Why Write and Using Writing Prompts

Facebook – General

Scribblers Books also shared details of the special offers on my writing available for this week only, folks!  A reminder about these offers follows shortly.

One of the nicest things a writer can experience is signing one of your books for a reader! Congratulations to Jim Bates who will be receiving a signed copy of my From Light to Dark and Back Again in due course. (You don’t tire of signing books for things like this!).

And a huge thank you to everyone who has supported my being author of the week for Bridge House by sharing posts, sending congratulations etc. Much appreciated!🙂💐💐♥️

BOOK OFFER REMINDER

Book news! I’m Bridge House Publishing/Chapeltown’s author of the week and there are free books up for grabs AND special offers on others. What’s not to like?

I’ve had the great pleasure of being published by BHP/CB in various anthologies as well as with From Light To Dark and Back Again. These form the basis of the package below.

BOOK PACKAGE: There are SIX, count them SIX, publications where I have work on offer for £4.00, all as mobi-files. This includes To Be…To Become (the Waterloo Festival competition, anthology), Baubles (BH anthology), The Best of Cafelit 4, 5 AND 6 and From Light to Dark and Back Again, my first flash fiction collection.

And for those of you who would like print paperbacks there’s an offer for you too.

PAPERBACK OFFER: My first published story was A Helping Hand in Bridge House Publishing’s Alternative Renditions. That isn’t available on Kindle BUT is in paperback and that along with From Light to Dark and Back Again is on offer at a mere £7.00 for the two!

GIVEAWAY:  Still available,  I’m giving away one signed copy of:-

Alternative Renditions OR
Baubles OR
One of the Best of Cafelit books I’m in.

 

If you’re interested email my lovely editor, Gill James, at editor@bridgehousepublishing.co.uk with your contact details. Also let her know which of the books you would like and Gill and I will take things from there.

All of the above books are available on Amazon.

And if you would like to try some of my work out first, head over to Cafelit at http://cafelitcreativecafe.blogspot.com/…/l…/Allison%20Symes

 

Scribbler also shared the links to my Chandler’s Ford Today author page where I often write on topics of interest to the writing community (such as The Benefits of a Good Writing Conference, Creativity is Good For You, Fiction -v- Non-Fiction etc etc)

Next challenge? Get more out there! Pic below is of my flash fiction collection on sale at last year’s Swanwick Writers’ Summer School Bookshop. Always a thrill to know your book is in there!

Oh and the offer ends this Friday, 18th January.

What Barbara Large's writing classes will help writers discover - what is their story - image via Pixabay

A good writing group will help you discover this. Pixabay image.

Loving the writing prompts in my diary. (Pictures like the woodland and other landscape ones below are great for suggesting atmosphere and therefore what type of story I’m likely to come up with). Looking ahead a little, there is a nice mixture of picture prompts, suggestions of words to use to create an opening for a story or poem (flash fiction in my case), and pieces asking you to describe something in a setting (for example a journey in winter, which is the one for this week). These are going to make a nice challenge for me. 52 new flash fiction stories at least then this year!

I like coming up with title ideas every so often and will come up with a dozen or so. Then I write the stories to suit. I deliberately choose “open” titles, open in terms of what the mood/setting of the story could be. I like to have plenty of possibilities to play with and then I go with the one I like best. The other ideas I will revisit at a later date. They may suit another story.

Why write?

1. Because you have to. There is just something hardwired into your brain driving you to write.

2. To give something back to the wonderful world of stories you’ve enjoyed (and still enjoy) being part of.

3. Because there are characters and stories you simply have to develop. (Ties in with 1 above though 1 can apply to non-fiction writers just as much).

4. Because you read something awful and know you can do better. So you rise to the challenge and do it!

5. Because it’s a joy to do, whether you seek publication or not.

6. You always loved inventing stories at school so why stop there?

7. To see if you CAN do it and then see if you can improve on what you do.

8. To explore what it is you actually want to write and maybe discover areas of writing you had not known about before.

9. You come across a writing competition you really like the sound of and you think it may have your name on it. There’s only one way to find out if that’s right!

10. You believe most people have some sort of creative/artistic “bent” to them and writing is the most natural for you.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Is it harder to write a book or promote one? Answers on a…well I don’t think a postcard would be big enough.

Both have their challenges and rewards of course. Getting the balance right between doing both is tricky. Always has been, always will be, and I think every writer has to work out what works for them.

It is one of those things that when I first started writing seriously for publication, everything was still sent by snail mail. These days practically every story I submit anywhere is by email.

