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.

The Invitation

            Who doesn’t like receiving an invitation in the mail? Picture yourself bringing in a stack of letters. One envelope stands out: it’s smaller than average and its purple color reveals that there’s a card inside. You open it, wondering if it’s a thank you for something you’ve done, or a friendship card from someone you haven’t seen for a while.

            Do you open it immediately or save it for later when you’re less busy? What emotions go through your head as you break the seal? You might be excited or you might be filled with dread, especially if it’s from someone you don’t really like.

            Your task is to write a story in which an invitation comes in the mail. Your character must show emotion. She could be surprised, anxious, or angry. She could be disappointed when the event conflicts with something already in her calendar. If she doesn’t want to go, she might struggle with how to let the host know.

            There are all kinds of possibilities that might occur.

            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.

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.