Fears, Flash Fiction, and Keeping It Simple

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Pleased to say a new flash fiction story of mine is now up on Cafelit. Story below but am sharing the link to Cafelit too.  Do explore the wide range of stories on there. Hope you enjoy Jack of All Trades.

This is influenced by an old Bob Newhart sketch (where a new employee has to report to his boss that King Kong is climbing up the side of the Empire State Building! Newhart is fab – I have a CD of his very best material including The Driving Instructor and highly recommend him).

Jack of All Trades by Allison Symes

chocolate milkshake

Nothing was said about this in the manual. Jack blinked. He hadn’t been mistaken. The purple dinosaur was there and it didn’t look happy. Still, Jack knew he had to report these things so he tapped his supervisor’s number out on his mobile.

It took several minutes for Jack to stop repeating his description of the beast and longer still for the supervisor to stop swearing. The purple dinosaur was munching its way through what had been the supermarket.

At least demolishing the contents of the butcher’s counter was keeping the creature occupied and its attention away from Jack. He felt this was good news. Jack’s supervisor felt differently – his cousin was the butcher at that supermarket. It was made clear Jack was disposable.

Jack hung up. If he didn’t resolve this, he’d be eaten or, if he survived, sacked. If he did resolve it, the supervisor wouldn’t mind having the call cut off.

He saw the dinosaur had finished the meat. The next aisle contained the veg.

It won’t want that, Jack thought. I never do. Still, if a creature comes through from the next world, it can jolly well go back there again and at speed. We don’t want his sort here.

‘Come here, boy,’ Jack did a quick check, ‘sorry, girl. This world is no place for you.’

Jack took a flare out from his tool belt and fired it above the dinosaur. It roared and ran back through the gaping hole in dimensions its body had blocked from Jack’s view.

Jack sighed. He’d have to fix that too.

About the author

Allison Symes is published by Chapeltown Books, Cafe Lit, and Bridge House Publishing amongst others.  She is a member of the Society of Authors and Association of Christian Writers.  Her website is www.allisonsymescollectedworks.wordpress.com and she blogs for Chandler’s Ford Today – http://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/author/allison-symes/

Am enjoying Doctor Who though admittedly tonight’s episode was not for the arachnophobes amongst us. Scary though, as DW is meant to be. I always did sympathise with Ron Weasley in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets over his reaction to the giant spiders in that.

Character fears can be a good area to explore to:-

a. Find out whether or not they overcome them
b. How the fears developed
c. What happens when forced to face up to them.

Fears can be the making of a character if, to use the modern phrase, “they feel the fear and do it anyway”. There have got to be some great stories there!

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Facebook – General – and More than Writers, ACW blog

Time for my monthly spot on More Than Writers, the Association of Christian Writers’ blog. This time, I look at KISS and why Keeping It Simple really isn’t a stupid thing to do.

The irony is that effortless reading (which is a joy) has almost certainly been subject to many an edit to get it to that point. Writing directly can be harder than you think. Fighting the urge to embellish what doesn’t need it is an ongoing thing.

Anyway, hope you enjoy.

Keeping It Simple Is Definitely Not Stupid

I’m not fond of the acronym, KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid), as there’s nothing stupid about “direct” writing. Keeping it simple is much harder to do than whoever invented that acronym supposed. I guess it is meant to imply the other person IS stupid for not keeping it simple but the reality is you have to edit hard to get your prose to the state where it reads as if it has been written effortlessly.

In my honest opinion, keeping your writing simple is never a stupid thing to do.  Pixabay image.

You then repeat the process until you reach the point where you cannot improve the work. Sometimes you reach the point of being heartily sick of it but that’s another story.  It shows it’s time to take a break and come back to it later and look at it again with a fresh perspective.  The distance away from it does help.

Some editing is definitely needed here!  Pixabay image!

I learned a long time ago when someone makes something look easy, whether it is writing or any other creative art, you can bet that same someone has worked their socks off for years, perfecting their craft, to achieve this.  (And, as they say, other hosiery items are available!).

Just how much hard work has gone into getting to this stage?  Pixabay image

I start my editing of a story or a blog post by looking for what I know are my wasted words – “very”, “actually” and “that”.  The first two contribute little to a piece, you do need “that” sometimes but not nearly as often as you might think, and I have found by focusing on removing these words first, I enter straight into “editor mode”.  It is easier when in that mindset to cut what has to be cut.  (I can justify the “that” there!).

I overwrite, which I used to hate, but now I accept it is part of how I write and there is little a good edit or several can’t fix!  Rarely have I written a piece where I’ve needed to “fill” and I hated it when I did.  It felt artificial and was one of those rare instances where I binned the whole idea (and that is needed sometimes if, no matter what you do, it isn’t working).

If an idea isn’t working, despite time away from it, binning it can be the right thing to do. Pixabay image.

The other good thing was this instance made me brainstorm for better ideas, which is what I should have done in the first place.  Lesson learned there.  I don’t mind effort, indeed I expect it as we all should with our work, but I loathe it when it seems to be wasted.  Still, I’m not planning on making that mistake again so I think some good has come out of it.

Also when editing, I look for how the sentences flow.  Do they read easily?  Do they convey the exact meaning I wanted?  Could I express things better?  (The answer to that one is nearly always yes).

No matter how fantastic your fictional world, it still pays to keep the writing simple.  Pixabay image.

Simple writing then is not lazy writing.  It is hard work but well worth the effort.  Simple writing pulls the reader in.  Look at Jesus’s parables.  Straightforward storytelling.  Not a wasted word.  No waffle.  Now there’s a challenge to us all!

Jesus’s stories are the work of the master storyteller.  Pixabay image.

My CFT post this week will be a review of The Chameleon Theatre Company’s latest production, Blackadder Goes Forth. Link up on Friday though I will say now that final scene of the last episode is incredibly moving and the way it was performed on stage was excellent.

Generally I find it is moments in books, TV shows etc that stand out (and in a really good series, say, helps recall the rest of the show. The chandelier scene in Only Fools and Horses is another classic here, as is Del Boy falling “through” the bar).

I suppose the challenge here for any writer is to ensure we put plenty of stand out moments in our stories!

