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!

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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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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!

 

 

 

 

EVENTS, PUBLICATION NEWS AND ONLINE WRITING

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On my CFT post this week, I discuss online writing and ask whether it will finish print publication (eventually).

I also summarise what I think are the major changes in writing over the centuries (e.g. the methods used to write. The biro IS one of the world’s greatest inventions in terms of usefulness and the creativity it is used for!).

So is there a place for online writing and on A line writing (i.e. using the biro!)? See what you think and comments, as ever, are welcome in the CFT comments box.

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Glad to report the banners are now out at Hursley advertising the Hursley Park Book Fair taking place on 23rd and 24th June. They look great. I’m giving a talk on flash fiction on the 23rd. Parking is free, there are at least 40 authors taking part, and a wide range of genres are represented, so there is bound to be something to suit you! So do come if you can.

I’m talking about online writing and whether it will spell the end of traditional print publishing in my CFT post this week. Link to go up tomorrow.

Loved shopping for books in Winchester today. I really must do that kind of shopping much more often!

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I use titles in my flash fiction to indicate the mood of the story (They Don’t Understand is a poignant piece and the title I think reflects that). Sometimes I use titles as a play on words (Collector’s Piece tells you the story is going to be about an object. However, it is an odd one and only reading the story is going to tell you what it is, no spoilers here!).

I must admit I particularly enjoy those competitions or websites where the title is NOT included as part of the word count. It gives you a few more words to “play with” and the title can act literally as the opening scene. So it does pay to put a lot of thought into the title. It can do a lot of work for you – from setting the mood to setting an opening scene.

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I am delighted to say that my flash fiction story, Progressing, is one of those that will be in the Waterloo Arts Festival Anthology, along with the work of 15 other writers, including some good friends from Bridge House Publishing and Cafelit. Well done to all!

Am only sorry I can’t be at the event but I hope a great time is had by all. Incidentally while the Arts Festival has been ongoing for some time, it is the first year there has been a writing competition with it. I very much hope that proves to be ongoing too!

Fairytales With Bite – What Is So Special about your Favourite Characters?

This is a useful question to ask from a reader’s and writer’s viewpoint, as it will help you work out which books you want to read, and inspire you, I hope, in the stories you want to write!

So what makes you decide a character is your favourite?  What are the special qualities that attract you?  Can your own characters share at least some of these traits and what is it about your people that makes them unique as your creation?

I suppose some of the qualities I love to see in a character can be summarised as follows:-

1.  Stickability.  They don’t quit when the going gets tough. They may struggle, they may want to give up, it would be understandable if they did give up, but they don’t!
2.  Loyalty.  This can be to a cause or another quality but great characters are usually driven by something.  This can apply to villains too.  They may be loyal to a cause (so often it is their own!) but they will have really good reasons for this that you could identify with, maybe even sympathise with a little.
3.  Dependability.  They don’t betray.  They will do what they set out to do.  They are reliable. I can see the point of an unreliable narrator but have never been that fond of them.  I prefer characters who are what they appear to be, even if that isn’t nice!  (Be fair, you knew where you stood with Hannibal Lecter or Dracula or any of the “great” villains). I suppose it’s because there is honesty about the portrayal.  Also I worry a little in that as writers we are meant to come up with stories where readers willingly suspend disbelief and could an unreliable narrator break the trust we build up with those who read our work?  Hmm…

This World and Others – Technology in Created Worlds

In my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week, I talk about online writing and whether it would, eventually, kill of print publishing.  It made me wonder what impact technological change would have on the fictional worlds we creat as writers.

The one thing you can guarantee is nothing stands still forever so there would have to be developments of some sort, for good or ill. You can also guarantee changes would bring about different reactions in characters.  There are always some who welcome change and others who fear it (and may try to stop it by force).

So who are your inventors?  What changes have been welcome (possibly even cried out for!)?  What changes have been unwelcome?  What has been the impact of this on your characters and their setting?

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IDEAS, ROOM 101, AND SPECIAL CHARACTERS

Another mixed bag plus a link to my page on US based site, Scriggler, where a new story of mine is now up.

