Celebrations, Reading Work Out, and Framing Stories

A nice mixed bag tonight I think!

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My CFT post this week is the review of the recent Bridge House event, Celebrations, Crackers, Chapeltown, and Cafelit, though I’m quite pleased I managed to come up with an alliterative title! I also look at how reading work out is useful to writers, as is listening to others reading their work out. For one thing, you literally hear a story’s rhythm and can apply that to your own stories.

Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for kind permission to use some of the images in this piece. I’ve yet to find a way of reading work out and taking my own pictures of me doing this at the same time! (Oh and before you ask, I am really not keen on selfies!).

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My CFT post this week will be a look back at the Bridge House celebration event held on 1st December. I’ll also share some thoughts on the benefits of reading work out loud and on being read to, both of which are lovely!

One of the nicest things about this time of year is that it is very much a time for stories, which is a theme I will be looking at for CFT before too long. Naturally, I love the Christian Nativity story but I also love those wonderful tales associated with it. For example, how did the robin get his red breast? By burning himself on a fire he was fanning to keep a fire going to keep the Holy Family warm.

I also like to have a general review of the year (and also a specific writing review. How did things go? Did I achieve all the goals I set myself? What goals would I like to set for 2019 etc?). So that’s my CFT posts sorted until the year end! Just have to finish writing them now…

One of the great joys of stories (both writing and reading them) is their escapism value, especially if the news is particularly grim. That shouldn’t be underrated.

Whether you read or write humour, horror, sci-fi, or what have you, a story, of whatever length, should transport you into its world. You should be happy to stay there for the duration too! That, ultimately, I think is the biggest challenge to a writer. But it’s a great challenge to have a crack at!

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I like to choose themes which can be open ended. Love, for example, can obviously provide happy stories. It can also provide tragedies, something Shakespeare took good advantage of in Romeo and Juliet.

I’ve found that picking the theme I would like to use and then deciding on the mood of the story is so helpful in giving me a “frame” for my story. Then the title comes into play and again I try to choose one which is open, unless I specifically want to put a twist into the tale right at the beginning (my Punish the Innocent is a good example of that).

I find it useful to have my “frame” and then write. It helps me focus.

When drafting a story, what is the first thing you are keen to get right?

For me, it’s ensuring I know my character well enough to know how they would react/act regardless of what situation I drop them right in! (Dropping your characters right in it can be a great way of finding out just what they’re made of). I also like to know what would shake my character out of their sang-froid and what their general beliefs are. Naturally, there should then be something to challenge all of that!

I like to use things that inspire me as a source of story ideas. The great thing with this method is what inspires me and how I combine these to create a new tale will help my writer’s voice to come through. Nobody’s tastes and inspirations are exactly the same. The way these are combined will also differ from writer to writer. So list what your inspirations are. Think about how you can use these. At the very least, you should find some great themes emerging. Good luck!

Fairytales With Bite – Why Fairytales with Bite?

It occurs to me I should have written this post long ago but never mind!

I use the phrase “fairytales with bite” as a lot of my flash fiction work, in particular, is set in a fantasy world and I use a lot of irony. There really is a bite to a lot of what I write. I like quirky writing – my own and that of others! I also use twist endings a lot and there can be a great deal of bite behind those. I am, after all, looking to make an impact with my stories.

My catchphrase is also a reaction against those who think fairytales are twee. I know I’ve touched on this topic before, here and on other blogs I’m involved in, but fairytales can show up human nature for what it is and are anything but twee as a result. Think of all the tales where kindness is rewarded and/or greed is punished. What happens to the villains in lot of fairytales is anything but twee!

Of course, with the Big Bad Wolf, you could argue the fairytale with bite is literal here!

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This World and Others – Reading Work Out Loud

This theme ties in with some thoughts I share on this as part of my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week called Celebrations, Crackers, Chapeltown, and Cafelit.  The latter is a look back at my publisher’s annual celebration event but one part of this is where some of the writers, including me, read some of our stories out to our audience.  Good fun whether you’re taking part or not, but for a writer it’s incredibly useful and here are some reasons why.

1.  You quickly realise if you stumble over words, so will your readers, so out comes the editing pen again.  Always better though that this happens before you submit the story anywhere.  By reading the work out to yourself before submission, this acts as another editing layer and can save your blushes!

