Character Types and Story Essentials

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today – and More Than Writers (ACW blog page)

Busy day on the blogging front. Firstly, my CFT post is about Signs of Spring– the ones I love and some I loathe. Comments as ever welcome on the CFT comments box.

Image Credit:  All the images are from Pixabay as usual, do see the CFT and More than Writers’ links for the captions I put to these originally.  Hopefully the pictures will intrigue you.  I love the one showing clocks going off into space!

 

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Secondly my spot on the Association of Christian Writers’ More than Writers blog is about When Writing is Difficult. I share some hints and tips. Hope you find them helpful.

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Had a lovely mini-Swanwick meet up with the fab JuneWebber in Winchester today. Lovely weather, great company, and lots of talk about writing and stories. Now that is what I call a good day. Looking forward to Swanwick itself in August of course.

My CFT post this week will be a seasonal one, all about the signs of spring I love (and a couple that I loathe). Link up tomorrow.

Have almost got my 750-word story ready for submitting. I always find the first edit to reduce word count is the easy one. I take out my known wasted words, find ways of rephrasing things etc and that brings the word count down significantly. The hardest edit is when I’ve done all this and I still need to reduce the word count yet without “losing” the story itself. Almost there though.

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Righty-ho, on to the final section of my What I Like From a Good Book A to Z.

U = Uniqueness. There must be something about the book that makes it stand out (and most of the time this will be down to how good the characters are. I’m on the characters’ side in the character -v- plot debate because a weak character will drag down a strong plot. I think it is the “cast” people remember from a good book, rather than the plot. How often have you said, when asked if you’ve read a certain book, something like “oh is that the one with so-and-so in it?” I know I have, too many times to count!).

V = Variety (of pace). I want plenty of fast paced action/dialogue etc but I also want the “in between” bits which move the story on, tell me what I need to know, and give me chance to get my breath back before the next action scene.

W = Writing that is a sheer pleasure to read because it flows. Yes, clever lines are wonderful, but it is the overall effect I’m after here. You want to feel at the end of the book that the writing couldn’t have been better (whoever said writing is easy hasn’t done any!).

X = Xeno. Okay, confession time. I looked this one up. It means strange. I wasn’t going to cheat by using eXtraordinary for this one or anything like that and X-rated seems too easy! So then, strange (oh and trust me I’ll be remembering xeno the next time I play Scrabble!) – well I love quirky fiction so this ties in beautifully with that. I love stories of strange creatures and worlds BUT they have got to make sense within that setting and still have something we can identify with to make us want to read on to find out more. So xeno or being strange has its place in a good book but it has got to be integral to it and not an add-on.

Y = Yield. An odd one to choose? I don’t think so. A good book at the end of it should have yielded to you the reader an enjoyable read when all is said and done. For me it is always the characters that make a book work or not. Also it is interesting to follow characters working out when they should yield on a point to develop the story or to get themselves out of a big hole. Whatever the reason for a character yielding or changing their mind, there should be a justified reason for it.

And finally…

Z = Zero. This is in terms of feeling that absolutely no words have been wasted. There is nothing that could be changed without spoiling the story in some way.

Happy reading!

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I find I have to know the voice of my character before I can really get into the story and do it justice. This is where outlining is so useful.

For flash fiction, I often find a line or two about what the character’s attitude to life is and why is a good place to start. I soon know whether a character is bossy but kindhearted with it, a pain in the neck to all and sundry etc. I see this kind of prep work as essential. It’s just that novel writers have to do more of it!!

Themes for any story are best kept simple to (a) avoid overegging the pudding and (b) avoid you managing to tie yourself up in knots as you write the thing.

The strongest themes can often be condensed to one word only – love, revenge, justice, adventure etc.

The best plot lines are exactly that – a line. For example:-

Mother vows to avenge child killed by drunk driver. (My Punish the Innocent).

Villager vows to stop the animal cruelty going on at home. (My The Circle of Life)

Now the nice thing here is the take you put on these themes is up to you. Punish the Innocent is a serious crime story. Couldn’t really be anything else I feel.

For The Circle of Life, I turned this into a humorous story (my character finds a very neat way of thwarting his fellow villagers who don’t share his views).

The great thing is to have fun with what you write. I’m convinced it does show through in what you produce.

Fantastic day out today as a post-birthday treat with better half and Lady at West Bay in Dorset. Lovely weather. Good time had by all. All shattered.

But time to do something different every now and then is useful both in terms of health but also for your writing. You do come back to it refreshed and that’s important. I see writing as very much a long haul thing and stamina is needed (to cope with the rejections and other disappointments along the way for one thing). So breaks away can help with that enormously.

Another way of giving yourself a break, when going to the beach is not immediately available as an option (!), is to give yourself time to free write, brain storm, jot down notes for future ideas etc. I find this great fun, put said thoughts aside for a while and come back to them later. If the ideas still appeal (and they don’t always), I then write them up!

Goodreads Author Blog – Books to Dip Into

I love books you read straight through from cover to cover but I also adore those where you dip into them as and when.

Things like the Guinness Book of Records come into that category. I’m currently reading a “big book of facts” produced by Classic FM but will almost certainly have regular dips into this, rather than read it straight though. (To be fair it is a HUGE book).

I also like the way this mixes up my reading a bit as I read flash fiction (as well as write it), short stories, and novels. I also dip read. Dip reading is also useful when I’ve finished a book and am not quite sure what I’m going to read next.

I often fancy a change of mood after completing a novel and until I know what is next on my reading “menu”, I will dip into books like this until such time as I do know.