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My CFT post this week is the final installment of my 101 Things to Put into Room 101 series. Good fun to write and therapeutic too! Amongst tonight’s items are debt, fake sincerity and all calories in a 99 icecream. (You can guess where I put that in my list numerically speaking!).

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When is the best time to write? When you can! I write mainly in the evenings but if I can sneak in some writing during the day, I do so. What matters more, I think, here is being consistent with your writing. You know you will always sit down at roughly the same time and you will always write X number of words or accomplish this task or that one.

I keep a list of writing tasks I want to achieve and find it helpful as, whenever I tick off one, there is a sense of achievement. Given rejections happen to everyone, that sense of achievement is very welcome.

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Little things reveal a great deal about people. Anyone who always says “please” and “thank you” was brought up to be polite (and not take anything for granted usually too!). Likewise, those who hold doors open for others (regardless of gender), you can reasonably assume at least try to be considerate in other ways.

So little things should give away clues as to what your characters are really like deep down. I think of this as the kind of trait that a character can’t completely hide/suppress.

For example, a character is shown to be a “loudmouth”. Fine but every so often during the story, we also spot the said character lighting a candle as a prayer for someone else. That tells me well hang on, this character has another side to them. A deep, spiritual side they are either not comfortable showing more openly (they’re wary of showing off their piety perhaps) or they somehow feel the need to cover that aspect of themselves up by being “loud”.

So think about what little things will give away what your character is really like. These little things can also back up the main portrayal (and help make it more convincing).

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One thing that can be overlooked in flash fiction is, as with any story, the character still has to be at a point of change in their lives and the tale shows the results of that. The difference, of course, is that in flash, you have much less room to complete that “task”.

But a good flash fiction story will show you a character changing (for good or ill), or resolving a problem. It really is a question of cutting to the chase with flash fiction. There has to be a resolution to the conflict your character is facing, whether that is an internal or external one. Everything that is most important to the character and the resolution has to be in the story and not a word more.

This is why I think it is a good idea for most writers to have a go at writing flash fiction, even if you don’t use it as your main fiction form. Why? The skills you learn in writing to a tight word count will spill over into other things you write. As I’ve mentioned before, you soon find out what your wasted words are, you discover you don’t need many adjectives and adverbs, you do learn to say in one word what you might have taken three words to do etc.

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Flash fiction is great for giving insights into a character which wouldn’t be enough in themselves for a standard length short story (usually 1500 to 2000 words).

With a novel you get to see the whole “tapestry” of the story with all the different threads coming together. With a novella you would see about half of that. With a short story you would see say part of the left or right hand side. With a flash fiction piece, you are picking one spot on the whole “tapestry” to study – and, despite the limited word count, can still produce an “intense” story. Flash fiction can have layers – it just can’t have too many of them!

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Ideas, I think, are all over the place waiting to be picked up and used by writers who can recognize them for what they are and, more importantly, which ones are the “goers” and worth running with.

I don’t write character biographies (though I understand the point of them) but I do jot down ideas based on themes and then work out “What if?” scenarios. I think it important to recognize that ideas need development time.

Yes, a brilliant idea can occur and you write away but in my experience at least it has been ideas coming together to form a powerful whole that has inspired my stories. The advantage of this is that the ideas are layered and means I am building in depth to my stories. (Yes, you could and should have depth to flash fiction. There should be nuances the reader ponders on later).

But it is theme, motivation, and character types that interest me the most. Again looking at the news you can pick up thoughts as to what motivated someone to do this or that and then apply that motivation to your characters. For example, we all understand jealousy and how that can arise. So why would your characters be jealous and what would they do as a result?

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Scriggler – My page

I have put a new story on this called Night Fright but am including the link to the whole of my page here.  Am hoping to add more to this later in the year.

Fairytales with Bite – Five Signs of a Great Character

I do like a list (!) and it has been a little while since my last one on here so time for another!  I would list the following as my five signs of a great character (fairytale or otherwise).

1Being Memorable.  Sounds easy but can be easier said than done.  The advantage is a character can be memorable for good or villainous reasons but there has to be something about them that sticks in your readers’ minds long after they’ve finished reading about them.  Can you say something about your character that would instantly bring them to mind without you having to refer to the story?  (This can be a useful test!)

