Just a Minute and Other Thoughts

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Had to smile today. I receive book recommendations by email sometimes and today it finally happened. Yes, From Light To Dark and Back Again was recommended to me!

Moving on swiftly, I’m pleased to say I’m making good progress with my novel and third collection of flash fiction stories. I’ve ideas for non-fiction that I’m working on as well and I could really do with more hours in the day or to somehow be able to manage without sleep. Given neither of those are going to happen, it’s a case of best endeavours!

Have also started drafting a short story I’ve got in mind for a competition in April. Sounds ages away I know but it’ll be here before we know it and I do like to get a story drafted and then leave it for a while before reassessing and editing it. So starting the story about now is the right sort of timescale for me.

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Have typed up a couple of writing diary prompt stories that I’m considering for my third flash fiction collection. I’m at the 15000 word mark with this so will probably go to 20K and stop there. I know there’ll be a lot of cutting to do – there always is! But I never mind that. I think it shows there IS a story there and it is just a question of getting rid of anything that doesn’t enhance it.

I’ve only consciously padded a story the once and, guess what, I gave up when I realised the idea simply wasn’t strong enough. It remains the only story I’ve ever given up on. So yes I prefer to write and then cut. It always works better for me.

The writing prompts in my diary at the moment are where you’re given an opening line and you then see what you can do with it. I like those. I like to think of them as imagination stretching exercises!

Enjoyed listening to Just a Minute on Radio 4 tonight. The rules of no repetition, no hesitation, and no deviation from the subject are great guidelines for writing fiction too.

You want your story to move onwards and upwards to its conclusion so no repetition (it will also irritate readers). I’ve found outlining a story before I start writing it gives me the confidence to write it at all and so I do (no hesitation). I also think something of that confidence shows through in the final story too.

And as for going off at a tangent… a big no-no. As someone once said “just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts”. What those facts are, as far as your story is concerned, of course is down to you!

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Glad to say a flash fiction story of mine, Mirrored, was in the recent Swanwick Writers’ Summer School newsletter.

I discuss adaptations in my CFT post this week. What makes a good adaptation? What doesn’t? Also, this doesn’t just apply to writing either. Link up on Friday.

Editing of the novel continues to progress well and I’m drafting a 750-word short story too at the moment. Really like my lead character. They have promise! The real issue for me on this one is whether I can keep to the strict word count for this particular competition. Still, I will find out! I do love being able to set a Project Target on Scrivener and find it really useful for competitions like this. I like seeing the bar change colour as I get nearer to my goal!

Scrivener images below werebtaken by me as screenshots.

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I’m very fond of flash fiction stories that end with a line which make me laugh. When writing this kind of story, I always write that finishing line first and then work backwards to the beginning.

I’ve found outlining in that way means the ending seems natural to a reader and springs out of what has come before. I can take the time to work out what must come before for that line to work and none of that shows in the finished story. Win-win!

How can I tell if a flash fiction idea is going to work best at 50 words, 75, 100, 500, or what have you?

A lot depends on how strong the character is – can they carry a longer story? Also the story itself is about one moment in the character’s life. The moment you’re writing about must not be dragged out (it shows, trust me, that shows) so if you are finding you are trying to extend a story, stop, think again, and look at the piece as a much shorter one. It will almost certainly work better and pack more of an emotional punch on a reader by keeping it shorter. It is impact you want. That is what a reader remembers. You don’t want to dilute that.

Equally, I’ve found sometimes a character needs space to show what is happening in their “moment” properly so fine I go with that. The time to stop is when if you add anything at all, it will weaken the story/character and the potential impact. There’s nothing to stop you incidentally from trying out a story in two different word counts and seeing what works best. Read them out loud. What has the most impact on you?

Street Cred

I’m the coolest one on my street. I’ve been here the longest. Know the best places to hang out with pals. Know the best places to get together with the girls, if you see what I mean. It was just a pity a momentary lapse in concentration meant my cool went haywire and I managed to walk into the catflap my owner put in for me, rather than through it.

Don’t let anyone tell you cats have no sense of humour. The rest of the gang were all laughing at me. Still I’m not worried. I’ll just have to fight them all tomorrow. But for now, me the big ginger tom from No. 27, is curling up on the sofa with my so-called owner. (I own HER truth to be told). She is feeding me titbits from her tuna supper. This is the life.

Being cool again can wait until tomorrow.

Allison Symes
25th February 2019

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I love writing twist endings for my stories and, as mentioned before, often work those out first and then write the story “backwards” to get to the starting point.

