Word Play

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One joy of writing is the joy of reading. This is partly because it makes sense to read from (and therefore support) the industry you want to join! Also, you need to read widely to discover the range of writing out there and to find out from that what it is you want to write. There’s also the sheer pleasure of reading well crafted stories that inspire you to work harder on your own!

Playing with Words, as my CFT post this week discusses, is both a fun and invaluable thing for writers to do.  My post this week also pays tribute to Denis Norden and celebrates puns and playing with language.

 

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I like to “hit the ground running” when I write flash fiction and do so in a number of ways.

I can take you straight into the lead character’s thoughts, or show you an image of them doing or reacting to something. I also try to show you their general attitude within the first couple of lines. Attitude in itself can tell you so much about what a character is likely to be like (and whether you would like them or not!).

I can also show you a character’s observations such as in my Circle of Life. That opens with “People throw kittens in the river here. I hate that.” Immediately shows a conflict. Immediately shows an attitude at odds with the view held by others around the character. You also know they’re going to do something about it. It is a question of what and will they get away with it?

With all of these different kinds of opening, I am aiming to provoke curiosity in the reader to make them want to find out more.

My CFT post this week looks at Playing With Words. I also pay tribute to the late Denis Norden, who along with Frank Muir, was a wonderful wordsmith. Link up on Friday. I also take a look at puns. (Muir was wonderful on Call My Bluff years ago and Norden – well, I loved his dry wit and manner – and Take It From Here, written by them both, was a forerunner for modern radio comedy).

Two of my favourite ways to end a flash fiction story are a twist in the tale finish or a punchline. Both of course can revolve around puns. I love playing with language but one of the great joys of loving books is coming across others who are masters at this sort of thing. Their work is a joy to read and/or listen to and if you haven’t come across a copy of Muir and Norden’s My Word Ultimate Collection, do yourself a favour and dig out a copy from somewhere. If you like tall tales and puns, as I do, this is a fabulous book.

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Flash fiction can be a great vehicle for (a) puns (as part of a punchline to finish with) and (b) short, sharp humorous moments. A good funny flash fiction will not only make you laugh but you should be able to spot other potential for humour had the story been a longer one.

The lovely thing is you can combine humour with other things such as poetic justice to create a great story. Characters being annoyed at the situation they’re in may well make you smile in recognition of their predicament. The situation is rarely funny for the characters themselves. Shouldn’t stop us smiling though!

My late mum always believed in being short and to the point. Think she’d be pleased I take the same approach by writing flash fiction!

You lose any fear of killing adverbs or cutting whatever isn’t necessary for your story when you write flash and, of course, you can carry that over into whatever other writing you do. There’s no chance of getting confused over your characters either given, realistically, you only have the room for 1, maybe 2, main people.

I admit I do miss the fact you can’t have subplots in flash fiction, that really is the privilege of a short story or a novel, but I do love being able to cut to the chase with the very short tale. Definitely a case of you pays your money, you take your choice here.

Time for some autumnal flash fiction one-liners, I think. Hope you enjoy.

1. There were some things brought down by the autumn winds that would have been best left undisturbed.

2. The mouse scoffed the loaf that was meant for the church’s Harvest Festival display, much to the vicar’s chagrin.

(A case of For what we have received, we are truly grateful, I think!).

3. Would the leaves come down deeply enough to cover a body, she wondered?

4. With the nights drawing in, there was more scope for planning and executing the perfect crime.

5. It would be easy enough to do, he thought, given she always has soup at lunchtime on these cold days.

Hmm…. it looks like I’m in a criminal frame of mind this evening!

 

Is it harder to write longer fiction where you have to keep the readers enchanted enough with your writing to follow the story through to the end or more difficult to write short, sharp stories?

I wouldn’t like to judge on that one as both have their challenges and their joys. Both are vital for ensuring literature has a wide range of styles and lengths of story to suit all tastes.

One problem I face when editing flash fiction is ensuring I keep the important details in as it can be easy to cut far too much out to keep to a set word count and the story is the poorer for it. In those situations, I let the story go what is its natural length whether it’s 50 words or 500 or 1500!

The acid test for me is the editing is done when I cannot add to the story or take away from it. It is a question of not overegging the pudding or cutting back so harshly you have a limited story left. Anything that dilutes the impact of the story on a reader, and that can include harsh editing, is out.

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Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Playing with Language

One of the joys of reading across a wide range of genres, including non-fiction, is discovering the different ways authors play with language.

For me the late Denis Norden and Frank Muir were great exponents of this and one of my favourite paperbacks is their My Word The Ultimate Collection. This is full of puns and tall tales galore! Bliss and an addictive read.

I like crisp, punchy styles of writing but every so often you come across a line or two that are just so engrossing, they almost take your breath away. P.G. Wodehouse was a master at creating worlds within what would be considered now very long sentences, but you simply have to read to the end.

I suppose the real test of a good story is does it provoke your curiosity enough so you read it through regardless of the style or genre in which it was written?

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytales A to Z Part 8

Since the alphabet doesn’t divide neatly into three, I will conclude this mini series tonight with the final five letters – V through to Z.  Hmm… going to have fun here I think!