2.  Having a Life.  Your characters have a life of their own, which may not necessarily be directly relevant to the story you’re telling about them but which feed into it.  For example, a character may be known for usually being a stay at home and then they suddenly go on a quest and they wonder how those who know them will react to this.  The quest is the story but the fact the character has friends and neighbours who will gossip about what they’re up to brings that character to life.  The obvious examples here are Frodo and Bilbo Baggins from Tolkein.

3.  They would be capable of further adventures.  The great characters have traits and skills that would be easily transferrable to other stories about them.  Your readers should be able to picture your characters going off on other adventures.

4.  The characters are willing to be challenged or overcome initial reluctance to face challenges.  I love stories with characters like these, partly because I think about what I (or my characters) would do if facing the same fictional challenges.  This feeds into 3 above, of course.  It is my experience characters like this always do more than their author originally thought them capable of and that is a very good sign.

5.  Their enemies fear them with good cause.  The irony here is that this can apply to the enemies fearing the hero, but also the hero fearing the enemy.  A worthy hero deserves a decent villain to test them.  You can also see why the fear is justified.

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Creating great characters. Image via Pexels.

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Outlining your characters, perhaps. Image via Pexel

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All good aids to writing, though the chocolate is not a great diet aid. Image via Pexels

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Always good advice this. Image via Pexels

This World and Others – What is Special about your Characters?

I think this question is the first thing you must ask yourself before writing your story. What is so special about your characters readers have to keep on reading to find out what happens to them?

The basic answer, of course, is that it has to be a mixture of character traits and personality to make a fully rounded “person” to be the star of your story.  So think about where your characters get their traits from and why they have the personality that they do.  What would happen to this personality if they were put under stress (especially the ongoing for some time kind of stress)?  Would your character still be special or crack under the strain and, if the latter, how can they come back from that?  There are stories to be had there!

Also, what is special to your character?  What do they consider to be the most important things about themselves and why?  Who are their heroes and villains, and why?  What possessions do they have that they value the most (and these don’t have to be priceless antiques.  it could be, say, a battered old teddy bear they’ve had since very young etc)?

Happy writing!

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Fairytales and “Planned” Writing

Have had a lot of fun with slideshows on my Facebook author page this week!

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Loved the Royal Wedding. Loved the music and the sermon especially. A modern fairytale? Absolutely fine by me.

Ironically, I think one thing that can be overlooked about fairytales by some is the fact that they are based on a sound knowledge of human nature. The classic fairytales call a spade a spade when it comes to jealousy, cruelty etc. There is no pretence about the fate Snow White faced at the hands of the Wicked Queen, or that Cinderella really loved being treated the way she was by her stepmother and stepsisters.

Fairytales, I think, can be amongst some of the most honest fiction there is when it comes to holding a mirror up and reflecting what humanity can be like.

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Looking forward to taking part in the Hursley Park Book Fair next month. I’ll also be giving a talk on flash fiction as part of this. Will be posting more details a little nearer the time (here and via Chandler’s Ford Today).

Pleased I’ve sent off two flash fiction stories for the Bridport Prize. (Nothing ventured, nothing gained). Getting quite a few stories together now for a future third collection, which is great. I also hope to spend some time on non-fiction later this year too. Always good to have plenty to be getting on with writing wise!

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I like a mixture of planned writing to a topic and “free” writing. These posts are always in the latter category as, with the exception of flagging up my CFT posts, I never know quite what I’ll be writing until a few minutes before I get started. It keeps it fresh!

For CFT and other blogs, I do have to think well ahead for topics. How far ahead depends on how much research I need to do and things like the date the post will go out. For example, I know when the Fryern Funtasia will be each year so that tells me what my post for that week will be.

I like the mixture of planning and NOT planning – it keeps me on my toes! As for my flash fiction, I brainstorm opening lines every so often but deliberately don’t write the stories up until later. I want to give myself some thinking time here. I then set aside time (often on a train journey!) to get on and write those stories down. I know the theme, how I’m starting and likely possibilities of where that opening line can take me but that’s all. And away I go!

