What I Value Most

Sorry will be a condensed round up as some mobile apps are proving to be not that mobile!

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Busy night tonight. I look at What I Value Most in my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week. See http://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/what-you-value-most/

A huge thank you to Patricia M Osborne for putting my 100-words story Views on her blog. See https://patriciamosbornewriter.wordpress.com/2019/05/17/challenge-write-a-story-in-less-than-one-hundred-words-2/
It’s also lovely to give a shout out to Paula Readman and her For Writers Only, who write without Fear of Rejection Facebook group for also putting the word out about Views earlier. As a certain supermarket would say, “every little bit helps”.

The generally mutual support within the writing community is the thing I love most about it.

https://www.facebook.com/501180463318271/posts/1761831773919794/?app=fbl

Sorry above link will take you to my author FB post for 15th May 2019. I’ve been pleased with how much I have been able to blog etc while on the move, but I haven’t got it right completely!

Lovely day spent on Dunnet beach. Lady had a fab time. The sheer expanse is amazing. You really have got away from it all up here, which leads me to wonder what do your characters do to escape the everyday toil and struggle? What are their interests and how did they develop these?

When adventure comes their way, do they have to abandon all of this or can their escape options help them cope with the unexpected?

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Making the most of the wonderful views in the far north of Scotland on a gorgeous sunny evening. I’ve been writing posts using natural light up to 10/10.30 pm. Give it a month here and you can add an hour to that.

You get to see the moon rising on one side of the hills here while the sun is setting on the other side. It’s almost as if the moon wants to usher the sun off the stage and it is not ready to go!

Talking of which, when can you tell if your characters are ready to go on the page/screen? Do you need to know every little detail about them first?

The good news there is no but you do need to know enough about them so you can work out how they would act and react in most circumstances. That still gives room for them to surprise you but that surprise should come out of some aspect of their personality which you’ve not written in the story but which you know they could be capable of when pushed too far.

For example, you know Character A is placid usually but gets riled when injustice rears its ugly head. In your story, they suddenly face injustice and throw a vase against a wall, startling whoever they’re with at the time (especially if they just miss them!). You know that capacity is there. It will be just how angrily they react which is where the surprise will be.

It’s funny how odd moments can inspire stories. Today I discovered Lady thought slowworms were a kind of wriggly stick she could either play with or eat! Not to worry. No slowworms were harmed and I just need to keep Lady away from them.

I suspect there could be comic potential here! I also have forewarning of how she is likely to be towards grass snakes! Now the obvious story here would be from the viewpoint of a dog owner, the dog, or even the slowworm (“good grief, what was that monstrous thing?). But there is a bigger well to drain from here based on the theme of unexpected discoveries and there should be plenty of story ideas there.

Pushing your characters to breaking point is fun! Hey, nobody said writers had to be nice, did they?
The fun comes in as you find out just what your people are made of. Do they have a core of granite or one of melted jelly? Once you know, how can you bring that into your story to increase the drama?
Conflict, the lifeblood of all storytelling, doesn’t just have to be about external clashes after all.

Fairytales With Bite

CHARACTER VALUES
In my CFT post this week, I’ve looked at what I value most. It won’t come as a huge surprise to know I’ve included family, friends, and literacy in this, amongst other important things.
What is it that your characters value most? As with me, it is highly unlikely to be just one thing, but you should be able to deduce which your characters would fight for and which they wouldn’t. It should also be apparent why they would feel this way.
It can be useful information for an enemy, of course. What can they use against your heroes here? What does the enemy value that could be used against them? (It’s never a one-way street in fiction but you can exploit that).
See this as an invaluable part of an outline and have fun working out how you can use a character’s values to strengthen their portrayal and against them to generate conflict.

This World

POINTER CHECKLIST
Hope you find the following useful. The following list is a guide to checking if your created world makes sense to a reader.
  1. Can a reader picture your world in their imagination?
  2. Can a reader identify with your characters? They don’t have to like them though!
  3. Does your world have a system of government that makes sense to your reader? Someone has to be in charge. Your characters should know who they would be answerable to!
  4. How do your characters survive on a daily basis? They will have to eat, drink, breath, excrete, reproduce, and die (unless they’re immortals of course but could anything threaten that?).
By ensuring you can answer these points, you will have a functioning created world of your own.

