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.

Name Calling

Bullies use age-old taunts to belittle those they deem to be weak. It makes them feel bigger, bolder, and stronger when tears pour down the faces of their peers. Name-calling is a toxic disease that masks underlying issues.

Name-calling diverts attention from an issue that makes the bully uncomfortable. Insult the person and they might not challenge or question, allowing the bully to walk away. Another “reward” is elevated opinion of one’s self. Watching how words impact others can give a temporary high.

Anyone who’s been called names knows how hurtful it can be, emotionally, psychologically and socially. People on the low end of the social status often lack friends and feel poorly about themselves. The belittling reinforces those negative feelings.

Your task is to write a scene in which name-calling takes place. Your protagonist might be the one who intimidates others, or might be the one being taunted. What’s important is that emotions come to play and are felt by readers.

Setting the scene is critical. Choses a scenario in which name-calling would be logical, such as in a schoolyard, encounter at the water cooler or while playing a sport. Dialogue needs to be crisp and tight. Don’t let the perpetrator do all the talking. Give voice to the downtrodden as well as to others who take sides.

Reread to ensure that the emotional tone reveals the animosity, fear and heart break.

As always, despite how traumatic the story will be, have fun with this one.

A Hike in the Park

The day begins beautifully. The sun is shining, the sky blue, the temperature mild. With water and sunglasses you head into the woodsy park, intent on reaching the top of the peak because you’ve heard of the sweeping views of the bay. But on the way something happens.

Imagine your worst-case scenario. Perhaps there’s a rut in the trail and when you’re watching a deer bound down a hill, you step in it and twist your ankle. It might be broken or badly sprained, but whatever the cause, there is no way you can hike out without help.

Maybe you encounter a mountain lion, coyote or bear. It snarls and flashes huge teeth. You can’t go forward as it’s blocking your way.

Think of the stories to tell!

Your task is to send your character on a hike that begins benignly but then takes a bad turn. She might be in terrible peril or she might be stunned or injured. The one requirement is that she must be afraid and unable to proceed without help.

To make the story more interesting, you should have at least two characters so that there can be dialogue. Conversation will allow us to see the situation through words spoken.

Remember to include details as this is a story that demands sensory input to enable your readers to be there and experience the situation alongside the characters.

Have fun with this one.

Handling Grief

Until we’ve lost a loved one, we don’t know how we’ll handle the loss. We might be the wailing type or the silent weeper. We might be stoic, telling ourselves that he had suffered long enough or that he’s now in a better place.

We might clear out the closet the day after the funeral or hand onto every piece of clothing she wore for several years, clinging to the memories of times who wore each item. We might not want to sleep in the bed we’d shared or remain in the house we bought or we might replace everything that reminds of us her in order to move on.

Your character experiences loss as well. Imagine a scene in which a loved one dies. Taking into consideration your character’s personality, how will she react? It might be completely in “character” or she might surprise readers by doing something completely unexpected.

Begin by listing two different possible reactions. Next to each, make bullet points of behaviors that match. In the next column list behaviors that are the opposite. Think about which combination makes the most interesting story. Write, remembering that for readers to “see” emotional reactions there most likely has to be some dialogue. Include sufficient details to enrich the story.

Have fun with this one.

Guilty Pleasures

Does chocolate call your name? Is it challenging to walk past a box without opening and taking just one piece? Maybe it’s cookies that you love. Imagine a tray of oatmeal raisin cookies fresh out of the oven. The smell that fills the kitchen is so enticing that you reach for one.

Maybe it’s a lemon bar treat, or red velvet cake or a bit of mint ice cream. Whatever it is, you know you shouldn’t eat it because of the calorie count, but you can’t resist.

The problem is that once you take that first bite, guilty pleasure washes over you. You relish every morsel despite that overwhelming feeling of failure.

What pleasures can’t your character resist? What calls his name so strongly that he can’t walk away?

Your task is to write the story of temptation. It will be important for readers to see the item through the character’s eyes, smell it through his nose, feel the internal conflict as he reaches for it, enjoy the taste in his mouth. Once he’s finished, we want to participate in the emotions that he struggles with. To build tension, more items remain. Will he take another or walk away?

Have fun with this one.

Remembering the First Day

Do you recall your first day of school? Were you nervous? Excited? A little of both? What did you think would happen? What were our worst fears?

Apply this to your first day at a new job. Try to remember how you felt as the day approached. What preparations did you make? Did you go through your wardrobe looking for the right outfit? Did you fill your backpack with pens, pencils, notebooks and a new calendar? What software did you put on your laptop?

When the day arrived and you entered the office, what happened? Were you greeted by your coworkers? Did the boss walk you around and introduce you? Who  explained the job duties?

Your task is to write a scene in which your character begins something new. It could be work or school, but she must exhibit a range of emotions as the day nears. One way to show this is through dialogue. Have her explain to a friend what she’s thinking about. Maybe the friend is in her class or works for the same company. Make it fun and interesting so that your readers will want to be engaged.

Have fun with this one.