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Fairytales With Bite – Favourite Character Types

This is by no means a definitive list and I suspect you could add many of your own but my favourite character types include:-

1.  The underdog. (Most of the fairytales have good examples of these.  Cinderella is not expected to do well by her stepmother and stepsisters!).

2.  The character who is not expected to be a hero but becomes one.  (Frodo Baggins is a great example).

3.  The rebel (especially one who can see through the faults of their own side and has tried to rectify them but to no avail.  My fairy godmother character, Eileen, is of this ilk.  Characters like that are great fun to write for).

4.  A well rounded animal character.  I have a soft spot for anthropomorphism. Where would The Wind in the Willows be without it?! I also adore Gaspode in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

5.  Those who deal out justice to those worthy of receiving it!  This is usually where some character thinks they’ve got away with something and our hero/heroine turns up to prove them wrong. Or it can be someone like Terry Pratchett’s Lord Vetinari who deals out what he feels is appropriate justice (and is usually right.  Look at how he deals with Moist Von Lipvig in Going Postal).

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This World and Others –

The A to Z of Story Essentials Part 3

Moving on from last week then…

K = Killer Lines.  The ones that make you gasp, laugh out loud, or simply make you wish you could’ve written something that good!  Use them as inspiration to do exactly that!

L = Logic.  A strange thing to put for this perhaps?  I think not.  A story must make sense, even if it set in the most fantastical place imaginable.  The characters must make sense.  Your story needs a structure that follows through from start to finish.  So the story then must have its own internal logic.  Anything that doesn’t “feel” like a story when claiming to be one will, I think, put readers off.  We have expectations that stories will work and it is because the logic of them works.

M = Murder.  I do love a good crime story and most of those are based on murder.  But this can be applied to other genres here if you take murder to mean “killing your darlings” if they’re in the way of your story. When you read of the death of a character in a story, there should be a point to it and move the story onwards.  A character that doesn’t do anything for the story should not be in it and good writers will ensure their characters do earn their place.  Sometimes that will mean literally killing them off as part of the story.  Sometimes it will mean realising this character isn’t strong enough so back to the drawing board for one that is!

N = Narrative. Should be compelling, drive the story on, tell the reader things they need to know in a way said reader is going to find entertaining (no lecturing!) etc.

O = Overwhelming Odds.  I do love a character that has to face up to these and overcome them.  It is fascinating to find out how they do it. It should also show depth to that character and it’s even better when the character is surprised as they look back at how far they’ve come on, what they’ve been able to achieve etc. Incidentally the overwhelming odds can be something as dramatic as Frodo Baggins’ quest in The Lord of the Rings but it can be something which, to us, might seem mundane, but to your character is everything.  As long as reader knows it really is everything to that character and why, they should want to find out whether the character overcomes or not.

More next time…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What I Like in a Good Book – the A to Z

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What I like most about a good book:-

A = Action to keep me gripped.

B = Backstory that intrigues (and in series novels develops too. See Vimes in the Discworld books for a great example of this).

C = Characters I want to root for or boo heartily. Either is a great reaction to generate!

D = Dialogue that moves the story on, makes me want to turn the page to find out more.

E = Elegant writing. The story flows and the pace varies almost without the reader noticing. That really is elegant (and very good) writing.

F = Fun (even if the story is crime/horror/what have you). There must be a sense the writer had fun in coming up with their world/characters. It does show in the writing. (Nothing must feel forced. It’s a huge turn-off).

G = Genre. The story delivers on its genre. There’s got to be a “good” crime in a crime story, a “decent” horror in a horror tale and so on.

So more on what I like from a good book:-

H = Humour to be appropriate to the story. I prefer subtle humour in fiction rather than outright slapstick (which I think works better in film/TV).

I = Imagery and Impact. A good book will be strong on both counts.

J = Justification – every character should have good reasons for acting the way they are, whether they’re heroes or villains. The justification doesn’t have to be something I agree with but does have to make sense and be understandable.

K = Killer Lines. The ones that make you read them again because they hit you between the eyes. Wodehouse was the master of these. They can be humorous but often a killer line is that turning point in the story where everything changes and is memorable for that reason.

L = Light shining. A good book will show you something of the human condition as if it was shining a light on it. For example, from The Lord of the Rings, the light shining there is that anyone can be a hero if they’re made of the right stuff, including hobbits.

M = Mayhem. To be resolved and bring the story to a satisfying conclusion. There has to be conflict for a story to work. A good book will show the mayhem arising from that conflict and add to the drama. There has to be a “must find out what happens” feeling.

N = Narrative should have plenty of pace, fill in gaps where needed or at least give readers enough clues for them to be able to fill in gaps where needed, and drive the story on to its conclusion.

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The next part of my “what I like to find from a good book” series includes one rather awkward letter, but here goes!

O = Original. While there may be only seven basic plots, I like to see original takes on them! Your interpretation of a revenge theme, say, will be different from mine (while having elements in common). I like to see what the author has to bring to the table here.

P = Prose that flows. No “boring bits”. Prose that makes you want to keep turning the page. I love coming across lines that, intentionally, make me laugh or are so descriptive, the images they conjure up take me right into the world of that story.

Q = Quirky. Not so awkward after all. I love, and write, quirky fiction. I see it as a fiction which injects fresh air into stories in general. I don’t mind if it is the characters that are quirky or the story setting (and usually it is both). These stories often cross boundaries. Who ever would have thought stories with rabbits as the characters would ever take off? Watership Down might, if you like, have a “quirky approach” but the drama of survival (or not) is still there and is what drives the story.

