Plays, Ingesting Stories, and Writing Games

Now there’s an eclectic mix just in the title alone!

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My CFT post this week is a review of the latest production from The Chameleon Theatre Group – Spring Trio of Plays.

One of the reasons I love going along to their performances is that the shows give me a chance to enjoy stories in a different format – i.e. plays.

Reading widely will always be important for a writer to help feed and nuture their own imagination BUT taking stories in via different media is also very useful. Particularly with plays, you get to “see” how dialogue works, how pauses are used to good effect and so on. This is obviously directly useful if you plan to write plays yourself, but even if you’re not, listening to dialogue and how it comes across can be a useful aid for how YOU write it when it comes to your stories and books.

So support your local theatre company. As well as being a good night out, it can and should benefit your own writing.

Image Credit:  Many thanks as ever to Stuart Wineberg, Lionel Elliott and the Chameleons for kind permission to use their excellent photos.  Captions on my CFT post!

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Fiction books of the alphabet:-

A = Anne of Green Gables
B = Black Beauty
C = Carpe Jugulum (Discworld’s approach to vampires!)
D = Death on the Nile
E = Emma
F = From Light to Dark and Back Again (I kind of had to!)
G = Great Expectations
H = Hogfather (Discworld’s approach to Christmas)
I = Interesting Times (Discworld again and to my mind the best of the Rincewind books)
J = Jane Eyre
K = King Solomon’s Mines
L = Lord of the Rings (I usually DO drop The!).
M = Murder on the Orient Express
N = Nemesis
O = Of Mice and Men
P = Pride and Prejudice
Q = Queen’s Nose
R = Rebecca
S = Sourcery (Discworld again)
T = Thud (and again!)
U = Uncle Tom’s Cabin
V = Very Hungry Caterpillar
W = Wind in the Willows
X = Xena – Warrior Princess
Y = You Only Live Twice
Z = Zorro

I can’t claim to have read all of these (though I have read most). It is a quite a reading list though! What would be on yours?

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When do you find writing the toughest thing to do? For me, it’s after a day of niggling admin tasks (you can guess what kind of day I’ve had now, can’t you!) and I feel tired and just want to stop (yes, you guessed right). The kind of day where you don’t want to think any more so writing creatively seems to be a VERY big effort…

However, I’ve also found it pays to make myself write. Why? Because I inevitably feel better once I’ve got going on a piece and that’s usually within a minute or two. I can also escape into the lives of my characters and the horrible problems I’ve set them (fiendish laugh can be inserted here!).

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I wonder if sketches (such as for radio comedy shows) could count as “flash plays”! Just a thought…!

There are certain things flash fiction has in common with plays. I’ve been “gallivanting” this week, having had a wonderful time at a local theatre company’s latest production.

One common aspect is having to select the most powerful points to get across to an audience and inevitably you will select those that will have the most impact on the story you’re trying to tell and those watching/reading it.

Another is when you do use dialogue, it can only resemble speech not be an accurate copy of it. So no ahs and ums (the odd one or two would be okay in a play, there’s no room at all in flash for them as they would literally be wasted words).

There should be some sort of emotional impact from the flash story or play. Doesn’t have to be a happy one but it should be a logical impact given the nature of the story you’re telling.

Twists, of course, feature in both.

There should be a satisfactory outcome, though again it doesn’t have to be a happy one (as Shakespeare proved time and again).

Flash by day, flash by night
Flash is such fun to write.
Outline your special ideas
Work out your character’s fears.
Put them through hell, time and again.
We’ve really got to feel their pain.
Who said a writer must be nice?
We just write and edit and splice
To get the tale that must be told.
We dig to get that story gold.

Allison Symes – 2nd May 2019

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One thing I must try and do is enter more flash fiction writing competitions. I do enter a few throughout the year and I’m pleased to see that places such as The Bridport Prize now have flash as a specific category. It’s nice to see the form recognised more widely and, of course, it gives more opportunities for flash fiction writers.

