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JPC Allen Writes

Inspiration for Beginning Writers

DSC_6334_smallWelcome to my writing pages. This is a new adventure for me as I delve into the realm of the World Wide Web!    The main focus of this page is to explore ways beginning writers can find inspiration.  You’ll also find information on the novels I am working on.  My schedule for posting is:

Monday Sparks: Writing ideas to fan your creative flame

Tuesdays and Thursdays – Writing Tips

Occasional Wednesdays – Facts about West Virginia, the setting of my books

Occasional Saturdays – My faith walk as a Christian

You may also find me on Facebook at JPC Allen Writes.

Featured post

Writing Tip — Writing with Senses

womanw-546103_1280Cyle Young’s article on how to write using the sense of smell has a great exercise to practice this type of description.

Writing about smell might be the most difficult sense for me. I think that’s because, first, I have a very dull sense of smell. I’m sure a skunk could spray at my feet, and I ‘d only notice a slight change in the surrounding air. My youngest has a terrific sense of smell and lets me know with questions like “How come your car smells so bad, Mom?”

A second reason for my difficulty is that, as abundant as the English language is, we don’t have a lot of words to choose from that concern only smells. We have to describe it in other terms, like the physical reaction to a smell.

Mr. Young points out no sense can stir memories like smell. A smell can be a very natural and meaningful way to start a flashback because everyone has had this experience. When I smell onions cooking, no matter where, I grow very nostalgic because it reminds me of my grandmother’s house. The combination of sunscreen and bug spray immediately reminds me of marching band camp.

I am going to revisit my novel The Truth and Other Strangers and review how I have used the sense of smell in it. Here are some settings and other characteristics of my novel where I could use it:

  1. Mountains — My novel is set in the eastern mountains of West Virginia in July. The rhododendrons bloom in that month but don’t have much of a smell. I could use that, such as, “Funny, how something so pretty had no delicate scent to partner it.” Since my main character Junior loves being in the mountains, I would select only pleasant smells to support his feelings.
  2. Food — Because Junior’s family is poor, he often is hungry. So the odors of food means more to him than to well-fed characters. He has recently lost the aunt who raised him, so I could use a smell to bring back memories of her and underline how much he misses her.
  3. Vehicles — To me, vehicles have their own peculiar smells. Junior’s family has nine kids and owns a very old, battered van. All kinds of smells could be trapped in its abused interior.
  4. Bar — Junior visits a notoriously rough bar twice. Describing only bothersome smells, like cigarette smoke and alcohol, would show how uncomfortable Junior is in this setting.
The Absence of Smell

The lack of smell can also be used dramatically. If your characters are animals and lose their sense of smell, that would be traumatic. In a work of speculative fiction, an object’s or area’s lack of smell could be a signal to the characters that something is horribly wrong.

How do you use the sense of smell in your writing?

Monday Spark — Writing Prompts

shoppingw-565360_1280… a crowd of holiday shoppers.

I have to exercise some imagination here because I try to get all my shopping done in November to avoid the crowds of holiday shoppers.

The cozy smells of cinnamon and baking bread wafting from the coffee shops taunt the strained faces and aggressive gestures of the shoppers, who push, stalk, and shove their way to their destinations. The Christmas carols blaring from hidden speakers also sing of a mood absent from the crowd it wraps in its cheery melodies. But, maybe, a few shoppers will escape the press of people, squeeze into a coffee shop, and let the tastes of the season remind them why they are doing what they are doing. Then the carols will feel as sweet as they sound.

Share if inspired!

 

Writing Tip — Favorite Stories

bookw-1076196_1280For some reason, mysteries and Christmas seem like a natural fit. Perhaps it’s because Christmas celebrates one of histories greatest mysteries, God becoming fully human.

Christmas mysteries have a long tradition. Christmas Eve, before TV and radio, was the time to tell ghost stories. In 1892, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote “The Blue Carbuncle”, in which Sherlock Holmes solves a mystery just a few days after Christmas, all due to an acquaintance finding a stolen jewel in the crop of his Christmas goose. The ending works in very naturally a demonstration of the Christmas spirit

619tzntvatl-_sx380_bo1204203200_If you are in the mood to mix mysteries with your holiday cheer, check out The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, edited by Otto Penzler. This wonderful book has mystery short stories for any taste — funny, supernatural, hard-boiled, or classic. Here are some of my favorites.

