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.

 

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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!

Am delighted to say three stories of mine will be appearing on Cafelit over the next few days. Will share the links obviously but one of the tales is a direct result of an exercise set by Simon Hall in his A-Z of Novel Writing at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. I turned one of the exercises set into a flash fiction piece.

I am always happy to recommend a good read on Cafelit given the site has a wealth of stories and styles of storytelling on there – and not just because I’m on it sometimes but you will just have to take me at my word on that one.

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I set the scene in the opening line or two of my flash stories, though sometimes that scene is the lead character’s thoughts and attitude! In those cases, you are entering their world as they see it. You don’t have to agree with them though (and I often don’t!).

Writing flash really does force you to focus on only those points without which the story makes no sense. It is the best way I know of learning how to write tight.

Scenes don’t have to be convoluted, far from it. You want the reader to get into your world as quickly as possible (especially since it’s not going to be a long ride!). Your job, as writer, is to open the door for the reader to be able to get in and out of the story at the appropriate points.

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The flash fiction stories that mean the most to me are ones which make the most impact on me. Sometimes that will be to make me laugh out loud, other times to recoil in horror, and occasionally make me feel I’m really glad NOT to be the character in the tale I’ve just read!

A good test for a story you have written is to see, after a period away from it, what impact it has on you. Did it make you laugh as you were meant to when you first read it? Is it still making you laugh when you re-read it a week or so later?

I’m looking then for the emotional impact of the story. A story is a moment in time for a character. A flash fiction piece is a fraction of a period of time, so the writer has to make that impact quickly and through the lead character.

For me, a good way in for this is to show the lead character’s attitude. Attitude is indeed everything and is quick, effective way to show what your people are like. Their attitude can also convey how other people are likely to react to them too and then hopefully that will make readers want to read on to see if they are right on that. Usually they will be but that’s fine. It means the writer has delivered.

Bad tempered character annoys everyone else in the story? Yes. Ticks all the boxes. The fun bit here is HOW did they annoy everyone and did they get their comeuppance? Bad tempered character is out done by someone more bad tempered still? Yes. There’s a story there too with the prospect of someone being taught an overdue lesson.

An interesting flash fiction challenge could be to start every sentence with the same word – and nominate a word for this. “The”, “A”, “An” etc will not be allowed. So let’s see what I can start with – I’ll have a go with “Habitat”.

Incidentally I usually prepare these posts as I type them! Very much on the fly writing (though I love the challenge of that). I only schedule posts in advance for holidays etc. Basically, I haven’t prepared this in advance, honest ‘guv’!

HABITAT
Habitat varies from creature to creature, and must include man.
Habitat isn’t put at risk by most, spot the difference if you can!
Habitat is what we all need to survive
Habitat is where our characters thrive.
Habitat is where I will place my heroes.
Habitat is where I will put my no-goes.
Habitat is the world of my story.
Habitat can be blissful or gory.

Allison Symes – 17th September 2018

I think the format of the flash fiction here will depend on the word you choose to use as your opener. Some words will lend themselves more obviously to a “straight story” rather than a flash poem so to speak but there is fun to be had exploring ideas here!

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 yesterday.

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.

 

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Goodreads Author Programme – BlogOpening 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!

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Co-Operative Marketing and What Defines a Good Book

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My CFT post shares an update from Richard Hardie with regard to his Authors Reach group. More writers than ever are banding up together to hold events they would not go to alone or to assist in marketing.

A great example of this is last year’s Book Fair where a number of local writers got together to sell our books in the area. (We succeeded too!). A good group will cross-pollinate each others’ works. Sometimes it can be easier to promote others’s works than your own. But in this day of print on demand, smartphone, and other technologies, offering to assist can be crucial. It is appreciated by readers too. Having an event with a wider range of authors taking part gives readers more choice (and makes it more likely they’ll turn up to the event!).

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I’m glad to share the first part of a series for Chandler’s Ford Today on which I am series editor. Graham MacLean on Art will run for the next three weeks. Tonight’s article features Graham discussing the purpose of art.