R = Resonance. The characters need to resonate with me. There has to be something about them I can understand or get behind. The story itself must resonate in the same way. A good story is memorable (and stands up to repeated re-readings).

S = Situation. Again this should be identifiable whether the story is set in Southampton or on some galaxy far, far away. It can be a situation we’d be glad never to face or one we have had to deal with countless times but it must catch and hold attention.

T = Tension. There’s no story without conflict. The tension must ratchet up throughout the book until its resolution. It shouldn’t be exaggerated (readers see through that very quickly). The way it builds up should make sense too.

NB Will finish series off in next post.  X and Z should prove to be an interesting challenge!

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I love the fact flash fiction has so many sub-categories within it.

I write 100-word stories a lot, which are also known as drabbles (making me a flasher and a drabbler but never mind. My 50-word colleagues have it worse – they write dribbles. A flashing dribbler… hmm, not a great image! Whoever came up with these terms… why? Answers on a postcard etc!).

There’s nothing to stop you thinking you’ll write 100 words but find it really works best as a 500-worder or a 50-word one. It’s always better to play to the story’s strength so if you can’t submit it for a 100-word challenge because the tale really does have to be longer than that, write it as a longer piece and then find another market for it. They are out there!

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Another thing you can do with flash fiction is use it as a warm up writing exercise. There’s also nothing to stop you taking those pieces, editing them, submitting them.

It could also make an end of day close down exercise and again nothing to stop you getting the story out there later on. My own view is that every author should have a go at flash fiction as it develops your editorial skills.

And if you’re having one of those days, where you know you’re only going to have so long at your writing desk, drafting some flash fiction sounds particularly good as it is a complete form in and of itself.

Good luck!

And for my acrostic flash story tonight, I’ll have a go with the word acrostic itself. Well, why not?

ACROSTIC

Allison stumbled across the body on her way home from Slimming World.
Cantankerous as ever, she thought, recognizing the chap she’d walked into.
Really had no consideration for anyone else, even in death, typical of him to still be in the way.
Oh my… I guess I’d better call the cops.
Should’ve gone home the other way tonight.
Trouble falls into my lap at times, she thought.
Instinct made her look around to see a ghoulish figure behind her.
Crammed her fist into the figure’s stomach and bashed it over the head with her bag; nothing but nothing was getting in the way of Allison and her dinner!

Allison Symes – 26th March 2019

Before anyone asks, yes, this is fictional and I did have my dinner!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TOP TEN ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND DIPPING BOOKS

Many apologies for not being able to share my CFT post yesterday.  I’m glad to say the site is now up and running again, hence this extra post.

 

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Glad to say I can now share my CFT post for this week. I look at what I think are the Top Ten Accomplishments of mankind. I don’t stick to one particular field and my comments have to be a summary but I have picked photography, the domestication of the dog, and space exploration amongst others.

As ever, comments welcome on the CFT page.

Image Credit:  All images in the following slideshow are from Pixabay and are related to my CFT post.  You could play “guess the accomplishment” by looking at the slideshow first!

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With flash fiction, you are focusing on one specific moment of change for a character. There literally isn’t the word count for more so the challenge is to make sure that specific moment is strong enough to be worthy of having a story written around it.

I look for impact on me as the writer, and then on what I think the impact will be on readers, when I decide on whether a story idea is strong enough or not. That idea has to generate a strong emotional reaction whether it is to make me laugh, cry, scream or what have you.

Goodreads Author Programme Blog – Books to Dip Into

I love books you read straight through from cover to cover but I also adore those where you dip into them as and when.

Things like the Guinness Book of Records come into that category. I’m currently reading a “big book of facts” produced by Classic FM but will almost certainly have regular dips into this, rather than read it straight though. (To be fair it is a HUGE book).

I also like the way this mixes up my reading a bit as I read flash fiction (as well as write it), short stories, and novels. I also dip read. Dip reading is also useful when I’ve finished a book and am not quite sure what I’m going to read next.

I often fancy a change of mood after completing a novel and until I know what is next on my reading “menu”, I will dip into books like this until such time as I do know.

But the important thing is I keep reading!

 

Gremlins and Hiccups!

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Sorry, can’t share my CFT post for this week as usual. There’s a site issue which is being looked into. Will share the post when I can (I hope at some point over the weekend).

I’ve written about what I think are mankind’s Top 10 achievements and am looking forward to sharing it. It is not a comprehensive list (it can’t be) nor is it in one particular field but I will invite comments once I can share the post!

Meanwhile, a huge thank you to all for the birthday wishes. All very much appreciated.

Pleased I’ve managed to draft flash fiction pieces this week (I like the acrostic form and will use it again). Won’t be around much tomorrow but looking forward to next writing session on Sunday. I like the occasional break but always look forward to writing again and I think that’s a nice position to be in.

 

NB.  Once I can share the CFT post on Facebook, I will prepare a short separate post here to cover it.  I hope this can be sometime over the weekend.  Meanwhile, I’ve managed to write a blog about gremlins, more below!

I often find getting started with writing is the difficult bit but, once away, there’s no stopping me! This is why I will sometimes leave lines for me to finish or an odd note so that when I resume writing the next day I overcome that starting “hiccup” and can get straight on with things.

It is useful to work out what your writing “hiccups” are and then think of strategies to overcome/minimise them.

