Reflections

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest CFT post is an alliterative one! As Autumn Approaches is a reflective look at the season, I share some thoughts about how the season is for writers.

I also discuss the importance of taking time out to look back, as my church has recently done for its 200th anniversary, but equally how vital it is to move on from periods of reflection, given what stays static dies eventually.

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My CFT post this week is a reflective one on autumn. I share what I like about it, why it is an interesting season for writers, and also discuss my church’s recent exhibition to celebrate its 200th anniversary where we took stock of our history and recalled friends past, present, and no longer with us. Oral storytelling and local history are so important.

Facebook – General – and Association of Christian Writers’ More than Writers – The Highs and the Lows

Many thanks to all who commented on my More Than Writers blog earlier. You really can’t underestimate how much persistence, determination, and ability to work hard you will need as a writer. The great comfort is ups and downs are a normal part of the writing life so you’re definitely not alone here.

The Highs and the Lows – Allison Symes

What would you say were the writing highs? 

Your first piece of writing (aka “the I did it” moment!)?

Your first publication credit (the “family start to take you seriously” moment!)?

Your first book acceptance (the “some of the rest of the world start to take you seriously” moment!)?  Sadly, it always is some of the rest of the world…

What would you say were your writing lows? 

That first rejection?
Having your novel come back for the umpteenth time?
Countless short stories turned down?

The great irony, of course, is, with the right spirit and attitude, a writer can use those rejections and set backs to (a) fill them with determination to keep going, (b) to improve on what they do so the turn downs don’t arrive so often as they once did, and (c) recognise all writers go through this.

There are no shortcuts to publication.  Also, even when published, the learning curve goes on and you have to be open to it.  The writer that doesn’t learn is the one who remains static.  What is static dies, eventually.

So then it is a question of relishing the highs and getting through the lows, which is where the support of understanding writing friends is crucial.  One of the things I love about social media is the fact it makes it easier to stay in contact with said writing friends, especially when you can only meet up face to face once or twice a year.Writing forums such as the one we have on the ACW website are also useful for this kind of contact (and for sharing helpful advice and tips too).  Going to a good writing conference is invaluable too given that for most of the year we are at our desks, working alone.

Peter, of course, literally had his mountain top experience but his low was clearly his denial of Christ.  (What I love about Peter’s story is his redemption – it offers hope for us all).  So this pattern of highs and lows then is a reflection of life as it is lived and not just the writing life.

Our characters must have their highs and lows.  Without them, there is no conflict yet alone a story.  The highs and lows are not just the story events but what is in those characters.  No villain should be all evil (there must be a decent reason for them acting the way they are, decent to them at least).  No hero should be a goody two shoes.  Much as I loved Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, I found it easier to identify with Amy or Jo rather than the saintly Beth.  Identifying with your characters is the goal.  The moment a reader does that, the more likely it is they will read on and find out what happens.

Show the flaws.  Show the vulnerabilities.  Show the things the character does well.  Enjoy the process.  And good luck.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Don’t forget if you subscribe to Writing Magazine, you can put your book on their Subscribers’ Showcase. It’s free for a while but after that you pay a small amount per month to have it on there. My own plans later, once hopefully I have more books out, is to switch which ones I put up there to keep things fresh.

n a novel, you would have the space for different moods. Moods in the story itself. Moods of the characters. In flash fiction, you have to focus on one mood (and often on one character). But the advantage of putting a collection together is over the space of the entire book, you can have a range of moods and therefore of stories.

This was one aspect of putting From Light to Dark and Back Again together that I really enjoyed. Themes and moods became apparent and it was so easy to group these together.

Time for some more one-line stories, though one I admit is also useful wildlife advice!

1. The dragon, determined not to be fobbed off with false gold coinage, destroyed the Royal Mint with two blasts of flame.

2. Glass slippers, how the hell did that happen, thought the fairy godmother as she hung up her wand in disgust.

3. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog only to find the canine could bite in places no male animal would ever wish bitten.

4. When the red, red robin comes bob bob bobbing along, it’s looking for food in the winter months, not the chance to be the star of a song.

5. The girl in the red hooded coat took one look at the Big Bad Wolf in her granny’s bed and said, “That gingham really doesn’t suit you, try silk next time.”

Any story, no matter what its length, should create an impact on a reader, whether it is to make them laugh or cry. I concede though No. 3 will probably make a few of you wince!

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog Where Do You Turn First?

So you have limited time to read (it is ever so!) and you can choose between reading one hardback, one paperback, or pick one option from your Kindle? Which would you automatically plump for over the others?

I’d go for the paperback every time (partly because while I have some hardbacks, my paperback collection is far greater). There is still the element of the “go for the real book” here, much as I love the Kindle.

Where the Kindle does come into its own is when I’m away anywhere and the last thing I want to do is lug a lot of books along with me (unless they’re by me and I’m trying to sell them of course!).

