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JPC Allen Writes

Inspiration for Beginning Writers

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Writing in Time

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: Vacations as Writing Inspiration

amazingw-2412612_1280As summer enters its third month, August seemed like a good time to explore vacations as writing inspiration. Vacations are a gift to writers because the point of vacation is to experience something different from our ordinary routine and that opportunity gives writers a vast area to explore.

Change Agent

A main character (MC) taking a vacation can signal that he wants to make a dramatic change in his life, but for some reason, hasn’t done so. Perhaps he’s dissatisfied in his job and has been counting the minutes until he leaves on a vacation to a place he’s never been before. During the vacation, he comes to realize the permanent change he needs to make.

Test Relationships

If you’ve ever planned a vacation for more people than just yourself, or have vacationed with family, you know how getting away can test everyone’s patience. So if you need a source of tension in your writing, throw your characters into a vacation. It works for both serious and humorous stories.

A bad vacation can either pull people together or shove them apart. Sometimes both. When in my twenties, I drove back from a family vacation in the Smokies with No.3 sister, her husband, and No.4 sister. It took hours longer then it was supposed to. No. 3 sister bought a ceramic Christmas tree at stop. It was so huge that she had to prop her feet on it in the back seat. I drove too far off the highway, looking for a restroom. Our supper on the road was awful and too expensive. The directions that the boyfriend of No.4 sister gave us so we could drop her off at his parents’ home took us the long way around Cincinnati. When we finally found the parents’ home, I handed No. 4 sister her clothes, which were packed in a brown paper bag, saw that some underwear had fallen out, and handed those to her. In front of her future in-laws.

We were sick of each other by the time we got home. But it’s one of the most memorable trips we took, and we still talk about it.

Setting for Mysteries, Thriller, and Suspense

A vacation gives writers in these genres the perfect reason for the MC to get into trouble. With the ubiquitous use of cell phones, writers constantly face the dilemma of how to get their characters into jeopardy in a believable manner that doesn’t rely on the MC being just plain stupid.

Stupid MC’s aggravate me.

So on vacation, the MC, hiking in the mountains, may not know how drastically the weather can change. Or that local people avoid this part of the mountains. The MC could rent a house from someone with a criminal past and not know it.

How can you use vacations as writing inspiration?

Happy Fourth of July!

fireworksw-812882_1280Exercise your freedom and independence by enjoying yourself today!

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: Fourth of July as Writing Inspiration

flagw-1446423_1280Since the Fourth of July, or Independence Day, is the only major holiday in the month, I thought I had to use it for my writing inspiration. But I felt completely uninspired. The Fourth of July was never one of the big holidays when I was growing up, and now my husband, kids, and I celebrate by attending a local parade and fireworks. Not a lot of inspiration there.

So I asked the kids in the writing workshop I led at my library. Talking over my dilemma with kids ranging in age from 9-12 kickstarted my imagination.

Alternative history: If you aren’t familiar with this subgenre of fantasy fiction, it means some key event in history is changed and the story is based on that. What if the Confederate States won the American Civil War? What if the Russian Czar had beaten the Communists? At my workshop, one boy wondered what would happen if there was no Independence Day in America. What had happened so that it never became a holiday? So many things in American history could have changed. Or maybe there is no American history because America didn’t win the Revolutionary War.

Family traditions: Someone else mentioned making ice cream with a manual machine. That got me to thinking about family traditions and if they are passed on. For my story, I can have an elderly grandmother try to hand crank an old ice cream machine for the family Fourth of July picnic. She’s always done it. But this year, she’s having trouble and eventually gives in and allows her granddaughter to help, passing on the torch of tradition.

Personal freedom: Freeing a character of some problem while he participates in Independence Day activities would be a nice match. Maybe he is freed from a sin that has burdened him for years. Or, during a community picnic, he realizes the truth behind a misconception he had of another person. Or he could finally cut ties with someone who is a negative influence in his life. The climax of the story could occur during a community fireworks display, where the soaring fireworks are a symbol of the character’s new freedom.

How would you use the Fourth of July as writing inspiration?

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: Road Trip as Writing Inspiration

roadw-4125391_1280I love to drive. I especially like to drive in rural areas. Highways get so boring. So it’s fortunate that I live in the U.S. and in the Buckeye State where there are plenty of rural roads to satisfy my wanderlust. Although road trips can happen at any time of the year, summer seems made for this kind of adventure. Below are three advantages to using road trips as writing inspiration.