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My CFT post later this week will be the last in my series 101 Things to Put Into Room 101. I’ve had no trouble whatsoever coming up with 101 things… that DOES say a lot about me/human nature in general I think.

Will be talking about flash fiction at the Hursley Park Book Fair in June. Hursley Park is the home of IBM and is a well known landmark between Hursley and Winchester. Looking forward to this a lot. A number of local writers will be taking part – and the event is free and there is parking! More details a bit nearer the time. (Will be the biggest event I’ve taken part in to date).

Writing wise, do you find it easiest to have a good opening line to “peg” your story to or have a cracking ending that you work backwards from to get to the start point? I use both methods and like them both, though numerically I’ve written more from the starting point of a good opening line. I suppose it does feel more natural to write a story that way.

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Busy preparing a couple of flash fiction pieces for a competition. Been a while since I submitted competition entries (not deliberately, you know how it is. You become engrossed with other writing work etc). Want to do better on this front so am starting to make diary notes to remind me to do it.

Really pleased that my last competition entry, for the Waterloo Festival anthology, did well and will be included in that ebook when it comes out. Naturally I shall post about it nearer the time!

I’ve been making greater use of my writing diary since earlier this year for sending in work to Cafelit and that has worked well. Why is it that almost making an appointment with yourself to do something like this can and does make all the difference to whether you actually do it or not?

I suppose it is because seeing it in the diary makes me block out time to actually get the job done. I need to block out more time!

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What do you like most about flash fiction? I love being able to suggest a whole world in a few words and leave readers to fill in the gaps. I really enjoy having the boot on the other foot as well and filling in the gaps my fellow flash authors leave in their stories. I don’t want the writer doing all the work for me and so I try in my writing to make sure I’m not doing that.

Having the reader fill in the gaps keeps them hooked and reading your stories! The main thing to remember is to make sure they have the crucial points they will need to know to able to fill in those gaps.

Use what you know of our natural world and blend it with some imagination to create your own fictional one - image via Pixabay

Use what you know of our world and your imagination to create something really special. Image via Pixabay

Humans are immensely creative - image via Pixabay

Let those ideas flow! Image via Pixabay,

The fantastic world of books must include non-fiction too - image via Pixabay

The wonderful world of writing should include non-fiction, which benefits from creative techniques too. Image via Pixabay.

A wonderful palette of colours - image via Pixabay

A wonderful palette of colours. Image via Pixabay.

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Grow as a writer? Grow your reading! Image via Pixabay

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What impact do your stories have on your readers? Image via Pixabay

Themes pour out of good books - image via Pixabay

Let the writing flow and if music can help it along even better! Image via Pixabay

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There can be reality behind fairytales. Image via Pixabay (and image used as part of book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back Again)

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Flash fiction for impact. Image via Pixabay

 

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Need to send more material off for flash fiction competitions. Have just sent off two new stories for the Bridport Prize. Would love to have a shortlisting there. I know, who wouldn’t?!😀

Am pleased with the stage I’m at for a potential third flash fiction book. Going on all those train journeys has helped no end! Alas, I’m not due on a train again for a while…

I find when I’m writing the stories, I tend to write a “batch”, then have to switch back to non-fiction for while, before getting on with the next “batch”. Not sure why that is but I have found switching like this keeps me alert to the challenges of both forms of writing. The other advantage, of course, is there is zero chance of becoming bored!

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What is your favourite way of opening a flash fiction story? I am very fond of using the first person and taking you straight into the character’s head. In the space of a few words, you will know what that character is like and what dilemma they’re facing. I like efficiency (and you have to be spot on here when writing flash).

The other major way I use to start a story is to set the scene quickly. For example, from Pressing the Flesh, I start with “It was 3 am. The neighbours were sleeping”. (I would hope they were incidentally but this tells you that the character has somehow made sure of this point. That should immediately make you want to know why they would do that and what on earth they’re up to!).

 

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Do you set out to write a collection of stories based on a specific theme or wait and see what emerges from the stories you have written? FLTDBA was really a case of the latter, though I did surprise myself a bit at how many of my stories involved rough/poetic justice of some kind!

