Reviews and Remembering

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

It was a delightful and very moving experience to watch the Chameleons’ production of Blackadder Goes Forth last week. My review for CFT this week shares some wonderful pictures from the set (and many thanks to Stuart Wineberg and the Chameleons for kind permission to use these). The production was a sell out run and I am not at all surprised.

The way the very famous final scene was carried out on stage worked so well too. For more, see the post.

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Looking forward to sharing my review of the Chameleons’s most recent production, Blackadder Goes Forth, later in the week. Found a particularly nice Youtube clip to go with it which fits in beautifully. It is always nice to uncover gems to go with posts like that.

Remembering is a fundamental part of being human (which is why Alzheimer’s is the tragedy it is). It should feature in your fiction too. What makes your character the way they are? What do they remember that they fight against or go with? Do they join in with their society’s collective memories or would they be what we would know as a revisionist?

What ceremonies are special on the world you’ve set up and what memories have led to these ceremonies taking place at all? Is everyone expected to join in or is it only for the privileged few?

Funny day today. Saw my sister go off to NZ (holiday and catching up with family). Not been to Heathrow for years. Last time was when our parents went over there. Mum and Dad went over at exactly the right time. It wasn’t long after their return that Alzheimer’s became “openly apparent” in Mum. Had they delayed at all, they would not have been able to go. The decisions we make…

What decisions do your characters make that turn out to be pivotal? They don’t necessarily need to be “obvious”. Something as simple as deciding to take a journey at a particular time as opposed to a later or earlier time could make all the difference to your story outcome but you will need to show why and how. Plenty of possibilities for drama and conflict there (especially if your lead is arguing with others as to the best way and time to go about their “mission”).

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I’ve been thinking a lot about journeys today (my sister is off to NZ as I type this), but of course every story is a journey in and of itself, regardless of its length. You have a character, something happens (the moment of crucial change) and then there’s the outcome (not necessarily a happy or good one).

The main difference with flash fiction of course it that this tends to be a short, sharp journey and there’s no hanging around for the outcome!

I sometimes write pieces where a character reflects on their life. My They Don’t Understand is a good example of this. Not an action story as such but one where, hopefully, the characterisation grips you and you have to find out how the character did in the end.

Naturally there has to be something special about the character to get you to keep on reading. Often it is their voice that is compelling. Know how your character would think, act, and therefore speak. It will make a huge difference to how you write them.

I sometimes write pieces where a character reflects on their life. My They Don’t Understand is a good example of this. Not an action story as such but one where, hopefully, the characterisation grips you and you have to find out how the character did in the end.

Naturally there has to be something special about the character to get you to keep on reading. Often it is their voice that is compelling. Know how your character would think, act, and therefore speak. It will make a huge difference to how you write them.

 

Thoughts for starting to write flash fiction:-

1. Pick out or invent a title and see what story ideas can come from that. Ideally try not to go with your first idea, as usually that is a way in to finding deeper, better ones to work with!

2. Know who your lead character is going to be and what their chief characteristic is. Very useful way to get started!

3. Don’t worry about the word count limitations at this stage. Write the story. Edit it. Read it out loud. Edit it again. Then see what its word count length should be. Some stories really do work better at 100 words, others at 500. The great thing is there are markets for both!

4. Keep the idea simple. Don’t try to be too clever. You want the reader to identify with your characters and for the idea to be a plausible one (no matter how fantastic the setting of the story). Being too clever will just tie the story (and you!) up in knots and won’t do anything for a potential reader.

Fairytales with Bite – Character Dialogue

Character dialogue has to sound natural when a reader comes to it, whether they read it aloud or not and whether they read a print or ebook or listen to the story on audio first. Often character dialogue is a “tidied up” version of what we say in life with few hesitations (best used sparingly in writing. It looks gimmicky and is “tiring” to read.).

I’ve found reading work out loud (sometimes recording it and playing it back) is a great way of checking to see if my dialogue is up to scratch. If I stumble over my words, a reader will too as out with the old editing pen again! It is wise to use accented speech sparingly. You want to give a sense of what a character’s accent is. You don’t need to use an accent for each and every word they say. Again, that is tiring to read, especially in a longer work.

You need your characters to speak in different styles so readers can easily tell them apart during “conversational pieces”. Sometimes this can be done by the choice of words a character uses. Sometimes it can be that Character A always speaks in short, sharp sentences, while Character B takes their time in getting to the point!

I love getting my characters to “chat” even if sometimes it is to themselves via their own internal thoughts. This is where you and, later, a reader can find out so much about them.