The rules I set myself on entering writing competitions are:-

1. They mustn’t cost too much. (The exception to this are novel competitions but ALWAYS check the terms and conditions carefully, which you should do for ANY competition, but that is even more important, the higher the entry fee is).

2. The background of the competition can be checked out and verified. I enter competitions which have been established for some time. I’m wary of new ones and wait for them to be established after 3 years or so. You do hear horror stories from time to time of a new writing competition and then it folds, taking all the entry monies with it. So be careful.

3. You know what you are getting for your entry fee. Some places will give critiques. I sometimes go for these but only after I’ve asked myself the following questions and got answers to them. Does the competition give you an idea of how detailed this critique will be? If the fee for it is low, it won’t be much but will that be enough to be useful to you?

4. The competition does NOT ask for all rights for ever and ever, amen.

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Fairytales with Bite – Ingesting Stories!

My CFT post is a review of The Chameleon Theatre Group’s latest production, Spring Trio of Plays.  This included Effie’s Burning, Ghost of a Chance, and In For the Half.  The performances and the impact of the plays were fabulous.

I like going to productions like these as they are another way for me to take in story.  Reading will always be phenomenally important to any writer but that doesn’t mean you can’t take in stories in other media.  With plays particularly, you get to “see” the impact of well written dialogue and that can help inspire you with your own writing, whether you write scripts or not.  You get to hear what works.  Memorable lines stay with you for a reason!  The goal of course is to be able to create your own memorable lines in whatever format you choose to write.

Another favourite form of storytelling for me is audio books.  Being told a story by someone else is one of the great joys of human existence for me. Again you get to hear what works.  If you listen to an abridged version, and you have the unabridged book version, find out what they cut and see if you can work out why.  Does this have an impact on what you put into your story or leave out of it?

I don’t watch a lot of film but it’s a very valid way of exploring stories.  Learn to spot where the Three Act Structure is in the movie you’re watching!

This World and Others – Useful Writing Games

Following on from my post last week about writing exercises to help with world building, I thought I would share some writing games I find useful for generating story ideas.

  1. Word Association.  Used to love this when I was a kid as you could get some funny outcomes but it is worth playing this game on paper to see what links you can create here.  If you need a helping hand to get started, pick a word at random from the dictionary and off you go!  Set yourself a time of two to three minutes and jot down whatever comes into your head.  You can select the links you like the most later.
  2. Random Word Generators. Use one of these and pick five words to work with.  On some generators, you can set the first and last letter, how many letters you want in the words and so on.  Then try putting what you come up with into a story.  It works really well for flash fiction but there is no reason why you can’t put these words into a longer tale.
  3. Opposites.  Write down an object and then write down separately what could be said to be opposite to it.  For example – hot water tap.  Its opposite is the cold water one.  Now what role could these play in a story?
  4. The Hat Game.  Write down a variety of nouns, verbs, adjectives etc on separate slips of paper.  Draw out a few at random and again put into a story.  This is the traditional version of the random word generator but there is no reason why you can’t still play this in this way.  What I think you need to aim for here is a nice mixture of the ordinary and the extraordinary for things to put on the slips of paper.  That is where you can “control” things unlike a random generator BUT limit yourself to how many slips of paper you pick out and write what you come up with into a story, no matter how bizarre your selections are.  Have fun with this.

Hope you find these help generate story ideas.  I’m particularly fond of the first two!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Phases, Plays, Prioritising

I do love a good alliterative title!

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I tend to go through phases with my reading when all I will want to read are magazines or short stories, or crime novels, or funny fiction etc. I then come out of that phase and move on to something else entirely.

Writing wise, I like to get a good fix of non-fiction done early on in the week (usually my CFT blog). Later in the week I move on to my fiction and have sessions for my flash fiction and then sessions for working on the novel. By the end of a week I’ve made progress on all the projects I’ve got on the go.

Don’t know if this is ideal. All I do know is it works for me. Planning out your writing time – when it will be, what will you do with each slot etc IS a good idea though, no matter what you write.

 

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Enjoyed writing up a couple of the writing prompts in my diary earlier. One was to think of five words you think of when it comes to Easter and then put them in a piece about an Easter egg hunt.