The other reason I’d go for the paperback first is I’d want the experience of the “whole book”. You can’t smell a Kindle’s “pages” but you can do it with a paper book – and I have and will continue to do so.

I do like the smell of a book. I like the look of a well designed cover. I like the feel of a paperback in my hands. So there is the whole tactile experience going on here.

I do know I’m not the only reader/writer to feel that way so if I’m weird, I know I’ve got company. Very well read company, I should add!

So what would you pick then and why? Comments welcome.

Fairytales with Bite Fairytales A to Z Part 4

J = Jealousy.  Such a powerful emotion and an excellent trait to exploit in your characters given it is understandable as a motivation for action. People do strange things, motivated by this, in real life.  Your characters can do so too in fiction.  You don’t have to like jealousy as a trait or the character to be able to identify with where the character is coming from here.  It can also act as a kind of shorthand.  If you say someone is the jealous type, it conjures up an immediate image of what that person is likely to be like, doesn’t it?

K = Killer Instinct.  Do your characters have this?  Do you?!  Firstly your characters, particularly your villains, need this (and often in the literal sense), but even the “goodies” need this to keep them going in the face of opposition etc.  They need to know when to “go” for a course of action and it will be their instinct here that will ignite the spark which drives them on.  As for you as a writer, do you have the killer instinct when it comes to editing your work?  Will you take out anything that is really not working (and be open to the idea it isn’t)?  You need to learn to be ruthless about taking out anything that is not pushing your story on.  The “kill your darlings” expression has a lot of truth behind it.

L = Learning and Laughter.  Do your characters learn from their mistakes?  A good story and great characters will have that as a major factor.  Some of my favourite series novels have shown the lead character developing over time and I love that.  It makes the character far more real to me.  As for laughter, even in darker stories, there can be room for this.  In the classic fairytales, for me, the Emperor’s New Clothes is a great example of laughing at those who supposedly are superior but are taken in by conmen (and you do have to hand it to those tailors for sheer nerve).  So where can laughter fit into your stories?

This World and Others Reflections

Reflection is a major theme of my latest Chandler’s Ford Today post called As Autumn Approaches.  (Well, this is true for the UK and Europe anyway!).

What would make your characters reflect on their actions to date/their attitudes to life?  Being made to confront the consequences of what you are doing would be one major reason to take time out to reflect, especially if there was time to reverse matters or limit any damage done.  Love, as they say, changes everything and can be a major influence in making people change their behaviour (usually for the better, but this isn’t always the case).

Sometimes a character will take time out to reflect before heading out on their adventure/quest etc.  What is interesting here is how that period of reflection influences what the character then does.  If your characters do this, how do they reflect?  On their own or do they have a mentor?  Do they look up books (especially history) to find out how others in their world’s past handled certain situations?  If the characters themselves will be setting a precedent, are there general guidelines to give them pointers as to what they should be doing?

Last but not least, are the characters themselves willing to learn from the reflections of others?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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TITLES AND PROMPTS

How easy do you find coming up with the right title for your story?

I can think of something suitable most of the time nigh on immediately but it is a question, when I am editing the story later, if the “something suitable” is good enough. Could it be replaced with something which will make more of an impact? Yes, it usually could be!

So I often change my initial idea but I find I have to have something to act as a peg to hang my story thoughts from before I write the tale.

I suppose the point here is be open to changing things. If at the end of the editing process, you’re not sure if the title is strong enough, then it almost certainly isn’t. Don’t be afraid to play around with different title ideas. (Often a better title idea will come to me as I edit).

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What kind of story prompts are your favourite? I’ve never used picture ones (though I must give that a go at some point).

My favourite is the opening line prompt. I spend some time working out who the lead character will be (if it is not apparent from said opening line). I also work out different directions a potential story could go in and then write up the one I like best.

I also think of the effect I want the story to have on a reader. Do I want to make them laugh, cry etc? Most of the time I go for the make them laugh route!

 

What do you like best about your favourite characters (whether you’ve created them or not)?

For me, they’ve got to have spirit and the integrity to do what is right (which is not necessarily what their society would consider right. Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice would have been expected to marry the odious Mr Collins).

A good sense of humour is also invaluable in making your characters appeal to readers. I’ve always loved Elizabeth Bennett’s wit and sense of irony and long thought of her being ahead of her time.

What is your favourite creative writing book? I’m very fond of On Writing by Stephen King but another favourite is How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. This also has the bonus of being funny!

I love books which can get their point across humorously, there is an art to it, and I find the message sinks in much better. I suppose this is why if given a choice between reading, say, a crime novel with humour in it or one without, I will always take the “with” option!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

DO WHAT YOU MUST

The monster sat down and cried
No matter how hard he tried
He wasn’t scary any more.
The awful brat showed him the door.
No chance of any street cred here.
He could hear the others jeer.
What to do now? Oh yes, he knew
It bent the rules, that was true
To hell with it; do what you can
He went to the adverts man.
It was a way to earn a crust
He would up and do what he must.
The irony was what he sold
In his world would be like gold.
Rare and only for the few.
Here, it went to anyone who
Had the ready money to pay.
He disliked it but had no say.

