Getting Into Character

Facebook – General

I’ve been catching up with some concerts recorded a while back and I finished watching the John Williams Prom today.

Fab music and what is so telling is that in everything he has ever composed, it is clear he has entered the head of the character he has chosen to focus on and come up with the music that would suit them. This is especially true for Indiana Jones and Jaws!

Much as I adore the music, story wise, I’m very fond of only one of those… I leave it to you to guess which one!

But there is an object lesson here: know your characters, REALLY know your characters, if you want to write “for” them well.

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Many thanks, once again, to all the fab writers who shared their thoughts on my recent Why I Blog posts for Chandler’s Ford Today. I find blogging, including on posts like this, wonderful for getting me “into” my writing sessions.

I love the freedom blogging gives but have found it helps to have one major topic. In my case that’s writing of course, but all sorts of things can come off that – such as the importance of reading, editing tips and so on.

The rules I generally follow for blogging include:-

1. Keep it simple. Not in terms of content but in terms of expression. Bullet points for headlines, expand later in the text.

2. Stick to a word count. For CFT I stick to 1500 words absolute max (and it’s usually nearer 1200). More than that, such as the Why I Blog pieces, I split into two or more parts. For the monthly ACW blog, it’s up to 500 words. (I love the discipline of writing to different word counts like this. It makes me “up my game”. It is far easier to write “long” than short).

3. Think of who you are writing for and go for topics which people will find useful, interesting, or would be happy to comment on. The best topics of course combine all of those!

And now on to my other blogs before I turn to fiction for this evening…

The start of another sweltering week in deepest, darkest Hampshire sees me cracking on with more flash fiction for my current WIP. Am happy with how that is going but would like to submit more work as well, so that’s my next mini target.

I’m a little ahead of the game when it comes to my CFT posts (and would like that happy state of affairs to continue). My next post will be a review of the recent Hursley Park Book Fair. More details later in the week.

I’m also drafting some non-time dependent blog posts that I can slot into different places as and when I need them. I must do this more often as it’s useful having material to hand for those on holiday times, down with the dreaded lurgy times, having too good a time at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School time etc etc. I love being able to schedule!

Somewhat cooler today, much pleasanter… Lady appreciated it too.

What is your chief reason for writing? For me, it is a mixture of wanting to share my stories and non-fiction AND wanting to do something positive with that wonderful treasure called literacy, which is so easy to take for granted.

I think most people have some sort of artistic “bent”. It is a question of whether they recognise it or not, and whether they try to develop it or not. Rejections are a pain, especially when there seems to be no “real” reason for them, but you are at least getting work out there. You are being creative.

And every time you try to develop your skills further, you (a) learn and (b) that in turn will help improve your chances of success. The great irony is that success can come after learning to deal with rejections.

The rejections do make you look at your work again and, especially after a gap between sending it out and getting the bad news, it is easier to take a fresher look at your story. Where you see room for improvement, do the necessary work and resubmit elsewhere. Where you really can’t see what you could do better, see if there are other markets which may be interested and submit there, following their guidelines.

Above all, keep writing. Be open to different forms of writing and enjoy what you do!

 

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

I like to give my characters a “matter of fact” tone to them. I think it makes their portrayal more realistic and, as a reader, I love to find out what characters like these end up doing.

Why? Because characters who are “matter of fact” can end up clashing with those who do not appreciate their honest approach to life. That is where the conflict is, and therefore where the story is too.

I also need to convince readers to stay with my characters so giving them a tone many will identify with is another way of encouraging people to read on.

I like to get into my stories “hitting the ground running” so to speak. One of the best ways I find of doing this is by getting into the lead character’s head quickly and showing their thoughts and attitudes.

The great thing with this is that it doesn’t necessarily mean the character has to be likeable and generate the readers’ sympathy. All any potential reader has to be able to do is see where the character is coming from. It doesn’t mean you have to like the journey this character is on!

Having said that, the truly great characters will spark a reaction in readers, whether it is a good reaction or not. Sometimes a character’s attitude will encourage the reader to keep reading to see if they can get away with said attitude or will the character be brought to earth crashing. I love reading stories like that.

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As well as writing flash fiction, I’m thoroughly enjoying reading it. It is a very simple way of ensuring I get to read contemporary fiction (and in my genre) and it is lovely to have my reader’s hat on and just enjoy the stories. It reminds me of why I wanted to write flash in the first place and you kind of end up falling in love with the genre all over again.

I think the biggest thing for me has to be the fact flash has to be character led but you can set that character in any time, place, or world you choose. There is so much freedom there despite the demands of the tight word count.

