Brainstorming, Historical Links, and Publication News

Really exciting week publication wise – more later.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

I love historical links and going to events like the Fryern Funtasia on Bank Holiday Monday for CFT makes for a nice link with the medieval fairs.

What our ancestors would make of inflatable slides, train rides etc, makes the mind boggle though I suspect the Hog Roast would go down very well!

Images Credit:  Unless otherwise named, all images were taken by Allison Symes (so you know who to blame).

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Facebook – General – and Publication News

Am thrilled to bits to share more publication news following the news my two stories, Dignity and Injustice and The Art Critic, will be included in the Best of Cafelit 8 due to be launched later this year.

My story The Professional is one of the winners of this year’s Waterloo Festival Writing Competition. Yay!

I was also in last year’s Waterloo Festival ebook To Be… To Become with my story, Progressing.

The full list of Waterloo Festival Winners is below.

Irene Lofthouse Cat and Mouse
Linda Flynn Climbing Rainbows
J S Brown Disarray
Jeanne Davies Everything has changed
Helen Price Havens
Amelia Brown Heat
Laure Van Rensburg Of Salt and the Raw Flesh of Fish
Beverly Byrne Old Masters
Paula R C Readman Over The Wall
Jessica Joy Russian Doll
Sinéad Kennedy Krebs Steam
Gail Aldwin Take Your Place
Yvonne Walus The Father Daughter Club
Allison Symes The Professional
Christopher Bowles The Side of Blue
Louise Rimmer The Undermen
Hannah Retallick The Word Has It
Madeleine McDonald They Lied to Me
Michael Baez Time Will Tell

Many congratulations to all of the other writers who are winners here.

What will be lovely this year will be getting to go to the Waterloo Festival. I missed it last year due to being in the stunning far North of Scotland on holiday.

Am already keenly anticipating going to the Festival AND having the great joy of meeting up with writer friends again, well ahead of when I’d usually see them for the Bridge House Publishing event in December. Win-win in every sense then.

And it is a really happy author who can report she has had a very good writing week!

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I’ll be sharing a look back at the Fryern Funtasia (held on Bank Holiday) Monday for my CFT post this week.

But meanwhile, my lovely editor, Janet Williams (who founded the site to bring people together), has prepared a very different summary of it including a great selfie pic of the two of us having a fab time. Pic taken by Janet, not me.

Naturally we got to have a good chat about writing, CFT etc over a cup of tea. An outdoor editorial meeting if you like!

If anyone tells you the writing life is glamorous…

If however they tell you it is a lot of fun, then DO believe that!

http://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/fryern-funtasia-6th-may-20…/

 

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Janet Williams, my lovely CFT editor, and I at the Fryern Funtasia.  Many thanks to Janet for kind permission to use the selfie which she took.

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Have got a long car journey coming up so am I planning to draft flash fiction, blog posts etc while in transit? You bet! The time will fly by and I’ll get lots done, I hope! Naturally I am NOT driving…!

Also hope to catch up with Kindle reading and to write some reviews. All of that should take care of the motorway stint!

The lovely thing with writing is you are never short of things to while away “dead” time and drafting work is always profitable for later on, if only in terms of having more work to submit.

Thrilled to bits to be a winner in the Waterloo Festival again. My story The Professional will appear in an ebook compilation later in the year and I’ll be only too pleased to share further details when I have them!

The Professional is one of my longer flash fiction pieces as it comes in at just a tad under 1000 words but the thing to remember with flash is the word count has to fit the story and NOT the other way round. If a flash piece works better at 500 words than say 250, then go for the former, always. Your story and characters will be sharper and better for it. (I’d say it’d stand better chance of being published too).

When writing to a very small word count (100 words or under), then I’ve found it helpful to select the ONE moment that has to be written about in my character’s life and focus intently on that. There is no room for anything else. But the story still has to be complete in and of itself.

Get the story right in terms of what details you HAVE to include, edit to sharpen it (you will find better ways of phrasing things while keeping the same meaning), and then get it out there and see what happens. Good luck!

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How can I tell if a flash fiction story has worked, whether I’ve written it or not?

