DSC_6334_smallWelcome to my writing pages!  The main focus of this page is to explore ways beginning writers can find inspiration.  You’ll also find information on my published works and the ones in progress. My schedule for posting is:

Monday Sparks: Writing ideas to fan your creative flame

Tuesdays and Thursdays – Writing Tips

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Featured post

Dive into this Fantasy Setting

For this week’s prompt, I wanted one that would allow us to dive into a fantasy setting, where the descriptions are only limited by our imaginations. But we still have to use our five senses to perceive the setting and then relay those perceptions to the reader.

To start, what are the lines swirling around the woman. Is it mist? Does it feel wet? Is it electrical? Can she feel the charge? Do the lines carry an aroma? Or a stench? Like I said in last week’s post, I should jot down everything that would apply to the five senses as well as how the setting makes the POV character feel. Then I would see how many of those notes I would need for my story.

I’d love to hear how you would dive into this fantasy setting.

Walking as Writing Inspiration

I checked the time on my phone after an appointment in Worthington, Ohio. I wanted to get in my morning walk since walking has provided me with a ton of writing inspiration. The clock said I could fit it in. So I started off. Walking through the neighborhoods off the main street of Worthington is interesting because there are so many old houses. And I love old houses.

The road dipped down to a bridge, and ahead, I saw a house completely different from the others I had passed. Instead of being built in a Victorian or Federal or Craftsman style, it looked like somebody had moved a science fiction set into a heavily wooded valleyin the heart of Columbus. I had stumbled upon Rush Creek Village.

This housing development began in the 1950’s. All the homes followed the principles of organic architecture, a style developed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I really enjoyed exploring the neighborhood and taking photos. And I never would have found it if I hadn’t taken to my feet.

Since I began walking regularly five years, ago, I have discovered so many settings I file away for future stories. If I had been driving or stuck to my usual routes to get to and from places, I would have missed so many fascinating areas both where I live and in places I visited.

Benefits of Walking a Setting

If there is any way I can, I try to walk the settings of my stories. I can’t beat the benefits.

  • Walking slows me down. Even if I’m looking for a setting for a car chase, I still want to walk it. Walking helps me sees details I wouldn’t noticed if I drove by or looked at photos. It also slows down my brain, allowing me to appreciate my surroundings.
  • Walking allows me to use all five senses. Virtual tours of a location gives you the sights, but only walking it will stimulate the other senses.
  • Walking gives me confidence when writing. Because I’ve actually visited the place I’m writing about, I can write with confidence. If someone thinks it’s unbelievable that a character can’t get cell reception to call for help in an Ohio state park, I know he’s mistaken because because I’ve been to Ohio state parks that don’t have reception.

Because the setting is so important to me, I try to set my stories only places I have been to. So I take advantage of my knowledge of rural places in Ohio and West Virginia. Wherever we vacation, I make it a practice to study the place, like the coast of North Carolina. If I want to do a story on the ocean, I would pick the part of the coast I know something about, rather than trying to research an area I might never be able to visit.

If you write science fiction or fantasy or historical fiction, try to find some equivalent in the current, real world. If your space opera occurs on a desert planet, arrange a visit to a desert. If your historical romance takes place in Victorian London, and you live nowhere close to Great Britain, find a city that still has Victorian architecture. Or a living museum where guides dress and act like people from the period. If the princess-in-disguise from your fantasy hides out in a stable, volunteer to work in one.

Have you used walking as writing inspiration? When have you been most inspired?

Favorite Books — Description & Setting by Ron Rozelle

Since this month’s theme is focusing on setting, I checked out several books on the topic and found a wonderful resource in a new favorite book Description & Setting by Ron Rozelle.

In my prompt from last week, I related Mr. Rozelle’s advice about carrying a journal with you wherever you go so you can make notes on memorable people, places, and things and then draw on those notes when you need inspiration.

