Phases, Plays, Prioritising

I do love a good alliterative title!

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I tend to go through phases with my reading when all I will want to read are magazines or short stories, or crime novels, or funny fiction etc. I then come out of that phase and move on to something else entirely.

Writing wise, I like to get a good fix of non-fiction done early on in the week (usually my CFT blog). Later in the week I move on to my fiction and have sessions for my flash fiction and then sessions for working on the novel. By the end of a week I’ve made progress on all the projects I’ve got on the go.

Don’t know if this is ideal. All I do know is it works for me. Planning out your writing time – when it will be, what will you do with each slot etc IS a good idea though, no matter what you write.

 

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Enjoyed writing up a couple of the writing prompts in my diary earlier. One was to think of five words you think of when it comes to Easter and then put them in a piece about an Easter egg hunt.

Another was to complete a piece of writing based on “Cross not the dragon and his wrath” which seems to combine Shakespearean language with a nod to St. George.

I like these sorts of exercises. They make me think and push myself harder. Mind you, the quote does seem to be plain common sense to me! I suppose you could get some interesting tales out of beings who DO cross a dragon. I expect that would end up as flash fiction as I can see the outcome being a greatly reduced life span = end of story in every sense!😃

 

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Association of Christian Writers – More Than Writers

My monthly spot on the Association of Christian Writers’ blog, More Than Writers, focuses on prioritising writing work. Easier said than done? Of course but it is worth doing. Planning out how you are going to use your writing slots enables you to get more written funnily enough.

Oh and no my desk isn’t as neat as this one, far from it! I do know where everything is though…

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Looking forward to sharing my review of the recent Chameleon Theatre Groups’ latest production, Spring Trio of Plays, later in the week.

I see going to watch plays like this as another way of taking in stories and they can be a great way of trying genres out you might not necessarily read. There is also a nice link to the oral tradition of storytelling here too given the audience has to focus on the words. Now what storyteller, in whatever format, doesn’t want that?!

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One thing about writing flash fiction is it does encourage you to keep your titles short and punchy. You want the maximum impact for the least amount of words and if your title can be “open” as to how the story which goes with it can go, so much the better.

My Serving Up A Treat could have been a humorous cooking story. All I’ll say is it isn’t! I took a very different take but the title is still highly appropriate. Take your time working out what the best title is and don’t be afraid to change it if you have to. I have to have a title to work to but will change it if a better one crops up as I’m writing the story, which does happen sometimes. Usually the title I originally came up with is fine and I stick with it.

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Is there any writer out there who doesn’t wish they had more time for reading? (Yes, I do make sure I read something daily whether it is fiction or non-fiction – and when I can I try to make sure I read both. It can vary from a short piece to chapters of novels etc but I do read something. I switch between paperback and the Kindle too).

One of the great joys of flash fiction is that they make the perfect form to dip into when time is short for reading. I also think that technology (especially smartphones) have helped boost the growth of the form given flash fiction is so easy to read on a screen, no matter how small that screen is.

So read and write on. Pockets of time mount up and you will get stories written/you will finish books you’re reading but keep going and keep going and don’t give up on either!

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Can you create a sense of mystery in flash fiction given its limited word count?

Yes but it is best done through implication. In my So Close the title should make you wonder WHAT could be so described! The opening line “It has taken centuries to reach this point but you overcome anything to get what you crave” should imply quite a bit on its own.

Firstly, whoever the narrator is must be old (at least by our standards) or you could imply the possibility of time travel here (it would be centuries for us but not for the narrator).

Secondly, you wonder what on earth (or elsewhere) the narrator has overcome. Thirdly you wonder what the narrator is craving. The story does go on to reveal that.

It is a question of putting in the right telling details so a reader then goes on to put two and two together and reads the story to find out if they’re right or not.

I talked about Fads and Fancies in my most recent Goodreads blog where I ‘fessed up to having reading fads. I can sometimes be at the point where all I want to read is crime fiction or humorous prose or what have you, and where all I want to write is flash fiction or longer short stories and so on. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But the great joy of a flash fiction collection is you can write across the board of genres and moods and even vary the word counts of each story in said collection. As long as you don’t go above 1000 words, it still counts as flash!

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And talking of my Goodreads post…

Goodreads Author Blog – Fads and Fancies

Do you find you have reading “fixes” you just have to indulge in for a while?

I find I read in cycles. There will be periods when all I will want to read are magazine articles. Other times I will want to read short stories. Then again I will have periods when it is nothing but crime I read and so on.

Equally there are times when nothing but “proper” books will do. Other times you can’t prise me away from my Kindle!

Mood of story varies too. There are times I really have to read anything funny. This is particularly true when the news in unremittingly grim. The value of books and stories for escapism should not be under-appreciated or looked down on. Being able to escape for a while I think is good for you.

When I come out from that kind of reading, I tend to go for “nothing but the facts Ma’am” and I catch up with my non-fiction TBR pile.

There is ALWAYS a TBR pile. (I’ve got one on the Kindle too. The advantage with that one is it can’t topple over!).

So what do I fancy reading later tonight then? Hmm… decisions, decisions (but such nice ones to make!).

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Plays, Writing Exercises, and Links

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My CFT post this week is called Plays – The Joys and Challenges.  This looks at playwriting, its links with flash fiction and the oral storytelling tradition, and why reading books of scripts (often TV series publish these) is a good idea if you would like to get into this genre.

I look ahead a little to my review next week when I will be reviewing The Chameleon Theatre Group’s latest production, Spring Trio of Plays.  Playwriting has its specific challenges.  How do you convey information without having a character talk all the time?  How can your set convey enough information for the audience to be able to fill in gaps (and for radio the set has to be made of things the audience can hear so they can work out where they are!).