Allison Symes – 25th August 2018

And before you ask, yes, I loved Monsters Inc!

If a novel is a portrait of a world and its characters, then flash fiction is the equivalent of the old Polaroid instant snap!

I am revealing my age here by saying I can recall when the Polaroid was THE height of camera technology. For the first time your pictures came out immediately instead of having to take a roll of film to the chemists or where have you for developing. Yes, and for younger readers, it really was another world away in terms of technology compared with what we have now! Dinosaurs had only just stopped walking the earth etc etc 😁😉

But instant snaps really do capture moments in time and that is precisely what flash fiction should do. Hone in on what matters and nothing else. The joy of flash fiction is the focus.

The restrictions of flash fiction force you to think about what it is you really want to convey through your story. This is no bad thing in and of itself. I’ve found that kind of thinking through has then carried on into other writing that I do, which has definite advantages.

When it comes to editing, I’ve mentioned before that writing flash has helped me locate those wasted words I use by habit and which don’t add anything to the tale, so they’re the first things I cut. I am finding, however, that more often now as I am writing the first draft, I am instinctively NOT writing those words at all. I hope that continues!

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Flash Fiction Favourite Pointers:-

1. Never forget, no matter what the length of the story, it still needs a beginning, a middle, and an end.

2. There should be conflict pretty much from the start as without that there is no story. You do have to hit the ground running.

3. Limit your characters. You haven’t got the room for subplots. I would focus on two characters or so though there’s nothing to stop you referencing another character as part of the story, as long as that is relevant to the tale. In my story Punish the Innocent, the two characters are the mum and daughter but the mum refers to others in the letter she writes to her daughter. This fills in backstory very quickly in this case and fleshes out why the mum has the attitude she has in this story.

4. Focus on what is most important only.

5. Let your readers fill in gaps. Just show them what they need to know and let them use their imaginations for the rest. From a reading viewpoint, that is the bit which is the most fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UNWINDING YOUR CHARACTERS AND GOOD WRITING CONFERENCES

Facebook – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I always enjoy writing my CFT posts but tonight’s one, The Benefits of a Good Writing Conference, was particularly nice to do.

There are several pictures from the recent #Swanwick70 in there and many thanks to #GeoffParkes for kind permission to use some of the many fantastic pics he took. My favourite from the ones I’ve used is that of me reading from From Light to Dark and Back Again at the Prose Open Mic but I admit freely I am not exactly unbiased here!

Looking forward to #Swanwick71 already.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Another fantastic element to writing flash fiction is that you can literally write stories set in a fanastic setting and then come right back down to earth again with a setting in the every day.

You can have alien characters (and I do!) and poignant character studies. One of my favourites from the latter category is They Don’t Understand which shows in a couple of hundred words or so the lives of two elderly people as one reflects on what they both went through during the war years and beyond.

What I’m looking to do here is have the right character for the impact I want to make on the reader and that will dictate both the mood of the story and often its setting as well.

Image Credit: Many thanks to #GeoffParkes for kind permission to use the image of me reading from From Light to Dark and Back Again at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School Prose Open Mic night. Also all credit to him for the fantastic group photos celebrating #Swanwick70.

Also thanks to #CherylHolland for using my phone to take the wonderful group pic of friends and I having a laugh on the lawn at Swanwick. (It wasn’t the only laugh that week, far from it!!). Am I missing being at Swanwick? You bet..

Fairytales With Bite – Fairytale A to Z Part 3

On to part 3:-

G = Greatness.  Whether your character is a godmother (of the fairy variety), a villain, or a hero/heroine, there should be some greatness about them to make them memorable characters.  Greatness can be in the form of intelligence (the villain perhaps), moral integrity, actions undertaken etc.  There should be something about your characters that resonates with the readers (even if it is just understanding of where the villain is coming from in terms of attitude and behaviour while at the same time not agreeing with it).  There is greatness behind whatever resonates here.

H = Humour.  Humour is wonderful in a story.  It can provide moments of light relief.  It can show up attributes of a character that would not come out necessarily in any other way.  (Perhaps a character’s wit here could show a good grasp of irony that they might use in a different way later in the story to bamboozle their opponents?  Quick thinking and humour often go hand in hand and the former is usually vital for a character wanting to get out of a tight spot).

I = Imagination.  How imaginative are your characters in dealing with others, making their plots succeed, using others to achieve their ends etc?  Do they need to plan things out thoroughly or can they be intuitive?  How do they handle matters when things go wrong?  Can they use their imaginative skills to correct the situation?