But my other favourite writing technique is to begin with a promising opening line and then outline a few ideas as to where that could take me. Naturally I then go for the idea that I like the most (which is always the strongest one or has the most potential in it. Definitely not a coincidence that!).

Sometimes I can “see” a 100-word story in its entirety. My The Haunting is an example of that and was inspired by the character of Mrs Wilberforce (aka Mrs Lopsided) in The Ladykillers.

Goodreads Author Blog – Short Stories and Flash Fiction

I’m glad to see the return of short stories and the development of flash fiction for many reasons. One of these is that I write both so I won’t pretend to be unbiased here. But the major reason for loving this development is it expands the kind of reading available.

I love novels but it is great being able to read a collection of short stories or flash fiction after finishing one full length tome. It mixes up what I read. By the time I’ve finished reading an anthology I’m raring to get on with a novel again!

Also if the novel has been a dark one in terms of mood, there’s nothing like a collection of funny short stories to show the opposite side of life and I, for one, find that helpful. I don’t want to read “dark” all the time. I also know life isn’t always one big laugh so I like to have a balance of dark and light in my reading, as well as my own writing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Uses of Weather in Fiction

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I’ve finally got around to talking online about the weather in my CFT post this week, though I go on to discuss its uses in fiction. I also share why I don’t tend to use weather in my stories and look at how it can be done realistically.

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Books I chose for the 7 covers in 7 days challenge on Twitter were:-

Men At Arms (Terry Pratchett)
Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkein)
Code of the Woosters (P.G. Wodehouse)
The Daughter of Time (Josephine Tey)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J.K.Rowling)
Murder on the Orient Express (Agatha Christie)

Good fun to do but a challenge, given there are so many other books I could’ve included. I chose these on the basis that if I could only smuggle 7 books away with me somewhere, these would be the first ones I’d go for.

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I’m going to be talking about the weather (and its uses in fiction) for my CFT post this week. I avoid using it in my stories, the post will explain why. Link up on Friday.

Lovely to see crocuses and snowdrops out. One great thing about walking the dog is you do get to see things like that which you might not otherwise notice. I’ve seen some spectacular wildlife sights too – sparrowhawks have been known to be in Chandler’s Ford – and buzzards often circle the park. You can always tell when they’re about – the sky goes quiet. Can’t see a little bird anywhere…

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Had a fantastic time visiting the family tonight but a nightmare journey getting over there. What should have taken a maximum of 30 minutes took 90!! Naturally on the way home, it did take under 30.

So this led me on to think about what would be a nightmare journey for your characters. Is it just down to transport problems or what they are facing on that journey? Why are they making that trip? Can they avoid it or change it so it is better? If not, why not? There has to be a good reason for the journey to be made otherwise the reader will think why on earth didn’t Character X just stay at home and avoid all the bother!

The ultimate journey in fiction for me is Frodo Baggins’s “trip” to Mordor in The Lord of the Rings but a journey much shorter than that can still be a nightmare. For example, does your character need to walk a mile to fetch something but they have to go through a neighbourhood known to be hostile to his family?

What does your character fear that would turn any journey into a nightmare? What do they do to overcome that?

Hope these thoughts can seed some story ideas! Good luck!

Many thanks, everyone, for the likes and comments on yesterday’s post about how I produce a flash fiction story.

I also have brainstorming sessions every now and again where I’ll outline a possible story idea or an idea for a character in a line or two. I put those notes aside for a while before revisiting them and deciding then if the ideas were as strong as I first thought they were!

Usually they are, sometimes not (and I discard those), but in the majority of cases, the idea is okay but needs strengthening. That is where I need to dig even deeper into what my character is capable of as that is where I’ll find the trigger for turning an idea into a story. A character that I discover is capable of doing anything for a laugh because they think it is the best way to make and have lots of friends is someone with at least one story to tell (and probably a poignant one).

What if is the classic question to ask both of your character and your idea to get the best out of both.

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My process for producing a flash fiction story goes like this.

1. Have idea for interesting character. (Flash fiction works best with one or two characters at most, though others can be referred to or implied).

2. Work out what to do with interesting character! As you can imagine, this is the REALLY fun bit!

3. Draft the story and check it makes sense.

4. Put it aside for a while and get on with my CFT posts, my novel, more flash fiction stories etc

.5. Come back to the story and read it with a fresh eye. Ask myself what impact it makes on me. Is it the impact I want it to have on a reader?