Next week Graham will talk about the different media used in painting and share some of his fantastic artworks using the different forms. He’ll finish the series with a look at his favourite artists.

It was a real pleasure to help Graham put this series together. His paintings are wonderful. Hope you enjoy.  The images below are just three of Graham’s wonderful pictures.  Many thanks, Graham, for these.  There are more in all three articles.  The other two parts to this will appear on 14th and 21st June respectively.

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One great thing about writing is that each writer brings their own perspective to a story. So even if several writers had the same theme, word count etc, our stories would be different. (Yes, there would be bound to be some writers coming out with similar ideas as to how to treat the topic but even there, the way characters are portrayed, the use of language, style etc all show the individual author’s voice).

This is why reading work by other writers is such a pleasure as I love seeing how others treat a theme etc, especially when it is a world away from the way I’d treat it. I like the contrast. I like other writers surprising me with what they come up (and hope sometimes at least I can return the compliment with my writing!).

Got plenty of reading to catch up on when I’m on holiday before long. Very much looking forward to it!

(Am glad to say the books in the slideshow below are some of those I’ve read as a result of interviewing the authors! Am more than happy to recommend them all – and naturally I’m starting with mine!!).

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Good luck to all of the authors taking part in the Waterloo Arts Festival next week. A special hello goes to my fellow Bridge House and Cafelit authors, Paula Readman, Christopher Bowles, Gail Aldwin, and Dawn Knox, who, like me, have work included in the anthology that ties in with the Festival.

I’m only sorry I can’t be there but hope the readings go well and that the ebook sells really well! (Not that I’m biased or anything… much!).

The stories in this anthology are all flash ones so if you are looking to add to your flash fiction collection, do look out for the release of this ebook from 14th June. I will share more details towards the end of next week.

It is heartening to see flash fiction in such fine form!

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – What Defines a Good Book?

A good book, as far as I’m concerned, has to:-

1. Have characters I care about (though I don’t mind if some are “slow burn” characters so I grow to care about them. I am prepared to give them time but I feel cheated if by the end of the book, I haven’t been made to care about the characters.).

2. Have characters I can get behind and either “root” for their success or, usually if a villain, hope they get their comeuppance. (I do love finding out how they do!).

3. Give you a sense that the author has said all that has needed to be said but oh how you wish there was more of the story because you enjoyed it so much.

4. Give you a sense of a wonderfully created world, leaving the way for prequels or sequels, whether or not the writer actually does write these.

5. Have a gripping plot, obviously.

6. Have an easy to remember blurb. It makes it easier to recommend the book to others because it gives you the main point, which drew you to reading the book in the first place.

7. Have a title that intrigues or you can see a few different directions in which the title could take you. That opens up all sorts of possibilities for the story itself and makes me want to crack on and read it!

8. If within a really popular genre, such as crime or fantasy, being able to offer something different to the “mix” so the book stands out.

9. You could see a decent film being made out of the plot as long as the movie people stick to the plot of the book, given it is so good.

10. You want to re-read it at least once a year. Always a good sign that.

Fairytales With Bite – Time to Wonder, Time to Reflect

Do your characters ever wonder or take some time out to reflect? Wonder can be at the physical beauty of the world they’re on, of course, (or if in a really bad place at just how ugly it is!), or they are aware of just how small they are in comparison to their surroundings.

Characters, like us, need periods of reflection, especially if they are on any kind of quest. So how do they find the time to reflect or is it forced upon them? (They’ve got to hide out for a while, so have got plenty of time to do some thinking etc).

What do your characters make of the world you’ve put them in? Are they observant? Do they treat their natural world with contempt or are they conservationists? Do they ever reflect on their own behaviour and attitudes?

Are your characters thoughtful or thoughtless ones? If you have characters where one is a reflective type and the other would far rather watch paint dry, (a) you can see the potential for clashes here (though they could be humorous ones) and (b) how do you resolve matters if the two absolutely have to work together? (Again potential for comedy or tragedy here).

I’ll leave you to wonder how to write that! Good luck!