Sometimes I will start a flash fiction piece but realise, usually fairly quickly, that this character is going to “run” and the story will end up be standard competition length (1500 to 2000 words generally). That’s fine and it is a joy to write to that length of story too.

However, the reverse is true sometimes too. What I think would make a good competition entry story really is best written as a flash story. There is one pivotal moment, which is entertaining enough, but if you were to add more, it would (a) spoil it and (b) be obvious padding.

So when writing I’ve found it to keep an open mine and judge what the story needs (which is not always what I think it will be!).

The ever useful post it note - image via Pixabay

The ever useful post-it note. Image via Pixabay.

Part 5 - Keeping the language simple and above all clear

No room for gobbledygook here. Image via Pixabay.

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

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

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

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

Feature Image - Facts and Fiction - image via Pixabay

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

A familiar desk scene for writers - image via Pixabay

The familiar sight of the writing desk, regardless of genre! Image via Pixabay.

Good historical fiction will make it seem as if you had stepped back in time - image via Pixabay

Could this picture inspire stories? Good fiction will take you out of the world for a while. Image via Pixabay.

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A great selection of books. Image by Allison Symes

My book stand at the Discovery Centre

Enjoy what you write and read! Image by Allison Symes

Laptops - all have a global reach - image via Pixabay

Reviews can have global reach. Most impact I think can often be local to the writer.

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – What Makes a Character Work for You?

In all of the best stories I’ve read, certain things have to be true about the characters.

1. They’ve got to be interesting in some way, whether it is by being so different to these around them it is bound to grab your attention, or they do something which goes against what is expected of them. You immediately want to know why and what the consequences are. Result! You read on…

2. They have to have flaws and virtues and, above all, understandable reasons for acting the way they are. It doesn’t mean you have to agree or like them.

3. Personal one here – I’m particularly fond of the underdog. I like to see if they can “win out”. Fairytales of course feature a lot of these (and they do win!) so that fuels my love of this one.

4. They have to overcome adversity in some way, whether that is a major one (or is only major to them).

5. They have to develop in some way over the course of the story or novel and by the end, even if not successful in their aim which is driving the story, have come to a better understanding of themselves and the world they live in. The reader can see they’ve changed for the better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WHY I BLOG (PART 2) AND WHAT YOUR FICTIONAL WORLD NEEDS

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

Many thanks to all of my guest writers for sharing their thoughts on my CFT Why I Blog two part series. Part 2 is up on site now – do see the link. It has been fascinating from my viewpoint to read the different takes on this. Comments, as ever, are very welcome in the CFT comments box.

Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

Am planning to catch up on my flash fiction writing this weekend. Most of the week has been a non-fiction “fest” for me (not that I’m complaining. I’ve come to love non-fiction in a way I never anticipated. For one thing, I’d never anticipated writing it at all when I started out as a writer!).

For my current WIP, I’ve been trying out historical flash fiction – i.e. stories told from the viewpoint of a certain historical character. Good fun to do and another way of getting into the heads of characters, which is something I love doing.

I love finding out what makes my characters tick and to do this to someone who lived and died centuries before makes me look at why they acted the way they are known to have done. It also gives me a very good excuse to read my history books again – I really can call it research here. Not that I really need an excuse to read such books.

In cases where there is speculation as to what happened because nobody really knows, then I can have some fun suggesting what might have occurred or coming up with a viewpoint the character might have held.

Fairytales With Bite – What Fairytales Reveal

One reason I love fairytales is for their honesty.  They call evil exactly that and have done with it.  Fairytales are very revealing about human nature (and the pictures they portray via words are not always flattering).

For example, Cinderella is realistic in the portrayal of the stepmother and her daughters and their ill treatment of Cinders.  Resentment, dislike, hatred even of anything not connected to blood kin does happen and more often than perhaps we would care to admit.

Then there’s the topic of pride and what that can lead to when unchecked.  Go to Snow White’s stepmother for the tips there!  Pride/vanity can and has led to people trying to destroy those better than themselves (and sometimes succeeding, sadly).

As for unrequited love, The Little Mermaid could tell you all about that.  Anyone who has ever been a victim of bullying because they look different would sympathise with The Ugly Duckling. 

A thought occurred to me recently as a result of a discussion I was having on Facebook about the left behind disabled child in The Pied Piper of Hamelin.  It was asked whether we felt the child felt left out or had had a lucky escape.  Opinion was pretty much split down the middle, I fall into the child feeling left out camp, but it occurred to me that Hans Christen Andersen was ahead of his time here in recognising the disabled can and do often feel left out and was highlighting that.  Sadly, still relevant.  I would like to think one day it wouldn’t be because we leave that “leaving out” state behind us.

In the meantime, I think we need, and will always need, the blunt honesty of fairytales showing up what we can be like.