Another was to complete a piece of writing based on “Cross not the dragon and his wrath” which seems to combine Shakespearean language with a nod to St. George.

I like these sorts of exercises. They make me think and push myself harder. Mind you, the quote does seem to be plain common sense to me! I suppose you could get some interesting tales out of beings who DO cross a dragon. I expect that would end up as flash fiction as I can see the outcome being a greatly reduced life span = end of story in every sense!😃

 

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Association of Christian Writers – More Than Writers

My monthly spot on the Association of Christian Writers’ blog, More Than Writers, focuses on prioritising writing work. Easier said than done? Of course but it is worth doing. Planning out how you are going to use your writing slots enables you to get more written funnily enough.

Oh and no my desk isn’t as neat as this one, far from it! I do know where everything is though…

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Looking forward to sharing my review of the recent Chameleon Theatre Groups’ latest production, Spring Trio of Plays, later in the week.

I see going to watch plays like this as another way of taking in stories and they can be a great way of trying genres out you might not necessarily read. There is also a nice link to the oral tradition of storytelling here too given the audience has to focus on the words. Now what storyteller, in whatever format, doesn’t want that?!

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One thing about writing flash fiction is it does encourage you to keep your titles short and punchy. You want the maximum impact for the least amount of words and if your title can be “open” as to how the story which goes with it can go, so much the better.

My Serving Up A Treat could have been a humorous cooking story. All I’ll say is it isn’t! I took a very different take but the title is still highly appropriate. Take your time working out what the best title is and don’t be afraid to change it if you have to. I have to have a title to work to but will change it if a better one crops up as I’m writing the story, which does happen sometimes. Usually the title I originally came up with is fine and I stick with it.

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Is there any writer out there who doesn’t wish they had more time for reading? (Yes, I do make sure I read something daily whether it is fiction or non-fiction – and when I can I try to make sure I read both. It can vary from a short piece to chapters of novels etc but I do read something. I switch between paperback and the Kindle too).

One of the great joys of flash fiction is that they make the perfect form to dip into when time is short for reading. I also think that technology (especially smartphones) have helped boost the growth of the form given flash fiction is so easy to read on a screen, no matter how small that screen is.

So read and write on. Pockets of time mount up and you will get stories written/you will finish books you’re reading but keep going and keep going and don’t give up on either!

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Can you create a sense of mystery in flash fiction given its limited word count?

Yes but it is best done through implication. In my So Close the title should make you wonder WHAT could be so described! The opening line “It has taken centuries to reach this point but you overcome anything to get what you crave” should imply quite a bit on its own.

Firstly, whoever the narrator is must be old (at least by our standards) or you could imply the possibility of time travel here (it would be centuries for us but not for the narrator).

Secondly, you wonder what on earth (or elsewhere) the narrator has overcome. Thirdly you wonder what the narrator is craving. The story does go on to reveal that.

It is a question of putting in the right telling details so a reader then goes on to put two and two together and reads the story to find out if they’re right or not.

I talked about Fads and Fancies in my most recent Goodreads blog where I ‘fessed up to having reading fads. I can sometimes be at the point where all I want to read is crime fiction or humorous prose or what have you, and where all I want to write is flash fiction or longer short stories and so on. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But the great joy of a flash fiction collection is you can write across the board of genres and moods and even vary the word counts of each story in said collection. As long as you don’t go above 1000 words, it still counts as flash!

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And talking of my Goodreads post…

Goodreads Author Blog – Fads and Fancies

Do you find you have reading “fixes” you just have to indulge in for a while?

I find I read in cycles. There will be periods when all I will want to read are magazine articles. Other times I will want to read short stories. Then again I will have periods when it is nothing but crime I read and so on.

Equally there are times when nothing but “proper” books will do. Other times you can’t prise me away from my Kindle!

Mood of story varies too. There are times I really have to read anything funny. This is particularly true when the news in unremittingly grim. The value of books and stories for escapism should not be under-appreciated or looked down on. Being able to escape for a while I think is good for you.

