Just a Minute and Other Thoughts

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Had to smile today. I receive book recommendations by email sometimes and today it finally happened. Yes, From Light To Dark and Back Again was recommended to me!

Moving on swiftly, I’m pleased to say I’m making good progress with my novel and third collection of flash fiction stories. I’ve ideas for non-fiction that I’m working on as well and I could really do with more hours in the day or to somehow be able to manage without sleep. Given neither of those are going to happen, it’s a case of best endeavours!

Have also started drafting a short story I’ve got in mind for a competition in April. Sounds ages away I know but it’ll be here before we know it and I do like to get a story drafted and then leave it for a while before reassessing and editing it. So starting the story about now is the right sort of timescale for me.

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Have typed up a couple of writing diary prompt stories that I’m considering for my third flash fiction collection. I’m at the 15000 word mark with this so will probably go to 20K and stop there. I know there’ll be a lot of cutting to do – there always is! But I never mind that. I think it shows there IS a story there and it is just a question of getting rid of anything that doesn’t enhance it.

I’ve only consciously padded a story the once and, guess what, I gave up when I realised the idea simply wasn’t strong enough. It remains the only story I’ve ever given up on. So yes I prefer to write and then cut. It always works better for me.

The writing prompts in my diary at the moment are where you’re given an opening line and you then see what you can do with it. I like those. I like to think of them as imagination stretching exercises!

Enjoyed listening to Just a Minute on Radio 4 tonight. The rules of no repetition, no hesitation, and no deviation from the subject are great guidelines for writing fiction too.

You want your story to move onwards and upwards to its conclusion so no repetition (it will also irritate readers). I’ve found outlining a story before I start writing it gives me the confidence to write it at all and so I do (no hesitation). I also think something of that confidence shows through in the final story too.

And as for going off at a tangent… a big no-no. As someone once said “just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts”. What those facts are, as far as your story is concerned, of course is down to you!

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Glad to say a flash fiction story of mine, Mirrored, was in the recent Swanwick Writers’ Summer School newsletter.

I discuss adaptations in my CFT post this week. What makes a good adaptation? What doesn’t? Also, this doesn’t just apply to writing either. Link up on Friday.

Editing of the novel continues to progress well and I’m drafting a 750-word short story too at the moment. Really like my lead character. They have promise! The real issue for me on this one is whether I can keep to the strict word count for this particular competition. Still, I will find out! I do love being able to set a Project Target on Scrivener and find it really useful for competitions like this. I like seeing the bar change colour as I get nearer to my goal!

Scrivener images below werebtaken by me as screenshots.

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I’m very fond of flash fiction stories that end with a line which make me laugh. When writing this kind of story, I always write that finishing line first and then work backwards to the beginning.

I’ve found outlining in that way means the ending seems natural to a reader and springs out of what has come before. I can take the time to work out what must come before for that line to work and none of that shows in the finished story. Win-win!

How can I tell if a flash fiction idea is going to work best at 50 words, 75, 100, 500, or what have you?

A lot depends on how strong the character is – can they carry a longer story? Also the story itself is about one moment in the character’s life. The moment you’re writing about must not be dragged out (it shows, trust me, that shows) so if you are finding you are trying to extend a story, stop, think again, and look at the piece as a much shorter one. It will almost certainly work better and pack more of an emotional punch on a reader by keeping it shorter. It is impact you want. That is what a reader remembers. You don’t want to dilute that.

Equally, I’ve found sometimes a character needs space to show what is happening in their “moment” properly so fine I go with that. The time to stop is when if you add anything at all, it will weaken the story/character and the potential impact. There’s nothing to stop you incidentally from trying out a story in two different word counts and seeing what works best. Read them out loud. What has the most impact on you?

Street Cred

I’m the coolest one on my street. I’ve been here the longest. Know the best places to hang out with pals. Know the best places to get together with the girls, if you see what I mean. It was just a pity a momentary lapse in concentration meant my cool went haywire and I managed to walk into the catflap my owner put in for me, rather than through it.