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Contrasts and Prejudices

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Writing not only encourages reading, it develops story analysis skills. By working out why a story grabs you (or not!), you can apply good points to your own work and avoid those things which made you feel a tale had failed.
Also be prepared to confront your own prejudices when assessing what makes a story work or not. If you’re not keen on dialogue, a story which has a lot of this may not grab you but that in itself does not mean the story hasn’t worked. You need to look at why the writer has written the story the way they have. Have they achieved what they thought their story would?
Think about how you approach your own story writing. Do you need to mix up your approaches? Do certain phrases crop up time and again?
Read your work against a story you love and work out what elements they have in common. Hopefully this will cheer you!

Am writing this looking out over a lovely loch and enjoying some warm May sunshine (yes, really). But if I look in the opposite direction I can see mountains which still have a decent covering of snow (yes, really!). A beautiful contrast.
Contrasts are great in writing too. There’s the obvious one between good and evil and so many wonderful stories have come from that (The Lord of the Rings is the obvious example here).
But contrasts can be more subtle. There can be the contrasts in attitude between characters. One never lies. One only does if it spares others unnecessary grief. What would those characters do in extremis? How would they get on with each other? What are the consequences of their attitudes?
There should be good story ideas just out of that one contrast.

Drafted a flash fiction story on a fantastic train journey from Wick, the most northerly town on mainland UK.
You get to see the whole of Scotland’s fantastic scenery in one trip – farmland, moors, lochs, mountains and back again. Got to see loads of red deer, cormorants, and there were a couple of seals on the Brora/Golspie coastline. And I wrote a story too!
Pleased with story but wanted to get it to a 100 worder. As ever, getting it to the right length without losing meaning took more time than the initial draft, but that is the way of it!

Sometimes you come across a story that could’ve been written just for you. I came across a flash fiction piece that did this for me today. It was by Anita Hunt and called A Wish For Dad.
It is a special moment as a reader to come across a story like that. It is even more special for the writer to know you’ve connected with a reader like that. Of course most of the time most writers will never know but if you get the chance to tell the author so, please do.
It really does mean the world.

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I love to portray my flash fiction characters via their thoughts. It gives me a direct way into their personalities and from there I can work out what makes them tick. I can also work out their fears and loathings. That can be fun! I can use those to drop my characters right in it and I do!

I’m getting to see a reasonable amount of wildlife at the moment. I’ve seen red admiral and orange tip butterflies and, at the other end of the scale, red deer hinds, including a youngster.
Naturally I see these lovely creatures in passing but they still make an impact on me and, I think, enrichen my life a little.
A good flash fiction story should be like that. Brief doesn’t mean lesser in some way. It should mean, for flash fiction purposes, intense impact hitting the reader quickly.
Therein lies the challenge of writing it too!

Sometimes a flash piece works better at a specific length, say 250 words rather than the 100 words you’d set your heart on for a competition or market.
The good news is that there is a range of competitions and markets so if one doesn’t suit, try another. Check out terms and conditions carefully. If in doubt about anything, ask, but don’t compromise the story. It never pays!

What can make a flash fiction piece work so well is when a phrase sums up a character so well, a reader can visualise them by that alone.
For example:-
Mary looked as warm as granite.
Bob thought the pound shop expensive.
Tells you all you need to know about those two!
Exaggeration and metaphor can work really well here but I treat these as I do chilli powder and use sparingly!

Brainstorming, Historical Links, and Publication News

Really exciting week publication wise – more later.

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I love historical links and going to events like the Fryern Funtasia on Bank Holiday Monday for CFT makes for a nice link with the medieval fairs.

What our ancestors would make of inflatable slides, train rides etc, makes the mind boggle though I suspect the Hog Roast would go down very well!

Images Credit:  Unless otherwise named, all images were taken by Allison Symes (so you know who to blame).

