A Little About the Author

            A good exercise for any aspiring writer is to create a short biography. Many of us find it uncomfortable to write about ourselves, primarily because we’ve been raised to not brag about what we have done. However, if a piece you’ve written is published, the press will want to include something about you as a person, you as a writer, you as an inspiration for others.

            If you are an unpublished author, you might thing that your credentials are lacking. Wipe that thought away! Instead focus on when the written word first took on importance in your life. Was it when your guardian read to you at night? Did you then write your own stories?

            Perhaps you wrote picture books or chapter books for young readers, because that’s who you were at the time. Maybe as a teen you experimented with poetry and essay. Or you wrote fantasy because those were the movies that you most enjoyed.

            Your task is to write an autobiography of your writing life. In high school were you the editor of the school newspaper? Were you a featured contributor as well? When you were in college did you submit to the literary journal and get a few pieces published? Maybe you were busy writing research papers that spurred an interest in journalism?

            Make a list of where your work has appeared, even if it is only on your own blog. Have you attended writing conferences? If so, where and what did you learn each time? Has your work been workshopped either at a conference or within a critique group? What did you take out of those experiences?

            Include anything that might be relevant. Don’t worry about length at this time. Later on you can trim your autobiography down to meet publisher’s requirements.

            Have fun with this one.

A Twist on the Familiar

            Picture a dragon. An ordinary dragon. What do you see? Flames burning down villages? Piles of hoarded gold? Dwelling in a darkened cave? But what if your dragon does not meet those requirements? Perhaps instead of shooting fire it spouts water that drowns entire towns or maybe it uses its ability to refill reservoirs? What if it can’t fly but struts through the countryside winking at villagers and befriending other magical creatures?

            Take a typical ghost. She haunts the upstairs of the Victorian house on the top of the hill. She floats about terrorizing guests of the B & B. She dresses in a white gauzy dress, her ballerina-shoed feet never touching ground. What if your ghost lives in a modern high-rise condo complex in a major city? She has a nose-ring and wears punk-style clothing. Her attitude is obnoxious and rude. Her voice is a high-pitched squeal.

            Your task is to take a mythical or magical being and make it your own. Choose a creature that you are somewhat familiar with, or spend a little time researching something from another culture that sounds interesting. Think of ways to make it your own. Choose a nontraditional setting. Change the characteristics as in the above samples. Alter the personality, food preferences, behaviors.

            Write the story. Establish setting first, then drop in your character. Make things happen that will startle your readers. You want readers to smile, to nod, to enjoy the story.

            Have fun with this.  

Manipulating Time and Space

            Being able to jump back and forth in time is a function in many Speculative Fiction stories. Portals exist through which beings and objects can pass. What happens to the traveler can be frightening or placid, depending upon the author. The important aspect is how different the connected worlds are: the greater the difference, the bigger the impact.

            Imagine living in our contemporary world, then after passing through a portal you’re back in the Victorian ages? Or perhaps you move forward to find Earth colonized by beings from space? There might be language barriers to overcome as well as differences in available technology. Fabrics and clothing styles would be different as well as boundaries between countries, foods eaten, and types of buildings.

            Your task is to write a story in which your protagonist discovers a portal and jumps through. Begin by establishing the normal world in enough detail that the reader understands where the character is coming from, but be careful not to bore the reader with too much information presented all at once.

            What does it feel like passing through? Does the character see colors, smell flowers or touch ice-cold barriers? When he arrives on the other side, how does he react? Sensory details will make this world come alive.

            Interacting with others before the portal and once in the new world is important. Dialogue allows readers to be immersed in the world without giving them a list of descriptions.

            Have fun with this one.

Recovery Outcomes

            Recall a time when you fell seriously ill or had sustained an injury that impacted your ability to get around. For a while your activities were restricted. Perhaps you had some type of physical therapy. You did everything that was asked of you, but when your period of recuperation was over, healing had not turned out the way you expected.

            Maybe you had fallen in love with your childhood sweetheart. You dated for several years. At one point you are pretty sure you’re going to get married. Work obligations cause a forced separation. Next thing you know is that you’re no longer a couple.

            In both situations time and distance is needed to come to a full recovery. You may always walk with a bit of a limp, but you can still run and swim and hike. Your heart may be broken and you might fear that you’ll never get over the loss, but as time passes, your heart heals.

            Your task is to embed your character in a situation that leads to some type of trauma, some type of injury to the heart or body. She will need time to recover. What you need to decide is if the recovery is total or if effects linger. What steps does she go through in the process? Does she experience guilt, anger or self-blame? Does she withdraw from family and friends or get out and socialize as if nothing happened?

            This story needs dialogue that allows readers to see and feel what your character is experiencing. Make sure to include enough sensory details that the picture comes clear. Before you begin, decide the setting: where and when the story will take place.

            Have fun with this one.

The Moral Dilemma

            A moral dilemma is a situation in which a person is torn between right and wrong and involves a conflict that forces a character to examine her own principles and values. The choices the person makes may leave them feeling burdened, guilty, relieved, or even questioning their own values. The individual must decide what actions she can live with, whether the outcome is unpleasant or even illegal.

Dilemmas form the central conflict that the protagonist encounters. Taking into consideration that real people face all kinds of dilemmas in life, the choices they make along the way can have long-lasting impacts in terms of effects on relationships and on society as a whole.

            Imagine asking someone out on a first date. Should he go to the museum or see a movie? If he decides on the movie option, which one, the romantic comedy or the high-speed chase? What happens if the date doesn’t like chase movies and so is disappointed and bored? The relationship might go nowhere fast.

            Let’s consider what the secretary should do when she discovers that he fire her, or if he’s desperate, kill her. If she ignores his actions, she might be a co-conspirator when the theft is revealed.