And to not be involved with social media in some way (even if you focus on one, say) is a serious disadvantage. What I like best about social media is the way it can help you to engage with other people and ultimately isn’t that what we’re trying to do through our writing, whether it is for educational or good old sheer entertainment purposes?

(No time for trolls though – the only place for those is in a fairytale!).

When writing light stories, what are you looking to achieve? I want to write stories that make people smile (I’m not necessarily aiming for the laugh out loud moment). The impact I want to leave on a reader is one of them having had a hugely enjoyable read. I know I’m always cheered up no end reading stories like that.

As for the dark stories, I sometimes want to make the reader shudder, I want to make them see how and why my character would act the way they are, and then be glad they’re not in the situation I’ve put the characters in!

I like a balance of both types of story in my books and I also like reflective character study pieces too. I find, when reading this kind of story by other writers, they’re the stories that make me think the most. The “would I have done that in those circumstances?” kind of story has a quieter impact than the funny or scary tales, but the impact is there all the same.

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When writing a story in flash
Don’t decide you’ll be oh so rash.
By just writing everything down.
Tangents occur to make you frown!
Plan your ideas, a note will do,
Sketchy, detailed, it’s up to you.
Stories are stronger if they’re planned.
Saves many a tale being panned!

Allison Symes – 14th January 2019

This one comes from direct experience! Sometimes my outlines are as little as a sentence. For longer stories, I go into more detail. I deliberately don’t plan everything out. I want to encourage the imagination to “fire up” and not stifle it but a plan sends me in the right general direction.

I love the Scrivener templates for character and setting outlines. I draft those and they get me into the world of my story idea so quickly. But there is no reason why, if you don’t use that kind of software, you can’t think of a useful template of your own. Think about what you need to know about your characters before you start writing about them. Base a template on that. It will come in handy many times.

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Echoes can be useful in flash fiction. In my Pen Portrait I refer to a character that follows the “Shirley Williams school of thought rather than Margaret Thatcher’s” when it comes to caring for hair!

If you recall both of those politicians, you will remember they had very differing hair styles. I’m sure the latter’s would not have moved an inch even in a hurricane. (Also for those who don’t recall but wish to do so, it’s easy enough to look up pictures of these two. Indeed you only need to look up one of them to get some idea of what the other would be like here).

What’s useful is the mention of these two politicians will give a reader an idea of the age of the character without me spelling it out, as well as what their approach is to brushing their hair!

Think about what you could use to convey information across to readers like this. Echoes are a great word count saver!

Goodreads Author Blog – Good Books

What defines a good book for you?

For me a good book is one that fulfils its purpose, whether that is to make me laugh, show me a world I did not know previously, or help me improve my history knowledge etc.

It has to keep me gripped to The End. I have to be eagerly looking forward to reading the next chapter when I read in bed. (And be mightily miffed if the Sandman comes along a bit early and I don’t get to read for as long as I’d like).

A good book will have writing that takes my breath away with the joy of how it is put together. P.G. Wodehouse is the master there as far as I’m concerned.

Humorous books have to not only make me laugh out loud, but to keep me smiling until The End. I love books which are obviously funny but which raise smiles by their subtle use of language, puns etc. Again Wodehouse is brilliant here and so was Terry Pratchett.

Crime fiction has to bring out the “I’ve got to find out what happens next” feeling. And it must deliver on its promise. Historical fiction has to make me feel “yes, it could have been that way” and so on.

Good books I always re-read. Maybe that is the true test of a great read.

Says it all really and both must balance out Pixabay image

So true. Pixabay image.

 

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Tried and Tested – and Book Offers!

A very busy night tonight and a special post about book offers too and I will start with those I think!  Also included this week is a link to my guest spot on crime writer Val Penny’s wonderful Book Review blog.  Many thanks to her for hosting me.

BOOK OFFERS!  ONE WEEK ONLY.  ENDS 18TH JANUARY 2019

Book news! I’m Bridge House Publishing/Chapeltown’s author of the week and there are free books up for grabs AND special offers on others. What’s not to like?

I’ve had the great pleasure of being published by BHP/CB in various anthologies as well as with From Light To Dark and Back Again. These form the basis of the package below.

BOOK PACKAGE: There are SIX, count them SIX, publications where I have work on offer for £4.00, all as mobi-files. This includes To Be…To Become (the Waterloo Festival competition, anthology), Baubles (BH anthology), The Best of Cafelit 4, 5 AND 6 and From Light to Dark and Back Again, my first flash fiction collection.

