- A hero(ine) that has success merely as a result of bad things happening to others. I want my hero(ine) to work for their success, to struggle for a time before they make a breakthrough. This is more realistic than success coming to them by mere chance. Coincidence is generally not liked in fiction.
- A hero(ine) that whines all the time. I have no problem with them doing so some of the time. The stress of the situation in you've put them in has got to them but you then want for them to fight back against the whining trait and for things to pick up.
- A hero(ine) that fails to make the most of the opportunities they have. Interesting stories can be made from them missing some of these chances, after all we do this ourselves, but generally they make the most of things (and get the rewards for doing so).
This covers a lot of what I don't like to see in any fictional writing, including my own.
It may sound a contradiction in terms but a good villain has the following qualities.
I know it sounds a contradiction in terms but a good villain will have the following qualities.
There are certain character traits which I love to see appear in books and short stories.
Enough details so I can form my own mental pictures.
Details that are believable (and appropriate for that world). Outlandish is fine as long as that has been established as a major characteristic and not just "thrown in" at the reader.
Differing groups, each one with unique qualities and habits, and how these interact within their own group and with the others.
A sense of how the world is now at the state that it is (did historical battles have an effect? In my fairy kingdom, past battles have made certain areas barren as nothing can stand having too much magic go through it. This conjures (ahem - pun alert!) up images of barrenness, gives a sense of history and that there is rivalry between differing groups as realistically there would be.
Being able to follow life as it is lived for different species.
Being able to follow the history of the created world (I don't need every detail but enough to get a general flavour of, say, how violent the world has been and whether it has moved on from there or not and why that is the case).
Being able to zoom in on specific details that move the story on and having a general overview (and seeing how that influences the specific details).
Having a reasonable sense of the geography and climate of the world (expecting these to have some impact on how people live their lives).
I loved the Famous Five stories, whether directly set on Kirrin Island or elsewhere, though I am aware that the invention of the mobile phone would put paid to most, if not all, of these stories if they were written now.
I enjoy both the Poirot and Miss Marple series but I'm nominating here one of Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence novels in The Secret Adversary. The British world after World War One and with the prevailing fear of a Communist revolution in the UK are very well reproduced here and the story itself is a cracking adventure.
Who better to conjure up Regency romances? Pride and Prejudice, followed by Persuasion, are my favourite books here. I can visualise Pemberley thanks to Jane Austen's pen portrayals. I also know The Cobb at Lyme Regis well and whenever I re-read Persuasion the sights and sounds of that area I readily recall. Jane Austen is not heavy on description but gives enough to the reader to create the necessary images. A wonderful example of great writing.
The world of Blandings is enchanting and always conjure up for me long, hot, lazy summer days. For me, the perfect summer day is to be drinking something cold and refreshing while reading any of the Blandings tales. Sheer bliss. Also love Jeeves and Wooster. When I need picking up because life has got me down, these tales act as a tonic (and you can't beat the short stories for an instant pick-me-up moment or several).
Love the Discworld series. My favourite character is Vimes and I love seeing how he has developed over the course of several novels. A character with honour, a true knight (albeit with a very crusty exterior), in any kind of trouble you would want the likes of Vimes in your corner.
For the Harry Potter series. My favourite is The Prisoner of Askaban as I've always had a soft spot for the prisoner of Zenda like stories. ThinkGoblets of Fire was a bit overlong but possibly that is me not having enough time, indeed any time for the teenage angst that the book pro
I love twist in the tale endings where when I look back over the tale I spot the clues that led to the finale.
I love strong characters who muck things up and then go on to redeem themselves.
I love (appropriate) humour in stories. Ideally they should just be throwaway lines that read naturally (and would been written naturally and not forced into the story).
I love stories when the character overcomes their problems. I generally prefer optimistic endings (not necessarily happy ones but I find grim stories a real turn off. I don't mind the occasional one but given I read to escape and there's enough grimness on the news, I'd be glad not to read grim in my fiction as well).
I love flash fiction, literally snapshots of an incident. (I also enjoy working out how the author might have taken that story further to standard story or even novel length. It makes a good intellectual exercise).
I think the most important thing is to make sure your characters are interesting. They shouldn't be perfect. They should react to whatever situation you put them in as suits their personality. If outside influences are pressurizing your characters so perhaps they don't react the way they normally would, that should be made clear. Increase the tension!
Can you differentiate between your characters? Can you say so-and-so would react this way because their dominant trait is, for example, cowardice? What happens when your characters are put under pressure? What are their good points (and bad!)?
What do your characters want and why? What is stopping them achieving their objective(s)? Answer those questions and you'll have a great story in the making.
I've found that thinking on general terms leads to being able to come up with specific details needed for the telling of the story.
I began with working out how the Fairy Kingdom was governed (Queen and Council, loosely based on the style of government used by Queen Elizabeth Tudor). From there I worked out how towns and villages were run and that there were 22 different magical species in the Kingdom and that each had a representative on the Council.
This led to Council scenes which were noisy and needed the Queen to be able to steer so there wasn't a reversal to ages old enmity - for example, the dwarves and elves needed to be at a stage where they would at least talk to one another and put up with one another if only for the sake of the monarch they both served. (This led to background information about there having been many magical wars with the effect land had been made permanently barren in places as a result of having too much magic go through it and that nobody, not even the witches, really wanted a return to that state of affairs. This encouraged at least some co-operation between the species).
