Fairytales and “Planned” Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humans are immensely creative - image via Pixabay

Let those ideas flow! Image via Pixabay,

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

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

A wonderful palette of colours - image via Pixabay

A wonderful palette of colours. Image via Pixabay.

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

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

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

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

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Flash fiction for impact. Image via Pixabay

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the reading and writing of books then!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Being Creative

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Broadening the Mind

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

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

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

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

So read and write away!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FAVOURITE TRAITS AND WHY FAIRYTALES WITH BITE?

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My CFT post is a review of the Fryern Funtasia held on Bank Holiday Monday. It is just one of those things I know but there is either heavy rain or baking heat when the FF is held! No happy medium. It’s either a big coat or the sun cream!

Having said that, the Funtasia WAS great fun and it was good to catch up with friends at Bettermaths and the Three Rivers Rail Community Partnership especially.

It was also good to see the Fair Oak dog display team, though none of the dogs were running around the agility course. They were trotting – quite rightly too – and there were several huge buckets of water for them around their arena. As for human refreshments, you should’ve seen the queues for the icecream and cold drinks!

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Have got my schedule of writing for my train journeys all lined up for tomorrow. I’d like to come back home again with at least three new flash stories and an article drafted. Will report back on how I did but I am pleased to be able to make more use of travelling time like this, especially as by the time I get back home again, I usually just want to crash out. Should do even better when I go to Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in August. The journey is longer!

I need to get back to entering more flash competitions so, depending on how well I actually do on the train tomorrow, I may well have some stories to submit. Hope so anyway.

Fairytales With Bite – Why Fairytales with Bite?

The reason I refer to what I write as fairytales with bite (and so giving this website its name) is (a) it is a very accurate description of what I do and (b) I was fed up with fairytales being dismissed as “twee” or “just for kids”.  I’ve written posts on this topic before but I thought I’d add here those elements I think make for a good fairytale.

1.  Magic.   There has to be magic somewhere but it is not the be all and end all in a fairytale either.  See below.  Also it is usually acknowledged there are limits to what magic can do.

2.  Characters have to make choices.  This is generally true of all fiction but in fairytales, the characters still have to decide something has to change.  Cinderella wanted to escape her horrible life but still needed to be willing to do what the fairy godmother told her.  (Couldn’t you just see the ugly sisters arguing with the godmother?  I could!).

3.  An appropriate ending.  Most of the time in fairytales this is the traditional happy one, but not always, as Hans Christen Andersen proved with The Little Mermaid amongst others.  Having said that, his ending to that story was apt for the way he’d written all that came before.

4.  There has to be some hope.  There has to be hope for the characters to achieve their happy ever after ending or, if they know this is not going to be the case, what can they salvage to make things as good as they can be?  If you have to settle for second best, you are still going to want that second best to be as good as possible.

There are other elements of course but these strike me as being amongst the most important ones.  Comments welcome!

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This World and Others – Favourite Traits in Characters

What are your favourite traits in characters (your own or those from other writers)?  I think mine would have to include:-

1.  The ability to prove the doubters wrong.  I love it when the underdog wins the day. Whenever I read of a character being “written off”, I am on the look out for that character turning out to be the hero (usually) or the villain (sometimes, and inevitably reacting against being written off!  I do have some sneaking sympathy here.  You can see why they would react that way at least.).

2.  The ability to stick with the right path, no matter what.  The ultimate example of this for me is both Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings.  (Sam was just as determined to do right as Frodo was, even though Sam was doing this for his friend, rather than for the “cause” directly).

3.  Being the best friend/sidekick the hero didn’t know they needed until undergoing the quest.  If awards were being given out for this, it would have to go to Sam Gamgee.  Never ever overlook the sidekick.  They’re in the story for a good reason and it is almost always a pivotal moment the hero needs.

4.  Honest characters.  I love those moments when, usually the sidekick, gives the hero/heroine a verbal bashing for missing something important or taking others for granted or for becoming arrogant etc.  The lead characters do need others who can rein them in – nobody gets it right in life all the time so why should they in fiction?  Just as we need others to tell us “hang on a moment there”, so do characters need other characters to tell them when they’re at risk of going off track.

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ONE LINERS

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How can you tell when you’ve written a good one-liner for a character?

When you can’t imagine anyone other than that character saying it, when the words reflect something of that character’s state of mind/beliefs, when you know deep down the character could keep on talking like this for ages (not that you’ll need all of this for your story).