6. Edit the story based on 5 above but also check for the usual typos, grammatical errors etc. (I wish I could say there were never any but life’s not like that!).

7. Re-read it and if happy submit it to an appropriate market or competition.

I really enjoy reading and writing flash fiction stories which end with a punch. Sometimes that can be literal (!) and is most satisfying when the character has deserved it (and that will be the view your readers will take too). One huge advantage of fiction is wrongs can be righted in a way they’re so often not in real life. I believe that is one reason why fairytales are always popular!

I also love the witty one-liners that can close a story. It’s good to finish a story on an “uplift” where that is appropriate. Of course the set up for that finish happens much earlier in the story and it can be as simple as showing your character has the type of attitude which will make a witty one-line retort likely. (It usually is a retort!).

Above all, it is fun, which is what writing should be after all.

Goodreads Author Blog – Hooks Into Books

I seem to have a “thing” for rhyming titles at the moment. Sure it will be a passing fad…!

What attracts you to a book? Is it the title, the blurb, the cover, or a combination of the lot?

For me, the cover draws me in but the blurb is what clinches a sale for me, whether I’m reading on Kindle or a paperback. If I like the premise of the blurb, I will “look inside” a Kindle book or look at the opening page of a paperback. If it seems to deliver, I’ll go ahead and buy.

There is no such thing as a foolproof system but this works for me!

Of course, another great hook is reading a book by an author whose works you know you like. I love series novels and my favourite of these has to be Discworld. Each book original and entertaining but there’s enough familiarity with the world to make you feel right at home as you continue to enjoy the series.

Whatever you read, enjoy!

Fairytales with Bite – Signs Your Character Isn’t Strong Enough

This is by no means an exhaustive list but signs your character isn’t strong enough include the following.

1.  Forgetting their name!  It can happen. It’s bad enough when a reader does it but if the writer does so, then the character is in real trouble.  If they’re not memorable enough to you, they certainly won’t be to anyone else.

2.  Running out of things for them to do.  Yet the plot is strong, the other characters are ticking along very nicely with plenty of dialogue, action etc.  You need to ask yourself whether you really need this character in the story after all.  If you feel you do, look at why.  Could this character be combined with another in the tale to make one really strong creation that keeps the reader’s (and writer’s) interest?  You need to keep in anything and anyone that moves your story onwards.  You also need to ruthlessly cut what you really don’t need.

3.  Their dialogue isn’t distinctive enough.  Your reader should be able to tell who is speaking in a story by the style of the language used by the characters.  Character A talks in clipped tones, Character B tends to laugh a lot after talking, Character C has a lisp, Character D has a strong northern accent (as someone once said, everywhere  has a north!).  If you can’t tell your characters apart by how they speak, they’re not distinctive enough and again I would look at whether you really need them in the story.

This World and Others – The Weather and Its Uses in Fiction

This is my CFT post for this week and I discuss my views on weather being used in fiction, as well as showing some ways it can be done realistically.

Whether you use weather or not, the general point is that your fictional world must seem realistic to the reader, no matter how fantastical the setting.  That may well mean you do need to share some details as to what the climate is etc to help readers get a better understanding of your creation but only put in the details the reader has absolutely got to know and leave it at that.  Your reader will want to fill in some gaps for themselves.  Also, you don’t want them switching off because all that lovely research detail you put in and you found fascinating has done nothing whatsoever for them!

Ask yourself if the reader really needs to know this.  I’ve found the simple approach of “just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts” is a great way of working out what to put into a story.  I’ve also found it best to share those facts in as palatable a form as possible.  No great splurge of information but drip feeding it as and where necessary makes it easier to take in and therefore more entertaining and acceptable to your reader. And that is where the reader will keep on reading and hopefully loving your story!

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Dangerous Words and What Flash Fiction Isn’t

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My flash fiction story, Dangerous Words, is now up on Cafelit. Hope you enjoy it. There’ll be another from me here on 16th March.

I love getting straight into the heads of my characters and letting them get on with it! The writing seems to flow better when I do this.  And here is the link to my page on Cafelit.  Hope you enjoy the stories!

When you think about who your favourite authors are, do you stop and think about why they’ve made it on to your list of favourites?

No reader or writer worth their salt ever has one favourite author only! You are reading widely across genres to help inspire your own creativity, aren’t you?!

Besides, with such a wonderful wealth of books out there, why stick to just one genre? (I’m the same about chocolate – yes I will always prefer milk, but there’s no way I’m missing out on dark and white!).

