The Appeal of Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POSTER SHOWING ALLISON AS GUEST SPEAKER AT HWS OCTOBER 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Word Play

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Playing with Language

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

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

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

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

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytales A to Z Part 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This World and Others – Playing with Words

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

So how do I like to play with words then?

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Music and Characters

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Loved listening to a wonderful hour of Dr Who music on Classic FM tonight. Each piece brought back many happy memories of wonderful editions of the show. I suppose that is one reason why I love music – it can be so evocative – and for films/TV etc, it can really help set the tone for what is to come.

With stories, of course, there is no background music usually! We have to set the mood through what we reveal about our characters in what they say, think, and do. But the great thing about being the writer of the stories is you get to make the characters dance to YOUR tune! The really fun bit is making that tune varied – no monotones here, thank you.

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It was great fun earlier today taking part in #ValPenny‘s book launch for her second novel in the Edinburgh Crime Series, Hunter’s Revenge. Many thanks, Val!

The great thing about things like this is it makes you think about what you are reading and what you particularly enjoy.

The big thing for me with series novels is discovering how the characters change and develop from one book to another. Great fun. I also see it as getting more than one story for your money.

Not only is there the individual story of each book to follow, you get to see how your favourite (and least favourite) characters move on or not, as the case may be.

My overall favourite for character development is Terry Pratchett’s Sam Vimes. Compare him with how he appears in Guards, Guards to how he is in Raising Steam. Literally a character that comes a long way!

Good luck to Val and I hope everyone has a fabulous time with their reading and writing. It should be fun.

 

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How often do you review where you are with your writing? I tend to do this at the end of each year. What I’m looking for here is where I’ve been published during the last 12 months and whether I’ve achieved something I’ve not done before. I also set myself a couple of goals that I’d like to achieve in the next 12 months.

With regard to my CFT posts, I tend to look back at my topics every time I write a new article. This is partly because I’m looking for links to go with the current post. Often one writing related topic will kick off ideas for others. I love that when this happens.

In fiction, what I really love is getting ideas for other characters from the characters in the story I’m currently writing. Say Character A acts in a certain way due to pressure being put on them, I come up with a Character B who faces different pressures but reacts differently.

I love the creative buzz you get. It is always a good sign when you are buzzing with ideas to write up at some point.

Other than people giving plot endings away, what is the one thing you loathe most which is writing connected? (I take loathing the giving the plot endings away thing as read by the way!).

I suppose mine is when someone believes short stories (including flash fiction) must be easier to write than a novel. What is forgotten here is, no matter the length of story, all tales have to be edited and polished well ahead of submitting them anywhere.

Sure, a novel is going to take longer. Of course it is but it doesn’t mean short stories (including flash fiction) are any less worthwhile. Far from it. And, of course, many novelists write shorter pieces too!

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Managed to write some flash fiction on the way to and from an Association of Christian Writers Committee meeting today. I do love using train journeys for this! I find it liberating to be writing but away from my desk.

I drafted a nice mix too – one story was a very short piece, the other I think is going to come in at about 200 words, but both can be submitted somewhere later once I’ve had the chance to polish them.

Looking forward to giving a brief talk on flash fiction at the Hampshire Writers’ Society in October. Will post more details nearer the time.

I like story collections which offer a variety of moods of story. I see it as dipping into a “selection box” of story treats (and a lot less fattening than dipping into an actual selection box!). This is why I wanted From Light to Dark and Back Again to be like this and that mood selection inspired the title too.

As for flash fiction collections on single themes, I like those too. (Dawn Knox’s The Great War is a fabulous example of this). Don’t know if I’ll go that route myself but it’ll be posted here first if I do! It’s fantastic having so much choice with flash fiction.

I like being able to come up with different settings for my flash fiction stories. Though my rule here is one setting for one story and generally one character too. (Sometimes I’ll use two but if I’m keeping to the 100-word limit especially it is nearly always one character only and often I’m telling the story in the first person for a more immediate impact).