I love writing dialogue for my “people”. My problem is I can make them go on and on because I’m loving the writing of the dialogue so much. So when it comes to editing, anything that doesn’t move the story on in some way gets chopped.

I’ve still enjoyed writing the dialogue but am realistic enough to know it isn’t really needed for the story so out it goes. This is one reason why I believe writing and editing should be treated as separate tasks. When in creative mood, so to speak, are you going to be able to see the wood for the trees when it comes to working out what is really needed and what isn’t? In my case, the answer to that is “no” so I come back to my stories, after a suitable gap, so I look at them afresh and not in the “hot glow” of creativity.

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My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week will be a review of the Fryern Funtasia held on Bank Holiday Monday. All the fun of the show and it was great to catch up with some old friends too. Link to go up tomorrow.

Am off on another train journey this weekend so am planning to get on with more flash fiction stories. I am averaging 3 to 4 a trip now, depending on whether I draft some thoughts for future CFT posts as well. (I often do both). Better half reminds me every so often I was the one who couldn’t see a need for a smartphone!! Oh well… (glad to be wrong on that one incidentally).

And now I’ve figured out how to use the headphones (!), I can tune into the radio too. Before you ask, I discovered I wasn’t plugging the things in properly. She SHALL have music (classical) wherever she goes (unless it is through a tunnel!).

 

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Looking forward to taking part in writing events in the next few months. More details nearer the time of each one.

Am glad to say a copy of From Light to Dark and Back Again will be a prize in the raffle which will be part of fellow Swanwicker Elizabeth Hopkinson’s e-book launch for her Tiny Tales Virtual Launch on 13th July. More details to come nearer the time. And good luck, Elizabeth, with the launch. I loved my cyber launch, it was great fun!

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Am glad to see that the Quick Reads scheme is being saved by JoJo Moyes for the next couple of years. Reading schemes are never a waste of money (how is literacy ever a bad thing?), so whoever thought scrapping this was a good idea needs their head examining.

It is one fond hope of mine that flash fiction as a whole might encourage those who might be reluctant to read bigger works. We’re not asking readers to commit to too much in one go for a start and, from my experience, once you’ve found a book you like, you look for others you’ll like too. I started off reading short stories, I progressed to longer stories and then novels of course. It is getting that initial spark, the wish to read at all, that is so important.

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A good reading pile! Pexels image.

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Doesn’t look comfortable to me. Pexels image.

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May require help turning the pages. Pexels image.

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Great topic but then I am a dog owner! Pexels image.

Allison Symes’s books on Goodreads

Reviews and Characterisation

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fairytales with Bite – Describing Your Characters

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The Word Fairy

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So if the word fairy turned up and granted you three wishes but they had to be related to writing in some way, what would you ask for? My choices would be:-

1. To never run out of ideas that will work!
2. To edit perfectly in one big edit. (Fat chance but just think of the time saved!).
3. To always be proud of what I have published.

Funnily enough, I don’t think I would ask for everything of mine to be automatically published. The quality has to be there and you as the writer should be proud of what you’ve written long after you’ve moved on to other writing projects.

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Many thanks to all who commented or liked my post yesterday on the three wishes I would go for if the word fairy turned up.

So turning this idea on its head, what three things related to writing would you ask the word fairy to take and dump somewhere inaccessible with no chance of said items ever coming back? (Naturally no pollution would be caused).

My choices would be:-

1. Amazon saying your book is temporarily out of stock when it is easily available. Grrr…

2. All snobbery relating to genre fiction.

3. All snobbery relating to the independent press.

Now before you say, hang on, Allison is published by the independent press and her stories would count as genre fiction, yes, yes I know. It just gives me added reason to dump these things! I am not pretending to be unbiased here (just as well really).

So what would you choose? (We’ll assume nasty reviews that are clearly having a go at the author rather than trying to be objective about the book have already been dumped by the word fairy. She’s good about things like that or will be when I’ve had a word in her ear…).

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My Chandler’s Ford Today this week is a review of the latest production by The Chameleons. This was a set of three plays, all different in mood and setting, called an April Trio of Plays. More tomorrow but it was intriguing to see three different stories performed.