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My CFT post this week will be looking at what I think are amongst mankind’s top accomplishments. Link up on Friday. I will say now amongst other things the domestication of the dog comes into it.

Talking of dogs and having owned three collies now, I’ve spotted the similarities and differences in the characters of Gracie, Mabel, and Lady. Gracie and Lady are both champion cushion throwers (right off the sofa and into the middle of the carpet. I’m not talking sissy little cushions here either! They go for the big ones and don’t muck about). Mabel couldn’t wait to get her head down ON a cushion for her evening nap and wouldn’t dream of throwing them anywhere. She’d be very disapproving of Gracie and Lady for that!

Dogs come into my stories sometimes as pets of the main character. Sometimes they’re the driving force of a story (as in my She Did It Her Way, Kind Of). I do believe in writing what I know – well some of the time anyway!

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A technical glitch has hit the CFT website tonight so I hope to share my post for this week later on this weekend, all being well.

The nice thing with flash fiction is you can write it regardless of technology. Pen and paper can be ideal for jotting down story ideas for typing up later. (It’s less useful when trying to write a novel – and yes I have written a novel by longhand. Now, I wouldn’t. I’d outline and go straight to screen).

Whatever writing you’re doing over the weekend, enjoy it! Not around much tomorrow but will look forward to my next “proper” session on Sunday. I’m always refreshed by mini breaks but then raring to write again. Never lose the love of writing!

Time for another acrostic flash fiction piece. I’m enjoying these. They’re stretching the imaginative little grey cells, which is always a good thing! Hope you enjoy. I think the mood of this one reflects general moods in the country at the moment, what with the Brexit uncertainty etc.

TRUTH

Truth is what you make it, I was told.
Rubbish, I replied, if you’re right, truth can be manipulated.
Under certain circumstances it’s needed, truth can be sold.
Then I want no part of it, I told the electioneer at my door.
Honestly, he sighed, I was honest then and you still want no part of it!

Allison Symes – 21st March 2019

 

Time for another acrostic piece then.

FICTION

Fabulous in pink, she whirled around,
Irritating her drab neighbours who stuck to their grey.
Carefree, unlike them, she ignored their shouts to stop
Trouble happened to others, never to her.
In a moment that situation changed
Oh my… dancing straight into traffic like that
Now on the national news for all the wrong reasons.

Allison Symes – 20th March 2019

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Publication News:  Cafelit – If It’s Too Good to be True

This was a fun story to write.  Hope you enjoy it.

Fairytales With Bite – Gremlins!

Gremlins have hit the CFT website tonight so I hope to share a double bill of posts with you next week but I thought I’d look at gremlins that can hit a writer.

The Indecision Gremlin
And a right pain this one is too.  You have two good story ideas to work on.  Which to pursue first?  I look at deadlines here and prioritise the one with the closest deadline.  If it’s a choice between a short piece and the novel, I plan out my writing time so I carve out slots specifically for the novel and other time periods I use for shorter pieces.  Over the course of a week, I’ve got done (most of the time) most of the work I’ve wanted to do .  It means I know what I’m doing with each day’s writing session and it kicks the indecision gremlin where it hurts as I don’t give it house room!

The Social Media Gremlin
How much time is the right time to spend on social media?  There’s no definitive answer to that one but I’ve found it has paid me to allow so long on it before I switch it off to write.

The Editing Gremlin
Otherwise known as the “I’ll just edit this one more time” gremlin. Is a very close relative of the indecision gremlin and can be just as much of a pain.  There is no hard and fast rule here but if you find you are just tinkering with a story, stop!  Send it out to the relevant market/competition and see you how do with it.  Remember this gremlin has the power to stop you moving on with new work if you let it.

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This World and Others –

The A to Z of Story Essentials Part 2

Continuing with what I think are the essentials to any story:-

F = Fun.  You should be enjoying what you’re writing even if you’re putting your characters through the grimmest hell imaginable.  Readers should be able to pick up on your enjoyment of putting a story together.  I detect this when I feel the story flows and has good pace.  That makes you want to read on.  There has to be the “I’ve got to find out what happens next” feel to your story.

G = Genre. Write in the genre you love.  Don’t pick a genre just because it’s fashionable as fashions never last long.  You’re in writing for the long haul so write what you love.  You’ll write better because you love it.

H = Humour.  This is tricky.  What is a great one-liner to one reader falls flat with another.  Allowing for humour being subjective then, write naturally.  Humour must come out of the situation or character you’ve created and must never seem forced.  This way the humour will arise naturally and readers will either get it or not but it won’t be out of place or jar your story in any way.

I = Imagination.  Let it run riot especially when outlining your story idea.  Work out possibilities and go for the one you love most.  It’ll be the one you will write with the most conviction.  And that does show through.

J = Jargon.  The best writing is simple writing.  That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy to write.  What you can guarantee is there has been a lot of editing carried out!  Avoid jargon.  Where characters might need to use it, it should be clear from context what the jargon means.  You don’t want to irritate your reader by coming up with something they can’t fathom out the meaning.  I’d also use any such jargon sparingly.

More next week….

Books, Acrostics, and Writing Regrets

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Hope you enjoy If It’s Too Good To Be True, my latest story on Cafelit. Loved writing it. (Oh and spot the typo! Made me laugh – and I hope the story does too…)

IMPACT - What impact does your story have - Pixabay

Do you have any writing regrets?

My main one is not starting to write seriously earlier than I did. Of course, on starting out, you have no idea how long it can take to get to publication standard. Knowing what I do now, I would’ve started at least five years earlier than I did!

