Hidden Images

We don’t always see what’s right before our eyes. We’re distracted by our phone or by conversations with friends as we walk. We might be rehearsing in our minds what we’re going to say or thinking about an upcoming event.

Because we’re not paying close attention, we miss things happening around us. There might be a senior citizen trying to cross the road, a starving dog cuddled up in an empty store front or a magnificent holiday display in a nearby square.

Your task is to write a story in which your character misses key elements in the scene. Make the items or issues large enough, in terms of importance, that not seeing them impacts the story arc.

Description will be critical as well as dialogue. Keep your character talking so that readers can see, through words, what’s happening in the scene.

Have fun with this one.

Unfulfilled Desires

            Do you remember when you were a child and your birthday was approaching? You anxiously awaited opening presents and not finding the gift you’d hinted about for weeks. You experience a range of emotions, from shock, disappointment and anger. Visualize your face and body as those feelings wash over you.

            Make the stakes higher. A dream position opens up and you believe that you are most qualified for the job. You’ve got more experience in the areas needed than anyone at the company. You’ve got a good relationship with the boss, or so you think, that will make you the number one choice. The problem is that the boss created the position for his nephew.

            Perhaps you’ve been house-hunting and the perfect one appears. You go to the open house and fall in love. You put in a bid, believing that you’re the best qualified since you’ve got a pre-approved loan. What you didn’t know was that everyone was bidding way over the ask price. The person who gets the house offered one million more than the market value.

            In each case unfulfilled desires have the potential to drag the person down a long, dark road.

            Your task is to write a story in which your character yearns for something, believes she is going to get it, then doesn’t. Make the stakes high enough that when things fall apart, the character spins out of control.

            Use both narrative description and dialogue.

            Have fun with this one.

Crimes of Passion

            How far would you go to get what you want? Would you lie to a friend potentially destroying the relationship? Steal from a store knowing that if you got caught, you could go to jail? Date a married person even though it would end the marriage and destroy a family? Cause the overthrow of a government or CEO of a company?

            When emotions run high people often behave in uncharacteristic ways, putting themselves and others in peril. Acting to satisfy an emotional need could lead to crimes of passion. Doing and saying things that put ourselves and others at risk are caused by obsessions, strong emotional responses that overwhelm rational thinking.

            Your task is to write a story in which your character commits a crime of passion. Begin by creating a profile of your character, recording the things that she’s interested in, things she does, the way she acts. Next choose the one that can be expanded into an obsession, a desire so strong that she will ignore warning signs.

            Narrative is important, but so is dialogue, for through conversations personalities are revealed. Tension through danger drives the story.

            Have fun with this one.

Clutter

Have you ever been in a home in which every flat surface is covered with piles of stuff? How do you feel when there? A bit claustrophobic? Does the dust that hasn’t been removed cause breathing problems? Do you not want to touch anything, eat anything, walk down the halls for fear of things toppling over?

Maybe it’s your house that’s congested with stuff. Maybe it gives you comfort to be surrounded with so many things. Maybe you grew up poor and little of your own. Maybe you have good intentions to clear things up, but never get around to it. Or maybe the thought of getting rid of even one item causes panic to set in!

Your task is to create a character who is in one of the situations.  She is either the uncomfortable one or the keeper of stuff. Your reader will want to walk in her shoes, see with her eyes, feel with her fingers, be touched by her heart.

Write the story, remembering to build tension, to create conflict, to allow the emotions of your character come through.

Include enough details that the reader understands how bad things really are, but not so many details that there is no story. Strike a balance between narrative and action. Include an antagonist who tries to inspire the character to clear the mess up. Use dialogue, not narriative!

Have fun with this one.

Things They Hate

Everyone hates something or someone.

Think about it for a moment: In the world, there is an endless variety of things that cause us to cringe. For some it might be going to the dentist. For others it might be a particular food.

Some of us hate narcissists who only speak/care for themselves. Some of us hate people in our office who have jumped ahead of us on the corporate ladder.

Because it is natural to hate, your character must have strong dislikes.

Your task is to make a list of things that annoy your character. Come up with at least five different categories. Then narrow it down to the one that you can incorporate into a scene.

