale relationships?  Perhaps not quite so happy ever after then!

This World and Others – Advice to My Much Younger Self

I wrote a Chandler’s Ford Today piece on this a while ago where I discussed what I’d tell my 20-year-old self.  I thoYouught I’d revisit the theme and list some things I would tell myself when I was starting out as a writer that I know now but didn’t then.

1.  Expect rejection but don’t be fazed by it.  Use it to improve what you do.

2.  Submit to honest competitions as often as you can.  It is all useful experience in submitting work for outside criticism and in meeting deadlines.  If you do well and win or are shortlisted, you can add that to your writing CV.  And always check out the background of the competition so you know you are submitting work to a reputable one.  It’s not you, there ARE charlatans out there.

3.  Be open to trying different forms of writing.  Had I done this when younger, I would’ve discovered the joys of flash fiction that much sooner!

4.  You can never have too much A4 printer paper or toner cartridges or pens.  Stock up.  Take advantage of special offers when possible.

5.  Submit work to honourable online sites as well as for print anthologies etc.  Your body of work will soon build up doing this and you cover both audiences – those who only read online, those who read “proper” books and most people go for both anyway.

6.  Don’t underestimate how long it will take you to be published.  It always does take far longer than you dream of!

7.  Before entering any contract, get it checked by the Society of Authors (UK) or other reputable equivalent body.  You can save yourself a lot of heartache and money doing this.

8.  Expect to be addicted to (a) notebooks, (b) nice pens, (c) going to good writing conferences, and (d) tea/coffee etc to keep you going as you write.  Save up accordingly!  Start now…

9.  Read as much as you can, contemporary and classic, fiction and non-fiction.  You may think you’re already doing this but writing has made me read much more than I ever did before, sometimes for review purposes, sometimes not.  You need to know what’s out there now.  It can help you find your own niche for one thing.  You can then play to your strengths here which will give you a greater chance of success when approaching publishers.

10.  Remember practically everybody struggles to find an agent, it isn’t just you.  Rejection is never personal either.  It can be easy to forget these things.  Keep going.  There is a lot of truth in the saying the professional writer is the amateur who didn’t give up.

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Being Creative

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I think most of us need to find some form of being creative – whether that’s using a pen to write or gardening tools to make the “perfect plot” (pun intentional, no apologies!).

I suppose it is because creativity gives us an outlet, especially if most of the time we are doing something far more humdrum. (I love that word humdrum, just sounds good, and conjures up the exact image of what it means).

Creativity is good for mental and physical health so why does it seem sometimes as if it is something that is “indulged in”? (I don’t have that problem, my family are very supportive of my writing, for which I am enormously grateful as I know not every writer can say that).

 

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Pleased with writing achievements on the train yesterday. A whole CFT post written for next week and a flash fiction story (though one at the higher word count end for me). Hope to have a good look and edit of the latter during the week and submit it somewhere.

Looking forward to taking part in the inaugural Hursley Park Book Fair in June. Over 40 authors are taking part and I will have more details nearer the time via a CFT post about it.

Reading, for me at the moment, is pretty much split 50/50 between paper and Kindle. That is a change for me as it used to be 80/20 paper to Kindle. (But you can’t beat the convenience of slipping your Kindle into a bag with loads of books to choose from over having to limit yourself to one or two paperbacks, depending on the size of one’s bag of course. Goodness knows how men manage here. Is that a paperback in your pocket or…. well you can fill in the rest!😁).

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I’ll be resuming my 101 Things to Put into Room 101 series for CFT this week. Up to No. 76 already! Drafted this on the train at the weekend. Had no problem thinking of things to shove (hard) into the vault of doom.

Am hoping to get a couple of flash fiction stories off for competition later this week. I am pleased (and frankly relieved) so many competitions now accept online submissions. I used to spend a small fortune in postage when I first started writing – and yes, the dinosaurs did still walk the earth then. I was one of them – easily spotted. I was part of that sad group forever in a Post Office queue! (I could almost guarantee I’d be out of stamps when I needed them for a competition. I guess the online equivalent would be finding out your server is down just as you’re trying to send your story in. Murphy’s Law does get everywhere).

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Glad to say I’ve had to order more copies of From Light to Dark and Back Again ready for book events coming up over the summer months. Will post more about those nearer to the time of each though I am glad that at one of them in particular, I should have the chance to catch up with friends, which is always a lovely bonus.

I did manage to write some flash fiction on my train journey today – one of my longer pieces. (I also wrote an entire CFT post too so a productive day!)