And for those of you who would like print paperbacks there’s an offer for you too.

PAPERBACK OFFER: My first published story was A Helping Hand in Bridge House Publishing’s Alternative Renditions. That isn’t available on Kindle BUT is in paperback and that along with From Light to Dark and Back Again is on offer at a mere £7.00 for the two!

FREE BOOKS! BUT YOU HAVE TO BE QUICK.

I’m giving away one signed copy of:-

From Light to Dark and Back Again AND
Alternative Renditions OR
Baubles OR
One of the Best of Cafelit books I’m in.

First come, first served, naturally. Also one book per customer.

If you’re interested email my lovely editor, Gill James, at editor@bridgehousepublishing.co.uk with your contact details. Also let her know which of the books you would like and Gill and I will take things from there. I’m looking forward to getting some books off in the post next week!

So two lucky people can be in for a free read! What are you waiting for? Gill is waiting to hear from you!

All of the above books are available on Amazon.

And if you would like to try some of my work out first, head over to Cafelit at http://cafelitcreativecafe.blogspot.com/…/l…/Allison%20Symes

Do check out the other wonderful stories here. You’re in for a great read, I promise.

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Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Busy night tonight but fun! Hope you saw the book offer posts earlier. Meanwhile back to CFT and I’m glad to share my Tried and Tested Writing Tips this week. Hope you find it useful.

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Will be a busy day tomorrow. As well as my usual CFT post (all about tried and tested writing tips), I’m Bridge House Publishing/Chapeltown Books author of the week and will have news of book offers so stay tuned.

Re my CFT post: I’ve picked those tips I use most often and go into detail as to why they are useful.

Absolutely delighted to have been guest blogger on Val Penny‘s Book Reviews blog. Many thanks to her – it’s been a good week writing wise when it comes to getting the word out there!

And talking of words, the ones I’ve found most helpful are the ones that encourage when all that seem to come in are rejections etc. This is why you need writing friends. We know what it is like – both the joys and the down sides. It is a roller coaster ride but nobody says you have to be alone on the thing!

Am delighted to share the link to the great blog from crime writer Val Penny. The fact that I am her guest on it tonight is not at all coincidental!

Many thanks, Val, for the invite. The questions were great fun to answer. Val and I met at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School (or more accurately just outside Derby Railway Station just ahead of us both going to Swanwick!) and we’ve been great friends ever since.

It is also lovely being on the receiving end of questions too!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I’m due to be Bridge House Publishing/Chapeltown Books author of the week. News of book offers tomorrow.

Getting the balance right between writing new material, revising and improving material that has not yet found a home, and marketing has never been easy to get right. Has there ever been a writer who doesn’t feel there is always something they could be doing better in any of these departments? I don’t think so!

One advantage to flash fiction of course is it can be a great way of getting work done and “out there” while working on longer projects. (And if said work is published, you’re building up your writing CV too).

What questions would you put to your characters to get the best out of them before you write their story?

One of my favourites here is “what drives you?” I use it to dig deep into a character because there will be an answer that is something nobody would mind revealing – the public face, if you like.

However, it is the answer the character (and we as individuals) try to keep to ourselves that is the really interesting one to work with! It can also reveal things about our characters that make us realise we can do so much more with them. It IS worth digging that bit deeper to get to these points.

Your stories will be deeper and have more impact as a result – even the shortest of flash fiction stories will benefit. If I know my character thinks they’re capable of, say, robbery, but I dig deeper and find in certain situations, they could kill, guess which story I’m going with!

You DO want to dump your characters right in the mire and put them under as much stress as possible and really see what they’re made of. Let the drama play out. Have fun with this, I do! (Oh and nobody said writers have to be nice to their characters, often it’s the opposite in fact!).

 

Many thanks to #ValPenny for hosting me on her Book Reviews blog. It was great fun answering the questions.

Questions like these are really useful for making you evaluate why you write and whether the “how” could be improved. (The answer is almost certainly “yes” to that by the way!).

Fairytales with Bite – Storytelling

Storytelling is one of our oldest traditions of course. You can understand the appeal of fairytales especially when it comes to the oral storytelling tradition. A simple plot, a structure that works, a clear goodie and baddie, and a happy ever after ending. Perfect way to end the day!

Now, of course, we expect our characters to be more nuanced. There is no such thing as the perfect hero. Villains have to have good (and understandable) reasons for acting the way they are (and that can include the fact they simply enjoy being evil. To them, that is reason enough!).

