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.

Growing Plants

Do you love flowers in bloom? The range of colors, shapes and sizes is amazing. Arranged in carefully tended plots, a garden is satisfying to the soul. A walk through one brings hope, joy and a sense of serenity unfound anywhere else.

Perhaps you prefer a vegetable garden, filled with all kinds of tasty goodies awaiting someone like you to pick and cook. Do you visit farmers’ markets and buy the freshest veggies? Maybe you have a plot at home where you grow a few of the things you most like to eat. It could even be a few clay pots on a balcony, or a couple on the back porch, but you are the caretaker of goodness to come.

Unfortunately there are people who can’t grow a thing. They study, watch videos, take classes, but everything they touch dies. Or if it lives, it never blooms or produces food.

Your task is to write a story in which a character interacts with plants in some way. It could be realistic fiction or fantasy, memoir or biography. Readers will want to see the details through the character’s eyes, smell the fragrances through the noses and feel the textures with the fingers.

You will need at least one other character to enrich the story in order to allow for dialogue. This could be a vendor, a farmer, a villain, a friend. Dialogue is important. Create a story arc with a series of acts that interfere with your character’s desired goals.

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.

Forgiving Oneself

Because we are human, we are fallible. Not many days go by in which we do not commit a mistake of some kind. Perhaps it’s a misinterpretation of someone’s words. Maybe we cook something too long in the oven, making it practically inedible. It could be entering data incorrectly into a program that skews results of the project.

Our mistakes are large and small, of minimal importance and of huge import. Some are so egregious that it’s near impossible to find redemption. Often we dig holes so deep that the sky does not shine for weeks.

Your character also makes mistakes. It is through her response to those errors that the reader learns something about her inner strength. An individual who apologizes and moves on has different skills than one who blames others and takes no responsibility for his actions.

Your task is to write a scene in which your character does something that creates a stir. It’s important that it be large enough to create tension, that it upsets the normal routine of life.

You might want to use dialogue as a tool to show what has transpired. Readers want to walk with our character through the entire process. Show us the event, the reactions of others, the feelings of your character and the end result. Details are important.

Have fun with this one.

Shopping Spree

Some of us are avid shoppers. We’ll travel distances for a good bargain. We sort through racks of clothes and other items in search of the perfect thing. We’ll try on a dozen garments to buy just one. For us, shopping is an outing.

There are those who detest shopping. They only enter a department store for special gifts. They know what they want, head straight to it, buy it and leave. Even when grocery shopping they go with a list that they strictly follow.

What about your character? What kind of shopper is she? Does she love the adventure or rush in and out happy to get it done?

Your task is to write a scene in which your character enters a store. It might be fun to have someone accompany him so that there is reflection through dialogue. Readers want to experience the store and the outing with the emotions of the character.

Make sure there are plenty of details. Perhaps there is canned music piped in. How does this make the character feel? Maybe items aren’t where they should be or the proper size and color are missing. Maybe cost is too high.

If he’s a bargain shopper, what items attract his attention? What goes in his cart and stays? What motivates him in his decision-making?

Enjoy writing this one. Reread to edit for details.

Have fun  with this one.