Joys and Challenges

Many thanks to the Hampshire Writers’ Society for making me so welcome on Tuesday night.  Also thanks to those who have liked or given other positive feedback via my Facebook pages on my talk.  Much appreciated.

thank you text on black and brown board

Thank you, HWS! Image via Pexels

HIGHS POST - An inspiring thought

Indeed! Pixabay image.

HAMPSHIRE WRITERS PICTURE OF ALLISON

Many thanks to the Hampshire Writers’ Society for their kind permission to use this photo.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My CFT post this week is part 1 (of 3) looking at the joys and challenges of writing series novels. My panel joining me for this are #JenniferCWilson, #ValPenny, #AnneWan, #WendyHJones and #RichardHardie. Between them they cover crime fiction, children’s fiction/YA, historical, ghost and timeslip! Some great insights here with more to come over the next couple of weeks.

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Many thanks to all who sent in likes, encouraging comments etc following Tuesday night’s talk at the Hampshire Writers’ Society. All very much appreciated.

I know that some would like the links for some of the competitions/markets I mentioned. I list only a few below. I hope you can see these as a useful starting point.

http://www.flash500.com/index_files/flashfiction.htm
You do have to pay to enter this one but the competitions are quarterly and on an open theme so if you miss one date, put a story in for the next one!

http://writersfestival.co.uk/competitions
This is for Winchester Writers’ Festival and lists all their competitions. Great to now see flash fiction listed here.

http://www.paragraphplanet.com/submission.php
Free to enter. Always looking for submissions. Want to get around to trying this one myself!

Cafelit – give website details and submission details
http://cafelit.co.uk/index.php/submission-guidelines-2
I started writing flash fiction thanks to their 100-word challenge but do visit the site for a wealth of stories and styles.

Writing Magazine
For their 750 words and 1000 word competitions but very much fits into flash fiction territory. Keep an eye on their website and, of course, the magazine itself.

Earlyworks Press details
http://www.earlyworkspress.co.uk/Competitions.htm

And don’t forget The Bridport Prize, the Bath Flash Fiction Award etc etc. Definitely worth scanning the net every so often to see what is out there.

Trust this helps – and just to finish, something I didn’t have time to share on Tuesday. Two one line stories which, in different ways, conjure up a whole world of fear! You tell me which is the most frightening…

1. The lion ran straight at you.
2. The dentist will see you now.

Well?

Many thanks to the Hampshire Writers’ Society for making me so welcome as guest speaker at last night’s event. Much appreciated.

I discussed what flash fiction is, what I love about it, why I think all writers should try it, and a few hints as to possible markets and competitions – in about 15 minutes! Mind you, isn’t it appropriate that a flash fiction writer keeps her speech short!!😁

The main speaker was Ian Thomas, games writer, (founder of Talespinners – stories for video games etc) and his talk was illuminating as to what is needed in this field of work. What was interesting was two skills needed in flash fiction writing – the ability to edit ruthlessly and the need to leave gaps for readers to use their imaginations and fill in – are both vital for games writing too.

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As part of my talk at HWS yesterday, I discussed what I love most about flash fiction. One aspect is that it is proof you can make a huge impact on your readers but don’t need thousands of words to do so. I’ve read many a thoughtful flash fiction piece which would have LOST impact had it been a longer work.

I find I am always thinking about what impact I want my stories to have on readers (or those I’m reading my work to, come to that!). So even as I am writing the story, I am trying to engage with a potential audience. I think it is a good mind set to be in. It helps make it easier for me to cut out the inevitable waffle that does creep in to any draft writing I do. I have a tendency to overwrite, which is okay. That can be cut after all. But I always DO have to cut and that is just one of those things.

It’s a good thing to look at what your writing weaknesses are (in my case, overwriting) and then work out strategies to deal with them. I accept I overwrite, I get the draft down and then I ruthlessly prune back. Problem solved. The great joy of the first draft is only I get to see it!

If you’re having a brainstorming session for story ideas, how about trying a random word generator?

Weave, say, the first three words you come up with into a story. Having a quick look on the net, I found one of these that lets you choose how many words and the first and last letters of the words. You could even select the number of syllables or word length! I chose the first letter of a and the last letter to be t, and a word length of six letters. The words that came up were:-

appointment
accountant
appoint

So what can be done here? How about:-

A QUESTIONABLE CHOICE

It was a grim day in the magical realm when the Dark Lord decided to appoint an accountant. This was not the way things were done here. The Dark Lord was supposed to rob and plunder and then spend his ill gotten gains in a frenzy. The appointment even made the headline news. People dared to question what the Dark Lord was doing and ask what would happen next.

Allison Symes – 11th October 2018

Naturally you can expand this out to trying the first five words you come up or vary the syllable and/or word length, but there is a lot of fun to be had here playing with words and ideas. When is that ever a bad thing?!

Many thanks to #HampshireWritersSociety for taking this picture of me (see top of tonight’s post!) speaking at their meeting last Tuesday (and for permission to use it). I usually take my own pictures of my book stall etc at events and so on but it’s a bit tricky doing it when you’re the one who’s speaking!

One thing I love when talking about flash fiction is getting to read some of it as part of this. It is by far the best way of showing people exactly what it is and, of course, does not take too long. It also mixes up your talk with some storytelling (and I know I love listening to this sort of thing when I’m at other writers’ talks etc).

Says it all really. Image via Pixabay.

Says it all really. Image via Pixabay. And am glad to say my poorly border collie, Mabel, has very much been showing this spirit.

Never give up, work hard, be disciplined... all valuable traits for success, whether you're a tennis player, a writer or a character in a story! Image via Pixabay.

Never give up, work hard, be disciplined… all valuable traits for success, whether you’re a tennis player, a writer or a character in a story! Image via Pixabay.