2.  You literally hear the rhythm of the story.  There should be a natural ebb and flow to it.

3.  Especially if you write in a genre where you’re inventing names/place names etc, you can literally hear if what you’ve come up with is pronounceable!!  So no more Xxxrbtrzog (try saying that sober yet alone if you have had alcohol!) but something like Xerstone is “do-able” and still conveys to a reader they are in a setting NOT of this world.

4.  As you listen to someone else’s work, take note of what makes a real impact on you.  Is it the power of the dialogue?  Is the sentence structure hitting home well?  I usually find short, simple, and to the point works best.

5.  As you listen, watch out for where you are anticipating what comes next.  What MAKES you wonder what comes next?  Can you apply those thoughts to your own writing?

6.  We all love a story, it’s why we’re writers, and the oral tradition of storytelling is fantastic.  Without it we would have no stories at all so it is a joy to take part in and kind of “support it” ourselves.

Love your reading!

 

 

 

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Crucial Characterisation and a Charity Cookbook

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My latest CFT post shares news of a very special cookbook written by Barbara Large MBE. Barbara was the founder of the Winchester Writers’ Festival (as it is now known) and her book is raising funds for the Nick Jonas Ward at the Royal County Hospital, Winchester.

Barbara shares her thoughts on the joys and challenges of writing this book, as does Anne Wan, who through imprint North Oak Press, published the book. There is also a delicious recipe to try!

 

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Shooting Star - Barbara and Anne 1

Barbara Large and Anne Wan at the launch of Anne’s book.  Image kindly supplied by Anne Wan

Anne Wan and Allison Symes at Bay Leaves Larder

Anne Wan and I enjoying a cup of tea as I interview her for Chandler’s Ford Today a while ago.  Image taken on Anne’s phone by the cafe staff!

When Writing Magazine comes in, I flick through and see if I know anyone who has written in to the letters page or the Members’ News section. I’m glad to say there usually is someone I know in either section in most editions!

Going to writing courses, conferences etc., is the best way I know of for networking with other writers and connections build up over time. Though a week at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School speeds that process up a LOT!

Talking of connections, how do your characters build up their relationships with other characters? What kind of networking exists in the world you’ve created? Often it is a case of showing Character A has this relationship (of whatever nature) with Character B but can you hint at how it all kicked off? Is there a solid basis to how your characters interact with each other? There should be…!

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My CFT post this week will share news of a charity cookbook called Scrumptious Recipes Shared with a Pampered Patient, written by Barbara Large, MBE, who founded the Winchester Writers’ Festival (formerly the Winchester Writing Conference). More details and the link on Friday.

I look forward to sharing thoughts on the recent Bridge House/Chapeltown/Cafelit celebrations the week after. As ever, can hardly believe how the year has raced by. Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for the pic of me reading some of my more recent stories from Cafelit and also from From Light to Dark and Back Again.

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Have fun mixing up the settings you use for your stories too. Some of mine are set in a magical or fantasy world but others are very much here on Earth.

My Time for Tea is set with the opening showing an old man arranging the tea things as he is expecting his adult children to visit. But this is no ordinary tea party.

And I guess that is the point of this post. The setting may be ordinary but it is what you do with it that will turn your story into something special.

A random word generator can be fun to play around with sometimes. Having a look at one tonight, and having set the first and last letters I wanted, my haul was “bloody”, “biography”, “biology”, and “beneficiary”. Hmm… definite possibilities there.

DANGEROUS WORDS
The biography of my long dead great-aunt whom I cared for, well it was well over a decade in the end, was a revelation, a bloody one at that. No wonder she didn’t want this coming out during her lifetime and I’m heartily wishing I hadn’t been sent this book. Someone wanted me to have it but who and why? And why send it now?

Frankly, I’m not sure what I want to do with this. The logical thing would be to burn the wretched book but how many copies were produced? How could I find out without revealing what I know? And whoever sent this to me is expecting some sort of reaction I guess. There’s nothing to stop them sending me other copies either is there? Have they gone to the police? Well let them… I’ve done nothing wrong except be a beneficiary to a sick old lady whose family abandoned her. Except I now know why they dumped her. Has one of them finally decided I ought to know? Or are they going to try to take my inheritance from me?

What did I find out? That my aunt knew quite a bit about biology as it turns out and where exactly to stick the knife. She wasn’t always crippled with arthritis! Said knife ended up right in the backs of anyone to whom she was a beneficiary. Collected quite a sum in the end – well over £500 K. People have been killed for less than that. What I can’t figure is how she got away with it. All I know is I’m keeping that money and I am getting out of here NOW.

Ends.