I strongly suspect the big draw will be the characters your favourite author(s) created. A well drawn character will have you sympathising with their predicament, their hopes, the obstacles they’ve got to overcome to have any chance of realising those hopes etc.

So turn this around then and ask yourself what you can do with your characters to make readers feel all that about them. Readers should be able to identify with said predicaments and hopes (though not necessarily agree with them or the way your characters handle matters).

I’ve been sharing on Twitter some of my favourite books, the kind you have to take to the mythical desert island with you. Amongst the list are Men at Arms (Terry Pratchett), Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen), Murder on the Orient Express (Agatha Christie), and The Daughter of Time (Josephine Tey). A nice mixed bunch so far but then I’ve never seen the point of limiting your reading to just one genre.

What do I look for from a good book? An entertaining story, characters that make me want to root for them, for good to prevail over evil, and where the story can make me think as well, even better. The Daughter of Time remains, to date, the only novel to make me change my mind over something (Richard III and whether he was innocent or guilty of the murder of the Princes in the Tower).

The challenge as a writer is to create your stories in such a way they resonate with your readers long after they’ve read them. I’ve only ever read To Kill a Mockingbird once (at secondary school) but certain images and the way it made me feel against injustice remain with me to this day. I’ve not read the follow-up and I don’t know if I will but to be able to haunt your readers long after they’ve finished your book is something to aspire to, I think.

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I love getting right inside the heads of my characters when writing stories and often use that as a way to get started on a piece.

I like to think of it as hitting the ground running, because a brief incursion into the character’s mind will reveal (a) what they’re facing and (b) their attitude to it. That’s when the sparks fly!

It also means I’m showing you the story from the viewpoint of that lead character. No telling here! It does mean you’ve got to know your character well enough from the outset so you can write them convincingly but this is where outlining a few thoughts comes into its own. That outline can be as detailed or not as you want, but as long as YOU know enough to write the character, that is what matters. How to tell?

Ask yourself how your character would react to a situation you are not actually writing about for this story. Do you instantly know how they would react? If so, good. If not, you need to flesh your character out more to yourself so you can turn that no into a yes.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Delighted Dangerous Words is now up on Cafelit. I’m very fond of stories where the main character reveals a lot of what appears to be backstory but is very relevant to what they are facing at the time! I’m also very fond of stories about little old ladies who aren’t quite as innocent as they might seem to be.

How easy do I find writing flash fiction?

The simple answer is I never know when I write flash how it is going to turn out until I do it so I take an idea and run with it and see what happens.

Sometimes that idea will work better as a longer standard length short story (and that’s okay because there will be markets and competitions for it). At other times, something I thought would make a great flash fiction idea really isn’t strong enough.

Flash fiction ISN’T a diluted short story. It has to be a complete story in and of itself. It captures a moment in time (a short story can capture more than one) but it has to be a moment worth sharing! One moment finely honed. And it takes practice too. But that’s true of any form of writing.

Learning to write short will help with creating blurbs for a novel amongst other things so practising writing flash fiction I think is great for all writers to do. The editing and polishing skils you pick up over time will pay off in other writing work you do.

The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings – the ultimate in dangerous words is on this ring!. Pixabay image.

The writing prompt in my diary for this week was of a bird watching its potential mate carrying out a ritual wing display. (The mischievious side of me would have loved the picture to have shown the female holding up a score card – you know the marks out of 10 kind of thing – but then that’s my quirky sense of humour).

The prompt was to tie in with Valentine’s Day and I’ve drafted a flash story (in poetic form) where the female wishes she could have the special treatment more often during the rest of the year, that it wasn’t all down to mating etc, that there could be something special during the day to day effort to survive. My draft needs a lot of work (as all drafts do) but I sympathise with my character’s viewpoint here.

For all writers, the heady moments are (a) when you know you’ve created something good, (b) when you hear you’re going to be published, and (c) when the book contract (a good one obviously) turns up for you to sign! The nature of things means those heady moments are “spaced out” and we have to cope with the daily nitty gritty, which is far less “glamorous”.

The nitty gritty then for all writers is to get the writing done, get it out there, cope with the rejections that will come in, and so on.

And on that note I must get on!

Does flash fiction have its limitations?

Well, there is the word count of course, but I suppose the main one would be is it is not the vehicle for an in depth character study! What it can and should do is show a reader enough about a character so they fill in the gaps themselves. It is like shining a torch and you pick up ONE thing to focus more attention on.

I’ve always loved it when writers don’t tell me every last detail. I want to be able to work things out myself and flash fiction IS the perfect vehicle for that!