Simples to quote a certain advert. (Though if I ever see a meerkat reading or writing stories, I’ll double check what goes in my cups of tea!).

If it makes me react either in support of the character I’ve just read about/written for OR against them. Which way round it is depends on the nature of the story of course but that reaction must be there.

Sometimes the reaction can change as I read the story through. A character I thought to be a villain proves not to be etc but the reaction is there. The writer has successfully connected with me via their prose.

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Fairytales with Bite – Using Historical Links in Fiction

My latest CFT post is a review of the annual Fryern Funtasia, which is a great fun event for all ages.  What I particularly love about events like this is the ongoing links with the medieval fairs.  It was appropriate there was a Hog Roast and an archery practice range (for children) at the event which was held on Bank Holiday Monday, 6th May 2019.

Historical links can be great for inspiring story ideas.  These can range from timeslip novels to ghost stories involving historical characters (do check out the works of Jennifer C Wilson for some great examples here).

I use historical links in flash fiction as a quick way to show when a story is set.  For example, if I mentioned someone’s ruff was distinguished, you’d know from that one detail alone the tale was set in the Tudor court (Elizabeth’s).

You can also be inspired by the stories of historical characters.  Anne Boleyn inspired my Dignity and Injustice which is on Cafelit (and will be in their Best of Cafelit  8 due out later this year).

So think about how you can use history to shape your own fiction. And a character’s sense of history (their own, their country’s etc) will affect how they think and act and can add great drama to your story.

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This World and Others – Brainstorming

Following on from recent posts about writing exercises, another favourite way of generating story ideas for me is to have brainstorming sessions every so often.

I set myself a time limit and just write what comes into mind. It doesn’t matter if the ideas prove to be rubbish later on (most will be!) but out of all of that will come ideas I really can use.

I’ve found I need to give myself permission to just write freely and kick the inner editor out of the arena of my head for a while. It pays to put this writing aside and come back and look at it later with a cold, logical head. That’s where your inner editor is useful. But don’t try to free write and edit together, they really are separate processes.

If you’re not sure where to start on a brainstorming session, think of a character. Jot down anything about them – what they look like, what their habits are, what they think they are like, what others around them think they are like and so on. If it helps to use pictures to think of a character than do so. I tend not to do that. I think of a character who is awkward, for example, and look at reasons why they might be that way.

But whatever method works for you when it comes to starting a useful brainstorming session, stick with it. See what you come out with and have fun with this!

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Publication News and Starting a Story

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I’m thrilled to say two of my flash stories, Dignity and Injustice, and The Art Critic, will be in the Best of Cafelit 8, which will be launched in December. All of the stories included in this book have been voted on by readers too so that makes it even more special. Thank you, everyone.

And a huge congratulations to all my fellow authors, who are as eager to see their stories in this book as I am with mine!

A special thank you to PaulaReadman for putting up the following list on Facebook earlier today. Am cheerfully swiping it to include here. Well done all!

The Best of CafeLit 8
Salisbury Plain, February 1946 by Laura Gray
No Room for Them by Dawn Knox
She Says We’ll Get There Soon by Hannah Retallick
Jeopardy in Pink,by Penny Rogers
Marking Time by Janet Howson
Rose Tinted Glass by Linda Payne
Remembrance Day by Jim Bates
Yellowjackets by James Bates
God works in mysterious ways especially at Christmas by Robin Wrigley
Goodbye My Lush by Shawn Klimek
Losing Tony by Gill James
Self Assessment by Peppy Barlow
Years & Years by Kim Martins
Airport Sandwiches by Pat Jourdan
Budgies and Bingo by Alyson Faye
Dignity and Injustice by Allison Symes
The Lady in Red by Caroline S Kent
Untrodden Snow by Paula Readman
A Walk in the Woods by Jo Deardon
Father Van Der Bosch’s Last Christmas by Robin Wrigley
Gemini Rising by Paula Readman
The First Time by Patricia Gallagher
Bats Downunder by Mehreen Ahmed
Induction Day by Janet Howson
Life Begins at the 250 Bus Stop by Jacqueline Ewers
On Time by Lisa Williams
Redemption by Richard Hough
The Art Critic by Allison Symes

And in the meantime, if you like an ecletic mix of stories in terms of mood, word count, genre etc., do check out the rest of the Cafelit series.

https://www.bookdepository.com/search…

https://www.amazon.co.uk/…/B01…/ref=as_sl_pc_qf_sp_asin_til…

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How do you start a story? I have to know the voice of my character/narrator. Are they brusque? Are they feisty? Are they hard done by (or feel they are – of course it doesn’t mean they’re right!)?

