Introducing Crime Writer, Val Penny

Introducing Val Penny…

One of the lovely things about writing is getting to meet other writers at conferences and so on. You can share tales of woe, exciting publication news etc and know the other person will appreciate where you are coming from. Sometimes you can find out about markets and competitions you hadn’t heard of, but above all you have friends – and social media makes it so much easier to keep in touch.

I was delighted to meet crime writer, Val Penny, at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School a couple of years back. I’m looking forward to catching up with her again there this year. I am very pleased to have Val join me on my blog tonight and she shares an excerpt from her forthcoming book Hunter’s Revenge, the second in the Hunter Wilson/Edinburgh Mysteries series. (Good news for those of you who like crime writing, as I do, is there will be more to come).

Over to you, Val… (and I want to know the moment you DO achieve your childhood dream of owning a candy store. I shall be right over….!).

The Author Bio for Hunter’s Revenge

Val Penny is an American author living in SW Scotland. She has two adult daughters of whom she is justly proud and lives with her husband and two cats. She has a Law degree from Edinburgh University and her MSc from Napier University. She has had many jobs including hairdresser, waitress, lawyer, banker, azalea farmer and lecturer. However she has not yet achieved either of her childhood dreams of being a ballerina or owning a candy store. Until those dreams come true, she has turned her hand to writing poetry, short stories and novels. Her crime novels, Hunter’s Chase and Hunter’s Revenge are set in Edinburgh, Scotland, published by Crooked Cat Books.

author pic 2

And Val has very kindly shared the extract from her forthcoming book.  Enjoy!  I know I did!

 

Hunter’s Revenge
Prologue
East Germany, January 1968
The last thing Georg did on his eighteenth birthday was kill a man.
He really hadn’t meant to kill the Stasi officer in front of him, but it was him or Georg – and Georg did not want to die. It was the first time he’d seen a corpse. The streets were slick with ice. The man lost his balance and cracked his head on the pavement. Georg stared down at the body: there was blood and brains all over the pavement. He looked into the officer’s eyes. They stared blindly to heaven, but Georg knew there wasn’t a Stasi officer on earth who was going there. He looked away from death and towards his friends in horror, but when they saw what had happened, they scattered. Georg picked up the officer’s gun and began to run.
More Stasi officers appeared as the boys fled.
Georg was out of breath when he got home.
“What’s the rush, son?” his father asked.
“Shit, Dad! It’s bad.”
“You’re drunk! No language in this house, boy,” said his grandmother.
“Dad, the boys and me were leaving the bar to come home and we saw a Stasi officer”
“So?”
“We were laughing and having fun.”
“And?”
“For a laugh I knocked his hat off.”
“Idiot! You know Stasi have no sense of humour. Ever. So what next?”
“He pulled his gun and told us to stand silently against the wall.”
“And you apologised and complied, I hope.”
“I panicked and punched him. He slipped on the ice and fell over. He hit his head on the ground, and when I checked him, he wasn’t breathing. He was dead. I just took his gun and ran.”
The silence in the room was deafening.
“You did what? You fucking idiot! Did you really punch a Stasi officer? Are you mad? You know we don’t even have to openly engage in resistance to draw the attention of the Stasi and incur its retribution. Just failing to conform with mainstream society can be enough. Shit! I sired a fool.” Georg’s father’s red face reflected his rage.
“And now you are here,” his grandmother added. “You ran home, leading them straight to us. We will all die now. Thank you.”
“What is all the noise?” Georg’s mother came through from the kitchen, drying her hands on her apron. His twin sister Ingrid and younger brother Wilhelm followed her. They looked bewildered. Their father rarely raised his voice, especially not to Georg.
As his father explained the issues, Georg’s mother burst into tears.
“They will kill him,” she whispered.
“They’ll kill him?” his father shrieked “Fuck, the rest of us will be lucky if all they do is kill us too! Have you any idea the danger you have put this whole family in, you young imbecile?”
“God, that’s true!” his mother sobbed. “Georg has to leave. He must escape right away. Maybe, when they come and find him gone, they will believe we had no part of it.”
“You and I both know that is not going to happen,” his father said. “They know everybody in the town, and even if they don’t already know it was Georg, one of their informers will turn him in for reward or to save their own skin. They will soon find out where he lives.”
His wife nodded.
“Mum, where do I go?” Georg pleaded. “Dad, what will you do? I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just fooling around.”
“Then you are more of a fool than I ever thought,” his father said. “It’s a bit fucking late to worry about us. We will cope, but we must deny you and any knowledge of this atrocity. I love you always, but you must leave, son. Now. There is no choice, and you must be quick because they will be here all too soon. Make a start on your escape tonight. It’s your only hope, and ours.”
“Quick, Wilhelm, fetch him my savings and your grandfather Georg’s book,” said his grandmother. “Georg will need the money, and he can always sell the book.”
“I’ll pack a meal,” his mother said. She gathered up the family Bible, along with some bread, ham, cheese and apples.
“Don’t give him too much, it will slow him down,” said Ingrid.
“Pack everything in a rucksack. You can put it on your back, Georg, and still run,” said Wilhelm as he handed their grandmother’s meagre treasures to George.
“I am so sorry, Father. Where do I go? Where am I running to? What will happen to you?” Georg’s voice raised to a scream.
His mother held him and kissed his head, but his father grabbed his arm, pulled him from her and shook him.
“You got yourself into this; we will get you out of it. No point in worrying about us. Get out of this country. Don’t look back. Just run. Go west, go to Britain. Stay alive. Get out of this house, get out of my sight and never come back. Do you hear me, Georg?”

Hunter's Revenge Banner

Wow!  Plenty to get your teeth into there!  Well done, Val.
Hunter’s Revenge Blurb
Hunter by name – Hunter by nature: DI Hunter Wilson will not rest until his friend’s death is revenged.

DI Hunter Wilson is called to the scene of a murder. He is shocked to find the victim is his friend and colleague, George Reinbold. Who would want to harm the quiet, old man? Why was a book worth £23,000 delivered to him that morning? Why is the security in George’s home so intense?

Hunter must investigate his friend’s past as well as the present to identify the killer and identify George’s killer. Hunter also finds a new supply of cocaine from Peru flooding HMP Edinburgh and the city. The courier leads Hunter to the criminal gang but Hunter requires the help of his nemesis, the former Chief Constable, Sir Peter Myerscough and local gangster Ian Thomson to make his case. Hunter’s perseverance and patience are put to the test time after time in this taught crime thriller.

