W is for what makes a great story?

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Confronted with a blank screen, poised to  tap away,  how to go about creating that great story. Perhaps one primary consideration is the theme.  Maybe the theme should  be a ghostly shadow within the confines of the story, not screaming at the reader, but there none the less.  It may make the reader think about their own lives, there might be a moral to be learned, but a writer should not take on the role of a preacher.

Then there has to be a plot, all the conflict or struggle that the main character or characters go through. The conflict should develop in intensity and excitement, reaching some kind of climax.  If you are writing a novel there may be a number of conflicts interspersed, but a short story will have only one principal conflict.

Moving onto story structure,  the story has to entice the reader, right from the first sentence.  Equally then ending has to round things off perfectly.  You may have your theme and an outline of the story, but how are you going to tell it… a writer needs to decide about writing the story either in “first person” or in “third person.”  Will you be using “he,” “she,” and “it”—so writing in third person means telling a story as if it’s all about other people., or will you be writing using “I”—so writing in first person means telling a story as if it happened to you.  If in your head you have a rough idea of the theme,  you will also know which tense you are going to use,  either “present tense” or “past tense.” Writing in past tense means writing as if the story already happened, which is typical  manner in which most stories are written. Writing in present tense means writing as if the story is happening right now.  Normally you can’t mix the  two.

An important consideration is the characters.  I like to “live” with characters in my head, before committing to write about them.  For me the name of the character, says a lot about the character, for example in my short stories, I have a character called “Bugeyes” and the story revolves around the fact that he is person who suffers intensely, due to his oversized eyes.  Lead characters should be someone readers can feel something in common with, or feel empathy. In my stories I love to create evil characters.  My characters are far from perfect have flaws, and idiosyncrasies.  Characters are interesting if they are not too one dimensional,  even evil characters have to have some kind of redeeming feature, or perhaps they have been victims themselves in one way or another.

Settings are also paramount. In my book there is quite a range of different settings,  some are set in America, for example my story “Opium” is set in America, post-civil war.

Then there is the question of language,  it has to really correspond with your story.

A writer will tend to use actions and speech to let readers know what’s happening. Shoing , rather than telling, using  direct more “real life” quotes like “Go away!” instead of indirect quotes like “She told him to go away.”

You don’t have to write over elaborately to write well. Don’t shy away from using simple words and simple sentences, so you words and sentences cut through easily.

I often spend a long time mulling over what is the best word to use, glued to a thesaurus. Each sentence and paragraph should resonate, I often spend a lot of time, writing and rewriting so as to get the optimum sentence. Some sentences or paragraph can be redundant. You can get carried away, lose sight of the story, or go off on tangents.

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.


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M is for Maggot

Serpent and Apple

Maggot is one of my short stories, it is about a circus owner, who has run into debt and is forced to sell his daughter in order to be debt free.  He is a buffoon, an oaf, with no evidence of any real likable traits. The story starts with him bargaining with Excellency, the cruel tyrant who he hopes will give him a good price for his daughter. His daughter is brought in, like some kind of merchandise.

The young girl beneath the veil might have been Cleopatra, except that but for a fine gold thong, she was entirely naked. Gold coins strung on golden chains hung from all four sides of the palanquin, making chinking sounds with each of her carriers’ steps

She has been coerced into being sell-able  goods, having been cruelly beaten by her father.

She couldn’t be more than sixteen. Her long black hair flowed  over her shoulders down to her waist, barely covering her adolescent breasts. Every male in the room stared greedily at her, none noting the smudged makeup highlighting her deep brown eyes, the result of a copious flow of tears at having been coerced.

After the young girl Apollonia is presented, some crude bartering takes place.

“Is she…pure?” demanded her would-be purchaser, shooting a quick glance in Maggot’s direction, as if this would have direct bearing on the “price” of the goods he was considering purchasing.

“Of course, Excellency,” said Maggot boldly. “She’s never been touched.”

 Finally the two men come to an agreement and Maggot’s greed is seen through the way takes the money.