Image Credit:  Pixabay

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Further to my flag up for my CFT post this week about The Joys and Challenges of Plays, I must admit I was surprised to find there are certain elements in common with flash fiction.

One is that an audience has to imply a lot from the way actors act out stage directions and have to take in a whole world from the set (no descriptions or exposition here).

With flash fiction, due to the word count limits, I have to select the most important things for a reader to know and leave them to fill in the gaps. (For me that is one of the joys of reading and writing flash).

But it was nice to be surprised to find these connections to flash here!

Had a lovely evening watching a Spring Trio of Plays performed by The Chameleon Theatre Group. Review to follow on 3rd May though I do talk about the joys and challenges of playwriting in tomorrow’s CFT post.

Basically what I’m saying here is the reason for the late post is I’ve been out gallivanting. And a jolly good gallivant it was too!

My CFT post this week looks at the challenges of playwriting.

I’m off to the see The Chameleon Theatre Group’s latest production, Spring Trio of Plays, tomorrow. I like their “mixed assortment” productions like this. Firstly, there’s a good mix of humour and drama usually and, secondly, it is a great opportunity to stage some shorter plays. Link up to my post on Friday. Hope to review tomorrow’s show next Friday.

I would say “break a leg, darlings” but the stage in the Ritchie Hall, home to the Chameleons, isn’t high enough! So I’ll settle for the good old-fashioned “good luck” instead.😀

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I sometimes write up to the 1000 words limit for flash fiction. Inevitably when I do this is a relationship kind of story as I have more room to bring in or refer to other characters having a major bearing on my MC’s life. My stories, Expecting and Rewards, in FLTDBA are good examples of this.

I relished having more words to play with when I wrote these two stories, but, even when you write to the upper limit more often, you still need to write with precision. What you show about other characters has to be relevant to the story but you can achieve more depth here than in the very short flash fiction stories. Mind, depth is not the main purpose of those tales anyway.

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Mood is an important factor in any story but with flash fiction it is particularly important to decide what it is going to be before I start writing. Due to the limited word count, the mood of the piece has to be set very early on.

Yes, a twist can come at the end to change the mood, but generally the mood (grim/funny etc) stays constant through the piece. I then work out how best to portray that mood.

A lot is implied of course, it has to be, but that’s no bad thing. Less really is more when it comes to flash fiction and I know as a reader I love working things out for myself.

 

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Some thoughts on flash fiction:-

F = Fun to Write
L = Language to be direct and specific
A = Action – conveyed in as few words as possible
S = Story complete in and of itself
H = Hero/heroine but room for only 1 or 2 characters.

F = Fairytales and fantasy work well in a flash format
I = Imagination – let it run riot and then hone what you come up with to produce a piece of hard hitting flash fiction
C = Characters. Have to make impact quickly as flash fiction has to be character led.
T = Truth – flash fiction is as capable of conveying truths about the human condition as an epic novel!
I = Intense. Has to be due to the word count restrictions (but that makes truth hit home quicker and harder)
O = Omnipresent narration can work well in flash.
N = No restrictions on what genre of story you use for flash.

Fairytales with Bite – Looking for Links

I was surprised to find links between flash fiction and plays in my latest CFT post, which is on Plays – The Joys and Challenges.  More on that in the post itself but it made me wonder about links in our stories.

Some of these are planned of course but others can crop up as you are drafting your story.  One of the great joys of writing I think is when you’ve drafted a story and you spot other links between characters/with your theme etc., all of which have come out of your sub-conscious mind.

Reading widely in all genres and including non-fiction will help feed that sub-conscious mind which is why doing this is such a good idea for all writers, regardless of what you write.

You want to be able to draw on thoughts that have occurred to you as you read something, which you may not have noted for a story at the time of reading the piece concerned, but which come back to your mind as you write/edit etc and you realise it could fit in really well with your character.

So where to look for links then?

1.  Look at links between what characters fear.  Enemies can be united by a common fear of something or someone else.  Those links can be played on for good or evil.

2.  Look at links between what characters love.  That can also be used for good or evil.  If two characters love the same person, there’s going to be fallout from that.

3.  Look at links with regard to what makes people tick.  The basic drives – the need to survive and pass on genes to offspring – are common to most of us.  It is how we act on them that differentiates us of course.  One of my favourite moments in Star Wars is the famous scene where Darth Vader reveals he  is Luke Skywalker’s father.  Luke is horrified of course.  The very thought of there being any link at all between him and Vader is horrifying for Luke. What links can you use to make other characters react in a similar way?

This World and Others –

Three Writing Exercises to help with World Building

Hope the following ideas for writing exercises help with your own world building for your stories. The idea behind these is to get you to draft out thoughts as to how your world would actually work.  You won’t need to put most of this in your story but do see this as your blueprint.  It is crucial you know these things.  You’ll write with more confidence and it will come across that way in your writing.

It’ll also help convince you that this world could exist.  You are the first believer in it after all. Having worked things out in advance as to how things can work will also help against the dreaded “slump in the middle”.  You will already know what you need to know about your created world.  You can focus on the drama of your story with that knowledge behind you.

1.  System of Government.  Draw a flowchart as to who runs what, what their powers are and how these feed in to each other (local government for example is always answerable to national government at some level).

2.  The Need to Survive.  Write out ten things your “people” need so they can survive.  Draw a spider diagram of how they can obtain these things.