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This World and Others – What Your Fictional World Needs

A lot will depend on the scale of your story obviously.  (One advantage of flash fiction is you need less!  One advantage of novels is you can build your own world in a reasonable amount of detail).  But I think for most situations your fictional world will need:-

1.  A sense of what the world is like.  In my flash fiction stories in From Light to Dark and Back Again, I only have the word count to give a fleeting impression, which is fine.  It is just that the fleeting impression has to be strong enough to register with your reader.  With a longer story, of course, you can show more but do beware of showing anything that is not absolutely critical to your tale.  You don’t want to “info dump”.  Just show your readers what they need to make sense of your story, whether that is one line, one page or what have you.

2.  What your character is like.  This is best shown in their actions, reactions, dialogue and thoughts.  In my flash tale, The Outcome, I don’t go into a physical description of Becram, my alien lead, but I do show you his attitude!  And for this 100-word story, that is enough.

3.  A sense of how the world is run.  For my unpublished novel (hope to be working to change that soon, watch this space!), I do show how the government is run.  Terry Pratchett in his Discworld series worked out how Ankh-Morpork could operate based on how people got rid of their waste and then how the city was governed grew out of that.  You need to pick a place to start to work out to yourself first and foremost how things would work.  Then it is a question of working out just what your reader needs to know and which is just for you to enable you to write the story.

4.  How needs are met.  This can be done lightly.  Again in my The Outcome, a few words indicate Becram comes from a highly technological society (so you can imply from that the basics such as food and drink supplies really are not a problem!).

5.  Problems!  It may sound ironic, but there is no such thing as a perfect world for real, yet alone in fiction, so give it problems it has to try to resolve.  For example, does your world get on well with its neighbours?  If not, why not?  Is it your world’s fault or theirs?  Have there been attempts to resolve the issues here?

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Blog (and some stories in a sentence!)

An apt title as my main focus in the last few days has been blogging on different sites.  All good fun, hope you enjoy.

Facebook – General – and Chandler’s Ford Today

My latest CFT post is Part 1 of a 2 part series called Why I Blog. Many thanks to my guest writers for sharing their thoughts too.

I blog for a variety of reasons – from marketing to self expression to the fact it is simple and fun to do! Who says you have to have one reason?!

See what you think and do post your comments in the CFT comments box.

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Looking forward to sharing the Why I Blog post on CFT tomorrow (with part 2 next week). Many thanks to my fellow writers for their thoughts on the topic.

I often use blogging as a warm up “writing exercise” before I tackle my fiction. I suppose I find that useful because blogging is immediate, I can get a few hundred words under my belt fairly quickly, and then I am right into the “zone” so to speak.

My ACW post is due up on site tomorrow as well as the CFT one. Another Goodreads one is due from me soon too. Writing for the different audiences is also useful – it makes you think about your material more and that is never a bad thing.

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Facebook – From Light to Dark and Back Again

My favourite way of getting started on a new piece of flash fiction is to take a well known saying and see what I can do with it. Sometimes the results are funny, other times the results are much darker, but I find it a great way to start.

I find I need something to “peg” my idea to so must have a title. It also challenges me to ensure my story fits that title but not in a blatantly obvious way, there still has to be room to surprise the reader, and the first reader I have to surprise is me! What I always love is when, as I am writing the story, I can kind of “feel” the tale coming together and I know then that the piece will work. It is then a question of finding the right home for it but that’s another story, so to speak.

I sometimes have fun writing stories in one sentence. Usually I go on to expand these a bit so they become either flash fiction pieces circa the 100 words mark or standard length short stories. However, occasionally, it is fun to leave them as they are. After all, Ernest Hemingway did this with his For Sale: one pair baby shoes.

1. After the latest foul-tasing meat scandal, the dragon decided it was time to go veggie.

2. Jemma knew monsters existed, the monsters knew they existed, so why did everyone else scoff at the idea and then end up eaten by the things?

3. Just for once, the fairy was going to grant her own wish and the authorities could go hang.

Allison Symes – 29th June 2018

 

Goodreads Author Programme – Blog – What Does Reading Do For You?

Well, what DOES reading do for you?

In my case, it depends on the book. I read for:-

1. Entertainment – whether it makes me laugh, cry or scream.

2. Escapism – nearly always fantasy/fairytales for grown-ups so I enter another world for a while as I read.

3. To learn (especially from non-fiction) – I read a fair amount of history and am currently enjoying London by Peter Ackroyd and Double Cross by Ben Macintyre. Different “storytelling” techniques used here but both brilliant.

4. To relish what I know from past experience is masterly prose – Terry Pratchett, Jane Austen, P.G. Wodehouse for me here.