 Maggot grasped the money in his gnarled fingers, trying his best to give the impression he really wasn’t interested, though, in fact, he undeniably was. His beady eyes drifted from the coins in his hand to the remaining ones flashing and glinting inside the treasury box.

 The unwilling merchandise makes one final plea to stop the sale…which will inevitable end up with the slimy tyrant violating her.

The girl’s fate decided, the four strong men shouldered the palanquin while Apollonia searched her father’s eyes a final time, beseeching him to change his mind. It was a useless gesture, as Maggot was busy counting and ogling the gold coins. To her dismay,he never gave her a second glance, and she was carried, wailing inconsolably, through the massive banquet hall doors and down a short hallway.

Maggot is a despicable man without scruples, what kind of man would sell his own daughter?

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.


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Tiffany Apan’s St Patrick’s Day questionaire,

What do the Irish mean to you ?
Well, aside from having it as part of my lineage, the history behind not only the Irish but the ancient Celts is a great interest of mine, particularly because it is shrouded in so much mystery. I’ve been doing much research on the subject for my book series, The Birthrite, as well as my forthcoming musical release, Antiquity.

Have you ever been to a rousing Irish musical/cultural event?
Oh yeah. They are loads of fun, especially if you are contributing musically. 🙂

Have you been to any Irish pubs? What is your opinion of Guinness? Have you samples Irish food?
I have been to a couple and I do like Guinness, though I’m much more of a wine person than I am a beer person. As for sampling the food, I have cooked a few Irish inspired dishes.

Have you ever been moved by a film set in Ireland/or about Irish culture?
The scenery alone is breathtaking, and I think that the rather tragic history surrounding Ireland adds to that atmosphere, even if the film itself isn’t necessarily a tragic one.

Have you ever celebrated St Patrick’s day?
I have, but in recent years, it’s more about studying the history and developing an understanding for the richness of the culture, especially the ancient ones. I discuss much of this and other subjects at my blog, http://tiffanyapanwritingproject.blogspot.com . Also check out my work at my website, http://tiffanyapan.com .

Castle Blood  Photo by Malcolm Gittins,   ebook_cover_1

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Men watch out for Black Widows!

Black Widow inner image
You come home from work, perhaps your loving wife greets you with a kiss. The smell of the dinner your wife has prepared wafts from the kitchen. You exchange small talk and sit down for dinner. The food looks good and wholesome…but there’s a catch…your wife has only gone and laced it with arsenic…you have succumbed to a Black widow.

There are quite a number of them out there… Back in the mid 1860s, we encounter Lydia Sherman who was facing life with an unemployed husband and six dependent children. She found the idea of getting divorced as unappealing, her answer lay in poison a cheap and easy solution. So she served her husband a bowl of oatmeal gruel laced with arsenic. Following this, she gave arsenic-laced chocolate to her six children and calmly collected the insurance money.

On to pastures new Lydia found a wealthy farmer considerably older than her. She didn’t bide her time she poisoned his clam chowder a year later.
After hitting the marriage trail again she just couldn’t help but poison her third husband for good measure. Between 1864 and 1871, Lydia Sherman dispatched 10 people to an early grave. Dubbed “The Derby Poisoner,” “America’s Queen Poisoner,” or “Connecticut’s ‘Lucrezia Borgia’,” Lydia Sherman was accused of murder in 1871. She escaped the gallows because women were not sentenced to death at the time. Instead, she received the maximum penalty of life in prison.

Gesche Gottfried, seemingly a sweet attractive blond had men flocking to her doorstep, only to choose a loser alcoholic called Mittenberg, a handsome yet unsuitable man who she married in 1815.Their marriage proving a disaster Gesche took a lover, while deciding it was best to get shot of her husband. Having slipped arsenic into his beer, with no suspicians raised as to all and sundry he’d died alcohol poisoning, her next move was to induce her lover into marriage. He declined, due to her having two children, so she promptly poisoned them. When her parents raised objects to the marriage she cherished, of course they joined her list of victims. Due to his persistent refusal to marry her, Gesche poisoned her lover, however they did marry on his deathbed and Gesche was recipient of all of his fortune. She was finally brought to justice, the exact number of her victims is hard to define, but it could be up to 30.

