- Grand Viziers. As Cohen the Barbarian says in Interesting Times (Terry Pratchett), there is just something about the job that gets to them. Hmm... from my reading of fairytales Grand Viziers like to get to others to stop anything getting to them at all.
- Talking wolves. Experience shows this never ends well. The wolf doesn't usually benefit either.
- Talking snakes. See Kipling's Jungle Book for more on this (and one of the great Disney films too). I would be very wary of anything that hisses. After all they do have a serpent tongue!
- Wizards who suddenly seem interested in weapons building. See the example of Saruman in The Lord of the Rings here. You have got to ask why have they taken to this industry. It's not usually necessary for a wizard to need weapons (and certainly not on a grand scale).
- Spurned witches/bad fairies not invited to christenings. When they do turn up, being all sweetness and light to all and sundry is definitely not on the agenda.
There are some characters in fairytales and fantasy fiction the sensible will never trust. My list is:-
Little things reveal a great deal about people. Anyone who always says "please" and "thank you", you know was brought up to be polite (and not take anything for granted usually too!). Likewise, those who hold doors open for others (regardless of gender), you can reasonably assume at least try to be considerate in other ways as well.
So little things should also give away clues as to what your characters are really like deep down. I think of this as the kind of trait that a character can't completely hide/suppress. For example, a character is shown to be a "loudmouth". Fine but every so often during the story, we also spot the said character lighting a candle as a prayer for someone else. That tells me well hang on this character has another side to them. A deep, spiritual side they are either not comfortable showing more openly (they're wary of showing off their piety perhaps) or they somehow feel the need to cover that aspect of themselves up by being "loud".
So think about what little things will give away what your character is really like. These little things can also back up the main portrayal (and indeed will help make it more convincing).
This post presumes you want to live! So on those grounds then never say any of the following to a magical being of any description. The weaker ones will use what powers they've got to zap you. They don't want you becoming a threat. The stronger ones will either just destroy you for being an irritant or ignore you but name you publicly. The point of that is their minions will come after you instead, saving them the bother.
Every so often I have a brainstorming session where I jot down rough ideas for future blog posts, short stories and so on. I don't worry about how rough the idea is - I just get that initial thought down on paper. This is partly to make sure I don't forget the initial spark but also because I know now that other ideas will come in to improve that starting off one. I need to give my subconscious time to mull things over but it also has to have something to mull over in the first place.
Sometimes I get a paragraph or two down in sessions like this. Sometimes it's just an odd line. Occasionally it's a piece of dialogue that I know I want to get into some story somewhere. But I write it down. The only magic wand a writer needs after all is a pen and paper. I don't know why it is but when I brainstorm I have to physically write. I can't do this directly to screen.
And following on from my flash fiction theme yesterday, one lines are often all I need to get started on a story. So if you have a scrap of an idea, jot it down. It may well become a bigger idea. If not, it may be enough in itself to help you create a flash fiction story.
I write fairytales with bite as short stories and novels but also as flash fiction. Flash is an ideal format for those incidents which are simply not long enough to make a standard length short story, yet can be a story in themselves. For example:-
I don't know how she does it. Whatever I put down, it vanishes in seconds. I stand there, looking at her and she just looks at me knowingly. I blink, I look again, it's all gone. She looks smug.
It must be a kind of magic. Certainly she's consistent with it. I don't know how she gets away with it though. If I tried her trick, I'd get chronic indigestion.
But then my border collie is a wizard at making her food and treats disappear...
Copyright: Allison Symes, November 2016
I love writing stories like The Magician. All short stories are said to be a moment in time. Well flash is half a moment! I have sometimes taken a flash piece and expanded it for a standard length short story (1500 to 1700 words usually) so flash can be a good way of testing out an idea. If it's not sustainable for a long piece, it can remain as flash fiction, a very worthy form in its own right. And I'm not just saying that because I have a flash fiction collection due out soon.... honestly!
What I like to see in my favourite fairytale heroines:-
How do your characters handle situations where they need to make a new start or life takes them in a direction they did not expect (for good or ill)? Does having to change direction bring out the best in them or are they resentful at the necessity to change?
Do your characters manage to go forward or are they successful in going round and round in circles? Sometimes other characters "guide" others on a new path (think Gandalf in Lord of the Rings. Without him, Frodo would definitely have stayed in the Shire!). What are these characters like as guides? Are they reliable?
And where does the new direction lead your main characters? Somewhere positive or not?
Today will go down as probably the best day in Scottish and British tennis, given Andy and Jamie Murray have ended the year as world number one in the mens' singles and doubles. Wonderful achievement for them both and they make history too.