This World and Others – Unwinding Your Characters

I find being in the company of writers from all genres, as I was when I was at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School recently, to be a great way to unwind.  I talk about other benefits of good writing conferences in my latest CFT post – The Benefits of a Good Writing Conference

But this led me to wonder about how characters unwind.  When your characters are in the thick of the action, what favourite memories of special places and people help motivate them to keep going and get through it all?  I always loved the Rivendell sequences in The Lord of the Rings.  (This for me is where the films were particularly fantastic, being able to visualise Rivendell like that). Just ahead of the quest, Frodo particularly needed that time there.  So what do your characters need to prepare them for whatever hell you are going to put them through (all in the name of entertaining fiction of course!)?

Knowing what really makes your characters tick will enable you, as the writer, to know what will spur them on, what will discourage them, what is the right way to motivate them etc.  A really well written villain in your stories will do exactly the same and tweak the strings of your lead like an evil puppetmaster.  Result?  A villain worthy of your hero/heroine.  Drama.  Conflict.  Story, story, story!  What’s not to like about that?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Should Be Fun

Facebook – General

Difficult to say which was my favourite course at Swanwick as I learned so much from each one, which is fab. One course I particularly did just for fun was the Secrets of Comedy one and that was enlightening. The lovely thing is all writers are playing with words and it can be fascinating to find out how that is done in formats and genres you don’t work in (as yet anyway!).

Writing should be fun and there should always be a fascination with how others write. It makes you take a fresh look at your own writing and, hopefully, develop it further and appreciate it more.

I was delighted to draft a short story on the train up to Swanwick. I’ve now edited and polished it and sent it off to the competition I had in mind for it. I’ve got a few pieces drafted at Swanwick to now work on and am looking forward to that.

My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week looks at the benefits of a good writing conference, considering things such as the boost to confidence and how writers see themselves, amongst other thoughts. Link to go up tomorrow. Most pics are by me but I’d also like to say many thanks to Geoff Parkes for allowing me to use some of his great photos in this post.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Story prompts are useful things. Sometimes I’ll use them and enter the competition they’re linked to, sometimes I’ll just see what I can write up and then decide where to try and place it. (Usually, it’s Cafelit! They like quirky there. And I like quirky a lot!).

Occasionally I’ll find a story doesn’t have an obvious home. Then I’ll keep a closer eye out on the competitions and their themes as a suitable one will turn up eventually. Nice thing with that is, after some final editing, I’ve got a story that’s good to go fairly quickly.

Have you tried writing a story in a sentence? Give it a go, it can be great fun. You basically need a subject and some sort of action which will show what the character is like (and make you want to read on were the story to develop further). For example, from me:-

1. He refused to cry again.
2. It was her 25th bank robbery in a month.
3. The dragon wouldn’t eat the girl, he was veggie.
4. Enter that book shop and never be seen in this world again.
5. The used car salesman disappeared up his own exhaust.

The great thing with these is you can, of course, expand the story out but equally they can get a reaction from a reader if you do not. Have fun with this, I often do!

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog What Do I Want From a Story?

Call me fussy but there are certain things I want from any and every story, regardless of genre.

1. Intriguing characters.

2. A life or death situation (this can be life or death in the literal sense or a character making the proverbial mountain out of a molehill but it is still life or death to them).

3. Dialogue that rattles along.

4. A sense of place but not too much physical description, please. I just want enough images to form a vision of the whole thing but a few telling details are enough for that.

5. When the story ends, I’m sorry because I’ve loved being “with” the characters.

All of the above is why I read in and out of my genre as I love to find out how other writers achieve these things. And it has added considerably to both my online and physical bookshelves!

 

Swanwick, Set Backs, and Favourite Writing Tips

Facebook – General

Back to business then and I’m working on a short story that I hope will go in for a fairytale competition.

I drafted this on the train up to Swanwick (what ELSE are three hour train journeys for?!😁} but, for once, need to add to the story to get it to the required length. This won’t be a problem. There was one scene I had wanted to expand but hadn’t, because I was wary of the word count. So it looks at if I might to get have my cake and eat it here after all (though I expect the overall cake will still need a darned good edit once done!).

I’ve got other pieces to type up which I hope to do over the next few days and I’m happily reworking my novel too. So busy, busy, busy, and all of it fun and that’s a very nice position to be in. Am grateful for it too. Doesn’t always work that way.

 

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Image may contain: 1 person, standing

I read at the Prose Open Mic at Swanwick this year.  Great fun!  Many thanks to Geoff Parkes for the photo.

Ironically, for a week associated with stories, I didn’t get to read many while away at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. By the time I got back to my room most nights, I was far too tired to read much.

Buzzing with ideas and taking in so much from the different courses does that to you! So one of the things helping me with the “come back to earth again blues” is returning to my book pile, which includes some lovely new additions, thanks to the Swanwick Book Room!