5. To experience something different from what I usually read and/or write. I like to read in my genre, flash fiction, but it is refreshing to read longer short stories, novels etc.

Reading takes me out of myself and into other places for a while. You see things from other perspectives. You identify with characters, whether you like them or not. Reading makes you think. (No wonder one of the first actions of any dictatorship is to try to limit or ban books and/or journalism).

Reading, like the arts, is good for the soul. It feeds the mind, even if the fare you prefer is lighthearted, humorous, not intended to be taken seriously etc. I do know I feel much poorer in myself during those times when things get in the way of my reading time. When life is stressful, turning to a good book won’t resolve the crisis, but gives you time out from it for a while. Sometimes that is all that is needed. At other times, the break is useful for you.

So happy reading!

More than Writers – Association of Christian Writers blog – Should You Resemble your Characters?

I can think of several colleagues who would take one glance at that question and say “no way”. Some may express that more forcibly!

I can think of several of my own characters whom I would never want to meet in life, yet alone resemble, and for all sorts of reasons.

So why ask? Well, so much depends on the character, doesn’t it? If a character shows grit, determination, honour etc, we probably wouldn’t mind emulating them. If a character shows horrible traits, we’d pass, thank you. How many of us want to be a coward for example?

In outlining our stories, we have to create our “people” based on what we know about human nature and behaviour. We know we need our characters to be believable so that means no goody-goody heroes of whatever gender. It also means no cardboard cut out villains. They’ve got to have some redeeming quality or a motive which is understandable. Often writers do both of course.

Redemption, of course, is possible, as is a good character going astray. What makes us choose which way they go? A wish to show that if this character was us, this is how we’d be? Or do we opt for the choice of this is how the character would be and I wouldn’t be like this in a zillion years?

In creating our characters, we have to be honest in their portrayal (or readers will see straight through it and switch off). So maybe I should have rephrased the question to read do we resemble our characters? I suspect there would be some interesting answers to that!

Truth is stranger than fiction but good fiction can reveal something of what humans are capable of, even if we use fantastical creatures to represent us in some way. Sometimes good fiction can be  prophetic and I am thinking of George Orwell’s 1984 here especially.  Whatever would he have made of social media? I can imagine his harsh criticism of it.

And what is the great thing about honest character portrayal? Simply, I’ve found both as a reader and writer, that honesty comes through, and I am engaged with those characters and their stories as a result. It is, for me, honestly portrayed characters, whether they’re goodies or baddies, that grip me and keep me reading.  I identify with the truth behind their portrayal.

Even in flash fiction, my genre, the moment I have what my character is like outlined, I am away, happily scribbling the story down. After all, if I’m not engaged with my people, why should anyone else be?

So it’s off to write characters that intrigue me then. The great thing is I don’t have to like them, yet alone resemble them. Just as well really. Fiction would suffer without the characters we dislike. Story is conflict and it is the dubious characters that get that conflict going. We need to see the Ebenezer Scrooges before their transformation to be able to appreciate that transformation when it happens. Now just how human is that?!

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Fairytales with Bite – What Makes a Great Fairytale Character?

A great fairytale character will:-

1.  Be easy to identify with.  I love Tinkerbell in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan for “wanting to get at those who didn’t clap” when the children had been told clapping would restore her.  You can just imagine the annoyness and irritation there, can’t you?

2.  Sometimes arouse your pity, other times your anger.  Fairytales are strong on right and wrong (which I think is why kids love them so much.  I remember at a very young age already knowing the world wasn’t fair so stories which put “things to rights” very much appealed).  The Little Mermaid always generates pity in me.  The vileness of the cruel characters in fairytales riles me but all of the characters make you feel something.

3.  Be on some journey or quest and you just HAVE to find out how it goes.  This can be anything from finding out whether Cinderella will go to the ball or not to discovering if Frodo will complete his mission in the right way in The Lord of the Rings.

This World and Others – Populating Your World

How do you populate your fictional worlds?

A lot will depend on genre, of course. (One great reason for loving fantasy and sci-fi is the huge scope for creating your own peoples and civilisations).

However, one fundamental here is that there will be a major people/alien being group and minorities around it. Of course there are a lot of stories to be had in showing how the major group treats the minorities and do they rebel against ill treatment etc? But even where there are no direct clashes on the grounds of racism etc, what do your peoples need to survive and how do they get this? Is there a have and have-not society going on?

You will need the suppliers and the supplied-to. You will need the ruled and the rulers. Different peoples will have specific needs so how does your world cater to those needs? What are the belief systems? Do the peoples share common values/faith etc or not?

And, to add spice to the mix, there will always be those characters who defy their society’s expectations of/for them.

So have fun creating your peoples!