- Cinderella's fairy godmother thinking it perfectly okay to send her client to dance in uncomfortable glass slippers with no real explanation as to why the intended fur ones had not turned up. (And she could have made it artificial fur too). Just as well said fairy godmother wasn't on the receiving end of some awkward questions (put to her by an equally powerful magical being so she couldn't zap her way out of the embarrassment).
- Failure to warn folk of talking wolves who think nothing of dressing up in human clothes and pretending to be Grandma. This has to be odd in anyone's reckoning.
- Failure to warn that dancing in red shoes could easily be the last thing you ever get to do. Okay, the tale does specify one particular pair of red shoes and there may have been a wish not to cause panic amongst the world's shoe buying population, but there should still have been a general Health and Safety warning so folk would have known exactly what they were getting into (literally!).
- A failure to put out an anti-bullying message with regard to the Ugly Duckling. It should have been specified looks are not everything. (The Beast in Beauty and the Beast could have backed that message too).
- A failure to warn Rapunzel that growing her hair so long it could be used as a rope would be bound to be put incredible strain on her spine, especially when said hair was used for climbing. The girl was lucky to escape injury.
With From Light to Dark and Back Again now out, I'm of course thinking of promoting and things like that. This led me to wonder what PR failures the fairytale world might be guilty of and my list would be:-
Questions to ask when world building could include:-
Normally I interview authors for Chandler's Ford Today but recently the tables were turned and I was quizzed by friend, and fellow scribe, Jacci Gooding. I met her a few years back at Winchester Writers' Festival and I guess this proves the importance of networking. You never know where it might lead and, the great thing is, at the very worst, you will have made friends who understand the writing bug in a way family does not always do. At the very best, you can help promote each other's work and give each other a platform.
I remember being very nervous about networking when I was starting out as a writer, but it helped no end when I realised it is just a fancy term for talking about your book and encouraging others to talk about theirs. For it to work properly, it must be a two way process, otherwise you will come across as egotistical at best. I found the great way of breaking the ice at any writers' conference is to ask whoever you're with what they are writing. It opens up conversation beautifully (and most writers are pleased to ask you the same question as it makes for a much better conversation).
When it comes to fiction, how do your characters react when they are quizzed? Who does the quizzing? Do your characters have rights we take for granted or do they live under a tyranny?
My post tonight for Chandler's Ford Today is about what the publication of my book, From Light to Dark and Back Again, means to me. My road to publication has been a series of small steps, as I discuss in the post, and this particular step is a major one. So yes I have definitely had a major wish granted here and all without the aid of a magic wand! (A lot of hard work, a certain amount of luck etc etc but definitely no wand!).
How do your characters react when they see others having their wishes granted but not their own? How do they react when their own are granted? Do they become egotistical monsters or are they grateful for their good fortune and make the most of it without aggravating everyone else?
When a fairy godmother or character of that ilk decides to grant a wish, what makes them do so? I would say pity isn't a strong enough reason. They've got to be able to see something special in the character they're thinking of helping to know that the wish fulfilment will help that character go on and use said wish fulfilment wisely.
I thought I would share some intriguing first lines. Any of these could be used for short stories, flash fiction, poems and novels (and across many genres) so I hope you have some fun with these.
I may well have a go at some of these myself in due course!
And they all lived happily ever after is, of course, the classic fairytale ending, but it simply isn't true. Those that didn't live happily ever after or, indeed, at all come the end of the story include:-
Any fairytale witch would tell you that the fairy godmother is a curse, forever getting in the way and modifying curses so people get to sleep for 100 years rather than die. But the fairy godmother has her own curse affecting her and her work. This is otherwise known as Murphy's Law. Hers then would be:-
1. Picking the wrong wand to use when in a hurry and finding she's got the one that requires pumpkins as a key ingredient.
2. Discovering she's got the wrong translation spell in her wand and slippers end up being made out of glass for some reason.
3. Discovering the spells that mean she has to use animals and transform them into something else bring her out in a nasty rash. (Of course that could just be an allergy to the animals' fur).
4. Really wanting to zap someone but knowing she's supposed to be nice so must show restraint.
5. Knowing she's expected to look older, wise and friendly when she really wants to put on something much more daring and hit the town.
One reason I love writing and reading flash fiction is the vast majority end with either a twist in the tale or some other ending which has real impact. I like to think of those as story endings with bite. For example, one from my book From Light to Dark and Back Again, comes from the story Serving Up a Treat and reads:-
He never got to take another mouthful.
You will guess correctly what genre that story is from that one line alone but it is what leads up to that point which is the draw for reading that tale.
So what impact are your endings having on the rest of your story? They should resolve the story, twist it, leave your reader feeling that it was an appropriate one (not necessarily happy as the above example proves!) and truly end the piece. You say what you have to say and then get out again.... hopefully on to the next story.
I sometimes write the ending first and work backwards for flash fiction. Other times I start with an interesting first line and see where it takes me but even then the ending should back up all that has gone before and tie in with it.