I really enjoy reading and writing flash fiction stories which end with a punch. Sometimes that can be literal (!) and is most satisfying when the character has deserved it (and that will be the view your readers will take too). One huge advantage of fiction is wrongs can be righted in a way they’re so often not in real life. I believe that is one reason why fairytales are always popular!

I also love the witty one-liners that can close a story. It’s good to finish a story on an “uplift” where that is appropriate. Of course the set up for that finish happens much earlier in the story and it can be as simple as showing your character has the type of attitude which will make a witty one-line retort likely. (It usually is a retort!).

Above all, it is fun, which is what writing should be after all.

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Goodreads Author Blog Hooks into Books

I seem to have a “thing” for rhyming titles at the moment. Sure it will be a passing fad…!

What attracts you to a book? Is it the title, the blurb, the cover, or a combination of the lot?

For me, the cover draws me in but the blurb is what clinches a sale for me, whether I’m reading on Kindle or a paperback. If I like the premise of the blurb, I will “look inside” a Kindle book or look at the opening page of a paperback. If it seems to deliver, I’ll go ahead and buy.

There is no such thing as a foolproof system but this works for me!

Of course, another great hook is reading a book by an author whose works you know you like. I love series novels and my favourite of these has to be Discworld. Each book original and entertaining but there’s enough familiarity with the world to make you feel right at home as you continue to enjoy the series.

Whatever you read, enjoy!

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Reading Journeys and the Role of Stories

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I look at how what I’ve read has changed over the years in my CFT post about Reading Journeys this week. I also look at how the Kindle has impacted on my reading life too (and boy has it! My suitcase is a lot lighter thanks to it!).

I can’t remember what the first book I read all by myself was but wouldn’t be surprised if it was a picture book. I am still very fond of The Reader’s Digest Collection of Fairytales which is beautifully illustrated. I’m also a sucker for a good map (see The Lord of the Rings!).

I’ve said it before, and will no doubt say it again, but adult fiction writers owe a huge debt to those who write for youngsters. So many readers of fiction for adults come from a background of having always read books/had books read to them. It is just a case of tastes changing over time. It is difficult to understate how important it is to create that wish to read spark off in the first place.

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My favourite moment when writing a story or a CFT post is when the piece “takes off”.

For a story, this is when the character hits their stride and there’s no holding them back. You, as the writer, are keen to find out what happens next (which is always a good sign!). And yes I outline but I deliberately don’t put down every detail. I need signposts but what happens between them is the really fun bit!

For a post, it is when one idea leads to another and that leads to more and before you know it, an article is written.

The scary moment? When you’ve outlined an idea and you begin writing and at that point you don’t know whether it is going to “go the distance”. There’s always a certain amount of relief when things “take off” and you realise the post or story will be fine (after editing later, naturally).

Image Credit:  The picture of From Light to Dark and Back Again was taken by my cousin, Raewyn Berry.  My book is on display at her guest house in New Zealand.  It is easily the furthest my book has travelled!

My CFT post this week will take a look at reading journeys and how they change and develop over time (as they should). Good excuse to put lots of pictures of lovely books up too! Win-win! I also look at how methods of reading have developed. Who would have predicted the Kindle when I was growing up in the 1970s?

Do you have a reading list of books you simply must read (in whatever format suits best) before the Grim Library Keeper tells you that you are way overdue and it is time to go?

One of my favourite cartoons is the one of a woman in bed ringing to tell someone her other half has been crushed by his To Be Read pile. I have a nasty feeling life could imitate art for many of us here on that front! So don’t pile them too high, eh?

And I really must go and reduce the height of mine!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

The spark for a new flash fiction story comes from a variety of sources for me. These include:-

1. Hearing a turn of phrase which catches my fancy.

2. A well known saying or proverb. (I can often twist these too so double whammy as far as I’m concerned).

3. I sometimes use a question as the story title. The story of course is then found in answering that question!

4. Writing prompts – picture based, theme set or what have you, I find all of these useful. (My writing diary is a boon for these. I should have 52 new stories by the end of the year at least given there is a prompt set every week!).

5. What is lovely is when a character I’ve created sparks off an idea for a follow-on story but the character and the follow-on idea both have to be strong enough for this to work.

6. I will sometimes put a character name into my title (for example George Changes His Mind). The idea here is to provoke curiosity as to find out who the character is and, in this example, what he changed his mind about! The implication also is that it has to be something reasonably important otherwise there would be no story.