V = Variation
Whatever genre you write in, there should be variation in the types of character you portray.  A story with all heroes is no story at all!  There has to be a villain somewhere (even if the characters concerned don’t think they’re villainous at all).  Also, in a magical setting, there should be variation in how much magical ability characters have.  If they all have unlimited powers, where is the conflict? You’d have a stalemate situation.  The characters know they can’t better each other, at least not with their powers.  So vary things, mix things up, deliberately drop your characters in it, and see what happens!  This is very much the fun side of writing.  You will soon find out who your strong characters are.

W = World
The world you set your stories in can almost be a character in itself.  It needs to be believable, no matter how fantastical its powers or setting.  There must be things about that world we can identify with here.  For example, every world has to be governed somehow so politics has to rear its (at times) very ugly head.

X = Xeno (meaning strange!  Confession time: did have to look it up.  I could have gone for X-rated for this but felt it was too obvious.  I also want to remember this word next time I play Scrabble!).
So word of the week for me is this one then!  Seriously, though, no matter how strange the world you’ve created is, there still has to be something about it that fascinates a reader.  If it is too odd, you risk alienating the reader.  Does that mean your world has to be a sensible one?  Not necessarily.  There has to be a point to what the world does.  If it mines balloons for example, it would make sense to do that if is that world’s chief export to its nearest neighbour.  I did like Monsters Inc for showing why the monsters had to get the children’s screams (they needed it as it was their power source) and I liked it even more when the monster world discovered making the children laugh was a greater source of power.

Y = You
The first fan of your writing should be you.  Your fairytale, whoever it is aimed at, must first convince you.  Is the magic a vital part of the story?  It should be for a fairytale. Do your characters have to get themselves out of trouble without magic?  Even better!  You should enjoy what you write and at the same time be open to where it can be improved.  Not an easy balance to strike which is why it is such a good idea to put work aside for a while and then re-read it.  You will come back to the story with a more open mind, having had the break from it.

Z = Zippy
There will be many in the UK especially who will remember Zippy as a character from children’s TV show, Rainbow!  However for this, I mean zippy in terms of lively.  Your fairytale should be a lively read from start to finish.  Your characters should be lively and engage with your reader.  (This is why if you enjoy your writing, there is every chance others will too.  As for the feeling after reading something you’ve written “this is rubbish”, bear in mind every writer goes through that.  This is another reason for putting work away for a while before coming back to it).

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This World and Others – Playing with Words

Playing with Words is not just the title of my latest CFT post but the theme for this week for me.  I also take a look at this topic on my latest Goodreads blog.

So how do I like to play with words then?

1.   I like twist endings to a lot of my stories so there is a lot of playing with words to be had there in coming up with a twist that works.

2.    I sometimes end stories with a punchline which often revolves around a pun.  Puns are the very definition of playing with language!

3.     I like to take known phrases and play with them to come up with something that has “echoes” but which is also unique to my story.  For example, we usually talk about punishing the guilty for crime etc but my story in From Light to Dark and Back Again is deliberately called Punish the Innocent.  The idea is to get you wondering (a) why would someone want to punish the innocent, (b) do they do so, (c) were the innocent that guiltless after all?

I sometimes use spider diagrams to help me work out in which directions I could take a story idea and then I pick the one that I like the best.  Playing with words here helps me come up with thoughts deeper than my initial “obvious” ideas and therefore I hope a more original story line.

 

 

 

 

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DOCTOR WHO, STEAM TRAINS, AND STORIES

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Had a lovely day out at Swindon (yes really!) visiting the Steam Railway Museum. Great place and one of my favourite things there is being able to walk under a locomotive so you can look up at the workings etc. It is strangely beautiful, especially the brass.

What gets to me every time I visit a place like this are the personal stories. The stories of the navvies (how many of them were killed cutting out the routes for the lines?), the stories of the workshop men creating every single piece for a train by hand, and later the way women took over the roles of men during WW2 and had to give those roles back again. (One soul on a video being played admitted she’d loved her job, didn’t want to leave, but was glad it was because the men were coming back and hadn’t been killed. Lovely lady, lovely attitude).

Having said all that, I was not impressed with the way people were crammed on to GWR trains today. Hardly the legacy Isambard Kingdom Brunel would have wanted to leave – the GWR was very much his railway – but that is another story….

Just had a look at the new Doctor Who trailer. Looks interesting. Have no problem with 13 being female (I thought Missy was great too). What I do want from the new series is good, strong storylines. Looking forward to seeing the series. Doctor Who is one of the few things I will tune in to watch live.

Favourite episodes to date? Hard to say but I did love Matt Smith’s “Vincent“. One of those stories you wanted to be true! Great introduction to the works of Van Gogh too (which is fantastic anyway but also ties in with the original idea behind the commissioning of Doctor Who. The idea was to entertain AND educate, show viewers history they may not know and so on. If you’ve not seen An Adventure in Space and Time which tells the story of Doctor Who itself, I’d recommend it. Good insights.).