My other regret is not discovering the joys of flash fiction sooner but the point is I have discovered them now!

Whatever writing regrets you might have, the important thing is to enjoy what you write. Go for writing opportunities that suit you. (The worst that can happen is your work is turned down. Then you can revise said work and submit it elsewhere).

B = Brilliant covers draw your attention
O = Original storylines
O = Opening lines entice you into the stories.
K = Kindle – so easy to carry – one device to hold them all!
S = Stunning plots keep you enthralled.

A = Action should keep you riveted to the tale.
R = Read, read, read. It’s what they’re there for!
E = Education? Yes, sometimes, but entertainment too.

F = Fiction or non-fiction? A world of choice!
A = Allegories and fantasies take you into other worlds.
B = Borrow from your library and support them too.
U = Underestimate the importance of characters? Never!
L = Live the lives of the characters through the narrative.
O = Oh my moments should keep you hooked.
U = Underneath the surface: how deep are the characters?
S = Story, story, story.

Well, I think that sums up what I love about books.

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When did you decide you had to write?

I can’t say there was one particular moment for me. It was just something I’d been building up to doing for a long time (and my only regret is not plucking up the courage to start sooner. Yes, courage, as there is the tendency to think “who am I to think that I can write?”).

What I would recommend for anyone starting out is give it a go. You’ve nothing to lose. Try flash fiction. Try articles. Try longer stories. Play with words and have fun. It’s really important to have fun!

Later, on finding yes this form is my niche, then develop with practice and time the skills to be as good as you can get in that niche.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong in wanting to just write for your own sake. It’s a great way to start and it was years after I started writing before I decided yes, I would see if I could be published. (Oh and success can take many forms whether it is getting a first publication credit or having a book out).

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I’ve mentioned before I use well known phrases as a theme for a story. I also use them as titles. My latest example is If It’s Too Good to Be True on Cafelit. (I laughed at the typo. Conjures up some odd images but fun nonetheless!).  NB:  See link further up this page.

The great thing with this title is I will use it as a theme for another story at some point. It has a wide range of possibilities!

Playing with words - Pixabay image

Playing with words. Pixabay image.

Many thanks to #AlyRhodes for her six-word challenge earlier. Good fun. I do like these. Good for focusing the mind. And, of course, you can take that initial idea and expand it out to longer flash fiction or a standard short story.  My entry by the way was Tiny Dragon flees murderous girl.  A nice twist on how things usually go in tales involving dragons and young women!

I am very fond of flash fiction collections (not just mine, honestly!) because of the wide mixture of stories you can have in them. You have those collections which focus on theme, those like mine which have stories of differing moods in them, others which stick to a set word count etc. I am currently reading 365 Stories, which was given to me by a friend, and is a flash collection of stories of exactly 365 words with one for every day of the year. Good range of stories in there too.

I sometimes write acrostics (which I guess can be a kind of flash fiction as long as there is a story unfolding line by line). I’ve just written one for Books are Fabulous (and aren’t they just!) on my author page. So how would an acrostic flash fiction piece work then?

I’d keep it simple, short and sweet to maximise its impact. (I think a one word acrostic would be best. More than that I think would seem gimmicky but you can let your imagination run free with a one word acrostic well enough!). For example, what could be done for the word “stories”? Let’s see.

STORIES

S = Sarah knew today would be different.
T = Today she would deal with Bob for good.
O = Organising a hitman proved easier than she thought.
R = Risking everything on a stranger’s act was not something Sarah anticipated she’d ever do.
I = Involuntary shudders ran through Sarah as she recalled Bob’s abuse and violence.
E = Enough was enough.
S = Sentence of death was pronounced and would be carried out at 12.30 precisely.

Allison Symes – 18th March 2019

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Am glad to share here a 100 word flash piece that appeared on the Association of Christian Writers’ Facebook page earlier today. The theme was worship.

Discovery
‘Where the hell is that singing from, Sarge? The only thing for miles is rubble.’
‘It’s not from hell, lad. It’s that hymn my gran sang, How Great Thou Art.’
The sergeant cleared bricks, revealing tiles. ‘We’re on an old church. They were destroyed when religion was banned. Remember?’
‘Yes. What a fuss. The fuddy-duddies had nowhere to go on Sundays.’
‘Rumours say some meet in underground churches.’
The men looked down.The singing was coming up.
‘Nothing to report.’
‘Sarge?’
‘Nothing here, lad. If we’re wrong, so what? Let them worship. They’re harmless. Shame our bosses aren’t.’

Ends.

Allison Symes – 19th March 2019

 

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Goodreads Author Programme Blog –

The Role of Books/Stories

What is the role of books/stories?

For me, the primary role is to entertain and provide some escapism, especially when life is being particularly grim.

A good book will take you into its world and for a while that gives you a breathing space. Somewhere to just be for a bit before facing reality again. The benefits of that can’t be overstated.

I can understand real life stories and misery memoirs. I hope the writers found the writing of these to be enormously beneficial but this material is not something I can read.

I either want to escape into another world completely (via fairytales, The Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Discworld etc) OR, when I want to get my teeth into non-fiction, I want some good solid history. I love history when it is told as a story (which is why I adore Simon Schama’s History of Britain series).

A good story, and this includes non-fiction told as a tale, should have a point to it but I’d like to bang the drum for stories “just” being entertaining. To me there’s no “just” about it. A story doesn’t have to be “worthy” to be of benefit.

A story does just have to live up to the promise of its opening lines. And that’s challenging enough!

