Things That Make You Laugh

            Sometimes we need a good laugh, especially when our world appears overwhelming and out-of-control. Where do we go to find that which will lighten our spirits? Do you read the comics or watch a comedy? Go to a club and listen to comedians? Call up a good friend and swap stories?

            More importantly, what are the things that make us chuckle? A video of kids doing somersaults or dogs riding on scooters? Maybe it’s a cat trying to catch a fly or reading a funny story. What tickles our funny bones says a lot about who we are.

            Your task is to write a story in which a comedic event takes place. It can be side-splitting hilarious or just smile-producing. Begin by creating a list of different scenes that pop into your mind. Choose the one that you are most comfortable writing.

            You also need the perfect cast of characters to make the story work. They could be human or not, but quirky personalities are a plus.

            Have fun with this one.

Accepting Outcomes

            Picture yourself sitting by the phone waiting for a call. Perhaps you interviewed for a dream job or maybe you had a medical test done and are eagerly awaiting the results. Maybe you ran for a political office and now that the election is over, you want to know whether or not you won.

            The call comes. How do you react if you didn’t get the job or the results are negative or you didn’t get elected? Do you file a complaint? Demand a second opinion? Ask for a recount? Do you contact a news agency and share your beliefs that you were discriminated against in some way?

            How we receive bad news tells a lot about us. Some people shrug it off and move on while others drown themselves in a pity party. Some blame themselves while others blame everyone else.

            Your task is to write a story in which your protagonist does not get the news she had hoped for. Choose a situation that is easiest for you to write, perhaps something you’ve experienced yourself. Begin by establishing her desires, embedding readers in how important the outcome is to her.  Use a combination of narrative and dialogue to establish the scene.

            Have fun with this one.

Planning a Memorial for Your Protagonist

As we journey through life we encounter many people in many different circumstances. At work we have a business persona that’s built around the job requirements. We behave differently at the gym, bowling alley, bar or tennis courts, where we are able to relax and talk about personal interests. At church we follow the lead of our pastor, minister, or rabbi in terms of how we act during and after the service. At home we have family to consider.  

            In all these situations we present ourselves differently and so we will be remembered differently after we’ve passed away. Some might recall a jolly fellow who loved joking with colleagues while others would think of a stern disciplinarian or a stickler for rules. Perhaps they recall a person who would give you anything you needed while others would consider you stingy and selfish.

            Your task is to plan a memorial service for your protagonist. Fill the service with people from all walks of life. Imagine them grouped together, sharing stories. What will they say about the protagonist? Now have the groups break up and regather with others from family or gym. What happens when mixed perceptions arise? Will there be surprises or conflicts?

            The story can be somber or sad, sweet or angry. Include dialogue so that feelings can come forth.

            Have fun with this one.

Sunset Story

            Time of day affects the setting of a story. Imagine a broiling hot trek across an Arizona desert or an early morning hike on a Minnesota Lake in the dead of winter. Bot situations might be untenable without proper preparation and the correct gear.

            Try to recall the most spectacular sunset you have ever seen. Where were you? Who were you with? What made it memorable? Was it the company, the situation or the location? Perhaps it was a combination of all those things.

            Your task is to write a story in which your character experiences a sunset so profound that it touches her heart. The colors, the people she’s with, the location all come into play. What she’s doing just before sunset occurs sets the stage.

            As you write remember to include sensory details. Readers will want to see, hear, taste, smell, and touch everything that your character does. Dialogue is also important because it is through conversation that feelings will be revealed.

            Reread looking to see if the picture that you paint with words comes clear.

            Have fun with this one.

Contentious Night Out

            Think back to a gathering around a table. It might have been at your grandparent’s house or at a restaurant with acquaintances from work.  The possibility existed for conflict because of Uncle Joe’s drinking or Sally’s argumentative nature. For a time things went well. No angry words. No sources of conflict. The kids behaved themselves and the adults weren’t saucy.

            Then someone mentioned an old fling or a bigger kid shoved a smaller one to the ground. Heated words were exchanged. Feelings were hurt. Relationships were strained to the breaking point. If it was a work party, perhaps someone got fired. People stormed off in a huff.

            Your task is to write that story. The important thing is to make sure that at least one argument takes place and that retaliation causes friction that perhaps cannot be mended.

            Dialogue is critical to allow readers to be at the scene of the action. Details play an important role, especially if attendees arrive wearing the wrong attire or the expected food is not served or the weather is extreme.

            Have fun with this one.

Tactical Forces

            During a battle, how the military is deployed is considered using tactical forces. This includes firepower, mobility, shock value and protection. Depending upon the situation, the commanders may utilize ground forces, navies, air strikes and mobile units such as cavalry or tanks. Synchronization is required to ensure that the tactical forces have maximum impact.

            Setting determines what forces are available. In medieval times cavalry and foot soldiers would be employed, while in a futuristic story, all kinds of computer-generated weapons would be used.