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Facebook – General – and Publication News

Am thrilled to bits to share more publication news following the news my two stories, Dignity and Injustice and The Art Critic, will be included in the Best of Cafelit 8 due to be launched later this year.

My story The Professional is one of the winners of this year’s Waterloo Festival Writing Competition. Yay!

I was also in last year’s Waterloo Festival ebook To Be… To Become with my story, Progressing.

The full list of Waterloo Festival Winners is below.

Irene Lofthouse Cat and Mouse
Linda Flynn Climbing Rainbows
J S Brown Disarray
Jeanne Davies Everything has changed
Helen Price Havens
Amelia Brown Heat
Laure Van Rensburg Of Salt and the Raw Flesh of Fish
Beverly Byrne Old Masters
Paula R C Readman Over The Wall
Jessica Joy Russian Doll
Sinéad Kennedy Krebs Steam
Gail Aldwin Take Your Place
Yvonne Walus The Father Daughter Club
Allison Symes The Professional
Christopher Bowles The Side of Blue
Louise Rimmer The Undermen
Hannah Retallick The Word Has It
Madeleine McDonald They Lied to Me
Michael Baez Time Will Tell

Many congratulations to all of the other writers who are winners here.

What will be lovely this year will be getting to go to the Waterloo Festival. I missed it last year due to being in the stunning far North of Scotland on holiday.

Am already keenly anticipating going to the Festival AND having the great joy of meeting up with writer friends again, well ahead of when I’d usually see them for the Bridge House Publishing event in December. Win-win in every sense then.

And it is a really happy author who can report she has had a very good writing week!

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I’ll be sharing a look back at the Fryern Funtasia (held on Bank Holiday) Monday for my CFT post this week.

But meanwhile, my lovely editor, Janet Williams (who founded the site to bring people together), has prepared a very different summary of it including a great selfie pic of the two of us having a fab time. Pic taken by Janet, not me.

Naturally we got to have a good chat about writing, CFT etc over a cup of tea. An outdoor editorial meeting if you like!

If anyone tells you the writing life is glamorous…

If however they tell you it is a lot of fun, then DO believe that!

http://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/fryern-funtasia-6th-may-20…/

 

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Janet Williams, my lovely CFT editor, and I at the Fryern Funtasia.  Many thanks to Janet for kind permission to use the selfie which she took.

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Have got a long car journey coming up so am I planning to draft flash fiction, blog posts etc while in transit? You bet! The time will fly by and I’ll get lots done, I hope! Naturally I am NOT driving…!

Also hope to catch up with Kindle reading and to write some reviews. All of that should take care of the motorway stint!

The lovely thing with writing is you are never short of things to while away “dead” time and drafting work is always profitable for later on, if only in terms of having more work to submit.

Thrilled to bits to be a winner in the Waterloo Festival again. My story The Professional will appear in an ebook compilation later in the year and I’ll be only too pleased to share further details when I have them!

The Professional is one of my longer flash fiction pieces as it comes in at just a tad under 1000 words but the thing to remember with flash is the word count has to fit the story and NOT the other way round. If a flash piece works better at 500 words than say 250, then go for the former, always. Your story and characters will be sharper and better for it. (I’d say it’d stand better chance of being published too).

When writing to a very small word count (100 words or under), then I’ve found it helpful to select the ONE moment that has to be written about in my character’s life and focus intently on that. There is no room for anything else. But the story still has to be complete in and of itself.

Get the story right in terms of what details you HAVE to include, edit to sharpen it (you will find better ways of phrasing things while keeping the same meaning), and then get it out there and see what happens. Good luck!

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How can I tell if a flash fiction story has worked, whether I’ve written it or not?

Simples to quote a certain advert. (Though if I ever see a meerkat reading or writing stories, I’ll double check what goes in my cups of tea!).

If it makes me react either in support of the character I’ve just read about/written for OR against them. Which way round it is depends on the nature of the story of course but that reaction must be there.

Sometimes the reaction can change as I read the story through. A character I thought to be a villain proves not to be etc but the reaction is there. The writer has successfully connected with me via their prose.

