Pivotal Point

            Do you remember a time when something occurred that altered your life? Perhaps it was a move cross-country or changing your major in college. It might have been falling in love when you had no intention of ever marrying. Maybe you got what you thought was the job of your dreams only to find out that you found it so boring that you hated going to work.

            When something happens that causes you to change course, that’s a pivotal point in your life.

            Every good story, whether in a book, movie, play or television show, has a pivotal point that sends the protagonist down a different road. Sometimes the road is so bumpy and rough that the protagonist will turn around and go the other way. But many times, they push on, determined to see where that first path leads.

            Your task is to write a story in which your character faces such a pivotal point. You can have him ignore it and just carry on, but what fun would that be? Instead let your character make the change. Plot points will include lots of events that make the choice uncomfortable, that makes the character question what he has done.

            Use both narrative and dialogue to tell the story.

            Have fun with this one.

 A Public Admission

            Imagine being at some type of gathering. People are milling about, forming into small groups, then breaking apart and reforming in completely new ones. The talk is generally muted, but occasionally a voice rises above the melee.

            You are drawn to the voice because it sounds somewhat familiar.

            You push your way through the crowd, which is all now watching the goings-on. Indeed, you do know the owner of the voice: it’s your ex-business partner arguing with a vendor who provides security for the firm.

            What you hear shakes you to the heart of your soul.

            Your task is to write a story in which some type of confrontation takes place. It should be between at least one person your character knows. Begin by making a list of possibilities, including the who, what, when, where and why. The juicier the better.

            Tension is critical. Your readers are going to want to know what is at stake, what secrets are being revealed and how that will impact the business, the relationship, the future.

            Begin by establishing setting, but don’t labor over the details. Give just enough to place the scene without describing every painting on the wall, every piece of furniture, every item of clothing worn.

            Take us to the conflict as soon as possible. We want to feel the emotions through voice, action and words.

            Have fun with this one.

Change in Plans

            Quite a while ago you decided to go on a trip. You asked your friends for ideas. You searched the Internet and requested brochures. Finally, after much deliberation, you settled on a destination, contacted an agent and made reservations.

            You’ve marked it on our calendar and shared the information with family and friends. You even went shopping to get needed items.

            And then something happens. Perhaps you sustain an injury or maybe a family member falls ill and needs care. Maybe the cruise is no longer offered on the dates you had chosen and the new dates don’t work with your schedule. Or, a world-wide pandemic hits and all travel screeches to a halt.

            Think of the range of emotions you’ve experienced on this journey.

            Your task is to write a story in which your character wants to go on a vacation. She follows all the usual paths before settling on the one most interesting to her. It might be fun to send her on that trip and have everything run smoothly. It might also be interesting if on the trip, some form of disaster hits. Or as in the above scenario, the problem arises before leaving.

            Readers will want to go on this exploration with your character, but not as co-tourists, but as witnesses. Not only will you use narration, but also dialogue. Through conversations with others emotions will be revealed.

            Have fun with this one.

Hidden Phobia

            Everyone is afraid of something, right? It might be a fear of heights so crippling that you cannot climb even the first step of a ladder. Perhaps whenever you see a dog you cower. Maybe it’s a nighttime terror that stalks you in your dreams.

            How many people know of your phobia? If not many, then you’ve done a great job keeping it hidden. But what if you’re suddenly in a situation with others and whatever your terror is, suddenly is in your face? What do you do or say?

            Your task is to write a story in which your character has a phobia that he’s kept hidden for years. None of his friends from high school know, nor does anyone from work. Something happens that causes him to either have to overcome that phobia or confess its existence.

            Setting the scene will be critical. Stay away from backstory that reveals the cause for the phobia. Instead let it slowly come forward through dialogue and narrative. Readers will want to see your character squirm as he weighs his options.

            Build tension through the use of heightened senses. Allow us to see what he sees, feel what he feels, smell what he smells and so on.

Have fun with this one.

An Animal Appears

            Who doesn’t like a cute cat sniffing out a burglar? Or a determined dog chewing a hole through a fence in order to follow the owner? Sometimes it’s an interesting twist to an ordinarily mundane story, especially if the pet owner just happens to be the villain.

            Imagine a T-rex marauding the country until it rescues a baby fawn! Picture the dinosaur bending down so that it’s short arms can cuddle the frightened baby. Most of us would see the fawn being a snack, so seeing it instead being cherished adds a bit of surprise.

            Your task is to write a story with an animal in it, either doing something unexpected or being owned by someone who has shown no tenderness. Unless your animal can talk, you have to find a way to show the animal’s feelings and reactions. That most likely has to happen through dialogue as other characters talk about what’s happening.

            Depending upon how you write it, the story could be very funny or quite serious, especially if the animal encounters a dangerous situation.