Don’t let anyone tell you cats have no sense of humour. The rest of the gang were all laughing at me. Still I’m not worried. I’ll just have to fight them all tomorrow. But for now, me the big ginger tom from No. 27, is curling up on the sofa with my so-called owner. (I own HER truth to be told). She is feeding me titbits from her tuna supper. This is the life.

Being cool again can wait until tomorrow.

Allison Symes
25th February 2019

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I love writing twist endings for my stories and, as mentioned before, often work those out first and then write the story “backwards” to get to the starting point.

But my other favourite writing technique is to begin with a promising opening line and then outline a few ideas as to where that could take me. Naturally I then go for the idea that I like the most (which is always the strongest one or has the most potential in it. Definitely not a coincidence that!).

Sometimes I can “see” a 100-word story in its entirety. My The Haunting is an example of that and was inspired by the character of Mrs Wilberforce (aka Mrs Lopsided) in The Ladykillers.

Goodreads Author Blog – Short Stories and Flash Fiction

I’m glad to see the return of short stories and the development of flash fiction for many reasons. One of these is that I write both so I won’t pretend to be unbiased here. But the major reason for loving this development is it expands the kind of reading available.

I love novels but it is great being able to read a collection of short stories or flash fiction after finishing one full length tome. It mixes up what I read. By the time I’ve finished reading an anthology I’m raring to get on with a novel again!

Also if the novel has been a dark one in terms of mood, there’s nothing like a collection of funny short stories to show the opposite side of life and I, for one, find that helpful. I don’t want to read “dark” all the time. I also know life isn’t always one big laugh so I like to have a balance of dark and light in my reading, as well as my own writing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SUBMISSIONS, IMPACT, AND DELVING INTO THE PAST

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Sent off a story submission tonight so pleased with that. Had drafted the story a while ago but wanted to leave it to one side and come back to it with a fresh eye. The voice of my character comes through loud and clear!

This piece is just under 1000 words, which is LOADS compared to my favourite 100-worders! But that is a major joy of flash fiction – it has divisions within it and there is nothing to stop you sticking to one type or mixing and matching. I like the latter approach.

Sometimes a character does need to be “let off the leash” for a longer distance and that was the case with this story.

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Whenever I watch/listen to an adaptation, whether it is a panto, a play or a novel turned into a TV series, am I looking for a word-to-word faithful rendition?

No! What I am looking for is the adapation to be faithful to the spirit of the original book, play or what have you. There is also a strong reason to adapt, say, fairytales for pantos and the like, given so many of the original stories are far too grim (some pun intended!) to be staged exactly as they were originally written.

I want the characters to be recognisable as the ones the original author created. I don’t like mish-mashes of characters, as can happen. Those never seem real to me, precisely I think because now I can spot the joins!!

Am looking forward to sharing my CFT post as it will be a review of a recent panto put on by The Chameleon Theatre Group. The style I’ve used for this one is a bit different too but suits the material well. More on Friday! (I think we need pantos in January given it seems such a long month and the weather’s generally awful or cold or both).

Making good progress with the novel. Am “brewing ideas” for a story competition (deadline end of March) so plan to start outlining hopefully later this week/over weekend.

Also hope to finalise third flash fiction collection in the next couple of months. The material is pretty much all there now but it needs a darned good edit! Mind, there is nothing I write (with the possible exception of the annual holiday note to the milkman) that DOESN’T need a darned good edit!

I discuss impact in my turn on the More Than Writers’ blog spot from the Association of Christian Writers.

I look at the impact I hope to achieve in the stories I write by deciding in advance what I’d like that to be and then selecting the words to best achieve that. The rest, of course, is down to the reader. You can put down the pointers but it is up to reader if they “run with them”.

Having said that, I have found thinking about impact like this means I’m trying to engage with readers from the outset. It also stops me going off at unhelpful tangents (and that is too easily done!).

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Looking ahead to some of the writing prompts coming up in my diary, there are some promising thoughts for new flash fiction stories. Some of the prompts are asking for character studies (with some being based on a specific name. I’ll have fun with that when I get to the week for that one. A name is just a peg after all. It’s what you do with the peg that matters!).

