I love Mr. McManus’s short stories and humorous essays and this quote sums up my frustrations with the month beautifully.
During November in the U.S., Thanksgiving dominates everyone’s thoughts. The entire month revolves around plans for traveling or hosting or if and when you can get off work to attend a holiday dinner.
Thanksgiving Story Ideas — Comic or Dramatic
Because Thanksgiving is such an important holiday and involves family, it is ideal for inspiration. I find my greatest inspiration when creating families and letting the relationships play off each other.
Below are some ideas which can be used to for either comic or dramatic effect
- Bad weather — The main character is the host and people can’t make his or her dinner. Or main character is traveling and is stranded on the way to dinner.
- New relative — The first holiday dinner with a someone’s new spouse. Or a long-lost relative shows up unexpectedly.
- Kitchen disasters — Anything that throws a wrench in the cook’s plans. Although this happens in A Christmas Story, the attack of the neighbors’ dogs on the holiday turkey is the perfect kitchen disaster.
- Unusual main character — Write from the POV of a child, who listens in on adult conversations. Or maybe a family pet.
Other November Activities
- Football — High school football heads to the playoffs and championships in November, so it’s the perfect month to end a story set in this sport.
- NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month. This nonprofit group encourages writers to finish a 50,000 word novel in a month. Personally, November is a terrible time to get a lot of writing accomplished because of the 800 lb. gorilla at the end of the month, Thanksgiving. But that does give me an idea … a writer trying desperately to finish her novel while planning an enormous Thanksgiving dinner for her extended family.
- Hunting Season — Hunting season is in full swing in my state and surrounding ones. With November’s short hours of daylight and wild weather, it offers a lot of potential for a story pitting a lost or injured hunter against the elements. Or if you’d like a comic take on this scenario, read Patrick F. McManus’s short story collections.
How would you use November as a setting?
Lately, when it comes to managing my time so I can write, I feel like the narrator in Patrick F. McManus’s story “Controlling My Life” from the book Real Ponies Don’t Go Oink!
“I just read a book on how to get control of my time and therefore of my life. My time has always had a tendency to slip away from me and do as it pleases. My life follows it, like a puppy after an untrained bird dog. Come night, my life shows up, usually covered with mud and full of stickers, exhausted by grinning happily. My time never returns.”
Here are two different views on how to schedule time to write. The first post is about “binge writing”, setting aside a large block of time to get a lot written in one session. The second advises setting a small daily goal and writing every day.
I know I am not a binge writer. I like variety in my life. So doing an hour or two a day while the kids are at school is perfect for me. But I haven’t been able to find that hour or two with all the demands of running my home and taking care of my kids and husband, whose job is demanding and has irregular hours.
While I have been able to keep up on my blog, I haven’t found the time to revise my first novel or make much headway on a new one.
So I am interested in other people’s writing schedules. How do you find time to do the writing you must do and the writing you want to do?
“Pat, your characters are always yakking away at each other. How come?”
Mr. McManus answers that he “enjoys writing dialogue.” He also writes that “when I have trouble coming up with a story idea, I will put two characters in a scene and start them talking. Often, an idea for the story will emerge from their conversation.”
I think this is great advice if you are brainstorming for some kind of story, or if you are stalled in a scene of a larger work.
This is espeically helpful to me because I am a character-driven writer. I develop characters first, get to know them inside and out, and then try to concoct a plot for them. When I really know my characters — and some I have known longer than my husband — scenes sometimes just write themselves.
One Sunday I sat down to write fiction just for the fun of it and used characters from my novel. I had had a scene in mind for a long time. Like many of my scenes, I knew how I wanted it to start and how it should end, but the journey between those points was completely unknown. That’s when the fun began.
The scene consisted of only three characters in a conversation. Once I began writing, my regular characters took over. I found myself writing dialogue that surprised me and yet I was thinking, “Yes, that’s exactly what Mike would say.” It felt like, as Mr. McManus writes, I was “eavesdropping on my own characters.”
If you like creating characters and writing dialogue, get your characters yakking. You could find a new approach to your writing. Or just a lot of fun.
I could write for three months on what I have learned from The Deer on a Bicycle by Patrick F. McManus. Instead, I will just discuss a couple things I have found the most interesting.
“Why do you give your characters and places such odd names?”
Mr. McManus explains that naming his characters Retch or Rancid or the Troll immediately tells the reader something about those characters. He adds, “Because of the brevity required for short humor, one must continually look for way to save words. Comically descriptive names for characters and places are one of mine.”
Descriptive nicknames can work in longer fiction, too. In the mystery A Fool and His Monet by Sandra Orchard, FBI agent Serena Jones catches two men peddling stolen art. Since she doesn’t know their names, she calls them “Baldy” and “Sidekick”. The main character in Marissa Shrock’s The First Principle, a dystopian Christian fiction YA novel, overhears a conversation between two women who are strangers to her. Based on their appearances, she calls them “Puffy” and “Pudgy”.
In both examples, the main characters nickname minor ones because they don’t know their names. The nicknames tell readers something about those minor characters and it’s more concise for the author to write “Baldy” rather than “the bald man” or Puffy rather than “the woman with the puffy face.”
I have a special affection for nicknames because I use them for family members. In my novel, I have character who nicknames almost everyone. He calls his nephew who is a drummer “Sticks” and another nephew who wears a cowboy hat “Cowboy”.
Nicknames not only tell you something about the character with the name, but also about the person who invented it. If a teen calls his math teacher “the Fuhrer”, that reveals qualities about the teacher and the teen.
I think having a character hand out nicknames and giving them to major characters make all your characters seem more real. Many of us have nicknames, sometimes tied to our family relationships, hobbies, jobs, or physical characteristics, and those nicknames highlight different aspects of our life. They can do the same for your characters.
Keep nicknames in mind for humor, brevity, description, or character development.