Images below taken by me at the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff back in 2010. Very sorry that’s gone now.

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One of the joys of writing shorter fiction is that, if you have a longer project in development, you have something you can submit to markets and competitions in the meantime. So this is one reason why I believe that for novelists, it is a good idea to write shorter fiction too.

Assuming these shorter pieces are published, well it all adds to your writing CV and helps to raise your profile. (I’ve always thought that a strange phrase incidentally. Has anyone ever wanted to sink their profile?!😁).

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When I’m engrossed in a story, I just want to read on for as long as possible before I have to sleep. Always, always, always it is a case of the characters gripping me enough to want to find out what happens next.

This can be a good test for your own stories. Put them aside for a while and come back to them and read them as a stranger would. Are you engrossed with the story? Is there anything you would skip? Does anything “jar”?

Naturally the answers to those should be “yes”, “no”, and “no” though I concede it can take several edits to get to that point!

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Good tip for developing characters is to go and visit any kind of museum where you find out how people lived in the past. (It should also make you grateful for the many blessings we have now!).

Why? I am always moved by the personal stories that come out from visits like this and you find yourself wondering whether you could have been like that person. What would your reactions and actions have been? Could you have worked so physically and mentally hard as they did and keep that going day in, day out? (It does develop a certain amount of grit and you could show your characters developing this even if their situation is very different. Why and how did they develop THEIR grit?).

Then you could think of a character, perhaps one that has been “brewing” in your imagination for a bit, and put them in that historical situation and see how they’d manage.

The great thing is this technique does not have to be confined to historical stories. Going back into the past is like visiting a different world so you could have a fantastical world which has developed way beyond ours, or is way behind ours and set your stories there

Let’s say you’ve been to a museum which involves craftsmen (wood, metal etc), well what would the equivalent be in your story world? What people or strange alien beings would they employ? What would they need the craftmen to produce for everyday use or special occasions? What are these craftsmen like?

Something to ponder I think…

Many thanks to all who liked or commented on my recent stories on Cafelit. Much appreciated!

I loved writing those stories (and indeed love all that I write) and hope some of that love of writing and the characters comes through.

Certainly when I am reading works by other writers, I think you can sense the author enjoyed their work and that kind of enjoyment is contagious in a good way, even when the story itself makes you shiver with fear or laugh your proverbial head off! And that’s just how it should be…

Happy reading and writing!

My favourite trigger for a new flash story is coming up with a title and having fun with the different possibilities that offers.

I sometimes use spider diagrams to work these out, more often or not I jot down a quick note as to story idea A and then again for B and see what I like best. I do know now not to necessarily go with the first idea I’ve come up with but to dig deeper and to see what else I can come up with.

Another favourite starting point is the lead character. I tend to hear how they sound rather than spot how they look straight away, but if their voice is powerful enough and intrigues me, I get on and draft a story about them.

The nice thing is there is no one way to generate ideas for stories, all have their merits, and I think it both useful and fun to mix up how you do this. I think it helps to keep your enjoyment of writing fresh.

LIKES POST - editing - Pixabay image

The joy of editing! Image by Pixabay

LIKES POST - a familiar sight to us all - Pixabay image

Sadly a very familiar sight! Pixabay image

LIKES POST - Far too elegant a desk for me! Pixabay image

Wonderful writing desk. Pixabay image

LIKES POST - Losing yourself in a book - Pixabay image

Being lost in the world of your story. Pixabay image

LIKES POST - when is your writing time - Pixabay image

When is your writing time? Pixabay image

My late mum always believed in being short and to the point. Think she’d be pleased I take the same approach by writing flash fiction!

You lose any fear of killing adverbs or cutting whatever isn’t necessary for your story when you write flash and, of course, you can carry that over into whatever other writing you do. There’s no chance of getting confused over your characters either given, realistically, you only have the room for 1, maybe 2, main people.

I admit I do miss the fact you can’t have subplots in flash fiction, that really is the privilege of a short story or a novel, but I do love being able to cut to the chase with the very short tale. Definitely a case of you pays your money, you take your choice here.

 

STORIES, STEREOTYPES, TRICKS AND UNICORNS

Be fair, that is quite a mix, isn’t it?!  I share links to three new stories of mine on Cafelit this week as well and discuss them in my Facebook posts throughout the week too.  Hope you like the stories.  I loved writing them.

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Busy night tonight. My latest CFT post is live and looks at favourite views, literal and metaphorical. I also discuss how to develop “the writer’s eye”.

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Delighted to have three new stories due to appear on Cafelit over the next few days. Will share links as and when. But back to the idea of using the same word to start the sentences of a flash piece with. My word for tonight is Restless and I will ‘fess up and admit I have given this one more thought though I did like the environmental theme that came through with Habitat.

RESTLESS
‘Restless, you are, Wilma, that’s what you are – always have been, always will be.
‘Restless, surely not, I just can’t get comfortable, that’s all’.
‘Restless, I said, and restless I meant.’
‘Restless, that’s the last thing I should be in here, George; I always thought I’d have peace HERE.’
‘Restless spirit, restless grave – I did think I’d have a break from your fidgeting when I joined you in here!’