Hunter's Revenge Cover
Many thanks, Val, for sharing such an intriguing extract! I look forward to reading more!

I think one of the appeals of crime fiction is following the development of characters like Hunter Wilson over a series of books. Crime fiction reveals a lot about the human condition and I think there will always be a fascination with what makes criminals tick, what got them into crime in the first place, could anything have been done to prevent it, and so on.

It’s not a new fascination either. I’ve recently been watching a series of programmes on BBC Four about Highwaymen, Outlaws and Robbers and the old printed sheets detailing someone’s crimes (usually just before they went to the gallows) sold like the proverbial hot cakes in London. We’re talking 17th and 18th centuries here. And going further back, there is fascination now about what happened to the Princes in the Tower, but that fascination started at pretty much the moment it was known the boys were missing.

So crime writers are very much tapping into something fundamental here – the need to know why someone would act in a way at odds with what is seen to be right.

Happy writing, Val.  Very much looking forward to this.

CHARACTER RESEMBLING - Just what is your story then

Find out more about Hunter Wilson’s story in September! Image via Pixabay

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Finding Ideas

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The challenge of finding new ideas for stories, is, of course, ongoing but the great thing is there are so many avenues to explore.

Proverbs and sayings can give themes for stories. Someone coming out with a strange way of expressing something can be an inspiration. (I was on the receiving end of one of these this week. Am certain I can get a flash fiction story out of it – will keep you posted!).

How about taking advertising slogans and changing a word or two to get your own theme? Instead of the old egg advert which said “Go to Work on an Egg”, how about “Go to Work on a Unicorn”. Now there’s a fantasy story or several behind that. Have fun (I intend to with that one as well).

Items of clothing (for example an odd shaped hat) can lead you wondering about the kind of character who would wear such a thing and what they might get up to while wearing it!

Keep your eyes and ears open. I’ve found, over time, when I hear or see something that could be useful for a story, I tend to hone in on it. It’s almost as if you develop a kind of antenna for this so be open to it. If the ideas don’t work out, well you’ve lost nothing but time trying them. (And I would be surprised if you didn’t get something out of them, if only the core for a stronger story you write up later).

I love stories that mirror others as long as it is done well. The play I saw on Wednesday was a great example of that. More details in my CFT post on Friday. The play was influenced heavily by one of Shakespeare’s finest which confirms something I’ve believed for a long time.

Reading widely is so important for anyone wanting to write. Indeed, it is more than that. It is NECESSARY.

Not only can you see how writers set things out, you DO learn by reading what others have done. You take in things like ratio of dialogue to narrative, where passive tense IS used appropriately, and how the writer you’re reading uses drama and cliffhangers in chapters to make you keep on reading so you have to find out how the story ends. That’s just a few things you take in when reading.

Also, by reading widely you are supporting the industry you want to join so it makes sense on so many levels. Ideas for your own stories come from all over the place and the theme of a novel you love may well be one you’d like to also write about, albeit in a totally different way.

Reading non-fiction can open your mind to ideas that you would want to bring into your fictional world. For example you read about how the phone came into being. Okay, how would that happen on the world you’re creating? What is their equivalent of the phone? Reading history (fictional and otherwise) can not only give you a sense of the past so much so you will want to set your own stories there, but there’s absolutely nothing to stop you writing about a minor character in the court of a monarch. Equally you could take your knowledge of how the court of Elizabeth 1 operated and set up a similar style of government in the world you’re creating.

Happy reading and writing!

 

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Flash fiction, because it has to be character led, can deal with “issues” but, obviously, briefly. That can often work better than a longer story where the writer can feed more into the tale. Short and to the point is what flash fiction does and, with stories that pack a punch like this, I believe brevity is best. No danger of repeating yourself either!

Flash fiction can take you anywhere
You like in terms of worlds, time or space.
Readers find out how your people fare
In whatever word count fits the case.
As long as it is under one K,
You and your story will be okay!

Allison Symes – 29th July 2018

COMING UP NEXT TIME…

Guest Post from crime writer, Val Penny

I’m looking forward to sharing with you on Tuesday, 31st July a guest post from friend and crime writer, Val Penny.  She is behind the Hunter Wilson/Edinburgh Mysteries series and shares with us an extract from her forthcoming novel, Hunter’s Revenge.  It is very good but don’t just take my word for it.  See what you think from the extract on Tuesday!

 

 

 

 

 

Judgement Day

Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest post is called Judgement Day and talks about reviews and critiques.  It is NOT a comment on the blood moon tonight (Friday 27th July 2018)!

Feature Image - Judgement Day.docx

Alwyas a good iea! Pixabay imag.

What good judging should be and that includes for reviews etc

What every review should be. Pixabay image,

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Am looking forward to writing my review of A Bunch of Amateurs, which the local Chameleon Theatre Group performed tonight. Ironically, this week’s CFT post from me talks about reviewing and critiques so will feed beautifully into my play review!

Confession time: these things are NOT always planned! (They mostly are of course but not in this case).

Also delighted the Chameleons have quoted excerpts from some of my reviews (and also those of Ben Williams also of CFT) in their programme. All helps build up the profile.

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Have you ever been to any kind of reunion? Did it work well or were you only too glad to get out of there?! I’m pleased to say the reunions I’ve been too have been jolly affairs but the thought occurred to me that you could use reunions to test your characters’ mettle. What WOULD happen when your characters go to this kind of event?

Their reactions will tell the readers so much more about them (especially if you show, for example, agitation by getting your character to walk around and around his lawn in the middle of the night, something he wouldn’t do normally).

Can reunions have unexpected consequences? Someone hears something they weren’t supposed to and reacts badly to it? Equally the dynamics between relationships resurrected (no matter how briefly) can lead to both comic and tragic writing. What would you plump for?

Had to smile. Facebook, bless them, have just invited me to add myself to the “Allison Symes team”!! Ahem… there is a team of 1 here – me! Not sure how I can join myself (and I’m not after suggestions!). 😁

My CFT post this week is called Judgement Day – no links to the blood moon were intended, honestly! I talk about judgement for writers in terms of reviews and critiques. I also share some hints and tips about what to expect from a critique you send off for, as well as advice on writing reviews.