I don’t think there is a right or wrong way here incidentally. It’s just I can’t see myself writing to a specific mood of story. You do have to write with conviction, whether you are writing funny tales or deeply serious ones. I suppose the answer if you prefer to write to a theme is to set one which is fairly broad and can be interpreted in different ways/moods/settings to give yourself as much flexibility as possible. I do know you’d need that! Writing can be hard enough without putting too narrow a restriction on yourself.

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This post has been inspired by the Royal Wedding (which I loved). I suspect there will be a book about it before long! There was a lot of talk during the commentaries about modern fairytales, which is fine with me. I’m all for fairytales, ancient and modern. My first reading love was the classic fairytales.

Thinking about it further, maybe children are drawn to the classic fairytales because they know they are honestly written?

Your average fairytale does not pull any punches about exposing what is wrong. There is no pretence Snow White didn’t face an awful fate at the hands of the Wicked Queen. There is no “acceptance of her situation” by Cinderella! Change has to happen, injustices need to be righted, but in this world some magic is needed to make that happen.

Now if we could only make it happen in this one! Mind, if I could bring my fictional fairy godmothers and the like to life, they’d have a huge shopping list of things to put right, so it is probably just as well I can’t.

Back to the reading and writing of books then!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEWS, FAIRYTALE RELATIONSHIPS, AND STORY IDEAS

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My CFT post tonight is the penultimate one in my 101 Things to Put into Room 101 series. I have had no trouble whatsoever in coming up with 101 things! This probably says a lot about me but never mind…

As well as the horror of ripped jeans, I consign “easy to open packets” and the ability to lose scissors into the vault of doom. The latter of course is a real pain when wanting something to cut open the supposedly easy to open packets…

Part 6 - How many of the packets in a supermarket are that easy to open

How many easy to open packets are here, I wonder, and how many REALLY are easy to open? Image via Pixabay.

Part 6 - We'll be with you between 9 am and 6 pm with your parcel, argh

“We’ll be with you between 9 am and 6 pm”. Hmm… not exactly helpful is it? Image via Pixabay.

Part 6 - A ban on trumpet playing wasn't my first thought on bad manners but here things are different

A ban on trumpet playing? Image via Pixabay

Part 6 - End of the world predicted

I can predict there will be more end of the world predictions! Image via Pixabay

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What are the signs of a really good story for you? My top five would be:-

1. Not wanting the story to end.
2. Wondering how the characters would have carried on with their lives after the story ended.
3. Re-reading the story several times. (In flash especially a second or third reading will often reveal meanings and inferences you didn’t pick up the first time. You then really get to appreciate the depth of the story in such a tight word count).
4. Wishing you had written it!
5. The ending is so apt for the story, you can’t imagine it ending in any other way.

Comments welcome!

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Where do story ideas come from? Mine come from a wide range of sources including proverbs and other sayings, books or films that I’ve loved, to objects on my desk that have particular meaning for me.

I’ve learned, over time, to be “open” to ideas and not instantly dismiss them as being “too silly” or what have you. I will explore the idea to see if I can do anything with it and nine times out of ten I can.

I’ve only abandoned an idea once or twice in all my years of writing and I know now that was due to my not having outlined enough. By outlining (and spider diagrams can be useful here), you can work out whether an idea has “legs” or not or whether it needs something else to bring it to life.

 

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It’s funny how often in writing we remember the bad reviews but not the good ones etc. However, there is a flip side to this. I remember my first acceptance (hello, Bridge House Publishing, for my A Helping Hand in their Alternative Renditions anthology). That will always be a special writing moment.

I can’t recall my first rejection though. Nor do I wish to! I do wish I could recall my LAST rejection but that would mean stopping writing and I’m one of those people where the pen would have to be wrested away from me. And that is the way it should be!

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Does mood affect what you write? The jury is out on this one as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve written funny stories when feeling sad (it was therapeutic doing that). I’ve written dark stories when feeling cheerful. (Not entirely sure what to make of that one).