Contrasts in mood can also work well in stories generally, of course. If there could be said to be a golden rule, it is that there has to be at least one good reason for the mood to be shown. Mind, there has to be at least one good reason for any character to be in a story. If they are not contributing, out they go!

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The delights of short fiction
Are in all of the friction
Contained in fewer words
That please us writing nerds
Who want to have a ball
With their tales and, in all,
Show cynics it can be done
In 100 words – it’s fun!

Allison Symes – 1st May 2018

For all you fellow drabblers out there! (Who did come up with the terms for flash fiction categories? Above all, why?! I still don’t see how 100-word stories could be called drabbles. What is the link there? If anyone knows, please let me know. Mind, I feel more sorry for the 50-word writers. To be a dribbler doesn’t sound right, does it? You just want to reach for some tissue…).

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Am delighted to say I am one of the authors chosen to appear in the Waterloo Festival anthology. Am gutted I can’t get to the launch event in June due to a much looked forward to holiday! Murphy’s Law for writers strikes again… ah well.

Timing being “off” sometimes is just one of those things that happens to most writers at some point. Sometimes a story can be rejected not because there’s anything particularly wrong with it, but because the editor has chosen another on a similar topic so doesn’t want two close together like that. So definitely time to see if you can find another home for your story then.

Am very pleased to see there are so many more flash story competitions around these days so hopefully that gives us all more scope to find what suits our writing best. Good luck!

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Of all the sayings that flash fiction justifies, less is more is probably the best one!

You can only use the most important details in a story. I often don’t name a character either but write in the first person. (I tend not to use that at all for longer short fiction).

You have to get to the point of the story quickly (or if writing a twist ending, everything must be seen to build up to that point. There must be a sense of “movement” in the story getting your readers to where you want them to be).

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One Book To Rule Them All?

A good writing diet includes plenty of reading, in and out of the genre you focus on, and should include non-fiction too.

Why? Because ideas for stories spark from all over the place and by reading widely, you are effectively casting your net further. You are giving yourself more opportunities to be inspired. What’s not to like about that?

It is also a good idea to read contemporary as well as classic fiction. Again you are mixing up your reading and, especially if you’re a writer seeking publication, it does make enormous sense to support the industry you are trying to join by reading some of the books that come out of it!

I also think it a good idea to mix things up still further when reading fiction by reading novels, short stories, flash fiction, and poetry. I love reading things I know I couldn’t write myself because the joy of being creative in writing is enjoying the creativity of others. After all, what inspired you to write? Almost certainly something you’ve read.

REAL WRITING POST - Let your characters live

Books should keep you gripped and that is down to the characters. Image via Pixabay

Or you could just ask a few simple questions - image via Pixabay

Or you could ask some simple questions! Image via Pixabay.

Nobody gets their ideas spot on immediately, image via Pixabay

Nobody gets their ideas right first go. Image via Pixabay.

My stories are in The Best of Cafelit 4, 5 and now 6 and also by Bridge House Publishing (Alternative Renditions). My first collection From Light to Dark and Back Again is published by Chapeltown Books.

Where my stories are in print. Image by Allison Symes

The best advice for any writer - image via Pixabay

And prepare well!

Writing in many forms... Image via Pixabay

Writing in many forms… Image via Pixabay

Images from the magical world... Image via Pixabay

Images from the magical world… Image via Pixabay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Likes, Dislikes and Using “Dead Time”

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My latest CFT post is Part 4 of my 101 Things to Put into Room 101. I’m up to No. 60! Tonight’s “delights” to go into the vault of doom include rats, overpriced clothing for those of us with height issues (in either direction) and those people who dislike fake flowers. I bet they don’t suffer from hayfever!

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Am planning to get on with some flash fiction writing whilst out and about on the train tomorrow. Great use of dead time and on my last trip out like this, I managed to write at least five stories (which are in the second collection I’ve submitted to Chapeltown Books). I can’t give you an exact number as I stopped counting after that.

One lovely thing about writing, regardless of genre or whether you write fiction, non-fiction or both, is you are never short of things to be getting on with while out and about on public transport! I also use dead time like this to draft future ideas for Chandler’s Ford Today and Association of Christian Writers’ blog posts.

Am I a convert to the smartphone? You bet! Picture below from one of my CFT posts from late last year but given the topic of this post, I thought it apt to use it again!