This will tie in nicely with my post for next week when I’ll be reviewing a local theatre production!

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Regardless of your writing format, it is the killer line that stands out. I’ve been watching a play, What a Bunch of Amateurs, tonight at our local theatre group’s hall (more to come on this on CFT in due course) and there were many laugh out loud lines. Enjoyed by all of course.

How can you make your lines stand out?

They have to be something the audience wasn’t expecting. The funny moments often come, in films at least, when the audience is caught off balance.

The lead character has got to have strong appeal to the readers OR have a good reason for acting the way they are. Their dialogue should show something of who they are. A good character grips the reader and won’t let go!

Flash may be this odd fiction’s name
But rushing it is not the game.
You still need to edit and craft
No-one publishes that first draft.
The one comfort I know is true
Is Shakespeare had to rewrite too!

Allison Symes – 26th July 2018

 

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The great thing with using well known sayings for your flash fiction titles is you can “twist these”. For example we all know what is meant by the phrase “pressing the flesh” but I take quite a different approach to it with my story of the same name without losing its appropriateness.

I also love “open” titles such as My Life, The Outcome, and Expecting. There are so many different directions those titles could take the reader – they’re unlikely to guess them all!

I have to have a title to begin writing a story, even if I end up changing it. I don’t change titles that often but sometimes as I write, something better comes to mind. Something that has a stronger twist or can keep the reader guessing in a better way – if that comes up as I write, I switch to it. I want the title to have a strong impact on the reader, as well as the rest of the story.

After all, the title works “harder” in a flash fiction story as due to the limited word count, you can convey a lot of information through that so I’ve found I want to make the most of it.

Goodreads Author Blog – How Influential are Book Titles for You?

When writing my own stories, I must have a title to help me get started, even if I change it later on. I am very fond of “open” titles where I could go in several directions with it. It helps to keep the reader guessing!

With books, I want a title to intrigue me enough to make me want to go on to read the blurb and maybe then the first paragraph or two. I then want to read the book to see if it lives up to the promise given by that title and the blurb.

But I never buy a book on the strength of its title alone. I see the role of a title is to “get me through the door” so I look at the book in more detail in the first place.

Some of my favourite titles include The Lord of the Rings (don’t you just want to know who the Lord is?), The ABC Murders (how can the alphabet be relevant to a crime), and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (got to find out where they all come into a story, yes?).

What are your favourite book titles and why?

Fairytales with Bite – Finding Titles

I’ve got a theme rolling on titles this week, thanks to my latest Goodreads blog, which asks How Influential are Book Titles for You?

My CFT post has one of those titles which tie in with an event!  There is a blood moon tonight and my post is called Judgement Day!  I hadn’t planned that, honestly, but I like the idea of the link!  The actual post is about judging for writers, especially in terms of reviews and critiques.  I also share some hints and tips.

How do you find titles for your stories?  I use a mixture of proverbs, well known sayings, as well as phrases used frequently.  I like open titles where I could go in a number of directions – there are several examples of this in my From Light to Dark and Back Again.  For example:  The Outcome and Expecting.  Expecting what?  The outcome of what?  The whole idea, of course, is that the reader will want to find out so they read the stories.

The rest of the story has got to follow through on the promise an intriguing title gives its reader.  So it’s no good thinking up the best title in the world only for the story itself to let it down.  People remember that!

Also, never be afraid to change the title if you feel it is not quite strong enough or just doesn’t feel right for the story.  I don’t often change mine but when I do, it is always because a better, stronger title has popped into my head.  Sometimes you need to start writing the story to find out what the real title is.

Happy writing!

This World and Others – Titles

It is appropriate that I have a simple title for this post!

My latest Goodreads blog asks How Influential are Book Titles for You? and the idea for this post sprang from that.

Firstly, do books as we know them exist on your fictional world?  If yes, but not as we would recognise them, what form do they take?  Can everyone read or is that the right of a privileged few?  Is reading encouraged or considered dangerous?

Secondly, does your fictional society confer titles on those that have served it well?  Is the system a monarchy or republic and how would that affect titles given?  Again, are titles only given to those from the “right background” (and what would that background be?).

Thirdly, how is land title passed on?  Can anyone own property (and what form does it take)?  How does selling land/property or bequeathing it work in your world?  Do you have a system where the government automatically takes a certain percentage of the value of the property as its “inheritance tax”?

Last but not least, I love titles which are open and give me plenty of possibilities to work with.  This is a good example of that!

Author News

Just to say I now have an author page on Book Bub.  Many thanks to Wendy H Jones for putting me on to this.  You need to sign in to be able to see the page but the site is free and they send you details of books on special offer etc.

Frustrating Things about Writing

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What do you find is the most frustrating thing about writing?

Rejections?

That lovely moment when you think you’ve got a corker of an idea but you go to write it down and it suddenly evaporates?

Being interrupted when you’ve got going nicely and you know you will have to come back later and find you can’t quite get into your rhythm again?

All of them, I hear you cry! I know. It is difficult to choose from this particular shortlist.

Rejections – I take some comfort from the fact EVERY writer has them, it really isn’t just you or me for that matter. But hopefully you can learn and improve on what you do with each one. Also just because a piece is rejected somewhere, it doesn’t mean it can’t be accepted elsewhere. So keep trying, keep going!

Ideas Disappearing – it happens. Write down what you can. Then think laterally. I sometimes use a spider diagram. Sometimes I get the idea I had initially back, other times I think of something better. Win, win there either way!

Interruptions – On the plus side, whoever you are prepared to drop your writing for must be pretty important to you so treasure them! I carve out blocks of time for my writing and, unless there is a dire emergency, I stick to those. I’ve found it helps to be consistent with this. It also helps to show loved ones what I’ve produced in this time, publication credits when I get them etc so they can see the point of what I’m doing that way. It helps lessen the risk of any “non urgent” interruptions!

One of the highlights of my writing year is rapidly approaching – the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. Brochure arrived yesterday.

I think I know what courses I’m going to be doing – I went through the programme when it was put up on the website (I know, I know, girly swot!). Having said that, the brochure gives me the perfect chance to change my mind again and then again and then… well you get the picture!