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I am definitely going to have to go on more train journeys as all of the ones I’ve taken so far this year have meant I’ve drafted LOADS of flash fiction stories, which I hope will end up in a third collection eventually. Just a pity my Swanwick trip in August is going to involve a replacement bus service due to major works happening at Derby Station over the summer. Will be interesting to see how I write while on a bus – assuming I can of course.

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The nature of flash fiction in that it gives only a glimpse into the world of its story makes it useful for when you want to imply your character is a time travelling alien or what have you but don’t need to set up a lot of details as to the world they’ve come from.

I’ve found the odd line showing the character’s reaction to the world they’ve left can be telling. It can be a case of what they don’t say that will imply to the reader the world they left was horrendous. Equally a comment, a throwaway line from the character will show their attitude and from that a lot can be deduced.

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Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Broadening the Mind

The old saying goes that travel broadens the mind and, of course, it can do. But so can reading widely across genres and non-fiction.

Also reading contemporary AND classic fiction is useful here as the former keeps you in touch with what is out there now, and the other keeps you in touch with where writing has come from.

Also I’d argue that writers such as Wodehouse, Austen, Dickens etc have all stood the test of time and will continue to do so. What is fun is to watch out for those contemporary (or near contemporary) authors who will go on to stand the test of time. (I’d have the late, great Terry Pratchett as a certainty here. Also J.K. Rowling for Harry Potter.).

Writing, especially when it involves any kind of research, also encourages mind broadening. (The great thing with this is most of us don’t want our waists to broaden, but you can broaden the mind as much as you like! No calories involved whatsoever…!).

So read and write away!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FAVOURITE TRAITS AND WHY FAIRYTALES WITH BITE?

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My CFT post is a review of the Fryern Funtasia held on Bank Holiday Monday. It is just one of those things I know but there is either heavy rain or baking heat when the FF is held! No happy medium. It’s either a big coat or the sun cream!

Having said that, the Funtasia WAS great fun and it was good to catch up with friends at Bettermaths and the Three Rivers Rail Community Partnership especially.

It was also good to see the Fair Oak dog display team, though none of the dogs were running around the agility course. They were trotting – quite rightly too – and there were several huge buckets of water for them around their arena. As for human refreshments, you should’ve seen the queues for the icecream and cold drinks!

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Have got my schedule of writing for my train journeys all lined up for tomorrow. I’d like to come back home again with at least three new flash stories and an article drafted. Will report back on how I did but I am pleased to be able to make more use of travelling time like this, especially as by the time I get back home again, I usually just want to crash out. Should do even better when I go to Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in August. The journey is longer!

I need to get back to entering more flash competitions so, depending on how well I actually do on the train tomorrow, I may well have some stories to submit. Hope so anyway.

Fairytales With Bite – Why Fairytales with Bite?

The reason I refer to what I write as fairytales with bite (and so giving this website its name) is (a) it is a very accurate description of what I do and (b) I was fed up with fairytales being dismissed as “twee” or “just for kids”.  I’ve written posts on this topic before but I thought I’d add here those elements I think make for a good fairytale.

1.  Magic.   There has to be magic somewhere but it is not the be all and end all in a fairytale either.  See below.  Also it is usually acknowledged there are limits to what magic can do.

2.  Characters have to make choices.  This is generally true of all fiction but in fairytales, the characters still have to decide something has to change.  Cinderella wanted to escape her horrible life but still needed to be willing to do what the fairy godmother told her.  (Couldn’t you just see the ugly sisters arguing with the godmother?  I could!).

3.  An appropriate ending.  Most of the time in fairytales this is the traditional happy one, but not always, as Hans Christen Andersen proved with The Little Mermaid amongst others.  Having said that, his ending to that story was apt for the way he’d written all that came before.

4.  There has to be some hope.  There has to be hope for the characters to achieve their happy ever after ending or, if they know this is not going to be the case, what can they salvage to make things as good as they can be?  If you have to settle for second best, you are still going to want that second best to be as good as possible.

There are other elements of course but these strike me as being amongst the most important ones.  Comments welcome!

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This World and Others – Favourite Traits in Characters

What are your favourite traits in characters (your own or those from other writers)?  I think mine would have to include:-

1.  The ability to prove the doubters wrong.  I love it when the underdog wins the day. Whenever I read of a character being “written off”, I am on the look out for that character turning out to be the hero (usually) or the villain (sometimes, and inevitably reacting against being written off!  I do have some sneaking sympathy here.  You can see why they would react that way at least.).

