Christmas Stories

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My last CFT post before Christmas is all about Christmas stories. I look at the Nativity, Hogfather, and A Christmas Carol amongst others. I also discuss the role of books and stories. I hope you find many a book related present under your Christmas tree this year!

Also in the post are links to some of my Christmas related Cafelit stories. Hope you enjoy.

And however you celebrate the festivities, I do hope you have a lovely Christmas.

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My last CFT post before Christmas looks at Christmas stories appropriately enough. I look at some of my favourites, share a few of my Cafelit pieces with a Christmas theme, and look at why we need stories. Link up tomorrow.

Hope there are plenty of books on your Christmas wish list and that you get them!

Very pleased to say my first non-fiction piece was published in Christian Writer today. It is a 500-word piece about the telling details which help bring stories to life (though there is no reason why this can’t apply to articles as well).

What is lovely about writing is the joy of being published never diminishes. Yes, the first time you hear someone else loves your work enough to print it or put it online is very special but so are the others that follow! It also encourages you to keep going.

Am working away on my novel plus what I plan to be my third flash fiction collection in due course. Would like to write more non-fiction too. Now if only there was a way to stretch time… Still there is no chance whatsoever of boredeom setting in and that has to be a good thing.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Flash fiction is the ideal vehicle for capturing those story thoughts that are illuminating in themselves but would not stretch to a standard length short story. I find this makes the focus sharper and sometimes for a tale that’s what you need. Short, sharp focus and then that’s it.

Flash fiction is also a great vehicle for showing the thoughts and actions of a character in detail. You are focusing on this one character alone. What drives them? What are they hoping to achieve? What do their thoughts and actions reveal about them? (The great thing here is the character does NOT have to be aware that they are showing themselves up as, say, greedy, when they think they’re not).

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What is the important thing about any story? Figuring out what makes it work as a story and that is usually down to outstanding characterisation.

So how can you make characters count especially when you’ve got a limited word count as you have with flash fiction?

1. Show the character’s attitude. This can be done in thoughts, actions, or direct speech. Attitude reveals a lot about a character. A character that is sarcastic will show that in what they say without you needing to spell it out. In the case of actions, if we see a character setting something out “just so”, you can imply this character is fussy (and I’d want to know the reasons behind that). A character that moves a doily half a centimetre to the left is going to be far more fussy than someone who slaps said doily down on the arm of a chair!

2. Show how others react to the character. This can be very revealing. Do they all react in the same way or is there an awkward one who treats the lead character differently to everyone else? What are the reasons behind that? Is the awkward one justified in their stance?

3. Focus on the MOST important aspect of your character as that will determine how your story will go. If your character is stubborn, show how that plays out and the consequences (there will be some!).

Names are important of course and the more often they are used in a story, the more important the character is (even if they never appear in the tale itself).

My They Don’t Understand has my narrator refer to his wife, Joan, throughout. That will give some indication in itself of how important she is to him as well as what he actually tells you as the tale goes on. He only names his carer the once!

So how can you make names work for you in a story? Well, the name itself can give a good indication of the age of the person. How many people are called Gertrude these days? If the name can be abbreviated, IS it or does your character insist on the name being used in full? Equally are they known by one name in one situation and by something else in another? (Good potential for double life stories there).

Fairytales With Bite – Stories, Lovely Stories!

My Chandler’s Ford Today post talks about Christmas Stories (and I share some links to some of mine on this too).    One of the great things about this time of year, when the nights draw in so early, is that it is a fantastic time for reading more!

One of my highlights at Christmas is at the end of Christmas Day itself when I’ve put my feet up on the sofa and I’m curled up with a book given to me as a present.  It is very easy to please the writer in your life by the way – just ask them what books they’d like and Christmas present shopping problems are resolved!

So what stories do you hope to enjoy over the Christmas period?  I like a mix of fiction and non-fiction books plus, of course, there is the chance to enjoy stories as films.  (Watched The Muppet Christmas Carol earlier tonight, which is one of my favourites).

As for writing stories, I tend to take a short break over Christmas and then resume but I come back eager to write again and find the respite incredibly useful for recharging the imaginative batteries.

However you spend Christmas, do have a lovely time, and I hope you get to enjoy stories old and new!