What I love about stories is that there is no one perfect format. I love books in all their forms but totally understand why audiobooks work for some, whereas the print format doesn’t. Our focus as writers is to come up with stories that can work in several formats. Our focus is to entertain. I’ve never understood why some look down on escapism. The world is sad and bad enough to make a wish to escape understandable. After all why did our cavemen ancestors tell stories? To remember what was important. To bring the community closer together. To escape the cares of their day and the ones to come for a while.

So as a writer then I want my characters to appeal to readers. I also want to drop my characters right in it whenever I can. I want my books to engage people. It’s a good thing to aim for: to improve your storytelling as much as possible. You discover better ways of expressing things, learn what works and what doesn’t. Enjoy your storytelling and relish every moment of it.

 

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This World and Others – Tried and Tested

My latest CFT post is Tried and Tested Writing Tips, which I hope you find useful.

How are your characters tried and tested?  Do they pass the tests you set them?  In almost any story you can think of, it is only when the characters are put right through the emotional wringer, do you see what they are capable of and where their limits are.  That is also where sidekick characters are useful – to help see your leads through to the bitter end and to get them through that “about to give it all up” moment.

Testing doesn’t need to to be overly dramatic either.  It can be as simple as a character having their patience tested by a relative who is trying to goad them (deliberately or otherwise, it’s not always consciously done).  Your character is very patient to begin with, then they become slightly less patient as time and the goading continues, and so on before they snap or do something they would not ordinarily have done.  Your character may be aware of this process so what do they do to try and fight it?  To not give in to that urge to snap no matter what the provocation?

Think about what would stress your characters out.  Think about their coping mechanisms.  What would happen if they failed or weren’t available when needed?

Have fun finding out!

Music and Stories

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

One of the joys of writing my Chandler’s Ford Today posts is when I have a topic where I can go to town on finding music clips! The topic of books is one of them.

Many thanks to my wonderful panel – #JenniferCWilson, #ValPenny, #AnneWan, #WendyHJones, and #RichardHardie – for taking part in my mini-series The Joys and Challenges of Writing Series Novels. Hope you enjoy their fantastic insights AND the music I’ve used to go with these!

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Had a great night out watching the Chameleon Theatre Group perform three episodes from Blackadder Goes Forth, including Goodbyeee. Review to follow on Chandler’s Ford Today in due course but I will say now it was superbly done and the set, made by the company themselves, was brilliant. Looking forward to sharing more on that.

Adaptations I’m generally happy with if they are faithful to the book/series etc. This is why I loved the Miss Marple series with Joan Hickson – they were faithful to the Christie canon – but the Marple series. No. Didn’t watch it. Just couldn’t bring myself to do so when it emerged they were altering the stories and bringing in characters that didn’t belong in the originals. Really don’t like that.

My CFT post this week will be the final part of my series on the joys and challenges of writing the series novel. As ever, my thanks to to #JenniferCWilson, #ValPenny, #AnneWan, #WendyHJones, and #RichardHardie. Nice range of genres between them too – from children’s to crime (and Wendy writes both!) to fantasy to historical crossed with ghost stories. Link up on Friday.

Glad to report I’ll be having more work on Cafelit later this week and again in November. Will share links as and when.

From what I’ve seen of the set the Chameleons have produced for the stage version of Blackadder Goes Forth, I anticipate a packed house and a wonderful and thoughtful evening of entertainment. Will review for CFT in due course. Do check their FB page out.

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thank you text on black and brown board

Pexels image.  There are times when words are inadequate.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

So more on my alphabetical list then.

J = Juicy Storylines! Not just for soap operas, honestly, but something every character wants. Now “juicy” can be taken literally of course, but I see it as the storyline being appropriate for the character and taking them and stretching them to see what they are really made of. There’s nothing like a crisis for bringing out the best or worst in someone and that applies just as well to fiction!

K = Kicker. Must admit I needed to look this one up. (It’ll be interesting to find out what I can research for Q!). In journalism it apparently means a sudden unexpected change of events. In fiction we’d usually refer to it as a twist in the tale. I like kicker though. Has bite. And your stories must too, whether they have a twist/kicker in them or not.

L = Lines. Who is getting the best lines in your story? Your hero or your villain? A great story will have this split between the two to prevent either becoming a stereotype or, worse still, boring! Also a villain capable of humour etc means while your reader will not want them to win (possibly SHOULD not!), they will sympathise and identify with the villain to a certain extent. There should be something about each character a reader can identify with. (My inspiration here is Alan Rickman’s masterly portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves!).