 

 

 

 

 

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INFLUENCES – AND A LIFE WELL LIVED

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

There are some posts you really don’t want to write but know are coming and you write them as a way of expressing apprecation for a life well lived.

My tribute to Barbara Large, MBE, who founded the Winchester Writers’ Festival and Hampshire Writers’ Society, comes into that category.

I cannot think of anyone else who has done so much to support and encourage so many writers in our area. Barbara will be much missed.

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Glad to say I’ll be having a new story up on Cafelit in a couple of days’ time. Will share the link. Do drop by and visit the site. There’s a wonderful range of stories on there in terms of mood, setting etc.

I must admit one reason I’ve developed a real love for classical music is its breadth of style and mood. Am currently listening to The Planet Suite by Gustav Holst. Bliss! I find classical helps me relax and when I relax I write. I wonder though what inspired him to use the planets as inspiration for his music. What matters in the end though was that he did!

However you get your inspiration for story ideas, keep going! Try to produce something as special as you can. One of the great things about writing and reading is, regardless of anything else, it adds richness to your life.

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My CFT post this week will be an appreciation of Barbara Large, who founded the Winchester Writers’ Festival as it is now known. When I first went, it was under the name of Winchester Writers’ Conference. So many writers have learned so much here (and plenty have been published as a result too) and it is all down to Barbara’s vision and her drive to make that vision happen. Link up on Friday.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Am currently drafting a 750 word story but also want to have another go at the 75 word ones!

I do love the freedom flash fiction gives you. Yes, there is a strict word count but you can choose what it is to a certain extent. There are markets for 75 words, 25 words, 100 words etc etc.

Have recently discovered a possible one to try which goes for 53 words, yes 53. New one on me but may well give it a go! Mixes things up nicely though. Now to find the time… (There are times I really could use Hermione Granger’s time turner device).

Tips for finding your character’s voice:-

1. Write a short scene and just dump the character in it. What is their FIRST reaction? It can be exactly how you’d react. It could be the exact opposite. But once you know what that reaction is, you will have a good idea of their general attitude and approach. You will have that in mind as you write your story.

2. Ask yourself questions about your character. For example, what are their political beliefs? If they don’t have any, what do they believe in and why? Get your character to explain themselves to you! Interviewing your character can be a great way of producing an outline for the story and helping you discover hidden depths to your people. Most of that may not go into your story but you will write with more conviction because YOU know what your people are really like.

I suspect one of the major reasons for the increasing popularity of flash fiction is due to how easy it is to read on a screen, regardless of the latter’s size. The drive in technology, especially mobiles, tablets etc, has helped flash fiction spread. Naturally I’m all for that.

My hope is reluctant readers will be tempted in by an easy read on a screen and then go on to read longer works later. I was saddened though by a recent FB cartoon showing people poking and prodding at a book, not knowing what it was. I only wish I could be certain that would never happen!

But online markets give writers more opportunities to get their work out there. I would far rather people read online than not read at all.

Talking of online reading, I’ll have a new story up on Cafelit on 16th March. Will share the link once I have it. Keep reading!

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Fairytales With Bite – Influences and a Life Well Lived

My CFT post this week pays tribute to the late Barbara Large, MBE, who founded the Winchester Writers’ Festival (as it is now known) and the Hampshire Writers’ Society. I cannot think of anyone else who has done so much to help so many writers over so many years.  She will be much missed.  I first met Barbara many years ago and her encouragement made a huge difference.  So many writers will say the same (including the children’s author, Anne Wan, whom I’ve also interviewed for CFT).

Influences matter to a writer and can make all the difference to whether someone keeps going or gives up.  This applies to our characters too.  What influences are your characters under or swayed by?  Are they positive ones?  If there are negative influences about, what do your characters do to fight that?

Barbara’s life was very much a life well lived and that is something we should all aspire to do.

As for our characters, what do you want your people to aspire to be?  What drives them?  What gets in their way?  Answer those questions and you have the very essence of a good, drama driven story.  And isn’t that what we all want for our books and stories?

Image Credit:  A big thank you to children’s author, Anne Wan, for supplying the images of Barbara Large.  It has been a real pleasure to interview both ladies for CFT at varying points.

This World and Others – The A to Z of Story Essentials

The great thing with an A to Z post is it gives you an instant framework! So my A to Z of story essentials (to be shared over the next couple of weeks or so) includes the following.

A = Action – without this there is no story.  Something has to happen!

B = Belief – this can be the belief of the character, the beliefs held by the world in which they’re set or both of course.  The lead character has to have belief in what they are doing to be able to follow it through.

C = Credible Characters – there has to be characters a reader can get behind, whether it is to cheer them on, or hope said characters fail.  (It is cathartic to boo on the villain!).  We should be able to understand why your characters are the way they are/acting the way they are even if we don’t necessarily agree with them.

D = Dialogue – also has to be convincing.  Accents and dialects are best used sparingly.  The odd word will give enough of a flavour of the relevant accent/dialect without overdoing it.  Dialogue in characters should sound natural (read it out loud to see if it does flow well.  If not, edit!)

E = Editing – this is the writer’s friend, honestly.  Nobody produces a perfect draft first go.  Shakespeare didn’t.  Dickens didn’t.  We’re not going to either.  But put work aside for a while so you can come back to it and look at it with a fresh eye.  Remember editing is not just about spotting the typos and grammatical errors.  There should be structural and story edits to ensure the structure and the story holds together and works the way they should.