“The Blue Carbuncle” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A clever mystery and a lot of fun.

“The Flying Stars” by G.K. Chesterton. Father Brown confronts a jewel thief.

“Christmas Party” by Rex Stout. Archie Goodwin witnesses a murder at a party, and his boss, genius Nero Wolfe, must avoid becoming a suspect. This is one of my favorite Nero Wolfe stories because, in his peculiar way, Wolfe shows how much he values Archie.

“A Scandal in Winter” by Gillian Linscott. A young girl involves herself in an investigation conducted by an elderly Sherlock Holmes and Watson. I don’t like romance, but the romantic reason Sherlock Holmes is trying to clear a recent widow of suspicion of murder hooked me.

“The Killer Christian” by Andrew Klavan. A hit man finds salvation in a very moving and funny story with an ending that always makes me smile. I mentioned this story in my post about the author.

“Dancing Dan’s Christmas” by Damon Runyon. How Dancing Dan unloads some hot gems and avoids a nasty fate in 1930’s New York.

Bonus Stories

“Three Wise Guys” in Guys and Dolls by Damon Runyon Some crooks travel to rural Pennsylvania to recover stolen money. In another post, I wrote how much I love Damon Runyon’s Broadway short stories and to appreciate his writing style, you need to imagine the story being told with a thick New Yawk accent.

51s7yianu4l-_sx328_bo1204203200_Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha ChristieFormerly entitled Murder for Christmas and A Holiday for Murder. I wrote in my post about Agatha Christie that this is one of my favorites among her novels. It captures my idea of a holiday family reunion going as badly as you can imagine.

What are your favorite Christmas reads, mysterious or not?

 

 

Writing Tip — Writing in Time

winterw-1291480_1280Of course, it’s hard to think of December without thinking of Christmas. The whole month seems to be nothing but a headlong rush to the 25th. But I want to discuss some other ways to use December before I get to the gigantic holiday at the end of it.

Winter Solstice — The shortest day of the year seems like a good setting for a clash between the forces of good and evil in any genre. I have an idea for a story of crime fiction where a serial killer is finally confronted during sunset on this day. A work of speculative fiction could give a fantastic meaning to the solstice.

School break — My kids finish their first semester at the start of Christmas vacation. The break would be a good setting for wrapping up a school story or kicking one off.

Advent — On the Christian calendar, Advent consists of the four Sundays before Christmas Day in which to prepare our hearts, souls, and minds for the coming of Jesus. Each Sunday has focuses on “four virtues Jesus brings”, according to this article on United Methodist Church site, love, joy, hope, and peace. A story incorporating these virtues could lead up to a climax on Christmas Day.

Christmas — So much has been written about, during, and because of this holiday, it’s difficult to find something fresh to say. And yet those of us writers who love the holiday always want to try. If you want to write a Christmas story, I encourage you to examine your own experiences and traditions to give your story a unique quality, whether it is a plot, voice, or character.

Here’s my idea:

The Lody family live in a cramped trailer in the remote mountains of West Virginia and must do their laundry at the Laundromat in the county seat miles away. Seventeen-year-old Junior Lody sees an ad online for a stackable washer and dryer while working Christmas Eve. He enlists the help of his brother, cousin, and uncle to take a road trip to get the washer-dryer in Maryland and bring it home in time for Christmas.

I like the idea of a road trip during Christmas because with the winter weather, especially in the mountains, so much can go wrong. Also, the deadline of getting a gift in time for Christmas Day gives the character’s an urgent motive.

How would you use December as a setting?

 

Monday Sparks — Writing Tip

christmasw-235357_1280What do evergreen trees think of being cut down and turned into Christmas trees? Is it the hope of all trees on the Christmas tree farm to be selected? Or do they look on the holiday season the same way turkeys do Thanksgiving?

Create a dialogue between several trees at a Christmas tree farm.

Share if inspired!

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