Fairytales With Bite – Story Loves

What do you love most in a story?  I look for the following:-

  1. Gripping characters – I’ve got to really root for them to succeed or get their just desserts for me to stay with them during the story.
  2. Good pacing – What pacing is required obviously depends on the type of story but generally I’m looking for a pace that keeps the tension up until the end.
  3. Unforgettable settings – This doesn’t have to be an invented world (though it often is).  Here I’m looking for the setting being appropriate to the story and characters and be a place I’d love to visit or equally be glad I’m nowhere near.  The latter depends on the type of story but whichever way it goes, the setting has to provoke a reaction in me.
  4. Entertaining dialogue – Sure sometimes this will be funny dialogue (when appropriate) but even when not I want to feel as if I’m eavesdropping on a conversation that I have absolutely got to finish listening to!
  5. Strong Resolution – The story definitely has to end.  Not on a cliffhanger – that should be for the chapters leading up to the end in a novel or in the middle section of shorter works before the issue is resolved.

This World and Others – Joys and Challenges

My CFT post this week is the start of a three-parter looking at The Joys and Challenges of Writing Series NovelsMany thanks to my panel of Jennifer C Wilson, Val Penny, Anne Wan, Wendy H Jones, and Richard Hardie for their great contributions.  Am looking forward to sharing the rest of the series over the next couple of weeks.  Between them, these fine writers cover children’s/YA, crime, historical, ghost, and timeslip!  (Some of them cover more than one of these!).

The title of this piece led me to think about the joys and challenges our characters face. How do they handle these?  Which do they cope with better?  (Not everyone handles happiness that well – they literally don’t know how to cope with it or live in such dread that the happiness is going to end any moment, any enjoyment of it is lost!).

Are others pleased for your characters in their joyful times or is there resentment there (openly or hidden)?  In the challenges your characters face, do they have friends and family to support and encourage?  When your characters overcome a challenge, do they go on to learn from the experience or does their success change them (and not necessarily for the better)?

This is where the core central values and attitudes your characters have really matter.  Someone who is generally a decent character is not going to upset others by showing off about their successes.  They will have friends who are genuinely pleased for them.  Someone who aggravates others will only find said other characters will be rooting for their downfall!

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STORY PROMPTS

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When do you know you are really going to enjoy the story or book that you’ve started? For me it’s by the end of the first page. If I’m not gripped by the story by then, I’m unlikely to go much further with it.

I’m pleased to say though that there have not been many books or stories which I’ve given up on. This is why my To Be Read pile is as big as it is! (It’s not that much smaller on my Kindle either but at least that won’t topple over under the weight!).

By the end of the first page, I want to know who the lead character is going to be (even if they are just referred to at this point) and some idea of what the central conflict is going to be about. Then there has to be the “I’ve GOT to find out what happens next” moment. Without that, I don’t read on.

What kind of story prompts do you prefer? Pictures? An opening line? A finishing line?

I’ve used all in my time (and plan to keep on using them too), but my favourite is the promising opening line. I love finding out where that line can take me. I also believe if the writer is having a whale of a time writing the story, something of that enjoyment will show in the tale itself. I think the writing flows better.

Having said that there have been times when what I thought was a promising line turned out to be a dead end. I see this as a false start scenario and I abandon the tale and start again. I have tried seeing if I can make what I’ve come up with better but the answer is inevitably no as I think it is clear to me that my heart wasn’t really in it. I think that can show through in the writing too.

The great thing with the latter situation is if, later, an idea comes to you that resolves the problem with the story (or you think it will), there’s nothing to stop you digging that tale out and giving it another go. I suppose what I’ve learned here is not to panic if a story doesn’t work out right. Go on to the next one. Come back to the old one if better ideas occur as I’m writing something else (and that happens a LOT. I can be writing my next CFT post when a good story idea crops up. So I pause, jot the idea down, go back to my CFT post and then have a look at the story idea later. The benefit of this is I can take a good hard look at that idea and judge better whether it really is a “goer” or not. As a result, my “abandon a story because it really isn’t working” rate has decreased significantly).

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Looking forward to being at the Hampshire Writers’ Society tomorrow night to talk about flash fiction.

Also looking forward to the Bridge House celebration in London in December and the Association of Christian Writers’ Day in London later this month.

What with writing and taking the dog out, it’s a social whirl! (I get to talk to lots of lovely writers and equally lovely dog owners. Some of course encompass both roles!).

POSTER SHOWING ALLISON AS GUEST SPEAKER AT HWS OCTOBER 2018

Many thanks to Maggie Farran for the poster.

LIKES POST - editing - Pixabay image

The joy of editing! Image by Pixabay

cropped-cropped-version-of-my-reading-at-railway-station

The Open Mic for Prose night

Many thanks to Geoff Parkes for kind permission to use this shot of me reading at the Swanwick Prose Open Mic Night.

FLTDBA in the Swanwick Book Room

FLTDBA for sale in the Swanwick Book Room. Image by Allison Symes

FromLightToDark_back_medium

Back cover of FLTDBA. Image by Allison Symes

BEING THANKFUL - On writing or being appreciative - image via Pixabay

Always good advice. Image via Pixabay.

Am writing this early as I don’t expect to have a lot of creative energy left after the Hampshire Writers’ Society meeting tonight! (But in a very good way of course…😀)

Later in the week, I will be sharing on Chandler’s Ford Today Part 1 of a three part series on the joys and challenges of writing series novels. Many thanks to #JenniferCWilson, #ValPenny, #AnneWan, #WendyHJones, and #RichardHardie for taking part in this. Link to go up on Friday but what I can reveal now is their thoughts about this topic are riveting. Very much looking forward to sharing this over the next three Fridays.

The lovely thing is there is a wide range of fiction represented here from children’s and YA to crime to historical fiction with a twist. Much to learn from here.

I think one of the best things about writing is you never do stop learning how to develop and improve what you write. Nor should you want to stop seeking to improve and develop! As well as making you a better writer, this kind of thing is so good for your own well being anyway.

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Just because a story is short, it doesn’t mean it lacks insight. Far from it. I love well written flash stories for the intensity of the impact they make and the characterisation in them has to be good.

You are relying, rightly, on the character to “carry the story” so they’ve got to be strong enough to do so. Strong enough in the sense that there is enough about them to interest the reader. Strong enough to make the reader care about them and so on.

The great advantage flash has, of course, is that there is NO padding whatsoever. It really does cut to the chase.

Every story should reveal something about a character and their development (or what the lack of that does to/for them).

Flash fiction does that too but in a greatly compressed word count. This is why flash fiction can have such a big impact on readers. If your story is a grim one say, there is no room to “soften the blows”. What the reader sees is what they get and so on…. very much direct and to the sharp point.

