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JPC Allen Writes

Inspiration for Beginning Writers

Writing Tip — Parts of Speech — Noun

For basic information on nouns, visit this post at Almost an Author. Ms. Toler-Dougherty writes about how specific nouns need capitalized. For example, “church” vs. “Walnut Ridge Presbyterian Church”. But I leared from my editor Sharyn a different kind of specificity when it comes to nouns.

“Be specific!”

As my characters drive into the West Virginia mountains, I wrote about the shrubs growing close to the road and the trees making a ceiling overhead.

Sharyn said, “Be specific!”

She meant: What kind of trees? Eastern hemlock? Walnut? Coconut? What kinds of shrubs? Mountain laurel? Holly? What?

My characters sit down to a meal of soup and bread.

Sharyn said, “Be specific!”

What kind of soup? Tomato? Chicken noodle? Shark fin? What kind of bread? Whole wheat, white, or rye?

One reason I didn’t make my nouns more specific was because I didn’t think readers wanted that much detail. Another reason was I thought too many details would slow down the narrative.

That’s true if I describe the soup as “chicken noodle soup with lush, homemade noodles and thick chunks of chicken” when those details add nothing to the story. But just adding “chicken noodle” to “soup” helps the reader make a more vivid “work picture”, as Sharyn says.

I didn’t specify the plants and animals of the mountains because I didn’t know them that well.  But my narrator would because he has lived in the mountains all his life. So, instead of being lazy, I am doing research and will try to visit the location of my setting so I can get the species right. I won’t dwell on the botany of each plant, but writing “the red oaks and hickories made a canopy over our heads” sounds so much better than “the tall trees made a canopy over our heads.”

As long as I drop in the precise nouns just where they are needed, my story will be richer not slower.

Monday Sparks — writing prompts

rain-65484_1280Write a haiku about something happening in nature right. If you aren’t familiar with haiku, it’s a form of poetry from Japan that usually describes nature. It doesn’t rhyme. The first line is five syllables, the second line is seven syllables, and the third line is five syllables. Here’s my contribution, inspired by a heat wave I am currently experiencing. If you are inspired, please send me your poem.

Heat bakes the sky. It

Cracks with thunder, pours out rain,

Healing the baked ground.

Writing Tip — Gifts for Father’s Day

stars-1697416_1280Father’s Day is less than two weeks away. If you want to give a gift of writing, like I described in my post for Mother’s Day, now is the time to start working on it

One thing I didn’t include in my Mother’s Day post was writing down humorous stories involving the person you want to give the story to. In my post on Christmas disasters, I described writing down holiday mishaps that have passed into family legend. I was reminded how meaningful these stories are when my sister, our kids, and my parents got together for an early Father’s Day party.

We asked the kids to think of stories involving their grandfather or just what they liked about him. Two of the grandkids actually took the trouble to write down what they thought. The sharing of a few stories led to other stories, which entertained the kids as much as my dad, and the kids weren’t even alive to participate in most of them.

So if you lived through a humorous incident or a comic adventure with a particular male relative, write it down. Not only will the person you give it to appreciate it, but it preserves family history for the next generation.

correcting-1870721_1280Don’t forget to edit!

I wrote this in my Mother’s Dat post, but it bears repeating: never give a first-draft as a gift. Always edit it. Write your piece and then got back over it. If no changes come to mind, leave it a day or two. I am often surprised how many ways I can improve a piece if I take a break from working with it.

Writing Tip — Typing Vs. Writing

hands-1373363_1280I have a confession to make. I know this makes me a unique antique, but I am going to state it anyway: I write almost all my first drafts by hand. With a pen. On paper. In cursive. Horrifying, isn’t it?

It’s how I started writing. In junior high and high school, to relieve boredom, I wrote on any handy scrap of paper I had. No one had smart phones, or even dumb ones then. But as computers have become more and more personal until now they are practically a member of the family we take everywhere, I still can’t write directly from my head to a screen. Unless it is something very short, like “Monday Sparks”.

screen-1315650_1280There’s something so demanding about a blank screen, just sitting, glaring, waiting, waiting, waiting for me to fill it. I can write for an hour and have only one decent sentence to show for it. I can see the screen arch a digital eyebrow as if to say, “Is that all?”

On paper, if I only come up with one sentence after an hour, I may have five sheets of rejected ideas to revealing how I spent my time. Also I can go back and try to salvage some of those ideas if I want to. All those filled sheets are very reassuring to me. And seeing my writing in my own hand makes it truly mine.

I have tried, on many occasions, to write directly to the screen.  I don’t get far. Even if I’m editing an already-typed chapter and need to make a lengthy change, I have to go back to paper.

It just feels so unnatural to me to type my first draft, like sculpting with oven mitts or painting by using a remote-controlled robot. I must touch the pen, feel the paper under my hand to truly write.

I hope I haven’t shocked you. Does anyone else write before typing? Doesn’t anyone write in cursive? I’d love to hear your process from first-draft to finished product.

Monday Sparks — Writing prompt

class-255620_1280Write your favorite memory from the last day of school.

One of my favorites was this year when my kids got out of school.  I had the car packed, ready to go, and as soon as that final dimissal was announced, we jumped in the car, heading out onto the open road, leaving the grind for the past nine months in our dust.

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