This World and Others – Packing a Punch With Your Writing

This topic has come about as a direct result of my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week, which was a review of the Chameleon Theatre Company’s recent production of Blackadder Goes Forth.  This last series in the Blackadder canon is by far the best of them and with humour and irony conveyed the horror of life in the trenches in World War One.  Blackadder would have been mad NOT to have tried any means possible to get out of there.  The writing is excellent and the tragedy of what happens is beautifully portrayed.  How?

A lot of the writing is understated.  Blackadder’s final “good luck, everyone” is said calmly and without emotion as the men are about to go over the top.  There is a wealth of emotion behind those three words.  Anyone watching knows those men are about to go to their deaths and that they know it too.  So you don’t need lots of words to make a powerful impact on your reader.  There is a lot to be said about quiet courage (as shown by Blackadder funnily enough).  Think about then what impact you want your readers to experience, then look at the best way of achieving that.

Humour can achieve a great deal here as can quiet acceptance of what is about to happen.  Raging against the unfairness of it all can engender some sympathy but I’ve found a better approach is for characters to fight the odds as much as they can and if they lose, it is clear from the story it is NOT because of anything they’ve said or done.  It is for your reader to conclude that it is unfair on the character, rather than have the character do it (as you run the risk that the character may come across as being whinging).

 

 

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Fears, Flash Fiction, and Keeping It Simple

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Pleased to say a new flash fiction story of mine is now up on Cafelit. Story below but am sharing the link to Cafelit too.  Do explore the wide range of stories on there. Hope you enjoy Jack of All Trades.

This is influenced by an old Bob Newhart sketch (where a new employee has to report to his boss that King Kong is climbing up the side of the Empire State Building! Newhart is fab – I have a CD of his very best material including The Driving Instructor and highly recommend him).

Jack of All Trades by Allison Symes

chocolate milkshake

Nothing was said about this in the manual. Jack blinked. He hadn’t been mistaken. The purple dinosaur was there and it didn’t look happy. Still, Jack knew he had to report these things so he tapped his supervisor’s number out on his mobile.

It took several minutes for Jack to stop repeating his description of the beast and longer still for the supervisor to stop swearing. The purple dinosaur was munching its way through what had been the supermarket.

At least demolishing the contents of the butcher’s counter was keeping the creature occupied and its attention away from Jack. He felt this was good news. Jack’s supervisor felt differently – his cousin was the butcher at that supermarket. It was made clear Jack was disposable.

Jack hung up. If he didn’t resolve this, he’d be eaten or, if he survived, sacked. If he did resolve it, the supervisor wouldn’t mind having the call cut off.

He saw the dinosaur had finished the meat. The next aisle contained the veg.

It won’t want that, Jack thought. I never do. Still, if a creature comes through from the next world, it can jolly well go back there again and at speed. We don’t want his sort here.

‘Come here, boy,’ Jack did a quick check, ‘sorry, girl. This world is no place for you.’

Jack took a flare out from his tool belt and fired it above the dinosaur. It roared and ran back through the gaping hole in dimensions its body had blocked from Jack’s view.

Jack sighed. He’d have to fix that too.

About the author

Allison Symes is published by Chapeltown Books, Cafe Lit, and Bridge House Publishing amongst others.  She is a member of the Society of Authors and Association of Christian Writers.  Her website is www.allisonsymescollectedworks.wordpress.com and she blogs for Chandler’s Ford Today – http://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/author/allison-symes/

Am enjoying Doctor Who though admittedly tonight’s episode was not for the arachnophobes amongst us. Scary though, as DW is meant to be. I always did sympathise with Ron Weasley in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets over his reaction to the giant spiders in that.

Character fears can be a good area to explore to:-

a. Find out whether or not they overcome them
b. How the fears developed
c. What happens when forced to face up to them.

Fears can be the making of a character if, to use the modern phrase, “they feel the fear and do it anyway”. There have got to be some great stories there!

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Facebook – General – and More than Writers, ACW blog

Time for my monthly spot on More Than Writers, the Association of Christian Writers’ blog. This time, I look at KISS and why Keeping It Simple really isn’t a stupid thing to do.

The irony is that effortless reading (which is a joy) has almost certainly been subject to many an edit to get it to that point. Writing directly can be harder than you think. Fighting the urge to embellish what doesn’t need it is an ongoing thing.

Anyway, hope you enjoy.

Keeping It Simple Is Definitely Not Stupid

I’m not fond of the acronym, KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid), as there’s nothing stupid about “direct” writing. Keeping it simple is much harder to do than whoever invented that acronym supposed. I guess it is meant to imply the other person IS stupid for not keeping it simple but the reality is you have to edit hard to get your prose to the state where it reads as if it has been written effortlessly.