What matters most, I think, is you have to decide what is going to be the mood of your story and then write accordingly. Deciding on the mood will then lead you to think about why you’ve chosen that and what character or type of character would be best for your tale. Sometimes I think putting a story together is exactly like putting a jigsaw together. The pieces are interconnected but you need a starting point and using mood of story can be a useful way to “kick off”.

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What influences your writing? Books and stories you’ve admired by other authors? A cracking film that kept you on the edge of your seat for over two hours? A special symphony?

I expect that your influences come from all over the place. What is lovely is when a couple of them combine and you can create a new story from that combination. For example, your lead character loves gothic novels and classic railway engines. How could you use that in a story? (Could be fun finding out. Indeed, SHOULD be fun finding out!).

What is great here is that by reading/watching films/listening to music etc, you can ensure you never get stuck for an idea again. The “trick” is to read widely/watch films across many genres/listen to several types of music etc. Think of it as casting your net really widely!

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It is only when you are putting a collection together, you realise sometimes just (a) how much you have written and (b) that more work is going to be needed to get that volume right.

Where themes emerge, you will want to group them together (so you’ll need to get your contents page right for one thing and that will keep changing as you move things around).

The importance of VERY accurate proof reading will dawn on you in a way it may not have done before! (You want “your baby” to be perfect, yes?). Also, you will soon realise you cannot rush the proof reading stage to be sure of accuracy.

But enjoy the process. This is a very special part of the writing life – you are that bit nearer to publication.

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Busy preparing a couple of flash fiction pieces for a competition. Been a while since I submitted competition entries (not deliberately, you know how it is. You become engrossed with other writing work etc). Want to do better on this front so am starting to make diary notes to remind me to do it.

Really pleased that my last competition entry, for the Waterloo Festival anthology, did well and will be included in that ebook when it comes out. Naturally I shall post about it nearer the time!

I’ve been making greater use of my writing diary since earlier this year for sending in work to Cafelit and that has worked well. Why is it that almost making an appointment with yourself to do something like this can and does make all the difference to whether you actually do it or not?

I suppose it is because seeing it in the diary makes me block out time to actually get the job done. I need to block out more time!

Fairytales with Bite – Relationships in the Fairytale World

I write this post on the eve of the Royal Wedding in the UK between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.  So there will be a lot of talk about “fairytales” as in “fairytale weddings” tomorrow.  And yes, the happy ever after fairytale ending is a classic one.  But if you take a deeper look into fairytales as a whole, you will find that most relationships in a fairytale world are fraught ones!

1.  Cinderella.  Didn’t exactly have the happiest relationships with her stepmother and stepsisters.

2.  Snow White.  Having a stepmother actively trying to kill you puts Cinderella’s woes in the shade!

3.  Hansel and Gretel.  Could sympathise with Snow White.  Would feel, at best, disappointed their father ever agreed to the stepmother’s scheming at all, even if it was reluctantly.

4.  The Emperor in the Emperor’s New Clothes.  Couldn’t rely on his courtiers to be honest with him.  Quite sad really.  Makes me wonder if his vanity was an insecurity issue. How did he react, later, after his foolishness was soundly mocked?  He really needed someone to tell him he was being an idiot (and be honest enough to admit he needed that, as I think we all do).

So jealousy, hatred, and insecurity are huge themes here.  Hmm… fairytale relationships?  Perhaps not quite so happy ever after then!

This World and Others – Advice to My Much Younger Self

I wrote a Chandler’s Ford Today piece on this a while ago where I discussed what I’d tell my 20-year-old self.  I thoYouught I’d revisit the theme and list some things I would tell myself when I was starting out as a writer that I know now but didn’t then.

1.  Expect rejection but don’t be fazed by it.  Use it to improve what you do.

2.  Submit to honest competitions as often as you can.  It is all useful experience in submitting work for outside criticism and in meeting deadlines.  If you do well and win or are shortlisted, you can add that to your writing CV.  And always check out the background of the competition so you know you are submitting work to a reputable one.  It’s not you, there ARE charlatans out there.

3.  Be open to trying different forms of writing.  Had I done this when younger, I would’ve discovered the joys of flash fiction that much sooner!

4.  You can never have too much A4 printer paper or toner cartridges or pens.  Stock up.  Take advantage of special offers when possible.