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This World and Others – Purposes

I’ve recently been the series editor for a series on art by Graham MacLean on Chandler’s Ford Today.  (The other two parts of this series will be going live on 14th and 21st June.  I’d highly recommend having a look – Graham is a superb artist).  Part 1 of this series talks about the purpose of art.  (We could have gone on at length about that rather than just write and edit one post about it!).  Part 2 will see Graham discussing the different media used in painting and he shares some fantastic examples of his own work in most of the forms discussed.  Part 3 will be his thoughts on his favourite artists.

So this led me to think about what purposes your characters (a) have, (b) consider worthy, (c) would not go a million miles near no matter how much you paid them, or (d) intend to carry out, no matter how or of who tries to get in their way.  How did they discover these purposes?  What is behind their attitude towards them?  Are societal/tribal pressures influencing them on how they should react/which purposes they should carry out or avoid?

A purpose will have a clearly stated aim so will automatically give your character something to either strive for or get away from, as the case may be.  It will be the conflicts caused by that striving or avoiding which give you your story.  The purpose has to be strong enough and definite.  So a purpose of, say, killing the dragon terrifying the village is fine.  A purpose of sitting down to think about what should be done about the dragon is not – far too wishy washy!

And talking of dragons, I’m glad to share a recently published flash fiction piece, Time for a Change, which has recently appeared on Cafelit.  Hope you enjoy.

And now I’m off for a few days break.  I will be back on here during the week beginning Monday 18th June.  Hope you all have wonderful holidays this summer.  I have, meantime, scheduled short Facebook posts on my author page and also on my From Light to Dark and Back Again page for the next few days.  I will be back here with a big round-up of those on my return.  Happy summer, everyone!

Writing Likes – and a Dragon Story

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Who do you like to write about most – the heroes or the villains?

I think there is some truth in the saying that villains are more fun to write (and indeed act out) but the challenge for writing for the “good guys” is to ensure they’re not worthy but boring.

This is where the device of the character flaw(s) for the heroes and where the villain(s) being shown to have understandable reasons for being the way they are comes in.

However, this can become cliched in itself so the challenge then is to create characters, bad or good, where the reader can “root for them”. They’ve got to grab the reader’s attention and hold it (even if it is a case of the reader really wanting the character to get their comeuppance).

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Facebook – General – and Cafelit

My latest flash fiction story, Time For A Change, is now up on Cafelit. If you like dragons, you’ll like this one.

Also pleased to say another flash fiction story, Progressing, will soon be part of the Waterloo Arts Festival Writing Competition anthology. This will be an ebook. I’ll share further details when I have them.


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My CFT post for this week features an update from Richard Hardie, author of YA novels, Leap of Faith and Trouble With Swords, regarding his Authors Reach group.

I’ve discussed the importance of networking in previous CFT posts. Groups like Authors Reach will become increasingly important given writers are banding together more to support one another in marketing, holding events no one author could do alone and so on.

The post also shows you shouldn’t underestimate the time and effort needed to get your work “out there” regardless of whether you are in a group or are on your own. Writing the book really is the beginning…

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I’ve talked before about having to have a title to work to when I’m writing a story. However, this doesn’t mean the title I initially come up with is set in stone.

Quite often a better title becomes apparent as I’m drafting the tale so I change things to suit. I don’t know quite what it is about having “something” to start with – perhaps it it is the literary equivalent of giving myself a head start!

All I know is it works!

 

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I love story titles which can take you in all sorts of directions. My latest story on Cafelit, Time For A Change, is a good example of that. A title like that can mean your setting is on Earth, in any time or place, or out there in the depths of the known and unknown universes. The only limit is your imagination.

I love this Pixabay image of a dragon. There’s something about those eyes… (mind if you did get so close to such a magnificent beast, I doubt if you’d have chance to study the eyes much!).

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Well, I hope you might look at dragons in a different light if you read my Time for a Change story on Cafelit yesterday! (Will share the link again shortly).

One thing I love writing is taking an often maligned character – say a dragon! – and show a story from their angle. I like to look in general terms as to why a character might act the way they are and, a lot of the time, you can end up feeling some sympathy towards a kind of character you might otherwise have felt nothing but antipathy towards!