3.  Cultures.  Is your world going to be a mono-culture?  If not, what other cultures are there? Draft ideas as to what these could be, how the multi cultures interact with each other (if they do at all), and whether there is any sense of superiority (justified or not) by one or more of these.  If it is a mono-culture, were they always that way or have they driven others out?

Hope you have fun with these.  Be as detailed or as scanty with details as you wish but the idea is this will give you something to refer to as you write your tale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bluebells, Beautiful Books, Ants, and Editing

Hmm… now there’s this week’s contender from me for Unique Blog Title!

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Bluebells out all over the place at the moment. It’s always great taking Lady out for her walks but this time of year is special. Not that she appreciates the local fauna. If it’s a convenient place for her to have a wee break, that’s precisely what she’ll do! (No. She hasn’t weed on the bluebells. Have had couple of close calls though).

I don’t tend to write much about nature partly because flash fiction is not the place for lots of lovely descriptions! I prefer to get my characters up and running quickly within their setting.

The weather, the nature of the area my characters are in are gaps for readers to fill in, though the clues are there. In my The Haunting my character is trying to get rid of a hated umbrella that somehow is managing NOT to be got rid of. The implication there is the weather must be reasonably okay. You don’t dump a brolly on a wet day generally. I don’t specifically spell that out but there’s no need to do so.

I’ve found it useful when outlining to work out what the reader HAS to know, ensure that gets put into the story, and get on with the action of said tale. It is all down to selecting what is the most important thing(s) for the reader to know. Often in flash fiction there will be room for one or two things. The trick is to ensure what you can’t put in can be implied in other ways.

Bluebells in Knightwood

Bluebells on a local walk.  Stunning sight.  And this is just a short section of them too.  Image by Allison Symes

When do you know you’ve finished editing a piece?

When you’ve put it away for a while, come back to it and read it, and can’t think of a single thing to change. Also that it has the impact on you that you wanted it to achieve.

Does that always take longer to achieve than you originally hoped?

Oh yes!

Went for a wonderful walk with better half and Lady to round off Bank Holiday Monday. The bluebells were amazing (though frankly I was far more interested than the dog was. Lady didn’t wee on them tonight so I guess that is a plus!).

I remember thinking ages ago that I’d use walking time to work out ideas for stories/articles/blog posts etc. I haven’t done that once! This is partly due to being far too interested (aka nosey) in what is going on around me including, tonight, trying to spot the noisy woodpecker who was clearly doing some DIY. (How apt for a bank holiday weekend!). The other reason is, of course, Lady and the need to keep an eye on her though, if she thinks she needs attention, she’ll give you a nudge with her nose.

But a break away from the desk does refresh the mind and the spirit and that feeds into my writing, so that’s okay. Pleased to say I sent off some submissions over the weekend and made good progress on my novel. Onwards and upwards!

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Enjoyed listening to the new Hall of Fame on Classic FM over the weekend. Mixed bag of results from my votes.

Jupiter (The Planet Suite) – Holst – down 18

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis – Vaughan Williams – non-mover

BUT

Danse Macabre – Saint Saens – (the wonderful piece I use for my book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back again went up a whopping 50 places. It was also used as the theme to Jonathan Creek to great effect).

I love music which conjures up a mood or in the case of the VW piece seems to take you back in time. Perfect background music as I work out what to do with my next batch of flash fiction characters. Will they meet a horrid end? Will I put them in humorous set-ups? Ah! The joy of creating!


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Do you use spider diagrams for working out story ideas? I do sometimes. They can be useful for working out variations on the “what if” question so you can decide which is the strongest to write up.

I like to start with a potential character name and a bizarre situation (but then I love reading and writing quirky fiction). I work out how the character could’ve ended up being in that situation before going on to work out how they get out of it. The nice thing with this sort of planning is I just need rough ideas at this stage.

If Character X is going to end up on Mars with a limited oxygen supply, then logic dictates they’re either going to be rescued or die. For me, the story there is how they got dumped there and above all, why. So a spider diagram for that could be something like this:-

Character X brags, is pain in backside etc – demands lead position on next space exploration. (Motive here immediately)
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Character X has been driving Character Y mad for years without being aware of it. Character Y is a quiet soul and for once would like an uneventful space trip. (More motive here).
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Character Y pushes Character X out of the space capsule and heads off, knowing Character X would insist on leaving the capsule first. Character X would swear profusely at this point but realises the need to save as much energy and oxygen as possible.

That is very rough but you get the idea. Must admit though spider diagrams for me look better when drawn out on paper!

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Editing is a crucial skill whatever you write but writing flash fiction is a great way to improve what you do here.

I’ve found I’ve got into the mindset of looking at phrases to double check they make as much of an impact as possible in the fewest possible words once I’ve carried out an initial typo/grammatical error edit.

Often a tweak or two will (a) reduce the word count and (b) strengthen what it was I wanted to say. You never come out with the exact wording immediately. Well, I don’t anyway. Usually a stronger adjective than the one I’d originally chosen will increase the impact of that particular sentence.

It’s a great weight off my mind to know I don’t have to get it right on the first go!

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Managed to submit three flash fiction pieces over the weekend so pleased with that. Would like to try and get more out this coming weekend. I try to carve out a specific writing slot for sending submissions out and weekends tend to be my best time for this.

It always pays to double check submission requirements given these vary from market to market/competition to competition. There have been times I’ve been cross with myself for spotting a typo after I’ve submitted a piece. And that’s despite editing on paper, putting work aside for a while so I come back to the piece with fresh eyes etc The one comfort I take from things like that is this happens. It happens to a lot of writers at some point.

