Starting Over

            Who doesn’t like a fresh start? Well, many people might resent being told to scrap work and begin again. Imagine putting in hours designing what you thought was a winning presentation, only to find that it wasn’t what the boss had in mind. You’d be frustrated, angry and hurt.

            To many, however, having a chance to start over might bring a sigh of relief. Picture a student who received a poor grade on an important test. The grade is so low that it will pull down her grade point average, possibly endangering her scholarship. The professor, after learning that she has a previously undisclosed disability, agrees to give her more time. She redoes the test in the learning center. And…her grade is substantially higher!

            Both cases involve scratching the first attempt. Both have different feelings attached.

            Your task is to write a scene in which the protagonist has to start over. It can be in a relationship, at work or school, on a project for the house, or even writing a book. Emotional reactions will vary depending upon the situation that you set up.

            The first step is to establish character. An angry character will just get angrier while a passive one might just shrug it off. Someone prone to tears reacts differently from a stoic.

            Next come up with a challenge that has stakes attached. It could be a promotion, purchasing a house, or repairing a car.

            Have fun with this one.

Wish Giver

            Imagine that someone you know is dying. As you sit next to him, holding his hand, he asks you to fulfill his dying wish. He says it isn’t a big thing, but something that’s been on his mind for some time. What do you do?

            Your response will be leveraged by your morals and beliefs, by the time it might take to complete, and by costs involved. For example, he asks you to travel to Norway to visit a long-lost cousin. The expense and time such a venture would take determines how you respond.

            What if he asks you to paint the outside of his house so that his widow has a pleasant place in which to live? If you have the skills, time and money to pay for paint and materials, you might choose to get this done. In fact, you could organize a group of friends on a Saturday morning, all of whom come prepared with materials needed and the energy to complete the project.

            Your task is to write a story in which a dying person asks your protagonist to grant one last wish. To increase complexity, choose something that either goes against your character’s beliefs or something that requires a great amount of time and energy.

            How to begin? Set the scene through dialogue and description. Put readers in the room. Allow readers to see what’s happening, feel the relationship, and experience the range of emotions as your character understands what is being asked of him.

            Have fun with this one.

Embarrassing Moment

What was the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you? Most likely there are a range of options to choose from, for as we grow, we often find ourselves doing or saying something that cause our cheeks to crimson.

The event might occur on the playground or in the office. It could involve what you thought was a romantic relationship, but the other person didn’t see it that way. Perhaps you prepared a special meal that turned out to be a complete flop.

Did you ever wear mismatched shoes to work? What happened when someone commented?

Your task is to write a scene in which a character is royally embarrassed. Choose something that would cause your cheeks to blush so as to allow your reactions to direct your character’s emotions. It is important to set the stage through scene development. People the story with interesting characters who are not afraid to speak up.

Dialogue is as important as description.

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.

Dead Letter File

            Recall a time when you fired off an angry letter. All your feelings were on the page. Your grievances were aired, your hurt feelings exposed, your vulnerability revealed.

            What did you do with it? Did you send it? If so, what happened as a result? Or did you save it in your dead letter file? What went through your mind during the decision-making process?

            It’s not just letters that get us into trouble. Imagine a phone call to your boss or to your brother in which you let it all loose. You ranted and raved, accusing the other of all kinds of nefarious deeds. You gave them no opportunity to speak, to defend themselves.

            What happened as a result? Did you regret your actions? Why or why not? If you had a chance to do it over, what different actions might you have taken?

            Your task is to write a story in which your character composes the angry letter or makes the explosive phone call. Readers have to feel the anger and understand where it’s coming from. Dialogue will be important even if it’s a letter that gets sent, for once the words are read, the recipient will respond.

            Raw emotions are painful to read about, but they are a part of life. We’ve all experienced those feelings, so if your story is intriguing, readers will identify with the protagonist.

            Have fun with this one.

The Hollow

            Do you ever feel an intense need to fill yourself? That there’s an emptiness inside? When this happens, what do you do to remedy the situation?

