JPC Allen Writes

Inspiration for Beginning Writers


Writing in Time

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: December as Writing Inspiration


I am reusing last year’s post for December as writing inspiration because I am trying to meet a writing deadline for another anthology. I have added a few new ideas.

Of 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. The long, dark days leading up to the solstice seem suitable for a dark tale, but because Christmas is right after the solstice, a happy ending doesn’t seem out of place.

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.


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.

New Year’s Eve

The romantic part of New Year’s Eve makes it perfect to explore those kind of relationships, whether a couple is coming together or pulling apart. The holiday also works for characters reaching a goal, coming to a final decision, or ending a significant experience. You can write these endings as tragic, bittersweet or victorious. I like a bittersweet tone because with the start of the new year the next day, it’s logical for your character to mourn what is ending but also looking forward to something new.


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.

For example, I mentioned last week my family’s tradition of eating fried oysters on Christmas Day. We always have a live tree, which we cut the week before Christmas and take down on New Year’s Day. My husband and I reached a compromise over this because he swears if the tree is in the house longer than two weeks, it will catch fire and burn the house down. That experience could lead to a humorous story.

We don’t do Elf on the Shelf. Every parent I have mentioned this too says I was very wise not to start that tradition, which sound like a story starter to me. I always do a funny Christmas card with my kids. It is anything but funny while I take the photos for it, but once I recover from this experience — by June — I could write a comic story based on the trauma.

How would you use December as writing inspiration?


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?



Writing Tip — Writing in Time: November as Writing Inspiration

fogw-66263_1280In the United States, Thanksgiving dominates November. Most people spend the month thinking about what to cook, who to visit, and when they can get off work or school. But November as writing inspiration isn’t confined to the monster holiday. Because Thanksgiving provides so much inspiration, I will deal with it in a separate post. Below are other events in November that can kindle your inspiration.


National Novel Writing Month. This nonprofit group encourages writers to finish a 50,000 word novel in a month. Personally, November is a terrible time to get a lot of writing accomplished because of Thanksgiving. Why didn’t they pick March? March bores me into depression. Maybe I’ll have to have my own private NaNoWriMo then. But a humorous story about a writer trying desperately to finish her novel while planning an enormous Thanksgiving dinner for her extended family has wonderful possibilities.

Hunting Season 

Hunting season is in full swing in my state and surrounding ones. With November’s short hours of daylight and wild weather, it offers a lot of potential for a story pitting a lost or injured hunter against the elements. That’s why I picked November as the setting for my short story, “Debt to Pay”. I wanted the weather to be unfavorable but not as deadly as in January or February. Or you can use the weather and hunting as a back drop for a humorous story, like the ones Patrick F. McManus’s wrote.

Election Day

The first Tuesday in November is always Election Day in America, and this year, being an even numbered one, we are voting in national elections as well as state and local. If you are writing a political thriller or mystery, this day works well as the setting for the climax.

Veteran’s Day

The middle school where I live hosts a program for veterans to come talk to the kids. There’s so much plot and character development in a story where a kid and a veteran, especially an elderly one, learn from each other.

 Black Friday

I have never ventured out into the pandemonium of the first official shopping day of the Christmas season. My husband did once to secure a Lego set for my sister, and I’ve always thought highly of him for braving the chaos. The reason for the day and the unusual behavior it inspires — people congregating around ads the day before as they plan their attack, camping on the sidewalk to be the first inside a store, trudging for miles in a mall as they hunt an elusive item — makes it perfect for a comic story.

How would you use November as writing inspiration?

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: October as Writing Inspiration

forestw-2048742_1280In the United States, no one can escape the influence of Halloween in the month of October. And Halloween does offer many sparks for the writer’s imagination. But along with the holiday, I will mention other ways to use October as writing inspiration. Some of these I mentioned in last year’s post on October.