The great thing is the character or the setting can dictate the story genre being used. If I mention a character is a fairy godmother, well you’ve got the fantasy genre there in a nutshell. What images you have of what a fantasy world with fairy godmothers in it looks like will almost certainly differ from the images I conjure up here (pun intended!), but that’s good. We bring our differing experiences and thoughts when we read a story. How much more when we write them too!

I find it hard to say whether I prefer writing the lighter or darker stories in From Light to Dark and Back Again (and indeed the book I’m currently working on).

I love coming up with something humorous but with the darker pieces, I often feel there is more character development in those.

Certainly whenever I read darker flash fiction whether it is written by myself or others, I am always wondering what led to that character being like this and thinking about what their back story could have been. This is a good sign as it shows that character has really come to life in your imagination.

With humorous pieces, I am kind of working to the “punchline” though this must wrap the story up beautifully, make sense, and be funny.

Goodreads Author Blog – Read the Book First or Watch the Film?

When it comes to adaptations, do you read the original book first or watch the film and then decide to go and read the book?

I must admit I’ve done both. I read The Lord of the Rings before seeing the films. I read Oliver Twist after seeing Alec Guinness play Fagin on TV all those years ago. (Mesmerising performance in evil manipulation there!).

I must admit one thing I love about the Muppets’ version of A Christmas Carol is they plug reading the original book right at the end of the film. (And they’re right – you should read it!).

A good adaptation will bring a story to life and help draw people into reading the original book. A bad one will do the exact opposite!

So where DO you turn first – the book or the film? Why do you think you’ve chosen as you have?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TITLES AND PROMPTS

How easy do you find coming up with the right title for your story?

I can think of something suitable most of the time nigh on immediately but it is a question, when I am editing the story later, if the “something suitable” is good enough. Could it be replaced with something which will make more of an impact? Yes, it usually could be!

So I often change my initial idea but I find I have to have something to act as a peg to hang my story thoughts from before I write the tale.

I suppose the point here is be open to changing things. If at the end of the editing process, you’re not sure if the title is strong enough, then it almost certainly isn’t. Don’t be afraid to play around with different title ideas. (Often a better title idea will come to me as I edit).

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What kind of story prompts are your favourite? I’ve never used picture ones (though I must give that a go at some point).

My favourite is the opening line prompt. I spend some time working out who the lead character will be (if it is not apparent from said opening line). I also work out different directions a potential story could go in and then write up the one I like best.

I also think of the effect I want the story to have on a reader. Do I want to make them laugh, cry etc? Most of the time I go for the make them laugh route!

 

What do you like best about your favourite characters (whether you’ve created them or not)?

For me, they’ve got to have spirit and the integrity to do what is right (which is not necessarily what their society would consider right. Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice would have been expected to marry the odious Mr Collins).

A good sense of humour is also invaluable in making your characters appeal to readers. I’ve always loved Elizabeth Bennett’s wit and sense of irony and long thought of her being ahead of her time.

What is your favourite creative writing book? I’m very fond of On Writing by Stephen King but another favourite is How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. This also has the bonus of being funny!

I love books which can get their point across humorously, there is an art to it, and I find the message sinks in much better. I suppose this is why if given a choice between reading, say, a crime novel with humour in it or one without, I will always take the “with” option!

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DO WHAT YOU MUST

The monster sat down and cried
No matter how hard he tried
He wasn’t scary any more.
The awful brat showed him the door.
No chance of any street cred here.
He could hear the others jeer.
What to do now? Oh yes, he knew
It bent the rules, that was true
To hell with it; do what you can
He went to the adverts man.
It was a way to earn a crust
He would up and do what he must.
The irony was what he sold
In his world would be like gold.
Rare and only for the few.
Here, it went to anyone who
Had the ready money to pay.
He disliked it but had no say.

Allison Symes – 25th August 2018

And before you ask, yes, I loved Monsters Inc!

If a novel is a portrait of a world and its characters, then flash fiction is the equivalent of the old Polaroid instant snap!