Looking forward to catching up with old friends and making new ones! Pictures below taken by me – The Hayes is a stunning place to be.

How can you tell when a story idea really is something you should run with?

When the idea haunts you, basically.

When you start writing the idea down and more ideas flood in as you do so.

I’ve only had a couple of ideas where, on outlining, I found I couldn’t expand them further to create a story. All that promise and nothing… bah humbug!

So does it pay to outline? Definitely. Can save a lot of time.

As for outlining flash fiction, I keep this brief, aptly. Character is X, major trait is Y, how is latter going to help or hinder X?

I often find that a flash story can go in a couple of different directions and then it is down to what mood I want to go for. A humorous story is when X’s major trait hinders, causes trouble etc – there is a lot of comic potential there.

A more sombre story shows the major trait hindering X but they are not necessarily aware of it. What X sees as persistence, all those around them see as stubborness and X being an awkward so and so.

But a good idea gives you that potential to go in different directions.

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Looking forward to seeing the latest production by local theatre group, The Chameleons, tomorrow night. Will be writing more about it for CFT later but my lovely editor, Janet Williams, is also going so I think I can classify this as the nearest thing CFT has to a “works’ outing”!

My CFT post this week will be looking at what to look for in a good review/critique. I also share some tips – link to go up on Friday.

The local wildflower meadow I wrote about for last week’s CFT post is still going strong I’m glad to say. This is totally unlike the grass in the park, our lawn, and most of our plants. I’ve also noticed the trees have started to shed leaves. Really wouldn’t mind some rain now… and talking of the weather, it has been mad here today. It was hotter at 8 am than it was at lunchtime and hotter still at about 5/6 pm!

This is not in my genre at all but I guess there is room for climate change fiction!! (And practically all of it will be based on facts…).

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I don’t set out to write fiction with a “purpose” other than hopefully to be entertaining. I’m all for books that can educate, open readers’ eyes to new worlds etc etc. but there is absolutely nothing wrong in wanting to write stories which make people smile/laugh/scream as appropriate and be for sheer entertainment only.

I’ve never understood why some can look down on genre fiction due to its easy accessibility to readers. You want people to read, yes? Fine, let them get on with that. Maybe people will move on to “more worthy” books later when they are ready but if not, they will still be reading, which is always a good thing.

(And writing to entertain can be easier said than done anyway! Now back to the writing… oh and the first one you have to entertain IS you. If you don’t like it, why should anyone else?}

When is the right time to start a new flash fiction book? Directly after you’ve finished the last one and sent it off to the publisher!

Am making good progress on my third collection. Am planning to make even more progress on it while I’m at Swanwick. I also plan to revisit my unpublished novel (as I would like to change the status on that one!!).

So plenty to do and no chance of getting bored – good, bring in on, say I!

Should you be able to guess the ending of a story, regardless of length?

I must admit one of the joys of reading for me is to try to work out where the story will head. It is great when I’m right. It is even better when I’m not! I like a really good story twist that takes me by surprise yet when I go back through the tale find that the clues to it were there all along.

When I write my twist endings, I nearly always reject the first idea that comes to me. Why? Because inevitably the first idea that occurs is the same one that will occur to most other people too! There is no fun to be had in guessing the ending there!

I do write that first idea down though, despite knowing I inevitably won’t use it. Why? I’ve found the very act of writing it down helps generate other, better, stronger ideas. I find it easier to come up with something when paper and ink are involved somewhere in the process rather than just think it all up. I suppose in a way in drafting ideas like that I am kind of giving myself permission to “play about” with the thoughts that have occurred to me. Whatever the deep down reason, all I know is that it works!

In flash fiction you don’t have room for many characters but you can “infer” some to compensate for that. I do this by revealing what my lead character thinks of X even if X never makes it into the story itself. This also reveals my lead character’s attitude to X and can show how likely it is my lead gets on with others (or not. I can think of quite a few of my “people” I wouldn’t get on with but the great thing is I don’t have to like them to write about them!!).

Another way of showing another character yet without them taking up precious word count room is to have the story written as a letter, diary etc. I use the letter format in my You Never Know where my lead character’s attitude to who they’re writing to is all too apparent! It is also clear they are irked by the attitude of the unseen character.

I love being able to imply things with stories like this. I’ve never been that keen on stories where the author spells everything out. I like putting two and two together for myself and if the writer can send me up a false trail, well done them!

 

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Book Covers

I think everyone does judge a book by its cover. How else can you do so? You need something to draw you in initially and that is the cover’s job.

I like a cover to be appropriate for whatever it is I’m reading and, ironically for a writer, I want the picture to do most of the work.

I’ve sometimes given opinions on book covers before the books concerned are published and the ones with lots of text merely look cluttered. Far from giving me more to read on the cover, too much text here switches me off.

Where I do want the text is on the back for the blurb. Have you ever read a book, enticed by the blurb and cover, but the story fails to deliver on its promise? I think most of us have and you just feel let down. (All writers beware here!)

The great thing here though is that despite the cover and blurb being really important, it is STILL the story that matters most of all. And what we are all after is a story that entertains, educates, keeps us gripped to the final page and so on.

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Finding Story Ideas, Getting Out and About, and Myths and Legends

Another nice mixed bag!

Facebook – and Chandler’s Ford Today

It is nice with my CFT posts to take a little time out now and again to write a more reflective article. I do so this week with my Out and About – Summer 2018 article. And getting out and about with the dog gives me not only the fresh air and exercise but a chat to talk with other dog owners.

From a writing viewpoint, the break is good for the little grey cells and that, I think, is the main benefit. The nice thing is the break you take doesn’t have to be expensive and can be right on your doorstep. But refreshing yourself in this kind of way is of value to your physical and mental health and that has to feed into your writing in a positive way.

You can also think about things like: how would your characters take a much needed break? Where would they go? What would they do? How does it help them face up to their “quest”? All good details, which even if you don’t put them directly in your story, will help you know more about your people and, as a result, write about them much more effectively.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Flash fiction stories can be great for those moments in a character’s life which are defining but which in themselves are not enough to make a full length 2000-word story.

You can also use punchlines for an effective ending. My The Mint with a Hole and Little Packages are examples of this (and the first one uses a well known advertising slogan from many moons ago as its title as well).

But as with any kind of story, you have to hook your readers and reel them in! Happy writing!