Allison Symes – 6th December 2018

See a random word generator as another way to conjure up ideas for you to play with. You don’t have to use all the words that come up – a lot will depend on how much of a challenge you feel up to tackling! But have fun with this and hopefully you’ll get some stories down as a result.

 

Ideas for flash fiction stories can come from many sources (and I’ve used advertising slogans, scenes from films, well known phrases, and sometimes puns – e.g. my Raising the Stakes. Yes it IS a vampire story but told from the viewpoint of…. well no spoilers here!).

Mix up your sources of ideas from time to time. Never use just one source. You want to have a nice wide “net” to scour for story ideas. Don’t forget pictures either. They can be a great starting point for a story. What could you do with the images below for instance?

Above all have fun with your writing. It does show through!

Fairytales With Bite – Editing Your Story

Some of the ways I edit a story are:-

1.  To put it aside for a while.  Sounds odd I know but you need to put some distance between you as the writer of the piece before you can become you, the editor of that piece.  You are too close to the work to be objective about it just after you’ve written it.  You’re either going to think it is the best or worst thing ever written (there seems to be no happy medium here!) so remind yourself, you will look at the piece when it will seem like new to you again.  Then and only then can you judge it properly.  Assuming you have done that:-

2.  Read work out loud.  This is great for literally hearing whether your dialogue works as well as you think it does.  If you stumble over words or phrases, so will your reader.  I’ve sometimes recorded a story (using Audacity) and played it back.  You get to listen to it as a listener would then.

3.  Do a basic edit first.  I start by getting rid of my known wasted words, repetitions, and go through for spelling and grammatical errors.  You will need to do this again at least once more once you’ve got a final draft but I have found it useful to use this to get me into “editor mode” and to get started on the whole business!

4.  Look at whether the structure makes sense.  Are there gaps the reader can’t follow?  Where you have hinted at something happening in the story, did you follow through on it later?

5.  Do all of your characters have a vital role in the story?  If not, can you get rid of some or amalgamate them into one person?

6.  Do all of the plot lines tie up and make sense?  Have you shown a point of change in the characters?  Have you ensured the story reaches a logical conclusion (which doesn’t need to be a happy one)?

Good luck!

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This World and Others – Crucial Characterisation

Characterisation is always crucial, of course, but pointers I have found really useful include:-

1.  Ensure there is something about your characters that your readers can identify with.  They don’t necessarily have to agree with your characters but should be able to see why your characters are acting as they are.  Part of the challenge of a story is to get your readers to wonder whether they would have done the same as your characters and, if not, why not and what would they have done!

2.  The goal should be an understandable one.  From the character’s viewpoint, naturally, it has to be a life or death matter.  It should be something they are prepared to risk all for.  It should be something they can’t refuse to do.

3.  Characters should be memorable.  Doesn’t matter if they’re heroes or villains, the crucial point is your characters should stay in the minds of your readers long after they’ve finished your story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stories!

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My latest CFT post is a review of one of my favourite stories, A Christmas Carol, as performed by the MDG Players at the Dovetail Centre recently. Well done to all!

And this is the only production where the audience got to join in! If you want to know how, read the post! Oh and yes I joined in too.

I forgot to mention I’ve had a couple of stories on Cafelit recently. Anne Boleyn fans will like my story, Consistency, published by Cafelit on 24th November.  It’s been a good week on Cafelit given my Moving On was published by them on 27th November.  Hope you enjoy them both.

My Doubting the Obvious was published by Paragraph Planet on 22nd November.  I need more weeks like this!  The link should take you to their archive for November, which is why I’ve listed the date in case you need to scroll through to find this.  Having said that, have a look good at the other stories here (and indeed on Cafelit too).  There is some wonderful writing here – all very entertaining tales!

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Facebook – General – and Association of Christian Writers’ More than Writers blog spot

I discuss writing goals in my monthly spot on the Association of Christian Writers’ More than Writers blog.

Do you set any? Have you achieved what you hoped to do? Did you take part in NaNo? I didn’t because I know I’d exceed the word count on some days, be under on others, and while it might balance out in the end, I just don’t need the guilt of “not achieving”! And I would feel guilty…

See what I DO do about setting goals in this post.

 

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My CFT post this week will be a review of A Christmas Carol as staged by the MDG Players.

A Christmas Carol is my favourite Dickens story and one of my favourite tales overall. It has everything – a villain (at least to begin with), ghosts who reveal why Scrooge has become the way he has and what it will mean for him if he doesn’t change, and redemption. The story is its own little world and just works so well.