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The writer’s way is strewn with words
Chittering away like the birds.
The issue is how to edit
Would the dialogue really be said
Or does it seem not real somehow?
Does your piece make your reader go “wow”?
Is the tale all action, does it flow?
Is the pace fast enough or, eek, slow?
The advantage to writing flash fiction
Is it teaches writing with precision.

Allison Symes – 30th October 2018

To finish my alphabetical look at flash fiction (in particular attributes useful for writing it), I finish with Y and Z. Now there’s a challenge but at least I know it’s been coming!

Y = Young. Can be taken to mean having a mixture of character ages in your stories or what a character will do to defend their young. Interesting tales to be had from both of these. Also if you tend to write from the viewpoint of older characters, why not switch and see if you can write from the viewpoint of someone, say, 20 or 30 years younger? Mixing things up helps to keep your writing fresh and you will enjoy it far more.

Z = Zealous. Firstly, are your characters zealous enough for their cause to see it through no matter what? They should be. If not, is their cause strong enough? If it is, why isn’t the character engaging with it fully? Look again at what your character wants. Do they want this enough? Secondly, are you zealous about editing your work well, as well as enjoying the more obviously fun creative side of writing? You need both to get work out there and it makes sense then to relish both the writing and the editing.

Now at the tail end of the alphabet for my flash fiction listing.

V = Variation. As with any fiction, vary the pace of your flash fiction tales. There is room for reflective, thought provoking pieces, as well as the action story. Vary how you tell the tale – first person, second etc. Vary the settings. Above all have fun. The first person to enjoy your writing should be you.

W = Writing. What else? Write regularly. Write first, edit later. The lovely thing about flash fiction is you can use it as a warm up exercise ahead of major writing (e.g. a novel) but there’s nothing to stop you editing those exercises and getting them out into the flash fiction markets and competitions.

X = Xerox! I was determined not to use X-rated for this one but Xerox does have a serious point to it. The great joy of writing is inventing something you have created (albeit inspired by what you have read over time). Never ever xerox/copy another writer’s work. Create your own work always. That IS the whole point.

Will have a go at Y and Z tomorrow!

Getting nearer to the end of the alphabet with my flash fiction “requisites”.

S = Story. Has to be really. It is all about the story and that is dictated by the characters. Without memorable characters there is no story. A story is about conflict and resolution in most cases and the characters “carry that”.

T = Turning Point. In flash fiction you obviously reach this point quicker than in standard length short stories. Sometimes the turning point can be revealed in the last line (often via the classic twist in the tale ending). Sometimes you can start with it. In my George Changes His Mind, I start with “He refused to kill the dragon”. There’s the turning point immediately. It is clearly expected George SHOULD kill the beast. The story then hinges on finding out why he didn’t and what the outcome was.

U = Universe. Each flash fiction has to be its own complete universe. By the end of it, a reader should have a sense of your setting, been mesmerised by your character(s), and the conclusion to the tale should be appropriate to the story (and satisfactory as a result, even if the ending is not a happy one). The nice thing is your story universe can be set in a fantastic world or this one in amongst the mundane! Your call but we should be wanting to find out what happens in the world you show us.

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Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Music and Stories

As I’m typing this, I’m listening to a concert of John Williams’ music being broadcast on Classic FM. (I do love the Listen Again feature!).

Every piece of music conjures up memories of films (often Spielberg ones) and with those memories come stories. Stories of when I discovered the film, the story contained within the movie itself etc. Of course so many movies are based on novels too.

So do you find a certain piece of music always conjures up stories for you? I’ve only to hear the opening notes of the Harry Potter film to be whisked away to recalling the books and movies (loved both).

I sometimes use music as a guide to help me create characters for my own writing. Character X would love this, Y would love that, etc.

I also love stories set to music. Up the Junction by Squeeze is a wonderful example of this – and a great ballad in the old tradition too.

When reading I have to read in silence but music is fab for when I can’t just drop everything to pick up a book. I still have the stories and the memories of stories as I work on other matters and that has to be a good thing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Music and Stories

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One of the joys of writing my Chandler’s Ford Today posts is when I have a topic where I can go to town on finding music clips! The topic of books is one of them.

Many thanks to my wonderful panel – #JenniferCWilson, #ValPenny, #AnneWan, #WendyHJones, and #RichardHardie – for taking part in my mini-series The Joys and Challenges of Writing Series Novels. Hope you enjoy their fantastic insights AND the music I’ve used to go with these!

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Had a great night out watching the Chameleon Theatre Group perform three episodes from Blackadder Goes Forth, including Goodbyeee. Review to follow on Chandler’s Ford Today in due course but I will say now it was superbly done and the set, made by the company themselves, was brilliant. Looking forward to sharing more on that.

Adaptations I’m generally happy with if they are faithful to the book/series etc. This is why I loved the Miss Marple series with Joan Hickson – they were faithful to the Christie canon – but the Marple series. No. Didn’t watch it. Just couldn’t bring myself to do so when it emerged they were altering the stories and bringing in characters that didn’t belong in the originals. Really don’t like that.

My CFT post this week will be the final part of my series on the joys and challenges of writing the series novel. As ever, my thanks to to #JenniferCWilson, #ValPenny, #AnneWan, #WendyHJones, and #RichardHardie. Nice range of genres between them too – from children’s to crime (and Wendy writes both!) to fantasy to historical crossed with ghost stories. Link up on Friday.

Glad to report I’ll be having more work on Cafelit later this week and again in November. Will share links as and when.

From what I’ve seen of the set the Chameleons have produced for the stage version of Blackadder Goes Forth, I anticipate a packed house and a wonderful and thoughtful evening of entertainment. Will review for CFT in due course. Do check their FB page out.

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thank you text on black and brown board

Pexels image.  There are times when words are inadequate.

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So more on my alphabetical list then.

J = Juicy Storylines! Not just for soap operas, honestly, but something every character wants. Now “juicy” can be taken literally of course, but I see it as the storyline being appropriate for the character and taking them and stretching them to see what they are really made of. There’s nothing like a crisis for bringing out the best or worst in someone and that applies just as well to fiction!

K = Kicker. Must admit I needed to look this one up. (It’ll be interesting to find out what I can research for Q!). In journalism it apparently means a sudden unexpected change of events. In fiction we’d usually refer to it as a twist in the tale. I like kicker though. Has bite. And your stories must too, whether they have a twist/kicker in them or not.