Once upon a time is, of course, the classic start to the great fairytales. It also forewarns you immediately that, when reading this story, you are, at best, going into times of myth and legend. (Many fairytales are based on fact. I strongly suspect Hans Christen Andersen's The Little Match Girl was specifically based on something he'd witnessed directly given it has a very strong social conscience message).
But I prefer my beginnings to "hit the ground running". For example, in the follow up to From Light to Dark and Back Again, this start comes from a story called Time for Some Peace.
The noise was becoming unbearable and getting nearer.
I like beginnings that intrigue, draw you in and make you want to know more. I want the end of the story to make me feel as if I've found out what led to that opening line being written the way it was and that it was worth finding out. I have no problems at all with stories "just" being for entertainment (what on earth is wrong with that? Not all stories have to have a particular message). I also love twists in the tale (and sometimes the twist can be there isn't one!).
So once upon a time is a great beginning but unlikely to be one I'll use!
One of the great extras to writing is getting to go to writing conferences, festivals etc to hear favourite authors speak and, hopefully, to learn a great deal about improving work. I come away from the festivals I go to with my head buzzing with ideas and feeling encouraged with my writing and eager to get back to it.
So what conferences and festivals would there be in your fictional setting? Which would your characters go to and why? What do they hope to learn? Do they make friends as a result of going to these things? (I'm glad to say I have!).
How do your characters get to these conferences and festivals? If it needs staying over, what kind of accommodation would your characters book?
I'll be running a flash fiction workshop soon and thought it might be useful to share some tips. My workshop will expand on these ideas but I hope the following list might prove to be a good starting point for anyone not having written flash before. The great thing is flash can cover all genres. My book, From Light to Dark and Back Again, has fairytales, humorous and dark, crime stories, "light" horror and character studies. So on to the tips:-
All characters have differing amounts of truth and dishonesty within them. Even villains can be brutally honest when put to it. The guiding line I take on characters (mine and others) is if they are generally honest, then they are likely to be the hero/heroine/on their side. Those that glibly lie I wouldn't trust and will suspect them to be in league with the villain. (A lot of the time I'm right on these assumptions).
So how truthful or otherwise are your characters? What consequences does their brute honesty have on others? And are there times when a "kind lie" is more useful and beneficial to others? How would that square with that character's conscience?
As for the liars amongst your cast, can this trait be put to good use by the governing authorities on this world? If so, how, and what adventures does that trigger?
When in doubt, leave it out is something I've found useful when trying to work out whether to put in a specific scene into a story. If I've got to think about it too much, it usually means that section will stand out and not weave seamlessly into what I've already written.
I edit a story at least three times. The initial edit gets rid of the typos and repetitions (sadly, there are always some!). The second edit I use to check the story makes sense in terms of its structure. The third edit is where I read the story with a reader's hat on and ask myself if the tale grips me. (It if doesn't, it won't grip anyone else!).
Everything about the story has to seem as if, of course, it belongs there. When you can't envisage taking a word out (because it will spoil the story), that's the ideal time to send your story out into the big, bad world to see if others agree with you.
One thing I love about fairytales is they are very much to the point. Yes, there are longer tales such as The Snow Queen but even with that story, there is a directness to it, which I adore. I think as a result of that directness, flash fiction can be an ideal vehicle for fairytales. One of my flash stories (to hopefully be in my next collection) is Living the Lie.
Living a Lie by Allison Symes
The animal crept into the cottage, ensuring no creature saw him. It was fair enough he shouldn’t be here. That was obvious. But how to explain to fellow creatures he’d learned years ago how to use a human door? No. Best not go there.
Was it his fault he’d crossed some witch years ago and she’d roundly cursed him? Turned out she did more than swear at him. He caught sight of himself in the hall mirror. Ugly did not begin to cover it.
Bit ironic really. As a human he had been a charming prince.
(Copyright: Allison Symes 2016).
Flash can be a great way of writing your own take on a fairytale. The above is my take on Beauty and the Beast. I've found writing flash helps me get to the nub of a story and sometimes I will take a flash piece and expand it out to a standard length short story (1500 to 2000 words) for a competition. I also discuss the advantages of flash fiction on my This World and Others website under Short and Sweet - Or Not as the Case May Be.
Flash fiction and fairytales are a very good mix, I think, and I've found them huge fun to write. Hope you might do so too.
The problem with writing about a magical world is it is too easy to get magic to solve everything but then there is no conflict or story that way. So there has to be limitations on magic such as when it can be used, how powerful it is, what is weaknesses are and times when it can't be used, if only because your opponent is as skilled in magic as you are so you effectively stalemate each other, meaning other ways around the problem have to be found.
With limitations on magic then, there will be limitations on what wishes can be granted too. One good thing about this is there will be conflict between what, say, a fairy godmother would like to be able to do but can't because she'll break all the rules of her kind and they'll have her wand (at best) for it. Characters then will have to come to terms with not being able to "magic" all their problems away. It would be useful too to have them be disappointed, angry even at its limitations because it does mean they will have to sort themselves out and they perhaps resent having to do that.