ENDS.

Allison Symes – 18th September 2018

Hope you enjoy.

I do enjoy reading and writing flash stories told from the viewpoint of a minor character looking at the “main action”. Tonight’s story on Cafelit by me, The Balcony Seen, takes this approach. I don’t even name the character in this one. What matters is showing you what they observed and what they felt.

As ever, with flash, it is vital to focus on sharing what the reader needs to know. It is likely you will need to know a lot more before you put pen to paper or write directly to screen but that is what outlines are for. Outlines are fun to write. The difficult bit can be selecting what it is the reader DOES need to know and leaving out all those lovely pieces of information that are good to know but not crucial to the story. What is crucial for you as writer to know isn’t necessarily the same as what the reader needs to know!

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I love writing throw away lines in a story which tell you something about the character and move the tale on. In my Leaving Home (on Cafelit tonight), there is an example of this. But the crucial thing is it moves the story on. Anything that doesn’t is cut. And that’s the way it should be!

 

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The first of my three stories appearing on Cafelit is The Balcony Seen (I make no apologies for the pun!). This story is based on an exercise set by Simon Hall as part of his A-Z of Novel Writing at this year’s Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. Hope you enjoy. Most of the images below were taken by me at a Hampshire Medieval Fair a year or two ago and shows the scrivener’s wares and his accommodation, which was good by the standards of the time.

Woodland Walk - image via Pixabay

A beautiful woodland walk. Pixabay image

The tools of the medieval writer's trade

The medieval scrivener’s wares. Image by Allison Symes

The Scribe's (Scrivener's) Tent

The Scrivener’s tent. Image by Allison Symes

The scribe had good accommodation

The scrivener had good accommodation compared to most! Image by Allison Symes

As promised, story number two from me on Cafelit this week is now live. Leaving Home shows that the problems of kids pinching parents’ transport is nothing new (or necessarily confined to this world!). Hope you enjoy.

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As promised, the third of my three Cafelit stories is now on site. Dignity and Injustice looks at the death of Anne Boleyn from a very different perspective. Hope you enjoy.

 

Another view of the Tower of London - image via Pixabay

The Tower. Pixabay image.

The Tower of London as night falls - image via Pixabay

The Tower at night. Pixabay image.

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytales A to Z Part 7

Marching on towards the end of the alphabet then, this post looks at letters S, T and U.

S = Stereotypes.
It could be argued fairytales have a lot of stereotypes in them.  The Big Bad Wolf represents villainy and indeed the saying has passed into the language.  We say someone is known to be “a big, bad wolf”.  The downtrodden types that have their lives turned around for the better are known as Cinderella types.  I think what any fairytale writer should do is use the tropes wisely but not be confined by them.  What does your Cinderella type do to try to help herself/himself out of the situation that they’re in?  Maybe it is that which attracts the attention of the fairy godmother to help them in the first place.  Stereotypes can also be spoofed or reversed as in the Shrek series.  So use stereotypes, they can be a useful shorthand, but put your own stamp on the characters you are creating so they are clearly “their own people”.

T = Tricks
It is fine to use stereotypes to create shorthands for your characters, who should then still go on to be characters that are uniquely your creation, and other writing techniques to improve what you do, but those should be the only “tricks” played in your stories.  Indeed they shouldn’t even show!  Your stories should read “naturally” with nothing drawn to the reader’s attention any “artificial devices” have been used in the making of that story.  As for tricks played by characters on others, there should be ground rules set out early on in your story as to magical capabilities so readers know that character A could be reasonably expected to play such a trick on character B.

U = Unicorns (and other mythical beasts)
Use sparingly if at all!  For me a story is all about the characters. Unless you are writing a story from the viewpoint of the unicorn or other strange creature, there seems to be little use for these, other than as transport, possibly, or to set the scene for how your world works and looks.

This World and Others – Story Moods

I’m pleased to say I have three new flash stories on Cafelit.  I share the link to my author page here.

The Balcony Seen started life as an exercise at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School this year.  Leaving Home and Dignity and Injustice are new to me in that they share a common character.  But these stories remind me of one of the reasons I really love flash fiction.  They all vary in mood and it is easy to switch from one mood to another and back again.

I also think really short stories can carry the most impact at times.  Yes, there are exceptions (the sadness of Hamlet goes beyond saying) but I generally find the shorter the story the more powerful the reaction.  I suppose part of the reason for that is there is no room to dilute that impact with sub-plots etc.  In a novel, you would need those sub-plots to give a proper ebb and flow to the overall story and avoid having a monotone.  No need to worry about that for flash fiction!

Anyway, hope you enjoy these.

Goodreads Author Programme Blog – Opening Lines

What is it about an opening line that makes you want to read on?

For me, that opening line has to intrigue me, show me something of the fictional world to come, or show me something about the lead character. The very best opening lines combine at least two of these.

I’m thinking especially of Orwell’s 1984 “It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”. I’m immediately intrigued by the thirteen and I want to know about what kind of world it could be to have clocks capable of doing this. The opening line has definitely fulfilled its role there!

