Writing Tip — Writing in Time: Thanksgiving Dinner as Writing Inspiration

thanksgiving-table-1w1888643_1920Since I am attempting my own version of NaNoWriMo, which means I am focusing on my latest novel but not driving myself to write 50,000 in 30 days, I will host guest bloggers this month and reuse some older posts. This post has ideas I’ve used in previous years with some new ideas sprinkled in.

Food has the ability to unite people. Or push them apart. If I need tension, drama, or farce for a story, setting it around Thanksgiving dinner allows me to take advantage of all those elements even within the same story.

I’ve learned this from experience. Like when I was a teen, my sisters, a cousin, and I were playing football in my grandparents’ backyard, waiting for the call to dinner. One of my aunts stormed out of the house, trying to cool off from an argument with another aunt. My mom said the quarrel only occurred because my grandmother was in the hospital. She was a natural peacemaker.

Or when my sisters and I added four husbands to the annual feast. All of them are good cooks with very definite ideas about what to serve at Thanksgiving. I’ve had to act as a diplomat between those who want bland dressing and those who like exotic variations.

A story about a clash over recipes holds a lot of potential. A Yankee with Irish roots marries a Southerner with African roots. The new couple invites both sides of their families to their new home for the holiday. The battle over the correct way to make cornbread should lead to all kinds of conflict.

When my mom hosted, she made name cards to sit at each place setting. My sisters and I practically developed a science about where to seat our relatives so as to preserve harmony. A key was to place strategically the biggest talkers. One year, we hit on the idea of seating the two most talkative relatives beside each other. They got along beautifully.

In a story, I could seat my main character beside a relative she has never liked, only to come to a better understanding of that person. That understanding could be that the relative is more likable or has more depth than she thought. Or he’s even worse than the main characters ever realized.

How can you use your real-world Thanksgiving dinners as writing inspiration? Or, for my international readers, what holiday meal with family can inspire your writing?

Writing Tip — Is It Humor? Or Comedy?

grimacew-388987_1280I didn’t realize the difference between humor and comedy until I read this helpful article by Jean Wilund on Almost an Author.

I see the difference this way. When I do a pratfall on a slick spot in the driveway, that’s humor. I didn’t intend to do the action to make people laugh. If my oldest makes a joke about my pratfall, that’s comedy. He is intent on saying something funny.

I am definitely a humor writer. I create characters or a setting, and as I’m writing the scene, the possible humor of the situation or personalities comes to me. If that observation is suitable for my main character to notice, I include it.

Which do you prefer as a writer? Humor? Or comedy?

Writing Tip — Mythology

king-arthurw-2448042_1280When someone says Zeus or Ares or Thor, most Americans can produced a mental picture because Greek and Norse mythology are fairly well known and have been adapted to popular culture. But many people don’t realize how much Celtic mythology has worked its way into American culture. King Arthur, leprechauns, and banshees are all part of Celtic mythology.

IMG_0275If, like me, you don’t know much about Celtic mythology, The Book of Celtic Myths by Adams Media is a great place to start.  The myths related in the book concern those found in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and Brittany. Because the Celts only used writing after the Romans conquered them, and then not often, historical and archaeological evidence is used to understand the myths.

The books describes origins myths, the major gods and goddesses, heroes, and epic stories. As the Celts converted to Christianity, their gods morphed into the the fairy folk, like banshees, leprechauns, sellkies, and other mischievous or malevolent creatures that people had to be careful to avoid.

Celtic fantasy is already a sub-genre of fantasy, and King Arthur and his knights, originally from Wales, is a sub-sub-genre. But I think aspects of this mythology can be worked into a speculative fiction story set in contemporary times.

The Four Hallows

These four objects possessed unparalleled power in Celtic myths.

  1. The Sword of Light: Belonging to Nuada, an Irish god. None could escape it.
  2. The Invincible Spear: Belonging to the Irish sun god Lugh. It never missed.
  3. The Cauldron of Bounty: Belonging to the Irish god, the Dagda. It was “a source of endless sustenance.”
  4. The Stone of Destiny: This stone “would cry out when walked over by the true king of Tara”, which would make him the high king of Ireland. Some think the Stone of Scone, which now resides in Scotland, was the original Stone of Destiny.

In a speculative fiction story, I could say that these four objects aren’t supernatural but the product of ancient Celtic technology that taps into dark matter. Descendants of the Celts have kept the four objects safe, passing them on to four people, specially chosen from each generation, to use them to serve humanity.

Or a team of archaeologists is looking for them, believing them to be real, and must find the four hallows before an evil billionaire or government spies can locate them.

Fantastic Voyages

“Imram” is the Celtic word for the heroic journey. Three tales of this kind, much like The Odyssey, exist in Celtic myth. The “Voyage of Mael Duin, the Voyage of St. Brendan, and The Voyage of Snedgus and Mac Riagla” qualify as imram stories.

Mael Duin begins his quest to avenge his father’s death. St. Brendan sets out as penance for burning a book. A similar tale could be told in contemporary times of a hero or heroine starting out on a journey with a specific goal, maybe searching for a lost relative. The heroine could travel to a distant country or explore the subcultures of her own country, any place where she would be an outsider. She could acquire and lose companions, meet unusual people and situations, all within a realistic setting.

Which ideas appeal to you, the four hallows or the fantastic voyage? Or is there some other part of Celtic mythology that sparks your imagination?


Writing Tip

may-706940_1280Writing in Time — May

May may tie March as my least favorite month.  When I was children’s librarian, it was a month of frantic work as we got ready to launch our summer reading program in June.  We would visit schools to advertise the program and build excitement, and those visits, while usually fun, were also exhausting.

Now that I have kids in school, I realize how frustrating May is.  Everyone associated with school is ready for a break — teachers, administrators, support staff, parents, and students.  Speaking as a parent, I am pining for relaxed mornings, relaxed schedules, and no reason to pack lunches.

May makes a great setting for something crazy and unexpected to happen in a story about school.  All that frustration has great comic potential.

Something else I remember about May when I was a kid — at a certain point, maybe a week before school lets out, everyone relaxes, at least a little,  For the kids, the end is in sight.  Teachers know they have done all the instructing they can and now it is just a waiting game to fulfill required number of days.  I remember my mom easing up on bedtime and the long evenings that didn’t encourage sleep at all.dawn-1840298_1280

Graduation ceremonies from high school or college symbolize the feeling of endings becoming beginnings and vice versa.   A ceremony is a great way to launch a story or wrap it up.  It’s also a poignant time for parents and teachers, too,  if they are about to retire.

With Mother’s Day, a holiday that was created by a distant relative of mine, I can explore female relationships within a family.  One approach could be to structure the story over successive Mother’s Days, showing how the celebration reflects the relationships.

Memorial Day at the end of the month can be a setting for stories dealing with death, grief, or just remembering and celebrating loved ones who have died.  The holiday has some of the same quality as graduation — death as an ending or beginning, depending on how you write about it.

Spring is full swing during May where I live, so if I want to write about the glories of new growth and new life, May has great possibilities as a backdrop.

Despite my personal dislike of the month, the writer in me can see it merits.

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