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JPC Allen Writes

Inspiration for Beginning Writers

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Writing exercise

Writing Tip — When Frustration Leads to Inspiration

manw-390339_1280Some movies are great, some movies are terrible, and some are fixer-uppers. It’s the fixer-uppers that inspire me the most. These are movies with some good bones — good direction, good acting, or a good script. But I find something could be better, and I like the movie well enough that I’m frustrated it doesn’t succeed. That’s when frustration leads to inspiration.

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones is a fixer-upper for me. My husband and I watched this in the theater while we were dating. It was much better than The Phantom Menace. Watching tiny Yoda face-off against the towering Christopher Lee, one of my favorite villains, in a light saber duel was worth the price of admission. But I sense a missed opportunity, and so my imagination took off.

Because Clones was the second movie in a trilogy, I though it should mirror The Empire Strikes Back, the second movie in the first set of Star Wars films. Senator Palpatine could instruct Anakin in the dark side of the Force, doing the flip side of what Yoda taught Luke.

Another movie I thoroughly enjoyed was Leave No Trace (2018). This wonderful movie, about a traumatized U.S. veteran and his teenage daughter living off the grid in the Pacific Northwest, succeeded on so many levels: acting, directing, casting, and more. What let me down were the final, few scenes. I thought the father’s action didn’t ring true with how his character acted during the rest of the movie. Because I like it so well, I analyzed why I felt those scenes didn’t work and what the screenwriters could have done to achieve the same ending in a way that made more sense for the characters.

Exercises like this give my imagination a work out. It helps it stay sharp when I tackle my own writing. I keep in mind the lessons that I’ve learned from watching fixer-upper movies, such as when I write a scene, and the words or actions of a character sound as wrong as an out-of-tune piano. I know I’m not writing about him or her in a consistent way and must go back and fix the scene.

Sometimes a movie frustrates so much, I want to take its scenes and work them into one of my stories, just to prove to myself that I can be written differently.

What movies have you found frustrating? How would you fix them?

Writing Tip — Characters

avatarw-2191918_1280To accompany my post on Thursday about character development, here are two posts with two different views on the subject. In Leah Meahl’s post on the Christ is Write blog, she offers different ways to get to know your characters from the inside out. Henry McLaughlin writes in his post on the Write Conversation how he did elaborate background work on his major characters, but let his secondary characters develop as he wrote.

So how do you like to develop characters? Are you a plotter — do you have to know everything about your character before you start your first draft? Or are you a pantser — writing by the seat of your pants, allowing the characters to grow with the story? Or do you have a combination of strategies?

Writing Tip — Writing with Senses.

babyw-3041366_1280This is the last post in the series by Cyle Young on exploring the five sense in writing and concerns the sense of taste. He provides an exercise to test your descriptive muscles.

Using the sense of taste has limits. While your characters are always seeing and hearing and touching, taste can only be used in certain settings. But if you are able to creatively evoke that sense for your readers, then a scene with taste in it will stand apart from the usual ones employing sight, sound, and touch.

As I mentioned in my post about smell, my main character Junior comes from a poor family and often goest hungry. When he finally gets to sit down to Sunday lunch, biscuits and chicken noodle soup, he thinks it tastes as good as “wild blueberry pie.” When he is battling insomnia, he thinks of his favorite foods, instead of counting sheep. I will revisit that scene to make sure I maximize my taste descriptions. In both scenes, the reader learns about what foods Junior likes, making him seem real.

I can also use food to make my setting seem real. My characters eat pepperoni rolls for lunch. Simply slice or planks of pepperoni wrapped in bread dough, it was invented in West Virginia. Describing local food or food popular during a specific time can aid in imagining an unfamiliar world.

My friend Sandra Melville Hart writes historical romances set during the American Civil War. One her blog, “Historical Nibbles”, she posts about food from that time period and others and tries out recipes like “Mulled Buttermilk” and “Creole Soup.”

How would you use the sense of taste in your writing?

 

Writing Tip — Writing With Senses

jellyfish wordsCyle Young at Hartline Literary Agency has a wonderful post on using the sense of touch in writing.

This sense is often underused because we are such sight-dependent beings. Unless you have a character who is blind, is in a dark setting, or is an animal or imaginary creature whose main sense is touch, this sense gets crowded out by sight and touch.

Reviewing my own book, I see I used the sense of touch to convey the humidity of its summer setting. Humidity forces me to explore the sense of touch because it is the only way to experience it.

When my main character works on a roof all through a humid July day, he says, “I felt like I’d gone swimming in tomato soup.” He describes a mist as “clinging to my skin like a fungus.”

When my main character is sneaking around his property in the West Virginia mountains in the dead of night, I will try to include some description of touch, Right now, I only mention the wind whipping around him and sweating.

Writing Exercise

If you want to practice your writing with touch, write a comment to Mr. Young’s post. Or use the above photo. What’s interesting about using this photo as a writing exercise is that there are at least two people touching the jellyfish and possibly three. Each character can experience the feel of the jellyfish in a unique way, and that way tells something about him or her.

For example, the hand coming from the left looks like a child’s and he can be thrilled with touching a live jellyfish while the hand hovering behind can belong to an adult who touched the creature and was revolted. (I might share that reaction).

How would you use the sense of touch in the photo above?

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