2.  The ability to stick with the right path, no matter what.  The ultimate example of this for me is both Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings.  (Sam was just as determined to do right as Frodo was, even though Sam was doing this for his friend, rather than for the “cause” directly).

3.  Being the best friend/sidekick the hero didn’t know they needed until undergoing the quest.  If awards were being given out for this, it would have to go to Sam Gamgee.  Never ever overlook the sidekick.  They’re in the story for a good reason and it is almost always a pivotal moment the hero needs.

4.  Honest characters.  I love those moments when, usually the sidekick, gives the hero/heroine a verbal bashing for missing something important or taking others for granted or for becoming arrogant etc.  The lead characters do need others who can rein them in – nobody gets it right in life all the time so why should they in fiction?  Just as we need others to tell us “hang on a moment there”, so do characters need other characters to tell them when they’re at risk of going off track.

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ONE LINERS

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How can you tell when you’ve written a good one-liner for a character?

When you can’t imagine anyone other than that character saying it, when the words reflect something of that character’s state of mind/beliefs, when you know deep down the character could keep on talking like this for ages (not that you’ll need all of this for your story).

I love writing dialogue for my “people”. My problem is I can make them go on and on because I’m loving the writing of the dialogue so much. So when it comes to editing, anything that doesn’t move the story on in some way gets chopped.

I’ve still enjoyed writing the dialogue but am realistic enough to know it isn’t really needed for the story so out it goes. This is one reason why I believe writing and editing should be treated as separate tasks. When in creative mood, so to speak, are you going to be able to see the wood for the trees when it comes to working out what is really needed and what isn’t? In my case, the answer to that is “no” so I come back to my stories, after a suitable gap, so I look at them afresh and not in the “hot glow” of creativity.

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My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week will be a review of the Fryern Funtasia held on Bank Holiday Monday. All the fun of the show and it was great to catch up with some old friends too. Link to go up tomorrow.

Am off on another train journey this weekend so am planning to get on with more flash fiction stories. I am averaging 3 to 4 a trip now, depending on whether I draft some thoughts for future CFT posts as well. (I often do both). Better half reminds me every so often I was the one who couldn’t see a need for a smartphone!! Oh well… (glad to be wrong on that one incidentally).

And now I’ve figured out how to use the headphones (!), I can tune into the radio too. Before you ask, I discovered I wasn’t plugging the things in properly. She SHALL have music (classical) wherever she goes (unless it is through a tunnel!).

 

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Looking forward to taking part in writing events in the next few months. More details nearer the time of each one.

Am glad to say a copy of From Light to Dark and Back Again will be a prize in the raffle which will be part of fellow Swanwicker Elizabeth Hopkinson’s e-book launch for her Tiny Tales Virtual Launch on 13th July. More details to come nearer the time. And good luck, Elizabeth, with the launch. I loved my cyber launch, it was great fun!

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Am glad to see that the Quick Reads scheme is being saved by JoJo Moyes for the next couple of years. Reading schemes are never a waste of money (how is literacy ever a bad thing?), so whoever thought scrapping this was a good idea needs their head examining.

It is one fond hope of mine that flash fiction as a whole might encourage those who might be reluctant to read bigger works. We’re not asking readers to commit to too much in one go for a start and, from my experience, once you’ve found a book you like, you look for others you’ll like too. I started off reading short stories, I progressed to longer stories and then novels of course. It is getting that initial spark, the wish to read at all, that is so important.

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A good reading pile! Pexels image.

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Doesn’t look comfortable to me. Pexels image.

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May require help turning the pages. Pexels image.

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Great topic but then I am a dog owner! Pexels image.

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ALL THE FUN OF THE FAIR – AND NIGHTMARES!

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Went to our local Funtasia at one of our parks today. Very hot. You should’ve seen the queues for the icecream vans and the cold drink sellers! Good to catch up with friends at Bettermaths and Three Rivers Rail Community Partnership in particular. I’ll write more about this for CFT later this week (though I will put in now a quick nod to the lady selling old paperbacks for charity. Hope she did well. Mine wasn’t in there!).

What kind of fair/show would your fictional world have? Are they based on a religious festival or something decreed by the powers that be that should be celebrated? What would happen to those not taking part? Now I suspect there are quite a few stories to be had from answering those questions alone. Good luck!

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What would be your main character’s worst nightmare and what would happen if they had to face it? Now there’s a writing prompt for you (and I would guess it is the basis for most horror writing in particular).

Equally, success can corrupt so what would happen if your character’s ambitions came true and then they found what they had longed for wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be? Disappointment happens so how would they handle that? (Good question to ask yourself at times I think!).