I am revealing my age here by saying I can recall when the Polaroid was THE height of camera technology. For the first time your pictures came out immediately instead of having to take a roll of film to the chemists or where have you for developing. Yes, and for younger readers, it really was another world away in terms of technology compared with what we have now! Dinosaurs had only just stopped walking the earth etc etc 😁😉

But instant snaps really do capture moments in time and that is precisely what flash fiction should do. Hone in on what matters and nothing else. The joy of flash fiction is the focus.

The restrictions of flash fiction force you to think about what it is you really want to convey through your story. This is no bad thing in and of itself. I’ve found that kind of thinking through has then carried on into other writing that I do, which has definite advantages.

When it comes to editing, I’ve mentioned before that writing flash has helped me locate those wasted words I use by habit and which don’t add anything to the tale, so they’re the first things I cut. I am finding, however, that more often now as I am writing the first draft, I am instinctively NOT writing those words at all. I hope that continues!

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Flash Fiction Favourite Pointers:-

1. Never forget, no matter what the length of the story, it still needs a beginning, a middle, and an end.

2. There should be conflict pretty much from the start as without that there is no story. You do have to hit the ground running.

3. Limit your characters. You haven’t got the room for subplots. I would focus on two characters or so though there’s nothing to stop you referencing another character as part of the story, as long as that is relevant to the tale. In my story Punish the Innocent, the two characters are the mum and daughter but the mum refers to others in the letter she writes to her daughter. This fills in backstory very quickly in this case and fleshes out why the mum has the attitude she has in this story.

4. Focus on what is most important only.

5. Let your readers fill in gaps. Just show them what they need to know and let them use their imaginations for the rest. From a reading viewpoint, that is the bit which is the most fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UNWINDING YOUR CHARACTERS AND GOOD WRITING CONFERENCES

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I always enjoy writing my CFT posts but tonight’s one, The Benefits of a Good Writing Conference, was particularly nice to do.

There are several pictures from the recent #Swanwick70 in there and many thanks to #GeoffParkes for kind permission to use some of the many fantastic pics he took. My favourite from the ones I’ve used is that of me reading from From Light to Dark and Back Again at the Prose Open Mic but I admit freely I am not exactly unbiased here!

Looking forward to #Swanwick71 already.

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Another fantastic element to writing flash fiction is that you can literally write stories set in a fanastic setting and then come right back down to earth again with a setting in the every day.

You can have alien characters (and I do!) and poignant character studies. One of my favourites from the latter category is They Don’t Understand which shows in a couple of hundred words or so the lives of two elderly people as one reflects on what they both went through during the war years and beyond.

What I’m looking to do here is have the right character for the impact I want to make on the reader and that will dictate both the mood of the story and often its setting as well.

Image Credit: Many thanks to #GeoffParkes for kind permission to use the image of me reading from From Light to Dark and Back Again at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School Prose Open Mic night. Also all credit to him for the fantastic group photos celebrating #Swanwick70.

Also thanks to #CherylHolland for using my phone to take the wonderful group pic of friends and I having a laugh on the lawn at Swanwick. (It wasn’t the only laugh that week, far from it!!). Am I missing being at Swanwick? You bet..

Fairytales With Bite – Fairytale A to Z Part 3

On to part 3:-

G = Greatness.  Whether your character is a godmother (of the fairy variety), a villain, or a hero/heroine, there should be some greatness about them to make them memorable characters.  Greatness can be in the form of intelligence (the villain perhaps), moral integrity, actions undertaken etc.  There should be something about your characters that resonates with the readers (even if it is just understanding of where the villain is coming from in terms of attitude and behaviour while at the same time not agreeing with it).  There is greatness behind whatever resonates here.

H = Humour.  Humour is wonderful in a story.  It can provide moments of light relief.  It can show up attributes of a character that would not come out necessarily in any other way.  (Perhaps a character’s wit here could show a good grasp of irony that they might use in a different way later in the story to bamboozle their opponents?  Quick thinking and humour often go hand in hand and the former is usually vital for a character wanting to get out of a tight spot).

I = Imagination.  How imaginative are your characters in dealing with others, making their plots succeed, using others to achieve their ends etc?  Do they need to plan things out thoroughly or can they be intuitive?  How do they handle matters when things go wrong?  Can they use their imaginative skills to correct the situation?