The challenge then for the writer is to make sure that everything which follows lives up to the promise of that opening line and delivers on it! And some people think writing is easy…hmm… I learned a long time ago that when someone makes something look easy, that same someone has almost certainly worked their socks off for years to get to that point.

So what are your favourite lines and why?

I also love the opening to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. Very different in style but they intrigue and set the tone for what is to come.

Happy reading, and writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STORY IDEAS AND PUBLICATION NEWS

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How do you develop your story ideas? I sometimes use spider diagrams to help me here. I come up with what will often go on to be the opening line and work out different scenarios and then write up the one I like the most. It does help to visualise a story sometimes.

With some stories I can hear the character talking and I’ve then got to work out where that dialogue would lead that character. Sometimes the story can be WHERE that dialogue has come from and the talk itself is actually the end of the story. In my They Don’t Understand, I had the finishing line very early on and then worked the story out backwards from there.

So I’d say be open to what approaches you take here. I’ve found one size/one way of doing things is not necessarily the best. You can constrict yourself too much. I also think it is a good thing to mix things up when creating a story anyway. It’s fun too!

Do you find that when you have a closer look at your favourite books and stories there is a common theme? I’ve often found this to be the case.

I love The Lord of the Rings and practically all of the classic fairytales. The common link there? No matter what the struggle or how long it takes, good will defeat evil in the end. A positive theme (and yes I guess that is how you can tell it is fantasy, sadly!).

So what are your favourite themes in stories? I do like themes that speak of justice prevailing, evil being given the boot, or, in the case of historical fiction, shows me something about a past world I had not known before. I loved Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall for that though must confess I’ve not read Bring Up the Bodies as I am an Anne Boleyn fan and know how that story ends!

Great fiction, regardless of genre, will resonate with readers and the key to that resonance is the lead character, who would have been excellently portrayed.

There will be flaws, there will be virtues, there will be plenty that any of us could identify with, knowing our own flaws and virtues, and we absolutely have to find out whether our hero/heroine succeeds in their quest or not.

The lead character is memorable for all the right reasons then – and this still applies even if that character is the villain. They’ve got to have good reasons for acting the way they are (“because they’re evil” isn’t strong enough) and readers should understand why the villain is acting the way they are. Nobody has to like it though!

I suppose we’ve got to have someone to cheer on as we read the latest flash fiction, short story, or novel. And that someone has to appeal to us so how can writers do that? Characters with a great sense of humour come across well, as do characters willing to make sacrifices for their cause. That too can apply to villains (and I bet I wasn’t the only one who almost wanted to root for the late Alan Rickman’s Sherriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves!).

Make your characters distinctive then and easy to “fall for”. It almost goes without saying the first one to love your characters must be you!

Am delighted to say three stories of mine will be appearing on Cafelit over the next few days. Will share the links obviously but one of the tales is a direct result of an exercise set by Simon Hall in his A-Z of Novel Writing at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. I turned one of the exercises set into a flash fiction piece.

I am always happy to recommend a good read on Cafelit given the site has a wealth of stories and styles of storytelling on there – and not just because I’m on it sometimes but you will just have to take me at my word on that one.

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I set the scene in the opening line or two of my flash stories, though sometimes that scene is the lead character’s thoughts and attitude! In those cases, you are entering their world as they see it. You don’t have to agree with them though (and I often don’t!).

Writing flash really does force you to focus on only those points without which the story makes no sense. It is the best way I know of learning how to write tight.

Scenes don’t have to be convoluted, far from it. You want the reader to get into your world as quickly as possible (especially since it’s not going to be a long ride!). Your job, as writer, is to open the door for the reader to be able to get in and out of the story at the appropriate points.

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The flash fiction stories that mean the most to me are ones which make the most impact on me. Sometimes that will be to make me laugh out loud, other times to recoil in horror, and occasionally make me feel I’m really glad NOT to be the character in the tale I’ve just read!

A good test for a story you have written is to see, after a period away from it, what impact it has on you. Did it make you laugh as you were meant to when you first read it? Is it still making you laugh when you re-read it a week or so later?

I’m looking then for the emotional impact of the story. A story is a moment in time for a character. A flash fiction piece is a fraction of a period of time, so the writer has to make that impact quickly and through the lead character.

For me, a good way in for this is to show the lead character’s attitude. Attitude is indeed everything and is quick, effective way to show what your people are like. Their attitude can also convey how other people are likely to react to them too and then hopefully that will make readers want to read on to see if they are right on that. Usually they will be but that’s fine. It means the writer has delivered.

Bad tempered character annoys everyone else in the story? Yes. Ticks all the boxes. The fun bit here is HOW did they annoy everyone and did they get their comeuppance? Bad tempered character is out done by someone more bad tempered still? Yes. There’s a story there too with the prospect of someone being taught an overdue lesson.

An interesting flash fiction challenge could be to start every sentence with the same word – and nominate a word for this. “The”, “A”, “An” etc will not be allowed. So let’s see what I can start with – I’ll have a go with “Habitat”.