About halfway through the alphabetical listing now. So then:-

M = Muse. The best way to feed said muse is to read widely and often (and do include non-fiction and poetry in this too. Different sources of writing are good for you and inspire your own thoughts and ideas in various ways). I’ve also found writing regularly feeds it too. Never worry about what you come out with at first being awful and needing work. That would’ve happened to Shakespeare too! It can and will be put right in the edits!

N = Narrative. Whose story is it? Whose viewpoint is going to dominate? What can that character see and know that the others cannot? Why have you chosen that character to lead the narrative? Answer those questions and your story will be off to a good start!

O = Originality. Reading widely feeds your originality. Partly this is due to what you read, but sometimes it can be because you read something you really don’t like or feel you can do better and that can be the trigger point for your own writing. Also, your voice is unique to you and will come through in your writing, especially if you write often. Regular writing (even if it is short bouts at a time) really does encourage your imaginative “muscle” to start working.

Pressing on with my alphabet topic then, we reach P, Q and R. (Great letters if you can get them out in Scrabble incidentally!).

P = Performance. Do your characters perform well in your stories? Do they live up to what you outlined them to be or have they gone beyond that? Read your stories out loud. Perhaps record them and play them back. Hear how your characters perform. Are they having the impact on you that you want them to have on your reader?

Q = Quizzing. I’ve found quizzing my characters to be a very useful part of my outlining. I don’t need to know the minute details. Nor do I put everything I outline in a story. However, I take my character’s basic traits and quiz them from there. If I decide a character is going to be brave, I will quiz them to find out if there are limits to that courage. I try to find out where that courage comes from. Does their “tribe” prize bravery? Or is it noticeably absent and your character is rebelling against that? What are the outcomes? (There WILL be some and that’s where the drama and your stories are to be found!).

R = Right Word Count for your Flash Fiction. I sometimes write a piece deliberately to a word count and that’s it. Sometimes I think a story will come to 100 words but discover it can be done in 75 or needs to run to 250, say. Be flexible on this. The story is the right length when the lead character has done and said all they have to do/say for the situation you’ve put them in. The great thing with flash fiction is there are so many different categories, that even if your treasured 100 word piece comes in at 500 words, there will be markets and competitions for that out there.

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Goodreads Author Programme – Blog –

After the End, What’s Next?

If you’ve enjoyed a really good book, what do you do when you finish it? Go on to read more books by the same author, or read more in the same genre, or do you go for something that is completely different in mood and style?

I have done all three of these (though obviously not at the same time!) and it very much depends on my mood at the end of the story. If I’ve loved a gory crime thriller, I may well want something humorous to show the lighter side of life, albeit a fictional one!

With short stories especially, I tend to read a few by the same author before moving on. With novels, if the book has really gripped me, I’ve got to check out what else the author has done, even if I decide I’ll come back to those later.

The important thing though is that whatever you read, you enjoy it so much, you keep on reading, no matter what author, genre, style etc you choose next. Happy reading!

Image Credit:  many thanks to the Hampshire Writers’ Society for taking the photo of me reading as guest speaker and for kind permission to use the photo.  Both much appreciated!

Fairytales with Bite – Signs of a Fairytale World

What are the signs of a fairytale world?  How can you know quite quickly you ARE in one (via fiction I’m presuming for the purposes of this post!  If you do find a portal to another world, however, be sure to report back with plenty of details, pictures if at all possible.  We will all want to know!!).

1.  Magic.  The biggest giveaway of course is the use of magic.  The interesting thing to work out when planning your stories though is whether everyone can use magic or just a select few.  If everyone can use it, what are the rules so anarchy doesn’t break out?  Boundaries increase the drama in your story.  If everyone can zap everyone else, that doesn’t make for much of a story.  If only a few can do that but the price they pay is their own lives are forfeit, now there’s a potential story.

2.  Inanimate Objects – The Use Of.  We all know from Disney (see Beauty and the Beast) a teapot, to name one example, is rarely just a teapot!  Sometimes they’re an enchanted victim.  Sometimes these things are portals (also see Harry Potter).  So what uses are the inanimate objects put to in your setting?  Does a particular object convey a particular meaning or power and, if so, what and why?  What are the limits to the use of objects?

3.  Creatures.  Ranging from domestic animals that can talk (hello, Puss in Boots!  Loved Puss in Shrek.  Thought they had the portrayal spot on) to odd creatures that are the stuff of legends to monsters of course.   Basically what you wouldn’t see here!  And there’s nothing to stop you inventing your own.  This is where some knowledge of natural history is invaluable.  Knowing what animals need to survive and how their bodies are designed to handle that should inspire some ideas for how the creatures in your stories will do this kind of thing.