Fairytales with Bite – Character Likes and Dislikes

In my latest Chandler’s Ford Today post, I consign various items to Room 101. Amongst the items in Part 4 of my series are rats, people who dislike fake flowers, and overpriced clothing for those of us with height issues (in either direction.  Am not unbiased here!).

I love fake flowers because (a) they are of a much higher quality than they once were and (b) I’m a hayfever sufferer!  Thinking about this made me wonder about what quirky likes and dislikes your characters have.  I’m thinking of those things that would really make them stand out to a reader.  It is vital readers can tell characters apart and distinctive personality traits, likes and dislikes are great ways to achieve those necessary differences.  We’re not all clones after all, so our characters mustn’t be either.

Think about also why your characters have their likes and dislikes.  (Yes, people can and do have irrational likes and dislikes but, in fiction, you have got to convince the reader your characters are believable.  I find having a good reason for them to be the way they are, which would include their tastes, is a surefire way of achieving believability).

Part 4 - I'm all for stopping spam, the electronic and the meat kinds

I loathe spam – the electronic or the meat kind! Image via Pixabay

Part 4 - Success is one thing but being famous for being famous is beyond me

Success but should it be because you’re famous for being famous? Image via Pixabay

Part 4- Ambition is not the same thing as talent or being famous on merit

Ambition is no substitute for genuine talent. Image via Pixabay.

Part 4 - Wastefulness

This sums up humanity’s wastefulness. Image via Pixabay

This World and Others – Using “Dead Time”

Using “dead time” in a more efficient way so I can get more writing done is something I have improved on in the last six months or so. This is partly because I’ve finally got a smartphone (!) and I also use Evernote as an app to draft stories, articles etc when I’m out and about on train journeys etc.

The nice thing with this is not only do I get more work done, I haven’t got the distractions of all I have to do at home getting in the way. I can focus purely on writing for a while, which is bliss. One lovely thing about writing, which I touch on in a Facebook post tonight as well, is that whether you write fiction, non-fiction or both, there are always things to work on, edit or write!

On my last big train journey, I managed to write at least five flash fiction stories (I admit I gave up counting after that). So think about your pockets of time that can easily be lost. How could you use those? I remember being annoyed when I took my car in for service as I was happily drafting stories while waiting for that to be done. I was well into the writing zone when they told me the car was ready!

Main task for me now here is to submit more flash fiction to Cafelit as well as get on with ideas for my third book. My second book is in with Chapeltown Books now so fingers crossed!

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Scrivener and Stories

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My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week will be Part 4 of my 101 Things to Put into Room 101. Is proving a fun series to write. Link up on Friday.

One of the biggest difficulties I have is prioritising time. I find I have to block out time to write, else guess what? I don’t write!

I use Scrivener on my PC and I find that great for organising my notes, especially for my non-fiction work. See one of my earlier CFT posts. I use Evernote on my phone and am increasingly using train journeys to draft a few flash fiction tales using it. I’m off again on my travels on Saturday so hope to get a few short pieces under my belt (or more accurately on my phone!) before I get home again.

 

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My favourite opening lines to stories are those that take me straight into the world of the tale or the mind of the character. You don’t need a lot of words to convey enough information for the reader to fill in the gaps. Flash fiction as a genre proves that.

For example from my Rewards in From Light to Dark and Back Again:-

She must go, Becky thought.
Becky paced her thick, red lounge carpet a dozen times. The beautiful Gemma had decided one boyfriend wasn’t enough.

You have the main character and her state of mind here. The thick, red lounge carpet is an indication Becky has (a) a home and (b) she probably isn’t poor. She also has a situation to resolve! All in 24 words.

Often I’ll write a flash piece and realise when I read it back, there are more clues to pick out than I originally anticipated. This is no bad thing. It means my subconscious is clearly working and something is coming through into what I write! That can be developed further or left as it is as a hint to the reader. Happy writing – conscious and unconsciously!

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You learn a lot when you write stories. Firstly, you learn about rejections as, unless you are phenomenally lucky, you will receive loads of those. Secondly, you realise fairly early on that write what you know, while a very useful start, is simply not going to be enough. You need to be able to write about what you can find out too!

This is why reading widely, in and out of your own genre, fiction and non-fiction, is so important. The more you feed your mind, the more you will have to draw on when writing your own work.

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A successful flash fiction story is one you’ve read where everything that is needed to be said has been! You should feel as if the writer could not add anything to the story without “over-egging the pudding”.

