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JPC Allen Writes

Inspiration for Beginning Writers

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Writing in Time

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?

 

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: Valentine’s Day as Writing Inspiration

heartw-3089409_1280I don’t read romance. Can’t stand the genre. I’ve tried to read historical fiction with romance in it and romantic suspense, thinking the history or the mystery would compensate for the romance. It never works. The romance either bores me or seems so unrealistic that I can’t push through to the end.

So here are five non-traditional suggestions on how to use Valentine’s Day as writing inspiration.

Junior High Dance

In junior high, most boys are finally realizing that girls aren’t icky, but they aren’t sure what to do about this revelation. A dance on Valentine’s Day following several characters as they negotiate the unknown territory of romance presents many opportunities for both comedic and dramatic plots.

New Love/ Old Love

An elderly, married couple help an engaged or newlywed couple having troubles on Valentine’s Day. For the elderly couple to have more impact on the younger one, I think they shouldn’t be related to them. The couples can be neighbors. The two very different milestones in theses couples’ lives offer great contrast for storytelling.

Bittersweet Love

Write a story following a widower or widow experiencing his or her first Valentine’s Day since the death of the spouse.

Humorous Love

Write about a married couple trying to enjoy a romantic date night and being constantly frustrated with interruptions.

Bad Valentine’s Day

If you really want to stand Valentine’s Day on its head, have a couple break up on Valentine’s Day. That sounds so sad, I’m almost sorry I suggested it. But if the break up kicks off the story, then the uncouple have a chance to find new relationships or become reconciled.

Now it’s your turn. How would you put a new spin on Valentine’s Day as writing inspiration?

 

 

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: New Year’s Day as Writing Inspiration

clockw-3837039_1280Last year, I had a post at the beginning of each month describing how you could use the month as a setting. This year, I will focus on one aspect of each month. So to kick things off in January, I will explore New Year’s Day as writing inspiration.

First-footing

One superstitions I always remember about New Year’s Day is first-footing, a belief, which according to Wikipedia, comes from Scotland and Northern England. The first person to enter a home on New Year’s Day will bring either good or bad luck in the coming year, depending upon such things as gender and appearance. A tall man with dark hair is considered good luck. Agatha Christie uses this superstition to help solve a ten-year-old death in the short story, “The Coming of Mr. Quin” in the book The Mysterious Mr. Quin.

Old Year/New Year

In the fantasy short story “Deadline”, found in the book Haunts, Haunts, Haunts, Richard Matheson provides a reason behind the idea of the old year personified as an old man and the new year as a baby with tragic results. The personification could also work for a happier or humorous story. A short story where the old man briefs his replacement on what to expect during the course of his job would be very funny.

Football

In Ohio, the retirement of legendary college football coach Urban Meyer has been all over the news. His last game was a bowl game on New Year’s Day. The date is fitting for a retirement and would work for any story about a football coach who is leaving his profession. Or for anybody who is leaving a job on that day.

Resolutions

New Year’s Day resolutions can kickstart many plots. They can be the reasons a character changes for better of worse. A comic competition can start between two friends or two relatives who challenge each other with the same resolution. Using resolutions works best if you begin the story on New Year’s Day, track your characters over a year, and wind up on the next New Year’s Day.

How can you use New Year’s Day as writing inspiration?

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: December as Writing Inspiration

christmasw-3006743_1280

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.

Advent

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.

Christmas

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?

 

 

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