In my honest opinion, keeping your writing simple is never a stupid thing to do.  Pixabay image.

You then repeat the process until you reach the point where you cannot improve the work. Sometimes you reach the point of being heartily sick of it but that’s another story.  It shows it’s time to take a break and come back to it later and look at it again with a fresh perspective.  The distance away from it does help.

Some editing is definitely needed here!  Pixabay image!

I learned a long time ago when someone makes something look easy, whether it is writing or any other creative art, you can bet that same someone has worked their socks off for years, perfecting their craft, to achieve this.  (And, as they say, other hosiery items are available!).

Just how much hard work has gone into getting to this stage?  Pixabay image

I start my editing of a story or a blog post by looking for what I know are my wasted words – “very”, “actually” and “that”.  The first two contribute little to a piece, you do need “that” sometimes but not nearly as often as you might think, and I have found by focusing on removing these words first, I enter straight into “editor mode”.  It is easier when in that mindset to cut what has to be cut.  (I can justify the “that” there!).

I overwrite, which I used to hate, but now I accept it is part of how I write and there is little a good edit or several can’t fix!  Rarely have I written a piece where I’ve needed to “fill” and I hated it when I did.  It felt artificial and was one of those rare instances where I binned the whole idea (and that is needed sometimes if, no matter what you do, it isn’t working).

If an idea isn’t working, despite time away from it, binning it can be the right thing to do. Pixabay image.

The other good thing was this instance made me brainstorm for better ideas, which is what I should have done in the first place.  Lesson learned there.  I don’t mind effort, indeed I expect it as we all should with our work, but I loathe it when it seems to be wasted.  Still, I’m not planning on making that mistake again so I think some good has come out of it.

Also when editing, I look for how the sentences flow.  Do they read easily?  Do they convey the exact meaning I wanted?  Could I express things better?  (The answer to that one is nearly always yes).

No matter how fantastic your fictional world, it still pays to keep the writing simple.  Pixabay image.

Simple writing then is not lazy writing.  It is hard work but well worth the effort.  Simple writing pulls the reader in.  Look at Jesus’s parables.  Straightforward storytelling.  Not a wasted word.  No waffle.  Now there’s a challenge to us all!

Jesus’s stories are the work of the master storyteller.  Pixabay image.

My CFT post this week will be a review of The Chameleon Theatre Company’s latest production, Blackadder Goes Forth. Link up on Friday though I will say now that final scene of the last episode is incredibly moving and the way it was performed on stage was excellent.

Generally I find it is moments in books, TV shows etc that stand out (and in a really good series, say, helps recall the rest of the show. The chandelier scene in Only Fools and Horses is another classic here, as is Del Boy falling “through” the bar).

I suppose the challenge here for any writer is to ensure we put plenty of stand out moments in our stories!

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The writer’s way is strewn with words
Chittering away like the birds.
The issue is how to edit
Would the dialogue really be said
Or does it seem not real somehow?
Does your piece make your reader go “wow”?
Is the tale all action, does it flow?
Is the pace fast enough or, eek, slow?
The advantage to writing flash fiction
Is it teaches writing with precision.

Allison Symes – 30th October 2018

To finish my alphabetical look at flash fiction (in particular attributes useful for writing it), I finish with Y and Z. Now there’s a challenge but at least I know it’s been coming!

Y = Young. Can be taken to mean having a mixture of character ages in your stories or what a character will do to defend their young. Interesting tales to be had from both of these. Also if you tend to write from the viewpoint of older characters, why not switch and see if you can write from the viewpoint of someone, say, 20 or 30 years younger? Mixing things up helps to keep your writing fresh and you will enjoy it far more.

Z = Zealous. Firstly, are your characters zealous enough for their cause to see it through no matter what? They should be. If not, is their cause strong enough? If it is, why isn’t the character engaging with it fully? Look again at what your character wants. Do they want this enough? Secondly, are you zealous about editing your work well, as well as enjoying the more obviously fun creative side of writing? You need both to get work out there and it makes sense then to relish both the writing and the editing.

Now at the tail end of the alphabet for my flash fiction listing.

V = Variation. As with any fiction, vary the pace of your flash fiction tales. There is room for reflective, thought provoking pieces, as well as the action story. Vary how you tell the tale – first person, second etc. Vary the settings. Above all have fun. The first person to enjoy your writing should be you.