I also believe knights in shining armour aren’t necessarily all they’re cracked up to be either! Some knights don’t need armour in which to shine either..

 

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – What Defines a Good Book for You?

A good book, as far as I’m concerned, has to:-

1. Have characters I care about (though I don’t mind if some are “slow burn” characters so I grow to care about them. I am prepared to give them time but I feel cheated if by the end of the book, I haven’t been made to care about the characters.).

2. Have characters I can get behind and either “root” for their success or, usually if a villain, hope they get their comeuppance. (I do love finding out how they do!).

3. Give you a sense that the author has said all that has needed to be said but oh how you wish there was more of the story because you enjoyed it so much.

4. Give you a sense of a wonderfully created world, leaving the way for prequels or sequels, whether or not the writer actually does write these.

5. Have a gripping plot, obviously.

6. Have an easy to remember blurb. It makes it easier to recommend the book to others because it gives you the main point, which drew you to reading the book in the first place.

7. Have a title that intrigues or you can see a few different directions in which the title could take you. That opens up all sorts of possibilities for the story itself and makes me want to crack on and read it!

8. If within a really popular genre, such as crime or fantasy, being able to offer something different to the “mix” so the book stands out.

9. You could see a decent film being made out of the plot as long as the movie people stick to the plot of the book, given it is so good.

10. You want to re-read it at least once a year. Always a good sign that.

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KNOWING WHAT I DO NOW…

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Are there things connected with writing that you are glad you know now? This is definitely the case for me and my list would be:-

1. When offered a contract, get it checked out by the Society of Authors. I did and it stopped me entering into something that would’ve been a vanity publishing contract. I’ve never regretted not going for that (though at the time I wasn’t published elsewhere nor was there anything in the pipeline). Talking of which:-

2. Don’t be afraid to turn things down. You have got to be happy with what you are doing writing wise. And, as with so much in life, if it seems too good to be true, it is. There’s no shame in walking away from such a thing.

3. You really do need to edit on paper and not on screen. You WILL miss typos, grammatical errors etc on screen. I’m sure there must be a logical reason to this, probably based on how the brain interprets things on screen as opposed to paper. All I know for sure is when I edit on paper, I pick up far more that needs correcting (and so save myself a great deal of embarrassment in NOT submitting something with errors because I’ve not seen the wretched things and dealt with them!). It IS worth taking the time here.

What would you list here?

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New story from me coming up on Cafelit on Tuesday (5th June), will share the link then. If you like dragons, it will be for you!

Am sorry to be missing the Winchester Writers’ Festival this year. Hope all who go have a wonderful time. Likewise all going to the Waterloo Arts Festival and to all of the winning authors who will be reading their stories out here, have a great time and good luck!

Am looking forward to the Hursley Park Book Fair later in June and Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in August. Much later in the year will be the annual Bridge House Publishing/Cafelit/Chapeltown Books get-together in London.

Immediate writing plans are to get more stories out to Cafelit and press on with my third flash fiction book (though I am happy with how that is going). I would like to write more non-fiction and a long term goal is to do something more with that.

Am also pleased to say a new mini-series will be coming up on Chandler’s Ford Today shortly which is about art by Graham MacLean. I was the series editor on it and it was lovely to work on. Some wonderful pictures by Graham illustrate the three part series. These will be appearing on 7th, 14th and 21st June.

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Does the mood of your characters match your mood as you’re writing their stories?

Definitely not in my case and this is just as well given a lot of my flash fiction has themes of murder, revenge, poetic justice and so on! When I’m not writing on those topics, I often write about magical beings you would not want to meet, yet alone cross, or I’m writing about poignant situations.

So is all human life then in From Light to Dark and Back Again? Quite a bit of it is, yes – and a fair amount of non-human life too!

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One of the most difficult things about writing flash is ensuring that it is a “proper” story and not just a piece of prose cut abruptly short. The need for a beginning, middle and end applies to whatever length of fiction you’re writing, though I suppose it is more obvious for things like novels and short stories.