Choose the one that makes you the most passionate. Your feelings will impact your character’s reactions, so this is why it’s important to select one that really irks you.

After you’ve established that which your character hates, write the scene in which the hated object appears. Be sure to include sensory markers. We need to feel the character’s anguish through sight, smell, taste, touch, sound.

When you are finished, reread to see if the hate comes forth. If it does, then you have accomplished the task. If it doesn’t, then what do you need to do to strengthen the emotional response?

This will not be an easy task.

Have fun with it anyway!

Sounds Around Us

This afternoon I went swimming. As I was changing in the locker room, a couple of women were talking a few bays over. I couldn’t hear what they said, but the rhythm of their speech showed excitement.

When I walked out on the pool deck, there was no sound even though there were two men swimming. They were both doing the breast stroke, the quietest stroke of them all. But then I got in the pool, and despite the cap pulled over my ears, I heard the swoosh, swoosh sound of my hands pulling.

A really fast swimmer got in the middle lane. Now there was a pounding as his mighty kick thrust him forward through the water.

Right now I am sitting by my front window. The dog across the street is barking incessantly, an annoying whoop, whoop that does not change in intensity.

Some kids just came home from school. With the beautiful sunshine all around them, they are full of energy. Their high-pitched voices echo through the courtyard.

And now the ice cream truck comes, its annoying repetitive jingle playing over and over in an endless loop.

Your task is to close your eyes and listen. Write about what you hear, as descriptively as possible. Keep at it for at least an hour. Pay attention to the tiniest details. There is no sound too small, too high pitched, too filled with layers upon layers for you to notice.

Do this on a different day, at a different time. Record what you hear. Don’t worry about sight, taste, smell, feel. Only sound.

Return to your journal on a weekend, at night, one week later, a month later, during a different season. Fill your folder with as many distinct sounds as possible.

Why? When you write your next story, you will have an index of sounds for the varied places that you have visited. These sounds are your library.

Have fun with this one!

Weather Affects Story

This morning when I got up, a dense fog obliterated my view of the house across the street. If I had driven somewhere, it would have been perilous.

The fog reminded me that our characters’ lives are affected by weather. Some of them might live where it snows. They have to shovel their driveways clear, brush snow off their windshields and drive on slippery roads.

Other characters might live where there are torrential rains, tornadoes or hurricanes. Coming home from a shopping trip, their car might get swept away by roiling water or a tree limb might fall and crush the front end. A tornado might destroy houses and hurricanes might wash away miles of beach.

Huge waves batter the coast, causing cliffs to crumble and buildings to teeter preciously.

When we write, we need to take into consideration the elements of weather, which are determined by where our characters live.

My stories are always set in the west, in a place where it does not snow and our biggest potential disaster is an earthquake. Our temperatures are mild, our evenings usually comfortable as long as the fog comes in.

What about your stories? Reread one of your pieces, looking for places where descriptions of weather can influence behavior, actions, and even thoughts. Rewrite elements to add in how your character reacts to what goes on around him, what he thinks and how he feels.

When you are finished, reread again. Is your story richer? It should be. Because of these details, your readers will have a better image of where the story takes place.

Have fun with this one.

The Storm

Imagine that it is raining. Not a soft, gentle rain, but a downpour that rattles the windows and creates floods of water overflowing banks and filling gutters.

Imagine your character inside, sitting by the window, watching it all happen. She sees leaves torn from trees that bend, almost touching the ground. She sees branches break and tumble across the lawn. She watches people who run with newspapers over their heads, getting soaked as they dash from the shelter of one building to the next.

In your story, worse things happen. Think of the news stories that you have seen on television. Recall the devastation that follows. The homes destroyed. Cars carried away. Lives lost.

Write that story from your character’s point of view. You can choose first person, if that works for you. Describe the emotions your character feels as the storm impacts his life. What goes through his mind. What he wants to save and what he chooses to leave behind. Be careful not to make a list. Instead, weave it into the description, piece by piece, paragraph by paragraph.

This will not be an easy to story to write as we don’t like to write about those things that we fear. Tackle it anyway, for it will push you beyond your comfort zone.

The important thing to remember is that bad things happen to good people and those stories deserve telling.

Good luck!