W = Writing. What else? Write regularly. Write first, edit later. The lovely thing about flash fiction is you can use it as a warm up exercise ahead of major writing (e.g. a novel) but there’s nothing to stop you editing those exercises and getting them out into the flash fiction markets and competitions.

X = Xerox! I was determined not to use X-rated for this one but Xerox does have a serious point to it. The great joy of writing is inventing something you have created (albeit inspired by what you have read over time). Never ever xerox/copy another writer’s work. Create your own work always. That IS the whole point.

Will have a go at Y and Z tomorrow!

Getting nearer to the end of the alphabet with my flash fiction “requisites”.

S = Story. Has to be really. It is all about the story and that is dictated by the characters. Without memorable characters there is no story. A story is about conflict and resolution in most cases and the characters “carry that”.

T = Turning Point. In flash fiction you obviously reach this point quicker than in standard length short stories. Sometimes the turning point can be revealed in the last line (often via the classic twist in the tale ending). Sometimes you can start with it. In my George Changes His Mind, I start with “He refused to kill the dragon”. There’s the turning point immediately. It is clearly expected George SHOULD kill the beast. The story then hinges on finding out why he didn’t and what the outcome was.

U = Universe. Each flash fiction has to be its own complete universe. By the end of it, a reader should have a sense of your setting, been mesmerised by your character(s), and the conclusion to the tale should be appropriate to the story (and satisfactory as a result, even if the ending is not a happy one). The nice thing is your story universe can be set in a fantastic world or this one in amongst the mundane! Your call but we should be wanting to find out what happens in the world you show us.

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Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Music and Stories

As I’m typing this, I’m listening to a concert of John Williams’ music being broadcast on Classic FM. (I do love the Listen Again feature!).

Every piece of music conjures up memories of films (often Spielberg ones) and with those memories come stories. Stories of when I discovered the film, the story contained within the movie itself etc. Of course so many movies are based on novels too.

So do you find a certain piece of music always conjures up stories for you? I’ve only to hear the opening notes of the Harry Potter film to be whisked away to recalling the books and movies (loved both).

I sometimes use music as a guide to help me create characters for my own writing. Character X would love this, Y would love that, etc.

I also love stories set to music. Up the Junction by Squeeze is a wonderful example of this – and a great ballad in the old tradition too.

When reading I have to read in silence but music is fab for when I can’t just drop everything to pick up a book. I still have the stories and the memories of stories as I work on other matters and that has to be a good thing.

 

 

 

 

 

Music and Stories

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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thank you text on black and brown board

Pexels image.  There are times when words are inadequate.

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So more on my alphabetical list then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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After the End, What’s Next?

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

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

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

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

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

Fairytales with Bite – Signs of a Fairytale World

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

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

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

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

Happy writing!

This World and Others – Music and Stories

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

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

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

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

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Objectives

Facebook – General

Looking forward to seeing the Chameleons’ production of Blackadder later this week. Should be a very good night out. The last episode of Blackadder Goes Forth is one of those sublime moments of writing where comedy meets tragedy and both are done superbly. Definitely not an easy thing to do.

Blackadder clearly had one objective in mind in Goes Forth – to get out of the war and go back home. Totally understandable.

What is your character’s overriding objective in your story? What will they do to achieve it? What gets in their way? In those three lines, you have a plot outline!

Pleased to have sent off some flash fiction stories last night. Plan to get more out later this week, there is one particular website I’m keen to try out, and finally want to get around to doing so!

One of the trickiest things to handle is time. (And yes I think Doctor Who showed that brilliantly in the Rosa Parks episode). How much time do you spend working on new stories and ideas? How much time do you spend marketing?

As with so much in life, there has to be a balance. I’ve found it helpful to look at the week as a whole. By the end of it, I want to have written some new material, be editing older work ready for submission, have my next CFT post up and ready to go, and have carried out at least some marketing. Okay life does not always go according to plan but whatever I’ve not quite done enough of writing wise in one week is what gets the focus of my attention during the following one. It does all balance out eventually.

Acronyms featured in this morning’s church service sermon and of course they’re a common feature in writing. KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid is probably the best known one. Very much the antidote to “purple prose” – the days of the long descriptive passages are behind us!

I suspect that is due to everyone being used to films etc where you get into the action quickly but it is not a bad thing. I like descriptions in stories to be to the point and to feel as if they are a seamless part of the narrative and not a “bolt on”.

All parts of the story must feel to the reader as if they have to be there and the tale would fall down without them. If you’re not sure if something should be cut, ask yourself how your story works without that something in it and that should indicate quickly enough whether it is needed or not.