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Fairytales with Bite – Using Historical Links in Fiction

My latest CFT post is a review of the annual Fryern Funtasia, which is a great fun event for all ages.  What I particularly love about events like this is the ongoing links with the medieval fairs.  It was appropriate there was a Hog Roast and an archery practice range (for children) at the event which was held on Bank Holiday Monday, 6th May 2019.

Historical links can be great for inspiring story ideas.  These can range from timeslip novels to ghost stories involving historical characters (do check out the works of Jennifer C Wilson for some great examples here).

I use historical links in flash fiction as a quick way to show when a story is set.  For example, if I mentioned someone’s ruff was distinguished, you’d know from that one detail alone the tale was set in the Tudor court (Elizabeth’s).

You can also be inspired by the stories of historical characters.  Anne Boleyn inspired my Dignity and Injustice which is on Cafelit (and will be in their Best of Cafelit  8 due out later this year).

So think about how you can use history to shape your own fiction. And a character’s sense of history (their own, their country’s etc) will affect how they think and act and can add great drama to your story.

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This World and Others – Brainstorming

Following on from recent posts about writing exercises, another favourite way of generating story ideas for me is to have brainstorming sessions every so often.

I set myself a time limit and just write what comes into mind. It doesn’t matter if the ideas prove to be rubbish later on (most will be!) but out of all of that will come ideas I really can use.

I’ve found I need to give myself permission to just write freely and kick the inner editor out of the arena of my head for a while. It pays to put this writing aside and come back and look at it later with a cold, logical head. That’s where your inner editor is useful. But don’t try to free write and edit together, they really are separate processes.

If you’re not sure where to start on a brainstorming session, think of a character. Jot down anything about them – what they look like, what their habits are, what they think they are like, what others around them think they are like and so on. If it helps to use pictures to think of a character than do so. I tend not to do that. I think of a character who is awkward, for example, and look at reasons why they might be that way.

But whatever method works for you when it comes to starting a useful brainstorming session, stick with it. See what you come out with and have fun with this!

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Publication News and Starting a Story

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I’m thrilled to say two of my flash stories, Dignity and Injustice, and The Art Critic, will be in the Best of Cafelit 8, which will be launched in December. All of the stories included in this book have been voted on by readers too so that makes it even more special. Thank you, everyone.

And a huge congratulations to all my fellow authors, who are as eager to see their stories in this book as I am with mine!

A special thank you to PaulaReadman for putting up the following list on Facebook earlier today. Am cheerfully swiping it to include here. Well done all!

The Best of CafeLit 8
Salisbury Plain, February 1946 by Laura Gray
No Room for Them by Dawn Knox
She Says We’ll Get There Soon by Hannah Retallick
Jeopardy in Pink,by Penny Rogers
Marking Time by Janet Howson
Rose Tinted Glass by Linda Payne
Remembrance Day by Jim Bates
Yellowjackets by James Bates
God works in mysterious ways especially at Christmas by Robin Wrigley
Goodbye My Lush by Shawn Klimek
Losing Tony by Gill James
Self Assessment by Peppy Barlow
Years & Years by Kim Martins
Airport Sandwiches by Pat Jourdan
Budgies and Bingo by Alyson Faye
Dignity and Injustice by Allison Symes
The Lady in Red by Caroline S Kent
Untrodden Snow by Paula Readman
A Walk in the Woods by Jo Deardon
Father Van Der Bosch’s Last Christmas by Robin Wrigley
Gemini Rising by Paula Readman
The First Time by Patricia Gallagher
Bats Downunder by Mehreen Ahmed
Induction Day by Janet Howson
Life Begins at the 250 Bus Stop by Jacqueline Ewers
On Time by Lisa Williams
Redemption by Richard Hough
The Art Critic by Allison Symes

And in the meantime, if you like an ecletic mix of stories in terms of mood, word count, genre etc., do check out the rest of the Cafelit series.

https://www.bookdepository.com/search…

https://www.amazon.co.uk/…/B01…/ref=as_sl_pc_qf_sp_asin_til…

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How do you start a story? I have to know the voice of my character/narrator. Are they brusque? Are they feisty? Are they hard done by (or feel they are – of course it doesn’t mean they’re right!)?