L = Lines. Who is getting the best lines in your story? Your hero or your villain? A great story will have this split between the two to prevent either becoming a stereotype or, worse still, boring! Also a villain capable of humour etc means while your reader will not want them to win (possibly SHOULD not!), they will sympathise and identify with the villain to a certain extent. There should be something about each character a reader can identify with. (My inspiration here is Alan Rickman’s masterly portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves!).

About halfway through the alphabetical listing now. So then:-

M = Muse. The best way to feed said muse is to read widely and often (and do include non-fiction and poetry in this too. Different sources of writing are good for you and inspire your own thoughts and ideas in various ways). I’ve also found writing regularly feeds it too. Never worry about what you come out with at first being awful and needing work. That would’ve happened to Shakespeare too! It can and will be put right in the edits!

N = Narrative. Whose story is it? Whose viewpoint is going to dominate? What can that character see and know that the others cannot? Why have you chosen that character to lead the narrative? Answer those questions and your story will be off to a good start!

O = Originality. Reading widely feeds your originality. Partly this is due to what you read, but sometimes it can be because you read something you really don’t like or feel you can do better and that can be the trigger point for your own writing. Also, your voice is unique to you and will come through in your writing, especially if you write often. Regular writing (even if it is short bouts at a time) really does encourage your imaginative “muscle” to start working.

Pressing on with my alphabet topic then, we reach P, Q and R. (Great letters if you can get them out in Scrabble incidentally!).

P = Performance. Do your characters perform well in your stories? Do they live up to what you outlined them to be or have they gone beyond that? Read your stories out loud. Perhaps record them and play them back. Hear how your characters perform. Are they having the impact on you that you want them to have on your reader?

Q = Quizzing. I’ve found quizzing my characters to be a very useful part of my outlining. I don’t need to know the minute details. Nor do I put everything I outline in a story. However, I take my character’s basic traits and quiz them from there. If I decide a character is going to be brave, I will quiz them to find out if there are limits to that courage. I try to find out where that courage comes from. Does their “tribe” prize bravery? Or is it noticeably absent and your character is rebelling against that? What are the outcomes? (There WILL be some and that’s where the drama and your stories are to be found!).

R = Right Word Count for your Flash Fiction. I sometimes write a piece deliberately to a word count and that’s it. Sometimes I think a story will come to 100 words but discover it can be done in 75 or needs to run to 250, say. Be flexible on this. The story is the right length when the lead character has done and said all they have to do/say for the situation you’ve put them in. The great thing with flash fiction is there are so many different categories, that even if your treasured 100 word piece comes in at 500 words, there will be markets and competitions for that out there.

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After the End, What’s Next?

If you’ve enjoyed a really good book, what do you do when you finish it? Go on to read more books by the same author, or read more in the same genre, or do you go for something that is completely different in mood and style?

I have done all three of these (though obviously not at the same time!) and it very much depends on my mood at the end of the story. If I’ve loved a gory crime thriller, I may well want something humorous to show the lighter side of life, albeit a fictional one!

With short stories especially, I tend to read a few by the same author before moving on. With novels, if the book has really gripped me, I’ve got to check out what else the author has done, even if I decide I’ll come back to those later.

The important thing though is that whatever you read, you enjoy it so much, you keep on reading, no matter what author, genre, style etc you choose next. Happy reading!

Image Credit:  many thanks to the Hampshire Writers’ Society for taking the photo of me reading as guest speaker and for kind permission to use the photo.  Both much appreciated!

Fairytales with Bite – Signs of a Fairytale World

What are the signs of a fairytale world?  How can you know quite quickly you ARE in one (via fiction I’m presuming for the purposes of this post!  If you do find a portal to another world, however, be sure to report back with plenty of details, pictures if at all possible.  We will all want to know!!).

1.  Magic.  The biggest giveaway of course is the use of magic.  The interesting thing to work out when planning your stories though is whether everyone can use magic or just a select few.  If everyone can use it, what are the rules so anarchy doesn’t break out?  Boundaries increase the drama in your story.  If everyone can zap everyone else, that doesn’t make for much of a story.  If only a few can do that but the price they pay is their own lives are forfeit, now there’s a potential story.

2.  Inanimate Objects – The Use Of.  We all know from Disney (see Beauty and the Beast) a teapot, to name one example, is rarely just a teapot!  Sometimes they’re an enchanted victim.  Sometimes these things are portals (also see Harry Potter).  So what uses are the inanimate objects put to in your setting?  Does a particular object convey a particular meaning or power and, if so, what and why?  What are the limits to the use of objects?

3.  Creatures.  Ranging from domestic animals that can talk (hello, Puss in Boots!  Loved Puss in Shrek.  Thought they had the portrayal spot on) to odd creatures that are the stuff of legends to monsters of course.   Basically what you wouldn’t see here!  And there’s nothing to stop you inventing your own.  This is where some knowledge of natural history is invaluable.  Knowing what animals need to survive and how their bodies are designed to handle that should inspire some ideas for how the creatures in your stories will do this kind of thing.

Happy writing!

This World and Others – Music and Stories

In my latest CFT post, the final part of my mini-series on The Joys and Challenges of Writing Series Novels, I get to have some fun choosing music tracks to go with my fantastic panel’s insights.  Many thanks again to Jennifer C Wilson, Val Penny, Anne Wan, Wendy H Jones, and Richard Hardie for taking part in this three part series.  Hope you enjoy the insights and the music!

Music and stories have long been intertwined of course.  So many wonderful songs are stories set to music effectively.  Music can and does play a part in stories.  It can be used to show character.  Movies, of course, rely on music to help set mood.  Think of the Jaws theme by John Williams.  Every note of that puts pictures and therefore stories in your head (and possibly might put you off swimming in the open sea but that’s another matter!  There are advantages to just swimming in the local public baths!!).

I write with classical music playing.  (I often listen to Classic FM).  Unlike other styles of music, it hasn’t affected my mood (and therefore what I write!).  It does help me relax and I write more (and I hope better) when relaxed.  I’ve also found it helpful to think of the kind of music my characters would be fans of when I’m creating them.  It almost certainly won’t come into the story I write but it fills out my knowledge of the character I’m about to place before a reader.  That has to be a good thing.

And I must admit I loved choosing the music for my book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back Again.   The track used is an adaptation of Camille Saint Saens Danse Macabre (used as the theme tune for the BBC detective series Jonathan Creek).