This is where twist endings help a lot as you can’t go beyond that without spoiling the effect. I’ve occasionally written a flash piece as a letter (Punish the Innocent is a good example of this) and the great thing with that as a device it it has GOT to end with the sign-off (or possibly a PS at most!).

I think of the middle of the story as the “pivot point”. It is where the problem in the tale has been set out, it has got to be resolved, and your reader can see that being done in at least two different ways. (You’ve got to keep them guessing!).

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Holiday Reading

I’ve recently picked up three lovely paperbacks which will be part of my holiday reading. Many thanks to generous friends and family for the book shop gift cards. I’ve finally had a chance to go and use them on:-

1. Double Cross by Ben McIntyre
2. London by Peter Ackroyd
3. View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

I love history of all sorts (and am intrigued by the idea of having a biography of a city!). The Neil Gaiman book is a collection of his non-fiction pieces and I’m really looking forward to reading that.

As ever, my trusty Kindle will also be with me on my holidays this year. I love both ebooks and paperbacks and switching between the two formats is another joy to reading as far as I’m concerned.

Now all I need to do is catch up on my reviewing!

 

 

 

 

HOW TO HELP THE WRITER IN YOUR LIFE – AND A NEW FLASH STORY

Facebook – General – and Cafelit (Getting Lost)

Glad to say my latest flash fiction piece, Getting Lost, is now up on Cafelit. Hope you enjoy.  If you’ve ever had a sat nav give you “strange” directions, this is a story for you!

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If you want to help the writer in your life, please do review their books on Amazon, Goodreads etc. The lovely thing with this is that the review doesn’t have to be a long one – the crucial thing is it has to be honest! The numbers of reviews build up over time and really do help an author’s profile.

One great thing a writer can do is review other books and across a wide range of writing tastes. I must admit I tend to have a “glut” of reviewing and then write none for a while. Not deliberate on my part. I just need to be a bit better organised on that front! The reason why this is so useful is by bringing a book into the publishing world you are joining the industry and it makes so much sense to support that industry by buying other books and reviewing them!

Present buying for writers? Well, you can never go wrong with nice notebooks and pens or book tokens/gift cards. Getting that one in a tad early for Christmas I know, but hey writers have birthdays too!

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There will be a new flash fiction piece from me up on Cafelit tomorrow (sometime during the early evening onwards) called Getting Lost. Must try and enter more flash fiction competitions this year too.

I tend to draft promising first lines and then draft stories to fit them (often when on train journeys). It definitely beats doing the crossword by a very long margin! Often that promising first line sparks ideas for the title of the piece too.

How do I decide whether a story will be a drabble at 100 words or a longer one? Basically when I know I cannot edit the piece any more without it losing something that contributes to the characters or the overall story. I then leave the piece be and whatever the word count is remains the word count! Often this will be at 100 words or under but sometimes a piece really does work better as a 250-300 worder. This is where reading a piece out loud can show you how well the whole thing “flows” and if it “flows” well, that is when it is time to drop the editing pen.

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One of the great joys of reading flash fiction is picking up on the clues the writer gives you. I normally have to read a story twice to pick up everything (I was like this when watching things like Columbo too – this DOES say something about me!).

You can learn a lot about story construction when reading a piece through more than once. This, of course, is one great joy about writing flash fiction. You pick up things like story construction to help inspire and improve your own work and are looking for things a reader simply wouldn’t.

One difficulty with flash can be working out where to end it. It must not seem like a big bit of prose cut abruptly short. This is where I love the twist ending as it overcomes that. The twist clearly is the ending with no room for anything else afterwards. Problem solved!

 

 

Reviews and Characterisation

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My post for Chandler’s Ford Today this week is a review of three different plays staged in one production by The Chameleon Theatre Group. There was Oh What a Lovers’ War (set against the background of August 1914), The Dreaming (a surreal play), and Pina Coladas (a mystery). All were very good and I loved the mixture of plays. More details and pics in the post. Well done to the Chameleons for a great evening.