Happy writing!

This World and Others – Music and Stories

In my latest CFT post, the final part of my mini-series on The Joys and Challenges of Writing Series Novels, I get to have some fun choosing music tracks to go with my fantastic panel’s insights.  Many thanks again to Jennifer C Wilson, Val Penny, Anne Wan, Wendy H Jones, and Richard Hardie for taking part in this three part series.  Hope you enjoy the insights and the music!

Music and stories have long been intertwined of course.  So many wonderful songs are stories set to music effectively.  Music can and does play a part in stories.  It can be used to show character.  Movies, of course, rely on music to help set mood.  Think of the Jaws theme by John Williams.  Every note of that puts pictures and therefore stories in your head (and possibly might put you off swimming in the open sea but that’s another matter!  There are advantages to just swimming in the local public baths!!).

I write with classical music playing.  (I often listen to Classic FM).  Unlike other styles of music, it hasn’t affected my mood (and therefore what I write!).  It does help me relax and I write more (and I hope better) when relaxed.  I’ve also found it helpful to think of the kind of music my characters would be fans of when I’m creating them.  It almost certainly won’t come into the story I write but it fills out my knowledge of the character I’m about to place before a reader.  That has to be a good thing.

And I must admit I loved choosing the music for my book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back Again.   The track used is an adaptation of Camille Saint Saens Danse Macabre (used as the theme tune for the BBC detective series Jonathan Creek).

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FAllison.Symes.FairytaleLady%2Fvideos%2F954726234630356%2F&show_text=0&width=560

FANTASICAL AND REALITY WRITING

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

POSTER SHOWING ALLISON AS GUEST SPEAKER AT HWS OCTOBER 2018

Many thanks to Maggie Farran for the poster

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – The TBR Pile

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

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

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

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

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

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Fairytales with Bite – A Good Fairytale…

A good fairytale should have:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music and Characters

Facebook – General

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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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memories and Collections

Facebook – General

What memories are special for your characters and why? Are they shared memories with other family/tribe members or individual ones or both? Does your created world have special events where certain memories are officially recalled? Is the past a good place for your characters to visit or do they block out all memories to avoid inflicting more pain on themselves?

This post came about because I was showing some lovely photos of my maternal grandparents’ wedding (set in the grounds of Chiswick House) to other members of my family today. I only came across these photos after I cleared out my late parents’ house. My only regret is had I known of their existence before, I would have quizzed my mother in particular over one photo where she and her younger sister were bridesmaids. There were people in this photo I didn’t know and the family and I took intelligent guesses at who they were.

I guess this shows the importance of maintaining memories and cherishing what is vital from the past, your past. So how do your characters do that?

When you read a book outside of the genre you write in, what are you looking for?

I’m looking for a world I can identify with (though almost inevitably I wouldn’t want to live there!) and characters whose motivations I understand (and usually sympathise with).

I like a fast pace to the story and other background information to help me make sense of the setting. I also want there to be gaps that I have to fill in with my imagination. I want the dialogue to hook me so that I have to read on and not notice the “he said/she said” tags. Well written dialogue does make me skip over these tags as if they weren’t there.

And when I’ve finished the story, I want to feel as if not one word could be added. I also want to regret coming to the end of the story because I enjoyed it so much.

And the challenge here is to write this way myself so hopefully people will feel the same way about MY stories!

I have collections by several of my favourite authors on my shelves – Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse, Terry Pratchett to name a few. Love all that they wrote. Tremendously difficult to pick a favourite book by any of them.

What I especially adore though is when they take their major characters and put them into situations they would never have anticipated encountering. For example, Murder on the Orient Express gives Poirot a moral dilemma (and I won’t say more than that – no spoilers here). It’s not the kind of moral dilemma he would have anticipated facing. And it is how he handles that which, for me, makes this story fascinating. (The TV version with David Suchet is particularly good on this aspect).

So can you take the usual situations your lead characters would reasonably expect to face and subvert them? That what has worked for your lead characters before cannot possibly work in this new situation so they are forced to come out of their comfort zone and “go for broke” because they have to solve this new condundrum, no matter what?

One thing is for sure: do this and there will be no lack of drama/conflict in your story!

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

One of the biggest issues facing writers is getting their book out there and, once that has been achieved, how to market it without annoying everyone! One simple thing is just to let people know where it can be found and leave it at that. So taking my own advice then…!