How do your characters handle setbacks? Do they bring out the best or worst in your creations? Or do your characters need time out before coming to terms with what’s happened and then moving on? If they have a sidekick, do they react in the same way? Do differences of opinion here mean the end of the partnership or it going in a direction neither had anticipated at the start of the story?

Whatever you choose, have fun with it, but just as we’re prone to strops when life does not go our way, some of our characters at least should reflect that too.

Favourite writing tips I’ve learned so much from over the years:-

1. Edit on paper. You miss things on screen.

2. Read widely (in and out of your genre and include non-fiction too).

3. Put work aside for a while before editing it so you can read the piece with fresh eyes.

4. When facing a deadline (competitions etc), take away a week to ten days from the official date. That way you still have a few days to get your entry in if the piece takes longer than you think to complete. (And it often will).

5. Read work out loud. If necessary record yourself and play it back. This is really useful for hearing how dialogue sounds especially. Golden rule here: if you trip over it as you read it, so will your readers. Time for the red editing pen again!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Be open to finding sources of ideas for any kind of story in places you don’t expect to come across them.

The reason I mention that is because I had great fun with an exercise set in Simon Hall’s A to Z of Novel Writing at Swanwick recently and know I’m going to get a flash fiction piece from it.

Another exercise from the same course looks like it may become a longer short story and I am looking forward to writing these up soon.

Neither of these exercises were specifically set to generate flash fiction or a short story (as the course name suggests!!) but when you can see where you can adapt something for a form in which you are already writing, go for it. You have nothing to lose.

How do I know when a piece I’ve drafted will make a flash fiction story? It’s not just down to the word count. What I’m looking at is the impact of the story.

If I feel that impact will be strengthened by adding to it, then I will and often these pieces end up being standard length short stories (which I usually then put into competitions).

But often I will feel a piece has a powerful impact at a couple of hundred words and I will leave it at that. I focus on editing the piece then and fine tuning it so that impact is as powerful as I can make it. Then those pieces go on to Cafelit, the online magazine, and/or are put into the collection of flash fiction I’m currently working on. Sometimes I’ll put them up on my website too.

The nice thing about flash is it is easy to share on a site. It literally doesn’t take up too much room, is read easily on screen, and I’ve found before that the best way to describe flash fiction is to read some out/put some up for people to see for themselves.

One of my favourite techniques in writing flash fiction is to take a first person viewpoint and let them lead the reader up the garden path so to speak.

In Health and Safety I start with my character letting you know they road test products. By the end of the story, you find out that my narrator has glossed over their actions in an attempt to justify what happened as a result of them.

Not so much an unreliable narrator, more of an embarrassed one who wants to try to save some face! Good fun to write though…

I love writing stories from the viewpoint of characters who were “overlooked” for the starring role in the traditional fairytales. My first published story was A Helping Hand in Bridge House Publishing’s Alternative Renditions anthology and told the Cinderella story from the viewpoint of the younger Ugly Sister. Great fun to write. Sympathetic to Cinders? What do you think?! But it is great to turn a tale on its head like that. Do give it a go.

I also love those minor characters in a story that can’t be the lead but who still have a vital role to play in it. From The Lord of the Rings you know from the outset the focus has to be on Frodo, but Merry and Peregrin are great fun and do come into their own much later on.

So how can you make your minor characters interesting and fun to follow? Humour is great here, especially if the lead role, as is the case with Frodo, have a burden to deal with and where light relief will be welcome. Get your minor characters right and you will create wonderful subplots, which add layers to your story. They give added reasons for your readers to keep reading, which after all is the objective of a good story!

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMING BACK TO EARTH

Just returned from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, after a fabulous week of excellent courses and getting to catch up with writer friends, with whom, for the rest of the year, I stay in contact with via social media.  Lovely as that is, you can’t beat getting together face to face!

So tonight’s post is all on the theme of coming back to earth and I also look at Books That Should Have Been Written as a lighthearted CFT post.  There is nothing anywhere that says you HAVE to come back to earth with a bump or several!

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My CFT post this week is called Books That Should Have Been Written and, if you like puns, this is definitely for you!  I also take a peek at irony.

Back from a wonderful week at #Swanwick70. The highlight of my writing year is the week at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. Why?

I meet up with writer friends that for the rest of the year, I keep in contact with by social media. I make new friends. I learn loads from the courses, which is never a bad thing. Oh and I sold a few books in the Book Room too!

Back down to earth then but with perhaps a more gentle bump! My CFT post this week is a lighthearted one called Books That Should Have Been Written. Contributions welcome in the CFT comments box!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Had a lovely time at #Swanwick70. Really enjoyed reading three of my 100-word stories from From Light to Dark and Back Again at the Prose Open Mic hosted by #JenniferCWilson. Flash fiction works really well at these things (as indeed does poetry – I missed the Poetry Open MIc night as it clashed with the Literary Quiz and I do love a good quiz but I hope all who took part in the Open Mic slots had a fab time).

Images of Swanwick were taken by me at last year’s event. Such a lovely place to be!