F is for Fun which writing should be
L is for Lines for your characters to say
A is for Action without which a story is dead
S is for Story, the “must know how it ends” reaction
H is for Heroes, of all kinds, caped or not.

F is for Flashbacks which should be kept brief
I is for Imagination – feed yours by reading well
C is for Characters we all want to root for
T is for Truthful Narrators or ARE they? Make us guess!
I is for Illumination, that lightbulb creative moment
O is for Original – you have a unique writing voice
N is for Names – what do they reveal about your “people”?

Allison Symes – 14th February 2019

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Flash fiction can be great for giving little insights into a character and/or their setting which would not be enough for a standard length short story. You can imply their world without going into lots of description.

My Every Little Detail doesn’t spell out who the reader mentioned in the story is until literally the last word but so much is implied in the run-up to that, my closing word acts as a confirming punchline in many ways.

I relish writing stories like that. The fun comes from working out what clues to put in and how best to do so. The reader needs to work things out without you spelling everything out but the clues must enable them to do that.

Fairytales With Bite – Character Traits

I like to look for a major trait in a character and use that to help “round them out”.  For example, if I decide a character is a coward, I dig deeper and look for what has led to the character being like that.  I can also look at whether they’re ashamed of this or not.  Not everything I outline here will make it into my story but I know that if I know what the answers are here, I will write my character with more confidence (and therefore conviction as well) and I believe THAT comes through to the reader.

So useful character traits to consider then could include:-

  1. Cowardice/Heroism;
  2. Being a Liar/Being Honest (the latter could cause as much trouble as the former and the potential for comedy is here too);
  3. Stubbornness/Being Flexible;
  4. Being Unfriendly/Being Sociable;
  5. Being Prejudiced/Being Open.

There are of course many more traits than these and practically every trait has its opposite flaw/virtue which could also be used.

Questions to ask yourself when using these:-

 

  1. How did the character develop this flaw/virtue?
  2. Do they see it as a flaw or virtue?  Are they right about this?
  3. How do others around the character react to them and their flaw/virtue?
  4. What are their society’s expectations?
  5. Does the character change – for better or worse?

Have fun!

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This World and Others – The Role of Stories

We all know how important stories are to us personally and to our society but when creating your own world, what thought have you given to the role of tales there? Does your world have its own legends? What are these? How are these legends shared?

Was/is there an oral storytelling tradition? Are only certain stories allowed (and who chose these and why)? Are books easily available to all (or the technological equivalent)? Is reading encouraged? Are there libraries?

How does your world decide whether something it is civilised or not? You’ll guess from the questions I list above I consider the ready availability of books, libraries, stories being generally available etc to be major considerations as to whether I think something is civilised!

How do the characters in your stories treat books and stories? Do their views agree with those held by their society or not?

The role of stories is important (they’re a great way of getting a message across without preaching and are a wonderful form of entertainment. Does your fictional world treat them in the same way? If not, why not?).

Publication News:  Cafelit

I will have two new stories up on Cafelit on 16th February and 16th March.  Will share links as and when.  I am also pleased to say two stories of mine are being voted on for consideration for the Best of Cafelit 8 print anthology due out later this year.  Will keep you posted on how I do but do check out the Best of books as there are wonderful stories in here from a lovely variety of writers.  (How do I know they’re lovely?  I’ve met them!).

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When a Story Has “Got You”

Facebook – General

Thinking about picture books with regard to my most recent CFT post, Picture Books and Other Hooks, made me also think about what my reading journey has been.

Every reader of fiction owes a huge debt to children’s writers as the vast majority of readers have grown up loving and reading books, moving from stage to stage and genre to genre as they grow. You get to experiment with the genres you love most (and ideally end up loving loads!).

Writing for children then underpins books overall, I think.

We almost all start with rhymes and fairytales (the latter is somewhat ironic given so many fairytales can be grim!). Picture books play a vital role bridging the gap between “baby” books and the first books we read for ourselves.

So let’s hear it for children’s fiction, especially as it is notoriously difficult to get right.

 

I’ve listed below books that have either made me change my opinion about something or I’ve had to re-read several times. (Usually the book concerned falls into both categories). They’re not in any particular order of importance.

1. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
3. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
5. Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett.
6. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
7. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.
8. Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse
9. Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
10. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

For many of the authors, I could’ve listed more than one of their books. The lovely thing with books is discovering the joys of new ones and, when re-reading, catching up with “old friends”.