Equally flash fiction can be great for a much needed laugh as ending a story on a punchline can work well. (Has to be a great punchline though!).

One of the most difficult things about flash fiction is working out where to stop. It is very easy to come up with, say, a 250-word story, which you think needs a little addition or two and then you have a 500-word tale. Well, that’s okay, isn’t it? It’s still flash fiction after all.

Well, yes and no.

Yes, the longer version would still be flash fiction.

No, in that the ideal length of your flash story should be when you have said all that is needed to be said and not a word more.

I gauge what the correct word count is for a story by looking at the impact the story has. If at 250 words it doesn’t have enough impact, then yes I will add to it but only until I’ve got the required emotional resonance from the character(s). I will then edit the piece until I still have that resonance without loss of quality of the story.

My worry about expanding a piece is you could easily dilute the impact, which is something you don’t want. Every word in flash fiction has to justify its place in the story, otherwise out it goes. You do learn to be ruthless about cutting when writing flash but that’s no bad thing.

One useful thing about flash fiction is I’ve often found the best way to explain it is to read a couple of examples. The ultimate in showing not telling perhaps! Also, it doesn’t take too long and you get the idea very quickly. It shows there is a proper beginning, middle and end to the story.

What flash fiction must never be is cut-off prose. The story still has to be a complete story in and of itself. That doesn’t stop you taking the basic idea and developing it further.

For example you like the character in your flash fiction so you want to write more stories about them. Absolutely fine.

Likewise, you love your flash fiction story but know it could be developed into a 1500 word or so standard competition entry story where you have the room to put in a sub-plot which you wouldn’t with the short, sharp flash version of it. Again, absolutely fine.

What flash fiction should be is fun to write (and that will mean it should be fun to read too).

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Goodreads Author Programme – Blog –

Classic -v- Contemporary

Which books do you prefer reading? Classic or contemporary? I love both, naturally. A bookworm isn’t going to worry about when a book came out. They just want the book to be good…

A lot of my contemporary reading is either flash fiction collections or crime novels. (I know: it IS a nice mix! Some of the flash fiction collections, including my own, include crime stories in them).

My classic reading includes Austen, Wodehouse, Dickens, Christie and so on. I like to think of these almost as comfort reading. I know the stories. I know I will love them. It’s what I turn to when life gets particularly stressful. I want a known quantity at that point.

Terry Pratchett deserves a category of his own in that I read or listen to his works when I am in good need of a laugh. He never disappoints!

The flash fiction collections in turn amuse me, scare me, make me think and so on. I’ve got to be ready for the challenge of at least some of the stories in these. And that’s fine. Good stories should make you think (even if they make you laugh or scream as well).

I tend to flit between catching up with lots of book reading, then switching to magazine reading. The important thing? I am reading – and loving it all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FANTASICAL AND REALITY WRITING

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My CFT post this week looks at how “fantastic” and “reality” writing feed off each other. No matter how fantastic the world setting, there still have to be elements about it and the characters that readers can identify with. So there has to be some system of government, some rulers and some ruled, some system of food gathering etc etc to help make the story itself believable.

In a well written fantasy story, these elements are hardly noticeable. They are what I call the necessary background structure to make the whole story work. Not only that, literature would be much the poorer without fantasy stories. It would also be much the poorer without good quality non-fiction. And that’s the way it should be.

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What slogan would sum up your writing style? I think mine would be something like “quirky, sometimes twisted, and often humorous”. Before anyone says that sums ME up quite well, I know!!

Questions never to ask a writer (unless you want to run the risk of having something thrown at you) include:-

1. How IS the writing going? (We want to give you chapter and verse, literally. You want a quick one line answer. No winners here).

2. But editing is the easy bit, surely? After all, you’ve got the writing done. Tidying it up a bit can’t take long, can it?

3. Have you given up the day job yet? (Is there any way of answering this politely and still remain friends with whoever dared ask this? Answers on a postcard….).

4. You don’t mind if I borrow your book from the library, do you? (Actually, no. We want to support the libraries. However, we would prefer it if you bought the book – bills to pay and all that).

5. It can’t take you long to write flash fiction/short stories/novellas (delete as appropriate) as they’re all much shorter than a novel. That’s where the hard work is, isn’t it?

(Many thanks to all who sent in wonderful comments on my Facebook page and to those pages where I shared this.  Glad to know I’m not alone on this topic!).

 

Delighted to say I will be a guest speaker at the Hampshire Writers’ Society meeting at the University of Winchester next Tuesday, 9th October. It will be nice to be back at Winchester again as I’m normally there for the Winchester Writers’ Festival and it is a long time until next June when it is on again!

I’ll be speaking about flash fiction (and why I think every writer should try it).

(I know I put up this post last time but can’t resist doing so again!  Am looking forward to next Tuesday’s event.  Am nervous and excited about it all at the same time!).

POSTER SHOWING ALLISON AS GUEST SPEAKER AT HWS OCTOBER 2018

Many thanks to Maggie Farran for the poster

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Flash fiction writing has taught me so much about editing, but it has also shown me the joy of choosing the right word to make maximum impact. I’ve found that spills over into other writing I do (especially my Chandler’s Ford Today posts), which is no bad thing.

We all know we should put work aside for a bit before coming back to re-read it with fresh eyes but I have found that doing so means you also look at a story and think “I could have expressed that better”. I then go on and do so!

It is true your best ideas and expressions sometimes have to be “teased” out of you. But the great thing is that the more writing you do, the more you’ll be ready for the “well actually this works better than what I had done originally” moment and won’t think twice about changing something.

The latter I think can be a confidence thing sometimes. You do have to have confidence in your own writing ability but also to trust the process – that as you work, better thoughts will come, all of which will help you improve your story and increase its chances of being published.

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It’s important to mix up the moods in a flash fiction collection. I love volumes of stories to dip into as and when I fancy and what I like to find are tales for all occasions. I will always have a very soft spot for the humorous tale but a well written tragic flash story will move me in a way a funny one can’t (and perhaps shouldn’t).

Also given flash fiction has to be character led, and characters all face different challenges, it is not unreasonable to portray said characters in very different moods, which will also affect how you write their stories.

