Promises Made, Promises Broken

When someone says they going to do something, we expect them to follow through without endless nagging. This belief is formed during our childhood years. When a parent or guardian says, “I’ll be there in a minute,” we watch to make sure they appear. When they do not, our expectations change. We become jaded toward promises.

Depending upon how many times we have been disappointed by broken promises affects our outlook in life. Too much heartbreak feels like rejection.

Your task is to write a scene in which someone is promised a preferred outcome which never happens. You must include psychological and emotional details in order for the story to be compelling.

Reread. Does disappointment come through? If not, edit.

Have fun with this one.

Query Writing Tips

Go online and you’ll find many sites offering tips for writing query letters. I have compressed some accepted “Dos and Don’ts” for you.

Dos:

  1. Spell the agent’s name correctly and make sure he is interested in your genre. MSWL is a good site to check.
  2. State the title and word count.
  3. Mention why you are contacting the agent.
  4. Be professional and keep the query to one page only, double-spaced.
  5. Give your contact info: phone number, address, email.

Don’ts:

  1. Don’t mention that you found the agent on a database or writing guide.
  2. Do not say your novel is fiction!
  3. Do not claim that your book is better than others.
  4. Do not apologize for being a novice writer or for being unpublished.
  5. In your closing thank the agent for her time.
  6. Don’t query until you have completed the fiction manuscript or if it’s a nonfiction piece, you have an outline, table of contents and sample chapters.
  7. Visit the agent’s website to see what they like included with a query. Sometimes they only want ten pages, sometimes three chapters. Abide by submission rules.

Your task is to write a query letter for a piece you are ready to submit.

Have fun with this one.

Significant Objects in Your Life

When we were growing up someone gave my mom a cookie jar that was in the shape of a monk. We called him Friar Tuck, as in Robin Hood. My mom would store cookies in there, but because it was not airtight, the cookies quickly became stale.

When we moved from Ohio to California in 1964, the jar came with us, one of the few items that made the trip. The jar sat proudly on my parent’s countertop no matter where they lived. When my dad passed away a few years ago, Friar Tuck was still there.

The jar represented all the moves, all the changes in my family’s life. Marriages, grandchildren, moves. Eventually the deaths of both of my parents.

Your task is to think of something that represents your life. It could be an object, a traditional food item, or a journey that the family made together over a period of years.

Perhaps the objects no longer exist, the food no longer prepared and the trip no longer taken, but the memories linger. The memories don’t have to be positive. It could be that every time you think of your sister’s special spaghetti it dredges up images of arguments, hurtful words tossed about like candy.

Write the story behind that object. Allow it to reveal events in your past that add up to a longstanding story about your relationship.

Have fun with this one.

Leap of Faith

How much can a reader tolerate in terms of stretching what is logical? This is something that all writers must consider, but often the extreme boundaries of that leap of faith are determined by the genre.

For example, in fantasy we expect unimaginable things to happen. We yearn for magic, magical beings, unusual occurrences, strange environments. If these elements are missing, then the story might lack tension.

Contemporary fiction, and even historical fiction, needs to be grounded in reality of readers will not believe the story.

What happens when reality is so extreme that it seems impossible? Readers must take a leap of faith.

Your task is to write a story that pushes the bounds of reality, but that remains believable.

Have fun with this one.

A Danger to Others

We all have an Uncle Joe whose eyesight is failing, uses a walker, has trouble remembering, and yet still drives. He’s a danger to himself and others, but refuses to give up his car keys for fear of losing his independence. What do we do in this situation?

There are no easy answers. You can hide the keys when he’s in the bathroom, call the DMV and report him as a dangerous driver or call the police when he goes out to drive. Joe will hate you for the rest of his life. So might his wife, kids, grandkids, neighbors and anyone else who is on his side.

Your task is to conjure up a character who should not be driving and someone who confronts this person. To get ideas, do a little research online. Come up with at least three different scenarios and possible outcomes. Choose the one that presents the most conflict, for remember, conflict creates tension and tension makes stories interesting.

As you write, look for ways to insert conflict. Joe does not give up on the first attempt. He might become guarded and hide the keys in the freezer. In fact, he might not relinquish the keys until he’s had an accident or almost ran over a small child!

Reread, looking to see where you can add details that invite the reader to buy into the story.

Have fun with this one.

In Peril

Dangerous situations arise in books and movies with great regularity. There are several reasons, but probably the most likely is that when a character is in peril, the viewer/reader is at the end of her seat, intently hoping that all works out well in the end. Such situations increase tension, and a story without tension is flat.

A good source for discovering dangerous situations is the news. It seems as if children frequently fall in holes or drains. Drivers get trapped in cars that have been smashed in accidents. Hikers get stranded in bad weather. Whales go astray and find themselves trapped in ice.

Your task is to write an original story in which your protagonist, whether human or not, is in peril. It needs to be logical and treacherous enough that the reader will understand that it is a life or death situation. Don’t water it down. Throw in a number of complications.

Begin with the scene, be it a frozen pond, abandoned well or ice-slick highway. Describe what befalls the protagonist and how he feels. Next list an ascending list of complications that occur, taking into consideration that no rescue is as simple as it looks on television. Rescuers often need multiple interventions in order to free the individual.

Write the story, remembering to ratchet up the suspense with the addition of each complication.

Have fun with this one.

Changing the Topic

How often have you been conversing with someone about a given topic when, without preamble, they kick off another topic? It probably happens more than you’d prefer. Or maybe you’re the one who jumps around?

Just as in real life, your characters must encounter people who refuse to stay on topic. How they react to this individual says a lot about the character.

For example, is the other senile? If so, is your character patient or react rudely?

What if the person is the boss? How then does your character act?

Your task is to write a scene of dialogue in which no more than three individuals are in a discussion. Make the topic realistic for the situation.

As the conversation moves along, one of the characters changes the topic. How do the others react? Do they follow that thread or steer the conversation back to the original topic?

Reread, looking to see is information pops through about your characters. If not, rewrite.

Have fun with this one.