Still love the Muppet version with Michael Caine. Is on my must watch list again this year. It is just really well done. Looking forward to sharing my post on Friday.

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Sometimes I write flash fiction with a historical flavour to it. Here’s one for Anne Boleyn fans. Consistency was published by Cafelit on 24th November. Hope you enjoy.  Link given above.

I’ve been talking about achieving goals as my monthly Association of Christian Writers’ blog has been about that. See below. I don’t set a particular number of flash fiction stories to write or submit in a year. What I DO try to do is seek to produce a regular number of stories and then submit them to outlets as often and consistently as I can.
 

Where is the point where a story really comes alive for you?

For me, it is when I realise I have GOT to find out what happens to the character, whether I love them or loathe them. I generally want to see villains get their comeuppance so read on to see if they do! Equally I want the “good guys” to win through so again read on.

So when creating my own characters, I am always trying to ask myself will this one grip a reader? Is the character strong enough? What is there to love and/or loathe about them?

Fairytales With Bite – When Is a Story Ready to be “out there?”

There is no hard and fast answer to the above question, of course, but what I have found to be true is that a story is ready for submitting when:-

1.  You really cannot edit another word of it without spoiling it in some way.

2.  The story haunts you – and you wrote it!  (Good chance readers will be haunted by it too).

3.  Having deadlines to submit (for reputable competitions say) can be really useful as it makes you work to a date and encourages you to let a story “go”.  It can be easy to keep editing and polishing.  At some point you need to pluck up courage and test the market with your stories.

4.  When you can genuinely envisage your piece as suiting Publication X, say, because you have read several of their editions, have a feel for their style and your story or article fits in beautifully.  If you are right go on and send it in but be sure to follow their submission guidelines.

5.  You come across other published stories which you have cause to feel are not as good as yours.  Only one way to find out if you’re right or not:  send your one in!

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This World and Others – Story Moods

What’s your favourite mood for a story or does it depend on what mood you are in at the time of reading?

I love humorous and poignant stories and am glad to say Cafelit have published one of mine in each of these categories in the last few days.  Consistency is a historical piece and Moving Onis a changing job story, both very different in mood.  I should add the mood varies for my Chandler’s Ford Today pieces too.  My post this week is a review of A Christmas Carol as staged by the MDG Players recently.  In articles like this, as well as the actual review, I like to give some background to either the material or the writer of the material which is being performed so I generally go for an informative. chatty style.  For my scam alert pieces, I obviously adopt a more serious tone.

The key, of course, is having the right “mood” for the right story or article.  Yes, you can have funny crime and I’ve read and listened to some wonderful stories in that genre, but generally, unless it is flagged up, you would expect crime stories to have a fairly sombre tone to them.  This is where the blurb on books is so important.  A reader will pick up on the mood of the book and decide if it suits them thanks to that so it is vital to get this right.

With my From Light to Dark and Back Again the title is the big clue that there is a variety of moods here (as is my strapline – “a story to suit every mood”).

Yes, I think you should play to your strengths when writing so if that is serious writing, go for it, but I would also say don’t be afraid to experiment and play with words.  If you find you can write in more than one mood or tone of story, so much the better.  It will open up more competitions and markets for you to try.  Good luck!

Goodreads Author Programme Blog – Impact of Writing

The impact of writing on the world in general cannot be underestimated.

As well as the Bible, Shakespeare, Dickens etc., all of which have contributed so much to our language and whose stories have been the inspiration for so many others, there are things like the Domesday Book and Magna Carta.

Historical documents which colour so much else in life and law. Nobody could have foreseen at the time of writing just how much impact these would have (though there would have been many hopes about the Magna Carta. Not least that King John was hoping to get rid of it again as soon as he possibly could! An early recognition of dangerous writing perhaps?).

What makes us love our favourite books and stories the way we do? It is also down to impact. The impact of them stays with us. We want to be like the heroic lead characters perhaps. We feel fear for the characters we love as they face dangers. We feel relief, joy etc when our favourites survive.

So do writers’ play with their readers’ emotions then? Yes but it is always best done subtly. The reader has to be willing to go along with the writer here. The writer has to deliver on the promise of his/her opening lines. We have got to be able to identify with those in the story to want to find out whether they make it through to the end or not.

So the impact of writing is everything then. As readers then we need to decide what impact we want to experience.

 

 

 

 

 

Light and Dark

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My latest CFT post is called The Light Fantastic and looks at light and dark in terms of fiction, mood, and vision (including photography). I look at how fantastic light is but why we also need darkness – and this is true for fiction writing too. Hope you enjoy.

