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JPC Allen Writes

Inspiration for Beginning Writers

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Writing in Time

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: Lonely Places as Writing Inspiration

fogw-3461096_1920Lonely places aren’t unique to October, but I wanted to write about them for this month’s theme, mysteries. I’m drawn to lonely places, whether it’s an abandoned house, an office building after hours, or an empty beach. The lack of people suggests some kind of story behind the emptiness. Or it allows me to project all kinds of ideas for stories.

In my short story, “A Rose from the Ashes”, an abandoned children’s home is a clue and a key setting for the mystery. Many, many years ago, when my dad would take me out into the country to practice driving, we would pass what looked like a large, two-story house. He told me that at one time it was a home for orphans. The building was made of stone or brick and had a simple, flat facade with the door centered on the bottom floor. As I drove by it in the evening, with the windows dark, the home sitting by itself in a field, I got an eerie feeling.

Below are four ways to use lonely places as writing inspiration.

Set the mood or foreshadow

If I want to make my readers uneasy, setting a scene in a lonely place is a great way to do it. It’s an experience all of us have had, so readers instantly relate to it. The lonely place hints at something awful to come. Or I can subvert that notion. I can have my characters worry about being in some dreadfully lonely place only to discover friends are waiting for them.

Aid character development

Having a character seek out lonely places can tell the reader something about their personality. Does she visit a local cemetery because she’s morbid? Or is it the closest place she can go to get away from violence in her home? If I create a character, who regularly visits the mountains to hike, I can signal to readers that he likes challenges, or he needs to relieve stress, or he’s chasing freedom that he can’t find in his usual routine. If my character is drawn to an old house with a spooky legend attached to it, I can show that she’s curious or a truth seeker or wants to see justice done.

Challenge the main character

At a conference I attended, author Steven James recommended isolating the main character (MC) to increase tension. Lonely places do that and also give me the opportunity to stress and test the MC. I’m a hug fan of the underdog story, and the best way to set that up is to force the MC to go it alone.

And I don’t use lonely places just for physical isolation. If I really want to get the MC to rely on her strengths, I need to isolate her from technology. That’s one of the reasons I love rural places and visit rural areas to see where I can realistically cut off the MC from the rest of the world.

I can also create tension in a lonely place by having my MC phone for help that will be a long time in arriving. But I prefer to cut him off completely. Then the readers can anticipate the MC will have to succeed on his own abilities.

Slow the pace for reflection while maintaining tension

When writing a chase or action sequences, the MC has no time to think. Surviving is all that matters. But if I need her to realize something during the pursuit, I can have her find a lonely place. She can hide, catch her breath, and be on the alert for her antagonist but also think about what’s happening. Maybe she suddenly realizes the identity of her mysterious pursuer. Or she figures out how to elude him. Or she reasons out the key to the mystery she’s been trying to solve and must escape to tell the police.

A lonely place works just as well if all I need it for is time for the MC to think, even if it’s as simple as having him taken a walk in the morning. But I must make sure when I slow the pace of my narrative not to bring it to halt by dumping information I haven’t worked into the storyline yet.

What stories have you read or movies you’ve seen that effectively use lonely places?

 

Writing Tip — Writing in Time: Fourth of July as Writing Inspiration

flagw-1446423_1280Since the Fourth of July, or Independence Day, is the only major holiday in the month, I thought I had to use it for my writing inspiration. But I felt completely uninspired. The Fourth of July was never one of the big holidays when I was growing up, and now my husband, kids, and I celebrate by attending a local parade and fireworks. Not a lot of inspiration there.

So I asked the kids in the writing workshop I led at my library. Talking over my dilemma with kids ranging in age from 9-12 kickstarted my imagination.

Alternative history: If you aren’t familiar with this subgenre of fantasy fiction, it means some key event in history is changed and the story is based on that. What if the Confederate States won the American Civil War? What if the Russian Czar had beaten the Communists? At my workshop, one boy wondered what would happen if there was no Independence Day in America. What had happened so that it never became a holiday? So many things in American history could have changed. Or maybe there is no American history because America didn’t win the Revolutionary War.

Family traditions: Someone else mentioned making ice cream with a manual machine. That got me to thinking about family traditions and if they are passed on. For my story, I can have an elderly grandmother try to hand crank an old ice cream machine for the family Fourth of July picnic. She’s always done it. But this year, she’s having trouble and eventually gives in and allows her granddaughter to help, passing on the torch of tradition.

Personal freedom: Freeing a character of some problem while he participates in Independence Day activities would be a nice match. Maybe he is freed from a sin that has burdened him for years. Or, during a community picnic, he realizes the truth behind a misconception he had of another person. Or he could finally cut ties with someone who is a negative influence in his life. The climax of the story could occur during a community fireworks display, where the soaring fireworks are a symbol of the character’s new freedom.

How would you use the Fourth of July as writing inspiration?

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