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Objectives

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Looking forward to seeing the Chameleons’ production of Blackadder later this week. Should be a very good night out. The last episode of Blackadder Goes Forth is one of those sublime moments of writing where comedy meets tragedy and both are done superbly. Definitely not an easy thing to do.

Blackadder clearly had one objective in mind in Goes Forth – to get out of the war and go back home. Totally understandable.

What is your character’s overriding objective in your story? What will they do to achieve it? What gets in their way? In those three lines, you have a plot outline!

Pleased to have sent off some flash fiction stories last night. Plan to get more out later this week, there is one particular website I’m keen to try out, and finally want to get around to doing so!

One of the trickiest things to handle is time. (And yes I think Doctor Who showed that brilliantly in the Rosa Parks episode). How much time do you spend working on new stories and ideas? How much time do you spend marketing?

As with so much in life, there has to be a balance. I’ve found it helpful to look at the week as a whole. By the end of it, I want to have written some new material, be editing older work ready for submission, have my next CFT post up and ready to go, and have carried out at least some marketing. Okay life does not always go according to plan but whatever I’ve not quite done enough of writing wise in one week is what gets the focus of my attention during the following one. It does all balance out eventually.

Acronyms featured in this morning’s church service sermon and of course they’re a common feature in writing. KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid is probably the best known one. Very much the antidote to “purple prose” – the days of the long descriptive passages are behind us!

I suspect that is due to everyone being used to films etc where you get into the action quickly but it is not a bad thing. I like descriptions in stories to be to the point and to feel as if they are a seamless part of the narrative and not a “bolt on”.

All parts of the story must feel to the reader as if they have to be there and the tale would fall down without them. If you’re not sure if something should be cut, ask yourself how your story works without that something in it and that should indicate quickly enough whether it is needed or not.

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Had a fabulous time at the Writers’ Day run by the Association of Christian Writers today. The topic was on writing for children and YA but there was discussion on crossover fiction and contracts, all very useful stuff. From my viewpoint, it is lovely to meet some of the membership face to face given I usually only meet them via emails!

The importance of networking came out as well during the day and I lost my own fear of this when I realised it meant chatting naturally about books, what I’m writing and so on. I have no problem going on at length about that topic!

(Oh and a quick reminder: if you’re offered a publishing contract, always get it checked out. The Society of Authors and Alliance of Independent Authors are the places to go for that. Both I believe issue guides which are free to members. There’s a small fee charged to non-members. Never be afraid to ask).

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A = Alliteration. Can be useful for titles in flash fiction (though I don’t use it much) but as with any story, it can grab the attention and help set the mood. Best not overused I think. You want each title to set the tone for what it is to come and a variety of methods for doing that is best. Keeps it fresh for you as the writer too.

B = Backstory. Not a lot of room for that in flash fiction! Best to hint at it through one or two vital details the reader has to know and leave it at that.

C = Character. The kingpin of fiction I think. Get the character right and the plot will come from them. Know your character inside and out – I find it useful to know their chief trait (and I piece together a mental picture of what they are like from there). Find the appropriate starting point for you but it is worth taking the time to know your character well before you start. Your writing will flow better because you write with that knowledge. It does come through in what you write.

There was talk at the ACW Writers’ Day today of how boundaries, far from restricting creativity, help it to flourish. This is SO true for flash fiction as well. The limited word count means you have to dig deeper to come up with those original ideas that make flash fiction stand out and have the most impact on a reader. It is worth the effort!

I usually know what impact I want a story of mine to have on a reader before I write it. This is to help me choose my words with precision. However, sometimes a story (more accurately the lead character) surprises me and the tale ends up being funnier, darker, sadder than I’d originally thought. This is no bad thing. It means the character has life and if they surprise me, they’ll surprise the reader too.

It may also indicate I hadn’t outlined enough but the great thing is ideas that come to you as you write a piece are not wasted. Jot them down, step back and take a look at where they can fit in. Are they better than your original thoughts? Do they add depth to your original thoughts?

 

Back to working my way through the alphabet again then…

D = Drama. Even the shortest flash fiction has to have some drama in it! But it is also true that serious drama doesn’t necessarily have to have lots of words to make it so! There is drama and anguish in Hemingway’s famous example of For Sale: One pair Baby Shoes. The drama should suit the story though (and be to the right length for that tale).

E = Editing. Every story needs this and I don’t think it should be something a writer dreads. I always feel a sensible amount of relief when I’ve drafted a story as it means I’ve then got something to work with. Editing improves a story and, as a result, increases its chances of success. Take your time over the process though.

F = Fun! Writing should be fun. You are creating something new for others to enjoy. The first person to enjoy said tale should be you!

So marching on then:-

G = Genre. One of my favourite things about flash fiction is because it has to be character led, due to the word count restrictions, you can set those characters anywhere. So, if you’ll pardon the pun here, you do have an open book when it comes to genre in the stories you write. Have fun with that, I do!

H = Humour. Can work well in flash fiction as you can end the story with what is effectively a punchline. Also when you have a very short funny piece, look at turning it into flash fiction. It can be an ideal vehicle for those pieces which would be spoiled if you added anything more (and this often goes for humorous pieces).

I = Imagination. True for any form of fiction, but I find with flash fiction I’m using my imaginative muscles far more. Why? Because I try not to come up with the obvious idea from a theme or title. I dig deep and see what else I can come up with, something that will make a greater impact on the reader.

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After the End, What Next?

If you’ve enjoyed a really good book, what do you do when you finish it? Go on to read more books by the same author, or read more in the same genre, or do you go for something that is completely different in mood and style?

I have done all three of these (though obviously not at the same time!) and it very much depends on my mood at the end of the story. If I’ve loved a gory crime thriller, I may well want something humorous to show the lighter side of life, albeit a fictional one!

With short stories especially, I tend to read a few by the same author before moving on. With novels, if the book has really gripped me, I’ve got to check out what else the author has done, even if I decide I’ll come back to those later.

The important thing though is that whatever you read, you enjoy it so much, you keep on reading, no matter what author, genre, style etc you choose next. Happy reading!

Stand Alones, Flash Fiction and Fairytales

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Many thanks again to Jennifer C Wilson, Val Penny, #AnneWan, Wendy Jones, and Richard Hardie for their further insights into the joys and challenges of writing series fiction. Amongst tonight’s topics is how to ensure each book in a series works as a stand-alone, given our series writers can never know which book a reader will actually start with. It isn’t necessarily book 1!