More next time…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Out and About

Facebook – General

Had a wonderful time at the ACW Writers’ Day in Bath (on 9th March 2019). It is lovely meeting many writers I normally only “talk to” via the ACW Facebook Group or email! Hope everyone had a safe journey home.

Am not planning to do much writing tonight as feeling “buzzed out” (and I didn’t!), but yes, I did use my time on the train trips productively. Managed to write two new flash fiction stories and some notes for a CFT post I’m currently working on so am pleased with that.

There are so many benefits in going to a good writing conference, whether it is for a day, a weekend, or a week.

As well as learning from the courses and talks, you get to meet with other writers. There is nobody but nobody like another writer who will fully understand the joys and heartaches of the writing journey.

Also it is the most natural thing to discuss with each other what you are writing (which ends up being a great way to practice your pitch for your book with nobody minding! The golden rule is never ever just talk about your own work. The idea is to engage with others so being a good listener comes into its own here! The great irony is that being a good listener encourages others to find out what YOU write and so a good conversation gets going).

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One nice thing I have found about having more than one project on the go is, if I’m struggling with a section, say, on some fiction, I don’t struggle with the non-fiction post I’m also working on.

And inevitably ideas to sort out the problem I’m having with my fiction work crop up as I’m drafting the non-fiction. Naturally I pause, write down some notes, carry on with what I’m working on and then happily get back to the fiction afterwards. And it works the other way round of course.

I’m not convinced about writer’s block. I DO believe any creative type is going to have days where the words, the music or what have you, do not flow as well as said creative type would like them to do. I also see that as being perfectly normal! We are human after all… bound to get days like that. What matters is not giving up.

The joys of writing include:-

1. Coming up with a story that is uniquely yours.

2. Having a ball coming up with that story! The fun of inventing your own world and characters can’t be overstated.

3. Managing to sell that story and seeing it published.

4. Doing steps 1 to 3 all over again and again etc.

The woes of writing include:-

1. Rejections (but take some comfort from the fact everyone gets them and, if turned down in one place, go on and try another suitable market!).

2. Those days when it is a struggle to get the words out. (I find having more than one project on the go helps here. I’ve never struggled on everything I’m working on and often when working on something else, an idea to resolve my problem on Project A occurs, as mentioned earlier this week.).

3. Critics.

4. Steps 1 to 3 will happen more than once!

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Two new flash fiction stories produced by yours truly while travelling by train today. (Also wrote some notes for my CFT post on both legs of the journey too, so well pleased). I found myself smiling at some of what I’d written and had to repress the urge to laugh.

I think it can be forgotten the first reader of a writer’s work is you, the writer. If the story doesn’t impact on you, you can forget it doing so for anyone else! That doesn’t mean the piece is perfect. It WILL need editing as sure as day follows night but if the overall impact of the story is entertainment, then great. It’s a question of polishing that story to as good a standard as you can get it (and then test the market with it. Good luck!).

All stories should reveal something about character and what can make someone change (for better or worse. A character’s journey doesn’t necessarily have to be a good one!).

What flash fiction does is show a much shorter journey for that character and so the pivotal change is more intense.

So the best kind of flash fiction story then is where you want to highlight one particular point of change in a character. It is all about the focus!

BOOK NEWS:

Amazon have a special offer on FLTDBA at the moment. The Kindle version is on offer at £2.33 and the paperback at £2.10. I don’t know how long they’ll have this offer on for but thought I would flag it up!  NB:  The link takes you to the paperback offer and it is cheaper than when I first put this up on FB.  Grab a bargain, go on, you know you want to!

Can I also put in a gentle plea for reviews on the usual sites if you have read FLTDBA? Reviews help authors and the nice thing is it doesn’t have to be a long review either. A one-liner is absolutely fine. I DO read reviews when I’m thinking of trying a new product (or one that’s new to me anyway) and generally find them helpful. This is so true for books too.

On to other things…

One of the issues I have with a flash fiction idea is deciding which word count to go for. It isn’t always clear cut. Some ideas are tailor-made to be 50 or 100 words or what have you.

Others I could write up as a very short piece or extend. For those I often draft both versions and then go with the one I like best. It isn’t always the short version. Sometimes I am after a greater depth of characterisation so the longer version wins out.

But flash fiction is wonderful for allowing you to experiment like that. And you could use it to work out what it is you do want to write as your main interest. If the very short form grabs you, great. If it doesn’t and you find you work better consistently at the 1500+ word mark, then equally fine.

And good luck!

Goodreads Author Blog – When Do You Read?

Apologies for being a day late. Had a wonderful time at the Association of Christian Writers’ Day in Bath yesterday. I was too “buzzed out” to write much yesterday though I did write flash fiction and some notes for a blog post on a phone app while on the train!

I did, however, give myself plenty of time to read in bed last night. I indulged in magazines, books, and the Kindle. It was the perfect way to wind down after a busy but most enjoyable day.

I never feel as if the day has ended properly without my bedtime read. The only time I really get to read outside of that time is usually when I’m on holiday. Even on train trips I want to spend that time writing though it was good to see there were books in evidence on the train. Let nobody tell you the paperback is dead! It isn’t!

I would love to find a way of being able to read more in the day but I just know I’d be too conscious of all the other things I should be doing to allow myself to enjoy that read properly. So maybe at the end of the day is the best time to read after all.

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Character Types (and Why It Matters to Get Them Right)

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

There’s a nice little Q&A session which has developed from my CFT post this week about character types and why it matters to get them right.