This World and Others – What Defines a Good Story

What defines a good story for you?  What I look for in a good story includes:-

1.  Strong, memorable characters.
2.  An intriguing plot.
3.  The story makes me laugh, or think, or react in some way.  (That’s how you know a story has had impact).
4.  An ending that delivers on the promise of the opening lines.
5.  Where there is a twist ending, for this to genuinely take me by surprise.  I like to look back at a story and then spot the clues I missed first time around! (The great thing about doing that is you can learn so much from doing this and, of course, apply it to your own writing).
6.  It is a story you are keen to read again and again and again. A Christmas Carol is a classic example of this for me.
7.  It is a story you remember well.  This doesn’t stop you wanting to read it again because you will not recall all the details but you DO recall the pleasure this tale gave you and THAT is what you want to experience again.
8.  You can easily envisage the story being a film.  (This is a great test of how memorable the characters are and how strong the plot is).
9.  It is a story that adds something to the language.  Shakespeare takes top honours here.
10.  It is a story that defines its genre or expands it.  I’m thinking of Hans Christen Andersen here who added so many wonderful fairytales to that genre.

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Christmas

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.  My next post would usually be due on Tuesday but, surprise, surprise, not next week!  I will resume here on Friday, 28th December.  See you then!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stories!

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Facebook – General

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

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

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

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This World and Others – Story Moods

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

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

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

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

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

Goodreads Author Programme Blog – Impact of Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

STORIES, STEREOTYPES, TRICKS AND UNICORNS

Be fair, that is quite a mix, isn’t it?!  I share links to three new stories of mine on Cafelit this week as well and discuss them in my Facebook posts throughout the week too.  Hope you like the stories.  I loved writing them.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Busy night tonight. My latest CFT post is live and looks at favourite views, literal and metaphorical. I also discuss how to develop “the writer’s eye”.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Delighted to have three new stories due to appear on Cafelit over the next few days. Will share links as and when. But back to the idea of using the same word to start the sentences of a flash piece with. My word for tonight is Restless and I will ‘fess up and admit I have given this one more thought though I did like the environmental theme that came through with Habitat.

RESTLESS
‘Restless, you are, Wilma, that’s what you are – always have been, always will be.
‘Restless, surely not, I just can’t get comfortable, that’s all’.
‘Restless, I said, and restless I meant.’
‘Restless, that’s the last thing I should be in here, George; I always thought I’d have peace HERE.’
‘Restless spirit, restless grave – I did think I’d have a break from your fidgeting when I joined you in here!’

ENDS.

Allison Symes – 18th September 2018

Hope you enjoy.

I do enjoy reading and writing flash stories told from the viewpoint of a minor character looking at the “main action”. Tonight’s story on Cafelit by me, The Balcony Seen, takes this approach. I don’t even name the character in this one. What matters is showing you what they observed and what they felt.

As ever, with flash, it is vital to focus on sharing what the reader needs to know. It is likely you will need to know a lot more before you put pen to paper or write directly to screen but that is what outlines are for. Outlines are fun to write. The difficult bit can be selecting what it is the reader DOES need to know and leaving out all those lovely pieces of information that are good to know but not crucial to the story. What is crucial for you as writer to know isn’t necessarily the same as what the reader needs to know!

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I love writing throw away lines in a story which tell you something about the character and move the tale on. In my Leaving Home (on Cafelit tonight), there is an example of this. But the crucial thing is it moves the story on. Anything that doesn’t is cut. And that’s the way it should be!

 

Facebook – Publication News – Cafelit

The first of my three stories appearing on Cafelit is The Balcony Seen (I make no apologies for the pun!). This story is based on an exercise set by Simon Hall as part of his A-Z of Novel Writing at this year’s Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. Hope you enjoy. Most of the images below were taken by me at a Hampshire Medieval Fair a year or two ago and shows the scrivener’s wares and his accommodation, which was good by the standards of the time.

Woodland Walk - image via Pixabay

A beautiful woodland walk. Pixabay image

The tools of the medieval writer's trade

The medieval scrivener’s wares. Image by Allison Symes

The Scribe's (Scrivener's) Tent

The Scrivener’s tent. Image by Allison Symes

The scribe had good accommodation

The scrivener had good accommodation compared to most! Image by Allison Symes

As promised, story number two from me on Cafelit this week is now live. Leaving Home shows that the problems of kids pinching parents’ transport is nothing new (or necessarily confined to this world!). Hope you enjoy.