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Fairytales with Bite – Finding Story Ideas

I know I’ve talked about this topic before but it is one of those timeless ones and always useful.  I was looking through my From Light to Dark and Back Again and I would list the inspiration/themes for the stories in here as coming from:-

1. Fantasia by Walt Disney
2. My loathing of hunting increasingly rare animals for “sport”.  There’s a strong poetic justice theme here!
3. The Tooth Fairy not being as nice as perhaps traditionally thought.  (An idea to take and run with, possibly run away from if you are likely to require her services!).
4. Revenge.
5. The Sword in the Stone/King Arthur
6. Transformation/the idea someone could be a magical being and we’d never know.
7. Santa Claus and the idea that government inspectorates get everywhere!

And that’s just the first few stories in the book!

So you can use your favourite films/music etc as ideas to get you started.  With regard to bringing in your personal dislikes, don’t rant!  My story here, A Kind of Hell, shows my not so nice character getting their comeuppance but there’s no anti-hunting rare animals rant here.  It is all implied.  Less is definitely more.

As for my fairytale inspirations, it has long been established that fairy folk are not always that nice, a theme so many writers have used, but it is a rich seam for stories and highly unlikely to run dry any time soon!  Happy writing!

This World and Others – Myths and Legends

One aspect of world building to consider is to work out what your world would have for its cherished myths and legends. Who are its heroes/heroines? How did they earn this honour? Does everyone respect them or is their reputation controversial? Are the stories written down or is your world based on an oral tradition of story telling (and how accurate is that)?

Are the heroes/heroines from centuries before your story starts or are they in your current tale and you hint at their back story? How are myths and legends reported by your world’s media/historical societies/officialdom (which can also include religious officialdom)?

How does your hero/heroine cope with being a living legend? (Would make it awkward to go to the shops at times I would have thought! Now I’m being a little flippant here but you get the point. Your characters would have difficulties most would never face to enjoy any semblance of a normal life at all so how do they overcome all that or come to terms with it?).

Hope you find some wonderful story ideas here.

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Guest Blogging and Facebook Author Page Likes

Many thanks to Val Penny for hosting a spot from me on her book reviews site.  More in a moment on that…

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Many thanks to Val Penny for hosting me on her book reviews site. It was huge fun to write! Hope you enjoy reading. I chat about my flash fiction (and what I love about flash fiction in general) and Chandler’s Ford Today

Looking forward to catching up with Val at Swanwick next month!

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My CFT post is very close to home this week. There are some lovely places to walk in my area, whether I’m with the dog or not, and I share some of those, along with some gorgeous pics of a wildflower meadow. Link up tomorrow.

I don’t tend to think about stories etc while out and about. I’m too busy (a) watching out for what Lady is doing or sniffing (!) and (b) appreciating the local fauna and flora.

The benefit from the writing point of view is having that break away from the desk or household chores (or both) and coming back tired but refreshed. (Lady sees to the tired bit, she comes home and sleeps during the afternoon, lucky girl!).

Many thanks to all who have liked my author page. It is lovely to have 50 of you on board now, thanks to you all!

thank you text on black and brown board

Indeed! Image via Pexels

beautiful beautiful flowers bouquet color

And you can also say it with flowers! No hayfever either! Image via Pexels

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Always nice to guest blog so many thanks to Val Penny for hosting me today.

I suppose in a way flash fiction and blogging are good “bedfellows” since you’ve got to watch the word count with both of them! For flash, you’ve got room for usually one character. For blogging, it pays to stick to one topic per post. (Ironically with my Word Press site, I can’t really do that as it is meant to be a round up of what I write where, but for things like this post, it pays to stick to one theme).

Have you got a favourite theme for your stories? Was it one that emerged naturally as you wrote or did you plan it from the start? There are a lot of poetic justice stories in From Light to Dark and Back Again. In my case, the theme emerged.

How about you? Comments welcome.

I love the flexibility of flash fiction. There is some flexibility with word count, ironically. I’ve often found what I thought might be a 100-word story works better as a 500-word one, but that’s fine.

You can be flexible with genre of the specific tale. I’ve written historical fiction as flash fiction, likewise fantasy, crime, light horror, ghost stories etc.

You can also go back or forward in time. Your characters can be human or other worldly. You can write in first or third person. (I do both, though not in the same story!). You can write dialogue alone, though I think all stories, regardless of type, work best with a mixture of narrative and conversation/thoughts.

Flash fiction is a style of writing to have a lot of fun with!

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WILDFLOWERS AND SAGGY MIDDLES

Now there’s a combination you don’t often see in the same sentence!

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What are your favourite virtues in characters?

I would list courage, honesty, and reliability. Perhaps not the most exciting of virtues but certainly ones you can depend on.

I’ve always felt Sam Gamgee does not get nearly enough credit for the support he showed Frodo. To my mind, he is as much of a hero in The Lord of the Rings as Frodo is.

I suppose what I love most here is Sam doesn’t pretend to understand what it is all about or the pain and pressure Frodo feels. All Sam knows is he has got to support Frodo and that is what he gets on and does. I love characters (and indeed people) like that. They really are the ones you can depend on in a crisis

For villains, can you list favourite virtues? I think so. I want the villain to be a worthy opponent always (otherwise where is the real challenge for the hero/heroine?). So this means then an ability to plan and anticipate what the hero/heroine might do, their NOT underestimating the hero/heroine, and having a kind of charisma, where you can understand why other characters would support the villain.

Fan still going full tilt in the office. It’s more than what I am!

Writing wise, my plans for this coming week are to try to submit more work. I need to catch up a bit with competition entries etc. It’s not the writing of the stories funnily enough that is the problem here. It’s the selecting of the ones I HAVE written and deciding where to send them, then actually sitting down and getting them out there!

I can get into the state where I am writing loads of new stories but not testing the market with any of them, which is where I’m at again at the moment. So will try and work on that this week I think.

Must admit I hope it cools down a bit soon. I definitely work better overall when it’s not so hot. (The wildflower picture is one taken by me at a local park where part of it it set aside for a miniature meadow. This is literally just a tiny bit of it. The whole thing looks glorious and I hope to share more pics in my CFT post this week. And, yes, I do find getting out and about and enjoying the wonders of nature helps my creativity. It’s just the heat that doesn’t but then if you do feel as if you’re melting, that explains that!).