What I don’t want to ever happen is for a piece to fail because I missed something on the submission requirements. To date, it has never happened. So help me, it never will. It really does pay to take extra time to ensure you have got everything spot on here. Don’t rush this aspect.

I’ve found it useful to take at least a week off the official deadline of any competition etc to give me that breathing space I need to ensure everything is as perfect as I can make it. (I usually take two weeks off in fact). Give yourself time and space.

Time to have some fun with the random word generator again. I used a as the start letter and t as the final one and selected six words. These were:-

achievement
account
argument
ant
accept
announcement

Let’s see what can be done with these (and I won’t count the title as one of the words).

ACHIEVEMENT

The ant was of little account in the grand scheme of things. She was just one of thousands of worker ants whose greatest achievement would be to ensure the survival of their colony. There was no room for argument. Her role was her role and that was that. It was best to accept this. Everyone knew a sole ant would never survive long outside of the protection of the colony. For the colony to work, everyone had to fit in with their alloted roles. So when the announcement came the queen ant had died, there was consternation. There would be no more ants. No more worker ants like her. Not in this colony.

Ends

Allison Symes – 23rd April 2019

This is almost certainly the tiniest character I’ve created and is likely to remain so!

But have fun with random word generators and see where they take you. They can be great ways of triggering fresh story ideas.

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Goodreads Author Blog – Beautiful Books

I love books in all their different forms, of course, but I do appreciate the art in a really good book cover.

Difficult to say what my favourite cover is but I must say I love the children’s editions of the Harry Potter series and the original Discworld covers.

I don’t get the tendency to produce plainer covers for “grown ups”. Blow that. I want escapism in a good book and the cover has got to entice me in. A plain black or grey cover with sensible lettering just isn’t going to do it for yours truly.

I also appreciate beautiful bindings. I inherited my late mother’s collection of hardback Dickens (all in green with gold lettering) and they are a joy to look at. They are even more of a joy to read! I also have a fab Agatha Christie collection (red hardbacks with gold lettering). Great stories but my enjoyment is enhanced when I can appreciate the physicality of a book. (This is where the Kindle DOES lose out to “proper” books).

At the end of the day, it is the story which matters most of all, naturally. But I’m all for getting as much enjoyment out of a book as possible and beautiful covers and production standards can make books very special indeed.

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Working Out What Works

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My CFT post this week is Story Analysis – Why Bother? I doubt if there’s an English Literature student who HASN’T thought that at some point!

I look at why story analysis benefits writers, how I do this with flash fiction (yes, it can be done), and look at differing types of analysis.

For example, you can look at whether your story works in terms of structure. You can look at whether the sentence length is appropriate given your type of story. You can look to see if your tale is following the Three Act structure.

Story analysis is a useful tool. Hope you enjoy.

Image Credit:  Pixabay

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What do you most enjoy writing – dialogue or description?

I must admit I adore writing dialogue but I have to watch I don’t overdo this. Mind, writing flash fiction with its tight word count helps a lot there!

I can understand the appeal of writing plays given dialogue has to be a prominent part of them.

When I’ve finished a standard length short story (1500 words or so), one of my editing processes is to ensure the balance of dialogue to description is (a) right and (b) specifically right for that story. Some of my longer tales genuinely need a lot of dialogue. The rule is to cut out anything which doesn’t move the story onwards in some way.

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My CFT post this week looks at story analysis and discusses why it is worth doing by writers (both for their own work and on their own favourite authors). I also look at whether you can over-analyse and share how I analyse my flash fiction (yes, it can be done!). Link up on Friday.

Making progress on the novel, an idea I have for a non-fiction book, and, of course, I’m drafting flash fiction too. Hope to get some of that edited and submitted soon. Never short of things to work on but that’s how I like it!

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As part of my CFT post on Story Analysis this week, I look at how I do this for flash fiction. It can be done!

The most important part of any story though, regardless of its length, is getting that idea out of your head and down on to paper or screen though!

I use story analysis to review my stories thoroughly once the first draft and basic edit (typos and grammatical errors – there is always at least one!) are done.

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One of my favourite word games used to be Word Association. (These days it’s Scrabble on the phone, though the ads are annoying! I’ve also just got into Countdown as an app. No. Have not yet made a 9 letter word. I’m working on it!).

I still use Word Association sometimes as a brainstorming exercise. It can be a great way to find links (and as a result story ideas). Be prepared to dig deep though. Your first reactions to a word will be to come up with the obvious links. It’ll be what comes after you’ve used all those up that will be interesting.

For example:-

Bell = ring = clanger = Jo drops a clanger. Who is Jo? What was the clanger? What were the consequences?

Hmm…

You get the idea. Have fun and play with words like this. It will boost ideas and since when has that been a bad thing?!

What writing task do you dread doing most?

I suppose if I’ve got one, it is the line by line edit for typos and grammatical errors. The thing that keeps me going there is the thought that all of this will vastly improve my story or book.

I think of this task as a bit like dusting. Nobody will notice when you have done it but when you haven’t, that’s another matter! (I loathe dusting… no surprises there).

It helps to focus on getting your MSS as near perfection as it is possible for us mere mortals to do. In a way you don’t want people to notice it. Your work should read seamlessly and well. If it is any small comfort, I learned a long time ago that something which appears to be an easy read is the same something the author slogged their guts over to achieve that. It’s also taken them a long time to get to that level of experience to know it needs doing, IS worth doing etc!

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Fairytales With Bite – Working Out How Things Work

My CFT post Story Analysis – Why Bother? looks at why story analysis works and why it is useful for writers.  But how do your characters work out if things are working the way they should be?