There are also some word association prompts. That will be fun too. A great way to allow yourself to go off at tangents to generate further story ideas. I love playing with words like that.

One huge advantage to writing flash fiction is it can give you a way of getting work out there while working on a much longer project, such as a novel.

I’m happily revisiting a novel of mine and using the editing skills writing flash fiction has given me. This should sharpen the novel up and I hope give it a better chance “out there” when I’m ready to submit it.

Naturally, this is going to take time but when not working on that, having flash fiction stories on the go is a great way of building up publishing credits and so on. I hope all of that will prove useful with regard to the novel later on. Watch this space, as they say!

One of the hardest things to do is cutting out a character you love but you know doesn’t really fit into the story or novel you’re writing. At one time you thought they did, that’s why they were there at all, but you have come to realise, often on repeated reading, that they’re not doing that much and if you cut them out, they wouldn’t be missed. (By anyone other than you naturally). Of course they’ve GOT to go but it seems such a shame…

Well, have you thought about seeing if you can write some flash fiction for them? Waste not, want not and all that. If a character can’t justify a full length story, can they be useful in a much shorter piece?

Food for thought I hope!

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Linking on from my theme of impact which I discuss in my monthly spot on More than Writers (the Association of Christian Writers’ blog), flash fiction has the huge advantage that its impact is immediate. It has to be.

That doesn’t rule out having “big themes”, far from it, but in a flash fiction story, you touch on them briefly and leave the readers to ponder on them.

I love this when I read flash fiction by other authors. I like being given the room to think on the impact of the stories I have just read. When a piece really inspires me, I look at how I think the author achieved that and learn from this. One shared joy of reading and writing is there is always something to learn to add greater enjoyment to what you read/help you improve your own writing.

Goodreads Author Blog – Delving into the Past

Delving into the past has great connotations for readers and writers alike.

Firstly, there is the whole range of historical books to explore – fiction and non-fiction. Then there’s the delight in exploring your favourite historical eras and discovering ones you hadn’t known much about.

For me, coming across Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time was one of those moments when a book really does change things for you. It completely altered my views on Richard III. Do check out the book and see if it does the same for you!

Secondly, there is the joy of rediscovering the stories that were favourites of yours in your own past. I’ve done this recently by, of all things, going to a panto and revisiting a story I’d not read in years – Ali Baba. The panto was great but the story reminded me that fairytales are anything but twee and when justice is served, it is usually with a very rough edge!

Other books connected to my past are my late mother’s Dickens collection. Some I’ve read, others not, but I do know I’m not running out of reading material any time soon! This is a VERY good thing!

So if you are stuck for something to read (I know, perish the thought!), delve into your past and look again at wht you used to read. Why did you stop reading that? Is it a question of going, say, from “childish” fairytales (though I’d argue fairytales are anything but childish) to more adult magical realism and fantasy stories?

Above all have fun delving into your literary past and see where it takes you now!

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PROGRESS, PLANS AND MOODS

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Does the mood you are in affect what and how you write? My own answer to that is it depends!

If I’m in a flat state of mind but the writing I’m working on has a character in a similar state, then I can use my own mood to help write that piece! (I get something useful out of being in a flat mood! Ironically that knowledge cheers me up so win-win!).

Sometimes I deliberately write opposite to my mood so, again if I feel flat, I try to put myself in the head of a character in a lighter mood and find myself writing light. Again that can be a mood booster for me. Writing can be amazingly therapeutic at times.

What I do know is writing anything is a good “outlet” and later, once in a better frame of mind, I can evaluate any writing done in a flat state and see what I can do with it. But the great thing is I have still written, I still have work to do something with, so my advice would be, if you feel flat and don’t feel like writing, try to write something, even if it is a very short piece. I’ve found many times once I get started, I keep going, and writing takes me to a different, better place. Again, win-win there, I think.