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As promised, the third of my three Cafelit stories is now on site. Dignity and Injustice looks at the death of Anne Boleyn from a very different perspective. Hope you enjoy.

 

Another view of the Tower of London - image via Pixabay

The Tower. Pixabay image.

The Tower of London as night falls - image via Pixabay

The Tower at night. Pixabay image.

Fairytales with Bite – Fairytales A to Z Part 7

Marching on towards the end of the alphabet then, this post looks at letters S, T and U.

S = Stereotypes.
It could be argued fairytales have a lot of stereotypes in them.  The Big Bad Wolf represents villainy and indeed the saying has passed into the language.  We say someone is known to be “a big, bad wolf”.  The downtrodden types that have their lives turned around for the better are known as Cinderella types.  I think what any fairytale writer should do is use the tropes wisely but not be confined by them.  What does your Cinderella type do to try to help herself/himself out of the situation that they’re in?  Maybe it is that which attracts the attention of the fairy godmother to help them in the first place.  Stereotypes can also be spoofed or reversed as in the Shrek series.  So use stereotypes, they can be a useful shorthand, but put your own stamp on the characters you are creating so they are clearly “their own people”.

T = Tricks
It is fine to use stereotypes to create shorthands for your characters, who should then still go on to be characters that are uniquely your creation, and other writing techniques to improve what you do, but those should be the only “tricks” played in your stories.  Indeed they shouldn’t even show!  Your stories should read “naturally” with nothing drawn to the reader’s attention any “artificial devices” have been used in the making of that story.  As for tricks played by characters on others, there should be ground rules set out early on in your story as to magical capabilities so readers know that character A could be reasonably expected to play such a trick on character B.

U = Unicorns (and other mythical beasts)
Use sparingly if at all!  For me a story is all about the characters. Unless you are writing a story from the viewpoint of the unicorn or other strange creature, there seems to be little use for these, other than as transport, possibly, or to set the scene for how your world works and looks.

This World and Others – Story Moods

I’m pleased to say I have three new flash stories on Cafelit.  I share the link to my author page here.

The Balcony Seen started life as an exercise at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School this year.  Leaving Home and Dignity and Injustice are new to me in that they share a common character.  But these stories remind me of one of the reasons I really love flash fiction.  They all vary in mood and it is easy to switch from one mood to another and back again.

I also think really short stories can carry the most impact at times.  Yes, there are exceptions (the sadness of Hamlet goes beyond saying) but I generally find the shorter the story the more powerful the reaction.  I suppose part of the reason for that is there is no room to dilute that impact with sub-plots etc.  In a novel, you would need those sub-plots to give a proper ebb and flow to the overall story and avoid having a monotone.  No need to worry about that for flash fiction!

Anyway, hope you enjoy these.

Goodreads Author Programme Blog – Opening Lines

What is it about an opening line that makes you want to read on?

For me, that opening line has to intrigue me, show me something of the fictional world to come, or show me something about the lead character. The very best opening lines combine at least two of these.

I’m thinking especially of Orwell’s 1984 “It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”. I’m immediately intrigued by the thirteen and I want to know about what kind of world it could be to have clocks capable of doing this. The opening line has definitely fulfilled its role there!

The challenge then for the writer is to make sure that everything which follows lives up to the promise of that opening line and delivers on it! And some people think writing is easy…hmm… I learned a long time ago that when someone makes something look easy, that same someone has almost certainly worked their socks off for years to get to that point.

So what are your favourite lines and why?

I also love the opening to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. Very different in style but they intrigue and set the tone for what is to come.

Happy reading, and writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STORY IDEAS AND PUBLICATION NEWS

Facebook – General

How do you develop your story ideas? I sometimes use spider diagrams to help me here. I come up with what will often go on to be the opening line and work out different scenarios and then write up the one I like the most. It does help to visualise a story sometimes.

With some stories I can hear the character talking and I’ve then got to work out where that dialogue would lead that character. Sometimes the story can be WHERE that dialogue has come from and the talk itself is actually the end of the story. In my They Don’t Understand, I had the finishing line very early on and then worked the story out backwards from there.

So I’d say be open to what approaches you take here. I’ve found one size/one way of doing things is not necessarily the best. You can constrict yourself too much. I also think it is a good thing to mix things up when creating a story anyway. It’s fun too!