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What five things do I like to see in a character? Ideally they have all of the traits I list below but as long as a character has the majority of them, I’m likely to enjoy spending time in the company of that character as I read their story.

1. Courage.
2. Sense of Humour.
3. Loyalty.
4. They, at the very least, respect books; at best they have their own library!
5. Kindness.

Does that rule out the villains? No! Even villains can be kind to their pet cat, have a decent library etc.

Looking at that list, it’s what I like to see in myself and, before you ask, I’m working on the personal library bit! (It’s nowhere near as grand as the one in the pictures below though!).

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One of the things I love about going to writing conferences is that I always learn something pertinent to what I write. And it is not always an obvious link.

I’m off to the Association of Christian Writers’ Day on Saturday, the topic is Writing for Children and Young Adults, which is not directly what I do, but I just know I will pick up useful tips that I can apply directly.

And you never know – looking at what other writers do can help you re-examine whether you are working in the best way you can. It may also inspire a new direction of writing too! What I do know is it will be fun finding out if it does or not and what useful tips I’ll bring home with me.

The great thing with writing is you never stop learning how to improve what you do and that is so good for your brain!

(And networking is always fun!).

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

A = Alliteration. Can be useful for titles in flash fiction (though I don’t use it much) but as with any story, it can grab the attention and help set the mood. Best not overused I think. You want each title to set the tone for what it is to come and a variety of methods for doing that is best. Keeps it fresh for you as the writer too.

B = Backstory. Not a lot of room for that in flash fiction! Best to hint at it through one or two vital details the reader has to know and leave it at that.

C = Character. The kingpin of fiction I think. Get the character right and the plot will come from them. Know your character inside and out – I find it useful to know their chief trait (and I piece together a mental picture of what they are like from there). Find the appropriate starting point for you but it is worth taking the time to know your character well before you start. Your writing will flow better because you write with that knowledge. It does come through in what you write.

As ever, am planning to write flash fiction on the train journey to and from London on Saturday as I head off to a writing day run by the Association of Christian Writers. It’s amazing what you can get done on a smartphone with no interruptions! (Daren’t do this on the Tube though. Always worried I’ll miss my stop! I do think the Tube is a wonderful invention and you never get cold down there either…).

I also sometimes draft non-fiction articles and future blog posts when out and about. I just need a long enough train journey to draft a novel now. 😉😁Hmm….

 

When planning your story (you do, yes?), I find it useful to work out what the obvious ideas might be from a title I’ve thought of, and then work out what could come from those. I don’t plump for the first ideas that come to me. I try to make myself dig that bit deeper to come up with something that fits the theme, makes sense, but is also different precisely because I haven’t gone for the obvious ideas!

Spider diagrams or flowcharts can be useful here. I find I must have a title to kick start the process with, even if I do end up changing it for something better later. It is always a tad annoying that a better title idea crops up when you are writing the story and NOT before you get started, but that is one of those quirks of writing!

Picture of me reading was taken by the lovely #DawnKentishKnox at last year’s Bridge House event. Am very much looking forward to this year’s one too!

 

Gill talks with Dawn and I at the BH event, image taken by Paula Readman

Gill James talks with Dawn Knox and I at a networking event held by Bridge House Publishing last December. Am glad to report Dawn will also be in the Waterloo Festival Anthology. Image from Paula Readman and thanks to her for permission to use it.

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

Paula Readman, Dawn Knox and I at the recent Bridge House celebration event. Many thanks to Paula for the image. Also Paula is another winning entry for the Waterloo Festival.

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Dawn Kentish Knox, fellow flash fiction writer, reads some work from her excellent book, The Great War. Image by Allison Symes

Lovely having an appreciative audience, pic taken by Dawn Kentish Knox

I read three stories from From Light to Dark and Back Again. Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for the picture!

Book Buying News!

From Light to Dark and Back Again is available from The Book DepositoryDelivery time on the paperback is 1 to 3 business days.  As ever, reviews are always welcome in the usual places.  The great thing is reviews do not need to be long but they all help the writer, even the indifferent ones!

Fairytales with Bite – Flash Fiction and Fairytales

Flash fiction is an ideal vehicle for fairytales.  Why?  Because the best fairytales set up their world quickly, have a definite conclusion, and often pack a powerful punch.  Flash fiction does this too so to my mind flash and fairytales are a match made in writing heaven.

Flash fiction has to be character led due to its limited word count but you can set that character wherever and whenever you wish.  A few telling details can set up a magical world quickly.  For example from my George Changes His Mind (in From Light to Dark and Back Again), I set up a magical world with the opening line “He refused to kill the dragon.”  The telling detail there is in one word – dragon! The story goes on to show what happens and that is the important bit of the story after all.  I don’t need to use thousands of words setting up the magical world in which this is set.  This is not crucial to this story.  What matters is it IS in a magical world and what George goes on to do or not do.

A lot of my stories are either reflections of a fairytale world or set in it and they are great fun to write but I always focus on what the lead character is like.  That is the crucial point of any story I think but in flash where every word must work hard to earn its place to stay there, it is even more so.

This World and Others – Stand Alone

Part 2 of my CFT mini series on The Joys and Challenges of Writing Series Novels looks at, amongst other topics, how to ensure a book stands alone given no series novelist can know at which point a reader will discover their writing.  It is highly unlikely to be book 1.  Indeed I’ve discovered series at the mid point! Many thanks again to my marvellous panellists – Jennifer C Wilson, Val Penny, Anne Wan, Wendy H Jones, and Richard Hardie – for some great insights.  Very happy to recommend their books to you too.  Great reads one and all albeit for different audiences!

It is true that every writer stands alone, even those that collaborate as they have to go off to write “their bits” before coming back and swapping notes with the other one(s) in the project.  We have to judge whether our work is strong enough to submit and, if there is a choice of places to submit to, which is the best one.  We have to judge whether we have edited a piece enough or if it still needs work.  The call is with us and we are going to get it wrong.  The joy, of course, is when we get it right and a piece is published.

This is where meeting other writers, whether at conferences, online, at courses etc., is invaluable.  There is nobody like another writer to know exactly how it feels when you’re struggling to get the words out or who knows the joy of the words pouring out and work going well.  You do have to share this sometimes for the sake of your own sanity!