When I come out from that kind of reading, I tend to go for “nothing but the facts Ma’am” and I catch up with my non-fiction TBR pile.

There is ALWAYS a TBR pile. (I’ve got one on the Kindle too. The advantage with that one is it can’t topple over!).

So what do I fancy reading later tonight then? Hmm… decisions, decisions (but such nice ones to make!).

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Plays, Writing Exercises, and Links

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My CFT post this week is called Plays – The Joys and Challenges.  This looks at playwriting, its links with flash fiction and the oral storytelling tradition, and why reading books of scripts (often TV series publish these) is a good idea if you would like to get into this genre.

I look ahead a little to my review next week when I will be reviewing The Chameleon Theatre Group’s latest production, Spring Trio of Plays.  Playwriting has its specific challenges.  How do you convey information without having a character talk all the time?  How can your set convey enough information for the audience to be able to fill in gaps (and for radio the set has to be made of things the audience can hear so they can work out where they are!).

Image Credit:  Pixabay

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Further to my flag up for my CFT post this week about The Joys and Challenges of Plays, I must admit I was surprised to find there are certain elements in common with flash fiction.

One is that an audience has to imply a lot from the way actors act out stage directions and have to take in a whole world from the set (no descriptions or exposition here).

With flash fiction, due to the word count limits, I have to select the most important things for a reader to know and leave them to fill in the gaps. (For me that is one of the joys of reading and writing flash).

But it was nice to be surprised to find these connections to flash here!

Had a lovely evening watching a Spring Trio of Plays performed by The Chameleon Theatre Group. Review to follow on 3rd May though I do talk about the joys and challenges of playwriting in tomorrow’s CFT post.

Basically what I’m saying here is the reason for the late post is I’ve been out gallivanting. And a jolly good gallivant it was too!

My CFT post this week looks at the challenges of playwriting.

I’m off to the see The Chameleon Theatre Group’s latest production, Spring Trio of Plays, tomorrow. I like their “mixed assortment” productions like this. Firstly, there’s a good mix of humour and drama usually and, secondly, it is a great opportunity to stage some shorter plays. Link up to my post on Friday. Hope to review tomorrow’s show next Friday.

I would say “break a leg, darlings” but the stage in the Ritchie Hall, home to the Chameleons, isn’t high enough! So I’ll settle for the good old-fashioned “good luck” instead.😀

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I sometimes write up to the 1000 words limit for flash fiction. Inevitably when I do this is a relationship kind of story as I have more room to bring in or refer to other characters having a major bearing on my MC’s life. My stories, Expecting and Rewards, in FLTDBA are good examples of this.

I relished having more words to play with when I wrote these two stories, but, even when you write to the upper limit more often, you still need to write with precision. What you show about other characters has to be relevant to the story but you can achieve more depth here than in the very short flash fiction stories. Mind, depth is not the main purpose of those tales anyway.

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Mood is an important factor in any story but with flash fiction it is particularly important to decide what it is going to be before I start writing. Due to the limited word count, the mood of the piece has to be set very early on.

Yes, a twist can come at the end to change the mood, but generally the mood (grim/funny etc) stays constant through the piece. I then work out how best to portray that mood.

A lot is implied of course, it has to be, but that’s no bad thing. Less really is more when it comes to flash fiction and I know as a reader I love working things out for myself.

 

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Some thoughts on flash fiction:-

F = Fun to Write
L = Language to be direct and specific
A = Action – conveyed in as few words as possible
S = Story complete in and of itself
H = Hero/heroine but room for only 1 or 2 characters.

F = Fairytales and fantasy work well in a flash format
I = Imagination – let it run riot and then hone what you come up with to produce a piece of hard hitting flash fiction
C = Characters. Have to make impact quickly as flash fiction has to be character led.
T = Truth – flash fiction is as capable of conveying truths about the human condition as an epic novel!
I = Intense. Has to be due to the word count restrictions (but that makes truth hit home quicker and harder)
O = Omnipresent narration can work well in flash.
N = No restrictions on what genre of story you use for flash.