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Had a fabulous time at the Writers’ Day run by the Association of Christian Writers today. The topic was on writing for children and YA but there was discussion on crossover fiction and contracts, all very useful stuff. From my viewpoint, it is lovely to meet some of the membership face to face given I usually only meet them via emails!

The importance of networking came out as well during the day and I lost my own fear of this when I realised it meant chatting naturally about books, what I’m writing and so on. I have no problem going on at length about that topic!

(Oh and a quick reminder: if you’re offered a publishing contract, always get it checked out. The Society of Authors and Alliance of Independent Authors are the places to go for that. Both I believe issue guides which are free to members. There’s a small fee charged to non-members. Never be afraid to ask).

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A = Alliteration. Can be useful for titles in flash fiction (though I don’t use it much) but as with any story, it can grab the attention and help set the mood. Best not overused I think. You want each title to set the tone for what it is to come and a variety of methods for doing that is best. Keeps it fresh for you as the writer too.

B = Backstory. Not a lot of room for that in flash fiction! Best to hint at it through one or two vital details the reader has to know and leave it at that.

C = Character. The kingpin of fiction I think. Get the character right and the plot will come from them. Know your character inside and out – I find it useful to know their chief trait (and I piece together a mental picture of what they are like from there). Find the appropriate starting point for you but it is worth taking the time to know your character well before you start. Your writing will flow better because you write with that knowledge. It does come through in what you write.

There was talk at the ACW Writers’ Day today of how boundaries, far from restricting creativity, help it to flourish. This is SO true for flash fiction as well. The limited word count means you have to dig deeper to come up with those original ideas that make flash fiction stand out and have the most impact on a reader. It is worth the effort!

I usually know what impact I want a story of mine to have on a reader before I write it. This is to help me choose my words with precision. However, sometimes a story (more accurately the lead character) surprises me and the tale ends up being funnier, darker, sadder than I’d originally thought. This is no bad thing. It means the character has life and if they surprise me, they’ll surprise the reader too.

It may also indicate I hadn’t outlined enough but the great thing is ideas that come to you as you write a piece are not wasted. Jot them down, step back and take a look at where they can fit in. Are they better than your original thoughts? Do they add depth to your original thoughts?

 

Back to working my way through the alphabet again then…

D = Drama. Even the shortest flash fiction has to have some drama in it! But it is also true that serious drama doesn’t necessarily have to have lots of words to make it so! There is drama and anguish in Hemingway’s famous example of For Sale: One pair Baby Shoes. The drama should suit the story though (and be to the right length for that tale).

E = Editing. Every story needs this and I don’t think it should be something a writer dreads. I always feel a sensible amount of relief when I’ve drafted a story as it means I’ve then got something to work with. Editing improves a story and, as a result, increases its chances of success. Take your time over the process though.

F = Fun! Writing should be fun. You are creating something new for others to enjoy. The first person to enjoy said tale should be you!

So marching on then:-

G = Genre. One of my favourite things about flash fiction is because it has to be character led, due to the word count restrictions, you can set those characters anywhere. So, if you’ll pardon the pun here, you do have an open book when it comes to genre in the stories you write. Have fun with that, I do!

H = Humour. Can work well in flash fiction as you can end the story with what is effectively a punchline. Also when you have a very short funny piece, look at turning it into flash fiction. It can be an ideal vehicle for those pieces which would be spoiled if you added anything more (and this often goes for humorous pieces).

I = Imagination. True for any form of fiction, but I find with flash fiction I’m using my imaginative muscles far more. Why? Because I try not to come up with the obvious idea from a theme or title. I dig deep and see what else I can come up with, something that will make a greater impact on the reader.

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog –

After the End, What Next?

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

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

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

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

A BUNCH OF AMATEURS, THE MAGIC OF THEATRE, AND NON-FICTION

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It’s a joy to review the plays performed by The Chameleon Theatre Group as there is always a good mix of shows put on during the course of a year. I’ve watched pantos, tragedies, and comedies. Each review I do for CFT on these means having a look at the background of the play and/or the writers of it and I always learn something.

It’s a great way of taking in stories that are new to you: go and see them acted on stage!

A Bunch of Amateurs is written by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman.  The plot hinges on a local theatre company, the Stratford Players, desperately trying to save their theatre so bringing in a fading American star, Jefferson Steel, to get sponsorship and bring in the punters seems such a good idea….   You know the phrase “famous last words”?  Well, that applies here!

Image Credit:  All images below are kindly supplied by Lionel Elliott and the Chameleon Theatre Group and used with permission.  Many thanks to them.