Limits of Technology

If a car blows a tire, you either fix it yourself or wait for road service. There is no digital quick-fix, and that’s true for any car malfunction, making such mishaps perfect for adding tension to a story. Another technology plot point is for your characters to drive in a rural area that has spotty or no reception. How do the characters cope?

Even when technology is working, Something Can Go Horribly Wrong. I’ve had recent experience with this when my family and I drove to Blackwater Falls State Park. Because we made a detour to lay flowers on the graves of relatives in Shinnston, the GPS routed us a different way from the one we took two years ago.

As we approached Parsons, the county seat where the state park is located, I was surprised the GPS indicated getting away from the state route I knew would take us right to the park and plotted a course through a tiny town called St. George. Always ready to see new sights, I told my husband to take it.

The road out of St. George wound up the mountain, just like the state route, except that it was one and a half lanes with turns so sharp you couldn’t see oncoming traffic. At one point, the edge of our lane had crumbled down a steep cliff. My husband, a man without any Mountaineer blood in his veins, bravely followed the road and saw us safely to the top of the ridge, where we reconnected with the state route. He did wipe his sweaty hands on his jeans shorts all the time he was driving, though.

We still have no idea why the GPS would recommend such a route. But it’s a great plot point to remember if I’m writing about a road trip and the narrative begins to stall.

Fish Out of Water

“Fish Out of Water” stories are always fun and a great source of tension when you throw your main character out of her comfortable habitat. Maybe she’s accompanying her new fiancee to meet his parents in a part of the country she’s never been to. A new salesperson could be heading into unfamiliar territory. An aspiring writer drives into a new state to attend a conference. (This is slightly autobiographical.)

Family Commitments

We often endure great inconveniences and hardships for the sake of friends and family. Road trips fit that bill. They also give your characters plausible reasons to make decisions that under other circumstances readers might find unbelievable.

Great-grandma has died. Main character wants to go to the funeral, three states away, and is broke. So he grits his teeth and asks to ride with a cousin he can’t stand.

A quarreling husband and wife must endure a long drive to the graduation of a relative.

Trying to get to a wedding, a family accepts help from a passing driver when their car breaks down.

How would you use a road trip as writing inspiration?

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: Graduation as Writing Inspiration

graduationw-3649717_1280May kicks of the graduation season here in America, both for high school and college students. Graduation as writing inspiration provides wonderful opportunities to explore characters, examine a community, and begin or end a story with a ceremony most of us are familiar with.

Graduation is both ending and beginning, and that’s where writers should use it — either to kick off a story or wrap it up. It wouldn’t feel right putting it in the middle. Or at least I don’t see how it could be used logically in that part of the story.

For high school students, it feels like the beginning of adulthood, which is both exhilarating and intimidating. While I was working my way through junior high, graduating from high school seemed as fantastic to me as winning the lottery or becoming famous. It was something wonderful that happened to a select few but not ordinary people like me. I didn’t think I was going to die before I finished high school. I just didn’t have the imagination or the positive outlook to see a happy future for myself . All I knew was school, which I hated more and more each year, and figured that’s what I’d do for the rest of my life. When my older sister graduated and went to college, I began to think I might make it out of the jungle that is high school. So I was shocked when I finally earned the right to put on the cap and gown and and receive my diploma.

For college students, graduation can be even more frightening. You’re an adult now, and you have to find your own way through the world. Idealism and experimentation run head on into the real world. For the last few months leading to graduation from college, I found it fascinating to watch people with the wacky hairdos abandon them for a more traditional look as they scrambled to find jobs.

Graduation ceremonies are a valuable tool for dealing with many different kinds of characters because, in real life, many different people are involved in them besides the students — parents and other relatives, teachers and administrators, friends. With that many characters to work with, graduation can bet the setting for any mood. Deeply tragic, if students remember a friend who has died, to frantic comedy as a family tries to gather to honor one of their own.

I have firsthand knowledge of the comedic sort of graduation. When my oldest sister graduated from college, I was assigned the job of ferrying three of my grandparents to the small college-town during a storm so fierce I was hydroplaning at one point. Another time, my oldest sister drove me and my two younger sisters to a cousin’s graduation. We left right after breakfast. The only way to the small college was up a twisty mountain road. No.3 sister was soon car-sick, and No.4 sister and I weren’t doing too well either because my oldest sister had put on so much perfume that it almost congealed into another being in the car.

How would you use graduation as writing inspiration?

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