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JPC Allen Writes

Inspiration for Beginning Writers

Writing Tip — Writing Anxiety

upsetw-2681502_1280The post may seem to have no connection with National Poetry Month, but keep reading.

Has writing ever overwhelmed you? With all the advice out there on characters, pacing, plot, setting, dialogue, and more, it seems there are a thousand and one ways to go wrong. Why even start?

In the wonderful article, author Jane Anne Straw write about how she overcame writer’s block with poetry. Poetry allowed her to think small and work in manageable portions.

I am a huge advocate of thinking small because big projects easily stress me. But if I work on a small series of goals that lead to a large one, the large goal seems much more doable.

This was how I reconciled writing for the YA audience. I wrote about my problem in “Know Your Audience!” which has appeared on other sites, but this is the first time I have posted it on my own website.

lego-1044891_1280“Know Your Audience!”

After I finished my YA Christian fiction novel and edited it a few hundred times, I looked into publishing it.  All agents and editors gave the same advice, “Know your audience!”

It seemed so overwhelming to me, getting to know the reading preferences of thousands of teen readers. But I dove into researching my audience and nearly drowned in discouragement.

Most YA Christian fiction is either romance or speculative fiction, which often breaks down into fantasies and dystopian fiction. My novel, set in contemporary West Virginia with crime elements and a male protagonist, seemed to have no place in the current publishing landscape.

But I continued my research. Eventually I realized that when it came to tailoring my novel to the YA audience, I had to understand what I can do and what I can’t do.

What I Can’t Do

I can’t write a romance or speculative fiction novel. This is not a case of lack of confidence or fear of stretching my skills. Some things I just can’t do, like flying or running faster than my teenage nephew.

I don’t read romance. I know none of the rules of the genre and would give myself and any future readers unspeakable nightmares if I wrote one. I do like some speculative fiction but don’t have the imagination to create something fresh. Anything I wrote would easily be identified as a collision of Middle-earth, Star Trek, and Narnia.

What I Can Do

Even if I don’t write romance or speculative fiction, I could learn from them and see if those lessons could apply to my novel.

One reason I believe speculative fiction is so popular is because writers can pack in a lot of action sequences. My novel needed more of them, so I added two scenes and made sure they were reasonable within my setting.

Another reason is that both genres appeal to emotions. Will the girl get the boy when his family is prejudiced against her? Will the teen rebels save the world from the evil tyrant?

My novel has high stakes for my characters, which leads to many emotions. Will Junior Lody keep his family of eight siblings together after their aunt who has raised them dies and the sheriff is determined to tear them apart? Since I write from Junior’s viewpoint, it’s easy to let readers experience and identify with Junior’s fear, rage, triumphs, and more.

Best Audience Analysis

lego-2158115_1280The best way to get to know my audience was to let real live teens read my novel. They filled out a one-page questionnaire for me. Because one boy said I had too much exposition at the beginning, I examined my first chapters and saw I could lop off the first two and start with the action in the third.

And I discovered something else. I can’t write to please thousands of readers. But when I see my future readers as individuals, like the teens who critiqued my book, Amanda and Andy and James and Brooke, I feel compelled to go beyond my best. I am still getting to know my audience — one reader at a time.

How do you handle writing anxiety?

Writing Tip — Favorite Poem

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“The wood is full of shining eyes/The wood is full of creeping feet/

The wood is full of tiny cries/You must not go to the wood at night!”

With these opening lines and a style of illustration unique in picture books, I was drawn into The Magic Woodan adult poem by British writer Henry Treece. Barry Mozer uses only blue and black for the illustrations, sprinkling in sparks of gold to highlight certain elements in the picture, like eyes or a gold ring. This palette conveys the dread and danger the narrator ignores when he enters the wood at night. The sense of dire consequences is apparent in every picture.

But the poem has an upbeat ending. I read it as a Christian parable. The wood is temptation, and the narrator takes his first steps into giving in to it when he ventures inside. The strange creature he meets tries to entice him further. But when he senses danger, he says “my prayers, all out in a rush/And found myself safe on my father’s land.”

The poem is an example of stanzas written in rhymes or near rhymes. Although I usually don’t like that style, the poem does have a rhythm, which makes it fun to read out loud to kids.

Mr. Treece wrote five books of poetry. I’ve tried to read them. He has great skill in establishing a mood of loss and darkness, but a little of that goes a long way with me. If I read too much of it, I get depressed.

So test your taste for Mr. Treece’s poems with The Magic Wood. Maybe you will be captured by it like I was.

What are some of your favorite poems?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts

swanw-2494939_1280Write an acrostic poem to celebrate spring. Acrostic poems are great way to introduce poetry to kids since they don’t have to worry about rhyming. Last spring, I helped a group of elementary school children write a book of acrostic poems. One of my kids was part of the group and wrote about a sure sign of spring: Turkey vultures.

California has swallows, but here in the Midwest, we have turkey vultures. Or buzzards, as I like to call them. These birds return from South America during the last week of February or the first week of March. As soon as their big, black silhouettes appear in the sky, we know spring is one the way.

Below are my oldest’s vulture poem and mine for April. Please share your acrostic poem to spring in the comments.

turkey-vulture-1107362_1280Vulture

Up in the sky.

Lots of vultures migrating on

The coast of South America. They come

Up from South America.

Roadkill

Eating.

crocus-1753790_1280After Easter, being

Pelted with snow

Really

Irritates.

Leave, winter!

Think spring!

 

 

 

 

Writing Tip — Just for Fun

springw-2638327_1280A Child’s Calendar is one of my favorite books of poetry. These opening stanzas capture so eloquently the exuberance people feel with the return of warm weather and the growing season.

Writing Tip — Writing in Time

forwardw-3181875_1280Looking over the calendar, I find April may be more boring than March this year. With its two major holidays, Easter and April Fool’s Day, coming on the first day, there’s not much to look forward to in the rest of the month. But my kids’ spring break occurs in this month, and the weather in April present possibilities.

April Fool’s Day: The holiday presents a great situation for humorous, middle grade fiction. Maybe a competition between kids to see who can fool the most people. Or maybe a family could be engaged in playing practical jokes on each other.

Spring Break: A trip always has a lot of potential for storytelling. Whether it’s a family trip, a mission trip, trip of college kids, or retirees, the process of traveling in the spring can be exploited for both comic and dramatic effect. This year, my kids and I are traveling with my sister and her kids in their van to visit another sister seven hours away. By the time we get back, I may have more inspiration than I can handle

Storms: Where I live, in a temperate climate, April is the first month of the year when we usually experience thunderstorms. Storms are a great plot twist or metaphor. As a metaphor, a storm can mirror dueling emotions, desires, or ambitions inside one character. It can also underline the conflict between two characters or more characters. The storm can be a twist to heighten the tension between characters or force them to survive and reveal their strength and weaknesses.

How would you use April as a setting?

 

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