Image Credit:  Many thanks to the Chameleons, especially Lionel Elliott, for kind permission to use the images, which were taken by them.

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There will be a new flash fiction piece from me up on Cafelit tomorrow (sometime during the early evening onwards) called Getting Lost. Must try and enter more flash fiction competitions this year too.

I tend to draft promising first lines and then draft stories to fit them (often when on train journeys). It definitely beats doing the crossword by a very long margin! Often that promising first line sparks ideas for the title of the piece too.

How do I decide whether a story will be a drabble at 100 words or a longer one? Basically when I know I cannot edit the piece any more without it losing something that contributes to the characters or the overall story. I then leave the piece be and whatever the word count is remains the word count! Often this will be at 100 words or under but sometimes a piece really does work better as a 250-300 worder. This is where reading a piece out loud can show you how well the whole thing “flows” and if it “flows” well, that is when it is time to drop the editing pen.

 

Fairytales with Bite – Describing Your Characters

If you were asked to talk about your characters, how would you describe them (and without sending whoever questioned you to sleep!)?

I like to start with traits – for example, Eileen is brave, resourceful, and rebellious.  Those three words alone give you a good starting point for portraying Eileen.  Getting your characterisation right is everything in getting the story right (and therefore give it much more chance of being accepted somewhere).  A good plot needs great characters to make it work.

It is useful to outline a character whether you put all you detail into a story or not.  (The likelihood is you wouldn’t.  I know I need to know this and that about a character, your readers might only to know “this”).  However, outlining a character gives you all the information you need to work out what kind of story they would be in, how they would handle a situation (or mishandle it), and what their “happy ever after” ending is likely to be.  It is then up to you if they achieve it!  (Great stories can be found in a character attempting to get to this point but never quite making it so they have to adjust their “happy ever after” for something more sustainable over the long term.  I guess this is where the “happy for now” endings, especially in romance novels, comes from).

I’ve found it does pay to take time outlining.  I find when ready to write the story itself, I write it quicker because I’ve already got the “building blocks” in place ready to go with my tale.

 

This World and Others – Ten Things a Great Character Must Have

1.  A sense of purpose – whether they’re the hero or villain.
2.  Determination (without it, there’s no chance of fulfilling their purpose).
3.  A worthy opponent.  (Sherlock Holmes is wonderful but Moriarty challenged him and Holmes needed that challenge.  Your leads need those who will get in their way, try to thwart their plans etc.  That’s where the story comes alive).
4.  A cause worth supporting (even if they are the only ones supporting it!  Not quite the same as 1 above as a character can have a sense of purpose even without a cause.  The great sidekicks in literature are often like this.  Sam Gamgee in Lord of the Rings saw his cause as being supporting Frodo.  It was Frodo who really had the sense of purpose and Sam didn’t always understand Frodo’s “intensity”,  Frodo had both the sense of purpose in that he had a job to do no matter what, which was at one and the same time also a cause worth supporting).
5.  Courage.  This comes into it somewhere in the story.  It has to.  The kind of courage can vary from the obvious courage in battle to the quieter kind where someone will keep going to support someone no matter what the hellish circumstances.
6.  The ability to ask for help.  Not every character has this.  Recognising you need help and the best people to give it shows humility and pragmatism (as the character comes to terms with knowing they need help if they are going to fulfil their objective at all).
7.  A mentor/adviserThis ties in with 6.  A great character is going to need guidance to help them meet their goal and knows who to get that guidance from.
8.  The ability to get on with most characters.  This ties in with 6 and 7.  Nobody is going to want to guide or assist a character who is arrogant or overbearing.
9.  Planning. The character must work out how they’re going to meet their commitments and then just get on with it.
10 .  A cool head.  Given the undoubtedly hellish situations, you are going to put your character through, they will still need a cool head to face down those challenges and press on towards their goal.

HOW STORIES SOUND, DESCRIPTIONS AND CLARITY

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I’ve read my stories aloud at times to literally hear how they sound (and have sometimes recorded them so I can play them back too. This is particularly useful if you need to time a story). If you trip over your dialogue, your readers will too so definitely time to get the editing pen out again.

