Books, Acrostics, and Writing Regrets

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

IMPACT - What impact does your story have - Pixabay

Do you have any writing regrets?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When did you decide you had to write?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playing with words - Pixabay image

Playing with words. Pixabay image.

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

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

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

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

STORIES

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

Allison Symes – 18th March 2019

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

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

Ends.

Allison Symes – 19th March 2019

 

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Goodreads Author Programme Blog –

The Role of Books/Stories

What is the role of books/stories?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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INFLUENCES – AND A LIFE WELL LIVED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for finding your character’s voice:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fairytales With Bite – Influences and a Life Well Lived

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More next time…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Out and About

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The joys of writing include:-

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

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

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

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

The woes of writing include:-

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

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

3. Critics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOK NEWS:

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

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

On to other things…

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

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

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

And good luck!

Goodreads Author Blog – When Do You Read?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Condolences to all of her family and friends.

 

Resized Barbara Large and Anne Wan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fairytales with Bite – Top Five Tips for Characterisation

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

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

This World and Others – Character Types

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Managing My Writing

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I’ve found getting into a regular time for writing has helped me get more work done but I sneak in writing as and when I can during the day. (Generally easier to do at weekends). I’ve learned over time that pockets of time mount up and of course flash fiction can be written as complete works in those pockets.

I tend to break longer projects into time slots – say 20 minutes on a longer short story, 30 on writing my CFT post for the week and so on. Inevitably I will find I overrun on a piece as it “grips” me and I carry on writing but that’s fine. I will “mine” that for all I can and then carry on with whatever else I was working on afterwards or the next night. I look at my writing over the course of a week and work out what I’d like to achieve over that time span.

So don’t give up just because you haven’t much time. It’s a question, I think, of working out what you time you have got and deciding how best to “spend” that time.

Looking forward to going to the ACW Writers’ Day in Bath on Saturday. What are the benefits of going to days like this/writing conferences in general?

1. You get to meet other writers and make friends.

2. You learn from the talks/courses.

3. Given most of the time you’re behind on the desk on your own writing, it is fantastic to meet up with others who know what the joys and problems of writing are and can sympathise!

4. Some writing conferences run competitions. Always worth a go.

5. My CFT post from last year talks about the benefits of a good writing conference. Many thanks to Geoff Parkes for the pictures of me reading at the Open Prose night.

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Reading and writing are great joys at any time but I think they come into their own the most when your own mood isn’t so great.

Books and stories can (and indeed should) take you out of yourself and into a new world where you can lose yourself for a while. The challenge for the writer, of course, is to create a world the reader will want to spend time in. How best to do that? By creating characters the reader will either love or love to hate and where they/you have got to find out what happens to them.

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Favourite characters beginning with the letter A:-

Aslan (Narnia)
Aragorn (LOTR)
Angua (Discworld – her bark really is worse than her bite!)
Adora (Belle Deerheart – Discworld. Feisty doesn’t begin to cover it for this character!).

All of these characters are memorable and stand out, not least because one of them is a lion! All overcome perils (and in Aslan’s case death as well. See The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe for more on that! I refuse to believe this is a plot spoiler after all this time. Having said that, much as I love the book, I think Prince Caspian is even better).

It is the characters that draw me into any story, regardless of its genre. Yes, an odd set-up can provoke my curiosity but unless the characters appeal in some way, I won’t stay with that story.

PS Am having difficulty posting images with this one. Don’t know why. Sorry!  This is true for my Facebook post but I can and will post images here!

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When does a character come alive to you, their creator?

I think it is when you can put that character in any situation (outside of those in the story) and you would know immediately how they would react/deal with it. I sometimes know what my character’s favourite songs would be. I don’t always work thing out to that level of detail but I can hear a piece and think X would like that.

And yes it is perfectly possible to be irritated/annoyed with your characters as you get to know more about them. You need to look at why that is happening and ask yourself if this is an effect you want your readers to experience. If not, it’s time for amendments!

Flash fiction shines a spotlight on writing faults due to its word count limitation but that can be useful as you can then do something about said faults! It is so easy to repeat phrases or to use words that don’t add anything to your story so when I’m editing, these are the first things I look for and remove when I (inevitably) find them.

Often that edit in itself can be enough to get a story down to a required word count. Even when it isn’t, getting rid of the dross can then help you assess what you really need from what you’ve got left. And at that point, I’m looking for “does this move the story on?” or “if I cut this out, would it be missed?” I’ve found those two questions so useful for helping with edits and of course they work with longer fiction too.