Usually your characters take a while to work out when things are going wrong (and this is particularly true if someone is a traitor to a group of characters.  It takes time to figure out something is not right and then deduce who the guilty party is).

I suppose it is a reflection of human nature that characters often have to realise something is wrong (as opposed to knowing things are going well).  But therein lies the drama and conflict and without all of that, there is no story.

Interesting lines of thought to follow for stories are when characters are put in situation where they are in a different culture and have to adjust their thinking.  How easy is it for them to do that?  Do they manage to blend in with their new surroundings or do they stick out?

But there you have a character who has to got to work out how things work in their new environment.  Also work out what the consequences are for if/when your character gets this wrong.  Is the new situation they’re in welcoming to strangers or not?  Increase the tensions and the pressures on your characters to get this right to ratchett up the stakes the character has to “play for” to achieve whatever goal has been set as the story aim.

This World and Others –

My Favourite Things About Stories

Where do I start with this one?  Well, here goes:-

1.  Stories take you into another world.  Sometimes that world is this one but we see it in a light we’ve not considered before.

2.  Stories show you a wide range of characters, some of whom you’ll love.  Others you’ll love to hate of course but all of them draw  you in and make you feel something!

3.  Stories, when they convey messages/morals, do this subtly.  The writers rightly don’t want to lose their audiences by preaching.  Subtlety generally works better in any case.  It is better that the reader works out what the message/moral is and have their own lightbulb moment. The message hits home all the better for the reader working it out for themselves.

4.  Stories entertain.  In what is a mad world, the escapism element shouldn’t be despised.

5.  Stories can show you different aspects of history and culture from around the world.  (I find it fascinating how so many of our beloved fairytales go back such as long time and there are many cultures which have very similar versions to the ones we know).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Books, Books, Books!

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I suspect I’m preaching to the converted with the title for this post but never mind!

Books have been a vital part of my life since goodness knows when but I’ve only been writing since I turned 30…. X number of years ago!! Quite a considerable number of years in fact but not so many as when I first discovered the joys of reading and would spend many a happy hour in the local library.

Why did it take me so long to make the connection between “you really love books and stories” and “you really like writing your own stories” so you should become a writer? Goodness knows. Looking back on it, it is daft I didn’t start writing sooner but the main thing is I am writing now!

My advice to anyone pondering if they should write or not is to give it a go and have fun creating characters and stories. Whether you then try to get published is up to you. There’s nothing wrong with just writing for your own satisfaction. What matters is you’re writing and loving it.

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I loved watching the TV series of Black Beauty when I was a kid. That encouraged me to read the book by Anna Sewell. Southern TV, as it was back then, adapted some of the Enid Blyton Famous Five books and I loved those too. Pity they lost the franchise because that ended the series pronto!

So a good TV adaptation can encourage people to get back to the books, which is very much A Good Thing! This also happened with me with Oliver Twist. Alec Guinness and Oliver Reed were superb as Fagin and Bill Sykes. Had to read the book after watching the film.

With The Lord of the Rings, I had read the trilogy first. The magic of those films was bringing to life the images I had conjured up in my head of what Middle Earth looked like. (I still like the look of the hobbit holes. I’m about the right height to live in one too!).

I love it when creative media feeds off AND benefits other creativity like this.

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So terribly sad to see the news about Notre Dame. I hope the damage is as limited as possible. Also that restoration can take place as soon as possible too.

On to other things…

The only time I specifically write to a theme is when entering competitions. I’ve usually got a character in mind when I’m thinking about a new flash fiction story and work out, from their main characteristics, what theme would best suit them. I can’t say whether this is the right or wrong way to do things but I do know it works for me.

My other use of themes is to trigger ideas for a new story and then I spend some time working out which kind of character would best suit it. If I can’t work out a suitable character I don’t write the story.

For me it is all about the characters, always.

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I suppose my first introduction to short stories must have been the Reader’s Digest Collections of Fairytales, which I still have.

I was never conscious of this when reading these books (over and over and over and over again etc!) though I do recall being stunned at how long The Little Mermaid was and that it really didn’t have a happy ending. That was an eye opener for me. I didn’t know stories could be like that!

I also loved The Snow Queen with Gerda being the “action lead”. That was an eye opener too. Here was a girl off having all kinds of adventures to rescue her neighbour from said Snow Queen (and the splinter of the evil mirror in his heart). Loved that on first reading.

Here is where you meet ideas for future characters of your own – by reading widely and discovering them in other stories, then wondering what YOU could do with a character like that. You then wonder what setting YOU would put them in and what adventures/problems YOU set them. YOU wonder how your characters would sound and act and react and all of this comes together, creating a story that is uniquely yours. Writing and reading are truly wonderful things.

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The Book Depository UK has FLTDBA listed as available within 2-3 business days. Amazon currently has it available as one month plus! I don’t know why this happens but it does pay to check out online retailers for availability, whether it is in books or anything else!

And I will put in another word about reviews. They really do help authors. Amazon sit up and take notice if you have 50 reviews. If you’re not sure what to write, one line saying what you liked (or loathed) about the book is sufficient. It is a great irony that even a review where someone didn’t like s book still helps the author of that book when it comes to the “numbers game”.

My own policy for reviews, whether it is for groceries or books, is to have a good look through what people have said. Usually there is a consensus and I can then go with that or not as I see fit but I find reviews a useful guide when I’m on the other side of the fence. So please do review! Thanks!

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I sometimes use alliteration in my flash fiction titles (Pen Portrait, Telling The Time etc) but I haven’t deliberately done this. In each case the title has been the right one for the story and the alliteration is a nice side effect!