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Had a lovely evening at the Dovetail Centre watching A Christmas Carol performed by the MDG Players. Review to follow on CFT on Friday week.

A Christmas Carol is one of my favourite stories and Dickens is one of the few authors to add something to the Christmas tradition. (The others include Christina Rossetti with In the Bleak Midwinter, Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander with Once in Royal David’s City etc, Charles Wesley with Hark the Herald Angels Sing etc and Clement Clark Moore with The Night before Christmas). Favourite version of Dickens’ classic for me is The Muppet one though!

Talking of stories, I am thrilled my Doubting the Obvious is on Paragraph Planet. 75 words including the title is a good challenge! Work to come in next few days on Cafelit too.

DOUBTING THE OBVIOUS Jemma knew monsters existed, the monsters knew they existed, so why did everyone else scoff at the idea and end up eaten by the things? They weren’t getting her that way. Jemma was prepared. She had her dart gun. She had a fire roaring in the forest clearing. Everyone knew monsters were attracted to the warmth. It meant food. An hour later one monster discovered that was true. Jemma was barbecuing him.

Allison Symes – Published on Paragraph Planet 22nd November 2018

 

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Really loved seeing the moon rising through the trees tonight, both at home, and on a late walk with better half and Lady. Lady has to have a clip on light to her collar, otherwise you really wouldn’t see her, so she goes around lighting up the world like a little Christmas tree. She’s not impressed by this – but I am! And it means I can see my dog!

I was impressed with the amount of light the moon was giving on the walk tonight. Absolutely beautiful. My theme for CFT this week funnily enough is light and dark in terms of mood, fiction, and vision (in every sense). It’s too easy to take too much for granted and the way the brain processes light is one of them.

As for light writing, I have a 75 word piece coming up online tomorrow. More details then but I will say my heroine isn’t afraid of the monsters in the dark! Mind you, most of my heroes/heroines aren’t but then that’s how I like my characters!

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Light and dark is the theme for my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week. Very appropriate given my book’s title! Do you enjoy writing and/or reading the lighter stories in a collection for do your prefer your tales on the dark side?

I love both of course. Much depends on my mood as to which I prefer at any one time. What I do know is the 100-word story is ideal for where I want to make an impact and also the simpler the theme the better. More likely to “deliver” on the promise of the theme set.

Contrasts are often used in fiction as they are a great way to generate conflict between characters or between a character and their situation. I’m reminded of magnets here – contrasts can either attract or repel!

Contrasts can also be internal within a character especially on things they would like to do and things they are actually able to achieve. (There can be some great comedy out of that scenario too! Think of all the comedy characters who’ve clearly thought more of themselves than they should have done and how they always fall flat on their face – in the famous Del Boy falling through the bar scene in Only Fools and Horses, that was quite literally too!).

There can be be the obvious contrast between light and dark between two characters or within one character. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde resonates as a story precisely because we can all identify with a character’s struggles to be “good”.

Looking forward to sharing latest flash fiction story to be published online tomorrow. I will say it is a 75-word one so that will give fellow flash fiction writers a big clue as to where it is appearing! More tomorrow.

I must admit one of my favourite writing sessions is when I have got “the bit between the teeth” and I draft lots ot flash fiction stories of differing word counts. I edit later and eventually submit them to different places. All good fun.

Another thing I love about flash is when I know I won’t have a lot of time for writing, there is always enough to draft a story or two here, even if they are just of the one line variety. Sometimes I expand those stories out when I DO have more time. Sometimes I leave them as they are (and I must try and submit some of these to the 25-word competitions, they’d be ideal for that).

Fairytales with Bite – Light and Dark

The Light Fantastic is my latest Chandler’s Ford Today post and looks at light and dark from the perspectives of vision (including photography), mood and fiction.  Light and dark are crucial to fiction.  If there is no dark in a story, there is no conflict, there is no drama, nothing happens for better or worse, and any potential tale here collapses.

Fairytales are full of the contrasts between light and dark in the way they portray their characters.  Fairytales are often grim and perhaps the antidote here has been what has become the “happy ever after” ending.  Light and dark have to be in the right proportions.  All darkness is just oppressive.  All light would be blinding.

Look at the light and dark qualities of your characters.  Are they in balance?  What weakness in your character really lets them down?  What virtue really makes them?  How did they develop these things?  Do they actively try to fight the weakness?