Drafted first flash fiction story that I’ve created using a picture prompt in my new writing diary. 51 challenges remaining then given there’s one such prompt a week! Also enjoying working on my novel again. I want to try to enter more short story competitions (1500 word type) this year too. I like mixing the writing up. Challenges the old brain and that’s never a bad thing.

Third flash fiction volume coming along nicely though I need to group my stories at some point. Am hoping to get along to Winchester Writers’ Festival and, of course, Swanwick Writers’ Summer School later in the year, also the ACW Writers’ Days. I think one of the best things about writing is you never stop learning whether it is how to improve what you do, new places to try to submit work or what have you. That is also a very good thing.

Feed that brain!

Image Credit:  Many thanks to the Hampshire Writers’ Society for the image of me reading an example of what flash fiction is at their meeting last year.

Having completed a picture prompt generated story yesterday, I see this week’s prompt in my diary has no picture whatsoever! Still will tackle that prompt later in the week I hope.

I’m planning to share a few of my favourite writing tips and why they’re useful on Chandler’s Ford Today this week. You pick up lots of useful tips from conferences, chatting to writer friends etc., but as is the way with these things, some advice will always be more useful to you than anything else. It can be a question of working out what is going to help you most. Anyway, will share the link on Friday.

Made good progress on the novel and short story ideas over the weekend so will resume work on those shortly. A writing session for me is most useful when I know I’ve made progress on work, whether that progress is editing something, adding a line or two to something already down, or writing a whole new flash fiction piece/draft CFT post.

It’s when I feel I haven’t got anywhere that is most discouraging and that’s when encouragement from writer friends is enormously helpful. I still wish my fairy godmother would turn up though and grant me “elastic time” which I could stretch as and when I needed to without any side effects/damage to history etc. You know I’d use it to stretch my writing time!

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

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Am looking forward to sharing book offer related news later this week. Will share info and links soon!

Meanwhile, am making progress on a longer term project (non-fiction) I’d been wondering about doing for a while and have finally got around to tackling. I don’t know yet whether I’ll submit this to publishers or self publish but it is good to have both options on the table.

Am also making good progress on my novel too. My writing times are fairly consistent (which helps a LOT) and I’ve learned how to use which sessions for which projects in a way that suits me best.

I suppose the biggest lessons I’ve learned are to make the most of the time you do have AND accept you are in writing for the long haul. Stamina and persistence are key. (Good luck is a useful extra though!). How like life!

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Once I’ve finished a few posts tonight, I’m going to use the picture prompt in my writing diary to draft a new flash fiction piece. The diary has one for every week in the year so that’s potentially 52 new stories to be written!

I do use picture prompts sometimes to trigger stories but tend to use phrases, proverbs, and things like that to get me started on stories. I’ve posted before about mixing up sources for ideas so I will be practising what I preach tonight at least!

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We talk about “moments of illumination” – well, flash fiction could be the written version of those! Such moments are always brief and reveal something not known before. Your flash stories should do that too and be to the point.

From the writer’s viewpoint, this is the fun bit as you get to decide what that moment is in your story. For me, it has to be a turning point, whether you “turn” the character or the direction your story is going in to surprise the reader. It is where twist endings come in because you can save the moment of illumination until then.

I often, when reading stories like this, then go back through the tale to look for any clues I may have missed that hinted at the story ending up the way it has. I usually spot something on that look again read and of course I can learn from that and develop the techinique for my own writing.

When I work out ideas for a story, I focus on the lead character and then plan all sorts of havoc either for them to experience or to be the cause of – all good fun! But I do need to know the lead character’s main trait/attitude first – I use this as a “driver” for working out who they are, what they know they are capable of, and so on.

For me, character is everything. The right characters for the right stories make them spark and come to life for the reader. A good character in a weak plot – both end up being disappointing. You get the feeling the character has been “wasted”.

I’ve found it pays to take my time in outlining a character (and this is a feature of Scrivener I adore. On their fiction setting, you have a template you can fill in to help you plot out a character and I’ve used this several times. Scrivener also have one for working out what the setting of the story is and I have used this but the character development one is really useful. I don’t tend to use it for flash fiction but for longer stories where I’ve got 2 or more characters to flesh out).