I love the colour combinations in the wildflower meadow

A close up of the wonderful wildflower meadow in my local park. Image by Allison Symes

Looking up towards the Hilt

Looking up the length of the park from behind the meadow. Image by Allison Symes

This is just a small section of some wonderfully coloured flowers

Another view of the wildflower meadow. Image by Allison Symes

Do you have a saggy middle? Hang on, let’s rephrase that.

Does your STORY have a saggy middle?

It is so easy to focus on coming up with that fantastic opening line. It is even easier, I find, to focus on a great ending, especially if it involves a twist.

But the bit in the middle? Well, unless it fulfils the promise of that opening line, that beginning is wasted. If it doesn’t lead to your great conclusion, then that’s wasted too.

Everything has to follow through from beginning to end, regardless of the length of the story. But let’s hear it for the sometimes neglected middle section. It is absolutely crucial to get that right otherwise the story falls down. (Never a pretty sight that!).

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I’ve occasionally used the title of a flash fiction piece to act effectively as the first line of the story as well.

My Time Waits for No Man is an example of this. The next line reads “But time does slow to a crawl when driving in traffic”. (And boy is that true?!). I must try and use this technique more often. It can be a great way into a story.

I always find, whether writing fiction or my CFT posts, I need a good start and then I’m away. Yes, the polishing and editing comes later but I find once I’ve started the story, I’ve just got to keep going until I’ve got a first draft down.

So whatever techniques help you to get to a cracking start with your writing, keep going! I love the freedom of knowing the editing will come later, the story will improve drastically later, but right now is just the sheer joy of creating and I treasure that.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Many congratulations to Lynden Wade, who won a copy of From Light to Dark and Back Again as part of Elizabeth Hopkinson’s cyber launch for her Tiny Tales. Am looking forward to posting the book to you.

Many congratulations also to Elizabeth herself for a very enjoyable launch.

I loved my cyber launch (and many thanks to Gill James and Chapeltown Books for that), but I couldn’t believe how tired I felt afterwards! All that adrenaline I guess… or was it the virtual cake, wine. and other goodies?!

I love the way good flash fiction can capture a whole world in so few worlds. What the writer does tell you about a character should leave you being able to work out how that character relates to others, what effect they are likely to have on others, and often what their natural state of being is. Are they nervy? Are they calm etc?

My Time Waits For No Man on Page 40 doesn’t name my character but you know enough from what I have shared to see this is someone who has gone through hell. I haven’t needed to spell out all the details.

It is always the selection of what a reader needs to know to be able to identify with the character (whether it is sympathetically or not) that matters most.

I’ve talked a bit on my author page tonight about the sometimes neglected middle section of a story and I thought I’d continue the theme here.

We all focus on cracking opening lines and brilliant story endings but without the middle of the tale being equally excellent, the whole story falls flat.

I’ve forgotten who gave the advice “try not to write the bits people skip” but it is excellent advice. You want your readers to be so gripped by your story when they come to the middle of it, they will definitely want to see it through to the end. That middle section is where the set up is, regardless of whether the ending is going to be a sad or happy one. And it has got to “follow through”.

I use my middles to feed in those bits of information the reader needs to know so that the ending makes sense. Also I sometimes use the middle to expand a bit on what I’ve set out at the start. In my story, The Haunting, by the time I get to the middle, I have set out three times in three different ways that a particular object is irritating its owner.

So no saggy middles then!

 

TRAVEL NEWS
The joy of the road traffic report
Is knowing, as if playing a sport,
You are not in the horrible queue
So the bad news means nothing to you.
But when it is the other way round
I can bet, from your car, comes the sound
Of a swear word or several dozen
Which irks your kin, except your cousin.

Allison Symes – 17th July 2018

Hope you enjoy. I love this sort of doggerel from time to time!

 

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Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Helpful Book Reviews

What do you find most helpful in a book review?

Speaking as a writer and reader, I love to see the following in any review, regardless of its length.

1. A good description of the central idea of the book. (This tends to indicate genre and often age range too).

2. Whether the reviewer liked it or not and good reasons why. (Nobody likes a troll! I want to know what people liked about what I’ve written and what they feel I could do better. I’m not necessarily going to agree but if several are saying the same thing, then it’s time to look again. From the reader viewpoint, I want to see sensible reasons given. “Not to my taste” doesn’t really tell you enough).

3. The review is clearly an honest one. I need to be able to gauge whether someone’s book is likely to appeal to me. Several comments, offering differing views, is a very good help to me to work out, yes this is likely to appeal or conversely that it won’t!

I write reviews myself sometimes and do follow my own advice here. The great thing about being a writer yourself is it kind of makes it easy for you to come up with a good review. You write the kind of review you would love to see on your own book or, if you do really dislike what you’ve just read, to still pick out where you think the book might appeal, while honestly admitting it wasn’t for you. (I love the honesty behind that sort of review).

So happy reading and reviewing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WRITING NIGGLES, CONFERENCES AND A REVIEW OF THE FAIR

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I take a look back at the recent Hursley Park Book Fair for this week’s CFT post.

There are many things non-writer friends/family can do to support the writer in their life and one is to go to their events and show some moral support. Trust me, it is appreciated!

The biggest nightmare for all writers is being at an event where nobody turns up.

Helping to distribute flyers etc is also something that will go down well with your writer. (And plentiful supplies of tea/coffee/chocolate etc though in fairness those go down well with practically everyone!).

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Managed to get caught in some rain while walking the dog this evening. Came home to find it hadn’t rained here at all. Better half and I had only gone a couple of miles up the road to one of our favourite walks! Talk about localised weather… (it was also ironic that, for once, I had hoped for more rain).

On to writing niggles then….

How to Irritate a Writer Part 10001….. (I may be exaggerating)

1. Tell them you like books but much prefer films. (Grrrr….)

2. Tell them you think books are expensive. (Double Grrrr… – books are relatively cheap when you consider you can read them over and over. A really good book will make you want to have repeat reads. It’s exactly like revisiting an old friend).

3. Tell them you think the paperback is on its way out. (If by this time the writer has refrained from throwing something at you, count your blessings for you have done very well).