I learned a long time ago no writer is a competitor to me.  I write as I write.  I cannot write as you would.  We all bring our unique perspectives to what we write – and that is the great thing about it!

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Time Pockets and Titles

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Managed to draft a little non-fiction whilst out and about today. I love Evernote and my smartphone! Looking forward to the Association of Christian Writers’ Day on 20th October. As well as hearing inspiring speakers and learning so much there, the train journey to and from is also very useful for getting some more work done!

I learned a long time ago it pays to use whatever pockets of time you have to write. Those pockets mount up literally over time and I’ve learned to adapt. If I’ve got 10 minutes, say, I’ll use that period to brainstorm ideas for stories and CFT posts. If I’ve 30 minutes, I’ll draft a couple of flash fiction stories (though I will edit separately later).

Favourite things about titles? I love titles that can carry more than one meaning or take the reader in more than one direction. (It also has the advantage of being a wonderful shortcut when writing flash fiction – think of all those words saved!).

I love titles that can conjure up the mood of the story to come (and usually it ends up conjuring up the genre too). I like those titles where an author has taken a well known saying or proverb and twisted it to suit their purposes. (I do this too). That triggers instant curiosity in me to find out whether the story delivers on the promise of that title. I’m glad to say the vast majority do.

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I sometimes use spider diagrams to help me work out the best ideas for a story. This technique is most useful when I’ve got a promising title to work with but want to work out all possible options coming from it. (I want to make sure I don’t miss any and also not to go with the most obvious option).

There is something about seeing a diagram that encourages lateral thinking. Also flowcharts could work well too.

Sometimes photos can inspire story ideas. If you have a family portrait, who are they, is there anyone missing from the picture (and if so who and why), and what led up to the portrait being taken. Was everyone happy to take part or is the portrait a picture of a group hiding secrets and resentments? Plenty of food for thought there I think!

Many thanks to Peter Hitchen and the Hampshire Writers’ Society for an excellent summary of last Tuesday’s event.

What was fascinating from my viewpoint was that with flash fiction, you have to leave gaps for the reader to fill in with rheir imaginations. You give them the telling details, the what they need to know, and they do the rest. You could call it interactive fiction.

This tied in beautifully with Ian’s fascinating talk given ruthless editing and leaving the gaps is crucial to games writing too.

Again, many thanks. It was a great evening.

POSTER SHOWING ALLISON AS GUEST SPEAKER AT HWS OCTOBER 2018

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Many thanks to the Hampshire Writers’ Society for the image and to Peter Hitchen for the great write-up.

Hampshire Writers’ Society have kindly put up a great summary of last Tuesday’s meeting where Ian Thomas, games writer, and I were speaking. Many thanks to them!

My CFT post this week will be part 2 of The Joys and Challenges of Writing Series Novels. Once again, thanks to my guests, #JenniferCWilson, #ValPenny, #AnneWan, #WendyHJones and #RichardHardie. More great insights here which we all hope will be encouraging to other writers. Link up on Friday.

Making good progress on my third collection of flash fiction, though I think it is the way of things that progress is never as quick as writers would like! Have edited a novel I wrote ages ago and need to put those amendments in, so hope to get on with that soon too. Any chance to get bored? Not a bit of it and that’s just how it should be!

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Flash fiction may be short but it should still reveal character and, with that, something about the human condition.

What makes you hiss the villains in stories or cheer on the heroes/heroines? Their characters, as well as their actions, have you reading on and on to find out what happens. One of the things I love about fairytales is generally justice will be done in some way by the end of the story. We all know that so often doesn’t happen in life.

Ultimately, a story should leave you wondering whether YOU would do as the lead(s) did in the tale if you were facing those circumstances or if your actions would be somewhat different. (And what WOULD you do instead? A story to be written there perhaps).

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I’ve occasionally used alliteration in my story titles (Telling the Time in FLTDBA) but don’t use this method much. Not sure why other than that I absolutely love using well known sayings, proverbs etc as my source of inspiration for titles. (Often make great themes for the stories too of course).

I suspect though that alliteration is probably best treated a bit like chilli powder. Use alliteration to attract attention to your story, it can and SHOULD liven things up, (and ensure your tale delivers on the promise given by the title).

However, too much of it and you will regret it (and this comes from someone who DID put too much chilli in a con carne once. Once done never forgotten, trust me on that!). From a writing viewpoint, I suspect too much alliteration will simply become tiresome and would look gimmicky, definitely things to avoid.

Have fun with flash fiction and experiment with the form. It can be written poetically. It can be all dialogue. It can be all narrrative (though I think all dialogue is easier to do and easier to get a good pace continuing throughout).

Then there are the one line stories, the one paragraph tales and so on. Have fun experimenting with the mood of the story too. As with any story, your characters are going on a journey. It’s just that in flash it’s an abrupt one!

Set your stories in the present day, in the past, in the future. Set them in this world or in something made up. Have characters you love and those you loathe.

Above all, enjoy your writing. There really should not be a dull minute!

 

 

When a writer creates a world, you usually think of epic stories (such as sagas, fantasy etc) where that creation runs to several tens of thousands of words! Not the case in flash fiction where you might have tens of words at best and that’s it! Quite a difference…

So what are the telling details then that can conjure up a world in such few worlds? I’ve found that showing something of the lead character’s attitude to their world can be revealing. (Said character usually goes on to reveal why they love or loathe it – there’s rarely any middle ground here).

Getting the character to have a “quick look around” and summarise what they see is another good method to conjure up pictures quickly.

Getting a character to query something odd (to them) is also handy. Why is it odd? Do we know what the item is?

In all of these methods, you are following the old maxim of showing and not telling too.