Do you find that when you have a closer look at your favourite books and stories there is a common theme? I’ve often found this to be the case.

I love The Lord of the Rings and practically all of the classic fairytales. The common link there? No matter what the struggle or how long it takes, good will defeat evil in the end. A positive theme (and yes I guess that is how you can tell it is fantasy, sadly!).

So what are your favourite themes in stories? I do like themes that speak of justice prevailing, evil being given the boot, or, in the case of historical fiction, shows me something about a past world I had not known before. I loved Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall for that though must confess I’ve not read Bring Up the Bodies as I am an Anne Boleyn fan and know how that story ends!

Great fiction, regardless of genre, will resonate with readers and the key to that resonance is the lead character, who would have been excellently portrayed.

There will be flaws, there will be virtues, there will be plenty that any of us could identify with, knowing our own flaws and virtues, and we absolutely have to find out whether our hero/heroine succeeds in their quest or not.

The lead character is memorable for all the right reasons then – and this still applies even if that character is the villain. They’ve got to have good reasons for acting the way they are (“because they’re evil” isn’t strong enough) and readers should understand why the villain is acting the way they are. Nobody has to like it though!

I suppose we’ve got to have someone to cheer on as we read the latest flash fiction, short story, or novel. And that someone has to appeal to us so how can writers do that? Characters with a great sense of humour come across well, as do characters willing to make sacrifices for their cause. That too can apply to villains (and I bet I wasn’t the only one who almost wanted to root for the late Alan Rickman’s Sherriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves!).

Make your characters distinctive then and easy to “fall for”. It almost goes without saying the first one to love your characters must be you!

Am delighted to say three stories of mine will be appearing on Cafelit over the next few days. Will share the links obviously but one of the tales is a direct result of an exercise set by Simon Hall in his A-Z of Novel Writing at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. I turned one of the exercises set into a flash fiction piece.

I am always happy to recommend a good read on Cafelit given the site has a wealth of stories and styles of storytelling on there – and not just because I’m on it sometimes but you will just have to take me at my word on that one.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I set the scene in the opening line or two of my flash stories, though sometimes that scene is the lead character’s thoughts and attitude! In those cases, you are entering their world as they see it. You don’t have to agree with them though (and I often don’t!).

Writing flash really does force you to focus on only those points without which the story makes no sense. It is the best way I know of learning how to write tight.

Scenes don’t have to be convoluted, far from it. You want the reader to get into your world as quickly as possible (especially since it’s not going to be a long ride!). Your job, as writer, is to open the door for the reader to be able to get in and out of the story at the appropriate points.

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The flash fiction stories that mean the most to me are ones which make the most impact on me. Sometimes that will be to make me laugh out loud, other times to recoil in horror, and occasionally make me feel I’m really glad NOT to be the character in the tale I’ve just read!

A good test for a story you have written is to see, after a period away from it, what impact it has on you. Did it make you laugh as you were meant to when you first read it? Is it still making you laugh when you re-read it a week or so later?

I’m looking then for the emotional impact of the story. A story is a moment in time for a character. A flash fiction piece is a fraction of a period of time, so the writer has to make that impact quickly and through the lead character.

For me, a good way in for this is to show the lead character’s attitude. Attitude is indeed everything and is quick, effective way to show what your people are like. Their attitude can also convey how other people are likely to react to them too and then hopefully that will make readers want to read on to see if they are right on that. Usually they will be but that’s fine. It means the writer has delivered.

Bad tempered character annoys everyone else in the story? Yes. Ticks all the boxes. The fun bit here is HOW did they annoy everyone and did they get their comeuppance? Bad tempered character is out done by someone more bad tempered still? Yes. There’s a story there too with the prospect of someone being taught an overdue lesson.

An interesting flash fiction challenge could be to start every sentence with the same word – and nominate a word for this. “The”, “A”, “An” etc will not be allowed. So let’s see what I can start with – I’ll have a go with “Habitat”.

Incidentally I usually prepare these posts as I type them! Very much on the fly writing (though I love the challenge of that). I only schedule posts in advance for holidays etc. Basically, I haven’t prepared this in advance, honest ‘guv’!