I also have to know what their main trait is – are they brave? Selfish? Kind to animals but rotten to their fellow man?

With those two things firmly in place, I can then outline more about this character and as they come to life, I can work out the best situations to dump them in to bring out both the best and worst of their personalities.

I find the Scrivener outlining tool on their fiction template really useful for this but you can create your own. Decide on what you need to know about your character before you write them up and turn that into a template. Prep work pays!

Enjoyed the Fryern Funtasia today. Will be writing about that for CFT for Friday. Good to catch up with my lovely CFT editor, Janet Williams, too.

Other events I’m looking forward to are the Winchester Writers’ Festival and Swanwick and I hope to get along to the Waterloo Arts Festival as well. I had a piece in their writing competition ebook To Be…To Become last year.

Right at the end of the year will be the launch of The Best of Cafelit 8 in which I will have two stories. A great time is had by all who go to that!

Whatever writing events you are off to over the next few months, have a fab time!

Image Credit:  Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for the picture of me reading at last year’s Bridge House event.

 

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How do your characters handle disappointment? Are they of the “have it all out in one almighty tantrum” school of thought or do they prefer the quiet sulk? What drives them to react the way they do?

Do they use setbacks to find different ways of overcoming problems or do they give up? (If the latter, they’re not going to be of much interest as a character, unless the giving up is temporary, they start again and go on to find better ways of doing things, which can be a great story in itself).

Give some thought as to what really motivates your characters to react the way they do. Are they reacting the way their families have always done/expect them to or rebel against that?

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Two of my flash stories, The Art Critic, and Dignity and Injustice, will be appearing in The Best of Cafelit 8 in December. Am thrilled, naturally.

Dignity and Injustice is one of my favourite historical pieces. The Art Critic is very different!

Days like this are wonderful for all sorts of reasons, not least in that it encourages you to get back on and write more flash fiction!

Congratulations to all my fellow authors, who will be appearing in the book too. A special well done to those who are appearing in print for the first time. It is such a special moment!

I am looking forward to catching up with as many of my fellow contributors as possible for a very convivial time at the launch of the book in December! As for the second picture below, well I would say that, wouldn’t I?

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The best stories reveal something about ourselves. What flash fiction does is focus on one particular point and leave the reader to draw their own conclusions, both from what has been said, and what is inferred but not spelt out.

This was one thing I loved about the plays staged by the Chameleon Theatre Group I reviewed last week. Each play had plenty of inferences. I love filling in the gaps. I just need enough information to be able to do so.

So how do you decide what IS enough information? Well, this is where the restricted word count of flash fiction can be your friend as it imposes a limit. You really do have to work out what a reader has to know to be able to make inferences and leave anything not achieving that out. Best of all, you get to decide what the reader has to know!

 

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Things flash fiction should not be:-

1. Too long! (You have up to 1K words).
2. Truncated prose. (The story must have a proper beginning, middle and end, same as with any other form of writing).
3. Too many characters. (You really don’t have the word count for them).
4. Sub plots. (As for 3 above!).
5. Too clever! (A story illuminates a moment of change, flash fiction focuses INTENSELY on one specific moment so you have to focus on what achieves that and nothing else).

Repeating a word to start consecutive sentences in story can be a great way to set a rhythm for the tale, as well as provide emphasis. I do this with Watching Myself.

I also like to use a character’s thoughts sometimes as a great way into the story. You get to see something of the character immediately that way. I do this in Rewards.

It is a good idea to mix up how you start your tales as it keeps things interesting for you (and as a result your reader) and you will get different things from varying the way you start.

Beginning with a character’s thoughts takes you right into their mindset and attitudes and a reader can begin to make conclusions from that.

Beginning with the same word in consecutive sentences sets up a “beat” and should trigger anticipation in the reader. What is important about this word? It must have some bearing on the story (and of course it will).

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Goodreads Author Blog – The Dangers of Reading

Reading is wonderful but it can also be dangerous. Why?