Harvest time: I live in a rural area, and the harvest of corn and soybeans is in full swing. If I wanted a story to follow the cycle of farming, I could start it in the spring with planting and end it with harvesting. The characters’ story arc could mimic the growing season.

  • In spring, a character makes some positive change in her life or something positive happens to her, something new. This positive change develops over the summer, and in the fall, the character reaps the benefits of it.
  • Or reverse the growing season. A character experiences some kind of loss in the fall as nature loses its leaves and plants stop growing. The characters suffers hardship through the winter because of this loss, but in the spring, discovers some kind of renewal or hope.

Halloween Mystery: I don’t like the horror aspects of Halloween. But the sense of spooky happenings lends itself to mysteries. Here are a few ideas:

  • A friend of mine has college-age son who worked security for a haunted house venue. In a mystery, the house a business man took over for his haunted house has been long abandoned. Someone keeps breaking in and ransacking it as he tries to prepare it for customers. Once the haunted house opens, more trouble occurs. The security guards become curious, and on Halloween night, with the haunted house doing big business, they discover the reason for the attacks and who’s behind it.
  • My husband was eating lunch at a convention center that was hosting a conference of “haunters”: people who make a living off Halloween. That gave me the idea of a mystery at such a conference. Many small-time haunted house operators are worried about a new entrepreneur, who’s large-scale haunted house productions are threatening their livelihood. When the entrepreneur turns up dead at the conference, maybe in a display of the latest ghoulish special effects, the police have no shortage of suspects.
  • The small town where my kids go to elementary school does trick-or-treating up big with the fire department serving hot dogs and holding a costume contest, and several homes throwing together their own, free haunted houses. One year, someone drove around town in a replica of the Ghostbusters’ car. The small-town setting is perfect for a middle grade mystery where several kids in town have noticed something strange going on — perhaps someone mysterious has moved into an old house or the local cemetery keeps getting vandalized. On Halloween night, the kids put all their clues together and solve the mystery.

How would you use October as writing inspiration?

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: September as Writing Inspiration

autumn1-1657662_1280As I said last year, fall is my favorite season, and the weather where I live is at its best in September and October with bright sunny days, cool nights, and most of the the most annoying bugs dead.  Here are some events that occur where I live that I can use for September as writing inspiration.

Labor Day: Labor Day always feels like the end of summer rather than the beginning of fall for me. So I would use a Labor Day picnic as a climax where all my plots are resolved, especially for a family drama.

Beginning of the School Year: Regardless of your age, starting school is always dramatic. Many, many stories have been written on the subject, so I will throw out an idea I hope hasn’t been used too often: follow several characters through twenty-four hours, from the time they wake up on the first day of school until they meet again at school on the second day. I think the characters would have to be high school or older to give them independence, and the opportunity for drama, during the twenty-four hours.

County Fair: The county fair is one of my favorite events. In the county where I grew up and the one I’m living in now, both have their fairs in September. I could use the fair as a setting for nostalgia as people take part in activities their grandparents would recognize. It would also be a great setting for a middle grade mystery. Perhaps several 4-H kids who are spending the night at the fair with their animals suspect a crime has been or will be committed. The fair in my home county does big business in harness racing, so I could also use it as a setting for a country noir story where a gang of thieves try to steal the gambling proceeds.

Football Season: A lot stories have been written about the drama associated with football, but as a former band member, I would like to see more stories about the marching band. I observed a lot from my seat in the stand with the band, and a climax to a mystery or thriller at a high school football game would be very exciting. I like the contrast between a large crowd enjoying an ordinary event while a few people take part in something extraordinary that the crowd has no clue is going on.

Fall Equinox: The only one of two days in the year when light and darkness last for equal amounts of time seems like a great setting for speculative fiction. The equinox could signal that special powers wielded by good and evil characters are evenly matched, and these characters battle it out before the growing darkness makes the evil characters too strong.

Are there any special events in September where you live? How would you se September as writing inspiration?

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