HABITAT
Habitat varies from creature to creature, and must include man.
Habitat isn’t put at risk by most, spot the difference if you can!
Habitat is what we all need to survive
Habitat is where our characters thrive.
Habitat is where I will place my heroes.
Habitat is where I will put my no-goes.
Habitat is the world of my story.
Habitat can be blissful or gory.

Allison Symes – 17th September 2018

I think the format of the flash fiction here will depend on the word you choose to use as your opener. Some words will lend themselves more obviously to a “straight story” rather than a flash poem so to speak but there is fun to be had exploring ideas here!

Delighted to have three new stories due to appear on Cafelit over the next few days. Will share links as and when. But back to the idea of using the same word to start the sentences of a flash piece with. My word for tonight is Restless and I will ‘fess up and admit I have given this one more thought though I did like the environmental theme that came through with Habitat yesterday.

RESTLESS
‘Restless, you are, Wilma, that’s what you are – always have been, always will be.
‘Restless, surely not, I just can’t get comfortable, that’s all’.
‘Restless, I said, and restless I meant.’
‘Restless, that’s the last thing I should be in here, George; I always thought I’d have peace HERE.’
‘Restless spirit, restless grave – I did think I’d have a break from your fidgeting when I joined you in here!’

ENDS.

Allison Symes – 18th September 2018

Hope you enjoy.

 

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Goodreads Author Programme – BlogOpening Lines

What is it about an opening line that makes you want to read on?

For me, that opening line has to intrigue me, show me something of the fictional world to come, or show me something about the lead character. The very best opening lines combine at least two of these.

I’m thinking especially of Orwell’s 1984 “It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”. I’m immediately intrigued by the thirteen and I want to know about what kind of world it could be to have clocks capable of doing this. The opening line has definitely fulfilled its role there!

The challenge then for the writer is to make sure that everything which follows lives up to the promise of that opening line and delivers on it! And some people think writing is easy…hmm… I learned a long time ago that when someone makes something look easy, that same someone has almost certainly worked their socks off for years to get to that point.

So what are your favourite lines and why?

I also love the opening to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. Very different in style but they intrigue and set the tone for what is to come.

Happy reading, and writing!

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PUBLICATION/EVENT NEWS AND ROUND UP

I was so pleased I managed to schedule Facebook, Chandler’s Ford Today posts etc, that I forgot to schedule something for here and also on my Goodreads blog!  Sorry, folks, but a round up of recent posts to follow.  Hope to put up a Goodreads blog in next day or so. Firstly, though:-

PUBLICATION AND EVENT NEWS

I am thrilled that my flash fiction story, Progressing, was one of the 16 winning entries to the Waterloo Arts Festival Writing Competition.  The ebook, To Be…To Become, is now available (reviews would be very welcome!) and I must admit I love a title that also tells you the theme!  Many of my fellow winners took part in the Festival last week and read out from their winning entries.  I was only sorry to miss it being in the beautiful far North of Scotland at the time!  (The link takes you to the Amazon page for the ebook incidentally – no surprises there!).

My latest published story, Progressing, is in here.  A splendid mix of stories – do try them out!  Image via Bridge House Publishing (the sponsor of the writing competition).

 

View from near where I was staying in Scotland. You wouldn't want to rush away from this. Image by Allison Symes

View from near where I was staying in Scotland. You wouldn’t want to rush away from this. Image by Allison Symes

Event News – Hursley Park Book Fair – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I am delighted to be taking part in the above Fair this coming weekend.  The whole event is on 23rd and 24th June but I can only be there for the Saturday, unfortunately.  This is the inaugural Hursley Park Book Fair and everyone taking part (over 40 authors) is hoping this will become a regular event.

I am giving a talk on flash fiction at 10.55 am on the 23rd and am looking forward to that.  Hursley Park is situated between Winchester and Romsey.  The event is free, there is plenty of parking, and a wealth of genres will be represented at the Fair.  So do come along if you can.  If you want to know what inspires our stories, what flash fiction is about etc, I will be pleased to see you.  There are workshops and many other talks, a book quiz, competitions for adults and children, so plenty going on so do drop by.

My post on CFT is naturally about this but gives more details and I am pleased to share some of the other local writers’ pictures and books who will also be at the Fair.  I’ve interviewed them all at some point too!

Book fair Flyer

Hursley Park Book Fair flyer. Image kindly supplied by Glenn Salter.