            Hollow spaces yearn to be filled. If it’s hunger, we want food. If it’s loneliness, we turn to family and friends. If it’s sadness, we search for things to make us smile. No matter the cause, we instinctively desire to put something in the hollow.

            Your characters also experience emptiness. Perhaps it’s not all-consuming, but it’s there nevertheless. Those intense feelings interfere with everyday life.   How does she focus on work when there’s a hole that needs filling? What does she think about when she’s standing in line at a store? When the phone hasn’t rung for days, how does that make her feel? And when the hollowness acts up, what are her go-to solutions?

            Your task is to write a story in which your character experiences the loss of something crucial. Think beyond a missing watch or a scarf that has disappeared into the depths of the closet. Make the “thing” significant enough that he cannot function normally until either the hole is filled or he forces himself to move on.

            Set the scene with description and narrative. Bring in other characters so that dialogue can reveal the emotions playing in his mind. Through that dialogue readers will learn how he reacts to suggestions. He might be pleased or he might become belligerent.

            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.

If the World was Ending

Close your eyes and picture the people you love the most. What makes them special to you? Is it their smiles or the fact that they love you back? Perhaps it’s their ability to forgive and forget. Maybe they’re sense of humor lifts your spirits or it’s because they listen even when you aren’t looking for answers.

We live in perilous times. Fires rage, hurricanes and tornadoes wipe out huge swaths of land. Floods destroy urban and rural property. It gets too hot and too cold, depending upon where you live. There are shootings, hostage-taking, kidnapping and car-jacking. You just have to be in the right place at the wrong time to find yourself in the midst of a life-changing event.

Your task is to write a story in which the known world is ending. Begin by identifying the how, where and why. Perhaps a little research is needed to reinforce your knowledge of how these events impact life.

Come up with at least two characters to populate your story. They could be a couple of good friends. Casual acquaintances or total strangers. They could even be enemies.

Begin with establishing the known world through development of a strong setting and instances where readers will become aware of the depth of the primary relationships.

Add in a healthy enough does of dialogue buffeted by narrative to enable readers to use their senses to witness the frightening event.

Have fun with this one.

Pausing for a Reality Check

Impulsivity is a plus in certain fields of employment. Imagine being faced with a decision that has to be made now, not ten minutes from now or after consulting with a team of experts. Quick thinking and fast reactions save lives in an emergency, solve problems in a production line, and move people safely out of a burning building. Take-charge people can be a benefit to an organization.

Now imagine a scene in which acting impulsively causes serious problems. The man rushes into a burning building to save his cat, gets trapped and has to be rescued by firefighters who could potentially be injured or killed in the process. Or say she’s driving a car, the light turns green and she jumps out into the intersection because it’s her turn. A car running through the light hits her, killing her passenger and breaking several bones in her body.

In both cases pausing before acting would save lives.

This is called taking a Reality Check. Before acting, you stop for a few seconds and analyze the options or the motivations for your thinking. It can be a powerful tool when employed correctly.

Your task is to write a scene in which your character needs to utilize the Reality Check method. Create a complex setting in which important decisions have to be made. Perhaps your character acts rashly, leading to a domino effect of negative consequences.  Maybe your character is the victim of someone who made a poor decision. Readers will need to feel the danger, sense the thinking process and care what the result is.

Have fun with this one.

A Disastrous Marriage

No one thinks about their marriage falling apart on their wedding day unless there have been hints of dysfunction. We vow to love and obey, through sickness and health, but when things happen, love sometimes takes a walk.

Sometimes the person we marry turns out to be very different once we are behind closed doors. She could be violent; he could be moody. He could have a line of mistresses; she could have an addiction to spending. Her parents might dislike the spouse so intently that they sour the relationship. His friends might be involved in criminal activities that endanger the family.

There are so many opportunities for something to go wrong that it’s amazing when marriages stay intact for so many years. Happy stories can feel contrived and are sometimes so saccharine that readers become disengaged, so bring on the troubles.

Your task is to write a story in which issues arise that lead to the destruction of the relationship. There’s going to conflict which you might want to show through dialogue. You might need to bring in other characters if they are the cause for the problems. Remember to balance dialogue with narrative.

Have fun with this one.