With a rough "feel" for magical politics in the Fairy Kingdom, I could then work out who would be likely to toe the line, who would have radical ideas the Queen would have to control (or occasionally use for her own purposes, usually to help get another bill through).
This is one thing I love about writing - how one detail worked out can lead to so many more details, fleshing out your world more realistically and leading to scenes/stories directly to add depth, particularly to a novel.
That there is such a thing as a vanity agent (not just publishers (and it is wise to steer clear of both)).
That you get through toner cartridges at a tremendous rate (and fervently wish they were cheaper!).
That, when you think you've got ages before a competition deadline, then that's the time to watch out as said time period will vanish before you know it.
That you can't have too many stamps, envelopes, printer paper and so on in stock.
I regularly go to the Winchester Writers' Festival (as it is now known) every summer and it is one of my writing highlights of the year. I always come back buzzing with ideas and renewed enthuasism (and it is such a pity that feeling can't be bottled, it would be a best seller).
What to look for in a good writing festival?
Has it been going for a number of years and can supply good feedback from students?
Does it have a good mixture of agents, publishers and experienced writers running classes/giving talks?
Does it cater for novelists, short story writers, poets and script writers?
Does it run its own competitions (not only are these fun to enter but being shortlisted on one of these looks good on your writing CV)?
Does it give a good mixture of classes/talks suitable for beginners, intermediates and the published (who've got useful experience but need to take their career on further)?
Do classes/talk cover a wide range of writing skills - from constructing a story to using technology to promote work?
If you can say yes to all of those, then I'd book your place on that writing festival now!
That it pays to flesh out your characters, not necessarily to the nth degree, but to a point where if someone asked you a random question about them, you could answer, knowing how that character would behave and why. (I've come to this point over time).
That the more you can imagine how your world works in terms of politics, the day-to-day life of ordinary people, the better, as you will write with confidence, having a clearer vision in your head. This really does show in your writing and will help readers willingly suspend disbelief so they enjoy your story. I think this is the biggest thing fantasy/sci-fi writers have to achieve. We logically know these worlds do not exist. We have to convince readers that in some dimension somewhere they could.
Avoid melodrama. It has always seemed fake to me. The drama you want should arise naturally out of your characters' personalities (i.e. someone like Eileen who is awkward and argumentative will keep finding themselves in hot water) and/or the way your world is run (is everyone happy or are there those plotting against the government so they take over your fictional world?).
Use your mood to help your writing. If you’re in a sad mood and you’ve got a sad scene to do when better to write it? You don’t have to write in strict chronological order. Conversely, use writing to help improve your mood. Being creative in itself is a positive thing. If what you produce is good, even better. (And if not, it’s on its way to being better because a darned good edit works wonders!).
Show your characters’ moods well and how they change. After all we’re not in one state of mind all the time so neither should they be. Moods affect actions affect consequences and plot! Show your characters learning from their experiences - what not to do again for example - and where appropriate where a character refuses to learn. Look at why they have that refusal - is it just stubbornness or are they afraid of change? Have they good reasons to be afraid?
Having always loved English, I should’ve guessed I would’ve wanted to write at some stage but in many ways it’s not how you start as a writer that matters, but the fact you keep going. You also need to keep reading - classics, in your genre, out of your genre, contemporary (you’ve got to know what else is out there).
Don'’t rely on the computer’s spell checker. It doesn’t pick up on everything. Mine has a bit of a thing about wanting to put in “his or her” instead of “their”!!!! What has it got against “their”?!!! Have a good dictionary to hand, always.
Vary sentence and paragraph lengths to vary pace. One continual pace is a monotone, never interesting. Watch out for favourite words and phrases creeping in - this is where a good edit comes to your aid!
Think about why you write the way you do. Can you improve it? Look for favourite phrases - they will creep into your writing unbidden! Mine do! Is your style appropriate for what you’re trying to produce? For example light, easy sentences might not be apt for a dark piece where I’d expect the words to be heavier, darker, to conjure up the right mood. Wodehouse stuck to what he knew - humorous prose - for a good reason. And his light style is perfect for it. Likewise horror writers write in a very different style appropriate for their work. So make sure your style matches.
Are you getting into the heads of your characters well enough? If someone asked you an unexpected question about any of them, could you, based on your knowledge of them, answer it? Is there enough going on in your story? Do your characters change? Do you show how and why? That is the story after all!
Are you enjoying your writing because if you don’t nobody will? Are you committed to writing regardless of whether you get published or not? Are you willing to write, rewrite and keep doing so until your story is right?
Can you answer questions about the world and characters you’ve created? Can you imagine them living on after the novel/short story you’ve written? Do they seem as real to you as the real world out there? No. It’s not a sign of insanity but a sign you’ve thought your world out properly.
Does your society have rules? The answer should be yes. Even a society seemingly based on anarchy will have someone in control of it all. Do your rules work? What happens when these are broken?
How are your characters’ basic needs met?
What is the hierarchy (and there has to be at least one, someone has to be top dog)?
How is your world governed? Are there rules nobody can break? What are the reasons?
In dealing with magic, can everybody produce the same amount? Or do certain groups have more magic than others? Can those lower down the scale “earn” or “learn” more magic to bring them closer to their superiors?
What happens if someone defies the basic rules or some lowly herbert betters themselves magically so they become superior? What would the fall out be?
What happens if someone from the superior class magically speaking rebels against that or the structures of your society?
I'm Allison Symes and write fairytales with bite, especially novels and short stories.