I also have to know what their main trait is – are they brave? Selfish? Kind to animals but rotten to their fellow man?

With those two things firmly in place, I can then outline more about this character and as they come to life, I can work out the best situations to dump them in to bring out both the best and worst of their personalities.

I find the Scrivener outlining tool on their fiction template really useful for this but you can create your own. Decide on what you need to know about your character before you write them up and turn that into a template. Prep work pays!

Enjoyed the Fryern Funtasia today. Will be writing about that for CFT for Friday. Good to catch up with my lovely CFT editor, Janet Williams, too.

Other events I’m looking forward to are the Winchester Writers’ Festival and Swanwick and I hope to get along to the Waterloo Arts Festival as well. I had a piece in their writing competition ebook To Be…To Become last year.

Right at the end of the year will be the launch of The Best of Cafelit 8 in which I will have two stories. A great time is had by all who go to that!

Whatever writing events you are off to over the next few months, have a fab time!

Image Credit:  Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for the picture of me reading at last year’s Bridge House event.

 

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How do your characters handle disappointment? Are they of the “have it all out in one almighty tantrum” school of thought or do they prefer the quiet sulk? What drives them to react the way they do?

Do they use setbacks to find different ways of overcoming problems or do they give up? (If the latter, they’re not going to be of much interest as a character, unless the giving up is temporary, they start again and go on to find better ways of doing things, which can be a great story in itself).

Give some thought as to what really motivates your characters to react the way they do. Are they reacting the way their families have always done/expect them to or rebel against that?

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Two of my flash stories, The Art Critic, and Dignity and Injustice, will be appearing in The Best of Cafelit 8 in December. Am thrilled, naturally.

Dignity and Injustice is one of my favourite historical pieces. The Art Critic is very different!

Days like this are wonderful for all sorts of reasons, not least in that it encourages you to get back on and write more flash fiction!

Congratulations to all my fellow authors, who will be appearing in the book too. A special well done to those who are appearing in print for the first time. It is such a special moment!

I am looking forward to catching up with as many of my fellow contributors as possible for a very convivial time at the launch of the book in December! As for the second picture below, well I would say that, wouldn’t I?

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The best stories reveal something about ourselves. What flash fiction does is focus on one particular point and leave the reader to draw their own conclusions, both from what has been said, and what is inferred but not spelt out.

This was one thing I loved about the plays staged by the Chameleon Theatre Group I reviewed last week. Each play had plenty of inferences. I love filling in the gaps. I just need enough information to be able to do so.

So how do you decide what IS enough information? Well, this is where the restricted word count of flash fiction can be your friend as it imposes a limit. You really do have to work out what a reader has to know to be able to make inferences and leave anything not achieving that out. Best of all, you get to decide what the reader has to know!

 

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Things flash fiction should not be:-

1. Too long! (You have up to 1K words).
2. Truncated prose. (The story must have a proper beginning, middle and end, same as with any other form of writing).
3. Too many characters. (You really don’t have the word count for them).
4. Sub plots. (As for 3 above!).
5. Too clever! (A story illuminates a moment of change, flash fiction focuses INTENSELY on one specific moment so you have to focus on what achieves that and nothing else).

Repeating a word to start consecutive sentences in story can be a great way to set a rhythm for the tale, as well as provide emphasis. I do this with Watching Myself.

I also like to use a character’s thoughts sometimes as a great way into the story. You get to see something of the character immediately that way. I do this in Rewards.

It is a good idea to mix up how you start your tales as it keeps things interesting for you (and as a result your reader) and you will get different things from varying the way you start.