This is one thing I love about my CFT posts. I can never know what reaction there will be until the posts go up and sometimes great discussions take place, sometimes not. Do pop over and have a look at this week’s post and if you have favourite character types I’ve not listed here, please do share them in the comments box.

Comments on the character -v- plot debate would also be welcome. I do come down firmly on one side here but I’ll leave you to find out which one it is!

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My CFT post this week will look at some of my favourite character types and why it matters to get them right.

A good story can only be that way if the characters are strong enough. A decent plot will be let down badly if the characters are not “up to scratch”. More on this and the link tomorrow.

Am looking forward to going to the Association of Christian Writers’ Day at Bath on Saturday. Always good to meet other writers!

 

There will be an expression here which will match your thoughts about most adaptations - Pixabay image

What are your characters like? What emotions do they have? Pixabay image.

It is with great sadness I see from the Winchester Writers’ Festival page that Barbara Large, MBE, who founded the original Winchester Writers’ Conference, passed away on Monday. She will be much missed.

Barbara gave so much support and encouragement to writers across a huge range of genres including me. I have a certificate for a Commended Short Story signed by her from the 31st Winchester Writers’ Conference and it has pride of place on my wall.

Condolences to all of her family and friends.

 

Resized Barbara Large and Anne Wan

Barbara Large MBE (left) will be much missed by the writing community including Anne Wan (right) and myself.  Image kindly supplied by Anne Wan.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

The advantage of flash fiction is you have to learn to write tight to keep to the word count, even though there can be flexibility with that. You don’t have to stick to 50-word stories. You can have a go at the 500-word ones!

The advantage of a novel is you have room for sub-plots and can go much further into character development, which when well done adds layers to your story.

The short story is a cross-over to an extent. Usually there would be room for only one sub-plot (but there’s no room at all for anything like that in flash). You can go into character development but the word count restrictions here will limit how far you can take that. (Though that can vary from 1500 to 8000 or thereabouts as there are some longer short story competitions out there).

And all three are brilliant writing disciplines! All need decent editing and crafting to get your story into shape. Whatever form you’re going for, or if you’re going in for more than one, you can know you will be doing a lot of editing! But above all have fun with them. Writing should be fun.

How do you find coming up with promising opening lines? Is it a pain or is coming out with those just fine but then you struggle with delivering on the promise of that opening line?

I’ve found mixing up how I approach this helps a lot. I outline (briefly, appropriately for flash fiction) how a story could go from that opening line. There is usually some promise from those thoughts that I can develop. Okie dokie then, away I go and write the thing.

Sometimes though I’m not satisfied with what I’ve come out with. Somehow the thoughts don’t seem strong enough. DO trust your gut instincts here by the way, they’re normally right. When I have this happen, I then see if what I thought might be a good opening line would actually work better as a finishing one. I then work backwards to get to the starting point.

I’ve not rejected an opening line altogether yet because if one method here doesn’t work, the other does. It’s just that sometimes you can’t always see the best way to go straight away and that’s where outlining comes into its own and to your rescue!

A quick search of Writing Magazine’s Competition Guide has shown a couple of interesting competitions I’ll try and have a go at. Note to self: go through the guide at the weekend and mark the ones of interest! What is nice is some of the competitions are rolling ones in that there is one per month or something like that so if you miss one deadline, there are others you can aim for.

It proves that the market for very short stories and flash is a healthy one. Hooray for that!

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Fairytales with Bite – Top Five Tips for Characterisation

My theme this week is character type(s) and my CFT post also featured this but I thought a quick run down of tips would be useful.

  1. Be realistic.  Your characters must have motivations that we will all understand, even if we don’t agree with them all!
  2. Show flaws as  well as virtues.  None of us are perfect after all so why should our characters be?  Besides they can get to learn from their mistakes.
  3. Stretch your characters.  Don’t be afraid to put them through hell to find out what they are really made of/are capable of.
  4. Let your characters surprise you, sometimes (don’t overdo it!).  A great example of what I mean here is Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings.  Nobody expects in that wonderful world for a hobbit to be a hero, yet Frodo becomes one.  Frodo shows a determination and courage others far bigger than him are not capable of (and yet he’d have failed completedly without Sam Gamgee’s support).  It would’ve been the easiest thing of all for Frodo to stay in Middle Earth and let someone else do the heroics.
  5. Weaknesses SHOULD get in the character’s way and be something they’re seen to be fighting against.  And that, folks, is where the drama is!  A great story has plenty of that!

This World and Others – Character Types

I look at character types and why it matters to get them right in my CFT post this week.  It doesn’t matter how fantastic your world is, the characters must be believable for your readers to engage with them and want to read your story at all.

One key to getting this right is to examine your characters’ motivations. Why are they acting the way they are?  Is it something we can understand?  I’ve long thought Woody from Toy Story is a truly great character.  Why?  Because his jealousy when Buzz comes into his life is understandable.  There are very few of us, regardless of our age, who haven’t been jealous of something or someone in our time.

Look at how your world is governed. Is it a democracy?  Is there a tier of local government?  What are the politicians like there? (And there will be politicians somewhere along the line.  Where there is any kind of power, no matter how minor, politics and playing people off against one another will come into it.  Sad perhaps but again this is something we all understand and will help make your world seem more real to your readers).

So think about emotions.  What are your characters likely to feel and why?  (This is one reason why the Cybermen as a concept are frightening.  The removal of all emotions?  Those are what make us human.  They can also make your Species X what it is and differentiate them from other character types in your fiction).