Fairytales with Bite – Looking for Links

I was surprised to find links between flash fiction and plays in my latest CFT post, which is on Plays – The Joys and Challenges.  More on that in the post itself but it made me wonder about links in our stories.

Some of these are planned of course but others can crop up as you are drafting your story.  One of the great joys of writing I think is when you’ve drafted a story and you spot other links between characters/with your theme etc., all of which have come out of your sub-conscious mind.

Reading widely in all genres and including non-fiction will help feed that sub-conscious mind which is why doing this is such a good idea for all writers, regardless of what you write.

You want to be able to draw on thoughts that have occurred to you as you read something, which you may not have noted for a story at the time of reading the piece concerned, but which come back to your mind as you write/edit etc and you realise it could fit in really well with your character.

So where to look for links then?

1.  Look at links between what characters fear.  Enemies can be united by a common fear of something or someone else.  Those links can be played on for good or evil.

2.  Look at links between what characters love.  That can also be used for good or evil.  If two characters love the same person, there’s going to be fallout from that.

3.  Look at links with regard to what makes people tick.  The basic drives – the need to survive and pass on genes to offspring – are common to most of us.  It is how we act on them that differentiates us of course.  One of my favourite moments in Star Wars is the famous scene where Darth Vader reveals he  is Luke Skywalker’s father.  Luke is horrified of course.  The very thought of there being any link at all between him and Vader is horrifying for Luke. What links can you use to make other characters react in a similar way?

This World and Others –

Three Writing Exercises to help with World Building

Hope the following ideas for writing exercises help with your own world building for your stories. The idea behind these is to get you to draft out thoughts as to how your world would actually work.  You won’t need to put most of this in your story but do see this as your blueprint.  It is crucial you know these things.  You’ll write with more confidence and it will come across that way in your writing.

It’ll also help convince you that this world could exist.  You are the first believer in it after all. Having worked things out in advance as to how things can work will also help against the dreaded “slump in the middle”.  You will already know what you need to know about your created world.  You can focus on the drama of your story with that knowledge behind you.

1.  System of Government.  Draw a flowchart as to who runs what, what their powers are and how these feed in to each other (local government for example is always answerable to national government at some level).

2.  The Need to Survive.  Write out ten things your “people” need so they can survive.  Draw a spider diagram of how they can obtain these things.

3.  Cultures.  Is your world going to be a mono-culture?  If not, what other cultures are there? Draft ideas as to what these could be, how the multi cultures interact with each other (if they do at all), and whether there is any sense of superiority (justified or not) by one or more of these.  If it is a mono-culture, were they always that way or have they driven others out?

Hope you have fun with these.  Be as detailed or as scanty with details as you wish but the idea is this will give you something to refer to as you write your tale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Impact, Pantomime, and Character Portrayal

Quite a mix tonight I think!  Hope you enjoy!

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My CFT post is a review of the Chameleons’ recent panto production of Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves.

The show was wonderful and this particular post was great fun to write. I’ve written it in a different format to the way I usually write reviews and think this worked well on a fun topic. Loved writing it. Hope you enjoy reading it. It gives a good flavour! (Oh and the dame’s hair really does have to be seen to be believed but that’s the way it’s meant to be with panto – oh yes it is!).

Images Credit:  A very big thank you to Stuart Wineberg, Lionel Elliott and the Chameleons for  kind permission to use the photos below and in my CFT post.  I have a lot of fun writing captions for these but see the CFT post for these!

 

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Looking forward to sharing my review of the Chameleons’ production of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves tomorrow. Does panto bring out my inner kid? You bet it does!

What can be interesting on productions like this is seeing how true the script stays to the original story – or not as the case may be. Most adaptations are understandable. Many of the fairytales are too grim (pun intended!) to put on as originally written.

Am delighted to share a bonus CFT post tonight. Children’s writer, Anne Wan, and illustrator, Sally Goodden, are holding a story and crafts event at Chandler’s Ford Library this Saturday.

The theme is based on Anne’s latest book, Manners Fit For the Queen.