The book is chock full of great advice like that. It covers topics in chapters such as “Showing, Telling, and Combining the Two”, a skill difficult for me to acquire, “Sensory Description”, and “Description and Setting in Specialized Fiction”. Mr. Rozelle uses examples from fiction and nonfiction and from both literary and popular fiction.

All the chapters had useful advice and information, written in an engaging style, as if the author was sitting across from you at a coffee shop. Even more helpful were the three to four exercises at the end of each chapter so readers can practice what Mr. Rozelle preached.

With so much information to learn, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. I summed it up for myself this way: the setting must do more than hold characters. It should do double, triple, or even quadruple duty.

Pulling double duty

For example, my WIP, A Shadow on the Snow, is a mystery novel with a nineteen-year-old girl named Rae as the protagonist. She is an amateur photographer. That interest influences how she sees her world. I write in first-person, so the entire novel unfolds through her eyes.

Let’s say Rae enters a house and describes it in unflattering terms. Then she meets the owner and doesn’t like him either. Through my description of the setting, I’ve told readers something about Rae, something about the house, and something about the owner of the house. If this dislike makes Rae act in a certain away, then my description has also influenced the plot. So the setting is working hard, not only being the background for the action but revealing characters and affecting the action.

It’s similar to laying clues in a mystery. Readers don’t know if a conversation is only imparting information or if it’s also providing a clue. Or it may be a red herring. But a conversation, action sequence, setting, or character should be more than what it initially appears to be.

This concept energizes and intimidates me. I love the challenge of making my settings work that hard but also wonder if I can meet the challenge. Some of Mr. Rozelle’s examples are so perfect that I feel I could never equal them.

How do you work your setting? Do you have a book you recommend?

Monday Sparks: Dive into this Setting

Last Friday, I had the chance to put into practice the writing lesson I mentioned in last week’s prompt and dive into the setting in which my family and I found ourselves in when we visited a local park for an owl hunt with a naturalist.

As we walked through the woods, and the naturalist called to the owls, I tried to immerse myself in the setting, using all of my senses. I couldn’t take notes at the time, but here are my impressions.

  • Stars glitter in the black sky
  • Almost full moon throws moon shadows
  • Boots squeak on the thin layer of snow.
  • No smells
  • Moon ignites ice-encased tree branches, making them sparkle
  • Trees not directly in moonlight twinkle, like stars caught here and there on their branches, or the branches sparsely decorated with Christmas lights.
  • Moonlight can look sinister, like a bad imitation of sunlight

Another sense to add to the customary five is the feeling a setting gives me. Walking through those glittering trees, I didn’t want to miss one beautiful aspect. I kept looking and looking. I was overcome with a sense of wonder, reveling in the beauty of God’s nature, in awe of how He didn’t have to make nature so breath-taking.

Because of the feelings this setting evoked, I will probably use it in a scene where my main character feels the same. I did have one observation that didn’t fit with my sense of awe, how the moonlight can look sinister. If I want to exploit that aspect of it for a different scene, I’ll need to either revisit the experience in my head or head out on another night hike. I like that latter idea better.

Have you hiked in snowy woods at night? How would you dive into this setting?

Valentine's Day: A Reality Check

I wrote Valentine’s Day: a Reality Check because I felt most of the things we’d swear we’d do to prove our love when we’re dating are pretty useless. Wonderfully romantic but useless. After fifteen years of marriage, I want promises that at least shake hands with reality.

Once upon a time you promised you’d …

Climb rugged mountains,

Cross the wildest seas,

Crawl through burning deserts

To prove your love to me.

That’s nice. But what I really need is someone who

Suffers my uncle who never stops talking from the second he walks in,

Endures my bachelor brother who knows the best way to parent,

Puts up with my grandmother who hasn’t said a kind word in years.

If you can do all that, then I won’t promise to

Brave a tornado,

Hack through the thickest jungle,

Battle a blizzard

To prove my love to you.

But I will swear to

Suffer your mother who thinks no one is good enough for you,

Endure your sister who is always trying to convert me to her latest cause,

Put up with your stepfather who sticks to his favorite subject: him.

… and we will live happily ever after.

