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JPC Allen Writes

Inspiration for Beginning Writers

Writing Tip — Favorite Books: The Deer on a Bicycle by Patrick McManus

735600I featured this book a couple of years ago, but I am revisiting it because this month’s theme is humor, and Patrick McManus is my favorite humor writer. His stories appeared in Field & Stream and Outdoor Life and then were collected into books. He also wrote a series of mysteries featuring Sheriff Bo Tully.

One of the many great things about this book is that Mr. McManus’s day job was teaching writing at Eastern Washington University, so not only could he write, he could teach it, too. Even if you don’t write humor, The Deer on a Bicycle: Excursions into the Writing of Humor is packed with great advice.

I like the framework for the first half of the book. Mr. McManus has an imaginary character named Newton ask questions about writing, such as “Pat, what do you mean by ‘indirection’ in a story?”, “What do you believe is the ultimate in prose style, Pat?’, and “Short humor, Pat. What is it and who cares?”

In the second half of the book, the author selects twelve of his short stories and provides commentary about each one, focusing on structure or characters or some other writing techniques.

In his commentary on the story “Sequences”, Mr. McManus describes the Recognition Factor. These are little aspects of life that are true to almost everybody. Writers notice these thing because we are always on the look out for inspiration. The reader “gets this little charge of delight” when he reads something in a story that he recognizes from his own life.

When he comments on a disastrous camping trip in “The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw,” Mr. McManus explains that he visualizes “the kind of disaster I want to produce”. Then he plots the events “that will lead to that disaster.”

Both of these pieces of advice I can use in my mysteries. In my upcoming short story, “A Rose from the Ashes”, my main character owns a beat-up truck with gears that jam. My dad had a truck like that when I was growing up. Many readers have had a vehicle that  quits working when they need it most. That’s the Recognition Factor.

When plotting a mystery, I often know where I want to end. Then I plot backwards and see how I can logically arrive at my ending.

I’ll be discussing other pieces of advice from this book later this month.

Has a humorous story contained a Recognition Factor for you?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: What’s So Funny?

flamingow-1554180_1280What’s so funny about two flamingoes sitting down to a chat, aside from the facts that they don’t chat or sit in chairs?

First Flamingo: You’re not serious.

Second Flamingo: Absolutely. I’m sure our pink color comes from the shrimp we eat.

First Flamingo: I don’t believe it.

Second Flamingo: You will after I polish off a bag of Skittles.

What do you think they are taking about?

Writing Tip — Just for Fun

peoplew-2942821_1280When I saw this photo, the lines to the poem leaped into my mind. My summer seemed very brief this year.

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: County Fair as Writing Inspiration

carnivalw-2456901_1280I love county fairs, so it’s no surprise that I see them as writing inspiration.

Part of that love comes from nostalgia. In the county where I grew up in eastern Ohio, the county fair arrived the week after Labor Day. The fairgrounds were right across from my elementary school, and I always looked forward to the afternoon when we left the classroom and took a walking field trip to the fair. I was also eaten up by envy at the kids from the farms who got out of school to show their animals in 4-H competitions. I competed but in baking and won five blue ribbons.

When I discovered that the county where my husband and I built our home holds its fair in September, it felt just right. And when my kids won their own ribbons at the fair, I had a satisfying feeling of coming full circle.

That feeling could inspire a story of a parent or grandparent passing on a tradition which includes going to the county fair for some reason, not just competition.

Another thing I love about county fairs is how it brings together the land, animals, and people of a community. You don’t get that at a state fair. Too many strangers. But at the county fair, you run into so many friends, neighbors, and acquaintances that it feels like an enormous family reunion. When my family and I visit the fair, we make a point of reading the names fastened to the pens and cages of the 4-H animals, so we can see the animals kids from school and church have entered. It also reminds me that, no matter how sophisticated we become, we still depend on the land to produce crops and sustain animals and on our neighbors who farm and manage it all.

Those themes of community, family reunion, or ties to the land could be explored in a story set at the fair.

A special feature of our fair is the prominence of harness racing. Our fair really has a split personality. The front half, where the barns, rides, and buildings for exhibits are located, is for the local people. The back half has the stadium and barns for the horses that come to race. I can thoroughly enjoy the fair and never venture into the back half, which has a completely different atmosphere. The harness racing is business, as well as the gambling, so I feel no sense of community, but I’m an outsider looking in. I’m sure the members of the harness racing business probably feel differently.

I recently watched the film noir from 1956, The KillingIn this heist movie, a gang of crooks plot to rob a racetrack. One of them shoots a horse in an important race to create chaos while the robbery is executed. I’ve been wondering if I could write a story about a robbery at county fair with harness racing. I don’t know enough about how the betting is done to know if there’s enough cash on hand to make it worthwhile. But it would be interesting to research.

I like to research small, local events like a county fair and see if they have unique or unusual aspects to them, like harness racing. These quirks can ignite all kinds of inspiration and set my story apart from others.

Do you have a particular community celebration where you live? How can it inspire your writing?

 

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: What’s So Funny?

Fchildw-646201_1280The focus for September is humor. So my prompts will hopefully tickle your funny bone. What’s so funny about this photo? Here’s my idea:

Seven-year-old: That’s the craft kit I asked Santa for. But how come it’s in our basement?

Five-year-old: Santa must have come early. The teddy bear I wanted is behind all the tubs of baby clothes.

I’d love to hear what you think is funny.

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