JPC Allen Writes

Inspiration for Beginning Writers

Writing Tip — The Power of Voice

human-722702_1280The McBroom Saga was the first instance I can remember of a book having a distinct voice. And because it was a voice very similar to my grandparents’ speech, I was attracted to it and have been trying to write in dialect ever since.

As a kid, I desperately wanted to write a story in the same style as Mr. Fleischma. I remember telling a story, to a space heater, one winter day in the dialect of my West Virginian relatives.

In high school and college, I was attracted to other stories written in dialect like Damon Runyon’s Broadway short stories and some stories by Rudyard Kipling told in one of the many dialects of the British Isles.

When I began writing regularly in college, I always tried to write dialogue in dialect and use it for my current book set in West Virginia. So my wish to write like Mr. Fleischman came true.

Side Note

This is just a personal complaint of mine, but picture books as long as the McBroom Saga are rarely published any more. Compared to the brevity of style used in contemporary picture books, one McBroom book is the kids’ equivalent of War and Peace.

h4495This is such a shame. When my kids were younger, they wanted a strong, complicated narrative with interesting illustrations. Some picture books now are so short they hardly seem worth reading.

To find the longer picture books my kids wanted, I had to hunt for books that were thirty, forty, or fifty years old. I asked our local librarian for recommendations. I think there is still an audience for this kind of picture book, kids who are just starting chapter books but still like illustrations.

Okay. Complaint over.


Writing Tip — Favorite Stories — the McBroom Saga

h4495Last month, I wrote about The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, a children’s book that can provide inspiration for authors of all ages. This month I am writing about the first book I remember reading as a child that still has an influence on me as a writer.

I discovered McBroom’s Ghost while sitting in the waiting room of my doctor’s office, something I seemed to do a lot when I was a kid. I don’t remember the exact reason I selected this book, maybe because I had read all the others.

It began like this:

“Ghosts? Mercy, yes – I can tell you a thing or three about ghosts. As sure as my name’s Josh McBroom a haunt came lurking about our wonderful one-acre farm.

I don’t know when the confounded dry-bones first moved in with us, but I suspicion it was last winter. An uncommon cold winter it was, too, though not so cold that an honest man would tell fibs about it. Still, you had to be careful when you lit a match. The flame would freeze and you had to wait for a thaw to blow it out.”

That beginning immediately hooked me because I had never read a book written in a dialect before and the dialect was very similar to the way my mom’s parents spoke.

As I read further, I fell in love with the book when I found out the McBrooms had eleven children. I was one of four kids and always wanted to be part of a bigger family with oodles of siblings. I also like the way the father Josh McBroom called his kids, “Willjillhesterchesterpeterpollytimtommarylarryandlittleclarinda!” My mom would holler all our names together like that, too.

I read many books by the author Sid Fleischman and enjoyed almost all of them, but the McBrooms remained my favorites. I read at least one more of the books from the series as a child but didn’t discover all of them until I was an adult. I have read the Saga over and over to my kids.

Since this post is running long, I will talk about how the McBroom’s influence followed me as I developed as a writer.

Writing Tip — Quirks of Character

quirk-652279_1280On Novel Creation, the site of my friend and fellow writer Rebecca Walters, she had a post on giving characters quirks. That’s wonderful way to make your characters seem real. It’s not hard to find quirks. Just examine your own life and see if those quirks or variations on them can be assigned to your characters.

Quirks can come in many forms.

Mannerisms: What mannerisms do you have? I’ve noticed that many time when I pray, I run one or both hands through my hair. Characters’ mannerisms can be connected to an activity or emotion, they can reveal or conceal thoughts and feelings. Since my main character has a gift for reading body language, mannerisms are an integral part of my novel. Here is another post I wrote on body language and facial expressions.

Speech: Are there certain words or phrases you use a lot? I use “Shoot” or “Shoot fires”, an exclamation I learned from my dad. I don’t know what “Shoot fires” means, but I still use it. I have one character say “Holy smokin’ cows!” I like the idea of combining “Holy smoke!” and “Holy cow!” to create something unique.

Hobbies: Rebecca mentions giving characters hobbies. If the hobby will be key part of your plot, choose one that interests you. I wrote about this in January. You won’t be able to fake a character’s enthusiasm for a hobby you personally find boring. Unless being bored with a hobby is a key part of your plot.  My main character likes to run and reads mythology.


Fears and Hates: Dislikes can be as telling as likes. Indiana Jones was an archaeologist-adventurer with a terrible fear of snakes. The mystery series Monk was built around the main character’s phobias. My main character hates to read fiction but likes mythology and shares a dislike of country music with his cousin, which is unusual in the rural West Virginia county where he lives.



Food: I may raise a few eyebrows by admitting I am a writer who hates coffee. I love the smell but can barely choke it down even with sugar and milk in it. Giving your character strong opinions on food is a fun way to add realism. The gourmet eating habits of the detective Nero Wolfe made up a large part of his character and sometimes major plot points.

Personal habits: Sherlock Holmes kept his tobacco in a slipper. Indiana Jones wore a fedora. We all have particular habits and routines. I don’t like to drive the same route to and from a location if I have a choice. Getting to know a character’s personal habits makes them seem like friends. And a character’s deviation from her normal habits can kickstart a plot. Mystery stories often begin when someone notices a character break a habit for no apparent reason.

As much fun as quirks can be, don’t overdo it. Unless a quirk is critical to your plot, one or two mentions of a quirk is enough. I have my character only use “Holy smokin’ cows!” twice. Junior refers to his love of mythology just twice. Like so much in writing, less is more.

Monday Sparks — Writing prompts

beach-2400764_1280What do waves think as they head for the shore?

If you are prompted to write something, please share it. Keep it fun and friendly. If you have written a long piece, just submit the first hundred words. Hope to hear from you!

Writing Tip — Writing in Time — August and the Eclipse

summer-922549_1280Much more than December, August feels like the end of the year to me. The summer is winding down, school starts, and sports and arts seasons begin. This is my favorite time of the year. From August on, each month holds something interesting for me.

Unless it’s been a brutally hot summer, most people where I live aren’t fed up with the season when August rolls in, like we are with winter when it’s February. I don’t feel anxious for the changes August heralds, just a quiet contentment — content to say farewell to the summer schedule and hello to the autumn one.

The evenings are bathed in gold during August, perhaps contributing to my content feelings. I love how the evening light looks in the summer. One of the best descriptions of golden evenings I have read is in The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.

With these impressions in mind, I think August is the perfect month to end a story if you want a warm or nostalgic or even a bittersweet finish.

wallpaper-1492818_1280Where I live, no major holidays occur in August, but this year on the 21st, North America will experience a solar eclipse, the first of its kind to cover so much of the United States since 1970. To learn more, click here.

I am always interested in how sunlight changes within the day and the season and then using those observations as settings for my writing. I wrote a post on it last year. I am very excited to watch how the eclipse affects the light. I bet it will appear otherworldly, making this unusual natural phenomenon a perfect setting for some unnatural fiction. So if you are in North America on August 21, get outside!

How do you view August as a setting for your writing?

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