Incidentally I usually prepare these posts as I type them! Very much on the fly writing (though I love the challenge of that). I only schedule posts in advance for holidays etc. Basically, I haven’t prepared this in advance, honest ‘guv’!

HABITAT
Habitat varies from creature to creature, and must include man.
Habitat isn’t put at risk by most, spot the difference if you can!
Habitat is what we all need to survive
Habitat is where our characters thrive.
Habitat is where I will place my heroes.
Habitat is where I will put my no-goes.
Habitat is the world of my story.
Habitat can be blissful or gory.

Allison Symes – 17th September 2018

I think the format of the flash fiction here will depend on the word you choose to use as your opener. Some words will lend themselves more obviously to a “straight story” rather than a flash poem so to speak but there is fun to be had exploring ideas here!

Delighted to have three new stories due to appear on Cafelit over the next few days. Will share links as and when. But back to the idea of using the same word to start the sentences of a flash piece with. My word for tonight is Restless and I will ‘fess up and admit I have given this one more thought though I did like the environmental theme that came through with Habitat yesterday.

RESTLESS
‘Restless, you are, Wilma, that’s what you are – always have been, always will be.
‘Restless, surely not, I just can’t get comfortable, that’s all’.
‘Restless, I said, and restless I meant.’
‘Restless, that’s the last thing I should be in here, George; I always thought I’d have peace HERE.’
‘Restless spirit, restless grave – I did think I’d have a break from your fidgeting when I joined you in here!’

ENDS.

Allison Symes – 18th September 2018

Hope you enjoy.

 

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Goodreads Author Programme – BlogOpening Lines

What is it about an opening line that makes you want to read on?

For me, that opening line has to intrigue me, show me something of the fictional world to come, or show me something about the lead character. The very best opening lines combine at least two of these.

I’m thinking especially of Orwell’s 1984 “It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”. I’m immediately intrigued by the thirteen and I want to know about what kind of world it could be to have clocks capable of doing this. The opening line has definitely fulfilled its role there!

The challenge then for the writer is to make sure that everything which follows lives up to the promise of that opening line and delivers on it! And some people think writing is easy…hmm… I learned a long time ago that when someone makes something look easy, that same someone has almost certainly worked their socks off for years to get to that point.

So what are your favourite lines and why?

I also love the opening to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. Very different in style but they intrigue and set the tone for what is to come.

Happy reading, and writing!

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Writing Tips

Facebook – and Chandler’s Ford Today

One of the problems I had in writing this week’s CFT post about Writing Tips was picking the those tips that have not only BEEN useful but mostly still ARE and then whittling those down to what I think are the most useful.

One of the great things about going to conferences etc is picking up all sorts of useful advice on the way. Some tips you’ll use immediately, others you will come back to later and I’ll often find, even in advice for say scriptwriting, there are often general pointers useful in other forms of writing. So I’ve learned then it pays to pay attention!

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Other than your PC or laptop, what is the most useful thing on your desk?

For me it is the humble notebook and pen (I count these as one item given they’re not that great without each other!).

I don’t always want to stop what I’m working on in Scrivener to open up a new folder to jot down the latest good idea I’ve had (well I hope it will be a good one!).

But a quick note with paper and pen and I can open up a new file and start researching when I’m ready to do so. I’ve long thought pen and paper really should come into the writing process somewhere, it seems right somehow, and that is despite my writing to screen most of the time.

These days odd notes here and there are generally what I use “old technology” for. And neither the notebook or pen need batteries, charging, discharging, or are at the mercies of power cuts etc etc…. Still I’m not sorry I no longer have to literally cut and paste or have to change typewriter ribbons or faff about with carbon paper…

My CFT post this week will be a a round up of writing tips I have found useful over the years (and still do). Hope it will prove useful. Link to go up on Friday.

One great thing about going to conferences like Swanwick Writers’ Summer School and the Winchester Writers’ Festival is you do get to pick up so many useful hints and tips, some of which are not always useful immediately, but you will come back to them later. And they come not just from the courses but when you get together with fellow writers over tea, coffee, dinner etc. So added reason to (a) go to good conferences and (b) get chatting with your fellow writers.

Like we needed an excuse or something…

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

More six-word stories for you. They should conjure up images and you can see a definite start, middle, and end.

1. The lion ran straight at you.
2. The dentist will see you now.

(Own up, which one scares you the most out of those two? The one that is just about possible or the one where you know you WILLhear those words at some point?!).

3. The fairy godmother trashed her wand.
4. Prince Charming wed an ugly sister.

(Probably as a direct result of story line 3 here!).

5. What was this world, she mused.
6. It really is hell in here.

Hope you enjoy!

Not a new topic I know, but one that is always pertinent: can I put the word out about reviews being really appreciated by authors? The obvious places are Amazon and Goodreads but links to other places so authors can share good reviews on their websites etc are also welcome.

Doesn’t have to be a long review either. I liked or loathed Book X because….. is fine. The crucial point is the review has to be an honest one so if you dislike a book, say why. With my consumer hat on, I do read reviews when I do my online food shop or am buying books myself and I like to see a variety of reviews. I am always suspicious of anything getting ALL 5 or 1 star reviews. I do read the positive and negative reviews and then make my own mind up! But the author is still helped as review numbers make a big difference, especially with Amazon.