Fairytales with Bite – A toZ of Fairytales Part 2

So on to the second part of this series…

D = Determination.  The best fairytale characters I know have this trait in buckets (other suitably large utensils are available, as they say…!).  They can vary from determination not to be ground down (Cinderella) to determination to survive (Hansel and Gretel).  Determination can keep a character going when the world and its dog/unicorn/dragon seem to be out to “get them”.  Determination separates the wolf (big, bad or otherwise) from the sheep.

E = Energy. Can be topped up by determination but your characters are going to need plenty of energy to get them through whatever frightful horrors you’re putting them through.  Not only are there the obvious physical needs to think about, but bring in how your characters top up their mental strength.  They will need plenty of that too.

F = Fairies/Fantastic Creatures.  The great irony with fairytales is you can have them without fairies in (Little Red Riding Hood), but when you do use them in your stories, give them plenty to do and ensure not everything is solved with a wave of the magic wand.  Your fairy character still has to work for/struggle to get success, even if that is only implied in your story.  A wave of the wand may be what they do to remedy a situation or modify it (Sleeping Beauty) but there should still be issues for the characters in your story to overcome.    Otherwise there is no conflict and without that, the story vanishes.  Fantastic creatures can vary from animals to other magical beings (including your own invented ones) but we still need to have some sense of what they are like and where they fit in to the world you’ve created.

More next time…

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This World and Others – Coming Back to Earth

Coming Back to Earthis the title of my latest Goodreads blog (where I do suggest a cure!).  I wrote a lighthearted post for CFT this week, Books That Should Have Been Written,partly as a “gentle” way of coming back to earth after my return from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School.

But how do your characters come back to earth?  They’ve experienced perhaps great adventures, now there’s a lull in the action as they come to terms with what they’ve just gone through.  How do they handle that?  I love The Lord of the Rings  for many reasons but the portrayal of Frodo becoming more and more tired as the stress of what he has to do becomes more and more of a burden is realistically shown.  On the assumption your characters are not super heroes who never get tired or out of sorts, how do your characters handle setbacks, tiredness, illness etc?

How do they pick themselves up from “earth” to get back to their “mission”?  Who helps them and how?  Plenty to think about there!

Goodreads Blog – Coming Back to Earth

Have just got back from my annual highlight – the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School.

Had a wonderful time discussing and learning about all things connected to the worlds of books and stories. What’s not to like about that?

But, as ever with these things, you come back home again and you feel shattered and a bit flat. (You take in far more than you know you are when you are there and then I think the physical/mental tiredness of that hits you later).

So what can help you perk up again?

Why, nothing but a good book of course!

And the lovely thing about being a writer? You need to read widely, in and out of genre, to help feed your own imagination in any case, but you also get to write the books and with a lot of hard work, and some luck, get them out there.

So happy reading and writing!

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Away From It All and the Fairytale A to Z (Part 1!)

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My latest CFT post is Getting Away From It All. Appropriate as I am about to swan off to Swanwick! I share some thoughts on the importance of relaxing and how just writing something for the sheer fun of it can be a marvellous way to unwind for writers.

The great thing too is you can always work the piece up “properly” later on and submit it but to just write something for fun is wonderful. Possibly something we don’t do enough of? I’ve found doing this useful (a) to take a break from my main writing work and (b) to remind myself during tough patches just what it is I really love about writing – the creativity of it. I think you can lose sight of that at times.

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More on the ABC of Flash Fiction…

D = Drive. Not only do you need that as the writer, but your characters do as well. Something has to happen in your narrative for it to be a story at all so your characters must be ready to “act” and for that to wrap up quickly. They must be ready to “hit the ground running”. They do something, there is a reaction, there is a conclusion (and of course it doesn’t necessarily have to be a happy one).

E = Entertainment. Whatever your genre, your flash fiction should entertain (even if that entertainment is simply to make your reader think about the theme of your story and whether they would do the same as your character has). Every word has to make your reader want to read on, every line has to move the story on, and at the end you want your reader to feel as if they have had a good read, even if it is only in 500 words, 100 words, 75 words or what have you.

F = Fairytales. I’ve found flash fiction to be a good vehicle for fairytales (albeit of the short and sharp variety. Not necessarily sweet as well though. Many of my fairy characters do have a penchant for justice, the rough kind where they feel it is necessary at that!).

 

Association of Christian Writers – More than Writers – On Criticism

Confession time:  Am certain I didn’t put this up when I was supposed to so will share now.  It IS better late than never and I hope my post for July on On Criticism will prove helpful.