Madeleine de Brinvilliers, a French aristocrat was reckless in the way she went about poisoning people, her Father and two brothers were among hher victims, her motives finacial. She attempted to poison her husband , having earlier taken on a cavalry officer lover. Her end was not so happy she was tortured, beheaded, and her body was burned at the stake in 1676.

Vera Renczi from Bucharest was a woman of rare beauty sent a grand total of sent two husbands, 32 lovers, and her own son to early graves.
What can we deduce? Most Black Widows are after their husband’s fortunes and are particularly interested in insurance money. Some are distrustful of men, driven by jealousy and paranoia. Another trait of a Black Widow is they have to be accomplished liars, to cover the tracks of their heinous crimes, especially if their murders are botched jobs, as in the case of Michele Williams who murdered her husband, successful businessman Greg, claiming she had been shot by an intruder, adding other unlikely stories in the mix, which only thrust more suspicion in her direction.

It is advisable that any Black Widow, plays the role of the grieving widow, something Michele failed to do, the next day going a restaurant for a celebratory big fry-up breakfast. It was later claimed Michele was a man-eater, who moved from one man to the next to get what she could, living the dream life. Under the pressure of the police Michele kept changing her story, coming up with ludicrous alternatives, for example that her husband had committed suicide and that she was simply try to hide this fact from her young daughter. In the end all fingers pointed to her and she was arrested. This compulsive liar continued to spin lie after lie, including saying she was pregnant with twins. It also turned out she was dating a toy boy Gene, a personal trainer. After angering judges, repeatedly changing her story, she finally was awarded a sturdy prison sentence.

In my book Flight of Destiny, one of my stories is called Black Widow. A woman Mercedes Shwartz, is a young woman whose marriage was short-lived. She lives in a remote luxurious house, on her own. She lures a man to house and then after they have had sex has his inexplicable urge to kill him. Suddenly luring unsuspecting men, having sex with them and murdering them becomes a ritual way of life for her.



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“Odd Child” a short story for Christmas, by Francis H Powell



The Queen had been surrounded by sweet angelic choirboys. The Pope had talked about peace in the Middle East, but had failed to say how he could actively bring this about. Presents meaningful or otherwise had been exchanged. Traditions had been observed. Religious ceremonies had taken place, incense, rituals, stern faces, pontificators, talking about a strange occurrence that had happened thousands of years ago, in a primitive land. There had been no world disasters, no earthquakes, no hurricanes, no tidal waves, not this year, just many untold stories of misery and loneliness, that had blighted the world as ever at Christmas time. Shop keepers had rubbed their hands in glee. Television companies had been bereft of ideas of how to entertain the people. The transport system had been bewildered, as to how to deal with a sudden snap of Siberian weather.

Somewhere in the middle of all this was Oddchild. Oddchild didn’t quite fit in amongst all of this. He was part of a sizable family. He had listened and observed all that had passed in front of him. He had been silent and pensive, alienated by it all, unobtrusive, but with moments tinged with oddness.

Lunch had not passed without incident. The family were stunned into a tight knotted silence as Oddchild, while a succulent force-fed turkey was being passed around, had nestled himself under the table, taking with him a bowl of nuts, which he gobbled, while the family mused at this sudden change in his behaviour. The sanctity of the lunch had been broken. There was little point in trying to reason with him, coax him out, and he was beyond the age of being castigated. His behaviour just had to be reconciled with. Aunt Austere had pondered and intrigued as to whether Oddchild had perhaps taken some kind of drugs, that had prompted such behaviour. As she has slapped some cranberry jelly on her plate, wedged between some sprouts, she sighed and arched a disapproving eyebrows upwards. Mother had demanded in a soothing motherly tone
“Would you like some wine dear.”