I also think it is better to have things that way round rather than try to think of a clever title and try to make the story fit it. I can never see how that would work. Something would feel artificial about it.

I have to have a title to work to when writing a story (of any length) but I will change it if something better pops into my head as I’m working on the first draft. I use my titles to help me set the mood for a story. I sometimes use titles which can have a secondary meaning that the story makes clear.

The important thing is that the title suits the story.

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Once I’ve got a flash fiction collection written and edited, I spend some time working out what would be the best “running order” for the stories. This can take some time but it’s worth it.

From Light to Dark and Back Again lives up to its name (!) but the big plus with that was it helped me group stories beautifully!

The reason for all of this? I don’t just want my individual stories to make an impact on a reader. I want the book as a whole to do so too so taking a step back and planning what stories goes where helps enormously with that.

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What is the worst aspect of writing flash fiction?

For me, it’s coming up with a character with a strong enough voice. Once I’ve got that (after some outlining), I can set that character wherever I want and away they go!

It’s not enough for a character to be pushy or what have you. There has got be strong enough reason for them to be like that. Give them this and you will take the reader with you even though the reading journey for flash fiction is necessarily a short one!

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Goodreads Author Blog – Playing with Genre

With my flash fiction, I like to play with genre a lot. As flash fiction has to be character led due to the strict word count, I can have great fun putting that character wherever and whenever I want. I’ve written fantasy flash fiction, historical flash fiction, crime flash fiction etc as a result.

I’ve read excellent collections by other authors too. Some focus on one genre. The Great War by Dawn Kentish Knox is a great example of a themed historical flash fiction collection. Do check it out. The characterisation is very moving.

But it is not just in the flash and short story form that genre can be played with, far from it.

I love the crossover novel. It blends the best of the two (usually) genres it is mixing and gives something unique to the reader as a result. A good example to check out here is Jennifer C Wilson’s Kindred Spirits series which crosses ghost stories with historical fiction. Great mix!

I think readers are much more flexible over this than writers/publishers realise at times. I know what I like when I read it even if I can’t categorise it! And while categories ARE important, I don’t think they’re meant to be straitjackets either.

Have fun with your reading/writing and mix those genres!

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The Highs and Lows

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I look at the highs and lows of the writing life in my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week. It’s easy to forget that the writing journey isn’t a straight line going up and up and up etc. It twists and turns, goes up and down, and the one predictable thing about it is it isn’t predictable!

Hope you enjoy the post but also find it consoling to know you’re not alone on that bumpy road!

Image Credit:  As ever, the images are from the fantastic Pixabay.

 

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The writing life has its ups and downs (and that’s the theme of this week’s CFT post, link up tomorrow).

The irony is that without at least one of the downs, rejections, your writing is unlikely to progress. Why?

Because you do have to learn from what you do do wrong. Also because a rejection makes you look at a piece again and either try and improve it or submit it to another, relevant, market to test the water with it there. Onwards and upwards is a good motto to have here!

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I’m very fond of stories told from an alternative viewpoint. This works really well for fairytales and my A Helping Hand, the first story I ever had published (thanks Bridge House!), was a reworking of the Cinderella story but from the viewpoint of the youngest stepsister.

In The Outcome in From Light To Dark and Back Again, I tell the Cinderella story from the viewpoint of the fairy godmother. Both stories were great fun to write (and it shows how powerful the Cinderella tale is given it is capable of being adapted like that. Also, how many other stories over the years have had what we’d recognise as a Cinderella theme?).

If a story isn’t working for you, even after you’ve drafted and edited it, try rewriting it from the viewpoint of another character in it and see what happens. Does the story grip you NOW? Was it the case of the wrong character leading the tale initially? It is worth playing around with a story in this way. If the story STILL doesn’t work, then move on. (Even then it may be worth an occasional revisit later to re-read it and see if there is anything you can do then. There is NO use by date for stories and as you write more and gain more experience, you do pick up all sorts of useful tips to improve your work. You may find that kind of tip will be the key to finally sorting your story problem out.).

The other great thing is if you really do have to abandon a story altogether (which I’ve only done once or twice), you will still learn something from it. I realised with mine the character and situation simply wasn’t strong enough and as a result I realised that I can’t NOT outline. Winging it on stories just doesn’t work for me. I’ve got to put some prep in first. And yes I outline flash fiction too! A line or two to work out in which direction I’m heading with my character and away I go.


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Time for some more one-line stories then as it’s been a while since the last lot. I have great fun coming up with these (and I may or may not write them up into fuller flash fiction pieces later. I do love the flexibility of flash for things like this).

1. Sam would soon find out if there was a barrier against the cliff edge, given he’d decided not to bother looking.

2. When the collie rounded up the sheep, she included the shepherd as part of that process.

3. Gerry was sure wine bottles weren’t supposed to be cleaned out in one gulp and was unsure how Margaret could do it.

4. He’d have to report back there was no intelligent life on earth and that journalist’s stupid questioning put the tin lid on that conclusion.

5. The journalist watched the alien leave in their spaceship and smiled at the thought she’d just managed to give the thing the best fake news ever.

I don’t always name my characters in flash fiction. Sometimes this is due to my using the first person and it’s simply odd not to use anything but “I” for that.

Also a lot of my stories only feature the one character (though they often refer to other characters). This is due to the story only needing the one character and the one viewpoint. This is useful for oddball characters in particular.

The point of stories like that is not to challenge the oddball view but to show a reader why this character could be like that/do what they have. You are seeing right into that character’s mind. You don’t have to like what you see there though! I do like the immediacy first person gives you though and sometimes that is exactly what the story needs.