It isn’t always appropriate for a story to end happily of course but the finish must be appropriate.  I like to see stories end on a note of hope even if the finish is a sadder one.

This World and Others – Pointers for World Building

Some useful pointers for world building include:-

1.  Ensure there is some sense of how your world is run.  We may not need to know how it is done, we need to know it IS done, and your fictional world isn’t in a state of anarchy.

2.  Ensure your characters know what they need to know at a local level.  For example, if there are rules in the region of XYZ citizens can’t go out after a certain time at night, your characters need to know this.  Breaking such a rule could, of course, be a major part of your plot here.  If so, ensure your characters know the consequences of breaking the rules and what they are facing in doing so.  It all helps increase the tension!

3.  Your characters will, presumably, need to eat, sleep, find shelter etc so again there should be some sense of how your characters do this as they have their adventures.  Things don’t “just happen”!

4.  I like to see a general picture of how the different species interact with each other, including whether there could be any Romeo and Juliet situations where two “people” from rival backgrounds fall for each other.

5.  What is expected OF your characters by the world in which you’ve placed them?

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All About Time

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My latest CFT post looks at time management (and oh I would love to be better at that!) and at time travel. Naturally a certain Doctor makes an appearance in the post and I also look at if time travel were to become possible, where would you go and why? What would you do while there? Comments as ever welcome on the CFT page.

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I discuss the art of time management and time travel in this week’s CFT post. (I suppose thinking about it further, you could say one of the earliest forms of time management in the UK was when the railways standardised time for us all).

On the assumption time travel ever becomes possible (and I’m not counting the gags that say something like travelling on XXX railway makes you feel as if you’ve gone back to the 1860s!), where would go and why?

Thinking heads on. Link goes up tomorrow. Comments welcome in the CFT comments box when post goes live. (If you’re really keen it goes live at just after midnight but you may have to wait to get a reply from me! Unlike Cinderella, I know where I’m going to be at midnight and it won’t be at my keyboard… ah the joys of middle age!).

One good thing about the dark nights coming in earlier is it does encourage reading and writing!

I don’t need much of an excuse to curl up with a good book or get on with various writing projects as it is but the lighter evenings during the summer months can make me feel a bit guilty about not getting more gardening done etc. Note the “a bit”. Easy enough to squash so I can get on with reading and writing! I just wish I could stop feeling the slightly guilty feeling at all!

I often prefer lighter reading and writing during the darker months too. Contrast in mood perhaps? Whatever, it’s definitely time to get on with some writing once again!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I often use lightning flashes in my photos for posts like this, given I think they reflect accurately how a flash fiction story illuminates and impacts on the reader. Very briefly and then over, but you don’t forget the impact.

A short story (say 1500 words+) to me is like shining a torch around – more light for a greater period of time but the impact can be diluted.

Sometimes you want that – you want the story as a whole to impact on your reader and you can only know if it‘s done that by reading and re-reading the whole thing.

The novel is like having a great big light on constantly. When you switch it off (stop reading it), that’s when you think about the impact it has made on you. Or that is how it has always seemed to be to me. I didn’t really appreciate the greatness of The Lord of the Rings until I’d finished reading it. You then take a mental step back and realise the huge scale of the trilogy.

Flash fiction makes you focus on the little details but the great thing with that is you can take this and use it to sharpen your longer works of fiction. No dull bits ever, thank you! The sections that are necessary to link the action should still carry the reader with them. The reader should be as keen to read those sections as they are the main scenes. Flash makes you tighten up your writing and this is enormously useful for ensuring your longer stories flow as they should.

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Time is the theme of my CFT post this week (time management and time travel. If the latter ever becomes possible, you will have to be really good at the former to make said travelling work well for you!). I’ve used time as a theme for a few of my flash fiction pieces – Telling the Time (there’s a clue somewhere here!) and Time Waits for No Man (likewise!).

My main use of time though for flash fiction is deciding on when I’m setting the story. Am I going to tell it as it “happens” to the character or will I get the character to look back on an event? I use both regularly and usually it is clear which would work better. So much depends on the character A reflective type would be best suited to looking back at something that had happened (which I do in They Don’t Understand). An active “go get them” kind would probably be better off telling the story AS it happens, implying the passing of time as we go through the events with them.

What do I look for in an opening line for flash fiction? I don’t necessarily need to know who the lead character is funnily enough, but I DO need to know the setting, the attitude of the narrator (especially if this is a first person piece), and some indication of what the problem is. That problem and how it is overcome IS the story of course.