Once I’ve got my character, I’m generally well away into writing the story. While editing is always necessary, outlining at the start does stop you going off at an irrelevant tangent and has saved me considerable time.

Will have book offer related news later this week so stay tuned! Links and info up when I have them.

What are the difficulties of writing flash fiction?

1. It is so easy to overwrite and be well over the word count limit. Okay a very good edit will take care of that but the story still has to flow, make sense, and impact on readers, once that editing is done. There’s the real challenge, I think.

2. Knowing where and when to stop! (Having said that, if the idea is a strong one and you can continue it so you end up with a standard length short story, do so. You just enter that piece for standard length short story competitions and markets instead!).

3. Getting people to take the form seriously, though this situation is improving!

Goodreads Author Blog – Story Idea Spotting

Do you ever indulge in story idea spotting when reading a favourite novel? I do!

I love looking for what I think are the influences for a writer. To me this adds extra enjoyment to the story and gives me the perfect excuse for re-reading a book. Not that I really need one but never mind.

It’s my experience you never find all the influences/links in one read through! Sometimes not in two reads either!

Sometimes I know what the writer’s influences are in advance because I’ve read interviews etc and can then have fun seeing how these play out in what they have produced. Other times I don’t know and I get to play detective here.

What I like best is when spotting an influence in a book and it is clear the writer is a fan of another writer I also love. Double whammy!

Reading is fun anyway of course but for me this is extra and I love that.

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A New Year – New Goals?

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I don’t really start thinking in specific terms about what I’d like to achieve writing wise for a New Year until about now. I know what my general goals are and those don’t change much but at about this time I set myself some specifics and then work my way through them as the year goes on.

Some years I achieve them all, some years I don’t, but I feel as if I achieve more for having set some ideas down as to what I’d like to get done.

One specific thing I really do want to do next year is enter more writing competitions (flash, short stories, maybe novel but certainly the first two). I didn’t enter as many as I thought I might this year though I have been working away at other projects, one of which I’d like to also get out in 2019 if I can.

Whatever your projects are, whatever your writing goals are, the most important thing is to enjoy what you write and believe in it. If one market or competition does not work out for you, see if you can figure out why. If there is nothing obviously wrong, try with another market or competition that the piece or story would suit. Above all, don’t give up. Enjoying what you write helps a lot when the rejections come in – and they will.

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The only problem I have between Christmas and New Year is working out which day of the week it is and I know I’m not the only one to lose track. Back to full writing routine from tonight though and it is great to be back.

Looking forward to using my new writing diary. Full of prompts and loads of places to jot down ideas (including a monthly To Do/Goals page and at the end of the month an Achievements page. The trick here is to try to get both pages equally full I think! A blank achievements page could be depressing! However I plan to use this to help me try and achieve a plan to enter more writing competitions this year).

Under the picture prompts, there is space to jot down notes for story ideas. I’m going to use those to flesh out some flash fiction!

Big plan is to have the novel ready to start submitting again (I hope around Easter time). So lots to do and I start by preparing material for a guest blog and my usual CFT spot. More details on both to come.

Good luck with your writing plans and have fun with them!

Happy New Year, everyone. Good luck with all writing endeavours.

Never be afraid to check out the credentials of publishing services companies/publishers/agents etc as the genuine ones will (a) not mind you doing this as it shows you are taking things seriously and (b) will be able to answer queries well and thoroughly. Also don’t forget you can seek advice from the Society of Authors/Alliance of Independent Authors and their websites are always worth checking out.

Have fun with your writing, try out competitions, write what you would want to read, and read loads! (Magazines, novels, short stories, flash fiction, non-fiction – it all “counts”).

I’ve got a couple of projects planned for the next year including submitting my revamped novel, a third flash fiction volume, and I’d love to do more non-fiction too. Don’t know whether I’ll get this all done but it will be fun finding out – and I guess that’s the point!

Loved the Doctor Who special tonight. Can’t keep a good enemy down, that’s all I’m saying.