5.  Submit work to honourable online sites as well as for print anthologies etc.  Your body of work will soon build up doing this and you cover both audiences – those who only read online, those who read “proper” books and most people go for both anyway.

6.  Don’t underestimate how long it will take you to be published.  It always does take far longer than you dream of!

7.  Before entering any contract, get it checked by the Society of Authors (UK) or other reputable equivalent body.  You can save yourself a lot of heartache and money doing this.

8.  Expect to be addicted to (a) notebooks, (b) nice pens, (c) going to good writing conferences, and (d) tea/coffee etc to keep you going as you write.  Save up accordingly!  Start now…

9.  Read as much as you can, contemporary and classic, fiction and non-fiction.  You may think you’re already doing this but writing has made me read much more than I ever did before, sometimes for review purposes, sometimes not.  You need to know what’s out there now.  It can help you find your own niche for one thing.  You can then play to your strengths here which will give you a greater chance of success when approaching publishers.

10.  Remember practically everybody struggles to find an agent, it isn’t just you.  Rejection is never personal either.  It can be easy to forget these things.  Keep going.  There is a lot of truth in the saying the professional writer is the amateur who didn’t give up.

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Being Creative

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I think most of us need to find some form of being creative – whether that’s using a pen to write or gardening tools to make the “perfect plot” (pun intentional, no apologies!).

I suppose it is because creativity gives us an outlet, especially if most of the time we are doing something far more humdrum. (I love that word humdrum, just sounds good, and conjures up the exact image of what it means).

Creativity is good for mental and physical health so why does it seem sometimes as if it is something that is “indulged in”? (I don’t have that problem, my family are very supportive of my writing, for which I am enormously grateful as I know not every writer can say that).

 

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Pleased with writing achievements on the train yesterday. A whole CFT post written for next week and a flash fiction story (though one at the higher word count end for me). Hope to have a good look and edit of the latter during the week and submit it somewhere.

Looking forward to taking part in the inaugural Hursley Park Book Fair in June. Over 40 authors are taking part and I will have more details nearer the time via a CFT post about it.

Reading, for me at the moment, is pretty much split 50/50 between paper and Kindle. That is a change for me as it used to be 80/20 paper to Kindle. (But you can’t beat the convenience of slipping your Kindle into a bag with loads of books to choose from over having to limit yourself to one or two paperbacks, depending on the size of one’s bag of course. Goodness knows how men manage here. Is that a paperback in your pocket or…. well you can fill in the rest!😁).

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I’ll be resuming my 101 Things to Put into Room 101 series for CFT this week. Up to No. 76 already! Drafted this on the train at the weekend. Had no problem thinking of things to shove (hard) into the vault of doom.

Am hoping to get a couple of flash fiction stories off for competition later this week. I am pleased (and frankly relieved) so many competitions now accept online submissions. I used to spend a small fortune in postage when I first started writing – and yes, the dinosaurs did still walk the earth then. I was one of them – easily spotted. I was part of that sad group forever in a Post Office queue! (I could almost guarantee I’d be out of stamps when I needed them for a competition. I guess the online equivalent would be finding out your server is down just as you’re trying to send your story in. Murphy’s Law does get everywhere).

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Glad to say I’ve had to order more copies of From Light to Dark and Back Again ready for book events coming up over the summer months. Will post more about those nearer to the time of each though I am glad that at one of them in particular, I should have the chance to catch up with friends, which is always a lovely bonus.

I did manage to write some flash fiction on my train journey today – one of my longer pieces. (I also wrote an entire CFT post too so a productive day!)

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I am definitely going to have to go on more train journeys as all of the ones I’ve taken so far this year have meant I’ve drafted LOADS of flash fiction stories, which I hope will end up in a third collection eventually. Just a pity my Swanwick trip in August is going to involve a replacement bus service due to major works happening at Derby Station over the summer. Will be interesting to see how I write while on a bus – assuming I can of course.

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The nature of flash fiction in that it gives only a glimpse into the world of its story makes it useful for when you want to imply your character is a time travelling alien or what have you but don’t need to set up a lot of details as to the world they’ve come from.