This World and Others – Unwinding Your Characters

I find being in the company of writers from all genres, as I was when I was at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School recently, to be a great way to unwind.  I talk about other benefits of good writing conferences in my latest CFT post – The Benefits of a Good Writing Conference

But this led me to wonder about how characters unwind.  When your characters are in the thick of the action, what favourite memories of special places and people help motivate them to keep going and get through it all?  I always loved the Rivendell sequences in The Lord of the Rings.  (This for me is where the films were particularly fantastic, being able to visualise Rivendell like that). Just ahead of the quest, Frodo particularly needed that time there.  So what do your characters need to prepare them for whatever hell you are going to put them through (all in the name of entertaining fiction of course!)?

Knowing what really makes your characters tick will enable you, as the writer, to know what will spur them on, what will discourage them, what is the right way to motivate them etc.  A really well written villain in your stories will do exactly the same and tweak the strings of your lead like an evil puppetmaster.  Result?  A villain worthy of your hero/heroine.  Drama.  Conflict.  Story, story, story!  What’s not to like about that?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swanwick, Set Backs, and Favourite Writing Tips

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Back to business then and I’m working on a short story that I hope will go in for a fairytale competition.

I drafted this on the train up to Swanwick (what ELSE are three hour train journeys for?!😁} but, for once, need to add to the story to get it to the required length. This won’t be a problem. There was one scene I had wanted to expand but hadn’t, because I was wary of the word count. So it looks at if I might to get have my cake and eat it here after all (though I expect the overall cake will still need a darned good edit once done!).

I’ve got other pieces to type up which I hope to do over the next few days and I’m happily reworking my novel too. So busy, busy, busy, and all of it fun and that’s a very nice position to be in. Am grateful for it too. Doesn’t always work that way.

 

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I read at the Prose Open Mic at Swanwick this year.  Great fun!  Many thanks to Geoff Parkes for the photo.

Ironically, for a week associated with stories, I didn’t get to read many while away at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. By the time I got back to my room most nights, I was far too tired to read much.

Buzzing with ideas and taking in so much from the different courses does that to you! So one of the things helping me with the “come back to earth again blues” is returning to my book pile, which includes some lovely new additions, thanks to the Swanwick Book Room!

How do your characters handle setbacks? Do they bring out the best or worst in your creations? Or do your characters need time out before coming to terms with what’s happened and then moving on? If they have a sidekick, do they react in the same way? Do differences of opinion here mean the end of the partnership or it going in a direction neither had anticipated at the start of the story?

Whatever you choose, have fun with it, but just as we’re prone to strops when life does not go our way, some of our characters at least should reflect that too.

Favourite writing tips I’ve learned so much from over the years:-

1. Edit on paper. You miss things on screen.

2. Read widely (in and out of your genre and include non-fiction too).

3. Put work aside for a while before editing it so you can read the piece with fresh eyes.

4. When facing a deadline (competitions etc), take away a week to ten days from the official date. That way you still have a few days to get your entry in if the piece takes longer than you think to complete. (And it often will).

5. Read work out loud. If necessary record yourself and play it back. This is really useful for hearing how dialogue sounds especially. Golden rule here: if you trip over it as you read it, so will your readers. Time for the red editing pen again!

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Be open to finding sources of ideas for any kind of story in places you don’t expect to come across them.

The reason I mention that is because I had great fun with an exercise set in Simon Hall’s A to Z of Novel Writing at Swanwick recently and know I’m going to get a flash fiction piece from it.

Another exercise from the same course looks like it may become a longer short story and I am looking forward to writing these up soon.

Neither of these exercises were specifically set to generate flash fiction or a short story (as the course name suggests!!) but when you can see where you can adapt something for a form in which you are already writing, go for it. You have nothing to lose.

How do I know when a piece I’ve drafted will make a flash fiction story? It’s not just down to the word count. What I’m looking at is the impact of the story.

If I feel that impact will be strengthened by adding to it, then I will and often these pieces end up being standard length short stories (which I usually then put into competitions).