It is an oddity that what looks okay written down suddenly isn’t okay when you read it out loud. You can hear where the text sounds awkward. My More than Writers post, due up on the Association of Christian Writers blog tomorrow, talks about clarity. (Link to come tomorrow). One thing I discovered a while ago is that simple, clear writing is a joy to read and it can take several rewrites for an author to get it to that stage. It is worth the effort though.

I’ve forgotten who said that the professional writer is the amateur who didn’t quit, but there is a lot of truth in that.

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I don’t necessarily choose the mood of the story (or the main character) before I start writing. Often the theme can mean the mood of the story can go in a couple of different directions and my job then is to pick the outline that seems to have the most promising characters that I can do something with!

I like it when one character clearly stands out. You find yourself rooting for that character to succeed (usually). It is their story so it’s my job to let “them” tell their story their way. That disguises a lot of editing and ensuring that all the information you’ve given the reader marries up, is only what they absolutely need to know etc.

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Am glad to share the link to my monthly spot on the Association of Christian Writers’ More Than Writers blog. I talk about clarity this time.

I discovered the Plain English campaign have a gobbledygook generator. Yes, really! Had lots of fun clicking the box and seeing what garbage emerged… all based on real examples too. It’s a great example of how NOT to write!

CLARITY POST - Clarity - image via Pixabay

Should clarity, rather than cleanliness, be next to godliness?  I think so!  Image via Pixabay.

CLARITY POST - Clarity of thought should lead to clarity of expression - image via Pixabay - Copy

Clarity of thought should lead to clarity of expression.  Image via Pixabay

Feature Image - Part 5 101Things to Put into Room 101

A recent CFT post of mine but the questions can help you ensure your writing is beautifully clear.  Image via Pixabay.

The basic kit for a writer - image via Pixabay

The writer’s basic toolkit – image via Pixabay

Some of the tools of the scrivener's trade here - image via Pixabay

The tools of the scrivener’s trade. We’ve come on a bit since then! Image via Pixabay

Electronically or by print, both face publishing frustrations - image via Pixabay

Ebooks and print – both have their own frustrations when it comes to publishing. Image via Pixabay

Books can be one major key to knowledge - image via Pixabay

Books are the keys to knowledge. Image via Pixabay

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News just in, as they say! Two of my stories will be on Cafelit – one on 5th May and the other on 5th June. Will share links on the days. Very pleased. Don’t think I’ll ever tire of hearing something I’ve written has been accepted!

Having acceptances is obviously one of the highlights of writing, but what about the downside? Yes, the rejections would come into that category but, for me, I’m more despondent when the writing simply isn’t going as well as I’d like. Rejections I see as par for the course and I try to learn from them and see where it is where I may have gone wrong. If it is just down to editorial taste, then I can submit the story elsewhere. So generally I can get something positive out of this.

But when you are keen to write and it seems like a struggle (and it happens to us all), that is more of a challenge to deal with. I tend to have a break away from whatever it was I was working on to write something else or brainstorm ideas for future projects. I’m not sure why it is but whenever I write something else, ideas come to me for the original thing I was struggling with. Distraction therapy perhaps? All I know is that it works.

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I’ve been enjoying the different flash fiction collections put out by Chapeltown Books and this has proved to be a great way of ensuring I read plenty of contemporary fiction. (Reading enough classic fiction is never an issue!).

A good reading “diet” should include contemporary and classic works and non-fiction. I see all of this as feeding the mind as you never know when reading something triggers ideas for your own stories. The more you read, the more you cast your “net”, and the more likely it is you will have those “sparks”.

So happy writing – and happy reading!

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My flash fiction collection from Chapeltown Books!

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Mandy’s flash fiction collection from Chapeltown Books. Image kindly supplied by her.

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Gail’s flash fiction collection from Chapeltown Books. Image supplied by Gail Aldwin. Also note the Chapeltown Books branding of a frame around an image. Simple but effective

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Gill James reading from her January Stones collection. Image by Allison Symes

Paula Readman, Dawn Kentish Knox and Allison Symes and books - with kind permission from Paula Readman

Paula Readman, Dawn Kentish Knox and I celebrate where our stories have appeared! Many thanks to Paula Readman for the picture.!