FLTDBA in the Swanwick Book Room

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

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

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Chapeltown Books have a distinctive central image in a frame such as with mine. Image by Allison Symes

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Back cover of FLTDBA. Image by Allison Symes

I was enjoying an old Doctor Who episode earlier this evening when Catherine Tate came in as companion, Donna Noble, to David Tennant’s Doctor. Great episode. What I liked about the character of Donna was her feistiness, her abilty to think on her feet, and the fact she wasn’t letting the Doctor get away with ANYTHING. Her character claimed that the Doctor needed someone to stop him sometimes. I think it’s a fair assessment too.

But this highlighted for me the fact well written characters shine through whatever story they’re in and make themselves and the tale memorable. Something to always aspire to when writing my own characters I think.

The joy of coming up with one line stories is you can either leave them like that and perhaps enter them into 25-word flash fiction competitions OR you can expand them.

From there of course, you can either have a longer flash fiction story or go to 1500-2000 words (standard short story competition word count). I think if you were to go much beyond that, you would be changing your initial idea as you would need more characters, at least one decent subplot and so on for the story to be able to “stand up” over that greater “distance” and still make sense.

I don’t revisit my one-liners that often but it did occur to me perhaps I should do so more regularly! A case of double whammy for the writer here I think!

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Reflections

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest CFT post is an alliterative one! As Autumn Approaches is a reflective look at the season, I share some thoughts about how the season is for writers.

I also discuss the importance of taking time out to look back, as my church has recently done for its 200th anniversary, but equally how vital it is to move on from periods of reflection, given what stays static dies eventually.

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My CFT post this week is a reflective one on autumn. I share what I like about it, why it is an interesting season for writers, and also discuss my church’s recent exhibition to celebrate its 200th anniversary where we took stock of our history and recalled friends past, present, and no longer with us. Oral storytelling and local history are so important.

Facebook – General – and Association of Christian Writers’ More than Writers – The Highs and the Lows

Many thanks to all who commented on my More Than Writers blog earlier. You really can’t underestimate how much persistence, determination, and ability to work hard you will need as a writer. The great comfort is ups and downs are a normal part of the writing life so you’re definitely not alone here.

The Highs and the Lows – Allison Symes

What would you say were the writing highs? 

Your first piece of writing (aka “the I did it” moment!)?

Your first publication credit (the “family start to take you seriously” moment!)?

Your first book acceptance (the “some of the rest of the world start to take you seriously” moment!)?  Sadly, it always is some of the rest of the world…

What would you say were your writing lows? 

That first rejection?
Having your novel come back for the umpteenth time?
Countless short stories turned down?

The great irony, of course, is, with the right spirit and attitude, a writer can use those rejections and set backs to (a) fill them with determination to keep going, (b) to improve on what they do so the turn downs don’t arrive so often as they once did, and (c) recognise all writers go through this.

There are no shortcuts to publication.  Also, even when published, the learning curve goes on and you have to be open to it.  The writer that doesn’t learn is the one who remains static.  What is static dies, eventually.

So then it is a question of relishing the highs and getting through the lows, which is where the support of understanding writing friends is crucial.  One of the things I love about social media is the fact it makes it easier to stay in contact with said writing friends, especially when you can only meet up face to face once or twice a year.Writing forums such as the one we have on the ACW website are also useful for this kind of contact (and for sharing helpful advice and tips too).  Going to a good writing conference is invaluable too given that for most of the year we are at our desks, working alone.

Peter, of course, literally had his mountain top experience but his low was clearly his denial of Christ.  (What I love about Peter’s story is his redemption – it offers hope for us all).  So this pattern of highs and lows then is a reflection of life as it is lived and not just the writing life.

Our characters must have their highs and lows.  Without them, there is no conflict yet alone a story.  The highs and lows are not just the story events but what is in those characters.  No villain should be all evil (there must be a decent reason for them acting the way they are, decent to them at least).  No hero should be a goody two shoes.  Much as I loved Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, I found it easier to identify with Amy or Jo rather than the saintly Beth.  Identifying with your characters is the goal.  The moment a reader does that, the more likely it is they will read on and find out what happens.

Show the flaws.  Show the vulnerabilities.  Show the things the character does well.  Enjoy the process.  And good luck.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Don’t forget if you subscribe to Writing Magazine, you can put your book on their Subscribers’ Showcase. It’s free for a while but after that you pay a small amount per month to have it on there. My own plans later, once hopefully I have more books out, is to switch which ones I put up there to keep things fresh.

n a novel, you would have the space for different moods. Moods in the story itself. Moods of the characters. In flash fiction, you have to focus on one mood (and often on one character). But the advantage of putting a collection together is over the space of the entire book, you can have a range of moods and therefore of stories.

