- Don't forget to invite anyone important, especially if it is to a christening.
- If you are that important being who was forgotten, don't curse the infant princess whose christening you have turned up for in a huff. Some interfering busybody will weaken that curse and you will just look vindictive. Of course if that is the look you are going for...
- Disappear and leave your guests to it. It doesn't look good. There has to be better times to disappear quietly and get on with your quest, surely.
- Don't engage in a "my type of magical being is better than your type of magical being" as the only outcome will be all out war, which will damage your world for centuries to come. Magical impacts take ages to heal up.
- Don't invite a dragon to launch the barbecue. They can rarely control their flames accurately and their idea of a barbecue and what is on offer at it will vary wildly from yours. You hadn't planned to be on the menu had you?
My latest Chandler's Ford Today post is another in my Away Days series and looks at lovely Bath and the Roman Baths in particular. Now everyone needs a break from time to time so how would this work in a magical world?
Witches would go to the latest Home Brew exhibition for the very best ingredients and up to date techniques. After all if you are going to curse someone and transform them into something horrible, you can at least do it with style.
Fairy Godmothers would go to the Crafts Fair to see for themselves the dangers of spinning wheels. After that they would go to the Gardening Fete to check out pumpkin growing techniques and how to spot a red apple that has been filled with poison. After all you never know when you might need to warn someone about the dangers of these things.
Wizards would go to the magical equivalent of a Top Gear show. Only difference being their top gear is the fastest, most powerful flying equipment, wands and so on. There is a certain amount of oneupmanship here. There always is at shows like this.
And then to return back to daily life refreshed and all ready to curse (witch), limit a curse's effects (fairy godmother) or zap whoever is being most annoying to the wizard in question at the time.
Picture the scene. You're a fully trained fairy godmother. You have a mission to complete. So what do you not want to come across? Here are some suggestions:-
The ideal candidate for being a fairy godmother will have the following traits:-
In a magical world, things going wrong can have truly horrendous consequences. After all magic is a force. So when it comes to fairytale characters, at what point did they realise that today was the day they should have stayed at home with the covers pulled over their heads? Or taken a course of action in direct opposition to the one they did take?
I was visiting a railway museum today, always having had a love of train travel and being fascinated by the history of it all. I also love history in general and suspect it is because... well, what is history after all? It is one huge story made up of lots of little ones (the history of the railway, the history of cathedrals, my personal history, basically the histories of anything and everything leading up to the history of our country overall. And the great thing with history is there all the histories of other countries to explore too. It's not a limited field, far from it!).
So with the focus on transport, how is that portrayed in your fiction if you are building your own world? Whether it is fantasy or science fiction you write, your characters will need some way of getting around so is what you have thought of inferior or superior to what we have here on Earth?
Who is your world's equivalent of the great pioneers of transport - Brunel, Stephenson etc? If you've established that whatever form of transport you use (and almost inevitably there will be several), how efficiently does it run? What are the downsides?
Where does the energy come from to power it? And if you use magic as a kind of fuel here, just how much of the stuff does your world need as I imagine it would take a colossial amount. There would be a price to pay for that somewhere and that in itself could be a fascinating story.
I "interview" Richard III in my Chandler's Ford Today post tonight as I start a new, occasional series called Impossible Interviews. Who would you interview in the magical world if it was possible (naturally all barriers to communication, including language, would be removed? What kind of questions would you ask?
In a magical environment, I would quiz those responsible for upholding magical standards. Who sets the standards? Are they adhered to (and what happens to those who fail these standards, deliberately or otherwise)? How are standards policed?
I would also question those considered to be at the bottom of society and in a magical world this is often groups like the sprites (pixies, imps etc). The amount of mayhem these groups can cause is out of all proportion to their numbers but are these groups deliberately suppressed to try to limit that? Is there anyone amongst these groups trying to go against the stereotype of sprites always wanting to fight and cause trouble?
I would also quiz the ruling classes. Are they truly trying to serve all their people? And who are the media answerable to? Have they ever suppressed an interview because they knew it could land them in it with the authorities?