Even in a book which is meant to be sombre, there can be different shades of sombreness in the tales within it. You don’t want to come across in a monotone style. Nor is levity appropriate but I want to see Character A handling a bad situation in this way, Character B reacting differently etc. I will then be intrigued by what makes A and B tick.

As well as mixing the moods of my stories for a flash fiction collection, I like to vary the word counts I use. The majority will be at about the 100 word mark as it is my favourite and the one I seem to gravitate to, but I like to ensure there are some 250, 500 and 750 word stories in there too. For the book I’m currently writing I am also including one line stories.

I love flash fiction collections (not just mine, honestly!), because of their variety. There are wonderful collections out there based on a specific type of flash fiction (usually the 100 or 140 word stories). There are collections with a mixture of length of stories, like mine, but focussed on one theme.

When you’ve not got as much time for reading as you’d like, these books are perfect to dip into. If you like your books electronically, I think flash fiction is wonderful for that. So very easy to read on a screen. And easy to slip into a stocking for that well known festival coming up in December….! (Get the word in early, that’s what I say!!).

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – The TBR Pile

Confession time. I have a large TBR pile in paperbacks AND on the Kindle. There really isn’t enough time in the day, though it is nice to know I won’t be running out of good reading material any time soon.

Does that mean I won’t want any books bought for me for Christmas or book tokens/cards? Don’t be silly, of course I will!

Okay, I may need to figure out a way of making sure my TBR pile (paperbacks) doesn’t topple over and crush someone (probably me). Or that my Kindle doesn’t explode with the effort of containing all those ebooks for me. But I’ll manage those!

The lovely thing about being a reader and a writer is you’re never stuck for gift ideas, whether you’re dropping hints to your nearest and dearest, or buying for other readers and writers.

As for my TBR pile, back to reducing it a bit at a time (before I inevitably top it up again!).

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Fairytales with Bite – A Good Fairytale…

A good fairytale should have:-

1.  Believable characters (no matter how magical they are.  There should be something about them that resonates with a reader, which is why magic is NOT the be all and end all situation to your characters’ problems.  There should be things for them to work out without magic.  There should be things about their character which engage the reader so if the old fairy godmother turns up and does work magic for them, your readers are going to be pleased for them rather than see it as a plot device to get your character out of trouble!).

2.  Emotional impact.  Whether this is where your reader ends up screaming at your character to stop being so stupid or laughs with them or cheers when they get their happy ever after, as long as there is some emotional impact, your story is “getting through”.  People will want to read more.

3.  Justice will out somehow.  This is true most of the time.  Stories where the villains win always make me feel uncomfortable.  It just doesn’t seem right.  This is why I love the cliffhanger ending in The Italian Job with Michael Caine.  Even where the villain does seem to get away with it, I like to see some hint that in the future their success may come back to haunt them or they would have done even better had they acted better.  I suppose one reason why I like to see justice of some sort being done is because in life, it so often isn’t like that.  One appeal of stories overall is that they can reflect life as it should be at times – the underdog does win out, wrongs are put right etc etc.  (The other thought here is that perhaps the villain does have cause so are they so much of a villain after all?  Food for thought here I think).

This World and Others – Things You Need to Know about World Building

This is definitely not a comprehensive guide but I list below some useful pointers for you to consider when building your fictional world.

1.  Identifiable Elements
There has to be something about the world you create your readers will identify with, no matter how fantastical the setting.  Worlds have to be governed.  How is that done?  Every living creature needs to eat so how do the characters in your world do this and what is their food?  How are their societies organised?  (There must be some sort of organisation – could anyone survive sustained anarchy?).  These things are what I like to refer to as necessary background structure.  They may not be the main point of your stories but you need to know this information so you can write with confidence about your setting (it is a character in many ways) and that confidence will come through in your writing to your reader.

2.  How things change
A living world adapts and changes due to new technologies, diseases forcing change on society, wars changing the political landscape and so on.  Again these things may not be the main point of your stories but there should be a sense of your world changing and developing as your characters do within it.  It gives the sense that your world really is a live one and therefore infinitely more believable.

3.  Roles
What are the major roles in your world?  How are genders dealt with (and is there any difference in the roles each play?).  What happens to those who won’t accept the roles they’ve been assigned?  (There is always at least one who does this and some fantastic stories emerge from that).

It would pay to outline your thoughts on these three points before committing to major writing (especially if it’s a novel you’ve got in mind).  Work things out early.  It will save you a lot of time later on.  Good luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Appeal of Writing

Facebook – General – and More than Writers blog (Association of Christian Writers)

It’s time for my monthly post on the Association of Christian Writers’ More than Writers blog. Many thanks as ever to SusanSanderson for flagging this up earlier today.

This month I share my thoughts on writing likes and dislikes and one of my favourite writing quotes from Elmore Leonard.

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What is it about writing that appeals so much? Is it the creating of your own world which you then populate with characters unique to you? Is it the actual story you devise? Is it the feeling of accomplishment when you’ve written a piece, edited it, sent it out to a relevant publication and it has been accepted?

Of course it can be all those things but, for me, it is the challenge of coming up with a story or a post that will appeal to an audience beyond just me and THEN...to keep coming up with more stories and posts!

I’ve found reading widely and, increasingly now, reading non-fiction too, sparks off all sorts of ideas that I explore in more detail later. Reading widely really does feed the mind. When you’re a writer, it does even more than that. It feeds your imagination. Ideas lead to other ideas and you come up with a lovely mix that is unique to you.

Do you work more productively depending on what day of the week it is?

I keep roughly to the same writing time for most days, when life in general isn’t trying to scupper me here (where possible I find ways to scupper it right back again!), but find I write more in the time slot from about Wednesday through to Saturday.

I don’t know what it is about Mondays and Tuesdays. (Sundays are a general wind down day and I tend to get more reading done so that’s okay).

I was sorry to hear of the death of Geoffrey Hayes of Rainbow, another part of my childhood gone.

Delighted to say I will be a guest speaker at the Hampshire Writers’ Society meeting at the University of Winchester next Tuesday, 9th October. It will be nice to be back at Winchester again as I’m normally there for the Winchester Writers’ Festival and it is a long time until next June when it is on again!

I’ll be speaking about flash fiction (and why I think every writer should try it).