What good judging should be and that includes for reviews etc

What every review should be. Pixabay image,

Fairytales With Bite – the Fairytale A to Z Part 1

I love a list – whether it’s a numerical one or an A to Z format.  So for fairytales and the magical world, what would my A to Z be?  Part 1 then would be:-

A = Anthropomorphism 

Not my favourite word to spell, I must admit!  However, for me, a classic tale will have this as one of its elements.  Think Puss in Boots, Shrek, The Chronicles of Narnia etc etc.  What matters is the traits shown or speech given to an animal character to have/speak must make sense for the way that character has been portrayed.  We see Puss in Boots is a character who would be smarter than his master so the speech given to Puss must reflect that.

B = Beauty
One thing I love about fairytales is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and is not always the classical definition either.  I love the stories of The Ugly Duckling and Beauty and the Beast. Is it just me but I didn’t think the Beast was that ugly incidentally (especially as Disney portrayed him?  Huge, yes, but that’s not the same thing!  That aside, there is a strong emphasis that it is a beautiful heart/character that matters most, which I fervently believe.  I can’t say what single thing makes me love fairytales but this is a very high contender for being the top one.

C = Characters
There isn’t one dull character in fairytales, is there, when you come to think about it.  There shouldn’t be in your stories either.  (And even when a character is meant to be “dull”, there still has to be something about them that will make your reader want to find out if they stay that way or change or if there is a point to the dullness.  Maybe the lead character needs a duller one’s sensible comments to point them in the right direction?).

More next time….

This World and Others – Getting Away From It All

Getting Away from it All is my title for this week’s Chandler’s Ford Today post and my latest Goodreads blog.

What do your characters do to unwind?  Where would they go to get away from it all?  If your fictional world has a hierarchy (and frankly most will have something), are there places where the “commoners” can’t go?  How is that enforced?

I am about to head off to the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School for a wonderful week of courses, catching up with writer friends, and making new ones.  A marvellous time is had by all.  For your longer stories, where would your characters go to catch up with friends and family they can’t see often (and how did that situation happen)?

In my Goodreads blog, I talk about my holiday reading.  What would your characters read?  Does your fictional world have a good literacy rate?  If not, is anything being done about it?  I’ve mentioned in previous posts that a totalitarian world will seek to restrict/ban books (as sadly is seen too often in this world!) but is there an underground system that bypasses/overcomes those restrictions?

Plenty of story ideas there!

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Swanwick, Scheduling and the Book Cover Challenge

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Am busily preparing CFT posts for the next couple of weeks. I’d like to get both of the following Fridays done because I know when I come back from Swanwick, I will be happy but shattered so doubt if I’ll be writing too much later that evening! So easier to write and schedule such posts now.

I need to get back to blocking out time for specific things I’d like to do (which is where Swanwick will be particularly helpful to me this year).

Once the CFT posts are done (which I hope to have up and scheduled by Wednesday). I can focus on some fiction. The great thing with flash is I can happily spend an evening writing that and have several stories by the end of it to work on further. Okay, they WILL need working on further but the joy of the first draft is worrying about editing much later on!

I love taking my Kindle away with me as it (a) saves a lot of packing and (b) saves a lot of heartache working out which books to take and which to leave behind. Also for some reason my case is always a lot lighter than it used to be! Biggest issue for me though is to remember to pack the charger!

Talking of recharging the old batteries, my CFT post this week takes a look at that and I will be sharing a few things I find really helpful for unwinding (and I don’t even mention wine, chocolate etc., so you have still those as options too!). Link up on Friday.

I’ve been enjoying taking part in a book cover challenge this week. Has made me really think about the novels I couldn’t be without. What are the ones that have influenced you in some way?

So far I’ve included The Lord of the Rings, Pride and Prejudice, The Daughter of Time, Raising Steam, and Murder on the Orient Express. A nice mixed bag there! And all great in very different ways.

Am doing my packing for Swanwick tomorrow. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if other writing friends have done theirs already but the Thursday before is soon enough for me and my books and notebooks go in first! (Did put my rail tickets in my railcard holder today – I suppose that counts!).

The case is packed ready for Swanwick. Just the usual odds and sods to add at the last minute. (Disaster for me will be forgetting my phone charger!). And yes I did pack my books, notepads, pens etc first. Got to have your priorities right!

Okay, I’m not sure where I’ll put books I buy from the Book Room but I’ll worry about that later in the week (and I refuse to believe I’m the only Swanwicker taking that view!). Happy, and safe, travelling to all who are going. May you get through the engineering works at Derby without your blood pressure soaring too high!

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I do love writing some one line complete stories from time to time and it makes for a good exercise to get you into your writing session. For example:-

1. The day the clocks stopped the watchmakers were fired.

2. The dragon surveyed the empty street, which had been teeming with life a moment ago.

3. Try as he might, Arthur could not get that wretched sword out of the stone. (N.B. This also counts as a complete story wrecker!).

4. Turn left and he’d face obliteration, turn right he’d have to face the New Year sales – he went left.

5. The gull enjoyed the look of astonishment on the day tripper’s face, almost as much as the bird loved the stolen battered cod.