Plenty of story ideas there!
Okay so we all need to unwind at the end of a typical day, but how do your characters do this? What counts as relaxation in the world you've invented? Is the society you've created a workaholic one (the kind that agrees with the statement "lunch is for wimps") or is it one where anyone can thrive if they work hard enough but the importance of "down time" is also noted?
What beverages do your characters use as part of their wind down routine? Is there a fictional equivalent of Horlicks?! What happens when your character's life is turned upside down with the likelihood there will be no relaxation time for the foreseeable future (and indeed they will do well to even survive)?
How do your characters recharge their batteries? How do those they might help them get through their quest make sure they're not too tired to do the job?
Every fairy godmother worth her wand prepares well in advance of her next task and hates being taken by surprise. (After all in a magical world that could mean the difference between life and death). So she has a to-do list which includes the following (but is not limited to it):-
I love to vary what I write. I always have a non-fiction and a fiction session to my nightly writing tasks but when I refer to mixing it up, I'm referring to varying the length of story or article I'm on. My flash fiction piece, Telling the Time, is now out in The Best of Cafelit 5 and is also available as an ebook. What I love about the Cafelit anthologies is the lovely mix in word length and mood of the stories. There's something to catch whatever mood I'm in!
Writing for short story competitions can be of immense value too as they will soon help you write to different lengths of fiction. Most, of course, stick for the standard word count, usually circa 1500 to 1700 words, but there are the flash fiction competitions (everything from 75 words to 1000). Then there are the poetry competitions, the article writing ones and so on.
The great thing is there is bound to be a competition out there for something you like to write most so give it a go! If you get a chance to get an adjudication I would do so. I judge whether I'm going to go for this option by seeing what the costs are. Generally if it is fairly low (say under £5) I choose this. The feedback I have had this way has proved invaluable on differing pieces of work.
The important thing is to have fun in whatever it is you write!
Following on from yesterday's post, what I would love about living in a magical world would include:-
How do your characters react to big changes in life such as starting a new job, achieving success in a field where they've struggled for years and so on? What developments take place in your characters themselves throughout the course of your stories/novels?
On the world you portray in your stories, how does development take place? Is big business able to dictate to governments or is there a central power controlling everything? If the latter, just how beneficial is that central power to the ordinary population? Do they resent it, fear it or try and stay out of the way of it?
Is there any kind of green movement as we would know the term? Or does development have to take place in a sustainable way? If magic is involved, how is that controlled so development does not get out of hand?
The short answer is "no" of course! The reason I ask is tonight's Chandler's Ford Today post is different for me in that it is more of a technical post and is where I share why I use Scrivener software for my writing. I should add I'm not connected to the company that produces it in any way (other than as a customer!) but I hope this post might be of use to writers who may be considering using this program.
For those not at all interested in the software, I also share links to the websites of some of my favourite authors for whom writing technology was the quill or the typewriter! At the end of the day it is the imagination that is the most important writing tool of all.
So when it comes to writing, there is no great big magic wand then that will either solve all writing issues or be the one big thing to guarantee any kind of publication success. (I find Scrivener helps me organise my work well and I love their character and setting templates and project targets but it is an organisational tool. Nothing but nothing can beat the imagination).
So how to help "beef up" the power of your imagination then, which I think is the single most useful thing to do to help improve your writing. Dead easy answer here. No big secret. No big surprises. Read! Read fiction in and out of your normal genres. Read non-fiction. Borrow books from the library you might not choose to purchase. If you love said books, you can always buy your own later. But read, read, read. And there really is no short cut there.
After all why do you want to write? Because you love stories. What stories inspired you to take up your pen, writing software or whatever? Think about that inspiration and how you can "grow" that further. Then you won't be stuck for things about which to write. What you will run out of is time!
If you were a fairytale character, what would you worry about? Some of my suggestions would be:-
I think fairytales lend themselves particularly well to the short story format. (Though to be fair, Hans Christen Andersen's The Snow Queen and The Little Mermaid are not particularly short tales. Let's just say he would have his work cut out editing these down to fit most short story competitions!). What you want from a fairytale is what you want from a short story. Time for another list! I love lists.