Chandler’s Ford Today – Graham MacLean Art Series

I occasionally edit a series on CFT and have had the great pleasure of editing Graham MacLean’s series on Art.  I’m sharing Part 2 of the series here, which has some slideshows of his fantastic artwork.  Part 1 was last week and Part 3 will be this Thursday.  If you have any interest in art, I would recommend taking a look.  (My favourite is Part 2 due to the slideshows!).

The Mekong River At Phnom Penh , Cambodia Oil painting.

The Mekong River At Phnom Penh , Cambodia Oil painting. Just one of Graham MacLean’s fantastic artworks. Look at that light! Image kindly supplied by Graham MacLean

Facebook – General

I will just round up all of my most recent posts in one long one here and will do the same for my book page too.  Hope you find plenty of interest.

It always pays to check over work before submitting it anywhere but there is nothing to stop you mixing up the formats you use.

For example, you’ve read through and edited your work on paper. Now have a look at it on screen. Read the piece out loud. Record your reading. Play it back. Literally hear how easily (or otherwise!) it is to read your dialogue.

When I’ve done this in the past, I’ve found that what I thought looked okay on the paper did not necessarily read well so made the necessary adjustments. I don’t use this method all the time, but if you want to check dialogue especially, I’d recommend it.

Old school writing - image via Pixabay

Old school writing. Image via Pixabay.

Always room for different kinds and formats of writing - image via Pixabay

Online writing -v- on a line writing! Image via Pixabay

home-laptop-tablet-lifestyle-163180.jpeg

What every writer needs. Image via Pexels.

Do you remember when you wanted to be a writer? What made you decide to “go for it”?

In my case I’d been writing for a while, was beginning to have acceptances, and took the attitude I would follow my dream here. Nothing ventured, nothing gained etc.

So what was the trigger point for you? Have you achieved what you initially set out to do? Has your writing journey taken a different direction from what you anticipated? I hadn’t heard of flash fiction when I began writing. Now I’m published in it. If there is a lesson here, it is to keep your options open!

 

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What is your favourite piece of writing by another author? Is it what they usually do or something different from the norm?

I sometimes read poetry as that is completely outside what I do and generally read but must admit I tend to stick to the tried and tested classics. (Always a good place to start, at least.).

Given the choice between poetry and limericks, I always go for the latter, partly because I enjoy a good laugh!

What do your characters read? Are the characters in your creations fully literate or are there gaps in education we don’t face? How could you use education/the ability to read etc as (a) part of your story and (b) to give enough details so your reader can get a very good idea of what your world is like?

Writing can teach you many things if you let it. The obvious one is the value of patience given how long it can take to be published and prior to that, you despair as to whether publication is ever going to happen so your “hope muscle” gets a really good workout or several!

Tenacity, perseverance, and determination develop as you learn to handle rejection and improve your work. You also learn to turn a deaf ear to advice that really isn’t helpful for you (and sometimes it really isn’t). Your skin toughens up too coping with the rejections that come in.

But when the writing is going well, your latest has been accepted etc, relish it, see it as the progress it is. I do know I wish I could bottle that positive feeling and unleash it on myself for those days when writing etc does not grow well.

A surprise ending shouldn’t come as a total shock to the reader. There should be clues earlier on in the story that means the surprise ending is justified.

I must admit one of the great pleasures of reading for me is reading a story, guessing at who the bad guy is, and then finding out if I’m right or not!

I usually then go back through the story, especially if I guessed wrongly, to look for things that might be clues (and often get a bit cross with myself for not having spotted them in the first place. They are there, as they should be!).

My CFT post this week tells you all about the Hursley Park Book Fair, which is taking place on 23rd and 24th June at Hursley Park, the home of IBM, between Winchester and Romsey. The event is free, there is plenty of parking, and a wide range of authors are taking part. I’m there on the 23rd and will be talking about flash fiction at 10.55 am. Hope to see you there!

Who has the best reasons to thwart your characters’ plans? Do bear in mind that sometimes a character doesn’t need an enemy as such. Sometimes circumstances can thwart them. How do your characters react to that? When there is an enemy, how did they get to be that way? Is there enemity going on that new characters could help resolve? How do your characters response to life’s odd moments?