Something about the narrator/lead character has got to intrigue me enough to make me want to read on. A great piece of flash fiction will make you ponder whether YOU would have acted in the same way as the character you’ve just read about!

Fairytales with Bite – Favourite Times

What are your characters’ favourite times? Curling up with a good book? Lazing in the bath? Going for a good walk with the dog?

Use questions like this to help you establish your character. The answers may not appear in your story but knowing something about the character before you start writing about them will be enormously helpful. You don’t need to know each and every little detail. What you want is enough information that you can write clearly for them, knowing how they would react to a situation and why. The reader will pick up on the fact you really do know your character (even if they do this subconciously, in many ways it is better if they do pick up on this that way) and the writing will flow better as a result.

Of course, working out what your characters’ favourite times will tell you so much about them. Do they curl up with a good book because they can’t face what is their real life? Why can’t they face it? Dig deep. Maybe you will surprise yourself with what your characters show you about themselves. Use that.

This World and Others – Time

My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week talks about time management and time travel.  Guess which one I want to get better at!  Joking aside, this led me to think about how we use time in stories.

A lot of my flash fiction stories are set within a very short time period (appropriately) and are written in the first person, precisely because I want to achieve a sense of “immediacy”.  For other pieces I have the lead character looking back at their lives and being reflective so the time within stories like that is longer, “stretched” if you like, and the pace of the story is slower.  What grabs you with those kinds of tale is the character – something about them intrigues you enough to make you want to find out more.

Time in itself can make a useful theme for stories (too little of it, too much of it etc) but I’ve found it helpful to think about the kind of story I want to tell and then work out what the best time frame for that tale would be.  In my Pressing the Flesh the opening line is “It was 3 am”.  The impact of that is to make you wonder (a) why the time is important and (b) to assume the character concerned is unlikely to be up to any good at that time of night.  (Quite right too – see my From Light to Dark and Back Again for the whole story!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REMEMBERING – AND THE POINT OF FICTION

Facebook – General

I had a friend, now sadly gone, who couldn’t understand the point of fiction. He only read non-fiction and thought the world was too wonderful to want to make things up!

I had some sympathy for that view funnily enough, as I could see what he was getting at, but I did point out that fiction can show truths facts can’t always do. Fiction can show elements of human nature in a better way than just relating a list of what we are capable of.

I also think fiction should encourage empathy. We root for characters we like. Why? Because there is something in them we can identify with or aspire to in ourselves. So does it follow then the more we read, the more we encourage empathy in ourselves? I like to think so.

 

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Very moved by the Remembrance events over the weekend. So many stories we know about, so many still untold (not everyone wants to “open up” about what they went through). So much history recalled – personal, national and international. I was also pleased to see the animals who served in the war (especially horses and dogs) were also remembered at various times over the weekend.

One common theme running through Doctor Who is how one action, no matter how small, can change the history of the individual and, from that, the history of their country, the planet even. Very much a chain reaction.

So when are we planning our characters and stories, look for the pivotal moments that are going to turn everything upside down. What is behind those moments? What makes your characters act and react the way they do (given there is always an opposite reaction to be considered)? Is the motivation of your character strong enough to justify the stance they’re taking?

Glad to hear one of my favourite radio shows, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, is back on Radio 4. Some fantastic word play here. Got to see the live show a little while back. Good fun. If you get the chance to go, do so. Laugh a minute is not an exaggeration!

I’m very fond of a good pun. (Am also very fond of a dreadful one!). I like playing with the language like this. (This is also why the late great Frank Muir and Denis Norden are much missed. They were fabulous at this).

I occasionally get to give my characters a humorous one liner, which I enjoy doing, but I think it has more impact because I don’t do this all the time. Also the humour has to arise out of the situation I’ve put the characters in and mustn’t feel forced. A reader will spot that a mile off.

But having fun with the language is one of the great joys of writing.

My CFT post this week will look at the art of time management and takes in a quick look at time travel too. More on Friday.