Leap Day as Writing Inspiration

For this unique event, here are some unique suggestions for using leap day as writing inspiration.

Speculative fiction

Such an unusual day seems ready-made for inspiring speculative fiction. In the thirteen-book series, The Notebook of Doom by Troy Cummings, Alexander Bopp’s leap year birthday proves pivotal to the plot as he and his elementary school friends battle monsters in their hometown. The first book starts with Alexander moving to Stermont right around his birthday. The importance of his birthday isn’t revealed until the last book. Mr.Cummings uses this plot point cleverly and brings a cohesion to his series that I don’t always find in middle-grade books. The Notebook of Doom is a lot of fun for second and third-grade readers.

The rarity of leap year should signal something rare for the characters and plots of speculative fiction. Perhaps a character discovers her special power on February 29th and is at her most powerful on that day. A particular magical phenomenon only occurs on February 29 or during the leap year, and various parties try to take control of it.

To give a story an Indian-Jones flavor, two groups, one good and one evil, are attempting to discover some powerful object that is only accessible on February 29th. Once they find it, they must use it during the leap year. After the year is finished, the object becomes dormant.

Mystery

I’ve encountered two stories in which leap day was a crucial clue. In one short story, of which I can’t recall the title, an old diary is proved to be a fraud because the person who supposedly kept it had an entry for February 29th, 1900. Leap day occurs at the turn of the century every 400 years. 1600 and 2000 had leap days, but not 1700, 1800, and 1900,

In a radio episode of “The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” from the 1940’s, a Scottish nobleman waits for his inheritance, which will happen on his twenty-first birthday. Because he was born on leap day, he is 84 years old but has only had twenty actual birthdays. A key plot point, again, is the fact that 1900 did not have February 29th. The nobleman must wait until 1904 to celebrate his twenty-first birthday.

Here’s another approach: greedy relatives contest the will of a wealthy woman because she instructs her lawyers not to make its contents known until the next leap day. Why the condition? A relative plays detective to uncover the answer.

Or a small town had a notorious murder committed on February 29th. Legend has it that the ghost returns every four years. The town’s tiny police force is strained to the limit dealing with an invasion of ghost hunters. When one ghost hunter turns up dead, the cops have to figure out if there’s a connection between the old murder and the new one.

Other Genres

In a romance, a couple meets on leap day. Events and their own flaws tear them apart, but on the next February 29th, they have a chance to reunite. Another idea is for a couple who met on leap day to hold a special celebration every four years, and the story charts the development of their relationship on those days.

For a family drama, a tragedy on leap day still haunts the survivors years later. On another leap day, a character somehow brings peace to the family so they can move on with their lives. Perhaps the family had a misconception about the tragedy.

For more ideas on how to February can inspire your writing, check out this post.

How can leap day as writing inspiration ignite your writing?

Monday Sparks — What's the Setting?

For February, the theme is setting. I am in the middle of reading an extremely helpful book on the subject, Description & Setting by Ron Rozelle. One piece of advice found in the book is to always carry a journal with you so that if you find an interesting setting or person, you can jot down all your impressions, then refer back to these impressions if you want to use that setting or person in a story.

For today’s prompt, I’m going to imagine that I’m sitting in this crowded room. What impression does it make on me? Here are my notes.

  • Crowded, knees cramped under table
  • Smell a very strong perfume, choking me
  • Lots of rustling papers, creaking seats
  • Smell something spicy. Lunch? Cologne?
  • Speaker’s voice — very flat, uninteresting
  • Heat from so many crammed in one room
  • Take off jacket
  • Warmth makes me want to find freedom
  • Doodling. Several other people are too.

If I need a scene with a crowded meeting or classroom, and my main character is bored, I can draw on my notes from this setting. Here’s a possibility.

If the exalted bosses of CJ&M actually want us to get something out of this meeting, couldn’t they find a presenter who speaks in more than one tone?