An A to Z of characters can start with:-

A = Ambition. Are your characters ambitious? What will they do to gain power and keep it?
B = Books. Are your characters well read? What do they read?
C = Creativity. Are your characters creative and, if so, in which field? Can they use their skills here in the story you’ve put them in?
D = Drive. What drives your characters? What can zap that drive and can they get it back again?
E = Education. This is a good one to use to show the standards in your creation. Are they high? Is education universal? Do your characters relish their education or did they hate it all?
F = Family. What are your characters’ families like? Do they support your hero/heroine as they continue their quest (sacred oir otherwise).

So continuing with the A to Z of characters, we are now at G.

G = Generosity. Are your characters generous or do they begrudge giving anyone money?
H = Helpfulness. Well, are your characters helpful or not? Can other characters rely on them?
I = Imagination. Do your characters have any? How do they use any they do possess – in writing, the creative arts, or in criminal activities, say?
J = Justice. Justice can be an emotive topic. Is justice truly upheld in your fictional world? Do the nasty (but cheap) and the loud (but knowledgeable) people exist in your fiction? What impact do they have on others?
K – Kindness. I like to see kind characters who are NOT doormats. They choose to be kind. Their attitude makes a difference. They’ve perhaps been shown great kindness and they are now kind of passing it on.

More next time…  (well, actually in a couple of days!).

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I was reading something earlier about using character names to tell you something about back story, about the character themselves and so on. Good idea! And in flash fiction it would be another great way of keeping the word count down!

Ironically, having given this a bit more thought, I often don’t name my flash characters at all as I use first person a lot. It is immediate, takes you straight into the character’s head and thoughts, and is phenomenally useful.

My only problem with the above idea is I would end up revealing some spoilers as some of my flash fiction revolves around a crime. Murderess Mary rather does give the plot away about what said Mary got up to!!

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I like writing flash stories which tell you quite a bit about relationships the main character has with others while getting on with whatever it is that is happening to them as the story.

My Making the Grade is a good example of this as the character is clearly taking exams but you find out a lot about her family and their attitudes in this.

It is also an example of first person usage and I think of this as the character talking directly to “camera” as Eric Morecambe used to do so frequently in the Morecambe and Wise shows. (Wonderful shows, they bring back many happy memories).

Flash fiction is a celebration of the joys of being brief! I think of it as the polar opposite to the epic novel…

I find flash really useful for those scenes which are a story in and of themselves, but are too short to be sent out to standard competitions etc. Waste not, want not! And I’ve always loved books I can read from cover to cover or dip in and out of as I choose. Flash fiction is ideal for that too.

I suppose you could also describe flash fiction as “moment” stories given you haven’t the word count to show much more of a character’s life.

The front cover of FLTDBA shows ripples in a body of water and when I was looking for something suitable to use for my book, this one leapt out at me. (Only metaphorically speaking!).

I liked the idea of the ripples spreading outwards and that for something (a splash!) which initially wouldn’t have seemed so important still managed to make its presence felt! I want my stories to have that kind of impact. A good story stays with you and I hope that with a reduced word count, people will find it easier to remember good flash fiction pieces.

The reason for a good title is to grab
The reader’s attention and hope
They’ll find flash anything but drab
And suddenly learn to say “nope”
To those saying flash isn’t worth the read
Because it’s so short and to truly feed
Your imagination you need the big book.
Of course you do but you need short stories too.

Allison Symes – June 2018

I sometimes schedule posts if I’m away, likely to be really busy and so on and find it quite useful. However, I do find it odd to write a few posts all in one hit so to speak. I am going to try scheduling more often to free up more writing time for other projects I’d like to work on. (It’s also a useful habit to get into as it can cover you for family emergencies, at least for a while).

I’m off on my travels again before long and am mapping out what I’d like to write on Evernote on my phone whilst on my way. I need to use that more for non-fiction posts, including mini blogs like this one. Still I am pleased with progress on my next collection and plan to write more of that up too!

What inspires your fiction? I’ve been inspired by crime stories, fantasy tales and so on. So the more you read, the more you can be inspired by!

If you are in Hampshire over the weekend of 23/24 June, why not pop along to the Hursley Park Book Fair at Hursley Park, home of IBM until 2014? There will be a range of authors (over 40 of us) and I am representing flash fiction writers. I’ll also be talking about the form and why I love it. It is very addictive.