I use the first person for a lot of my flash fiction as that immediacy of viewpoint suits the story form very well. It makes it easier for me to hit the ground running with my stories by showing you their viewpoint from the outset.

I often outline a character by just working out what their chief characteristic is and then deciding how far they will take that. You can have a lot of fun here if your character’s chief trait is stubbornness! Just what trouble can they land themselves/others in… and that of course can lead to a tragic tale or a funny one.

Flash fiction can be useful for generating story ideas for fleshing out into much longer pieces later on. I’ve sometimes taken a flash piece of mine and created a separate standard short story from it (circa 1500 to 2000 words).

Sometimes I think an idea will work better at a longer length but it isn’t always the case! For example, a quirky character can work well in a short piece. In a longer one they may irritate a reader. Just not worth going there! So when I’m pondering whether or not to expand a flash fiction story, I look at whether the lead character is really up to a longer word count. And they have to have plenty going for them for the answer to that one to be “yes”! (Beware the one trick pony – they really are best off in flash fiction and staying there).

PS Sorry for lack of images. Just not loading on this or my author page today. Don’t know why. All that happens is my text vanishes and no picture appears eitther! This has occasionally happened before. Hopefully normal service with pics tomorrow…  Again, this is true for Facebook today but not here!

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Goodreads Author Programme Blog –

Saturday Night is Alright for Reading

As is every other day of the week, of course! I thought of this title (and by default Elton John’s hit Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting) because I recall Saturday night being THE night for TV viewing.

There would be something good on everyone would want to watch and, especially in the days before VCR, you’d have to catch the programme live or hope for a repeat.

I was reminded of that this week with the news of the sad passing of Andre Previn aka Andrew Preview on the Morecambe and Wise Show.

So given I think that kind of Saturday night viewing is a thing of the past, perhaps making it the Big Read Night is not such a bad thought.

It does surprise me a bit, given how many great novels and short stories there are out there, that more are not adapted for TV. I would love to see the Discworld novels brought to the small screen. The Vimes/Watch novels would work particularly well. And it would be very original material too!

So back to the books for entertainment then. That’s not a bad thing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adaptations and What I Look For in a Fictional World

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What do you think about adaptations? Are they good or do they stifle new work coming through?

See my thoughts on that topic in my latest CFT post. I also discuss remakes, share my favourite adaptations and discuss what makes for a good one (and what makes for a bad one!). See what you think and do share your favourite adaptations via the CFT comments box.

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Just enjoyed listening to Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens on Classic FM. This is the theme to my book trailer (so wonderfully produced by Chapeltown Books) for From Light to Dark and Back Again and is fondly remembered for being the theme used for Jonathan Creek. Every time I hear the piece, I smile – I guess it’s a kind of “my song” moment!

Saddened to hear of the death of Andre Previn today. The Morecambe and Wise Greig Piano Concerto sketch with him was comedy genius and my favourite comedy sketch. Previn’s look of frozen horror is just fabulous. I automatically think of this sketch when this concerto is played – as I suspect most people over a certain age do!

I write with classical music on in the background and find it helps me relax and get into the writing mindset. That and a nice drink helps very nicely!

 

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When is a adaptation a good one? I’ll be looking at this later this week with my CFT post. (I’ll also be sharing my thoughts on what makes a bad one!).

I suppose one thing about writing flash fiction is you know they’re never going to be make a film out of your work. The best you can hope for is a series of shorts!! Appropriate somehow I think…

Give some thought as to what your favourite adaptations are and why. Comments will be very welcome over at CFT.

I like to see a good balance between adaptations and new work coming through, whether it is in books, for radio, TV, or what have you. You need the new blood coming through but tried and tested favourites have got to be that way for a reason and shouldn’t be discarded.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I discuss adaptations in my CFT post this week. Short stories are often adapted for the screen (The Birds by Daphne du Maurier is probably the most famous example). Maybe it is a matter of time before a flash fiction piece is adapted – okay it probably will have to be a short but that’s fine!

Ironically, I’ve used moments from film to inspire my flash fiction stories so maybe there can be a two way process going on here.

One of the challenges facing a flash fiction writer is resisting the urge to bring too many characters into the story. Flash fiction works best with one to two characters only (and I love to get my people to refer to others who never actually appear in the tale. The mention is important to the plot but the absent character isn’t actually needed to turn up and “perform”).