As with any story, a flash piece still has to have a beginning, middle and end (even if that end is a twist one). It should not feel like a piece of prose cut down to meet the word count requirements.

I love flash fiction stories where I would love to know more about the characters despite their role being over. That indicates real “life” behind the characters and their story.

 

Twists, Trailers, and Judging Your Own Work

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Lovely night out at a local pub/restaurant. Good opportunities for people watching! (You never know when something said or what someone wears will strike you as a good idea for your own characters).

Have earned my first royalties on my published works, many thanks to #GillJames and Chapeltown Books for such hard work here. Glad to say will need to put in an order for From Light to Dark and Back Again before too long.

Have confirmed I will be going to a big Book Fair later in the year. More details later but am looking forward to this.

 

 

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Book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back Again.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FAllison.Symes.FairytaleLady%2Fvideos%2F1236887723080871%2F&show_text=0&width=560

I’ve put up the book trailer for From Light to Dark and Back Again on my main writing page as I was thinking of my choices in this year’s Hall of Fame that Classic FM put on at the Easter weekend.

Danse Macabre by Saint Saens was one of them. I came across it when I watched the TV series Jonathan Creek but it struck me as being the perfect piece for my book trailer. Quirky music for quirky fiction!

I nearly always do have classical on when writing. It relaxes me and I write better when in a good state of mind. It also has the huge advantage of using up zero calories (sadly, the odd glass of prosecco and bar of chocolate cannot claim that! Sighs…. there really is some fantasy that is unlikely to be realised!😁).

 

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Why do I like twist ending stories so much? For one thing, I like guessing at the ending. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m not.

A really good twist tale will make me admire the way it was set up and carried out (even if I did guess the outcome). An even better one not only surprises me with the way it turns out, but makes me go back through the story to look for the clues I clearly missed in the first place. I then berate myself for having missed them!

 

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When do you know your story, of whatever length, has really “taken off”? For me, it is when the characters come to life. You know (though almost certainly won’t say in the story) what they have for breakfast, what their major traits are, and what they’d be like in a fight – just to name a few random examples!

I find outlining a character before I write “for” them really helpful (and this is one reason I love Scrivener. The character and setting outlines in the fiction – short story option are amazing. The great thing is you can adapt them with anything you feel you want to jot down before you write the story itself).

For my flash tales, I prepare a brief outline (appropriately!) but I just need to know what my character is really like. Sometimes “awkward but brave” is enough to get me started on a character.

 

 

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Flash fiction takes at least as much crafting as any other type of story because of the need to get the story across in as few words as possible. There is a balance to be struck here between the needs of the writer getting their story down and the editor ensuring the story comes in at the right word count.

I’ve found that it never pays to do the two writing tasks together. I get the story down and worry about editing later.

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I’ve talked about classical music on my main writing page tonight and why I used Danse Macabre for my book trailer theme for From Light to Dark and Back Again.

Do I have music in my mind when I write my stories? No, but I can often think along the lines that Character X would be a huge fan of rock or Character Y would love opera and so on. Thinking about what a character’s tastes would be is a great way of helping you to bring them to life on the page and, from a reader viewpoint, a very easy way to tell characters apart.

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Sometimes you’re not always the best judge of your own work, but it is always good to know you are not alone here.

Spoiler alert!

I’ve been listening to Classic FM’s Hall of Fame and the 1812 Overture is the new No.1. Listening to it now in fact. Love the piece. Its composer,Tchaikovsky, however thought it had no artistic merit. Well, how wrong can you be? Quite a bit as it turns out!

I’ve found when looking through my stories, I’ve got to allow some time to pass between writing them and editing. I’ve got to come back to the pieces as if I’d not seen them before. It’s the only way I know to be objective about what I’ve written.

And it’s nice to know sometimes you can be wrong about your own work when you’re negative about it and others like it!

Classic music can make a classic filmMusic, whether writing it or playing it or both, is just one form of creativity - image via PixabayWriting, whether it is fiction or otherwise, is a wonderful way to create something new - image via Pixabayonce-upon-a-time-via PixabayOne joy of blogging is ease of publication via Pixabay

 

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Flash fiction can be great for brief character sketches which give you a glimpse into that character’s life. My Pen Portrait is an example of this. What I’ve revealed in this tells you all you need to know about my heroine, Mary. The final line also shows something of her nature.