            Your task is to write a scene in which the protagonist is faced with a moral dilemma. Make the stakes high enough that the wrong decision places her in danger. Include enough description so that readers understand the situation, but not too much to slow down the scene. Dialogue is necessary to reveal the intricacies of the relationships involved.

            Have fun with this one.

Negotiation Tactics

            We’ve seen the car you want on the lot. The salesperson has been dogging you, spouting the merits of this car or that. You take the one you’re most interested in out for a test drive with the salesperson riding in the back seat, singing the praises. When it’s time to buy, the salesperson offers one price, you go under. Negotiations ensue.

            You interview for a job that you have all the skills for. You expect a certain salary, the PR officer offers a lower one. You drop your expectations a tad, but ask for benefits to make up the difference. Negotiations ensue.

            There are many scenarios in which haggling takes place. How you enter the fray says a lot about who you are. For example, if you personify the injured party, you might not get what you want. On the other hand, if you come off too aggressive, then nothing will go right.

            Your task is to write a story in which negotiating plays a major role. First establish the setting, including the where, when, why and what for. Make it something large enough that it truly matters. It needs to have value, either in terms of money or social status.

            Dialogue will be critical as readers will need to be there as the bargaining takes place. Remember to include emotional reactions, such as facial expressions, body posture, words chosen.

            Does your character win the negotiations or not? Witnessing someone be a sore loser might have more emotional impact than watching him succeed.

            Have fun with this one.

Pestilence and Famine

            Throughout history periods of devastation have arisen that threaten the livelihoods of those who live in that area. Consider the affects that floods have when they sweep in and swamp the land, or hurricanes that snap trees in half and rip off roofs.

            What happens when insects fly in and eat plants down to the nubs? Complete crops are ruined, robbing farmers of any sort of income. On top of that, there is nothing to eat and so people starve. The link between pestilence and famine is so strong that the two cannot be separated.

            Your task is to write a story in which an entire region is destroyed by some form invasion. You might want to first do some research to determine which insects cause the most damage, which are most likely to appear in your choice of setting. Find out what plants they eat and what, if anything, they leave behind when they move on. Make note of what types of weather events invite the insects in and what makes them move on.

            Once you have the necessary information, construct your story. Begin with the “normal” world: what life is like when all is going well. Then bring in the pests and show us what happens through site and sound. What does your character do and think? Are there any means she can take to reduce the damage? Show us the results when the event is over. Include what the farmer is doing as she surveys the damage.

            Have fun with this one.

House Hunting Escapades

            You’ve saved up enough for a down payment on a house, so you begin the search. With the help of a realtor recommended by a friend, you visit potential properties. What could possibly go wrong?

            Perhaps you imagined pristine properties ready for immediate move-in. Instead you find holes in walls, floors that creak and stove burners that don’t work. Maybe the current residents littered the yard with discarded appliances and rusted-out tools. The backyard pool is green and water pressure is low. Oh, my!

            Things could be even worse if you use your imagination.

            Your task is to write a scene in which house-hunting is a nightmare. To tell the story lots of description will be necessary. Readers will want to see the damage through your character’s eyes, hear what she has to say, smell the odors and perhaps touch grimy surfaces.

            It might be interesting if she visits several properties that each have major issues, rather than putting all the problems in one house. Think about where she will look and what type of residence she’s searching for. It could be a condo in a ritzy building or a single-family home tucked behind a larger house.

            Imagine the street, the location, the amenities nearby. Through in a quirky local to add some interest.

            Have fun with this one.

Worries

            Life is not a bowl of bright red cherries or a box of sweet chocolates. Issues arise that cause us to worry, about self, family or friends. We might have financial problems that threaten our livelihoods, our ability to keep our house or car. Perhaps it’s illness, an unexplained bump or a general feeling of malaise.

            Our minds latch on to the issues before us, causing us to worry. Most of the time we can push those thoughts away as we go through our day, saving them for the dark of night. Sometimes, however, we can’t. Our concerns cloud our thinking, hamper our ability to function and interfere with our relationships.

            Your character might experience periods of profound worry. It might happen when searching for a job, when in a new relationship, when considering a transfer to a new location.

            Your task is to write a story in which worries play a key role in the emotions of the protagonist. Begin by making a list of things that might afflict your character. Narrow it down to the one issue that you can write most passionately about.

            Perhaps you might do a little research into how worries affect personality and behavior.  Working from what you discover, set up a scene in which the protagonist is faced with decisions for which there is no clear path.

            Readers will want to feel the emotions, walk with the character, experience the thought-processes as the character works through the worries. Narrative and dialogue are important.

            Have fun with this one.

Marriage and Infidelity

            There are books, movies and television shows that show couples falling in love. Their eyes sparkle whenever they are together. They hold hands, wrap each other up in hugs and passionately kiss. Everyone can see they are in love, so it’s no surprise when they marry.

            In real life, much of that does happen. Couples join are joined together with the words promising a life filled with joy, a life with struggles, a life that will last forever.

            Things happen, however, that challenge their bond.  Illness can shake up the relationship. Financial stress can cause friction. Children misbehave. Problems with the home arise.

            The worst, however, is when one partner breaks the relationship through infidelity.

            Your task is to write a story about marriage. You can choose to have your characters live happily ever after or the relationship can fall apart. What’s important is to let the readers feel the emotions that bring them together, and in the case of infidelity, the emotions that drive them apart.

            Set up a plausible scene, keeping in mind that details such as a sparkling ocean or pounding rain can signal reactions. Dialogue is critical. Readers will need to see the words spoken, both when falling in love and then when angry words cause pain and suffering. Find a good balance between the two.

            Have fun with this one.