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Writing Tip — Humor and Bad Experiences

accident-w994009_1920In The Deer on a Bicycle: Excursions into the Writing of Humor, author Patrick F. McManus advises that when looking for inspiration for a humorous story, you should write “about your bad experiences, not your good ones.” When life is at its worst, humor can be at its best. My recent trip to St. Louis gives real-world validation of that advice.

In August, I drove my parents and kids to see my sister and her family in St. Louis. One of the highlights was visiting the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. I walked into the darkened church, and my jaw dropped. Covering 83,000 square feet of ceiling and parts of walls are 41.5 million pieces of glass in mosaics. Even in the lowered lights, the ceiling glittered, depicting scenes from the Bible and North American history. Along the sides of the church were four chapels, also covered in mosaics as well as marble. The dominant color in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament is red. The marble in the All Souls Chapel is black and white, symbolizing death and resurrection.

I could have stood there for hours, craning my neck at the incredible art above me. As wonderful as the experience was, there’s no humor in it. Awe-inspiring but funny.

The fun came when I took my kids and my niece and nephew fishing. My youngest, the Fishing Fanatic, and my oldest brought five tackle boxes, just so they didn’t forget anything. We went to a small manmade lake behind a Y recreation center.

Since the kids weren’t having much luck, my oldest was trying to lure schools of fish he had spotted from a bridge to where the kids were fishing. He laid his rod on a rock, the baited hook dangling in the water.

I took one look at that and thought, “That’s not a good idea,” and reached for the rod.

A fish took the bait and the rod into the water. The first strike my oldest had had all night.

I lunged into the algae-clogged water because (1) I didn’t want any of the kids to try it and (2) I didn’t want to tell my husband how we had lost the collapsible rod. I plunged my hand into the water, but the rod was pulled deeper. So I waded deeper, reached again, and grabbed the rod.  Hiking to the shore, I recovered the rod and a huge bluegill.

I was soaked from the waist down. I wrapped a towel around myself to absorb at least some of the water. And my oldest gave me the biggest grin of his life.

That mishap is great material for a humorous story. Most, if not all, classic comedy movies concern what goes wrong in the main character’s life, and what he does to repair the situation, which leads to more things going wrong.

So I am trying to look at obstacles that normally frustrate or irritate me as writing material. It’s so much better than grinding my teeth.

What bad experiences have you had that you can use for a humorous story?

Writing Tip — Favorite Books: The Deer on a Bicycle by Patrick McManus

735600I featured this book a couple of years ago, but I am revisiting it because this month’s theme is humor, and Patrick McManus is my favorite humor writer. His stories appeared in Field & Stream and Outdoor Life and then were collected into books. He also wrote a series of mysteries featuring Sheriff Bo Tully.

One of the many great things about this book is that Mr. McManus’s day job was teaching writing at Eastern Washington University, so not only could he write, he could teach it, too. Even if you don’t write humor, The Deer on a Bicycle: Excursions into the Writing of Humor is packed with great advice.

I like the framework for the first half of the book. Mr. McManus has an imaginary character named Newton ask questions about writing, such as “Pat, what do you mean by ‘indirection’ in a story?”, “What do you believe is the ultimate in prose style, Pat?’, and “Short humor, Pat. What is it and who cares?”

In the second half of the book, the author selects twelve of his short stories and provides commentary about each one, focusing on structure or characters or some other writing techniques.

In his commentary on the story “Sequences”, Mr. McManus describes the Recognition Factor. These are little aspects of life that are true to almost everybody. Writers notice these thing because we are always on the look out for inspiration. The reader “gets this little charge of delight” when he reads something in a story that he recognizes from his own life.

When he comments on a disastrous camping trip in “The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw,” Mr. McManus explains that he visualizes “the kind of disaster I want to produce”. Then he plots the events “that will lead to that disaster.”

Both of these pieces of advice I can use in my mysteries. In my upcoming short story, “A Rose from the Ashes”, my main character owns a beat-up truck with gears that jam. My dad had a truck like that when I was growing up. Many readers have had a vehicle that  quits working when they need it most. That’s the Recognition Factor.

When plotting a mystery, I often know where I want to end. Then I plot backwards and see how I can logically arrive at my ending.

I’ll be discussing other pieces of advice from this book later this month.

Has a humorous story contained a Recognition Factor for you?