            Have fun with this one.

Rooting Out Evil

            Many people believe that evil lies within everyone. Steps have to be taken to chase the evil away. Depending upon the culture and the religious beliefs, the rituals could include the use of herbs, prayer and incantations, changing the mindset, cleansing crystals, and beatings.

            If the individual’s beliefs are strong, then the evil will be rooted out. Maybe. Sometimes different spells or remedies are tried, looking for the one that works.

            Imagine suffering from an ailment only to find yourself in a darkened room surrounded by chanting, white-robed women who flail you with stiff ropes or sticks. Not only would you suffer physical damage, but you’d be terrified.

            Your task is to write a story in which your character is suspected of harboring some form of evil. He seeks various remedies, going from one possibility to another, hoping for relief.

            Think about his emotions as he experiences all these different rituals. Imagine how he feels when they are/aren’t successful. Include where he finds the sources, whether from coworkers, friends, doctors or religious leaders.

            Have fun with this one.

An Old Acquaintance

            Sometimes we leave behind people we’ve known for very good reasons. The person might have been abusive or a braggart. Perhaps a relationship that went nowhere. Maybe you moved so far away that continuing a friendship was challenging.

            Often when we switch jobs, we never see those coworkers again, either by choice or because it just doesn’t happen. The same is true when we marry. Singles often prefer to spend time only with other singles. Once children are born, then families prefer to spend time with other families.

            What happens when someone from your past suddenly reappears? Imagine the emotions you experience, ranging from surprise to dread. It also depends upon where you crossed paths. If it’s in the grocery store, you might exchange pleasantries and that’s it. If it’s at work, then you’ll have to interact with this individual as long as you both work at the same job.

            Your task is to write a story in which someone from the past appears. You need to decide whether it’s a joyous reunion or one fraught with tension. The type of meeting determines the emotional tone of the piece. Or, it could be a little of both: tension at first, bumps along the way, then acceptance and perhaps something more than friendship.

            Have fun with this one.

Contracting an Illness

            In the real world people fall ill. If they’re lucky, the symptoms are minor and the illness short-lived. Nevertheless, they might have to change plans. Going to work or to a party might be impossible, as is traveling or spending time with family. But after a period of isolation, everything returns to normal.

            Now consider what happens when the illness is severe. If it’s a form of cancer, the individual might have to go through invasive surgery and bouts of chemotherapy. If it’s pneumonia, they could end up in the hospital, especially if they are also asthmatic.

            Broken bones might require surgery to heal. Knees or hips might have to be replaced. There might be a hole in the diaphragm or polyps in the intestines. The list could be quite lengthy, each with its own period of pain and recuperation.

            Your task is to write a story in which your protagonist either falls ill or has to tend to someone who is ill. Choose something that is high on the scale in terms of intensity, something that will cause suffering and interfere with life.

            Narrative and dialogue are both needed. The first to set the scene, the second to allow readers to see what emotions are going through your character’s mind.

            Have fun with this one.

Sudden Death

 A good thriller begins with a death, right? So who do you kill off and how do you make your dead character relevant to the story? One way is through short flashbacks.

 For example, a child sees something that reminds her of her dead or missing parent. The emotions she experiences are important parts of the story.

Perhaps a colleague becomes upset when a new hire is assigned the missing person’s desk. In the process of settling in, anything left behind is packed up and put away.

Your task is to write a story in which a character is either dead or missing. Your protagonist experiences flashbacks of times shared, places gone, things purchased that remind her of her parent/child/coworker.

Don’t make the flashbacks too long for fear of pulling readers out of the story. Short and quick is better.

Use a combination of narrative and dialogue. Begin with a strong setting that puts the protagonist in a situation that is poignant.

Have fun with this one.

The Party

            The backyard is festooned with balloons and colorful banners. The clown has been hired, the bounce house inflated and the cake delivered. The grill is ready to cook hot dogs and hamburgers. Games are stacked and the pinata is hanging on a tree branch. The guests arrive and initially all goes well.

            The boss rented a banquet hall in an upscale hotel. The caterer has hired staff, ordered the food for the buffet and stocked the bar. Floral bouquets are centered on each table. The band is warming up and the chef is rushing around the kitchen overseeing the preparations. The employees drift in by ones and twos, head for the bar and settle at tables.

            Something always go wrong. It is inevitable. It might be a child skinning a knee or a priceless vase shattering into tiny pieces. Most likely there will be at least one argument after a goodly amount of booze has been consumed. Perhaps hair will be pulled, a chest punched or a pair of drunks will roll down a hill.

            Your task is to write a story in which a series of unfortunate events occur. Begin with rather inconsequential issues that escalate into increasingly larger ones. As tension builds, your characters’ true personalities will show.

            Have fun with this one.