Letters Written Home

            Imagine that you’ve been away from home for some time. You miss your childhood home, your family and your friends. You regularly write home, sharing whatever is happening in your life. Most of the time you recount rather boring details, but this time you’ve got something juicy to share.

            Is it something comedic that happened to you or that you witnessed? Did a coworker get caught under the influence or selling drugs? Has someone made a pass at you that ended badly?

Did you accidentally forget to pay for a scarf that you’d draped over your arm?

            There are so many possibilities!

            Your task is to write the letter, telling the strange happenings that either you did or that you witnessed. Try to insert comedy so that readers will get a good chuckle. Things should be bizarre, yet believable. For example, perhaps a tightrope walker crossed from one high-rise to another in a gusty wind. Imagine how the person teeters to stay on the wire. Maybe a gust tears away a piece of clothing which falls in a dramatic way.

            Let your imagination run wild.

            Have fun with this one.

Dream Encounter

The term “dream” represents a variety of things.

A dream can be something that occurs as you sleep. Sometimes the dream is based on factual encounters which then spin off into uncharted territory. Many times dreams are complete pieces of fiction that include monsters, dark spaces, falling from great heights and discussions that never took place.

Dreams can also be wishes. When young we imagine ourselves as ballerinas, firefighters or teachers because those are the heroes in our lives. As teenagers we dream about going to college or trade school, of becoming engineers, mechanics or computer science technicians. Later on, we dream of marriage and family, trips and excursions and the homes we’d like to own.

Owning items can also be considered a dream. Picture the perfect gown for a dance, the sports car you always wanted to drive, or the collection of baseball cards that you once saw at a flea market.

Your character has dreams. Imagine a scene in which that dream plays a significant role. What does he want? What emotions does he experience whenever he thinks about it? How hard will it be for him to achieve that dream? What happens when he doesn’t?

Write using a combination of narrative and dialogue. Make sure the yearning comes through.

Have fun with this one.

Losing Things

            Remember a time when you thought you had lost something. How much energy you spent looking depended upon how important the item was as well as how soon you needed it.

If you were packing for a trip and couldn’t find the documents for your presentation, you probably put a considerable amount of time into locating them. If, however, you had misplaced your comb, you most likely terminated the search and bought a new one.

What if it was an anniversary card for your best friend? A Father’s Day card for your loved one? Or the key to your house that you intend to give to your house sitter?  Perhaps it’s the blouse that matches the slacks you’re wearing for a special night out?

Or, if you’re extremely unlucky, you feel as if you’ve lost a piece of your mind.

Your character probably has lost a thing or two. How does that play out in a story?  If the item is a priceless heirloom, she might try to track down the last person who touched it.

If the object turned up missing after a burglary, your character might feel both bereft and violated.

If it’s his mind, his memory, he might go through periods of bereavement followed by periods of blankness.

Your task is to write a scene in which something is missing. Your character reacts to the loss in the way only she would. Narrative and dialogue are important. Description of the object, the emotions, and the search are critical.

Have fun with this one.

Searching for Treasure

            Did you ever create a buried treasure map and then lead your friends on a hunt through the neighborhood? What, if anything, did you find?

            Thinking back to ancient times, explorers went all over the world looking for elusive treasures to bring back to their countries, for glory for themselves as well as for their kings/queens. Nothing stopped them, not inhabitants of the land nor weather.

            They killed with no mercy, took what they wanted, then moved on to begin another quest.

            Fantasy stories often revolve around the search for treasure, be it precious stones, mighty gods or hidden castles.

            But is there treasure in your house? Imagine digging through a closet and finding something you’d thought lost. Perhaps it reminds you of grandma or a favorite uncle. Maybe it’s an article of clothing that you thought you’d given away. Try to recall how you felt.

            Your task is to write a story in which treasure is sought and perhaps found. Capture the emotions as the explorer sets off, the travails of the journey, the conquests made and lost. Use both narrative and dialogue to develop the scene. Take your readers on the search by using sensory details.

            Have fun with this one.

Shopping Extravaganza

            There’s nothing more exciting than heading off to the mall for a morning of shopping. Even if you have little money to spend, there are windows to peruse, clothing to inspect, dreams to build.

            You might begin by simply strolling up and down the mall, stopping to see what wonders are on display. On the next go-round you enter only those stores that intrigued you. Up and down aisles you go, occasionally holding up an item for inspection. You check the make, the style, the price, the quality, all the while imagining yourself wearing it.

            Does it go with anything you currently own? Is it too similar to things you’ve got at home? Is it worth the price or should you wait for a sale?

            All these thoughts go through your mind as you meander about.

            Imagine your character going on a shopping spree. What kinds of things hold his interest? Which stores invite him in? What items does she choose to inspect up close? Does she make immediate decisions or mull things over? Does he leave to see what comparable things other stores offer or make the purchase right then and there?

            Your task is to send your character on a nice, long shopping trip. He can go alone or bring a friend. She can try on things in her own dressing room or share with a friend. Lunch might be included as well as dinner after.

            Will the day go smoothly with lots of laughter and pleasant conversation or will arguments ensue? At the end, will he have purchased anything? If so, what? If not, why not? Dialogue might be the stronger as it allows for the give-and-take between characters as they discuss the merits of each item.

            Have fun with this one.

Sweltering Conditions

            Summer is upon us and temperatures are rising. Lucky people have air-conditioning or can seek shelter in a cooling spot. However, not everyone is blessed with ways to cool off.

            Free-standing fans provide limited relief if a person sits right in front of it, but do little for a family of four. Or for a classroom full of steaming children or a church filled with parishioners.