This was one aspect of putting From Light to Dark and Back Again together that I really enjoyed. Themes and moods became apparent and it was so easy to group these together.

Time for some more one-line stories, though one I admit is also useful wildlife advice!

1. The dragon, determined not to be fobbed off with false gold coinage, destroyed the Royal Mint with two blasts of flame.

2. Glass slippers, how the hell did that happen, thought the fairy godmother as she hung up her wand in disgust.

3. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog only to find the canine could bite in places no male animal would ever wish bitten.

4. When the red, red robin comes bob bob bobbing along, it’s looking for food in the winter months, not the chance to be the star of a song.

5. The girl in the red hooded coat took one look at the Big Bad Wolf in her granny’s bed and said, “That gingham really doesn’t suit you, try silk next time.”

Any story, no matter what its length, should create an impact on a reader, whether it is to make them laugh or cry. I concede though No. 3 will probably make a few of you wince!

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog Where Do You Turn First?

So you have limited time to read (it is ever so!) and you can choose between reading one hardback, one paperback, or pick one option from your Kindle? Which would you automatically plump for over the others?

I’d go for the paperback every time (partly because while I have some hardbacks, my paperback collection is far greater). There is still the element of the “go for the real book” here, much as I love the Kindle.

Where the Kindle does come into its own is when I’m away anywhere and the last thing I want to do is lug a lot of books along with me (unless they’re by me and I’m trying to sell them of course!).

The other reason I’d go for the paperback first is I’d want the experience of the “whole book”. You can’t smell a Kindle’s “pages” but you can do it with a paper book – and I have and will continue to do so.

I do like the smell of a book. I like the look of a well designed cover. I like the feel of a paperback in my hands. So there is the whole tactile experience going on here.

I do know I’m not the only reader/writer to feel that way so if I’m weird, I know I’ve got company. Very well read company, I should add!

So what would you pick then and why? Comments welcome.

Fairytales with Bite Fairytales A to Z Part 4

J = Jealousy.  Such a powerful emotion and an excellent trait to exploit in your characters given it is understandable as a motivation for action. People do strange things, motivated by this, in real life.  Your characters can do so too in fiction.  You don’t have to like jealousy as a trait or the character to be able to identify with where the character is coming from here.  It can also act as a kind of shorthand.  If you say someone is the jealous type, it conjures up an immediate image of what that person is likely to be like, doesn’t it?

K = Killer Instinct.  Do your characters have this?  Do you?!  Firstly your characters, particularly your villains, need this (and often in the literal sense), but even the “goodies” need this to keep them going in the face of opposition etc.  They need to know when to “go” for a course of action and it will be their instinct here that will ignite the spark which drives them on.  As for you as a writer, do you have the killer instinct when it comes to editing your work?  Will you take out anything that is really not working (and be open to the idea it isn’t)?  You need to learn to be ruthless about taking out anything that is not pushing your story on.  The “kill your darlings” expression has a lot of truth behind it.

L = Learning and Laughter.  Do your characters learn from their mistakes?  A good story and great characters will have that as a major factor.  Some of my favourite series novels have shown the lead character developing over time and I love that.  It makes the character far more real to me.  As for laughter, even in darker stories, there can be room for this.  In the classic fairytales, for me, the Emperor’s New Clothes is a great example of laughing at those who supposedly are superior but are taken in by conmen (and you do have to hand it to those tailors for sheer nerve).  So where can laughter fit into your stories?

This World and Others Reflections

Reflection is a major theme of my latest Chandler’s Ford Today post called As Autumn Approaches.  (Well, this is true for the UK and Europe anyway!).

What would make your characters reflect on their actions to date/their attitudes to life?  Being made to confront the consequences of what you are doing would be one major reason to take time out to reflect, especially if there was time to reverse matters or limit any damage done.  Love, as they say, changes everything and can be a major influence in making people change their behaviour (usually for the better, but this isn’t always the case).

Sometimes a character will take time out to reflect before heading out on their adventure/quest etc.  What is interesting here is how that period of reflection influences what the character then does.  If your characters do this, how do they reflect?  On their own or do they have a mentor?  Do they look up books (especially history) to find out how others in their world’s past handled certain situations?  If the characters themselves will be setting a precedent, are there general guidelines to give them pointers as to what they should be doing?

Last but not least, are the characters themselves willing to learn from the reflections of others?