Flash fiction is great for showing you a complete little world in a few sentences. This is why I think the form is addictive. You want to see what else you can do with it and push yourself (never a bad thing to do in writing!). Also having tried 100-word stories, can you manage 75-worders or 25-worders and so on?

Another enjoyable challenge is coming up with a suitable title which has a powerful impact on the reader. I like titles which draw readers in, can convey something of the setting or mood of the story (saves word count in the story itself doing that), or is a well known phrase or proverb. (The hope there is the reader will find out how that well known phrase applies to my story).

Fairytales with Bite – Dealing with the Highs and Lows

My CFT post this week looks at The Highs and Lows of the Writing Life from the viewpoint of a writer (though there are some thoughts in there as to how readers can help too.  Okay, buying our books is the obvious way to help but there are others!).

For this post, I want to look at this from a character’s viewpoint.  Your characters are not going to have an easy life where nothing ever troubles them, otherwise you have no story.  Who would want to read about characters like that?  So what a reader is after then is a situation your characters have to cope with.  It can be a threat to life of course, but there are other ways of turning your character’s life upside down, and it is how your people respond to that which will keep readers turning the pages to find out more.

How do your characters cope with the highs and lows of their life? What situations do they find easier to cope with and others nigh on impossible?  (The latter incidentally could be something simple.  They have no problems crossing a haunted forest to get to where they need to be but struggle with communicating with others, which could put them and the others in danger if taken to a logical conclusion).

What are your characters’ emotional strengths and weaknesses?  Do they learn from their mistakes immediately or do they need several “goes” to get something right?  If their core trait is courage, what opportunities do they get to show that and does that trait ever fail them?

Answer questions like that and you should get some interesting story scenarios to write up!

This World and Others –

The A to Z of Story Essentials Part 5

Now for the final section covering U to Z.  Hmm…

U = Uniformity.  Not to hasten to add of characters, readers should be able to tell them apart easily.  What I mean here is if you have decided Character A is going to have a yellow bulging neck because that is how his species is made, then that should be shown uniformly throughout the story. Character A can’t suddenly NOT have a yellow bulging neck by the end of the story.  Whatever is vital to your character in terms of physical existence should be uniformly shown (and for the other characters who will be affected by the same things).

V = Variety.  It had to be this really as it follows on from U above in every sense!  Where variety does come in is via the traits your characters have.  Not everyone is going to be meek and mild (just as well really, there’d be no story!).  Not everyone is going to be hot tempered and causing fights all the time.  The secret to a good story, of whatever length, is getting the balance right.

W = Writing that Flows. Every good story has this.  Readers turn the pages, gripped by your characters, their world, and the situations you’ve put them in and your prose flows.  The pace should be appropriate. The style of words used should be appropriate to the story and your intended audience.  Nothing should jar the reader experience.  And yes it is tough to achieve.  It’s never done on one edit!

X = Xeno.  I’ve been looking forward to using this word again after having discovered it means strange!  A really good story has to grip the reader.  Something about your characters and situation should stir up their “HAVE to know what happens next” gene.  Strangeness can do that in terms of strange characters, strange worlds etc. Sci-fi and fantasy depends on this.  But even in an everyday setting, there should be something that draws your reader in.  I’ve found this is generally down to an intriguing character that I’ve got to know more about.  So what intrigues?  There must be something “xeno” about them.  For example, a fairy godmother who refuses to use magic.  Now that’s strange!  Got to know more… you get the idea.

Y = You.  I might be cheating a little here but I’ll plough on anyway.  What I mean here is you, as the writer, need to decide what tense you’re writing your story in – fine, that’s done, good.  Okay next task is to make sure it is your characters’ voices that your reader hears, not yours at all.  From a reader’s viewpoint, you here is to symbolize being totally engrossed with that story.  The story should entice you in and keep you there until it is finished.  So you and your reaction to a story is hugely important.  A writer should be looking to make impact on the “you” they think will read their story.

And last but not least…

Z = Zest.  A story essential, regardless of genre, is that it should be an enjoyable read.  There should be a zest to it that gives the sense the writer loved writing it.  (It does show).  I’ve also found characters that have some zest to them are more lively and therefore better to read about than those without that quality.

Phew!  Got there!  Whatever you read and write, enjoy it.  It’s the single most important thing about the story.  If you’re the writer and you’re not enjoying the process of writing it, why would anyone else enjoy reading it?  If you’re the reader and the story’s not gripping you, put it aside for a while.  Look at it again after a break. Does it still not grip you?  Then read something else. Sometimes it can be a case of timing.  I recall trying to read books when I was younger, not getting on with them, coming back to them later (sometimes via film adaptations) and loving them then.

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Achievements and Descriptions

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When you write descriptions, do you just focus on what a character can see? Do you bring in what they can feel/touch/taste etc? Also an interesting perspective can be to take what is a normal everyday object but show it from the viewpoint of someone who has never seen it before. (The reasons why they haven’t seen it would be interesting too).

In flash fiction, of course, you can’t be overly descriptive. You simply haven’t got the word room. In my Telling the Time I refer to an object as a “beautiful grandfather clock”, leaving it to the reader to imagine what THEY would think such a thing would look like. In my Rewards, I do bring in a thick red carpet but that purpose is to show my character, Becky, pacing around on it!

Description then, like any other element of a story, has to serve a purpose. If it doesn’t, it really shouldn’t be there even if you are writing an epic saga and word count isn’t an issue!

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What do you want to achieve most with your writing?