Beginning with a character’s thoughts takes you right into their mindset and attitudes and a reader can begin to make conclusions from that.

Beginning with the same word in consecutive sentences sets up a “beat” and should trigger anticipation in the reader. What is important about this word? It must have some bearing on the story (and of course it will).

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Goodreads Author Blog – The Dangers of Reading

Reading is wonderful but it can also be dangerous. Why?

1. Reading widely will open your mind and challenge thoughts and ideas. That is why in repressive regimes writers and journalists have been amongst the first to suffer. It’s why I admire George Orwell. He got on the nerves of both the far left and far right! That’s the way to do it…

2. Reading widely is often the trigger for creative writing. Once the bug bites you, it doesn’t let go! The challenge of creating your own stories is a wonderful one. The challenge of trying to write better, whether it is for publication or not, makes you try to up your game. You WILL be stretched mentally and imaginatively. That is how it should be.

3. Reading across the genres will help you discover what you like and dislike or, more accurately, what you THINK you like and dislike. I’d never heard of flash fiction when I first started writing (and it wasn’t around as a form when I started reading independently!). But in coming across the form and trying it in terms of reading it as well as writing it, I’ve discovered a love of the very short story form I never anticipated developing.

Where will your reading journey take you?

How will it surprise you and are you ready to be surprised?

Have fun finding out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dangerous Words and What Flash Fiction Isn’t

Facebook – General – and Publication News

My flash fiction story, Dangerous Words, is now up on Cafelit. Hope you enjoy it. There’ll be another from me here on 16th March.

I love getting straight into the heads of my characters and letting them get on with it! The writing seems to flow better when I do this.  And here is the link to my page on Cafelit.  Hope you enjoy the stories!

When you think about who your favourite authors are, do you stop and think about why they’ve made it on to your list of favourites?

No reader or writer worth their salt ever has one favourite author only! You are reading widely across genres to help inspire your own creativity, aren’t you?!

Besides, with such a wonderful wealth of books out there, why stick to just one genre? (I’m the same about chocolate – yes I will always prefer milk, but there’s no way I’m missing out on dark and white!).

I strongly suspect the big draw will be the characters your favourite author(s) created. A well drawn character will have you sympathising with their predicament, their hopes, the obstacles they’ve got to overcome to have any chance of realising those hopes etc.

So turn this around then and ask yourself what you can do with your characters to make readers feel all that about them. Readers should be able to identify with said predicaments and hopes (though not necessarily agree with them or the way your characters handle matters).

I’ve been sharing on Twitter some of my favourite books, the kind you have to take to the mythical desert island with you. Amongst the list are Men at Arms (Terry Pratchett), Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen), Murder on the Orient Express (Agatha Christie), and The Daughter of Time (Josephine Tey). A nice mixed bunch so far but then I’ve never seen the point of limiting your reading to just one genre.

What do I look for from a good book? An entertaining story, characters that make me want to root for them, for good to prevail over evil, and where the story can make me think as well, even better. The Daughter of Time remains, to date, the only novel to make me change my mind over something (Richard III and whether he was innocent or guilty of the murder of the Princes in the Tower).

The challenge as a writer is to create your stories in such a way they resonate with your readers long after they’ve read them. I’ve only ever read To Kill a Mockingbird once (at secondary school) but certain images and the way it made me feel against injustice remain with me to this day. I’ve not read the follow-up and I don’t know if I will but to be able to haunt your readers long after they’ve finished your book is something to aspire to, I think.

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I love getting right inside the heads of my characters when writing stories and often use that as a way to get started on a piece.

I like to think of it as hitting the ground running, because a brief incursion into the character’s mind will reveal (a) what they’re facing and (b) their attitude to it. That’s when the sparks fly!

It also means I’m showing you the story from the viewpoint of that lead character. No telling here! It does mean you’ve got to know your character well enough from the outset so you can write them convincingly but this is where outlining a few thoughts comes into its own. That outline can be as detailed or not as you want, but as long as YOU know enough to write the character, that is what matters. How to tell?