I’ve found the odd line showing the character’s reaction to the world they’ve left can be telling. It can be a case of what they don’t say that will imply to the reader the world they left was horrendous. Equally a comment, a throwaway line from the character will show their attitude and from that a lot can be deduced.

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Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Broadening the Mind

The old saying goes that travel broadens the mind and, of course, it can do. But so can reading widely across genres and non-fiction.

Also reading contemporary AND classic fiction is useful here as the former keeps you in touch with what is out there now, and the other keeps you in touch with where writing has come from.

Also I’d argue that writers such as Wodehouse, Austen, Dickens etc have all stood the test of time and will continue to do so. What is fun is to watch out for those contemporary (or near contemporary) authors who will go on to stand the test of time. (I’d have the late, great Terry Pratchett as a certainty here. Also J.K. Rowling for Harry Potter.).

Writing, especially when it involves any kind of research, also encourages mind broadening. (The great thing with this is most of us don’t want our waists to broaden, but you can broaden the mind as much as you like! No calories involved whatsoever…!).

So read and write away!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ALL THE FUN OF THE FAIR – AND NIGHTMARES!

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Went to our local Funtasia at one of our parks today. Very hot. You should’ve seen the queues for the icecream vans and the cold drink sellers! Good to catch up with friends at Bettermaths and Three Rivers Rail Community Partnership in particular. I’ll write more about this for CFT later this week (though I will put in now a quick nod to the lady selling old paperbacks for charity. Hope she did well. Mine wasn’t in there!).

What kind of fair/show would your fictional world have? Are they based on a religious festival or something decreed by the powers that be that should be celebrated? What would happen to those not taking part? Now I suspect there are quite a few stories to be had from answering those questions alone. Good luck!

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What would be your main character’s worst nightmare and what would happen if they had to face it? Now there’s a writing prompt for you (and I would guess it is the basis for most horror writing in particular).

Equally, success can corrupt so what would happen if your character’s ambitions came true and then they found what they had longed for wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be? Disappointment happens so how would they handle that? (Good question to ask yourself at times I think!).

Thinking about this kind of question will help make your characters seem more real to you, which is crucial. If you don’t believe in them, nobody else will!

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The perfect flash story is one which grips your readers, where nothing more could be said in that tale, but also where you have created such a character, it is easy to envisage further stories involving them.

I love it when characters come to life as you know your story has “legs” then. (A recent play performed by local group The Chameleons had the writer bringing their characters to life literally! Were the characters impressed by what their “boss” came out with? Not a bit of it!).

Another sign of a good story is when you re-read it after a suitable gap and you still enjoy it. Remember your first reader is you. If you can’t convince yourself with your story, you won’t convince anyone else, so if you enjoy the re-read, it is likely a reader would love the story too.

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One of the reasons for the need for escapism in any form of fiction is that real life can, of course, be pretty horrid at times. I can understand misery memoir can be therapeutic but I’m afraid it’s not for me. I have to have a story that entertains me (whether is by making me laugh, cry, or by making my blood run cold).

The great thing with flash, naturally, is you can do all of those things in a very short word count. Sometimes you have the “perfect” short story that would be ruined if you tried to pad it out to a more standard length for competitions etc. So never pad! It does show.

 

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Blog – What is the Best Thing about Stories?

What would you say was the best thing about stories? The happy ever after/for now ending? The twist? The engaging characters?

Any decent story, to my mind, has to have at least some of those elements but, for me, the best stories reveal something about human nature that, for whatever reason, has not occurred to me before.

A good story will show you something about yourself and challenge you to think about whether you would have done what Character X did or not. A good story also shows consequences from action and, sometimes, inaction. You should be asking yourself what would I have done had I been the character in this story?

Do you find yourself a bit less quick to condemn when doing this? Putting yourself in the shoes of characters, whether you write them or not, can be enlightening.

I also love it when justice is seen to be done where the story calls for it given we all know that so often doesn’t happen in life. This is one reason for the continuing huge popularity of fairytales.

And you can’t beat pure escapism as one of the great joys of story reading and writing. So whatever the best thing for stories is for you, enjoy it all!

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

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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!