Goodreads Author Programme Blog –

Images and Stories

Can you think of one image that conjures up a story so much so that when you see these images you can’t stop yourself recalling the tale? Some of mine are:-

1. A wardrobe. (Narnia). (Can make life awkward when walking past a furniture shop. I walk past, see the wardrobes and smile, though really I am a bit disappointed if I see someone open said wardrobe, and there are no pine trees, a lamp post, or lots of snow to be seen anywhere! I accept this may just be me).
2. A phone box (Dr. Who – and do check out the novels. They’re great).
3. A block of marble. (King Arthur). (Sometimes get to see these when visiting historical buildings, cathedrals etc).
4. A bow and arrow (Robin Hood – and I still love the Disney version of that).
5. A bonnet. (I instantly think of Pride and Prejudice, though I usually only see said bonnet if going to some sort of exhibition).
6. A cigar. (Hamlet – yes I know! I AM old enough to remember the advert for Hamlet cigars but these days I see the product and think of the wonderful production of Hamlet I saw with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. I have at least gone upmarket a bit!).
7. A typewriter. I think of P.G. Wodehouse and his wonderful Jeeves and Wooster and Blandings stories in particular here.
8. White and red roses. I think of The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey which is a wonderful read and made me change my view on Richard III.
9. Daffodils. Yes, Wordsworth’s poem comes immediately to mind. A story captures a moment in time for a character but poems can as well even if the “character” is the poet and you are sharing with them one of their life experiences.
10. A picnic. Conjures up images of the Famous Five by Enid Blyton – and yes I’m partial to ginger beer too.

 

 

 

 

 

Joys and Challenges

Many thanks to the Hampshire Writers’ Society for making me so welcome on Tuesday night.  Also thanks to those who have liked or given other positive feedback via my Facebook pages on my talk.  Much appreciated.

thank you text on black and brown board

Thank you, HWS! Image via Pexels

HIGHS POST - An inspiring thought

Indeed! Pixabay image.

HAMPSHIRE WRITERS PICTURE OF ALLISON

Many thanks to the Hampshire Writers’ Society for their kind permission to use this photo.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My CFT post this week is part 1 (of 3) looking at the joys and challenges of writing series novels. My panel joining me for this are #JenniferCWilson, #ValPenny, #AnneWan, #WendyHJones and #RichardHardie. Between them they cover crime fiction, children’s fiction/YA, historical, ghost and timeslip! Some great insights here with more to come over the next couple of weeks.

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Many thanks to all who sent in likes, encouraging comments etc following Tuesday night’s talk at the Hampshire Writers’ Society. All very much appreciated.

I know that some would like the links for some of the competitions/markets I mentioned. I list only a few below. I hope you can see these as a useful starting point.

http://www.flash500.com/index_files/flashfiction.htm
You do have to pay to enter this one but the competitions are quarterly and on an open theme so if you miss one date, put a story in for the next one!

http://writersfestival.co.uk/competitions
This is for Winchester Writers’ Festival and lists all their competitions. Great to now see flash fiction listed here.

http://www.paragraphplanet.com/submission.php
Free to enter. Always looking for submissions. Want to get around to trying this one myself!

Cafelit – give website details and submission details
http://cafelit.co.uk/index.php/submission-guidelines-2
I started writing flash fiction thanks to their 100-word challenge but do visit the site for a wealth of stories and styles.

Writing Magazine
For their 750 words and 1000 word competitions but very much fits into flash fiction territory. Keep an eye on their website and, of course, the magazine itself.

Earlyworks Press details
http://www.earlyworkspress.co.uk/Competitions.htm

And don’t forget The Bridport Prize, the Bath Flash Fiction Award etc etc. Definitely worth scanning the net every so often to see what is out there.

Trust this helps – and just to finish, something I didn’t have time to share on Tuesday. Two one line stories which, in different ways, conjure up a whole world of fear! You tell me which is the most frightening…

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

Well?

Many thanks to the Hampshire Writers’ Society for making me so welcome as guest speaker at last night’s event. Much appreciated.

I discussed what flash fiction is, what I love about it, why I think all writers should try it, and a few hints as to possible markets and competitions – in about 15 minutes! Mind you, isn’t it appropriate that a flash fiction writer keeps her speech short!!😁

The main speaker was Ian Thomas, games writer, (founder of Talespinners – stories for video games etc) and his talk was illuminating as to what is needed in this field of work. What was interesting was two skills needed in flash fiction writing – the ability to edit ruthlessly and the need to leave gaps for readers to use their imaginations and fill in – are both vital for games writing too.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

As part of my talk at HWS yesterday, I discussed what I love most about flash fiction. One aspect is that it is proof you can make a huge impact on your readers but don’t need thousands of words to do so. I’ve read many a thoughtful flash fiction piece which would have LOST impact had it been a longer work.

I find I am always thinking about what impact I want my stories to have on readers (or those I’m reading my work to, come to that!). So even as I am writing the story, I am trying to engage with a potential audience. I think it is a good mind set to be in. It helps make it easier for me to cut out the inevitable waffle that does creep in to any draft writing I do. I have a tendency to overwrite, which is okay. That can be cut after all. But I always DO have to cut and that is just one of those things.

It’s a good thing to look at what your writing weaknesses are (in my case, overwriting) and then work out strategies to deal with them. I accept I overwrite, I get the draft down and then I ruthlessly prune back. Problem solved. The great joy of the first draft is only I get to see it!

If you’re having a brainstorming session for story ideas, how about trying a random word generator?

Weave, say, the first three words you come up with into a story. Having a quick look on the net, I found one of these that lets you choose how many words and the first and last letters of the words. You could even select the number of syllables or word length! I chose the first letter of a and the last letter to be t, and a word length of six letters. The words that came up were:-

appointment
accountant
appoint

So what can be done here? How about:-

A QUESTIONABLE CHOICE

It was a grim day in the magical realm when the Dark Lord decided to appoint an accountant. This was not the way things were done here. The Dark Lord was supposed to rob and plunder and then spend his ill gotten gains in a frenzy. The appointment even made the headline news. People dared to question what the Dark Lord was doing and ask what would happen next.

Allison Symes – 11th October 2018

Naturally you can expand this out to trying the first five words you come up or vary the syllable and/or word length, but there is a lot of fun to be had here playing with words and ideas. When is that ever a bad thing?!

Many thanks to #HampshireWritersSociety for taking this picture of me (see top of tonight’s post!) speaking at their meeting last Tuesday (and for permission to use it). I usually take my own pictures of my book stall etc at events and so on but it’s a bit tricky doing it when you’re the one who’s speaking!

One thing I love when talking about flash fiction is getting to read some of it as part of this. It is by far the best way of showing people exactly what it is and, of course, does not take too long. It also mixes up your talk with some storytelling (and I know I love listening to this sort of thing when I’m at other writers’ talks etc).

Says it all really. Image via Pixabay.

Says it all really. Image via Pixabay. And am glad to say my poorly border collie, Mabel, has very much been showing this spirit.