For me, it is knowing I’ve created a piece of work (of whatever word count) that entertains others. Course I wouldn’t object to being a bestselling author etc but then who would?!

But given there are no guarantees the latter will ever happen, it is far better to focus on writing because you love it and to do so to the best of your abilities. Then put it out into the market and see what happens!

You also have to accept from the outset I think that you are in for the long haul and adapt expectations accordingly. Persistence pays only when you put in the work to get your MSS up to publication standard and that takes time and more effort than non-writers realise.

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What made you decide to write and why? Did you find what you wanted to write immediately or did you have to try short stories/novels etc before finally settling on what you really want to do?

The fascinating thing here is no two writers have exactly the same journey, even if a lot of their paths cross.

I started off with an idea for a novel, wrote that book, it was longlisted for a competition years ago and then I wrote short stories and flash fiction. I am now revisiting that early novel given flash fiction has taught me so much about editing and I know applying that to the book will do it the world of good.

As for why I decided to write at all, it was one of those things I knew I would have to at least try. I’ve always loved working with/playing with words. My only regret here is not starting a lot sooner than I did. But what matters is starting and then keeping going.

Biggest joy of writing? Yes, being published, but making so many writer friends is right up there too.

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I’m looking at the highs and lows of the writing life in this week’s CFT. I hope it’ll be an eyeopener for readers, or indeed anyone who knows a writer, especially on why reviews and supporting writer events matters so much. Link up on Friday.

NB: This post definitely comes into the “write what you know” category!

Also pleased to say I’m in the Spring edition of Christian Writer talking about Making Your Characters Count.

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For the flash fiction collection I’m currently working on, I’ve had a great deal of fun with linked stories. That is I’ve used the same character(s) in a follow up tale.

I’ve also used a viewpoint of a character in one story and then flipped it to show the viewpoint of another character, who isn’t necessarily in agreement with the first one.

Plus there have been the acrostics, the one-line stories and so on. Flash fiction can be amazingly versatile and the fact you have to work to a word count is a good thing. It helps you write (and edit) with precision. You work to find exactly the right words to convey as much meaning as possible in as short a word count as possible. That discipline can and does spill over into other things you write, which is always a good thing.

When do you know if a flash fiction piece has real bite? When you read it again after a break from it (say a few days) and it still hits you hard, as you originally intended the piece should do.

When I’m editing, I’m always asking myself how the reader would see what I’ve written. CAN they fill in the gaps the way I intend they should? HAVE I given them what they need to know to do that (but no more)? IS the impact what I think it will be? Could what I intend be misconstrued? Is the language used appropriate for the piece? Do I still like or loathe my characters (as appropriate)?

I think it is vital to see editing as a totally separate job to the act of creation. Creation is the fun bit. Editing is the bit which makes sure your created work IS as fun as you meant it to be when read by a stranger. Without good editing, your story will not work as nobody can really claim to ever write a perfect first draft. Shakespeare didn’t so I think it’s safe to claim we won’t either. My attitude to editing changed entirely when I saw it as what would make the difference to my being published or not (and it does).

I was wondering when I had my first piece of flash fiction published on Cafelit. It turns out to be A Study in Magic way back in 2013. Wow! That six years has gone quickly. Well here’s to the next six! I still love the very short story form. It has a great deal of potential and can/should make a powerful impact.

When I analyse a flash fiction piece, what am I looking for?

1. Do the characters “grab” me? It doesn’t matter if I love or loathe them. Have they got my attention? Have I GOT to find out what happens to them?

2. Does the story have an impact on me? If it’s funny, did I laugh? If it’s a crime story, did my blood run suitably cold?

3. Are there stand-out lines which, when written by other authors, make me wish I’d written them? (I use that to spur me on incidentally, which is what great writing should do).

4. Is the start intriguing enough?

5. Does the story end with a suitable punch? When it’s twist in the tale, did I see that twist coming? I don’t mind if I do incidentally. Sometimes it’s nice to be right but I adore the ones where the author has wrong-footed me and come up with something really special. Again, I find this encourages me to “up my game”, something all writers should always seek to do.

Goodreads Author Blog – Encouraging Books

Yes, this could mean the self-help books and there is much to be said for those, but for me an encouraging book is one that makes me read further into the subject. This can apply to fiction as well as non-fiction.

For example, Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time is fiction based on Richard III and is one of my all time favourite books. It has also led me to read far more about Richard such as The Maligned King, The Last Days of Richard III and others.

For non-fiction, it is easier to go by topic of course when looking for books to encourage further reading.

For fiction, it is nearly always based on how well the main character comes across and the theme of their story that makes me look for similar themes in other tales.

When the character is based on a real person, and if the story has gripped me enough, I nearly always look up non-fiction material on that character as I did with Richard III.

And there is scope for a lot of crossover – fiction leading into non-fiction and vice versa. Book reading leading into magazine reading etc.

I don’t write historical fiction (though I do read some) but I should imagine one of the great joys of it is the research the writer has to do before starting. I should also imagine the big problem here, and one I know I’d have, is stopping the research and actually getting on with the writing!

So what books have encouraged you to read more on their character/theme etc?

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Experimenting with Words and Form

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My latest CFT post is Experimenting with Words and Form. I also look at favourite new words. If you have any, do share in the comments box.

I look at why playing with words (and I include things like playing Scrabble here) is a great thing for writers to do. As for experimenting with the form your writing takes, it can open your eyes to new forms of storytelling. What is there not to like about that?

Hope you enjoy.

 

Image Credit:  As ever, the images are from the marvellous Pixabay.

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