But often I will feel a piece has a powerful impact at a couple of hundred words and I will leave it at that. I focus on editing the piece then and fine tuning it so that impact is as powerful as I can make it. Then those pieces go on to Cafelit, the online magazine, and/or are put into the collection of flash fiction I’m currently working on. Sometimes I’ll put them up on my website too.

The nice thing about flash is it is easy to share on a site. It literally doesn’t take up too much room, is read easily on screen, and I’ve found before that the best way to describe flash fiction is to read some out/put some up for people to see for themselves.

One of my favourite techniques in writing flash fiction is to take a first person viewpoint and let them lead the reader up the garden path so to speak.

In Health and Safety I start with my character letting you know they road test products. By the end of the story, you find out that my narrator has glossed over their actions in an attempt to justify what happened as a result of them.

Not so much an unreliable narrator, more of an embarrassed one who wants to try to save some face! Good fun to write though…

I love writing stories from the viewpoint of characters who were “overlooked” for the starring role in the traditional fairytales. My first published story was A Helping Hand in Bridge House Publishing’s Alternative Renditions anthology and told the Cinderella story from the viewpoint of the younger Ugly Sister. Great fun to write. Sympathetic to Cinders? What do you think?! But it is great to turn a tale on its head like that. Do give it a go.

I also love those minor characters in a story that can’t be the lead but who still have a vital role to play in it. From The Lord of the Rings you know from the outset the focus has to be on Frodo, but Merry and Peregrin are great fun and do come into their own much later on.

So how can you make your minor characters interesting and fun to follow? Humour is great here, especially if the lead role, as is the case with Frodo, have a burden to deal with and where light relief will be welcome. Get your minor characters right and you will create wonderful subplots, which add layers to your story. They give added reasons for your readers to keep reading, which after all is the objective of a good story!

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMING BACK TO EARTH

Just returned from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, after a fabulous week of excellent courses and getting to catch up with writer friends, with whom, for the rest of the year, I stay in contact with via social media.  Lovely as that is, you can’t beat getting together face to face!

So tonight’s post is all on the theme of coming back to earth and I also look at Books That Should Have Been Written as a lighthearted CFT post.  There is nothing anywhere that says you HAVE to come back to earth with a bump or several!

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My CFT post this week is called Books That Should Have Been Written and, if you like puns, this is definitely for you!  I also take a peek at irony.

Back from a wonderful week at #Swanwick70. The highlight of my writing year is the week at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. Why?

I meet up with writer friends that for the rest of the year, I keep in contact with by social media. I make new friends. I learn loads from the courses, which is never a bad thing. Oh and I sold a few books in the Book Room too!

Back down to earth then but with perhaps a more gentle bump! My CFT post this week is a lighthearted one called Books That Should Have Been Written. Contributions welcome in the CFT comments box!

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Had a lovely time at #Swanwick70. Really enjoyed reading three of my 100-word stories from From Light to Dark and Back Again at the Prose Open Mic hosted by #JenniferCWilson. Flash fiction works really well at these things (as indeed does poetry – I missed the Poetry Open MIc night as it clashed with the Literary Quiz and I do love a good quiz but I hope all who took part in the Open Mic slots had a fab time).

Images of Swanwick were taken by me at last year’s event. Such a lovely place to be!

Fairytales with Bite – A toZ of Fairytales Part 2

So on to the second part of this series…

D = Determination.  The best fairytale characters I know have this trait in buckets (other suitably large utensils are available, as they say…!).  They can vary from determination not to be ground down (Cinderella) to determination to survive (Hansel and Gretel).  Determination can keep a character going when the world and its dog/unicorn/dragon seem to be out to “get them”.  Determination separates the wolf (big, bad or otherwise) from the sheep.

E = Energy. Can be topped up by determination but your characters are going to need plenty of energy to get them through whatever frightful horrors you’re putting them through.  Not only are there the obvious physical needs to think about, but bring in how your characters top up their mental strength.  They will need plenty of that too.