 

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I was watching a Dr Who episode tonight (Peter Capaldi) and a phrase “stories are where memories go” caught my attention. Mind, it many ways it should do!

What memories of a character could you turn into a flash fiction piece (or longer)? Can you write a story where a character is led astray by mistaken or deliberately falsified memories (and why would someone do that)? Have you got another character who uses memories as weapons against others and how do they do this? What do they gain? How are they stopped, assuming that they are?

There are some good stories to be written out of memories, that’s for sure! (And the great thing is you can create the memories to write about in first place. The lovely thing about fiction is it should be rooted in truth to ring true to your readers, but it doesn’t actually have to be true, otherwise we’d have little in the way of sci-fi or fantasy!).

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Fairytales with Bite – The Magic of the Theatre

My latest CFT post is a review of A Bunch of Amateurs (written by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman), which was recently performed by the Chameleon Theatre Group.  It was a great play, brilliantly performed.  But it led me to thinking:-

1.  Going to the theatre is a great way of taking in stories!

2.  In your fictional world(s), how do your characters take in stories?  Do they read?  Do they have theatres/cinemas etc?  What would they watch/read?

3.  When you go to a performance like this, you go in knowing you are seeing a “pretence” but being willing to suspend disbelief.  You focus on wanting to see how the story ends and enjoy the performances taking you to that point.  The challenge for writers is hooking our readers quickly enough at the start of the story to achieve the same effect for the length of the tale, whether it is a flash piece or a trilogy of novels!  So face the challenge!  The key is in creating characters readers will want to follow through anything.

Happy writing!

This World and Others – Why Non-Fiction Matters to Fiction Writers

I’ve written about this in a post for Chandler’s Ford Today (Fiction -v- Non-Fiction? No Contest!) a while ago, but it is a topic close to my pen so thought I’d bring it up again here.  Why does reading non-fiction matter to fiction writers then?

1.  If you are writing material which means you need to world build, finding out how this world works/has worked/has made blunderingly colossial historical mistakes/created some fascinating engineering etc can directly inspire you for how your fictional world carries out these things.  (Sometimes it can be the direct opposite of how we’ve done it but you need to know how we did it first to be able to do that!).

2.  Ideas spark off other ideas and non-fiction is full of them.  What did make an inventor come up with their revolutionary new designs?  What made them come up with a new system for, say, transport when nobody else had realised a need for it?  There are ideas for characters here too…

3.  When anyone comes up with something new, there will be opposition.  Sometimes it’s justified, sometimes not.  How does your hero/heroine overcome that?  Or if they are the ones behind the opposition, do they achieve their objective?

Plenty of story triggers there!

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Handling Criticism

It has been a very busy week but it was a great joy to welcome Val Penny to my blog on Tuesday last.  Looking forward to her Hunter’s Revenge coming out in September.  I’m also looking forward to the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School later this month.

Facebook – General – and Association of Christian Writers – On Criticism

My More than Writers blog post for the Association of Christian Writers went up on site yesterday.

On Criticism talks about handling criticism, and how showing how your characters handle that themselves can be used to reveal a lot about them. It can be a good way to get depth into a story given no character should be one-dimensional. They should act and react and then usually act on that reaction! How they handle being criticised is a good way to show how they related to the ones doing the criticising for one thing!

I also share some thoughts on allowing time to elapse before evaluating your own work. Link above.

My CFT post this week will be a review of the Chameleon Theatre Group’s latest production, What a Bunch of Amateurs. A really funny play (writers: Ian Hislop and Nick Newman). Looking forward to sharing the link on Friday.

A great story, regardless of format, is one in which you are very happy to suspend disbelief for the duration of reading it/watching it performed/listening to it etc. Amateurs was easily that and good fun.

Images below kindly provided by Lionel Elliott and the Chameleons (and used with permission). More to come on Friday.

Beginning to heat up in Hampshire again…. Lady not keen. Neither are Lady’s owners! Still our park did perk up a bit after the rain last weekend. It doesn’t ALL look like straw now!

Weather can be used as a descriptive shorthand. If you say someone has a sunny disposition you know exactly what is meant. It can be a useful technique for flash fiction of course – all those words saved on your word count!

However, it is too easy to fall into cliche with it (and that’s what I’ve just done with that phrase I think!) so best to use this sparingly. (Think of it as the writing equivalent of chilli powder – too much and you will know it! Too little and well what was the point?).

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Am hoping to submit some more flash fiction before I head off to Swanwick. Happy with progress of WiP (which is nice – haven’t always been able to say that). Have all sorts of ideas bubbling away for future flash fiction collections, which I’m looking forward to having a go at.