Oddchild had not answered, his mind was elsewhere. Father had looked silly in his paper crown, which had been extracted from a cracker, along with some heinously unfunny insipid jokes, that the family had cheerfully tittered at. Still Oddchild huddled under the table. Members of the family cleared away the remnants of an excessive meal, having stripped a sizable chunk from the turkey, which they would still be eating over the next few weeks, served up, in one form or another.

“Aren’t you hungry dear.” Demanded Mother with noticeable desperation, stacking some plates, still nonplussed at Oddchild’s Christmas dinner breach of etiquette. Still no response, so she shrugged and shifted a quick concerned glance in Father’s direction, while Aunt Austere reflected on Reverent Glib’s sermon, before switching the subject to the shooting season. Then an awkward outburst of coughing from Aunt Gimp had ruptured the conversation, sending Mother scurrying for a glass of water. Calm was finally restored, as Aunt Gimp finally managed to suppress the fit. Aunt Gimp’s mind was a deluge of stories concerning the war, in fact her mind had never really moved on since this period.

Finally Oddchild came out of his splendid isolation, removing himself from under the table. He held a gawky expression on his face, averting the gaze of the two aunts and the rest of the baffled family, who tried to hide their looks of surprise. He did not utter a word, he just slipped casually back into the throng. The family trooped into the living room to continue the next part of the proceedings, coffees and a viewing of the Queen’s annual speech to the nation. Aunt Austere had not liked her speech of the previous year. There had been too much attention spent on people with dark skins of different faiths, rather than the white Anglo Saxon majority. Dark skins seemed to disturb Aunt Austere greatly. She could not get her head around the idea that such people had been born and bred and raised in the same country as her and were more than fully integrated into society. It hadn’t been an “annus horribilis” this year for the Queen. One of her family’s favourite sports “fox hunting” had been banned, but this had not deterred the hunters, who either found loopholes in the law or simply broke it. Aunt Austere often sang the praises of a sport in which fifty or so dogs chase after a fox with the objective of tearing this beautiful animal to pieces, in the name of a “noble British tradition”. The Queen’s eldest son had married a woman who had he looks of some “dowdy weatherworn aunt” which had no doubt heaped a certain amount of embarrassment on her. However no palaces had been burnt down, there had not been too many notable scandals, “toe sucking incidents” “court cases involving forgotten conversations with servants” “Princess Diana revelations” “young drunken or drugged up royals on the front pages.”
With the TV switched off, lunch firmly lodged in the their stomachs, the question of how to occupy the hours of the day that remained, usually a sturdy walk was the answer. Oddchild unrepentantly led the way, with his sudden outburst. The logical progression being a huge inter-family argument.

“You are all mad, the whole lot of you.”
Two Aunts shot rapid shocked looks at one another, the rest of the family drew in sharp intakes of breath. A log fire crackled and hissed.
Aunt Austere took up the challenge.
“I think you were the one who spent the entire lunch hidden under the table, so if anyone’s mad, it’s you dear.” She had a vague contented smile emanated from her face.

Oddchild had to concede on this point, but he was referring more to their narrow perceptions of the world, he pressed his point.
“I’d rather be under the table than have to listen to some of your drivel and watch you gorge on bounteous amounts of food, while a third of the world is starving, while you sermonize about a world you have little understanding of.”

“We have lived through the war, my dear.” Said Aunt Gimp proudly, Father adjusted his paper crown, Mother stared into the fire. Aunt Austere’s eyes were flaring up, her mind was a storm. The turkey had long since gone cold and the atmosphere that prevailed was now equally frosty.
Mother thought she should try her hand at a little arbitration.
“Your Aunt’s did their bit for the war effort you know, dear.”
What spying for the Nazis.” Said Oddchild tossing his head back with mirth.