So what would you convey in a flash fiction piece like this given you haven’t the room for backstory as such? Just enough information to tell you what you need to know (in Pen Portrait you need to know what Mary’s job is) and leave enough “space” for your readers to fill in the gaps. In Pen Portrait, Mary has found a way of avoiding causing embarrassment to one of her neighbours but I don’t tell you why this is important to her. That’s for you to figure out!

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog

I love listening to classical music as I write my flash fiction. So what has this got to do with books and stories generally?

Firstly, I find classical music relaxes me and so I write more easily. Secondly a great piece of music can help you envisage the world you create. If it is vivid for you, as it should be, it will be vivid for your reader.

Reading, however, whether it is my work or not, is carried out in silence. I don’t want music distracting me. Besides, my main reading time is just before I sleep! Definitely not time for something like the 1812 Overture (much as I love that!).

Music can convey so much. There have been some truly amazing film scores which can enhance the original story. I’m particularly thinking of the score for The Lord of the Rings trilogy here. Fabulous and fantastic story. The music for the film version reflected those aspects well, I thought.

Sometimes I can hear a piece of music and it will make me immediately think of a story. I hear Danse Macabre by Saint Saens and think of the stories in my From Light to Dark and Back Again as this great piece was used for my book trailer. I hear a Bond theme and I think of the film first but without the books by Fleming in the first place, there would be no movies.

It is quite nice to think that a creative work such a book leads to a film and in turn leads to wonderful music being created for that. What can the stories we read and write to lead to ultimately, I wonder? Well, it should be fun trying to find out!

INTERVIEWS AND UNUSUAL BUS JOURNEYS

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My latest Chandler’s Ford Today post is part 1 of my interview with fellow Chapeltown Books author, Gail Aldwin. She shares how her around the world bus journey inspired her flash fiction, especially her story, Paisley Shirt, which is the title for her new collection. Part 2 next week will see Gail sharing writing tips and her thoughts on “real” books and ebooks amongst other things. Plenty of insights for writers and readers to come.

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My Chandler’s Ford Today post this week will be Part 1 of an interview with fellow Chapeltown Books author, Gail Aldwin, whose flash fiction collection, Paisley Shirt, is now out. She shares travel tales from around the globe and looks at where paisley comes from. It is not often the East India Company gets a mention in my posts but it does here!

Part 2 will feature writing tips, a discussion on characters etc. Link to Part 1 will go up tomorrow.

There are so many things I love about interviewing other writers. Some of these things include finding out what inspires them, how links form between something they may have read years ago and a story they’ve written now (it can be amazing what conscious and sub-conscious influences come out when you’re writing), and the tips they’ve found most useful.

I also really love the way Chapeltown Books have such a distinctive image for their flash fiction collections. Okay, so my From Light to Dark and Back Again is one of them. Okay, so I AM biased (!) but if you wanted to see an example of effective branding, I would say this is a good one.

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What do you like most about interviews (regardless of format)?

I like those questions that draw the interviewee out and interviews that really do seem like it is a conversation written down or broadcast or what have you.

One great thing about writer interviews is that, regardless of the genre being covered, we all face the same challenges of getting the story down, editing it well, hopefully getting it published and then marketing it. That does give a lot of ground in which to find lots of lovely questions to ask!

Sometimes you can strike gold when your interviewee reveals something that you instantly recognize you’ve got to ask them more about. It is often about the most unexpected things too. My CFT post later this week contains such a gold nugget! Link to go up on Friday. All I’ll say now is it involves transport!

 

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The joy of flash fiction is its brevity. No words wasted. A powerful impact on the reader made very quickly. But, as with the standard short story, all moods and emotional reactions can be covered in the form (which is why I called my book what I have!). Indeed, I think it a good thing that there is variety here. I like to see my flash collection as a “selection box” of moods and stories.

I suppose it’s indicative of human nature that no one person likes the same thing all the time. I love humorous fiction but also appreciate crime stories, historical tales and so on and I like to mix up what I read too. I wouldn’t want to just read (or indeed write) one thing all the time. Another joy of flash is that you can sample different styles of writing and moods very quickly. You could even use a flash collection to try out stories in genres you’ve not read before.

Happy reading and writing!