Scooting back my seat to stretch my cramped legs, I bumped the table behind me. Murmuring an apology over my shoulder, I caught again the choking odor of lilacs. Who had decided that twenty dabs of perfume wasn’t enough? I coughed and peeled off my jacket, the back of my shirt damp.

What notes would you make about the setting?

Writing Tip — New Author, JPC Allen

As I wrap of this month of beginnings, I am interviewing myself as a new author. I talk to myself all the time when I work on dialogue, so I decided to apply this schizophrenic talent to a blog post.

What do I consider my first story?

When I was in second grade, I wrote a mystery based on Scooby Doo. It was the front and back of a sheet of notebook paper. I liked a boy in my class and made him the Shaggy character. He was so mad that he threatened to tell the teacher. In my very first story, I learned the dangers of using real people as characters and censorship.

What do I think is the main difference between a writer and an author?

God made me a writer. I’ll be a writer if I never publish anything else. It’s a way of looking at the world, to see stories in a myriad of details, people, events, and settings. An author is someone who has crossed over to the business side of writing. An author reaches more people with her writing, but now the writing is not about art alone. It is also a business. Those are two distinct worlds.

Why did I decide to become an author?

I’ve been pursuing publishing since I was in college. It just seemed like a natural goal because, at that time, I thought everything I wrote was utterly brilliant. I got serious about publishing and writing over the last five years and know God is moving me to become an author. He wants me to share the stories he filters through me. He hasn’t let me me in on why.

What was the most difficult thing to learn about being a new author? 

How extremely difficult marketing is. I have no business background whatsoever. The last time I had to sell something was in college when I worked at the the Dairy Queen. When I worked as a librarian, I only had to persuade people to take advantage of their own tax dollars.

What was the biggest surprise?

The support of the writing community. Almost every single author and writer I’ve met has been kind and encouraging. Another surprise was how much I like working with an editor. My stories improve when other eyes review them, and I love the collaboration.

What advice would I give to writers who are considering becoming author?

Research what it means to be published. Are you interested in marketing? How can you learn about it? How much money and time can you invest in it? How do you find and work with an agent? How do you work with an editor? There is so much about the business side of writing for an author to learn as well as the art side.

Writing Tp — The Writer’s Journey: Small Steps

This blog post is not for the people who leap out of bed every day ready to take on the world. It is not for the people who face a challenge with eagerness and a certainty that they are up to the fight.

No. This blog post is for the people who hear the 6 a.m. alarm and wonder how they are going to get their feet to swing onto the floor. It’s for the people who face a challenge withe a groan and a certainty that one more problem in their lives will do them in.

I am very much a member of the latter group. I don’t do major changes or challenges well. But since they will come after me anyway, I’ve learned a very important lesson: small steps.

We are halfway through the school year. When the alarm rings in my ear, I hit it and consider the next two hours for getting kids ready for school. The though is overwhelming. So I’ve coached myself to say, “All you have to do is get up. Just get out of bed. That’s all you have to do.” Once I get my momentum going, I can work through the run to school.

When I was told I needed to build a social media platform to get published, I sank into despair. I’d never done social media personally, let alone professionally. So I started small. I got on Facebook and started a blog on writing tips. For four months, I wrote content for my blog before I let people know it existed. I experimented with topics, adding writing prompts, and deleting others. I eventually branched out onto Instagram, and I’m still learning how to use it well.

But if I had gone into platform-building with the idea that I had to construct a skyscraper as fast as I could when I’d never even slapped together a hut, I probably would have given up.

Right now, I’me trying to write a YA mystery novel that’s a sequel to my short story, “A Rose from the Ashes.” I’ve written a novel before, but that was when I was single and I wrote it over years. I want to get the novel finished as quickly as I can. But unlike a short story, I can work for hours and feel like I’ve accomplished nothing.

So I’m taking small steps. I wrote in long hand my first draft of my first chapter, typed it, reviewed it, sent it to my critique partner, got her responses, and I’m reviewing it again. I’ll get one chapter in good shape and move to the next. Each small step takes me closer to my goal.

What challenges have you overcome by taking small steps?

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