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Book Offer News

Quick heads up! Amazon have currently got From Light to Dark and Back Again on offer at:-

£2.99 – Kindle edition
£4.04 – for the paperback.

Link takes you to the Kindle edition.

 

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When do you know a story has “got you”? When you are so gripped by the characters, you have to keep reading no matter what, and you get distinctly irritable when anything minor, like life, gets in the way of you reading! Confession time: have been distinctly irritable many a time due to this.

Of course the challenge for writers is to come up with a story that will make readers feel like that! Whoever said writing was easy has never actually done any. The great thing is nobody has to see your first draft, your sixth or what have you, until you are ready to let them see it! Nobody but nobody creates a perfect story first go. I do take a lot of comfort from that thought.

The great thing with writing is you have two interests in one here, the other being reading of course.

To feed your own writing “muscle”, you need to read widely in and out of your genre. I recommend reading widely in non-fiction too. Your creative spark will come from ideas that occur to you as you read other stories and non-fiction.

This author did this in this way. How would I do it? I’d have written this character this way because… etc etc. All sorts of great story ideas can come from asking yourself questions like that and then seeing what you do come up with.

Re non-fiction: I’ve found the creative spark ignites when I discover something interesting I hadn’t known and realise I can use it in a story setting.

It always pays to cast your imaginative net wide!

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Far Flung Book News!

Many thanks to Raewyn Berry for supplying these pictures of From Light to Dark and Back Again in New Zealand!

My book in NZ 1

FLTDBA in NZ. Image kindly supplied by Raewyn Berry

My Book in NZ 2

Always good to see books about and it’s very special if one of them is yours! Many thanks to Raewyn Berry for the picture.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Have drafted a piece from the viewpoint of a groundhog which is this week’s prompt in my writing diary. Good fun to do but needs work but then the great thing with a first draft is only you need ever see it. Also I never envisaged starting a FB post with that opening line!

I often use sayings as titles for my flash fiction and generally that sets the theme and mood too. But a good title is always capable of having a twist put to it, so work out what would suit your character best. They’ll be “carrying” the story so if they are of a quirky nature, the story should reflect that.

 

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I do love poetic justice stories and flash fiction is a great vehicle for them. You have to set things up immediately and deliver on the pay-off quickly too! My A Kind of Hell and The Circle of Life are examples of this.

Poetic justice stories work well within a short time frame, which is why they suit flash fiction. I don’t like to spin poetic justice stories out for too long a time span. My worry is a reader could get bored waiting to find out if there is ever going to be a pay-off. No danger of that in 100 words or so!

You haven’t got a lot of room in flash fiction to go into characterisation deeply. So what I do is pick the major trait/flaw/virtue of the character I’ve got in mind for a story and weave the tale around that.

The good thing with this approach is you can imply a lot (and flash fiction is brilliant for implying things!).

For example, if you decide your main character is going to be cowardly, all sorts of things are going to come out of that. How does the cowardice manifest itself? Do they know they’re cowardly? (Often a character will not think they’ve got the faults others think they have!).

Equally, are they prepared to lie to defend their position? Almost certainly yes to that one, I would have thought. Okay then, if they’re prepared to lie, what else would they do? You can already see how things could escalate (as will the tension in the story which is exactly what you want).

So pick a good place to start and away you go!

Time for some one-liners then.

1. Nobody saw the aliens leave with as many minerals as their spaceships would carry.

2. “I’m an endangered species, I’m allowed”, cried the dragon, after flaming the farmer’s field to get barbecued sheep for a mid-morning snack.

3. When even the rats run away, you know you’ve got problems.

4. I usually have no problems with pest extermination but you humans are beyond a joke.

5. It was funny how the beef always vanished whenever Joey the border collie was in the room.

Hope you enjoy.

Allison Symes – 12th February 2019

Goodreads Author Blog – Picture Books and Other Hooks

I don’t believe in wasting a good title! I used this for my Chandler’s Ford Today post recently when I interviewed a local author and her illustrator about a children’s picture book they had brought out. This in turn made me think about my own reading journey and what a debt we all owe to children’s writers.

Most readers have grown up loving books. Someone encouraged that love of story, bought them books, and in time they had the great joy of buying their own stories. I always remember one of my great wishes was to have a library of my own with books I’d chosen to be on the shelves.

Wish fulfilled there I’m glad to say! I’m also glad that there’s a special space on my shelves for books written by friends of mine. And of course my From Light to Dark and Back Again is on display too!