I’ve talked about the importance of children’s fiction on CFT before but picture books, such as Manners Fit For the Queen, play such a crucial role in encouraging youngster to read.

Hope everyone has a fab time at the event on Saturday.

Book cover image kindly supplied by Anne but drawn by Sally!

BOOK EVENT - Anne Wan and Sally Goodden

 

Well, one good thing about the cold weather is it encourages staying in and reading/writing a good book!

I don’t use the weather as a setting in stories (as it reminds me too much of the infamous opening “It was a dark and stormy night”, which has become a parody). I think you could use weather as a way of showing/reflecting your character’s mood though. For example, “Despite the warm temperatures and clear skies, Herbert’s mood was anything but sunny”. That could make a good opening to a story.

Also, I guess I want to be getting on with finding out what the characters are doing and saying. Weather? I don’t think I really need to know that unless it IS going to affect the story in some way. By that point, I want to be so gripped by the characters, that I pick up the detail about the weather without being irritated by it.

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Plan to catch up with some flash fiction writing over the weekend. Hard to believe it’s two years since FLTDBA came out. Where has the time gone?!

What I love about flash fiction is when I am particularly busy I can jot down some one-liners that can stand alone or that I can work on later and develop into longer pieces.

A good challenge can be to write yourself a line and then use it for one story as the opening line and for another as the closing one. Give it a go and see what you come up with. Ideally pick different moods for these pieces as well. Above all, have fun with your writing. I fervently believe that when a writer is enjoying what they’re writing, some of that sense of enjoyment comes through and the reader picks up on it. Also if you don’t enjoy what you write, why would anyone else?!

 

I’ve experimented with linked flash fiction in the book I’m currently writing. I hope to write more too. The main criteria is that the character and situation has to be strong enough to sustain two or more stories.

The first set I wrote came about due to the way I’d ended a story and I realised from that ending, there was potential to exploit in a second tale, so I duly did!

Also there should be a natural sense of following on for all of the stories in the link to work. You’ve set the characters and setting up so well, your readers feel at home dipping into that world again.

 

Image Credit:  Many thanks to Dawn Kentish Knox for the picture of me reading at the December 2018 Bridge House Publishing celebration event.  Huge fun!

I talked on my author FB page about using weather in stories. Tying in with that, with flash fiction and the limited word count, weather is best used as a kind of code to represent something or as a metaphor. You don’t have the room to do much else but the great thing with that is you can’t give lots of description that people skim over.

What do I mean by code/metaphor? Best thing I think here are some examples.

1. Heather’s mind was as clear as a pea-souper.
2. Alan didn’t need the downpour to make him feel miserable.
3. Kathy’s hair shone as if she’d washed it in liquid sunshine.

All three of those should conjure up images in your mind as to what mood the characters are likely to be in and what kind of people they’re likely to be. I think it fair to say that Heather is unlikely to win Mastermind with a foggy brain! Kathy – well, she could be vain and, even if not, is her attitude to life as sunny as her hair? As for Alan, you get a real sense of the type of character he is – he can clearly feel miserable all by himself.

Happy writing!

Association of Christian Writers – More than Writers – Impact

Do you wonder what impact your writing has on others?

I mostly consider impact from the other side. That is I know my theme, what impact I’d like my piece to have and focus on selecting words I think will best achieve that.

What is lovely is when readers give you feedback and you can judge if the impact you thought your piece would have did so. If you wonder about commenting on a post but don’t, think again! Comments are noted.

Even negative feedback can be useful if you use it to gauge whether your critic missed the point of what you were trying to say or you didn’t make the impact you thought.

How do you create impact? Look for the strongest words for description. No “he wore grey” here. Go for “his suit was the same colour as my cheapest cutlery”. You use a few more words but the imagery, and resulting impact, is more powerful. I don’t need to say the guy here is unlikely to be getting his suits from Savile Row. That is implied by “cheapest”.

In thinking about impact ahead of writing a piece, you’re also trying to engage with potential readers from the outset. This is great because you’ll be less likely to go off at tangents which add nothing to your piece. (It is easily done!). That saves editing time! I must always cut so anything helping me edit more efficiently is welcomed!