Never give up, work hard, be disciplined... all valuable traits for success, whether you're a tennis player, a writer or a character in a story! Image via Pixabay.

Never give up, work hard, be disciplined… all valuable traits for success, whether you’re a tennis player, a writer or a character in a story! Image via Pixabay.

Fairytales With Bite – Story Loves

What do you love most in a story?  I look for the following:-

  1. Gripping characters – I’ve got to really root for them to succeed or get their just desserts for me to stay with them during the story.
  2. Good pacing – What pacing is required obviously depends on the type of story but generally I’m looking for a pace that keeps the tension up until the end.
  3. Unforgettable settings – This doesn’t have to be an invented world (though it often is).  Here I’m looking for the setting being appropriate to the story and characters and be a place I’d love to visit or equally be glad I’m nowhere near.  The latter depends on the type of story but whichever way it goes, the setting has to provoke a reaction in me.
  4. Entertaining dialogue – Sure sometimes this will be funny dialogue (when appropriate) but even when not I want to feel as if I’m eavesdropping on a conversation that I have absolutely got to finish listening to!
  5. Strong Resolution – The story definitely has to end.  Not on a cliffhanger – that should be for the chapters leading up to the end in a novel or in the middle section of shorter works before the issue is resolved.

This World and Others – Joys and Challenges

My CFT post this week is the start of a three-parter looking at The Joys and Challenges of Writing Series NovelsMany thanks to my panel of Jennifer C Wilson, Val Penny, Anne Wan, Wendy H Jones, and Richard Hardie for their great contributions.  Am looking forward to sharing the rest of the series over the next couple of weeks.  Between them, these fine writers cover children’s/YA, crime, historical, ghost, and timeslip!  (Some of them cover more than one of these!).

The title of this piece led me to think about the joys and challenges our characters face. How do they handle these?  Which do they cope with better?  (Not everyone handles happiness that well – they literally don’t know how to cope with it or live in such dread that the happiness is going to end any moment, any enjoyment of it is lost!).

Are others pleased for your characters in their joyful times or is there resentment there (openly or hidden)?  In the challenges your characters face, do they have friends and family to support and encourage?  When your characters overcome a challenge, do they go on to learn from the experience or does their success change them (and not necessarily for the better)?

This is where the core central values and attitudes your characters have really matter.  Someone who is generally a decent character is not going to upset others by showing off about their successes.  They will have friends who are genuinely pleased for them.  Someone who aggravates others will only find said other characters will be rooting for their downfall!

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STORY PROMPTS

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When do you know you are really going to enjoy the story or book that you’ve started? For me it’s by the end of the first page. If I’m not gripped by the story by then, I’m unlikely to go much further with it.

I’m pleased to say though that there have not been many books or stories which I’ve given up on. This is why my To Be Read pile is as big as it is! (It’s not that much smaller on my Kindle either but at least that won’t topple over under the weight!).

By the end of the first page, I want to know who the lead character is going to be (even if they are just referred to at this point) and some idea of what the central conflict is going to be about. Then there has to be the “I’ve GOT to find out what happens next” moment. Without that, I don’t read on.

What kind of story prompts do you prefer? Pictures? An opening line? A finishing line?

I’ve used all in my time (and plan to keep on using them too), but my favourite is the promising opening line. I love finding out where that line can take me. I also believe if the writer is having a whale of a time writing the story, something of that enjoyment will show in the tale itself. I think the writing flows better.

Having said that there have been times when what I thought was a promising line turned out to be a dead end. I see this as a false start scenario and I abandon the tale and start again. I have tried seeing if I can make what I’ve come up with better but the answer is inevitably no as I think it is clear to me that my heart wasn’t really in it. I think that can show through in the writing too.

The great thing with the latter situation is if, later, an idea comes to you that resolves the problem with the story (or you think it will), there’s nothing to stop you digging that tale out and giving it another go. I suppose what I’ve learned here is not to panic if a story doesn’t work out right. Go on to the next one. Come back to the old one if better ideas occur as I’m writing something else (and that happens a LOT. I can be writing my next CFT post when a good story idea crops up. So I pause, jot the idea down, go back to my CFT post and then have a look at the story idea later. The benefit of this is I can take a good hard look at that idea and judge better whether it really is a “goer” or not. As a result, my “abandon a story because it really isn’t working” rate has decreased significantly).

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Looking forward to being at the Hampshire Writers’ Society tomorrow night to talk about flash fiction.

Also looking forward to the Bridge House celebration in London in December and the Association of Christian Writers’ Day in London later this month.

What with writing and taking the dog out, it’s a social whirl! (I get to talk to lots of lovely writers and equally lovely dog owners. Some of course encompass both roles!).

POSTER SHOWING ALLISON AS GUEST SPEAKER AT HWS OCTOBER 2018

Many thanks to Maggie Farran for the poster.

LIKES POST - editing - Pixabay image

The joy of editing! Image by Pixabay

cropped-cropped-version-of-my-reading-at-railway-station

The Open Mic for Prose night

Many thanks to Geoff Parkes for kind permission to use this shot of me reading at the Swanwick Prose Open Mic Night.

FLTDBA in the Swanwick Book Room

FLTDBA for sale in the Swanwick Book Room. Image by Allison Symes

FromLightToDark_back_medium

Back cover of FLTDBA. Image by Allison Symes

BEING THANKFUL - On writing or being appreciative - image via Pixabay

Always good advice. Image via Pixabay.

Am writing this early as I don’t expect to have a lot of creative energy left after the Hampshire Writers’ Society meeting tonight! (But in a very good way of course…😀)

Later in the week, I will be sharing on Chandler’s Ford Today Part 1 of a three part series on the joys and challenges of writing series novels. Many thanks to #JenniferCWilson, #ValPenny, #AnneWan, #WendyHJones, and #RichardHardie for taking part in this. Link to go up on Friday but what I can reveal now is their thoughts about this topic are riveting. Very much looking forward to sharing this over the next three Fridays.

The lovely thing is there is a wide range of fiction represented here from children’s and YA to crime to historical fiction with a twist. Much to learn from here.

I think one of the best things about writing is you never do stop learning how to develop and improve what you write. Nor should you want to stop seeking to improve and develop! As well as making you a better writer, this kind of thing is so good for your own well being anyway.