How do our characters make history? By changing the fictional world in which they live. It doesn't have to be for the better either. Sauron in The Lord of the Rings made history in the world of that wonderful epic by being a tyrant and forging the Ring of Power. Frodo made history by defeating Sauron and destroying that Ring.
History can be changed in small ways, as well as the big ones, and even our minor characters should have an impact on our stories to justify them being in said stories! The whole point of any story is to show moments of change in the characters and/or the world in which they live. Sometimes that world can be a very small one - i.e. the world as it affects them and those nearest to them. Sometimes the world is on an epic scale such as Middle Earth and Mordor.
Those moments of change lead to conflict and so the drama beings. How our characters then act and react (and why) is what makes the history. It is also what is the story. And readers should be able to see why your characters act and react the way they do from the way you've set those characters up. There should be a logical progression. (Ironically this is true even if, say, Character A's behaviour changes out of all recognition because they've been "influenced", drugged or are ill. All of those three things are logical progressions, just not very nice ones!).
I sometimes wonder what people were on when they came up with the nursery rhymes. Take Hey Diddle Diddle for example. In what universe did a cow ever jump over the moon? I sometimes lose my spoons in the cutlery drawer (usually because they've been put back in the wrong place) but to date not one of them has run away with any of my dishes.
There was a wonderful Radio 4 series called News at Bedtime which sent up the nursery rhyme and fairy tale world. And with material such as Hey Diddle Diddle to work with, spoofing was a gift I would have thought! If you ever get a chance to listen to this series, do so. It's hilarious and stars Jack Dee and Peter Calpaldi (prior to his getting the call to "pilot" the Tardis in Doctor Who).
I do have a soft spot for the nonsense verse of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear and Spike Milligan. Couldn't write it but love reading it. Having said that I find I can only read it in small doses at any one time? Why? Because for me the world of fantasy still has to be believable. When it goes into pastiche, it, for me, literally loses some of its magic. What do you think?
It's a lovely moment in a story when you know the whole thing "works", the characters are inspirational and you suddenly realise you could write a lot more about/for them. When you are disappointed the story has to come to an end, you're on to a winner!
Knowing a lot about your character before you begin writing "officially" is a great help here. "A lot" varies from writer to writer - I need to know my character's base level trait. Are they honourable, brave and so on? Other authors write full biographies. I need enough to get me started and then I love to find out more details as the story comes together.
The classic sign of a character who has taken off well is being able to thnk of any circumstance and know automatically how they'd handle it. Also you would know how that character would speak and likely educational level and so on. Let your characters take off! You are the conduit through which they share their stories. I know that sounds a bit "luvvie" but it is true and after all it is the character's story. We want to hear their voice not the author's!
One of the reasons I love writing flash fiction is it has a number of perks for a writer. My list here includes:-
I don't write out a full character biography for my "people" though I can understand why some writers find this helpful. I do ask myself questions about my characters though. This is by no means the be all and end all of lists but I find it's a useful starting point.
On today, Armistice day (Veterans Day), the focus, as ever, is on remembering. One of the nicest things I've seen today was a local bus company who, not only "wore" the poppy on the front of their bus as they usually do, but had changed their destination board to read:-
Lest We Forget
The Fallen Heroes
I thought it was nicely done.
War and conflict of course are the staples of many a fine novel, though one thing that has struck me about Jane Austen's work was her ability to completely ignore the Napoleonic Wars in her era. Proof perhaps that escapism is not a new thing in fiction.
But whether we read/write escapist fiction or not, remembering should come into our stories somewhere. Why? Our characters have their own lives and remembering, if only the mistakes they've made and what they learned from them, should come into the story somehow. Readers need to see where our characters have come from. What our characters remember is a vital part of why they are the way they are.
You would think in a magical world at least it wouldn't be possible to be taken by surprise by either people or events. You'd use the powers of telepathy or whatever to spot what was coming and presumably find ways of containing the coming problem. Just as well this doesn't happen - fantasy fiction would be very short if it was!
Magic can't in itself be the be all and end all, else there is no story because everything is solved with a wave of the old wand. So what limits have you set on magic in your stories? Can these limits be overcome? How did the limits develop? Do differing magical species have different limits (they do in mine)? What other ways do your characters use to overcome their problems?
When the unexpected really hits the world you've created, how do your characters react to it? Which show hidden courage? Which show blatant cowardice? How does reactions like these change relationships between your characters? And when things settle back to what counts as normal in your story world, are things ever the same again between your characters? (I don't think they should be but are the changes here positive or negative?).
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.