I was trying to think back to what was the first book I could read all by myself. Got stumped there but the Reader’s Digest Collection of Fairytales is a well read and taped up book (the spine needs support!) that would have been amongst the first of my “proper” reads. Has gorgeous pictures too. Never underestimate the power of good pictures to encourage reading and the development of imagination.

Someone “sees” the story and they “get” it. They can go on at a later date to read stories without pictures but there is still something of that hankering for images for most of us I think. Why else do we really love a great book cover?

And I’ve still got a good spot for books with good maps in them – The Lord of the Rings is superb here.

My favourite reads when growing up was Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Little Women (I always have loved Jo March as a character). I liked Heidi and Black Beauty too. I went on to discover Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, P.G. Wodehouse, and Terry Pratchett. I do believe in a good mix!

So what were your favourite childhood books? What did you “graduate” to?

And let’s hear it for the children’s fiction writers too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Collaboration, Picture Books, and Characters

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest CFT post is an interview with local children’s writer, Anne Wan. For her latest book, Manners Fit for the Queen, she teams up with local illustrator, Sally Goodden.

The interview looks at the colloborative process needed to produce a picture book and why picture books matter.

For most of us, one of our first introductions to the wonderful world of stories would have been through a picture book. I still love a well illustrated book. (The maps in the Lord of the Rings are fab!).

NB.  I love it when a title for a post just “comes” to me and I particularly like this week’s one.  Picture Books and Other Hooks has a good rhythm to it!

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Looking forward to having a go at the writing prompt for this week from my diary. The prompt is to show the groundhog’s point of view as it prepares to meet his/her public for Groundhog Day (great film incidentally)!

Will have a crack at that challenge over the weekend. Should be fun! I can categorically state I’ve never created a groundhog character before! Am probably unlikely to do so again but it will be fun to find out what comes from this.

Later in the year, there‘s another prompt asking me to list 10 words associated with a train journey. People could have a lot of fun with that depending on which train operator they use regularly! (I think there should have been a comment in the prompt to “keep it clean” but that’s just me!).

As you will have gathered, I love this writing diary!

 

My CFT post this week will be an interview with children’s writer, Anne Wan, and illustrator, Sally Goodden. They recently had a story and craft event at Chandler’s Ford Library based on Anne’s most recent book, Manners Fit for the Queen, which is a picture book.

The ladies discuss how they worked collaboratively and how they met. Picture books look “easy” but are notoriously difficult to get right. The pictures need to convey enough of the story but without giving it all away. The text needs to be pitched right for the age range.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

When did you first come across flash fiction? I ask as my latest CFT post looks at picture books and interviews Anne Wan/Sally Goodden on their colloborative work here. It made me realise that my way into reading, as it would have been for many of us, was via well cherished picture books. So on to my great love now – flash fiction – how did I get into that?

For me, it was via the 100-word challenge issued by Cafelit. Prior to that, I’d not heard of the form, yet alone had a go at it! I think part of the “not hearing” about it was due to the term used. I HAD heard about micro fiction but had not been clear about what that meant. I know now!

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A good story will always make you react in some way. I’ve read (and written) stories that are meant to make you laugh or chill you to the bone.

So if a story isn’t working for you as you draft and edit it, look at what impact it is making on you as you read it. Is there an impact at all? If not, there is where the problem is! So think about what impact do you want it to have? How can the characters generate that impact?

If a character isn’t strong enough, ask why. Are they the right character for this story? Do you need to outline them in more depth to get right into their soul and really find out what makes them tick and react?

I’ve found a good way to get started is think of an extreme situation and look at how your character responds to it. For example, a fire breaks out in the character’s house so what do they do? What do they HAVE to save before they get out and why?

One of the nice sides to writing is you never lose the joy of hearing when something has been accepted! One huge advantage to writing flash fiction and short stories is being able to produce work and, hopefully, get it out there, building up publication credits, while working on a longer project.

Everyone knows how difficult it can be to get a novel out there but that doesn’t mean flash fiction and short stories should be considered “easy”. They’re not! You still need to craft the stories very well in order for them to have a chance of being accepted. You still need to pitch them to the right competitions/markets. They should also be recognised as a joy to write in their own right.

Ironically, it can be harder to write short than it is to write long. I always overwrite my stories but the advantage to that is I get off to a flying start with my editing pen! I find it a good acid test of whether a story is strong enough that I need to cut it back. If I’m having to pad (and I’ve only done this rarely), then the story idea isn’t strong enough in the first place (and I’ve always ended up either abandoning the idea altogether or finding ways of improving it. It never stays as it was).