The whole point of any story is conflict resolution though that can cover anything and everything from exterminating someone to being reconciled with them. What matters is the conflict is over. The story has concluded.

But while the conflict is going on, it is true that the hero/heroine and villain must be worthy of each other. No hero/heroine gets to win “easily” – there must be huge hurdles to overcome. The villain needs then to be capable of stretching your heroes to their utmost (and beyond ideally, making said heroes stretch too. Drop your characters right in it and see what they can do).

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Had a great trip on the Watercress Line (steam railway) yesterday with family. Always think of the stories of the navvies who cut out the sidings etc to make our railways. So many stories we won’t know but can only make educated guesses at.

When it comes to our own stories, what is most important to your characters? Who are the characters who you MUST tell stories about and why? Think about what has made you choose these people and play to their strengths and weaknesses. A well portrayed character has plenty of virtues and failings and both will affect the direction of the story.

It’s a good idea to mix up how you source ideas for stories. I like to use proverbs, well known sayings, songs can be an inspiration too and this year I hope to use more picture prompts. (My new writing diary has loads of these in it and I plan to get several flash fiction pieces from these!).

It’s also nice from the writer’s viewpoint to mix up how you gather the ideas/raw material to get you on you way to generating a new story. It keeps things interesting for you and you on your toes, which is never a bad thing. One of the things I adore about flash fiction is it is always a challenge to write small but doing so is very satisfying. (Even more so if the story is published!).

One thing I would like to try and do more of is use more of my own photos to trigger ideas and to take pictures specifically with story generation in mind. The great thing with using your phone for pictures is it is so easy to delete the ones that don’t work out. Sometimes you need to do that with a story too but that is much harder to make yourself do.

I try and avoid getting into that position by outlining first (it really does help). The great thing with outlining is it can be as detailed or not as you like. I’ve sometimes drafted a one-line outline for a piece of flash fiction but it has helped me work out which route to take with the story before I start it. I find I then write more efficiently too.

What are your hopes and plans for your flash fiction writing in 2019?

Mine are to submit pieces online and for competitions more regularly. I also hope to post more on my website – allisonsymescollectedworks.wordpress.com – as well.

I’m working on a third volume of flash stories as well and hope to get this up together and ready for submission.

I really enjoyed taking part in Open Prose Nights for the first time this year and would love to do more of those. I would also like to give more talks on flash fiction as well.

But I should finish the year’s posts with a flash fiction piece I think.

CROSSING TIME
‘I suppose you think that was clever’, the girl said.
‘Of course, why do it otherwise?’ I replied.
‘You can’t hold me back. It doesn’t matter what you do.’
‘There’s not a human born who doesn’t long to, you know. I had the courage to try.’
‘Or the foolishness! Most of you accept you cannot beat me. You even celebrate me once a year.’
‘Yes, it’s all lights and fireworks and parties, but you are a cruel devil and I will beat you.’
The girl laughed. ‘How? You’re not immortal. You can’t win a fight with Time. I should know. I also know how long you have. I can see your sands running through’.
Out of nowhere she produced an hour glass and sure enough the sand was running through but I didn’t care. I didn’t bother looking. I didn’t want to know. It wasn’t the object of the exercise. I wanted to defy Time and I had.
‘I can keep you at bay with this time piece, and keep doing so until it is time for me to go. I like my current age. I will stay this way. That will do.’
I waved the pocket watch in the girl’s face as if daring her to take it but she waved it away from me. The watch’s hands were going backwards. I set them to a week ago last Friday. I wanted to see if I could do it the way the saleman in that strange little shop insisted I could.
And sure enough here I was back where I had been last Friday. Just outside the chip shop, cursing myself for forgetting my coat on what was the coldest night of the year so far. What I hadn’t expected was this wraith like girl turning up to berate me.
‘There is always a price to pay for crossing Time,’ the girl said, sighing. ‘I will catch you in the end. Your time will come. And trust me I will make you know it when it does. I don’t like cheats. I never have.’
‘So be it but my “time’s up” will be at the age I choose.’
‘And how are you going to explain that to people? Tell them you’ve got a funny portrait in your attic?’
I grimaced. I must admit that thought had not occurred to me. But so what? I could always tell people I had found a really good moisturiser!
The girl vanished. I went and got my chips. I was just crossing the road, munching them happily, when a Mini came out of nowhere and sent me crashing across to the other side. The last thing I remember was seeing the girl reappear and she was laughing.
I got one thing right. Time IS a cruel devil.