4. Ask the writer of How to Irritate a Writer Part 10001 where the other 10000 posts are on the topic!😉

5. Tell them you’ll wait until they hit bestseller status and then you might get a copy of their book. They want to know it is really popular first. The writer by this time is using every inch of self control they’ve got not to grab the nearest bit of 4 x 2 and hit you with it….

6. Tell them you can’t possibly leave a review for them, they’re not well known enough. It is almost certainly a waste of breath telling such like that everyone has to start somewhere and reviews help everybody, no matter where they are on their writing journey.

7. Tell them you think notebooks and pens are outdated. Surely everyone writes to screen these days. The writer by this time is already thinking of the perfect crime story where an irritating “friend” is done to death by an angry author and have already made plans for dumping the body. There may be wistful thoughts as to why they can’t do this for real….

My fellow writers, feel free to add your own thoughts here!

 

My CFT post this week will be a review of the Hursley Park Book Fair from a couple of weeks ago. Link to go up on Friday.

And to all my fellow authors taking part in festivals etc, hope they all go well.

Am looking forward to Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in mid-August. Always good fun. Lovely to catch up with friends who for the rest of the year I’m in contact with via Facebook etc.

I remember being dreadfully nervous going to my first writing conference years ago (and set on the lovely Isle of Wight – and run by Felicity Fair Thompson.  It was great to catch up with her again at the recent Hursley Park Book Fair.). The nerves went when I realised networking was talking about something I absolutely love (writing and, associated with it, reading).

Also it is easy to get a conversation going with a writer – ask them what they’re writing! They in turn should ask you and before you know it, you are chatting away as if you’ve known each other all your lives. And that is how it should be.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

What do you like to see in a good flash fiction story? Some of my thoughts include:-

1. The story has to be the right length. Whether that’s 100, 250, or 500 words, it has got to be appropriate and right to that particular story. You want the reader to feel that nothing else could be added to the story, nor could there be anything taken away.

2. A strong lead character. Without that any flash fiction piece falls flat. The great thing is that strength can come in different forms – physical strength, mental strength etc. How your character shows their inner strength is up to you but it has to be there somewhere. Else why are they the lead?

3. There has to be a good ending (though not necessarily a happy one). The story has to “follow through”. Okay, sometimes that will be a twist ending, sometimes it can be a character coming to a conclusion about what they’ve just done or have been through. But the ending has to be right for all that has come before it.

The big challenge of flash is not so much the word count but having a complete story which has a proper beginning, middle and end in that word count limit. It is too easy to just write “truncated prose” but that does not come across as a proper story and rightly so. It can leave your reader feeling cheated.

At the end of a flash piece, your reader must not be left wondering where the rest of the story is! You want them thinking the story could not have ended any other way. I see flash as short, sharp looks into a character’s life. Look, write down what you see, and stop there.

What do I look for in flash fiction, whether I’m reading or writing it?

I look for a strong character and an ending I don’t see coming but which is entirely appropriate for the story.

I do enjoy playing “guess the ending”, sometimes I’m right, more often I’m not, and I always like that.

This is where I find writing the ending first can be helpful. If I’ve got something that makes a powerful impact which is what I want my readers to finish with, then I’ll work backwards from that point to see how the story could start. I find it a useful technique.

When I brainstorm ideas for new flash fiction, I’ll sometimes come up with something that will make the perfect ending, so leave it at that. I will be looking for what “threads” could come from what I’ve written and if it seems to be linear, then I’ll write the story in the traditional way from start to end.

But it doesn’t always work like that. The threads can sometimes lead away from what I’ve written back to a start point and that’s generally when I know I’ve got something that will make a wonderful ending to the story. I know enough now to NOT force something to be a start when it really isn’t suitable for that.

I also think it a good thing to mix up how I write here. It helps keep things “fresh” for me as a writer, and that will hopefully show through in the stories.

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytale Themes

If you’re looking for themes for your stories, analyse some fairytales and ideas will leap out at you!

After all, what is the theme of Cinderella?  Never giving up?  Justice will “out” in the end?  Whatever you think the theme is, you can use that for your stories.

Themes such as anti-bullying emerge from stories like The Ugly Duckling.  (Also beauty is only skin deep and transformation is always possible!  Lots of themes from this one).

The lovely thing is that the themes from fairytales are timeless.  It is one major reason we still love these old stories.  They still resonate.  I think they always will.  They reflect on our nature.  There will always be jealousy (Snow White), a need for sensible building materials (The Three Little Pigs!), and  greed (Goldilocks – I always have sympathised with the three bears here). That is to name just a few examples.

And there’s nothing to stop you combining themes either.  After all your lead character may have the virtues of, say, Puss in Boots and the villain the qualities of The Big Bad Wolf.  Set up the conflict and away you go!

Generating the writing ideas maybe - image via Pixabay

Generating the writing ideas. Image via Pixabay.

Lost in a good book - image via Pixabay

Lost in a good book. Image via Pixabay.

Books create their own sense of space - image via Pixabay

Books have their own sense of time and space. Image via Pixabay.

Books are wonderful whatever their format - image via Pixabay

Books are fabulous, whatever the format. Image via Pixabay.

CLARITY POST - Editing is vital to help you be as clear as possible - image via Pixabay - Copy

Editing – the crucial part to getting a story right. Image via Pixabay.

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

Books are the keys to knowledge. Image via Pixabay

Printers would have fun trying to print this - image via Pixabay

Let the ideas flow and let journeys encourage that! Image via Pixabay

Use review questions to find out more about your characters, image via Pixabay

Use personal reviews to help you generate character and story outlines. Image via Pixabay.

Creation is good for us, image via Pixabay

Well, let’s do so by writing lots of stories! Image via Pixabay.

This World and Others – Character Virtues -v- Vices

I thought I’d list a few character virtues and vices to look at how these can be used in storytelling.

Patience/Impatience
Patience doesn’t always come across well in fiction. Much as I love Little Women, I did find the very patient Beth to be a little too much of a goody goody for my tastes.  I think patience translates better when it is shown as a character actively trying to seek a goal, is at a point where they need to wait for a very good reason before taking further action, and that they do so.  There is a point to the patience then.  It is also an “active patience”, an act of will.  I find I want to read to find out if they CAN see that patience out and have the reward for doing so.