Ask yourself how your character would react to a situation you are not actually writing about for this story. Do you instantly know how they would react? If so, good. If not, you need to flesh your character out more to yourself so you can turn that no into a yes.

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Delighted Dangerous Words is now up on Cafelit. I’m very fond of stories where the main character reveals a lot of what appears to be backstory but is very relevant to what they are facing at the time! I’m also very fond of stories about little old ladies who aren’t quite as innocent as they might seem to be.

How easy do I find writing flash fiction?

The simple answer is I never know when I write flash how it is going to turn out until I do it so I take an idea and run with it and see what happens.

Sometimes that idea will work better as a longer standard length short story (and that’s okay because there will be markets and competitions for it). At other times, something I thought would make a great flash fiction idea really isn’t strong enough.

Flash fiction ISN’T a diluted short story. It has to be a complete story in and of itself. It captures a moment in time (a short story can capture more than one) but it has to be a moment worth sharing! One moment finely honed. And it takes practice too. But that’s true of any form of writing.

Learning to write short will help with creating blurbs for a novel amongst other things so practising writing flash fiction I think is great for all writers to do. The editing and polishing skils you pick up over time will pay off in other writing work you do.

The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings – the ultimate in dangerous words is on this ring!. Pixabay image.

The writing prompt in my diary for this week was of a bird watching its potential mate carrying out a ritual wing display. (The mischievious side of me would have loved the picture to have shown the female holding up a score card – you know the marks out of 10 kind of thing – but then that’s my quirky sense of humour).

The prompt was to tie in with Valentine’s Day and I’ve drafted a flash story (in poetic form) where the female wishes she could have the special treatment more often during the rest of the year, that it wasn’t all down to mating etc, that there could be something special during the day to day effort to survive. My draft needs a lot of work (as all drafts do) but I sympathise with my character’s viewpoint here.

For all writers, the heady moments are (a) when you know you’ve created something good, (b) when you hear you’re going to be published, and (c) when the book contract (a good one obviously) turns up for you to sign! The nature of things means those heady moments are “spaced out” and we have to cope with the daily nitty gritty, which is far less “glamorous”.

The nitty gritty then for all writers is to get the writing done, get it out there, cope with the rejections that will come in, and so on.

And on that note I must get on!

Does flash fiction have its limitations?

Well, there is the word count of course, but I suppose the main one would be is it is not the vehicle for an in depth character study! What it can and should do is show a reader enough about a character so they fill in the gaps themselves. It is like shining a torch and you pick up ONE thing to focus more attention on.

I’ve always loved it when writers don’t tell me every last detail. I want to be able to work things out myself and flash fiction IS the perfect vehicle for that!

I really enjoy reading and writing flash fiction stories which end with a punch. Sometimes that can be literal (!) and is most satisfying when the character has deserved it (and that will be the view your readers will take too). One huge advantage of fiction is wrongs can be righted in a way they’re so often not in real life. I believe that is one reason why fairytales are always popular!

I also love the witty one-liners that can close a story. It’s good to finish a story on an “uplift” where that is appropriate. Of course the set up for that finish happens much earlier in the story and it can be as simple as showing your character has the type of attitude which will make a witty one-line retort likely. (It usually is a retort!).

Above all, it is fun, which is what writing should be after all.

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Goodreads Author Blog Hooks into Books

I seem to have a “thing” for rhyming titles at the moment. Sure it will be a passing fad…!

What attracts you to a book? Is it the title, the blurb, the cover, or a combination of the lot?

For me, the cover draws me in but the blurb is what clinches a sale for me, whether I’m reading on Kindle or a paperback. If I like the premise of the blurb, I will “look inside” a Kindle book or look at the opening page of a paperback. If it seems to deliver, I’ll go ahead and buy.

There is no such thing as a foolproof system but this works for me!

Of course, another great hook is reading a book by an author whose works you know you like. I love series novels and my favourite of these has to be Discworld. Each book original and entertaining but there’s enough familiarity with the world to make you feel right at home as you continue to enjoy the series.

Whatever you read, enjoy!

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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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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,