POSTER SHOWING ALLISON AS GUEST SPEAKER AT HWS OCTOBER 2018

Poster kindly supplied by Maggie Farran from the Hampshire Writers’ Society.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

A flash fiction story needs to create its own world whether it is in six words, 25, 100, or 500+. Your character needs to “dominate” that world in the short space of time you have to show the story to the reader.

I think this is one reason why I use a lot of first person for flash as I can get straight into the character’s thoughts and attitudes and get the story off to a cracking start. Well, I hope it proves to be a cracking start anyway!

I usually find if I can get get off to a good beginning, then the rest of the story follows nicely. Again, this is where first person helps as I find I want to explore that character’s thoughts and plans as I write their story. It’s a question of writing it all down and then cutting out what isn’t needed. I find there is always material to be cut out but also feel this is a good thing. I think you’re in real trouble if you find you have to add. Also, if lucky, some of the material you cut you may be able to recycle for other stories.

Flash fiction makes a great writing exercise, even if you don’t want to be published in it.

Firstly, the discipline of sticking to a word count is useful.

Secondly, when free writing to “warm up” why not turn the results of that into a flash fiction story? (I would go on to polish the story and see about submitting it somewhere).

The word count aspect comes in useful again because having a warm up exercise to take you to 500 words, say, means you then have to get on with whatever your main writing work is. The advantage of course is you then have a short piece you could submit somewhere if you wanted to.

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What is the most difficult challenge when it comes to writing flash fiction? Funnily enough, I find it isn’t the word count.

For me, it is, having chosen what impact I want the story to make on readers, deciding whether that impact is strong enough or do I need to beef it up further? Very difficult to judge that.

This is where things like reading at Prose Open Mic nights can be helpful. You literally hear the feedback as you hear your audience’s response to your story. Nervewracking and exhilarating all at the same time. Given this isn’t always possible, the next best thing is to put the story aside for a while and then come back to it and read it out loud so you can hear how it sounds. (Recording it and playing it back is even better).

Many thanks to Geoff Parkes for the image of me reading at this year’s Swanwick Writers’ Summer School Prose Open Mic night. Good fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Word Play

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

One joy of writing is the joy of reading. This is partly because it makes sense to read from (and therefore support) the industry you want to join! Also, you need to read widely to discover the range of writing out there and to find out from that what it is you want to write. There’s also the sheer pleasure of reading well crafted stories that inspire you to work harder on your own!

Playing with Words, as my CFT post this week discusses, is both a fun and invaluable thing for writers to do.  My post this week also pays tribute to Denis Norden and celebrates puns and playing with language.

 

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I like to “hit the ground running” when I write flash fiction and do so in a number of ways.

I can take you straight into the lead character’s thoughts, or show you an image of them doing or reacting to something. I also try to show you their general attitude within the first couple of lines. Attitude in itself can tell you so much about what a character is likely to be like (and whether you would like them or not!).

I can also show you a character’s observations such as in my Circle of Life. That opens with “People throw kittens in the river here. I hate that.” Immediately shows a conflict. Immediately shows an attitude at odds with the view held by others around the character. You also know they’re going to do something about it. It is a question of what and will they get away with it?

With all of these different kinds of opening, I am aiming to provoke curiosity in the reader to make them want to find out more.

My CFT post this week looks at Playing With Words. I also pay tribute to the late Denis Norden, who along with Frank Muir, was a wonderful wordsmith. Link up on Friday. I also take a look at puns. (Muir was wonderful on Call My Bluff years ago and Norden – well, I loved his dry wit and manner – and Take It From Here, written by them both, was a forerunner for modern radio comedy).

Two of my favourite ways to end a flash fiction story are a twist in the tale finish or a punchline. Both of course can revolve around puns. I love playing with language but one of the great joys of loving books is coming across others who are masters at this sort of thing. Their work is a joy to read and/or listen to and if you haven’t come across a copy of Muir and Norden’s My Word Ultimate Collection, do yourself a favour and dig out a copy from somewhere. If you like tall tales and puns, as I do, this is a fabulous book.

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Flash fiction can be a great vehicle for (a) puns (as part of a punchline to finish with) and (b) short, sharp humorous moments. A good funny flash fiction will not only make you laugh but you should be able to spot other potential for humour had the story been a longer one.

The lovely thing is you can combine humour with other things such as poetic justice to create a great story. Characters being annoyed at the situation they’re in may well make you smile in recognition of their predicament. The situation is rarely funny for the characters themselves. Shouldn’t stop us smiling though!

My late mum always believed in being short and to the point. Think she’d be pleased I take the same approach by writing flash fiction!

You lose any fear of killing adverbs or cutting whatever isn’t necessary for your story when you write flash and, of course, you can carry that over into whatever other writing you do. There’s no chance of getting confused over your characters either given, realistically, you only have the room for 1, maybe 2, main people.

I admit I do miss the fact you can’t have subplots in flash fiction, that really is the privilege of a short story or a novel, but I do love being able to cut to the chase with the very short tale. Definitely a case of you pays your money, you take your choice here.

Time for some autumnal flash fiction one-liners, I think. Hope you enjoy.

1. There were some things brought down by the autumn winds that would have been best left undisturbed.

2. The mouse scoffed the loaf that was meant for the church’s Harvest Festival display, much to the vicar’s chagrin.

(A case of For what we have received, we are truly grateful, I think!).

3. Would the leaves come down deeply enough to cover a body, she wondered?

4. With the nights drawing in, there was more scope for planning and executing the perfect crime.

5. It would be easy enough to do, he thought, given she always has soup at lunchtime on these cold days.

Hmm…. it looks like I’m in a criminal frame of mind this evening!

 

Is it harder to write longer fiction where you have to keep the readers enchanted enough with your writing to follow the story through to the end or more difficult to write short, sharp stories?

I wouldn’t like to judge on that one as both have their challenges and their joys. Both are vital for ensuring literature has a wide range of styles and lengths of story to suit all tastes.

One problem I face when editing flash fiction is ensuring I keep the important details in as it can be easy to cut far too much out to keep to a set word count and the story is the poorer for it. In those situations, I let the story go what is its natural length whether it’s 50 words or 500 or 1500!

The acid test for me is the editing is done when I cannot add to the story or take away from it. It is a question of not overegging the pudding or cutting back so harshly you have a limited story left. Anything that dilutes the impact of the story on a reader, and that can include harsh editing, is out.