1. Reading widely will open your mind and challenge thoughts and ideas. That is why in repressive regimes writers and journalists have been amongst the first to suffer. It’s why I admire George Orwell. He got on the nerves of both the far left and far right! That’s the way to do it…

2. Reading widely is often the trigger for creative writing. Once the bug bites you, it doesn’t let go! The challenge of creating your own stories is a wonderful one. The challenge of trying to write better, whether it is for publication or not, makes you try to up your game. You WILL be stretched mentally and imaginatively. That is how it should be.

3. Reading across the genres will help you discover what you like and dislike or, more accurately, what you THINK you like and dislike. I’d never heard of flash fiction when I first started writing (and it wasn’t around as a form when I started reading independently!). But in coming across the form and trying it in terms of reading it as well as writing it, I’ve discovered a love of the very short story form I never anticipated developing.

Where will your reading journey take you?

How will it surprise you and are you ready to be surprised?

Have fun finding out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plays, Ingesting Stories, and Writing Games

Now there’s an eclectic mix just in the title alone!

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My CFT post this week is a review of the latest production from The Chameleon Theatre Group – Spring Trio of Plays.

One of the reasons I love going along to their performances is that the shows give me a chance to enjoy stories in a different format – i.e. plays.

Reading widely will always be important for a writer to help feed and nuture their own imagination BUT taking stories in via different media is also very useful. Particularly with plays, you get to “see” how dialogue works, how pauses are used to good effect and so on. This is obviously directly useful if you plan to write plays yourself, but even if you’re not, listening to dialogue and how it comes across can be a useful aid for how YOU write it when it comes to your stories and books.

So support your local theatre company. As well as being a good night out, it can and should benefit your own writing.

Image Credit:  Many thanks as ever to Stuart Wineberg, Lionel Elliott and the Chameleons for kind permission to use their excellent photos.  Captions on my CFT post!

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Fiction books of the alphabet:-

A = Anne of Green Gables
B = Black Beauty
C = Carpe Jugulum (Discworld’s approach to vampires!)
D = Death on the Nile
E = Emma
F = From Light to Dark and Back Again (I kind of had to!)
G = Great Expectations
H = Hogfather (Discworld’s approach to Christmas)
I = Interesting Times (Discworld again and to my mind the best of the Rincewind books)
J = Jane Eyre
K = King Solomon’s Mines
L = Lord of the Rings (I usually DO drop The!).
M = Murder on the Orient Express
N = Nemesis
O = Of Mice and Men
P = Pride and Prejudice
Q = Queen’s Nose
R = Rebecca
S = Sourcery (Discworld again)
T = Thud (and again!)
U = Uncle Tom’s Cabin
V = Very Hungry Caterpillar
W = Wind in the Willows
X = Xena – Warrior Princess
Y = You Only Live Twice
Z = Zorro

I can’t claim to have read all of these (though I have read most). It is a quite a reading list though! What would be on yours?

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When do you find writing the toughest thing to do? For me, it’s after a day of niggling admin tasks (you can guess what kind of day I’ve had now, can’t you!) and I feel tired and just want to stop (yes, you guessed right). The kind of day where you don’t want to think any more so writing creatively seems to be a VERY big effort…

However, I’ve also found it pays to make myself write. Why? Because I inevitably feel better once I’ve got going on a piece and that’s usually within a minute or two. I can also escape into the lives of my characters and the horrible problems I’ve set them (fiendish laugh can be inserted here!).

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I wonder if sketches (such as for radio comedy shows) could count as “flash plays”! Just a thought…!

There are certain things flash fiction has in common with plays. I’ve been “gallivanting” this week, having had a wonderful time at a local theatre company’s latest production.

One common aspect is having to select the most powerful points to get across to an audience and inevitably you will select those that will have the most impact on the story you’re trying to tell and those watching/reading it.

Another is when you do use dialogue, it can only resemble speech not be an accurate copy of it. So no ahs and ums (the odd one or two would be okay in a play, there’s no room at all in flash for them as they would literally be wasted words).

There should be some sort of emotional impact from the flash story or play. Doesn’t have to be a happy one but it should be a logical impact given the nature of the story you’re telling.

Twists, of course, feature in both.