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Some of the books I’ve appeared in and FLTDBA of course. Image by Allison Symes

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Given flash fiction makes its readers fill in the gaps due to the word count restrictions, it is also a great way to conjure up other worlds which reflect on our own.

A reference here, a name of a character there etc will carry weight based on what we know of that reference and name. The world might be strange but the reference or name are not and it makes filling in the gaps easier. What is really nice is when you know that reference or name will make the reader smile because you know what they will associate it with.

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Descriptions can be tricky. Too much information and you switch the reader off. Too little and you can’t conjure up enough of an image for your reader to “hook into” so they can get right into your story’s world.

Flash fiction, of course, by its nature means you have to be sparing with the details so the trick is to find the most powerful image in the shortest number of words. (Well, it IS meant to be a challenge!).

I ask myself what are the images I want my reader to definitely pick up from my story. This is where outlining your thoughts before writing the story is so helpful. It makes it easier to select the telling details that absolutely have to be in the tale.

You can also mark those others that would be useful to have in if you have sufficient word count spare but would not spoil the story if they weren’t included. It has been my experience there usually isn’t the word count spare (unless I am writing right at the upper range for flash). Focusing on what HAS to be in is, I find, the best place to start. Anything after that is a bonus but should still only be included if it does something useful such as giving depth to your tale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REAL WRITING = REAL CHARACTERS

A busy few days and I also have a new flash fiction story to share with you.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest Chandler’s Ford Today post sees me resuming my series on 101 Things to Put into Room 101. This week’s post sees me reach No. 45! Do you agree with my choices? Comments welcome in the CFT comments box.

Feature Image - Part 3 Room 101 Post

My latest CFT post. Image via Pixabay.

Decisions, decisions

Decisions, decisions and a not terribly helpful signpost. Image via Pixabay.

Still this kind of board might raise a smile

This notice may make you smile though. Image via Pixabay.

Could Room 101 be behind here - image via Pixabay

The vault of doom aka Room 101. Image via Pixabay

Facebook – General and More Than Writers Blog (Association of Christian Writers)

Busy, busy. I have a short post up on Chandler’s Ford Today regarding Richard Hardie’s author events at the Winchester Discovery Centre on 3rd April. If you like YA fantasy and are in the area, why not pop along? Entry is free (though there are books to buy!). See http://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/local-author-news-richard-…/

My usual Friday slot tomorrow sees me resuming my 101 Things to Put into Room 101 series. I incorporate everything from snow to shoes that pinch your feet (though if they pinch anything else, you’re doing something very odd with your shoes!).

My monthly post for the Association of Christian Writers is online tonight. My spot is the 29th of each month. This means I get every three Februaries off!

My post is Real Writing = Real Characters and talks about the importance of honest portrayal of characters. If they’re right so-and-sos, then you portray them as such. (How you do that is up to you but there must be no doubt in the readers’ minds that the character IS a right so-and-so!).

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What are your characters’ favourite memories and why? How do they influence their actions in your story? Can showing some of their memories help you create a richer, more fully rounded character? I think so.

Now with flash fiction, there isn’t the room for a lot here so you have to pick the most important memory and focus sharply on that. Or you tell the story where the character is looking back on something.

For example, in my flash tales, My Life and Changing My Mind, I have my take on Pride and Prejudice told from the viewpoints of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, each with their own story. To combine them in one tale would have made the stories lose impact (though it would still have been well within the flash fiction word count limit). Mind, it did make it easy working out where they had to be in From Light to Dark and Back Again – right next to each other!

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What is the purpose of flash fiction? To create a miniature world a reader can literally dive in and out of in moments yet still leave an impact on them. To say in a few words (and with greater impact) something that would lose its power if put into a longer story.

I suppose one thing that really has drawn me to the form is the fact I’ve always loved working things out from clues the author gives and you do that a lot with flash fiction. I don’t want the writer telling me everything!