            Your task is to do a little research to determine what tactical forces are logical for your story. You might want to download pictures and details into a reference folder. Find out how the weapons and units would be used, the distance in which weapons are effective and what technologies make the weapons successful.

            Next write a scene in which military forces are utilized to effect outcome in battle. You might involve a small strike team or an entire army.  The bigger the number of forces, the harder it may be to direct them in battle.

            Include dialogue even though narrative description is important.

            Have fun with this one.

Using Terrain Features in Story

Terrain refers to the horizontal and vertical surfaces of the land. It is often spoken of in terms of elevation, slope and the orientation of particular land features. Depending upon certain circumstances, terrain can affect the flow of water, where bodies of water are located and in what quantity. It can even affect weather and climate.

Suitability for human life is determined by terrain. Picture a large swath of desert and a high rocky crag. How difficult would it be for people to sustain life in such terrains? What people wear, eat and how they construct dwellings is determined by terrain.

Your task is to write a story in a challenging terrain. You might have to do some research first to get ideas about how difficult it would be to live there. Your story can be science fiction or contemporary. It can take place in the past or in the future.

The important thing is to choose a terrain that may not be the most hospitable. Don’t rely on exposition to tell the story: have characters interacting with each other as they navigate survival.

Have fun with this one.

Names are Important

            Selecting character names is an art form that requires consideration. Good names help readers keep characters sorted out. For example, let’s say that Anna and Ann have significant roles. The names are almost identical, causing confusion for the writer and reader alike.

            Begin by researching names popular during the time period and location in which your story takes place. Shawnia is a great name for a woman from the south, but not back before the Civil War. Genre is another factor that comes into play. Fantasy novels utilize names that sound a bit exotic and unusual, while romance novels call for names that imply sexuality and attraction.

            Spelling and pronunciation are important as well. A name might look good, but when said aloud, it becomes an awkward tongue twister. Consider nicknames. Robert might be Bobby or Bob or Bubba, meaning that you can’t have all three in the same story.

            Your task is to create a list that includes first, last and nicknames for at least five characters. Examine the names looking for similarities, such as the same number of syllables, the same letters or initials, and if it seems realistic. Go online and research names that were popular during the setting of your story. Did you include them on your list? Look into the meanings of names. For example, Christopher might not be the best name for a villain, or could it? And, choose easy to remember names that are distinguishable from others in your world.

            Choose two of your characters and write a scene in which they interact. Reread, searching for confusion, repetition and similarities. If you find them, consider changing one of the names.

            Have fun with this one.

Awareness of Cultural Appropriation in Story

            Previously authors wrote in characters from other cultures with little thought other than adding diversity to their stories. Stories with men wearing turbans added an element of mystique, as did bringing in traveling gypsies who were thought to “steal” children and dabble with the occult.

            In today’s world we have to be aware that it may not be appropriate to borrow the ideas, symbols and artifacts of individuals outside of our own. Cultural appropriation can be contentious when a writer of a dominant culture includes characters who have been subjected to prejudice in terms of social, political, economic and military status. This is especially true when there has been a history of ethnic or racial conflict.

                What should a writer do? First of all, examine the reasons why you want to include a character from a culture other than her own. If the writer is looking to represent these cultures, perhaps that’s not a valid reason. Instead, decide if in the story, characters will be living in a society that reflects the realities of the world.

            Your task is to write a story that includes a character from outside your own culture. Decide what role this character will play from the perspective if it’s necessary for the story arc. You might want to do some research into how people of that culture eat, dress, speak. Do these factors affect story plot? If not, then rethink why you need this character to do.

            Be sensitive, but enjoy the experience.

            Have fun with this one.

Setting Changes Affect Story

            You’ve outlined your setting including research into what it was like way back when. If lucky, you visited the cities and are familiar with buildings, streets and plants. Your plot takes the character all over that environment, in and out of predicaments determined by geographical elements.

            Have you taken into consideration how time changes the setting? Does it snow in winter, pour in the spring and roast in the summer? Is there only one season because the story is set on a planet, far, far away? If the setting changes/doesn’t change, how does this affect story?

            A time traveler might have to find clothes if they’re dropped into a winter landscape. Perhaps the desert figures significantly in the story as your character rides a camel over dunes. However, what if the story never changes location: it’s always in the same city, the same house, the same neighborhood? Change still has to take place.

            Your task is to write a story in which significant changes in setting occur that affect plot. Begin by listing those elements that would most likely happen based upon where you’ve chosen to set the scene. For example, during the length of the story will seasons change? Will a catastrophic weather event destroy homes, streets, lives?

            Once you’ve chosen the changes that can logically be incorporated into your story, begin writing. Remember to include details so that readers can “see” the changes both in nature and in terms of how the changes affect your character’s thoughts and actions.

            Have fun with this one.