F = Fairies/Fantastic Creatures.  The great irony with fairytales is you can have them without fairies in (Little Red Riding Hood), but when you do use them in your stories, give them plenty to do and ensure not everything is solved with a wave of the magic wand.  Your fairy character still has to work for/struggle to get success, even if that is only implied in your story.  A wave of the wand may be what they do to remedy a situation or modify it (Sleeping Beauty) but there should still be issues for the characters in your story to overcome.    Otherwise there is no conflict and without that, the story vanishes.  Fantastic creatures can vary from animals to other magical beings (including your own invented ones) but we still need to have some sense of what they are like and where they fit in to the world you’ve created.

More next time…

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This World and Others – Coming Back to Earth

Coming Back to Earthis the title of my latest Goodreads blog (where I do suggest a cure!).  I wrote a lighthearted post for CFT this week, Books That Should Have Been Written,partly as a “gentle” way of coming back to earth after my return from the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School.

But how do your characters come back to earth?  They’ve experienced perhaps great adventures, now there’s a lull in the action as they come to terms with what they’ve just gone through.  How do they handle that?  I love The Lord of the Rings  for many reasons but the portrayal of Frodo becoming more and more tired as the stress of what he has to do becomes more and more of a burden is realistically shown.  On the assumption your characters are not super heroes who never get tired or out of sorts, how do your characters handle setbacks, tiredness, illness etc?

How do they pick themselves up from “earth” to get back to their “mission”?  Who helps them and how?  Plenty to think about there!

Goodreads Blog – Coming Back to Earth

Have just got back from my annual highlight – the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School.

Had a wonderful time discussing and learning about all things connected to the worlds of books and stories. What’s not to like about that?

But, as ever with these things, you come back home again and you feel shattered and a bit flat. (You take in far more than you know you are when you are there and then I think the physical/mental tiredness of that hits you later).

So what can help you perk up again?

Why, nothing but a good book of course!

And the lovely thing about being a writer? You need to read widely, in and out of genre, to help feed your own imagination in any case, but you also get to write the books and with a lot of hard work, and some luck, get them out there.

So happy reading and writing!

 

 

 

 

 

YOUR FIRST WRITING – AND SWANWICK!

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What was the first piece of writing you remember? I can’t recall mine but do know when it was “composition” time at school, I was in my element. The whole idea of making up your own story back then was marvellous (and frankly still is!).

I couldn’t tell you either the moment I decided I would be a writer I just know the nagging feeling of wanting to write and, backing it up more importantly with actually doing the writing, has been with me for far longer than I can recall. The best thing to do is follow that writing urge but be open to trying new forms of writing. It is the way, I think, to find out what it is you really want to spend your time doing!

 

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Have prepared what I hope to be working on during Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, which starts on Saturday. This is a longer term project I want to read through and edit. I’ve also got a few ideas on where to submit this once done so want to check those out too while I’m away. Hope to submit said project by the end of the year (the idea being once back from Swanwick I’ll be ready to sort out my amendments and get the project out there).

Am continuing to work on my third flash fiction book. Have got ideas for non-fiction too which I hope to flesh out more so in between the courses at Swanwick, and catching up with friends there, I shall have plenty to do! But that is always a good thing…

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What do your characters like to eat/drink? Are they good cooks or do they live on their world’s equivalent of take out? What do they like to wear (and does it fit in with their world’s idea of what is suitable)?

Ask yourself questions about your characters. Not only will you get a better picture of who they are and what they’re like, the crucial points about your fictional world will develop too. For example, if you know your character is a freedom fighter, what are they fighting against? It also shows your world is probably a dictatorial one. (If it wasn’t, why are there any freedom fighters at all?).

Am hoping to submit some more flash fiction stories before long (but probably after I’m back from Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. This week will be spent in preparing posts to schedule for while I’m away I expect).

My third flash fiction book is coming along but I hope to do a lot more on that while away. And as I mentioned on my author page that will be alongside a longer term project I want to read through and edit and, hopefully, be submiting by the end of the year. It is great having a mixture of different writing projects – I never get bored (!), I love the challenges each one presents (and those differ naturally). and, if things go as I hope, I should have a variety of work “out there”, hopefully to find a good home!