Allison Symes – 31st December 2018

One nice aspect to flash fiction is if you use a writing exercise to help you start off your creative work for the day, then there is nothing to stop you revisiting what you come up with for that and see if you can turn it into a flash fiction story.

From that writing exercise can come an entry for a competition, a published flash tale etc. Give it a go if you try these writing exercises (which often get you to write a couple of hundred words or so. Perfect length for a lot of the flash fiction categories. You can always edit to get a piece down to 75 words or less or keep the piece as it is and look for the 200, 250, 300 word category competitions and markets).

Good luck!

Goodreads Author Blog – And Happy New Year!

Following on from my Merry Christmas post last week, I could hardly call this one anything else!

So with a New Year in mind, what are your reading and/or writing plans for 2019?

I would like to read more flash and short story collections in the next 12 months plus get my own third anthology of stories finished and ready to submit. (Still very much at first draft stage).

I would like to catch up on my To Be Read pile (but I suspect that is an ambition most of us have!). I would like to submit more non-fiction pieces too.

I don’t tend to take up reading challenges because I think I would feel so disappointed in myself if I don’t manage them. However, I would like to widen my variety of reading (which is reasonably wide as it is but I am conscious there are many genres I haven’t tried and I ought to explore. The world of books is meant to be explored!).

Whatever your plans here, good luck! Happy New (reading) Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fairytales With Bite – Stories, Lovely Stories!

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

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

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

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

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

This World and Others – What Defines a Good Story

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

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

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Christmas

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOUR FIRST WRITING – AND SWANWICK!

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What was the first piece of writing you remember? I can’t recall mine but do know when it was “composition” time at school, I was in my element. The whole idea of making up your own story back then was marvellous (and frankly still is!).

I couldn’t tell you either the moment I decided I would be a writer I just know the nagging feeling of wanting to write and, backing it up more importantly with actually doing the writing, has been with me for far longer than I can recall. The best thing to do is follow that writing urge but be open to trying new forms of writing. It is the way, I think, to find out what it is you really want to spend your time doing!

 

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Have prepared what I hope to be working on during Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, which starts on Saturday. This is a longer term project I want to read through and edit. I’ve also got a few ideas on where to submit this once done so want to check those out too while I’m away. Hope to submit said project by the end of the year (the idea being once back from Swanwick I’ll be ready to sort out my amendments and get the project out there).

Am continuing to work on my third flash fiction book. Have got ideas for non-fiction too which I hope to flesh out more so in between the courses at Swanwick, and catching up with friends there, I shall have plenty to do! But that is always a good thing…

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What do your characters like to eat/drink? Are they good cooks or do they live on their world’s equivalent of take out? What do they like to wear (and does it fit in with their world’s idea of what is suitable)?

Ask yourself questions about your characters. Not only will you get a better picture of who they are and what they’re like, the crucial points about your fictional world will develop too. For example, if you know your character is a freedom fighter, what are they fighting against? It also shows your world is probably a dictatorial one. (If it wasn’t, why are there any freedom fighters at all?).

Am hoping to submit some more flash fiction stories before long (but probably after I’m back from Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. This week will be spent in preparing posts to schedule for while I’m away I expect).

My third flash fiction book is coming along but I hope to do a lot more on that while away. And as I mentioned on my author page that will be alongside a longer term project I want to read through and edit and, hopefully, be submiting by the end of the year. It is great having a mixture of different writing projects – I never get bored (!), I love the challenges each one presents (and those differ naturally). and, if things go as I hope, I should have a variety of work “out there”, hopefully to find a good home!