Then there are those characters who are perhaps relieved they are not indebted to a magical being. How does that put them at odds with the society around them? How do the magical beings react to characters who don't really want their skills and certainly wouldn't trust any of them? Not well! So again conflict and a potential story there.
So think about when magic shouldn't/can't work, when wishes have to be worked for. That will generate conflict, tensions (frustration by characters who would have loved magic to solve things for them) and hopefully good stories.
Bein exclusive is not necessarily a good thing. In J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, the whole issue of exclusivity drives the plot especially in the last book. The main divide there was beteen those who welcomed non-magical species and those who definitely didn't.
So what divides exists in your creations? Is there a general loathing of non-magical species or are there plenty who want to help them? How did the loathing come about? What has fuelled it since?
How does your fictional government run its jurisdiction? Fairly or does it pick on specific groups and, for good or ill, treats them exclusively? Who protests against ill treatment and what happens as a result?
Fairytale laws, broken of course by the villains of the stories, include:
The old saying about there being two certainties in life (one being taxes, the other being death) is true to a certain extent. I'd say there was a third certainty - you will make mistakes. The same applies to characters.
How do your characters react to mistakes, costly or otherwise? Do they try to learn from them or do they try to pretend they never happened? When mistakes do cost them dearly, how do they respond to that? (It's easier to shrug off a simple mistake which doesn't do much harm after all than it is to a mistake that cost financially, endangered someone else and so on).
Were there things your characters could have done to have avoided the mistakes but perhaps their own personality traits got in the way? How do the other characters in your story react to the mistakes and those that made them? Is it a "game changer"?
All things to think about. Of course as readers we want the characters to make mistakes as these will lead to more tensions and drama until the mistakes and other issues in the story are resolved. Are the mistakes in keeping with the type of character you've created?
Working with the impossible includes working with impossible characters (well, at least they are to your protagonist!) as well as working with magic/powers beyond what we know on Earth. But even in the most fantastical world imaginable, there has to be realism else readers won't suspend their disbelief to enjoy the story.
The best way to achieve that realism is through portraying realistic characters. That includes characters others find difficult or impossible to get on with. It also includes showing relationships between characters - from working ones to romantic to friendships and how all of these change over time (sometimes for the better, sometimes not). There also needs to be something about the setting which is easy to identify with and that can be anything from power mad rulers to home settings not dissimilar to our own.
Also if magic is used all the time, where is the story? One blast from a wand, problem solved, but not much to read about! So it pays to have limits to what magic can do so your characters are forced to have other ways to resolve their issues. And that's where the drama and tension comes in and, hey presto, a story that will hopefully keep readers gripped, really wanting to find out what happens next.
Following on from yesterday's post, other important questions to ask yourself regarding your story/novel, would, for me, include:-
Asking yourself the right questions can be key to a successful story. (For me as I outline most of my fiction before writing it, it would also be key to getting my outline as good as I can get it, which helps me to make my story as good as I can get it on a first draft). So some key questions then are, for me, as follows:-
Following on from yesterday's post, here are a couple of other fairytale memos that had they been seen by the right characters would've changed the course of the story or killed it.
To: Big Bad Wolf
Re Avoiding Run-ins with the local woodchopper
Notes The best way to avoid said run-ins is to avoid going for a walk in the woods when the woodchopper is about. Equally avoid trouble and don't eat anyone you shouldn't. Better still, find the woodchopper and eat HIM first.
(Now that last one would have changed the story!).
From: Hair Products Advertising
Re: Possible Marketing Opportunity
Notes: We understand you are a firm believer in having long and lustrous hair. So are we! We also understand you like your hair to have good texture and strength. So do we! But we would say don't allow your hair to be used like a rope ladder. It really isn't meant for that and even we accept there's a limit to what our products can do. Can't you set up a ladder for your visitors to come up and see you or, best still, move to a bungalow?
(Rapunzel's guardian would never allow the latter).
What if some of the major fairytale characters had written memos? Could their publication have changed the course of the story or acted as a warning to another character? Well...
From: Wicked Stepmother
Re: Getting Rid of You Know Who
Don't forget to make that apple shiny a glowing red. SW always did like bright colours. Red can be the death of her then! She'll never think to question it, stupid girl.
(Maybe Snow White would've questioned it had she seen this memo!).
From: The Three Bears
To: Any competent locksmith
Re: House Security
Please, please, please, make our house as secure as possible. We don't want any more golden headed girls breaking in scoffing our food and vandalising our furniture. If a certain person does it again, we may need to consider eating her - some people do just have to learn the hard way - and frankly we prefer porridge.
(Maybe Goldilocks would have thought twice about going anywhere near this particular cottage had she seen this).
More memos to come in future posts...
The reluctant hero/heroine is one of my favourite character types for various reasons. These include:-
I'm Allison Symes and I write novels, short stories as well as some scripts and poems. I love setting my work in my magical world, the Fairy Kingdom, and my favourite character is Eileen, who believes hypocrisy is something that happens to other people without caring that statement is hypocritical in itself! Eileen is huge fun to write for and about.