The tone of his voice and acerbic remark hadn’t gone down at all well. Father’s eyes bared down on him, Mother had lost her composure.
“I think you should apologise, said Mother, with her hands on her hips.
“Apologise for what.” Muttered Oddchild, reflecting on the rasp of his previous remark.
He turned to the two Aunts.
“It’s no wonder, neither of you got married, the pair of you will go to the grave crusty bitter virgins.”
Mother was the first to speak.
“Now you really have gone too far.” She said. Father paced up and down, he had taken off his paper crown by this point.
“I’ve never heard such a wicked remark.” Said Aunt Austere her face all creased up and severe.
“Turn your hearing aid up” muttered Oddchild sarcastically under his breath.
“What” barked Aunt Austere.
“Forget it.” Said Oddchild.
“Well I certainly won’t forget this Christmas” said Aunt Gimp mournfully.
And there it was just 364 days until the next torturous ritual of more of the same.


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Francis H Powell, author of Flight of Destiny, 22 quirky short stories…

I enjoyed these tales as they gave me a fantastic break from my daily routine and I enjoyed remembering them and day dreaming about them afterwards. They’re a little Ray Bradbury, a little Stephen King, but with Powell’s own unique twists. Very interesting read.

Meet the Residents of 22 (short stories by Francis H Powell )

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Meet some of the Residents of number (Flight of Destiny) 22… short stories.
full of Freaks, weirdos and tyrants.

Bugeyes (from the story Bugeyes)
Poor old Bugeyes, comes from a line of aristocrats with over-sized extended eyes. He is the victim of many an insult concerning those aforementioned eyes. He is rejected at birth by his Mother, and sent to live on the far-reaches of the family estate. His mother goes on to produce another two offspring, the first a male with acceptable sized eyes the other a sister, who like her oldest brother has large eyes and therefore suffers the same fate. Later curiosity drives Bugeyes to find out his true origin and by chance encounters his younger brother sibling. His younger brother is cruel and arrogant and is out to impress his friends, therefore sets the hunting dogs in hot pursuit of Bugeyes. Bugeyes does not speak much in this story, he may be silent but he smart and resourceful.
Little Mite. (from the story Little Mite)
Little Mite is quite simply the younger sister from Hell. All is wonderfully set up for a marriage, between her older sister and the love of her life Conner. What could go wrong? It is a great match for both families, The Johnsons have money, the Dashvilles, an old family on the wane, need an injection of money. The family are in the midst of a lunch, which has been organized to make the final arrangements of the wedding. Little Mite excuses herself and takes Connor’s sweet younger brother Jed (who is her age) on an adventure in which he is super glued to her father’s coffee table. She also tortures the unfortunate Jed, whipping his legs with stinging nettles. She returns to the dining table, claiming a terrible accident has taken place. The adults don’t believe her and the Johnson family, leave the Dashville family, in disgust and the wedding in tatters. Little Mite’s prank has gone terribly wrong. She tries to win back her parents favor. She hides in a cupboard and plans to jump out. However this leads to a disaster, as her older sister convinces her father, that they have an intruder and he grabs his shooting rifle.
Excellency (from the story Maggot).

Excellency is quite simply a slime ball. Nobody quite knows his origins, he has risen up from nowhere and now resides in a regal palace. The story begins with a banquet. An equally odious character named Maggot, is trying to sell Excellency his daughter, to try to alleviate some of the debts, his circus accumulated. Excellency after some nervous bargaining finally agrees to buy the daughter, before whisking her off to have his wicked way with her. Unfortunately for Excellency, all does not go to plan and with the aid of a magic incantation, Excellency is stricken with an inexplicable malaise, in which all he tastes, and sees seems, explicably ugly. He has been cursed by the young circus girl, and all those sent to his aid, believe he is on the fast route to insanity.
The Duke (from the story Duke)
The Duke is a fraud. He has been sent to prison and indeed sentences to death, for some unexplained reason and is arrogantly treating his impending death as if he is on a short pleasurable short holiday. He treats the Prison Governor with contempt. He demands to be treated like a Duke, but as the story progresses he is found out, and is fraudulently using the title. Equally he is a bad husband and a terrible father, who has already gambles away his son’s inheritance. There are those in the prison who admire his panache and rules are laxed, in his favor. Duke is likable, but equally highly detestable.

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