The great joy with having a bigger cast of characters is being able to get so many interactions going but that really is best left for the longer short story and, even better, the novel. Flash fiction has to pinpoint and focus sharply. I’ve found it best to focus on one lead character and take things from there. I ask what is important for this character to know, to do, or to say that will bring the story to the right conclusion. Whatever doesn’t fit stays out.

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I have a Dogs calendar on my desk which has an appropriate “Thought for the Day” on it. (Or should that be “bark for the day”?). All coming in at well under the 50-words mark. Flash fiction with bite, anyone?

Given I put up Street Cred about cats the other day, I should redress the balance and put up a story about my favourite pet, dogs.

GETTING THE JOB DONE
She collected specimens, whether they wanted it or not. They didn’t get to argue for long. They didn’t have to be alive for a start. Tell them that and she usually got their co-operation.
So why was this one being so belligerent? She couldn’t remember when someone last argued with her. She did know nobody ever got to tell the tale. All she had to do was inform her supervisor there was an awkward one. Everyone back home understood that.
Well nobody was going to make a dent in her track record. She whipped out a light gun and aimed it at the miniscule creature in front of her. It was a stupid looking thing. All fur, floppy ears, and big brown eyes. Goodness knew why the bosses wanted it.and then she found out.
The puppy sat, whimpered, and held up a paw. There was a husk of some sort in there.
She put the gun down, gently removed the husk, and was rewarded with a big lick across her three pink noses.
She scooped the pup up in her elongated pink arms. ‘Sod the bosses. You’re staying with me. Let’s find you something to eat.’
The pup squealed and wagged its tail. She smiled. She’d not had anything nice happen for a long time. She’d focussed on just getting the job done.
There were going to be changes around here.
Ends.

Allison Symes
27th February 2019

Hope you enjoy! Lady is generally more appreciative of walks and playtimes in the park!

Inquisitive Lady -1

Inquisitive Lady. Image by Allison Symes

Fairytales with Bite – Ideas and How to Find Them

This is by no means an exhaustive list but this includes some sources I’ve found most useful when generating story and article/blog post ideas.

1.  Proverbs and sayings.  What can you come up with, say, to fit the proverb “love is blind”? A book of proverbs is great for dipping into for themes you’d like to try to write to and generally are not that expensive to buy.

2.  Classic fairytales.  Look for the themes behind them.  A common one is that of wrongs being righted (see Cinderella, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel to name but a few).  How could you use that theme?  And that is just one to play with!  There are others.

3.  Films.  Again look at the theme but also look at the theme of the sub-plots (there will be at least one in any good movie).

4.  Advertising slogans.  Don’t copy word for word but adapt.  (This ties in nicely with my CFT post this week on Adaptations!).  For example, in the UK, there was a slogan from years ago which was “go to work on an egg”, advertising the virtues of eating eggs.  Your theme could be something like “go to work on…” and name a foodstuff of your choice or a vehicle we don’t see on Earth etc.  Let your imagination run riot!

Happy writing!

This World and Others – What Do I Look For in a Fictional World?

This can only be a brief summary but the important points I look for in a fictional world are:-

1.  Characters.  They can have three heads, two noses or what have you, but the important point is I’ve got to be able to root for the characters, whether it is to cheer them on to success or hope they come crashing down.  There has to be something about them I love or loathe but makes me want to read on to find out what happens to them.

2.  A sense of how the world is governed.  I don’t need all the details, they’ll get in the way of the story, but I need to know that your characters know the rules of their world and how these affect them as the story progresses.  For example, in a world where there is no oxygen, what do your characters breathe instead?  DO they breathe (or are they water dwellers)?

3.  The details given are relevant to the story.  Enough said I think!

4.  A sense of what it would be like to live in that world.  I don’t necessarily have to want  to live there.  I may be very glad I don’t in fact but this sense of what it would be like is enough for me to create my own mental images of what your fictional world might look like.  That in turn helps me engage with that world and the characters you’ve put in it.

5.  A sense that it could exist somewhere out in the universes.  No matter how unlikely, the possibility should be there!  This means that there has to be a sense of a world that can sustain itself, possibly trades with other worlds and so on.

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Just a Minute and Other Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scrivener images below werebtaken by me as screenshots.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

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

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

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

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

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

Street Cred

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

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

Being cool again can wait until tomorrow.

Allison Symes
25th February 2019

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

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

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