Impatience, of course, can be shown as a character’s weak point, causing them more problems than they needed to have (which adds to the conflicts and drama of the story).  Sometimes impatience can be used more positively in that it can be the trigger for change.  Someone is impatient with the lack of education, say, in their village and actively seeks to change that.  Again, the impatience at the status quo here can be a good catalyst for the story.  There are bound to be those who want the status quo continued.  Is there a reason why they don’t want the villagers to be educated?

Calmness/Anger
Calmness I think is easier to show in a story as there are always characters who are needed to calm other characters down and make them see sense.  What effect would that have on the tale?  If they failed to calm the other one down, what would the consequences be?  Keeping calm can be a crucial need in a thriller where that virtue gives the character time to think, time to work out a way of escape etc.  (Less likely to think of this if the character is panicking, getting worked up etc).

Anger can be shown as a character’s downfall – their temper alienates anyone who might help them.  It can be used to show a character’s sense of justice.  (You’ve got to question why anyone wouldn’t be angry at abuse, violence etc).  It can also be shown as part of a character’s development.  At the start of the story they’re hotheaded, at the end they’ve learned to temper their temper, so to speak.

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Getting Into Character

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I’ve been catching up with some concerts recorded a while back and I finished watching the John Williams Prom today.

Fab music and what is so telling is that in everything he has ever composed, it is clear he has entered the head of the character he has chosen to focus on and come up with the music that would suit them. This is especially true for Indiana Jones and Jaws!

Much as I adore the music, story wise, I’m very fond of only one of those… I leave it to you to guess which one!

But there is an object lesson here: know your characters, REALLY know your characters, if you want to write “for” them well.

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Many thanks, once again, to all the fab writers who shared their thoughts on my recent Why I Blog posts for Chandler’s Ford Today. I find blogging, including on posts like this, wonderful for getting me “into” my writing sessions.

I love the freedom blogging gives but have found it helps to have one major topic. In my case that’s writing of course, but all sorts of things can come off that – such as the importance of reading, editing tips and so on.

The rules I generally follow for blogging include:-

1. Keep it simple. Not in terms of content but in terms of expression. Bullet points for headlines, expand later in the text.

2. Stick to a word count. For CFT I stick to 1500 words absolute max (and it’s usually nearer 1200). More than that, such as the Why I Blog pieces, I split into two or more parts. For the monthly ACW blog, it’s up to 500 words. (I love the discipline of writing to different word counts like this. It makes me “up my game”. It is far easier to write “long” than short).

3. Think of who you are writing for and go for topics which people will find useful, interesting, or would be happy to comment on. The best topics of course combine all of those!

And now on to my other blogs before I turn to fiction for this evening…

The start of another sweltering week in deepest, darkest Hampshire sees me cracking on with more flash fiction for my current WIP. Am happy with how that is going but would like to submit more work as well, so that’s my next mini target.

I’m a little ahead of the game when it comes to my CFT posts (and would like that happy state of affairs to continue). My next post will be a review of the recent Hursley Park Book Fair. More details later in the week.

I’m also drafting some non-time dependent blog posts that I can slot into different places as and when I need them. I must do this more often as it’s useful having material to hand for those on holiday times, down with the dreaded lurgy times, having too good a time at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School time etc etc. I love being able to schedule!

Somewhat cooler today, much pleasanter… Lady appreciated it too.

What is your chief reason for writing? For me, it is a mixture of wanting to share my stories and non-fiction AND wanting to do something positive with that wonderful treasure called literacy, which is so easy to take for granted.

I think most people have some sort of artistic “bent”. It is a question of whether they recognise it or not, and whether they try to develop it or not. Rejections are a pain, especially when there seems to be no “real” reason for them, but you are at least getting work out there. You are being creative.

And every time you try to develop your skills further, you (a) learn and (b) that in turn will help improve your chances of success. The great irony is that success can come after learning to deal with rejections.

The rejections do make you look at your work again and, especially after a gap between sending it out and getting the bad news, it is easier to take a fresher look at your story. Where you see room for improvement, do the necessary work and resubmit elsewhere. Where you really can’t see what you could do better, see if there are other markets which may be interested and submit there, following their guidelines.

Above all, keep writing. Be open to different forms of writing and enjoy what you do!

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I like to give my characters a “matter of fact” tone to them. I think it makes their portrayal more realistic and, as a reader, I love to find out what characters like these end up doing.

Why? Because characters who are “matter of fact” can end up clashing with those who do not appreciate their honest approach to life. That is where the conflict is, and therefore where the story is too.

I also need to convince readers to stay with my characters so giving them a tone many will identify with is another way of encouraging people to read on.

I like to get into my stories “hitting the ground running” so to speak. One of the best ways I find of doing this is by getting into the lead character’s head quickly and showing their thoughts and attitudes.

The great thing with this is that it doesn’t necessarily mean the character has to be likeable and generate the readers’ sympathy. All any potential reader has to be able to do is see where the character is coming from. It doesn’t mean you have to like the journey this character is on!

Having said that, the truly great characters will spark a reaction in readers, whether it is a good reaction or not. Sometimes a character’s attitude will encourage the reader to keep reading to see if they can get away with said attitude or will the character be brought to earth crashing. I love reading stories like that.

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As well as writing flash fiction, I’m thoroughly enjoying reading it. It is a very simple way of ensuring I get to read contemporary fiction (and in my genre) and it is lovely to have my reader’s hat on and just enjoy the stories. It reminds me of why I wanted to write flash in the first place and you kind of end up falling in love with the genre all over again.

I think the biggest thing for me has to be the fact flash has to be character led but you can set that character in any time, place, or world you choose. There is so much freedom there despite the demands of the tight word count.

Sometimes I will start a flash fiction piece but realise, usually fairly quickly, that this character is going to “run” and the story will end up be standard competition length (1500 to 2000 words generally). That’s fine and it is a joy to write to that length of story too.

However, the reverse is true sometimes too. What I think would make a good competition entry story really is best written as a flash story. There is one pivotal moment, which is entertaining enough, but if you were to add more, it would (a) spoil it and (b) be obvious padding.

So when writing I’ve found it to keep an open mine and judge what the story needs (which is not always what I think it will be!).

The ever useful post it note - image via Pixabay

The ever useful post-it note. Image via Pixabay.

Part 5 - Keeping the language simple and above all clear

No room for gobbledygook here. 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.