 

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Write what you know, so they say.
But influences come out in your every word.
Sometimes they’re buried away
For years but they will find a way of being heard.
Time means nothing there, you’ll find.
So read widely, both non-fiction or a tall tale.
You’ll feed your creative mind.
Ensure the whole story does not stumble or pale.
Strong “people” reflect our best
While the weak characters will reflect our worst side
Write, rewrite, then let it rest
Every writer has to have a skin made of hide.
Some will not get what you do.
But it’s true you won’t like everything they invent
Rejections can make you blue.
It’s all part of the process you can’t circumvent.
Ask where your story would fit.
Target well, it improves your chances of a hit!

Allison Symes – 15th March 2018

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I have a framed poster above my desk which says “Don’t ever give up on your dreams”. (Good advice. Okay, sometimes the dreams have to change for myriads of reasons. Just because you can’t be a novelist that doesn’t stop you from becoming a short story writer etc). But it also struck me this line could be a great motivator for a character.

What are the character’s dreams? Just what are they prepared to do to achieve them? What obstacles are in the way? Is he/she/it encouraged or are others holding them back? (You could also look into what their agenda was).

Feature Image - Facts and Fiction - image via Pixabay

What writing triggers will help you create your new worlds? Image via Pixabay

Time to find a new place to call home perhaps - what stories could that lead to - image via Pixabay

Time to have another home perhaps? Good stories to be had here! Image via Pixabay

Note taking is an invaluable aid to retaining what you learn at conferences, image via Pixabay

Write, edit, write, edit… image via Pixabay

Nobody gets their ideas spot on immediately, image via Pixabay

Nobody gets their ideas right first go. Image via Pixabay.

Escape with a good book via Pixabay

Escape with a good book, it’s good for you! Image via Pixabay

Fairytales with Bite – What is Behind Your Stories?

In my interview with fellow Chapeltown Books author, Gail Aldwin, for Chandler’s Ford Today this week, she shares with me how her round the world bus trip influenced her flash fiction.  She also shares some of the research she carried out into where paisley comes from given the title of her flash fiction collection is Paisley Shirt.  One of the things I love about these kind of interviews is discovering what has influenced a writer to come up with what they have!  There are so many influences…

This is also why every writer, regardless of genre, should read widely and well in non-fiction and fiction, classic and contemporary works.  You are literally feeding your mind.  You can’t know in advance what book it is you read that will spark off ideas of your own.  You will just know it when you come to it.  So have plenty of fun reading lots of lovely books!  It is good for your own writing.

I used to worry about picking up other writers’ styles doing this but have found it not to be the case.  I read something that sparks off an idea in me and I then write that idea down in my style only because, well, it is the only style I have.  After all, doesn’t every author want their work to be uniquely something from them?  That’s where the joy of writing is – in creating something that is unique to you.

A lot of the fairytales are retelling of stories passed down orally over many generations.  Sometimes there can be agendas behind stories.  Hans Christen Andersen must have had concern for the poor as his agenda behind The Little Match Girl (and probably the hypocrisy of people being horrified at what happened to his character yet doing nothing to allievate suffering themselves).

So what is behind your stories?  Why have you created your characters as you have?  I was surprised when I was looking back at my draft of From Light to Dark and Back Again how often the theme of poetic justice came up.  That wasn’t planned (well not consciously anyway).  I also hadn’t planned the variation in moods of the stories that formed the book (though it did help inspire the book’s title!).  Look back at what you have written and see if you can spot what is really behind it.  It may well inspire other stories!

This World and Others – Character Journeys

My latest Chandler’s Ford Today post features fellow Chapeltown Books author, Gail Aldwin, and how her round the world bus journey influenced her flash fiction.

The obvious character journey (well for me it is!) is that of Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings.  Everything about this story is epic!  However, character journeys can be much smaller than that.  Scrooge went on a journey of sorts as he transformed from a miserable miser to a generous (and much happier) man in A Christmas Carol.

So what journeys are your characters going on? If it is a physical journey, why are they making it?  Do they like travelling or is is something where they have no choice?  What obstacles must they overcome?  What is the landscape like?  Are they from a background where travelling is normal?  (It generally wasn’t for hobbits so Frodo’s journey was unusual from that angle).

If the journey is more of a character development one, is the journey a good one or a bad?  (People can go from being good to bad, so why not characters?).  Is it a successful journey?  What is the impact of the character change on them and those around them?  Change can threaten others so how is this dealt with?