Music Preferences

            Music wasn’t always an important part of my life. I don’t remember singing childhood ditties or making up my own songs as I played with dolls. My parents never sang to me and when we did listen to a radio, it was usually tuned to melodramas. We did sing in church, but because I was slow to learn to read, I couldn’t join in.

            I bought myself a tiny transistor radio when I was twelve. My favorite station played pop music, comfy singalong tunes with catchy beats. I subscribed to a magazine that printed the lyrics to every popular song. That became my bible. Whenever I was alone in my room, I turned on the radio and sang along. My love of music carried me through my tumultuous teens, twenties and all the ensuing years until my current ripe old age.

            How has music impacted your life? Has it played a minor or major role?

            Your task is to write a story in which music affects the protagonist, either in a positive or negative way. What age is she? Where does she live (city, state, country). What is her family situation (socioeconomic, single-parent, half-siblings). What are her favorite subjects in school (think about all the different grades, from Pre-Kindergarten to university).

            Does she share her love of music or keep it to herself? Does she sing in the shower or on stage? In a church choir or with a band? If band, what type and do they tour? All these considerations affect story.

            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.

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.

Ballads, Love Songs and Lullabies

            In times before written word, music was used to transmit the cultural stories that bound a person to a community’s history. Balladeers were valued members of society because they had the skill to keep memories alive. Music was an important part of the culture.

Love songs and lullabies have a common purpose: to tell someone how much they are loved. At a wedding, the first dance of the newly married couple is done to a song that has special meaning to them. It is often a love song.

Babies grow up hearing the special songs that their parents heard, and that their grandparents heard. The songs can cause giggles or put little ones to sleep. Because of the handing down of lullabies, the words seldom change despite the impacts of time and technological change.

Your task is to write a scene in which a ballad, love song or lullaby plays a major role. You can research songs that are part of a given culture or write new ones of your own.

Decide when, where and why the character will sing the song or hear the song for the first time. Also consider how the character reacts when the song is performed. Emotional details are important.

Have sun with this one.

The Antisocial Teen

A surly teenager hurls insults at her mother and stomps upstairs, slamming her door behind her. This time it’s because Mom won’t let her go to an unsupervised party at an older boy’s house. Last week it was because Mom refused to pay for body piercings, and a few days before that it was an argument over the skimpy outfit the daughter intended to wear to school.

The son of a single man steals his dad’s precious 1964 hot rod and wraps it around a tree. The boy blames a deer, raccoon and a drunken friend, none of which amuse Dad. The teen is failing most of his classes due to absences and disciplinary problems. On top of that the kid only wears black: t-shirts, hoodies, jeans, shoes, socks and has three earrings on his right lobe.

Both stories speak about not just familial issues, but social ones as well. The kids seem to have made poor choices in friends and the parents, while doing their best, are struggling.

Your task is to write a story about an antisocial teenager. You might want to do a little research into issues facing teens in whatever time period you choose. Also consider exploring parenting tips and what types of counseling is available.

Obviously there will be a lot of drama, a lot of tension, and tons of conflict possibilities. Don’t put too much in one scene as then it’s over the top and too hard for readers to process. Consider spacing events out as the story progresses. Remember that dialogue and actions are important. This will not be a happy story, so make the best of it that you can.

Have fun with this one.

Disaster of a Picnic

Picnics can be a whole lot of fun. Imagine a group of people gathered around the table eating food that different ones had prepared. Grandma’s potato salad is legendary. Jack’s terrific at the barbeque. Kathy makes to-die-for macaroni salad and Pat’s lemon meringue pies are a hit everywhere.

Board games are played. Cards come out. The younger kids play volleyball or kickball or go wade in the lake. Birds chirp. Dogs bark. Laughter surrounds you until something goes wrong.

As a writer these are the moments that enliven stories for they allow us to create situations where conflict and tension drive the plot forward.

Your task is to write a scene in which things begin to unravel. It could be that Joe pulls out a flask and taints the lemonade. Or perhaps the mayonnaise in the salads spoils in the hot sun. Perhaps a little one runs into a pole and…well, you get the idea.

Sensory details are important if you want your readers engaged.  They want to hear, see, taste, touch and smell the things going on around them as they participate in this picnic. Bring in dialogue as well so that readers can observe as the group unravels.

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.