Fairytale characters come in all shapes and sizes. The heroes and heroines of the fairytale are very much the stars of the stage. But behind the scenes in any world, magical or otherwise, some poor clot has to to the necessary tasks that helps keep their world going. After all where would any of us be without the dustbin collections? Up to our ears in litter... So some jobs that are carried out in the fairy world could include:-
I suppose one reason why I'm fascinated by the story of Richard III and the fate of the Princes in the Tower is the fact that, for me as for most people, truth matters, reputation matters and, in his case, the latter has been comprehensively trashed by Henry VII.
I am glad that with Josephine Tey's novel, The Daughter of Time, (one of my all time favourites, the link leads to a Chandler's Ford Today review of mine) and the discovery of Richard III's body much more recently, there has been a lot of re-evaluation and the last son of York has a more sympathetic hearing these days. People are more open to the idea he might not have killed the Princes at all. Highly recommend reading Tey's novel and looking at the work of the Richard III Society.
Truth in fiction is as important as it is in life. If readers are going to willingly suspend disbelief for a while as they read what we have written, we have got to make our stories as realistic as possible to help that process along. It doesn't matter how fantastical or magical a setting the story has, the characters have to be real to make the whole thing work. So therefore the dilemmas they face, we've got to be able to identify with. There must be something in the characters that draws our sympathy.
It is a bit ironic that it is important to be truthful when portraying characters given that fiction in itself is something that is completely made up! But you still want the pretend world to be as real as possible for your readers while they're visiting it!
A Peek into My Writing World is the title of the second half of my Chandler's Ford Today post this week. It shares news of my flash fiction book acceptance (continuing the theme of flash fiction which I posted yesterday), why I have artificial roses on my writing desk and looks at what inspires me as a writer.
I am one of those writers who doesn't work in silence. Right now as I type this I am listening to one of my musical highlights of the year, The Last Night of the Proms, and loving this. If there is one form of writing I will always admire because I know I can never do it, it is the ability to write music - both lyrics and melody. I sing along too. I carry a tune reasonably well but nowhere as near as well as the BBC singers!
So what role does music play in your fiction? Can it be used as code? A certain type of music is accepted, anything else is banned? When a certain type of music is played, the government is about to perform certain actions and this is their way of warning people?
Tonight's Chandler's Ford Today post looks at flash fiction. The second half of this post will appear tomorrow and shares book publication news and why, amongst other things, I keep artificial roses on my writing desk. Tonight's post looks at what flash fiction is and I've included an example of mine.
But even for "ordinary" short stories, you still need to keep it brief. After all most competition entries ask for 1500 to 2000 words. That doesn't give you a lot of room for manoeuvre.
As for novels, where there is more room to play with, so to speak, keeping to the point and only putting in what must be in the book must be your governing factors as to what goes in there! The whole point of a story is to show what happened and then... stop.
As for characters, it pays for them not to ramble when speaking to other characters, unless, of course, you have set that character up to ramble a bit. I could see that characteristic trying the patience of the others but of course that may be the whole point.
How do characters keep their chin up, particularly after tragedy? Is counselling a service offered by your world at all? How do your more reserved characters manage, especially those who won't/can't talk to family and friends (or whose family and friends are unlikely, for whatever reason, to be sympathetic)?
Is shouldering burdens quietly something that is expected in the world you write about? Or is it considered a strange approach given everyone else does wear their heart on their sleeves? How do your characters recover from knock back after knock back? What is the long term effect on their personalities?
There is a matter of factness about fairytales, a directness, a clear cut this is good and this is bad attitude. I have no problems with any of that but would a fairytale character, knowing what is expected here but unable to manage it themselves, struggle with this? Would others sympathise or just tell them to get over it and "man up"?
Are your characters capable of looking on the bright side or are they all miserable wotsits? Do any of your characters have a positive effect on others, helping to lift their mood? Some positive statements which might help (or irritate the hell out of a character, it really will depend on how you've portrayed them) 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.