Listening Skills

Some of us are truly great listeners. When someone speaks to us, we give undivided attention, make appropriate comments, and offer timely responses. We don’t interrupt and ask for clarification if needed. Our body language, usually leaning forward somewhat, signals our interest in what’s being said.

There are those of us who are terrible listeners. When someone speaks we are fiddling with our phones, shuffling papers, tapping our feet and fingers and thinking of ways to exit the situation. Our disinterest in what is being said is clearly telegraphed through our facial expressions and posture. We are impatient, wanting it to end so that we can present our take on the subject or terminate that discussion so as to bring forth one of our own.

Your characters have listening skills as well. How to present them in a story? There must be a situation in which listening takes place, such as a party, social gathering or workplace meeting. There must be dialogue and there must be physical reactions. Posture and behavior is critical. There must also be give and take, with your character saying something in response.

Your task is to write a scene in which your character displays listening skills appropriate to her personality. A domineering, bossy person might have extremely poor skills, while a quiet, thoughtful person might be excellent. It’s up to you.

Write an interesting scene. Reread looking to make sure that tension exists and that your character’s skills are clearly shown.

Have fun with this one.

Thanskgivings

There are times to celebrate all the good things that have come our way. Times to rejoice, to laugh, to pray, to give thanks.

Some choose to spend their personal thanksgivings with others, while others prefer being alone in order to quietly contemplate the positive things in their lives.

What type is your character?

Your task is to create two lists: one to list the types of things to celebrate alone, the second those that are best shared in the company of others.

From the lists choose which is easiest for you to put into a scene. Remember that emotional details are important because readers want to walk in the mind and heart of the characters.

Write the story. Dialogue might be crucial here so as to best relay what the characters are thinking and feeling.

When you reread look for tells that allow you to see into your characters’’ emotions. If they are missing, add them in.

Have fun with this one.

The Big Proposal

Do you recall the day that your significant other proposed? Where did it happen? How did you react? What did you tell others after it happened?

Some of us prefer quiet, gentle proposals while others want something huge and dramatic. Imagine the proposal on the jumbo-tron at a baseball game. What if you weren’t in love with that person? With thousands watching, if you decline, think of the resounding hiss!

Your task is to write the story that shows the scene played out, in glorious details, for your chosen protagonist. You can choose to write from the POV of the one doing the proposing or the one being asked. Readers will want to see it played out from inception of the idea to the end result.

One place to begin is by making a list of potential scenarios. Think from minimalistic to grandiose. Narrow it down to the one that you feel most comfortable writing, the one that best suits your character’s personality, the one that makes the most exciting scene.

Have fun with this one.

Hit Refresh

Have you ever wanted to get a new start? Let’s say that a relationship that you’d like to develop began with you saying or doing something dumb. If you could get a do-over, what would change?

Think back to when you began your current career. If you could, would you go back and head in a different direction? If so, why? What choice would you make today?

Just as you might enjoy getting a fresh start, so will your protagonist.

Your task is to imagine a scene that went badly. Write it, in all its gory details. How does your character react to the choices she made? As she reflects, what plan of action does she come up with to change the trajectory of her poor decisions?

Write that as well. Readers will want to suffer with her as she analyzes what she did that’s upsetting and as she attempts to make things right. Details are crucial. Readers want to see her face turn red, hear the pace of her breathing change, feel her tears as she suffers.

When you are finished, reread looking for tension, conflict, reflection and change.

Have fun with this one.

Reflections or Resolutions?

Every year at this time we torture ourselves by setting goals to achieve in the coming year. We intend to stick to them, for at least a week, then chastise ourselves when we fail.

What if we chose to reflect over what we did or didn’t do over the past year? How much more helpful would that be?

For example, I could set a goal to lose ten pounds. Or I could revel in the fact that I lost fifteen! Which would be more inspiring? Which would encourage us to push forward?

Your task is to decide which to choose for yourself or for your protagonist. This might not be a long scene as it merely sets the stage for what is to come. Instead write about the thinking process that your character goes through.

A little dialogue would help. Imagine two characters interacting and evaluating each other’s process. That could create tension especially if one character regales the other over repeated failures despite setting the same resolutions every year.

Have fun with this one.

Chasing Dreams

I used to tell my students that everyone has dreams unless they’re dead. I’m not sure they understood my meaning, but every now and then I’d get a chuckle.

There is truth to the statement, however. We dream about all kinds of things: the perfect car, making friends, winning a game, buying a house. Hopefully we accomplish some of our dreams for it would be sad if we didn’t.

Your task is to establish a series of dreams that your character holds dear. Winnow the list down to the one you feel most comfortable putting into a story. Remember that readers want to share the emotional journey that the protagonist experiences as she progresses from dreaming to accomplishment. Or failure.

Have fun with this one.

Tis the season, right? Stores are stocked with wondrous items that everyone you know must want. Commercials air hourly enticing you to wish for, to yearn for, that special something that only a loved one can give.

You can’t escape the pressure. You are expected to surprise folks with the best gift, handpicked just for them. You spend hours agonizing over ads, magazines and online sites. And then you wait for a gushing thanks.

Imagine your character going through this process. Where does he look? How hard does he search? How soon before the big date does he shop? What does he buy?

Your task is to write the story of the search, the choice and the giving. Remember that there must be tension to have a viable story, something that someone wants to read. To do this, think of all the things that can go wrong. Perhaps the item is out of stock and won’t be available until too late. Or maybe the correct size in the perfect color is sold out.

And then there’s the emotional impact of choosing. What goes through his mind? How anxious is he?

Will the recipient open the gift in the giver’s presence? That might change the choice of gift as well as increase tension.

Have fun with this one.