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Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Playing with Language

One of the joys of reading across a wide range of genres, including non-fiction, is discovering the different ways authors play with language.

For me the late Denis Norden and Frank Muir were great exponents of this and one of my favourite paperbacks is their My Word The Ultimate Collection. This is full of puns and tall tales galore! Bliss and an addictive read.

I like crisp, punchy styles of writing but every so often you come across a line or two that are just so engrossing, they almost take your breath away. P.G. Wodehouse was a master at creating worlds within what would be considered now very long sentences, but you simply have to read to the end.

I suppose the real test of a good story is does it provoke your curiosity enough so you read it through regardless of the style or genre in which it was written?

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytales A to Z Part 8

Since the alphabet doesn’t divide neatly into three, I will conclude this mini series tonight with the final five letters – V through to Z.  Hmm… going to have fun here I think!

V = Variation
Whatever genre you write in, there should be variation in the types of character you portray.  A story with all heroes is no story at all!  There has to be a villain somewhere (even if the characters concerned don’t think they’re villainous at all).  Also, in a magical setting, there should be variation in how much magical ability characters have.  If they all have unlimited powers, where is the conflict? You’d have a stalemate situation.  The characters know they can’t better each other, at least not with their powers.  So vary things, mix things up, deliberately drop your characters in it, and see what happens!  This is very much the fun side of writing.  You will soon find out who your strong characters are.

W = World
The world you set your stories in can almost be a character in itself.  It needs to be believable, no matter how fantastical its powers or setting.  There must be things about that world we can identify with here.  For example, every world has to be governed somehow so politics has to rear its (at times) very ugly head.

X = Xeno (meaning strange!  Confession time: did have to look it up.  I could have gone for X-rated for this but felt it was too obvious.  I also want to remember this word next time I play Scrabble!).
So word of the week for me is this one then!  Seriously, though, no matter how strange the world you’ve created is, there still has to be something about it that fascinates a reader.  If it is too odd, you risk alienating the reader.  Does that mean your world has to be a sensible one?  Not necessarily.  There has to be a point to what the world does.  If it mines balloons for example, it would make sense to do that if is that world’s chief export to its nearest neighbour.  I did like Monsters Inc for showing why the monsters had to get the children’s screams (they needed it as it was their power source) and I liked it even more when the monster world discovered making the children laugh was a greater source of power.

Y = You
The first fan of your writing should be you.  Your fairytale, whoever it is aimed at, must first convince you.  Is the magic a vital part of the story?  It should be for a fairytale. Do your characters have to get themselves out of trouble without magic?  Even better!  You should enjoy what you write and at the same time be open to where it can be improved.  Not an easy balance to strike which is why it is such a good idea to put work aside for a while and then re-read it.  You will come back to the story with a more open mind, having had the break from it.

Z = Zippy
There will be many in the UK especially who will remember Zippy as a character from children’s TV show, Rainbow!  However for this, I mean zippy in terms of lively.  Your fairytale should be a lively read from start to finish.  Your characters should be lively and engage with your reader.  (This is why if you enjoy your writing, there is every chance others will too.  As for the feeling after reading something you’ve written “this is rubbish”, bear in mind every writer goes through that.  This is another reason for putting work away for a while before coming back to it).

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This World and Others – Playing with Words

Playing with Words is not just the title of my latest CFT post but the theme for this week for me.  I also take a look at this topic on my latest Goodreads blog.

So how do I like to play with words then?

1.   I like twist endings to a lot of my stories so there is a lot of playing with words to be had there in coming up with a twist that works.

2.    I sometimes end stories with a punchline which often revolves around a pun.  Puns are the very definition of playing with language!

3.     I like to take known phrases and play with them to come up with something that has “echoes” but which is also unique to my story.  For example, we usually talk about punishing the guilty for crime etc but my story in From Light to Dark and Back Again is deliberately called Punish the Innocent.  The idea is to get you wondering (a) why would someone want to punish the innocent, (b) do they do so, (c) were the innocent that guiltless after all?

I sometimes use spider diagrams to help me work out in which directions I could take a story idea and then I pick the one that I like the best.  Playing with words here helps me come up with thoughts deeper than my initial “obvious” ideas and therefore I hope a more original story line.

 

 

 

 

DOCTOR WHO, STEAM TRAINS, AND STORIES

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Had a lovely day out at Swindon (yes really!) visiting the Steam Railway Museum. Great place and one of my favourite things there is being able to walk under a locomotive so you can look up at the workings etc. It is strangely beautiful, especially the brass.

What gets to me every time I visit a place like this are the personal stories. The stories of the navvies (how many of them were killed cutting out the routes for the lines?), the stories of the workshop men creating every single piece for a train by hand, and later the way women took over the roles of men during WW2 and had to give those roles back again. (One soul on a video being played admitted she’d loved her job, didn’t want to leave, but was glad it was because the men were coming back and hadn’t been killed. Lovely lady, lovely attitude).

Having said all that, I was not impressed with the way people were crammed on to GWR trains today. Hardly the legacy Isambard Kingdom Brunel would have wanted to leave – the GWR was very much his railway – but that is another story….

Just had a look at the new Doctor Who trailer. Looks interesting. Have no problem with 13 being female (I thought Missy was great too). What I do want from the new series is good, strong storylines. Looking forward to seeing the series. Doctor Who is one of the few things I will tune in to watch live.

Favourite episodes to date? Hard to say but I did love Matt Smith’s “Vincent“. One of those stories you wanted to be true! Great introduction to the works of Van Gogh too (which is fantastic anyway but also ties in with the original idea behind the commissioning of Doctor Who. The idea was to entertain AND educate, show viewers history they may not know and so on. If you’ve not seen An Adventure in Space and Time which tells the story of Doctor Who itself, I’d recommend it. Good insights.).

Images below taken by me at the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff back in 2010. Very sorry that’s gone now.

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One of the joys of writing shorter fiction is that, if you have a longer project in development, you have something you can submit to markets and competitions in the meantime. So this is one reason why I believe that for novelists, it is a good idea to write shorter fiction too.