Would like to investigate more flash fiction competitions too, so plenty to be getting on with over the summer, but then that is never a bad thing!

The lovely thing about flash fiction is the freedom it gives you to write in different genres, albeit in a very short format! FLTDBA has everything in it from humour to horror to fantasy to poignant pieces and a little bit of crime too. I adore that flexibility. The only thing I have to worry about is the word count!

I love to use thoughts in my stories (though admittedly in flash fiction, I have to keep these brief. That’s no bad thing though). Thoughts reveal the character’s attitude, what state of mind they are in at the time and so on. Thoughts can also help you cut the word count (something every flash fiction writer is looking to do!) because you can go “straight to the chase”. The character is showing you what they are thinking.

Had a nice time earlier going through the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School brochure, trying to decide what courses I will do when there. The lovely thing about writing flash fiction is all sorts of things can feed into it and spark off ideas so a course on crime writing may well inspire all sorts of very short stories on that topic.

Expecting, Why Stop Now, and Punish the Innocent are just three of my flash stories in FLTDBA where the theme is crime. Other themes in the book are fantasy, Pride and Prejudice, Frankenstein, and abusive relationships. Quite a mix! I can’t stress enough how vital it is to read widely. You need to spread your net wide to “catch” as many sparks to fire off ideas as you can and then the work is in deciding which are the strongest ones to actually write up into stories.

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Goodreads Author Blog – Heatwaves and Reading

Is the hot weather (in the UK at least) encouraging you to read more or less than you would usually?

I find I’m “dipping” into things more, especially magazines, given by the end of the day, when I’d usually like to read for a while before lights out, I’m feeling far too washed out to read much. Oh and I am reading more magazines on Kindle now, which was something I never thought I’d do, but I’ve got on better with it than I thought I would.

Magazine reading is ideal for that feeling washed out to concentrate much scenario, as are short story and flash fiction anthologies. Quick reads when you feel as if your brain has melted are ideal. The literary fiction can definitely wait for when it is cooler!

Looking at my reading patterns over the year, I tend to read more novels over the autumn and winter months. It’s not a conscious thing. I suppose you hone in to the fact that with the nights drawing in, now’s the time to get on with a good, LONG book!

Meanwhile it’s back to the cool drinks and quick reads for me!

 

 

 

 

Frustrating Things about Writing

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What do you find is the most frustrating thing about writing?

Rejections?

That lovely moment when you think you’ve got a corker of an idea but you go to write it down and it suddenly evaporates?

Being interrupted when you’ve got going nicely and you know you will have to come back later and find you can’t quite get into your rhythm again?

All of them, I hear you cry! I know. It is difficult to choose from this particular shortlist.

Rejections – I take some comfort from the fact EVERY writer has them, it really isn’t just you or me for that matter. But hopefully you can learn and improve on what you do with each one. Also just because a piece is rejected somewhere, it doesn’t mean it can’t be accepted elsewhere. So keep trying, keep going!

Ideas Disappearing – it happens. Write down what you can. Then think laterally. I sometimes use a spider diagram. Sometimes I get the idea I had initially back, other times I think of something better. Win, win there either way!

Interruptions – On the plus side, whoever you are prepared to drop your writing for must be pretty important to you so treasure them! I carve out blocks of time for my writing and, unless there is a dire emergency, I stick to those. I’ve found it helps to be consistent with this. It also helps to show loved ones what I’ve produced in this time, publication credits when I get them etc so they can see the point of what I’m doing that way. It helps lessen the risk of any “non urgent” interruptions!

One of the highlights of my writing year is rapidly approaching – the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. Brochure arrived yesterday.

I think I know what courses I’m going to be doing – I went through the programme when it was put up on the website (I know, I know, girly swot!). Having said that, the brochure gives me the perfect chance to change my mind again and then again and then… well you get the picture!

Looking forward to catching up with old friends and making new ones! Pictures below taken by me – The Hayes is a stunning place to be.

How can you tell when a story idea really is something you should run with?

When the idea haunts you, basically.

When you start writing the idea down and more ideas flood in as you do so.

I’ve only had a couple of ideas where, on outlining, I found I couldn’t expand them further to create a story. All that promise and nothing… bah humbug!

So does it pay to outline? Definitely. Can save a lot of time.

As for outlining flash fiction, I keep this brief, aptly. Character is X, major trait is Y, how is latter going to help or hinder X?