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Rebecca Waters

BeckySo happy to have author Rebecca Waters guest blogging again. This time, she isn’t here as a novelist. She’s discussing writing advice from her book The E’s of Writing. Good to have you back, Rebecca!

Exercising the Writing Muscle

There is a difference between being a writer and being an author. Writers may write as a hobby or as a therapeutic measure. The casual writer may share his or her compositions with family or friends. An author publishes. An author expects a much wider audience.

It is an important distinction. If you are seeking to be a published author, you need to view your musings as a business instead of a hobby. And while, yes, I recognize that yours may be a “non-profit” business by choice or not by choice in the beginning, it is a business.

A business offers a product or service. I often meet people who want to talk about the book they have in mind. But they don’t write. They don’t have a product to market. That movie based on the best seller they are certain they could write will never happen because they don’t take the time to sit down and do it.

In the handbook, The E’s of Writing, I outline five healthy practices or habits for the soon-to-be-published author. The first of these “E’s” is Exercise. To get you started, I am sharing a brief description here of three exercises to build your writing muscle. These three you can start doing today. Note, to be effective, you need to exercise your writing muscle at least four days a week.

Think of it as training to be a world class weight lifter. In training a lifter starts with small weights to build those muscles needed to lift more. The same is true in becoming an author. You must exercise your writing muscle. In the process, you will create a product worth marketing; Words worth publishing.

Start with these three exercises:

  1. Use writing prompts. One way to warm-up or get your writing brain in gear each writing day is to use a prompt. Write for a sustained ten to fifteen minute interval. You can download prompts, start with a book of quotes, or write about a calendar photo. One author I know writes her way through the alphabet, choosing a word for each letter of the alphabet and crafting a story around the word. When she finishes with Z, she starts back at A. I’ve seen bloggers take on a similar challenge.
  2. Craft a query letter. This exercise is particularly helpful if you want to write non-fiction. You can start to build your audience by writing for a magazine or journal. Research a topic, outline the main points of the article and craft a letter proposing the piece to a magazine or journal you think would find your work interesting. If you’ve never written a query letter before, you may need to do a bit of online research to see what an editor needs from you. And if the editor offers you a contract to write the piece, you’ve already done the research!
  3. Writing contests. Every year journals, editors, agents, and conferences offer writing contests. I encourage new writers to download the guidelines and spend their exercise time working on an entry. Judges will often offer feedback to you to help you improve your writing. Some may require you to attend the conference for them to even read your entry, but the exercise of following the guidelines, crafting a submission, proofreading, editing, and revising helps build your writing muscle. And if you are interested in crafting a novel, one “contest” you may find challenging is NaNoWriMo. It stands for National Novel Writing Month. One month to draft a novel. Now that is heavy lifting!

Ready, Set, Go! Exercise that writing muscle!

I like writing prompts, which is why I offer Monday Sparks once a week. Thank you for describing those three writing exercises. Great ways to stay in creative shape.

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writing with e's Edd 3A writer writes. An author publishes. If you want to be a successful writer you need to first learn to exercise the writing muscle, learn to self-edit, seek to educate yourself about writing, engage with others in the writing community, and regularly engage in self-evaluation. Successful writers become published authors when they turn these practices into highly productive habits.
In the third book of the Writing to Publish series, author, educator, and speaker, Rebecca Waters offers new writers practical strategies to employ these five practices in sustainable ways.

Click here to go to Amazon.

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Rebecca Waters has been a writer most of her life. Her first published work was a short story in the school newspaper she wrote in second grade. For many years Rebecca used her stories as illustrations in school and church settings or to entertain her own three daughters. Her professional writing included educational articles and research. Following her retirement as a professor of education from Cincinnati Christian University, Rebecca turned her pen to the world of fiction. Her latest novel, Libby’s Cuppa Joewas released in March 2019. Her Writing to Publish Serieshelps beginning writers become published authors.

Visit her blog, follow her on Twitter, or like her on Facebook.

Writing Tip — Guest Blog

desertw-2561150_1280Today I am guest blogging on the America Christian Fiction Writers’ site. If you don’t know where Harran is or why it’s important to leave it, stop by and read my blog!

Writing Tip — Guest Blog

blogging-1168076_1280Today I am a guest blogger on American Christian Fiction Writers.  I was inspired by one of my favorite authors, Patrick F. McManus. Check out my post “Writers and People Who Write.”

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