For bloggers, feedback doesn’t always come when you think it will. Sometimes it won’t come at all! But that doesn’t mean your words lack impact. All it means is you don’t know about it. Frustrating though that is, if you enjoy blogging, carry on for that reason alone. I’ve also found as I blog, ideas for posts (and sometimes stories) pop into mind. By writing you are feeding your creative spirit.

Look at why you want your piece to have the impact you’ve chosen. Are those reasons good enough? Do they match the brief of your story competition or article theme the editor has called for?

Naturally we want the impact of our work on an editor to be “Wow! Got to take that.”. It is a question of accepting the need to polish your work and knowing sometimes the piece will make the cut. Sometimes it won’t but there’s nothing to stop you revisiting that piece and submitting it elsewhere assuming your topic or story is relevant to the market in mind.

Think about impact on you as a writer. If rejections are getting you down (and they do for everyone), harness the support of writer friends. This is where they come into their own. In time, they’ll appreciate your support during their difficult periods.

Every writer has their share of turn downs. They don’t necessarily stop when you are published.

We rightly talk about the writing life as a journey. Let’s make its impact on us and those around us as positive as possible.

IMPACT - Blogging. PixabayIMPACT - Feedback doesn't always come when you think it will. PixabayIMPACT - Feedback isn't always positive but look for what you can learn from it - PixabayIMPACT - Look for positive impact wherever possible - PixabayIMPACT - Use strong words for descriptions. Strong questions can help you get there. PixabayIMPACT - What impact does your story have - PixabayIMPACT - What impact will your work have on readers - Pixabay

Fairytales with Bite – The Right Ingredients

The theme of the right ingredients ties up with my Chandler’s Ford Today post this week about Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, my review of the Chameleon Theatre Group’s recent panto production.  Why?  Because I talk about what ingredients are needed for a successful pantomime and I’m glad to say this show had them all and in great quantities!

What are the right ingredients for a fairytale?

  1. There must be a magical element.
  2. There must be a wrong to put right.  (See Cinderella/Snow White etc for the way they’re treated initially and how their stories end).
  3. There must be plenty of drama.  (You know from the outset that Cinderella is never going to keep to the midnight deadline set by her fairy godmother.  The drama here is in finding out what will happen when the girl is inevitably late!).
  4. The ending must be appropriate for the story.  That doesn’t necessarily mean a happy one – see The Little Mermaid as Hans Christen Andersen wrote it!  Also while Snow White had a happy ending, her stepmother rightly didn’t!  (Perspective is important too).


What are the right ingredients for a writer?

  1. A willingness to put in the work – to write, rewrite, rewrite again etc until the story is right.
  2. Accepting the fact rejections happen and trying to learn from them and then move on.
  3. Always seeking to improve what you do.
  4. Reading widely and across genres to feed your own imagination.  It does need feeding.  Often and lots!

This World and Others – Knowing When Your Character Portrayal Is Right

Can you ever know for sure when the character portrayal is right for your story?  I think so!

Firstly, your characters need to ring true to themselves.  If they’re greedy, are you showing them being that in different ways?  They need to be characters that could be people we know.

Secondly, your characters should have flaws and virtues and good reasons for acting the way they are.  Do they try to hide their faults or are they unremittingly unashamed of them (the I Am What I Am syndrome!).  However you portray your characters here, be consistent unless redemption/change is the point of story as it is in A Christmas Carol.  You still need to show your character “waking up” to the need to change.  One sudden change of heart will not convince readers.  Scrooge needed to be visited by all three ghosts to realise the error of his ways after all.

Thirdly, if your characters have different educational standards (and this is highly likely), are you showing the right level of education for the characters?  This will show through in how they speak, the kind of vocabulary they use and so on.

Fourthly, can you hear your characters speaking?  Do they seem real to you?  The first reader you have to convince is you!

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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”).

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

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).

 

 

Fears, Flash Fiction, and Keeping It Simple

Facebook – General

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.