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JPC Allen Writes

Inspiration for Beginning Writers

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Writing in Time

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?

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: Holy Week as Writing Inspiration

crossw-2902861_1280The drama of Holy Week can serve as writing inspiration for any kind of story, not just one directly dealing with Easter. It can guide you in developing a character’s arc or creating plot twists. Below are the basic elements of each day.

Palm Sunday — Story begins with a celebration, when the main characters feel safe or comfortable or triumphant.

Maundy Thursday — The characters gather again. One character is sad for some reason. He or she foreshadows a tragedy.

Good Friday – A tragedy occurs.

Holy Saturday – Charcters react to tragedy.

Easter – The tragedy is turned on its head somehow, becoming the opposite of what the characters thought it was.  Because of this, most of the characters are profoundly changed for the better.

I wouldn’t have to plot my story over a week.  I could have it unfold over years if I wanted to, but I would use the the four days as described as my anchors for the action. An example of using Easter themes without directly dealing with Christianity is The Lord of the Rings. J.R.R. Tolkien resurrects the wizard Gandalf, and Aragorn assumes the throne of Gondor as the long-awaited king. I think it’s brilliant how Mr. Tolkien takes different parts of Jesus’s life and doles it out to more than one character.

What kind of themes from Holy Week do you see that could inspire characters or plots?

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: Lent as Writing Inspiration

fastw1-78493_1280Lent as writing inspiration might seem odd. It’s not one of my favorite seasons. But its emphasis on self-reflection, which leads to repentance and redemption, is perfect to chart the change in a character. Or your personal growth. Below are some tips for using Lent in nonfiction and fiction.

Nonfiction

If you observe Lent in real life by giving something up or doing something extra, journaling your experience will enrich it, or at least, help you remember it better. A few years ago, I gave up worry for Lent. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to cut down on worrying. Journaling about it each day might have enhanced it more.

Fiction

Lent reminds Christians that Jesus went through a 40-day ordeal, alone, in the wilderness, before he began his ministry. Using 40 days and setting your story in the spring will mimic this time in your writing. I think setting story of loss in the spring gives it hope, making a heart-wrenching story less bleak.

  • Physical challenge. A character could be stranded somewhere remote and have to fight to survive. The battle changes him for the better. Or a character could face a sudden, severe illness or injury that leads to her becoming a better person.
  • Personal loss. The main character loses something integral to his or her identity — a friend or relative because of death, a partner because of divorce, a friend because of a fight, a job, a golden opportunity. After 40 days, she learns she can cope with the loss and sees hope for the future.
  • Temptation. This can take two forms in your story. The temptation is something new in the life of the main character and entices him to give in to it. Or the new thing is something positive, but the temptation is to refuse it and keep the status quo.

Working on this blog has provided me with writing inspiration. Do you think you can use Lent as writing inspiration? How?

 

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