Assuming these shorter pieces are published, well it all adds to your writing CV and helps to raise your profile. (I’ve always thought that a strange phrase incidentally. Has anyone ever wanted to sink their profile?!😁).

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When I’m engrossed in a story, I just want to read on for as long as possible before I have to sleep. Always, always, always it is a case of the characters gripping me enough to want to find out what happens next.

This can be a good test for your own stories. Put them aside for a while and come back to them and read them as a stranger would. Are you engrossed with the story? Is there anything you would skip? Does anything “jar”?

Naturally the answers to those should be “yes”, “no”, and “no” though I concede it can take several edits to get to that point!

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Good tip for developing characters is to go and visit any kind of museum where you find out how people lived in the past. (It should also make you grateful for the many blessings we have now!).

Why? I am always moved by the personal stories that come out from visits like this and you find yourself wondering whether you could have been like that person. What would your reactions and actions have been? Could you have worked so physically and mentally hard as they did and keep that going day in, day out? (It does develop a certain amount of grit and you could show your characters developing this even if their situation is very different. Why and how did they develop THEIR grit?).

Then you could think of a character, perhaps one that has been “brewing” in your imagination for a bit, and put them in that historical situation and see how they’d manage.

The great thing is this technique does not have to be confined to historical stories. Going back into the past is like visiting a different world so you could have a fantastical world which has developed way beyond ours, or is way behind ours and set your stories there

Let’s say you’ve been to a museum which involves craftsmen (wood, metal etc), well what would the equivalent be in your story world? What people or strange alien beings would they employ? What would they need the craftmen to produce for everyday use or special occasions? What are these craftsmen like?

Something to ponder I think…

Many thanks to all who liked or commented on my recent stories on Cafelit. Much appreciated!

I loved writing those stories (and indeed love all that I write) and hope some of that love of writing and the characters comes through.

Certainly when I am reading works by other writers, I think you can sense the author enjoyed their work and that kind of enjoyment is contagious in a good way, even when the story itself makes you shiver with fear or laugh your proverbial head off! And that’s just how it should be…

Happy reading and writing!

My favourite trigger for a new flash story is coming up with a title and having fun with the different possibilities that offers.

I sometimes use spider diagrams to work these out, more often or not I jot down a quick note as to story idea A and then again for B and see what I like best. I do know now not to necessarily go with the first idea I’ve come up with but to dig deeper and to see what else I can come up with.

Another favourite starting point is the lead character. I tend to hear how they sound rather than spot how they look straight away, but if their voice is powerful enough and intrigues me, I get on and draft a story about them.

The nice thing is there is no one way to generate ideas for stories, all have their merits, and I think it both useful and fun to mix up how you do this. I think it helps to keep your enjoyment of writing fresh.

LIKES POST - editing - Pixabay image

The joy of editing! Image by Pixabay

LIKES POST - a familiar sight to us all - Pixabay image

Sadly a very familiar sight! Pixabay image

LIKES POST - Far too elegant a desk for me! Pixabay image

Wonderful writing desk. Pixabay image

LIKES POST - Losing yourself in a book - Pixabay image

Being lost in the world of your story. Pixabay image

LIKES POST - when is your writing time - Pixabay image

When is your writing time? Pixabay image

My late mum always believed in being short and to the point. Think she’d be pleased I take the same approach by writing flash fiction!

You lose any fear of killing adverbs or cutting whatever isn’t necessary for your story when you write flash and, of course, you can carry that over into whatever other writing you do. There’s no chance of getting confused over your characters either given, realistically, you only have the room for 1, maybe 2, main people.

I admit I do miss the fact you can’t have subplots in flash fiction, that really is the privilege of a short story or a novel, but I do love being able to cut to the chase with the very short tale. Definitely a case of you pays your money, you take your choice here.

 

STORIES, STEREOTYPES, TRICKS AND UNICORNS

Be fair, that is quite a mix, isn’t it?!  I share links to three new stories of mine on Cafelit this week as well and discuss them in my Facebook posts throughout the week too.  Hope you like the stories.  I loved writing them.

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Busy night tonight. My latest CFT post is live and looks at favourite views, literal and metaphorical. I also discuss how to develop “the writer’s eye”.

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Delighted to have three new stories due to appear on Cafelit over the next few days. Will share links as and when. But back to the idea of using the same word to start the sentences of a flash piece with. My word for tonight is Restless and I will ‘fess up and admit I have given this one more thought though I did like the environmental theme that came through with Habitat.

RESTLESS
‘Restless, you are, Wilma, that’s what you are – always have been, always will be.
‘Restless, surely not, I just can’t get comfortable, that’s all’.
‘Restless, I said, and restless I meant.’
‘Restless, that’s the last thing I should be in here, George; I always thought I’d have peace HERE.’
‘Restless spirit, restless grave – I did think I’d have a break from your fidgeting when I joined you in here!’

ENDS.

Allison Symes – 18th September 2018

Hope you enjoy.

I do enjoy reading and writing flash stories told from the viewpoint of a minor character looking at the “main action”. Tonight’s story on Cafelit by me, The Balcony Seen, takes this approach. I don’t even name the character in this one. What matters is showing you what they observed and what they felt.

As ever, with flash, it is vital to focus on sharing what the reader needs to know. It is likely you will need to know a lot more before you put pen to paper or write directly to screen but that is what outlines are for. Outlines are fun to write. The difficult bit can be selecting what it is the reader DOES need to know and leaving out all those lovely pieces of information that are good to know but not crucial to the story. What is crucial for you as writer to know isn’t necessarily the same as what the reader needs to know!

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I love writing throw away lines in a story which tell you something about the character and move the tale on. In my Leaving Home (on Cafelit tonight), there is an example of this. But the crucial thing is it moves the story on. Anything that doesn’t is cut. And that’s the way it should be!

 

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The first of my three stories appearing on Cafelit is The Balcony Seen (I make no apologies for the pun!). This story is based on an exercise set by Simon Hall as part of his A-Z of Novel Writing at this year’s Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. Hope you enjoy. Most of the images below were taken by me at a Hampshire Medieval Fair a year or two ago and shows the scrivener’s wares and his accommodation, which was good by the standards of the time.