6. Dessert was sorted – the gull went back and pinched the same tourist’s mint choc chip icecream.

Allison Symes – 6th August 2018

Give this exercise a go! It’s fun and there’s nothing to stop you developing your ideas further. As for me, that’s some ideas drafted for my third flash fiction book!

My favourite forms of flash fiction are the ones I write in the first person. There is an immediacy about those I think and I love being able to get straight into the character’s head.

It is also great letting them “tell you” the story. There is no pretence at being unbiased or anything like that. The character will give you their thoughts with both barrels, so to speak.

Of course, when everything goes horribly wrong with said character, the reader should be able to see the seeds of that happening early on in the story. And often it is the character’s attitude that plays a major part in this. Great fun to bring about!

Looking forward to my train journey on Saturday to Swanwick despite the engineering works at Derby. Why? Aside from loving train travel (usually!), I hope to write quite a bit via Evernote and my phone for my flash fiction and non-fiction posts. Three hours? Can get a fair bit done in that time, thank you.

I’ve been on the train a fair bit this year so that almost certainly helps for my being further on with my third flash fiction collection than I thought I’d be! And I am getting better at using “dead” time more efficiently. The stories soon mount up (and if you’re a crime writer, the bodies do too! 😁).

The ABC etc of Flash Fiction… (will continue this over the next few posts though there may be some gaps in posting due to my being at Swanwick and probably having far too good a time to be posting!).

A = Atmosphere. The story may be short but its atmosphere must come through clearly. You literally have a few words to set the mood and then follow through. On the plus side, if you like writing “from inside the head of the character”, as I do, this really isn’t a problem.

B = Brutality. There is editing and there is editing. You really do have to murder your darlings with flash fiction. Only what is crucial to the story remains. And it can be hard sometimes to cut a really good line but if it really isn’t vital to the tale, it should go out. Save it though. Might be able to use it elsewhere.

C = Characters. Couldn’t really pick anything else for C. Flash fiction has to be all about the characters. They show you their world and their attitudes in a few words and, ta da, from that the story comes. Character attitudes lead to conflicts which in turn lead to stories.

More next time…

Goodreads Author Blog – Getting Away From It All

I shall be getting away from it all shortly at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School once again but will be immersed in a world of stories and books (reading and writing them!). Bliss!

So what books go with you when you get away from it all?

I pack my Kindle and what I read depends on my mood, naturally, though I am currently enjoying Lucy Worsley’s A Very British Murder and hope to finish that by the end of the week. The book is great. It is usually a question of how long can I keep my eyes open at the end of the day! That is the trouble with bedtime reading…

There’s a couple of other crime novels I want to read as well while I’m away. And after that I may well turn back to humour again. I do find I like to read a few stories or books in a genre, then switch to another one and read a few in that for a bit. Still, it all mixes up the reading and then there is always the delight of the wondrous world of non-fiction too!

So whatever your holiday/summer reading is, enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

YOUR FIRST WRITING – AND SWANWICK!

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What was the first piece of writing you remember? I can’t recall mine but do know when it was “composition” time at school, I was in my element. The whole idea of making up your own story back then was marvellous (and frankly still is!).

I couldn’t tell you either the moment I decided I would be a writer I just know the nagging feeling of wanting to write and, backing it up more importantly with actually doing the writing, has been with me for far longer than I can recall. The best thing to do is follow that writing urge but be open to trying new forms of writing. It is the way, I think, to find out what it is you really want to spend your time doing!

 

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Have prepared what I hope to be working on during Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, which starts on Saturday. This is a longer term project I want to read through and edit. I’ve also got a few ideas on where to submit this once done so want to check those out too while I’m away. Hope to submit said project by the end of the year (the idea being once back from Swanwick I’ll be ready to sort out my amendments and get the project out there).

Am continuing to work on my third flash fiction book. Have got ideas for non-fiction too which I hope to flesh out more so in between the courses at Swanwick, and catching up with friends there, I shall have plenty to do! But that is always a good thing…

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What do your characters like to eat/drink? Are they good cooks or do they live on their world’s equivalent of take out? What do they like to wear (and does it fit in with their world’s idea of what is suitable)?

Ask yourself questions about your characters. Not only will you get a better picture of who they are and what they’re like, the crucial points about your fictional world will develop too. For example, if you know your character is a freedom fighter, what are they fighting against? It also shows your world is probably a dictatorial one. (If it wasn’t, why are there any freedom fighters at all?).

Am hoping to submit some more flash fiction stories before long (but probably after I’m back from Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. This week will be spent in preparing posts to schedule for while I’m away I expect).

My third flash fiction book is coming along but I hope to do a lot more on that while away. And as I mentioned on my author page that will be alongside a longer term project I want to read through and edit and, hopefully, be submiting by the end of the year. It is great having a mixture of different writing projects – I never get bored (!), I love the challenges each one presents (and those differ naturally). and, if things go as I hope, I should have a variety of work “out there”, hopefully to find a good home!