            Imagine the stories that arise from being overheated. Fights break out because tempers rise. Tears are shed. Clothing is stripped off. Hoses spray cooling water, but not when there is a drought. People might take a drive if their car’s air works or go stroll through a nearby shopping mall.

            These are all temporary solutions. What happens when the electricity goes out or people have to return to the overheated offices, classrooms and homes?

            Your task is to write a scene in which the heat is overwhelming. Begin with the setting. Are your characters on the road, at work or at home? How do they cool off? How does the heat impact relationships?

            Use a combination of narrative and dialogue, remembering that tensions are going to arise. There might be angry words tossed about or actual fisticuffs.

            Have fun with this one.

Life’s Lessons

            As we progress through life, we hopefully learn as we go along. For example, we might discover that it’s better to tell the truth than to fabricate a believable, consistent lie. It might be better if we don’t watch scary movies when home alone or go out in the dark without a good flashlight. When asked to babysit, don’t agree to it if you can’t stand being around kids, or if it’s those particular kids that you hate.

            If we hate seafood, perhaps we should admit that before agreeing to meet friends at a restaurant that only serves fish. Maybe we shouldn’t agree to go to a party where an obnoxious relative will hold court or promise to send a gift when we don’t know what the person would like.

            There are so many lessons that we learn along the way that it’s impossible to list them all.

            Your character will have learned things as well.

            Your task is to write a scene in which that character has to either admit to a mistake or learns something important about herself. The lesson can be small or large. It can change her life or not. It can cause hurt to herself or others.

            Make the setting in which she has to learn this lesson interesting. Include people that challenge her. Use a combination of dialogue and narrative.

            Have fun with this one.

Cheapskate Travelers

Imagine that your character goes out to eat with friends.  He orders a number of drinks, appetizers, an expensive entree and a desert. The food is delicious. The service excellent.

The bill comes. Each person is expected to contribute their fair share, with tax and tip.

What does your character do? Does he contribute an appropriate amount of money or short-change the rest of the party?

On the other hand, what happens if he tips amply but the others don’t? Does he say something?

What happens when everyone pays with cash except for one person who pulls out a charge card? And that person collects the cash and stuffs it in his wallet. How do the others know how much he tipped? Do they say something or accept that they’ll never know?

On the other hand, what if your character doesn’t pay for all he ordered and consumed? How do the others feel? What do they say and do?

Your task is to write the story.

Have fun with this one.

A Safe Place to Live

We’ve heard the stories of refugees from war-torn countries who search for a peaceful place to live. They yearn for jobs, food, and relief from fear. They pack what belongings they can carry and walk mile after mile, experiencing countless hardships along the way.

Our hearts go out to them, even when there is little we can do to offer comfort.

What about the refugees living nearby? For example, there are shopping-cart people who push up their baskets and down streets, hoping to find someplace that offers some degree of privacy. Or the homeless man who sleeps leaning against a shopkeeper’s wall in downtown San Francisco. If he’s lucky, he has pieces of cardboard on which to lie and a blanket as cover. He is dirty, ragged and hungry. And often smells so bad that passers-by wrinkle their noses in disgust.

It is easy to write stories in which the characters are comfortable in fancy homes, in tree-lined neighborhoods, with two working parents and new cars in the drive. It is much more challenging to speak for the speechless, to tell their stories with compassion and understanding.

Your task is to choose a refugee and place her in a scene. Give her a voice. Listen to her heart. Interact with her, in some way, either in first person or as an omniscient narrator. Wake up with her in the morning, walk about with her in the day, sleep with her at night. Eat meals with her. Follow her as she searches for a bathroom in which to wash up. Be with her, not as a sympathetic ear, but as an equal. Walk in her shoes, even if just for one day.

Have fun with this one.

The Reluctant Hero

Sometimes we are called to acts of bravery. We save an injured dog lying by the side of the road, pull a motorist from a damaged car, or take a test which will advance us in our career. We do these things not because we are born heroes, but because they are the right things to do.

We have all known someone who was a little crazy as a youth. Jumped off the garage roof. Rode a skateboard down a steep hill that ended at a major intersection. Approached a strange woman, dressed in rags, and asked her name. But are these acts of heroism?

Once we take on the mantra of adulthood, we settle down into the routine of life. We get up and go to work. We come home and play with the kids. We go shopping and mow the lawn. Day in and day out.

But what about those of us who become police officers, fire fighters or join the military? Are those individuals heroes? In today’s world they are often called to acts of bravery and then are heavily criticized for how they behaved under stress. Because of technology, they are constantly supervised. They have no rights of privacy and must understand that everything they do will be analyzed and reanalyzed from different points of view. Yet they still run into burning buildings, pull motorists from badly damaged cars, walk into hostage situations, parachute into enemy territory.

It would be easy to argue that these are the true heroes.

In the movie Bridge of Spies, an insurance lawyer, Jim Donovan, is asked by the government to negotiate a prisoner exchange despite him not being an actual representative of the United States. He is not the hero type. He is intelligent, patient, insightful and thoughtful. He is a husband and father who is providing a good life for his family. He is faithful to those he cares about.

Jim Donovan is the true reluctant hero. He steps up when asked. Does what he set out to do. Expects no fanfare.

Your task is to right a scenario in which your main character is a reluctant hero. She can be an average person, going about her day, when something happens that challenges her.

In order to do this, first you must give her a life. Establish her routines. Create family and her relationship to her family. Suddenly a situation arises that pulls her out of her comfort zone. She has to choose what to do. Allow her to take risks.

Have fun with this one.