Oh and don’t forget reviews are just as welcome for ebooks as they are for paperbacks.

Where do you find your inspiration? I find mine from films, odd sayings I’ve overheard or had said directly to me (so do watch what you tell me incidentally!), proverbs, advertising slogans, the classic fairytales, timeless themes such as love and revenge (and sometimes love and revenge together!), etc etc. The key to being inspired is keeping your mind open to the fact that ideas can be found all around you. It is then up to you to develop that initial spark further.

My Learning the Trade is inspired by the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and naturally my character blames the boss for basically not having an “undo” spell to hand! The Haunting is inspired by the Ladykillers (and if you ever get the chance to see the stage show of this, do. It’s fab in its own right though nothing will top the Ealing comedy with Alec Guinness).

Getting that initial idea is fabulous but what I really love is taking that and seeing what I can do with it. I like to have fun with my words and writing should be fun, most of the time anyway.

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytale A to Z Part 6

On to the next section tonight then and I get to do one of the difficult letters – Q!

P = Princes/Princesses are often the heroes/heroines in fairytales of course but I love the heroines that prove themselves every bit as capable and intelligent as any hero (and are often better!  Think Fiona in the Shrek series basically!). I also like those stories where the characters here have to prove themselves worthy of their calling – i.e.  it doesn’t just all fall into their laps because they are royal.  A character who has to work for something, regardless of their background, is a character that will face conflict, dilemmas, enemies, and will make mistakes and basically give the reader lots of lovely action and drama to follow – and they will.

Q = Questions.  Not such a tricky letter to find an answer for here though as I write this I don’t know yet what I will be coming up with for X!  All characters should ask questions and make your readers question them.  The situations you put your characters in should test them (and make them query whether they are doing the right thing or not – internal conflicts like this add depth to your stories and make your characters seem more real.  We all have internal conflicts to deal with so why shouldn’t fictional characters do too?).  Your readers should be engrossed with what your characters do and their attitudes and perhaps question themselves as to whether they’d act that way or not.  A reader that is asking questions like that is one who is engaged with your characters and stories.  You want lots of those!

R = Reading.  It goes without saying we need to read widely to know what it is we like and what we would like to write as a result.  But what would your characters read and how can you use that to show something of their personality?  What are their world’s myths and legends?

This World and Others – World Building Tips

Whether you write flash fiction or novels (or both!), world building tips should prove useful.  With my flash fiction, when I write in the fantasy genre, I just give enough details to confirm it is a magical setting for my story.  With my novel, I’ve got room to share more but things to consider when creating your world for your characters should include:-

  1. How your characters eat and drink (and what!).  Is the society a hunter-gatherer one? Meat eaters or vegetarians?
  2. How sanitation is dealt with.  If your characters are eating and drinking, they will need to excrete!  Okay this may not be a crucial part of your story, but there should be a general sense of how characters keep clean, and how disease is avoided (or not) due to good sanitation measures (or in the case of not due to the lack of them!).
  3. How their society is organised.  Is it class based?
  4. What their society expects of them especially if it is class based.  What happens to anyone defying expectations?
  5. Is their world a developed or developing one?
  6. If magical, are there limits to what people can do with their powers?  How is anarchy or dictatorship prevented (assuming it is!)?

Food for thought there I hope.

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Music and Characters

Facebook – General

Loved listening to a wonderful hour of Dr Who music on Classic FM tonight. Each piece brought back many happy memories of wonderful editions of the show. I suppose that is one reason why I love music – it can be so evocative – and for films/TV etc, it can really help set the tone for what is to come.

With stories, of course, there is no background music usually! We have to set the mood through what we reveal about our characters in what they say, think, and do. But the great thing about being the writer of the stories is you get to make the characters dance to YOUR tune! The really fun bit is making that tune varied – no monotones here, thank you.

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It was great fun earlier today taking part in #ValPenny‘s book launch for her second novel in the Edinburgh Crime Series, Hunter’s Revenge. Many thanks, Val!

The great thing about things like this is it makes you think about what you are reading and what you particularly enjoy.

The big thing for me with series novels is discovering how the characters change and develop from one book to another. Great fun. I also see it as getting more than one story for your money.

Not only is there the individual story of each book to follow, you get to see how your favourite (and least favourite) characters move on or not, as the case may be.

My overall favourite for character development is Terry Pratchett’s Sam Vimes. Compare him with how he appears in Guards, Guards to how he is in Raising Steam. Literally a character that comes a long way!

Good luck to Val and I hope everyone has a fabulous time with their reading and writing. It should be fun.

 

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How often do you review where you are with your writing? I tend to do this at the end of each year. What I’m looking for here is where I’ve been published during the last 12 months and whether I’ve achieved something I’ve not done before. I also set myself a couple of goals that I’d like to achieve in the next 12 months.

