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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 — Food as Writing Inspiration

foodw-2879403_1280Food, like music, is a universal language. Everyone, and every living thing, must ingest some kind of food to survive. Regardless of genre, all writers can us food as writing inspiration.

Historical Fiction

Historical fiction has the difficult job of making readers understand a time that they know little or nothing about. Writing about the food of a time period is one way to help readers connect with those distant eras. Because her novels are set during the American Civil War, my friend Sandra Merville Hart tests early American recipes on her website “Historical Nibbles”. Describing food in a historical story tells a lot about a character’s class, ethnicity, and wealth. The lack of food is also a critical component in many historical periods. In Sandra’s latest novel, A Musket in My Handone of the reasons two sisters disguise themselves as men and join the Confederate army is because Union troops keep raiding their farm for food, and they are barely surviving.

Speculative Fiction

In many ways, speculative fiction is similar to historical fiction because other genres introduce readers to unfamiliar worlds. Some worlds in speculative fiction are so alien that writing about the food the characters eat makes it seem not so strange after all. In Watership Downwild rabbits in England try to survive while establishing a new warren. Food is always on their mind, and writing about how they think of food draws readers into their world.

Romance

So much of romance centers around food — couples get to know each other going out to dinner, grabbing a cup of coffee, planning a meal where they will meet each other’s families. Liking the same food can be a symbol for showing how well a couple is matched. And if they have very different tastes in food, that can be a symbol that all is not well in their relationship. How they interact through a meal can be a comment on the relationship. In the classic movie Citizen Kanewe watch the disintegration of Charles Foster Kane’s marriage during a montage of breakfast scenes. When they are first married, he and his wife sit right beside each other, chattering away. As the years pass, they sit further and further apart until they sit at opposite ends and eat in silence.

Crime Fiction

Since I write crime, I have first-hand experience with working food into my narrative. A good way to get characters to discuss a problem, and impart information to the reader, is to have them sit down to a meal. It’s a natural way to slow down the pace and have a thoughtful conversation. Analyzing clues during a running gun battle just doesn’t work.

In any genre, a character’s food likes and hates adds a layer of believability or a quirk, like I wrote about in this post. In the Nero Wolfe mysteries, Nero Wolfe’s gourmet tastes are one of the reason he’s a private detective. He charges exorbitant fees to feed his exorbitant appetite.

The Truth and Other Strangers

As I look over my YA Christian crime novel, I realize food is an essential part of my storytelling. My characters eat pepperoni rolls, which were invented in West Virginia, the setting of my novel. My main character  Junior is often hungry, showing the poverty his family lives in. When he thinks a group of thugs has torn up the family’s garden, Junior is worried about how to feed his family. Two discussions of serious events take place during meals.

How would you use food as writing inspiration?

 

Writing Tip — Favorite Stories: Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well

ThanksgivingssHave your ever read a cookbook just for the stories in it? Until I married, cookbooks were merely collections of recipes. But then I began buying cookbooks for my mother-in-law, a fabulous cook, as gifts, and my husband told me she liked to read ones that had a lot of descriptions or opinions or stories in them.

That’s how I stumbled across Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well by Sam Sifton. In his introduction, Mr. Sifton explains:

“For a couple years I spent Thanksgiving Day at The New York Times, where I once was restaurant critic and now work as national editor, answering panicked questions from readers. I was a one-man Thanksgiving help line.”

With a wealth of stories, expertise, and very strong opinions, this book is a collection of what he had learned.

I love Mr. Sifton’s style of writing, and his insistence that there is a right way to cook Thanksgiving — no marshmallows on the sweet potatoes, please —  and anyone can do it if you plan ahead and work at it. He doesn’t believe in shortcuts. In an age when most people are trying to find hacks for shortening almost any task, it’s refreshing to find someone who refuses to take that route. Yes, Thanksgiving is a lot of work, and that is what’s makes it special. If we keep coming up with ways to make it easier, eventually, we won’t bother celebrating it at all.

I haven’t tried the recipes in the book, but they cover everything from how to tackle the turkey to dessert with additional advice on place settings and clean up. What I can recommend are the stories. Such as the first Thanksgiving the author “took a significant part in cooking … when I was 20” and his first attempt at frying a turkey with many wonderful descriptions and opinions sprinkled throughout.

Do you have a favorite cookbook because of the stories as well as the recipes?

Monday Sparks — What Food Do You Hate?

jumbo-marshmallowss-788773_1280I know this sounds crazy, but the food I hate the most is marshmallows. I got choked on a large one when I was a preschooler, and I can’t bring myself to try one even for- thir- I mean, many years after that traumatic incident. Texture is critically important to me when it comes to food, so if the texture makes me gag, I cannot eat it, no matter what it tastes like. Any food with a texture like marshmallows is off limits to me. I can’t even eat meringue.

Now it’s your turn. What food do you hate?

Writing Tip — Just for Fun

turkeyw-539755_1280Here’s a poem to get you in the Thanksgiving mood. What are your favorite poems or quotes about Thanksgiving?

Writing Tip — Thanksgiving as Writing Inspiration

dinnewr-2330482_1280Like a cornucopia, Thanksgiving as writing inspiration overflows with ideas. It gives writers the perfect excuse to throw all kinds of disparate characters together. The fact that many people travel great distances also provides tons of opportunities for writers to make believable plot difficulties for their characters. Below are some ideas to help you take advantage of the holiday abundance.

Bad weather

Where I live in the midwest, we don’t usually have to deal with snow at Thanksgiving. But it can affect people coming to visit us. And I still recall the second Thanksgiving of my married life when a freak snowstorm changed a routine drive to my in-laws into an epic adventure. Our nerves frayed a little more with each mile we crawled along the highway.

You can have the family who is hosting the dinner go to the rescue of stranded relatives. Or your main character is stranded on the way to dinner and comes up with a substitute with the people she’s stranded with. Or, if you borrow from my experience, a newly married couple can learn some new things about each other as they battle the elements on the way to dinner.

All the consequences of unexpected weather leads naturally too …

Unexpected or New Guests

Since I’m a character writer, this is the kind of inspiration where I can have fun. If you strand your main character, you can introduce any kind of stranger and see how the characters clash. A new bride gets to spend much too much time with her in-laws. A blended family hosts their first Thanksgiving for both side of the family. A relative who hasn’t had contact with the rest of the family for years shows up. A newly engaged couple decide to host Thanksgiving so their families can get to know each other.

Kitchen disasters or battles  

All of us have had something go wrong in the kitchen at Thanksgiving. My most memorable disaster was when my family was about to sit down to eat, and the turkey was still raw. Disasters can lead to revelations about your characters. Just as kitchen battles can. I’m not sure why people get so insistent about the Thanksgiving menu containing their favorite foods, but it happens. My husband can’t understand why my family likes such bland stuffing. Relatives quarreling over what to cook has a lot of comic potential.

Comedy or Drama?

Most of the ideas above can be used either for a funny or serious story. It all depends on the tone you want to set. Or you may want to include scenes of various tones. For example, two estranged sisters patch up their differences while trying to overt a kitchen disaster.

I’ve only touched on the possibilities of Thanksgiving as writing inspiration. I’d love to hear from you! How does it spark your creativity?

 

 

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