Woodland Walk - image via Pixabay

A beautiful woodland walk. Pixabay image

The tools of the medieval writer's trade

The medieval scrivener’s wares. Image by Allison Symes

The Scribe's (Scrivener's) Tent

The Scrivener’s tent. Image by Allison Symes

The scribe had good accommodation

The scrivener had good accommodation compared to most! Image by Allison Symes

As promised, story number two from me on Cafelit this week is now live. Leaving Home shows that the problems of kids pinching parents’ transport is nothing new (or necessarily confined to this world!). Hope you enjoy.

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As promised, the third of my three Cafelit stories is now on site. Dignity and Injustice looks at the death of Anne Boleyn from a very different perspective. Hope you enjoy.

 

Another view of the Tower of London - image via Pixabay

The Tower. Pixabay image.

The Tower of London as night falls - image via Pixabay

The Tower at night. Pixabay image.

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytales A to Z Part 7

Marching on towards the end of the alphabet then, this post looks at letters S, T and U.

S = Stereotypes.
It could be argued fairytales have a lot of stereotypes in them.  The Big Bad Wolf represents villainy and indeed the saying has passed into the language.  We say someone is known to be “a big, bad wolf”.  The downtrodden types that have their lives turned around for the better are known as Cinderella types.  I think what any fairytale writer should do is use the tropes wisely but not be confined by them.  What does your Cinderella type do to try to help herself/himself out of the situation that they’re in?  Maybe it is that which attracts the attention of the fairy godmother to help them in the first place.  Stereotypes can also be spoofed or reversed as in the Shrek series.  So use stereotypes, they can be a useful shorthand, but put your own stamp on the characters you are creating so they are clearly “their own people”.

T = Tricks
It is fine to use stereotypes to create shorthands for your characters, who should then still go on to be characters that are uniquely your creation, and other writing techniques to improve what you do, but those should be the only “tricks” played in your stories.  Indeed they shouldn’t even show!  Your stories should read “naturally” with nothing drawn to the reader’s attention any “artificial devices” have been used in the making of that story.  As for tricks played by characters on others, there should be ground rules set out early on in your story as to magical capabilities so readers know that character A could be reasonably expected to play such a trick on character B.

U = Unicorns (and other mythical beasts)
Use sparingly if at all!  For me a story is all about the characters. Unless you are writing a story from the viewpoint of the unicorn or other strange creature, there seems to be little use for these, other than as transport, possibly, or to set the scene for how your world works and looks.

This World and Others – Story Moods

I’m pleased to say I have three new flash stories on Cafelit.  I share the link to my author page here.

The Balcony Seen started life as an exercise at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School this year.  Leaving Home and Dignity and Injustice are new to me in that they share a common character.  But these stories remind me of one of the reasons I really love flash fiction.  They all vary in mood and it is easy to switch from one mood to another and back again.

I also think really short stories can carry the most impact at times.  Yes, there are exceptions (the sadness of Hamlet goes beyond saying) but I generally find the shorter the story the more powerful the reaction.  I suppose part of the reason for that is there is no room to dilute that impact with sub-plots etc.  In a novel, you would need those sub-plots to give a proper ebb and flow to the overall story and avoid having a monotone.  No need to worry about that for flash fiction!

Anyway, hope you enjoy these.

Goodreads Author Programme Blog – Opening Lines

What is it about an opening line that makes you want to read on?

For me, that opening line has to intrigue me, show me something of the fictional world to come, or show me something about the lead character. The very best opening lines combine at least two of these.

I’m thinking especially of Orwell’s 1984 “It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”. I’m immediately intrigued by the thirteen and I want to know about what kind of world it could be to have clocks capable of doing this. The opening line has definitely fulfilled its role there!

The challenge then for the writer is to make sure that everything which follows lives up to the promise of that opening line and delivers on it! And some people think writing is easy…hmm… I learned a long time ago that when someone makes something look easy, that same someone has almost certainly worked their socks off for years to get to that point.

So what are your favourite lines and why?

I also love the opening to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. Very different in style but they intrigue and set the tone for what is to come.

Happy reading, and writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STORY IDEAS AND PUBLICATION NEWS

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How do you develop your story ideas? I sometimes use spider diagrams to help me here. I come up with what will often go on to be the opening line and work out different scenarios and then write up the one I like the most. It does help to visualise a story sometimes.

With some stories I can hear the character talking and I’ve then got to work out where that dialogue would lead that character. Sometimes the story can be WHERE that dialogue has come from and the talk itself is actually the end of the story. In my They Don’t Understand, I had the finishing line very early on and then worked the story out backwards from there.

So I’d say be open to what approaches you take here. I’ve found one size/one way of doing things is not necessarily the best. You can constrict yourself too much. I also think it is a good thing to mix things up when creating a story anyway. It’s fun too!

Do you find that when you have a closer look at your favourite books and stories there is a common theme? I’ve often found this to be the case.

I love The Lord of the Rings and practically all of the classic fairytales. The common link there? No matter what the struggle or how long it takes, good will defeat evil in the end. A positive theme (and yes I guess that is how you can tell it is fantasy, sadly!).

So what are your favourite themes in stories? I do like themes that speak of justice prevailing, evil being given the boot, or, in the case of historical fiction, shows me something about a past world I had not known before. I loved Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall for that though must confess I’ve not read Bring Up the Bodies as I am an Anne Boleyn fan and know how that story ends!

Great fiction, regardless of genre, will resonate with readers and the key to that resonance is the lead character, who would have been excellently portrayed.

There will be flaws, there will be virtues, there will be plenty that any of us could identify with, knowing our own flaws and virtues, and we absolutely have to find out whether our hero/heroine succeeds in their quest or not.

The lead character is memorable for all the right reasons then – and this still applies even if that character is the villain. They’ve got to have good reasons for acting the way they are (“because they’re evil” isn’t strong enough) and readers should understand why the villain is acting the way they are. Nobody has to like it though!

I suppose we’ve got to have someone to cheer on as we read the latest flash fiction, short story, or novel. And that someone has to appeal to us so how can writers do that? Characters with a great sense of humour come across well, as do characters willing to make sacrifices for their cause. That too can apply to villains (and I bet I wasn’t the only one who almost wanted to root for the late Alan Rickman’s Sherriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves!).

Make your characters distinctive then and easy to “fall for”. It almost goes without saying the first one to love your characters must be you!