With regard to my CFT posts, I tend to look back at my topics every time I write a new article. This is partly because I’m looking for links to go with the current post. Often one writing related topic will kick off ideas for others. I love that when this happens.

In fiction, what I really love is getting ideas for other characters from the characters in the story I’m currently writing. Say Character A acts in a certain way due to pressure being put on them, I come up with a Character B who faces different pressures but reacts differently.

I love the creative buzz you get. It is always a good sign when you are buzzing with ideas to write up at some point.

Other than people giving plot endings away, what is the one thing you loathe most which is writing connected? (I take loathing the giving the plot endings away thing as read by the way!).

I suppose mine is when someone believes short stories (including flash fiction) must be easier to write than a novel. What is forgotten here is, no matter the length of story, all tales have to be edited and polished well ahead of submitting them anywhere.

Sure, a novel is going to take longer. Of course it is but it doesn’t mean short stories (including flash fiction) are any less worthwhile. Far from it. And, of course, many novelists write shorter pieces too!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Managed to write some flash fiction on the way to and from an Association of Christian Writers Committee meeting today. I do love using train journeys for this! I find it liberating to be writing but away from my desk.

I drafted a nice mix too – one story was a very short piece, the other I think is going to come in at about 200 words, but both can be submitted somewhere later once I’ve had the chance to polish them.

Looking forward to giving a brief talk on flash fiction at the Hampshire Writers’ Society in October. Will post more details nearer the time.

I like story collections which offer a variety of moods of story. I see it as dipping into a “selection box” of story treats (and a lot less fattening than dipping into an actual selection box!). This is why I wanted From Light to Dark and Back Again to be like this and that mood selection inspired the title too.

As for flash fiction collections on single themes, I like those too. (Dawn Knox’s The Great War is a fabulous example of this). Don’t know if I’ll go that route myself but it’ll be posted here first if I do! It’s fantastic having so much choice with flash fiction.

I like being able to come up with different settings for my flash fiction stories. Though my rule here is one setting for one story and generally one character too. (Sometimes I’ll use two but if I’m keeping to the 100-word limit especially it is nearly always one character only and often I’m telling the story in the first person for a more immediate impact).

The great thing is the character or the setting can dictate the story genre being used. If I mention a character is a fairy godmother, well you’ve got the fantasy genre there in a nutshell. What images you have of what a fantasy world with fairy godmothers in it looks like will almost certainly differ from the images I conjure up here (pun intended!), but that’s good. We bring our differing experiences and thoughts when we read a story. How much more when we write them too!

I find it hard to say whether I prefer writing the lighter or darker stories in From Light to Dark and Back Again (and indeed the book I’m currently working on).

I love coming up with something humorous but with the darker pieces, I often feel there is more character development in those.

Certainly whenever I read darker flash fiction whether it is written by myself or others, I am always wondering what led to that character being like this and thinking about what their back story could have been. This is a good sign as it shows that character has really come to life in your imagination.

With humorous pieces, I am kind of working to the “punchline” though this must wrap the story up beautifully, make sense, and be funny.

Goodreads Author Blog – Read the Book First or Watch the Film?

When it comes to adaptations, do you read the original book first or watch the film and then decide to go and read the book?

I must admit I’ve done both. I read The Lord of the Rings before seeing the films. I read Oliver Twist after seeing Alec Guinness play Fagin on TV all those years ago. (Mesmerising performance in evil manipulation there!).

I must admit one thing I love about the Muppets’ version of A Christmas Carol is they plug reading the original book right at the end of the film. (And they’re right – you should read it!).

A good adaptation will bring a story to life and help draw people into reading the original book. A bad one will do the exact opposite!

So where DO you turn first – the book or the film? Why do you think you’ve chosen as you have?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best and the Worst

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My CFT post this week looks at some of the best (and worst!) decisions I’ve made in writing! I also share some thoughts on where to get good advice. Hope this proves helpful.

The writing journey is precisely that – and there are bound to be things like potholes, wrong turnings etc along the way. Doesn’t mean your particular journey has to come to a grinding halt though. I’ve found offen things that were not great at the time, I’ve (a) learned from that experience and (b) gone on to do much better.

What is your favourite one liner?

Mine is an Eric Morecambe classic – “He’s not going to sell much ice cream going at that speed, is he?”. Surreal and very, very funny. (Oh and correct too – nobody sells ice cream at speed!)

In fiction, I love Jane Austen’s, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”. Delicious irony here and a great foretaste of what is to come from Pride and Prejudice.

I don’t know how often Eddie Braben wrote and rewrote that line for Eric Morecambe or how often Jane Austen wrote and rewrote her classic opener – but definitely worth the effort in both cases!

On a sadder note, I was sorry to hear of the death of Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan from Blake’s 7 – great acting and a fantastic character to play).

My CFT post this week will be about The Best and The Worst. I take a look at some of the best and worst decisions I’ve made as a writer. (There will be tears before bedtime… mine!). Link will go up on Friday but what I hope will come from this will be a few thoughts on where to go for advice and not being afraid to say no to something that is not good for you or your writing. You’ve got to to see yourself as being in this for the long haul – the VERY long haul!