There should be a satisfactory outcome, though again it doesn’t have to be a happy one (as Shakespeare proved time and again).

Flash by day, flash by night
Flash is such fun to write.
Outline your special ideas
Work out your character’s fears.
Put them through hell, time and again.
We’ve really got to feel their pain.
Who said a writer must be nice?
We just write and edit and splice
To get the tale that must be told.
We dig to get that story gold.

Allison Symes – 2nd May 2019

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One thing I must try and do is enter more flash fiction writing competitions. I do enter a few throughout the year and I’m pleased to see that places such as The Bridport Prize now have flash as a specific category. It’s nice to see the form recognised more widely and, of course, it gives more opportunities for flash fiction writers.

The rules I set myself on entering writing competitions are:-

1. They mustn’t cost too much. (The exception to this are novel competitions but ALWAYS check the terms and conditions carefully, which you should do for ANY competition, but that is even more important, the higher the entry fee is).

2. The background of the competition can be checked out and verified. I enter competitions which have been established for some time. I’m wary of new ones and wait for them to be established after 3 years or so. You do hear horror stories from time to time of a new writing competition and then it folds, taking all the entry monies with it. So be careful.

3. You know what you are getting for your entry fee. Some places will give critiques. I sometimes go for these but only after I’ve asked myself the following questions and got answers to them. Does the competition give you an idea of how detailed this critique will be? If the fee for it is low, it won’t be much but will that be enough to be useful to you?

4. The competition does NOT ask for all rights for ever and ever, amen.

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Fairytales with Bite – Ingesting Stories!

My CFT post is a review of The Chameleon Theatre Group’s latest production, Spring Trio of Plays.  This included Effie’s Burning, Ghost of a Chance, and In For the Half.  The performances and the impact of the plays were fabulous.

I like going to productions like these as they are another way for me to take in story.  Reading will always be phenomenally important to any writer but that doesn’t mean you can’t take in stories in other media.  With plays particularly, you get to “see” the impact of well written dialogue and that can help inspire you with your own writing, whether you write scripts or not.  You get to hear what works.  Memorable lines stay with you for a reason!  The goal of course is to be able to create your own memorable lines in whatever format you choose to write.

Another favourite form of storytelling for me is audio books.  Being told a story by someone else is one of the great joys of human existence for me. Again you get to hear what works.  If you listen to an abridged version, and you have the unabridged book version, find out what they cut and see if you can work out why.  Does this have an impact on what you put into your story or leave out of it?

I don’t watch a lot of film but it’s a very valid way of exploring stories.  Learn to spot where the Three Act Structure is in the movie you’re watching!

This World and Others – Useful Writing Games

Following on from my post last week about writing exercises to help with world building, I thought I would share some writing games I find useful for generating story ideas.

  1. Word Association.  Used to love this when I was a kid as you could get some funny outcomes but it is worth playing this game on paper to see what links you can create here.  If you need a helping hand to get started, pick a word at random from the dictionary and off you go!  Set yourself a time of two to three minutes and jot down whatever comes into your head.  You can select the links you like the most later.
  2. Random Word Generators. Use one of these and pick five words to work with.  On some generators, you can set the first and last letter, how many letters you want in the words and so on.  Then try putting what you come up with into a story.  It works really well for flash fiction but there is no reason why you can’t put these words into a longer tale.
  3. Opposites.  Write down an object and then write down separately what could be said to be opposite to it.  For example – hot water tap.  Its opposite is the cold water one.  Now what role could these play in a story?
  4. The Hat Game.  Write down a variety of nouns, verbs, adjectives etc on separate slips of paper.  Draw out a few at random and again put into a story.  This is the traditional version of the random word generator but there is no reason why you can’t still play this in this way.  What I think you need to aim for here is a nice mixture of the ordinary and the extraordinary for things to put on the slips of paper.  That is where you can “control” things unlike a random generator BUT limit yourself to how many slips of paper you pick out and write what you come up with into a story, no matter how bizarre your selections are.  Have fun with this.

Hope you find these help generate story ideas.  I’m particularly fond of the first two!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?!