Thinking about this kind of question will help make your characters seem more real to you, which is crucial. If you don’t believe in them, nobody else will!

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The perfect flash story is one which grips your readers, where nothing more could be said in that tale, but also where you have created such a character, it is easy to envisage further stories involving them.

I love it when characters come to life as you know your story has “legs” then. (A recent play performed by local group The Chameleons had the writer bringing their characters to life literally! Were the characters impressed by what their “boss” came out with? Not a bit of it!).

Another sign of a good story is when you re-read it after a suitable gap and you still enjoy it. Remember your first reader is you. If you can’t convince yourself with your story, you won’t convince anyone else, so if you enjoy the re-read, it is likely a reader would love the story too.

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One of the reasons for the need for escapism in any form of fiction is that real life can, of course, be pretty horrid at times. I can understand misery memoir can be therapeutic but I’m afraid it’s not for me. I have to have a story that entertains me (whether is by making me laugh, cry, or by making my blood run cold).

The great thing with flash, naturally, is you can do all of those things in a very short word count. Sometimes you have the “perfect” short story that would be ruined if you tried to pad it out to a more standard length for competitions etc. So never pad! It does show.

 

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Blog – What is the Best Thing about Stories?

What would you say was the best thing about stories? The happy ever after/for now ending? The twist? The engaging characters?

Any decent story, to my mind, has to have at least some of those elements but, for me, the best stories reveal something about human nature that, for whatever reason, has not occurred to me before.

A good story will show you something about yourself and challenge you to think about whether you would have done what Character X did or not. A good story also shows consequences from action and, sometimes, inaction. You should be asking yourself what would I have done had I been the character in this story?

Do you find yourself a bit less quick to condemn when doing this? Putting yourself in the shoes of characters, whether you write them or not, can be enlightening.

I also love it when justice is seen to be done where the story calls for it given we all know that so often doesn’t happen in life. This is one reason for the continuing huge popularity of fairytales.

And you can’t beat pure escapism as one of the great joys of story reading and writing. So whatever the best thing for stories is for you, enjoy it all!

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HOW TO HELP THE WRITER IN YOUR LIFE – AND A NEW FLASH STORY

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Glad to say my latest flash fiction piece, Getting Lost, is now up on Cafelit. Hope you enjoy.  If you’ve ever had a sat nav give you “strange” directions, this is a story for you!

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If you want to help the writer in your life, please do review their books on Amazon, Goodreads etc. The lovely thing with this is that the review doesn’t have to be a long one – the crucial thing is it has to be honest! The numbers of reviews build up over time and really do help an author’s profile.

One great thing a writer can do is review other books and across a wide range of writing tastes. I must admit I tend to have a “glut” of reviewing and then write none for a while. Not deliberate on my part. I just need to be a bit better organised on that front! The reason why this is so useful is by bringing a book into the publishing world you are joining the industry and it makes so much sense to support that industry by buying other books and reviewing them!

Present buying for writers? Well, you can never go wrong with nice notebooks and pens or book tokens/gift cards. Getting that one in a tad early for Christmas I know, but hey writers have birthdays too!

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There will be a new flash fiction piece from me up on Cafelit tomorrow (sometime during the early evening onwards) called Getting Lost. Must try and enter more flash fiction competitions this year too.

I tend to draft promising first lines and then draft stories to fit them (often when on train journeys). It definitely beats doing the crossword by a very long margin! Often that promising first line sparks ideas for the title of the piece too.

How do I decide whether a story will be a drabble at 100 words or a longer one? Basically when I know I cannot edit the piece any more without it losing something that contributes to the characters or the overall story. I then leave the piece be and whatever the word count is remains the word count! Often this will be at 100 words or under but sometimes a piece really does work better as a 250-300 worder. This is where reading a piece out loud can show you how well the whole thing “flows” and if it “flows” well, that is when it is time to drop the editing pen.

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One of the great joys of reading flash fiction is picking up on the clues the writer gives you. I normally have to read a story twice to pick up everything (I was like this when watching things like Columbo too – this DOES say something about me!).

You can learn a lot about story construction when reading a piece through more than once. This, of course, is one great joy about writing flash fiction. You pick up things like story construction to help inspire and improve your own work and are looking for things a reader simply wouldn’t.

One difficulty with flash can be working out where to end it. It must not seem like a big bit of prose cut abruptly short. This is where I love the twist ending as it overcomes that. The twist clearly is the ending with no room for anything else afterwards. Problem solved!