I often find that a flash story can go in a couple of different directions and then it is down to what mood I want to go for. A humorous story is when X’s major trait hinders, causes trouble etc – there is a lot of comic potential there.

A more sombre story shows the major trait hindering X but they are not necessarily aware of it. What X sees as persistence, all those around them see as stubborness and X being an awkward so and so.

But a good idea gives you that potential to go in different directions.

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Looking forward to seeing the latest production by local theatre group, The Chameleons, tomorrow night. Will be writing more about it for CFT later but my lovely editor, Janet Williams, is also going so I think I can classify this as the nearest thing CFT has to a “works’ outing”!

My CFT post this week will be looking at what to look for in a good review/critique. I also share some tips – link to go up on Friday.

The local wildflower meadow I wrote about for last week’s CFT post is still going strong I’m glad to say. This is totally unlike the grass in the park, our lawn, and most of our plants. I’ve also noticed the trees have started to shed leaves. Really wouldn’t mind some rain now… and talking of the weather, it has been mad here today. It was hotter at 8 am than it was at lunchtime and hotter still at about 5/6 pm!

This is not in my genre at all but I guess there is room for climate change fiction!! (And practically all of it will be based on facts…).

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I don’t set out to write fiction with a “purpose” other than hopefully to be entertaining. I’m all for books that can educate, open readers’ eyes to new worlds etc etc. but there is absolutely nothing wrong in wanting to write stories which make people smile/laugh/scream as appropriate and be for sheer entertainment only.

I’ve never understood why some can look down on genre fiction due to its easy accessibility to readers. You want people to read, yes? Fine, let them get on with that. Maybe people will move on to “more worthy” books later when they are ready but if not, they will still be reading, which is always a good thing.

(And writing to entertain can be easier said than done anyway! Now back to the writing… oh and the first one you have to entertain IS you. If you don’t like it, why should anyone else?}

When is the right time to start a new flash fiction book? Directly after you’ve finished the last one and sent it off to the publisher!

Am making good progress on my third collection. Am planning to make even more progress on it while I’m at Swanwick. I also plan to revisit my unpublished novel (as I would like to change the status on that one!!).

So plenty to do and no chance of getting bored – good, bring in on, say I!

Should you be able to guess the ending of a story, regardless of length?

I must admit one of the joys of reading for me is to try to work out where the story will head. It is great when I’m right. It is even better when I’m not! I like a really good story twist that takes me by surprise yet when I go back through the tale find that the clues to it were there all along.

When I write my twist endings, I nearly always reject the first idea that comes to me. Why? Because inevitably the first idea that occurs is the same one that will occur to most other people too! There is no fun to be had in guessing the ending there!

I do write that first idea down though, despite knowing I inevitably won’t use it. Why? I’ve found the very act of writing it down helps generate other, better, stronger ideas. I find it easier to come up with something when paper and ink are involved somewhere in the process rather than just think it all up. I suppose in a way in drafting ideas like that I am kind of giving myself permission to “play about” with the thoughts that have occurred to me. Whatever the deep down reason, all I know is that it works!

In flash fiction you don’t have room for many characters but you can “infer” some to compensate for that. I do this by revealing what my lead character thinks of X even if X never makes it into the story itself. This also reveals my lead character’s attitude to X and can show how likely it is my lead gets on with others (or not. I can think of quite a few of my “people” I wouldn’t get on with but the great thing is I don’t have to like them to write about them!!).

Another way of showing another character yet without them taking up precious word count room is to have the story written as a letter, diary etc. I use the letter format in my You Never Know where my lead character’s attitude to who they’re writing to is all too apparent! It is also clear they are irked by the attitude of the unseen character.

I love being able to imply things with stories like this. I’ve never been that keen on stories where the author spells everything out. I like putting two and two together for myself and if the writer can send me up a false trail, well done them!

 

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – Book Covers

I think everyone does judge a book by its cover. How else can you do so? You need something to draw you in initially and that is the cover’s job.

I like a cover to be appropriate for whatever it is I’m reading and, ironically for a writer, I want the picture to do most of the work.

I’ve sometimes given opinions on book covers before the books concerned are published and the ones with lots of text merely look cluttered. Far from giving me more to read on the cover, too much text here switches me off.

Where I do want the text is on the back for the blurb. Have you ever read a book, enticed by the blurb and cover, but the story fails to deliver on its promise? I think most of us have and you just feel let down. (All writers beware here!)

The great thing here though is that despite the cover and blurb being really important, it is STILL the story that matters most of all. And what we are all after is a story that entertains, educates, keeps us gripped to the final page and so on.

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Reviews and Characterisation

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

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

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

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

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