The event is free, there will be a book quiz (with 3 prizes of book bundles in all, a copy of From Light to Dark and Back Again is part of one of the bundles), and car parking is free and plentiful. (Can’t often say that these days).

Children’s fiction will be represented more on the Sunday but why not go to both days and top up on books for all the family. Hope to see you there!

Because there isn’t room to world build in flash fiction, it is very easy to set your stories anywhere. You just put your character in a location, say London in Dickens’ time and for most readers that will instantly conjure up images (lots of fog especially!) that will add to the story for them without you having to spell it all out.

I love writing stories from the viewpoints of aliens as I can show you what they are like as characters. The details of their world in terms of how it is run, population types and sizes etc, are generally not relevant for my tales. (Though why they left can be…).

This can lead to a “mini series” if you really take to the character created. I love having fun with flash fiction and seeing what I can do with it. It all keeps the writing fresh.

I thought of my book’s title while I was away in the beautiful far North of Scotland last week. Only problem was I was reading by natural light up until about 11 pm most nights so by the time it did actually get dark, I was asleep! I am writing this now at just coming up to 11 pm in the South of England and it is pitch black out there. Oh what a difference latitude makes!

One image that I really wish I’d managed to photo was from a previous holiday where there were hills behind where we were staying. I watched the sun go down on one side and the moon rise on the other and it was a beautiful sight. A little bit other worldly too and I suspect, had I managed to snap the image, it would have made a very good picture prompt for a story on those grounds.

Managed to use the journey to and from Scotland to get more flash fiction written (and indeed some non-fiction too) so was very pleased with that.

And I am delighted to say another flash fiction piece of mine called Progressing is one of the 16 winning entries to the Waterloo Arts Festival Writing Competition. The ebook, To Be…To Become (title AND theme!), is now available from the usual outlets, as they say. (See at top of post for link and image).

Fairytales With Bite – All The Fun of the Fair

Am looking forward to taking part in the Hursley Park Book Fair on 23rd June. About 40 authors are taking part in this and it will be the biggest book event I’ve taken part in to date. I’ll also be giving a talk about flash fiction during this and, of course, I hope to sell some books!

Fairs generally go back a very long way in the UK in terms of history and were the highlights of medieval life in particular. They acted as a kind of holiday from the usual backbreaking toil which was the lot of the peasants.

In your fictional world, does your society have this kind of community event? If so, what form does it take, who can take part in it, and how often does it run? Is there a history to it? In a magical world, how do their Fairs differ from non-magical ones?

If there isn’t a Fair or something like that, what kind of recreational activities do the ordinary people of your world enjoy? If there’s nothing at all, how do the people cope with work, work, nothing but work? I would expect people to get ground down and tired and in need of some sort of break so what would happen in your world if that break doesn’t happen? I would expect friction, at least, and probably more than that. Someone is bound to rebel against their lot. And that’s where your story may well be!

This World and Others – Compare and Contrast

Comparing and contrasting what is on our world with what may or may not be on your fictional one is a great place to start when it comes to world building.  The “what if” card comes into play here and you can also use alternative versions of our history to create your own world.

I didn’t watch The Man in the High Castle but I heard very good things about it.  People I know who did watch it were gripped by the drama showing an alternative world to ours where Germany won World War Two and Hitler was a very old man. I don’t want to say more than that – no spoilers here! – but you can see how you could create your own timeline based on the opposite of what happened for real and create a whole new world and set of stories.

Another good starting point would be to take character traits you admire or loathe and get your characters, in a setting or time of your choice, to have the exact opposite!

For example, if you loved medieval life, what would the consequences be for, say, a knight who is a coward? (Okay, you could argue that knight would not live long and how did he get to be a knight in the first place with an attitude like that anyway?  I suspect there would be stories to be had answering that question!  Also, so much depends on perspective here.  The knight might not be a coward at all – it is how he is seen by others who might have their own agendas here.  So you can see there are story possibilities there as well).

So compare and contrast and have fun!

EVENTS, PUBLICATION NEWS AND ONLINE WRITING

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

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

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

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

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Facebook – General

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

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

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

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

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

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

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This World and Others – Technology in Created Worlds

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

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

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

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Reviews and Characterisation

Facebook – and Chandler’s Ford Today

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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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

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.