How does time work in your stories? I don’t tend to think of it much as most of my flash fiction is very much in the “here and now”. I’m not sure though whether my using the first person encourages that or if the here and now encourages the use of the first person! Jury out here…

Even those pieces where a character is looking back at a period of life have a kind of bracketed time zone. It can only be for so long. I suppose you could argue I use time as a kind of a frame for my flash fiction and that does work well. As ever, though, be consistent with your use of time throughout the story.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

R = Recalling the debt we owe
E = Engaging with the past so we do not end up re-living it
M = Memories to be treasured and learnt from
E = Elegies and the war poetry of Sassoon and Owen amongst others
M = Men fallen and wounded, numbers too vast to comprehend
B = Bugles and the moving notes of The Last Post
R = Regiments, so many of them “old pals” networks. Reflect an almost forgotten era.
A = Armistice Achieved Eventually.
N = Never again they said. Sadly they were wrong. What can WE do then? Remember, recall, DON’T repeat.
C = Creatures such as the horses that also saw active service, amongst others.
E = Edith Cavell, Nurse, who rightly wanted to help the injured of both sides.

Allison Symes – 10th November 2018

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How do the seasons affect your characters? The reduced amount of sunlight throughout the autumn and winter months is known to affect many people in terms of moods, being more prone to depressive attacks (in terms of quantity and how long each episode lasts). Should our characters reflect this too? I think so.

As well as the general point of acknowledging depression openly, (pretending it doesn’t exist or happen helps nobody), I think it unrealistic to have characters in a “set” state of mind. Their moods are bound to fluctuate, whether it is due to the lack of sunlight, the earlier and longer nights, or the circumstances they’re facing or a combination of that.

When we portray our characters, we must show them honestly for them to have any resonance with our readers. While there isn’t the word count room in flash fiction to show a lot of change of moods (you’d need the longer short stories and novels for that), you CAN give an indication of a character’s usual mood and where/what has changed it.

For example, in my They Don’t Understand, I start with my lead character showing us he has blamed himself for something. As the story progresses, he recalls his life with his wife, and then the ending, the “punch in the gut” end as I like to think of it, shows why he blamed himself at the start. This was one of my longer flash fiction pieces and I needed all the words available here to convey this sense of mood well enough. But without those changes of mood, and the reasons for them, the story simply wouldn’t have impact.

Flash fiction isn’t a new idea, far from it. The name of it might be but the concept isn’t. Aesop’s Fables would count as flash fiction as would many of Jesus’s parables in the New Testament. (Many come in at under 100 words!). (The longer story of the Good Samaritan is a great example of the Rule of Three in action too!). Truly, there is nothing new under the sun!

Having said that, the challenge for flash fiction writers now, as with any story writer, is to come up with strong characters and engaging ideas which grip your reader so much they HAVE to read your story through. I call it the “do I have to read this and read it NOW?” test. If the answer to that is a resounding “yes”, you are definitely on to something!

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What are your favourite times for writing? I find late afternoon into the evening works best for me. With most of the day’s cares behind me, I can focus on writing something I love and relish every moment of it.

I’ve found the biggest thing about having a regular writing “slot” is it conditions you to accept this is the time you will write so you settle down and get on with it (never a bad thing that!).

I try to mix up what I write during the week as a whole. I focus on my CFT post first, then get on with the flash fiction and other, longer term, projects I’ve got in mind. Keeps the imagination busy!

 

 

Goodreads Author Blog – Remembering

I write this on the eve of Remembrance Sunday/Armistice Day 2018 when all thoughts turn to remembering those who sacrificed so much.

This is where the war poetry of Sassoon and Owen amongst others hits home. This is where historical writing – fiction AND non-fiction, can truly show what life would have been like in the trenches (and make us devoutly thankful we’ll never face anything like that).

The testimonies and local history records should be treasured. Reading others’ experiences and thoughts should encourage empathy in us (and I think is one of the truly great things about fiction generally).

There are so many stories – someone local to me has found out the stories of those on our War Memorial. Imagine that happening up and down the UK. Every single person recalled and their story told.

Fiction is wonderful and should reflect the human condition but the sheer brutal facts of non-fiction around things like the World Wars should never be forgotten. We owe a huge debt to those who wrote things down so we have those written records. We dare not forget (else be destined to re-live) and writers play a crucial role here.

 

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Memories and Motivations

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest CFT post, The Importance of Memories, is timely of course as we enter Remembrance Sunday/Armistice Day, but I also look at the topic from the angle of how and why memories are vital to us all as individuals and as countries. I look at the impact of dementia and how singing helps with memory. I also discuss how fiction writers can use memories.

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One tip I’ve found useful when planning out my stories is making sure my characters’ motivations ARE strong enough.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a “do or die” approach either (though the dramatic qualities of that are obvious), but if, for example, Character A wants to buy a special present for Character B, then you must show why Character B means the world to A. Motivations have got to be something any reader is going to be able to identify with (but not necessarily agree about!).