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JPC Allen Writes

Inspiration for Beginning Writers

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Patrick F. McManus

Writing Tip — The Importance of Humor

happyw-3046563_1280Humor in the arts has a bad reputation.

It’s not considered as worthy as drama. How many comedies have won the Oscar for Best Picture? Not many. Yet humor helps us throughout our lives. I think it’s a necessary quality to cultivate. The importance of humor in my life is enormous.

I’ve suffered from anxiety since I was a child and from depression since at least high school. When I moved to a new city and spent a year looking for a job, Erma Bombeck’s funny essays on family life came to the rescue. When I was anxious while attending a writers’ conference, I relaxed with P.G. Wodehouse’s hilarious account of how he started his writing career. Damon Runyon’s tales of New York City gangsters and gamblers of the 1920’s and 1930’s and the outdoor misadventures of Patrick F. McManus have lifted my mood time and again.

Some people think if you retain a sense of humor in serious situations, it’s not that serious. But I think the opposite is true. When life is at its most tragic or serious, that’s the time to find something to smile about. The circumstances of the tragedy are nothing to laugh about, but we still need to turn to some kind of humor to ease our pain.

When my grandmother died, it helped my family to share stories, especially funny ones. Like her war with the moles who riddled her yard in the country. Once she moved to the house next door to my parents, she became convinced that groundhogs could tunnel under her deck and into her basement. Being able to laugh about good memories of a deceased loved one is a great gift for those who remain.

One of the best demonstrations of humor in tough times is enacted in the 1942 movie Sullivan’s TravelsA Hollywood director, who has made his career in slapstick comedies, wants to film a drama about the Great Depression because he thinks depicting real-world suffering is a more worthwhile project.

He disguises himself as a hobo to collect background material. Through a series of events, he find himself convicted of a crime and sent to a prison farm. When he and the other prisoners are shown a Mickey Mouse cartoon, he’s stunned to hear their uproarious laughter as well as his own.

After he makes it back to Hollywood, the director decides to return to comedy. He says, “There’s a lot to be said for making people laugh. Do you know that’s all some people have?”

How has humor helped you during a tough time in your life?

Writing Tip — Just For Fun

rosew-3026471_1280I love Mr. McManus’s short stories and humorous essays and this quote sums up my frustrations with the month beautifully.

Writing Tip — Writing in Time

novemberDuring 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 Storythe 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?

Writing Tip — Time Management

finding the time to writeLately, 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?

Writing Tip — Lesson #2 from The Deer on a Bicycle

group-1825513_1280“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.

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