The Big Decision

            You’re most of the way through the novel. The protagonist has struggled over many obstacles and seems to be on the road to success. Suddenly a chasm-sized barrier is in the way. She has two possible choices to make. She can turn around and retrace her steps or find a way across. A decision has to be made that could potentially alter her life.

            What she chooses is determined by the characteristics readers have seen in the individual. A timid person or one with low self-esteem will turn around while the character with tons of self-confidence will plow ahead.

            Your task is to write a scene in which your protagonist is confronted with a choice that would make a huge difference in his life.

            Begin by making a list of possible obstacles. They can be realistic or fantastical, depending upon the type of story that you are writing. Once you have chosen the primary obstacle, add possible solutions. Once again, solutions depend upon the genre you have chosen.

            Your character is proceeding along, the obstacle arises. A choice is made. Make sure that readers will believe the outcomes and that the emotions that your character experiences come through.

            Have fun with this one.

Complete and Utter Chaos

            There are times when anything that could possibly go wrong, does. It feels like the game when you stack dominoes with the intent of controlling their fall. But then your hand wiggles or someone’s knee jiggles the table or an earthquake hits and down they go, not when you intended, but do to some type of chaotic movement.

            Perhaps your car is due to a check-up. You make an appointment with the mechanic, but before you can get there, something horrible happens. Maybe your car breaks down in the middle of a busy major thoroughfare. Perhaps you get hit by a driver who wasn’t paying attention. Or it could be roadwork that causes a huge delay making you miss your time.

            Things happen, often in a bunch, that derail our activities. Some we can laugh off, but others cause a huge inconvenience.

            Your task is to write a story in which a series of unexpected things happen. How your character reacts will tell readers quite a bit about her personality. Make the events large or small, or a combination of both. Most importantly, allow readers to be there with the character.

            Include sensory details and emotional reactions.

            Have fun with this one.

Dear Diary

            Journal writing has been popular for many, many years. Young girls were often given a diary in order to record their thoughts. They were encouraged to write every day, even if they had little of interest to report.

            Diaries were often padlocked with a tiny key. The girl would hide both the diary and the key in order to prevent parents and siblings from reading their thoughts.

            Diaries became important as a tool for historical research. By reading such records, historians are able to deduce what life was like during times of peace and war, during turbulent and peaceful times.

            Your task is to imagine the diary entries that your protagonist would write. These do not have to be complete stories, but rather figments of time capturing the emotions that the individual experienced. Later on these thoughts might inspire a story, but for now the task is to simply write what the person most likely worried about, dreamt of, feared and yearned for.

            Have fun with this one.

Following Directions

            From an early age we learn the rules, what to do, when to do it and when to stop. We are taught where to do something and for how long. Lining up begins when we are young and continues throughout the rest of our lives.

            What we are seldom taught, however, is how not following directions impacts others.

            For example, imagine you’re on a trip with forty other people. The tour director tells you to be on the bus before eight in the morning. You figure the bus won’t leave until 8:10, so you don’t bother to appear until 8:11. Your inability to follow directions impacts the rest of the group.

            All games have directions. Children are taught to follow them in order to make the game fair. What happens when someone feels above the “law”? They are called cheaters.

            The same term can be applied to adults as well.

            Your task is to write a scene in which following directions plays an important role. It might be interesting to have some characters who always comply, some who sometimes comply and some who seldom, if ever, comply. The combination builds tension, something needed to make a story interesting.

            Have fun with this one.

Searching for Treasure

            Did you ever create a buried treasure map and then lead your friends on a hunt through the neighborhood? What, if anything, did you find?

            Thinking back to ancient times, explorers went all over the world looking for elusive treasures to bring back to their countries, for glory for themselves as well as for their kings/queens. Nothing stopped them, not inhabitants of the land nor weather.

            They killed with no mercy, took what they wanted, then moved on to begin another quest.

            Fantasy stories often revolve around the search for treasure, be it precious stones, mighty gods or hidden castles.

            But is there treasure in your house? Imagine digging through a closet and finding something you’d thought lost. Perhaps it reminds you of grandma or a favorite uncle. Maybe it’s an article of clothing that you thought you’d given away. Try to recall how you felt.

            Your task is to write a story in which treasure is sought and perhaps found. Capture the emotions as the explorer sets off, the travails of the journey, the conquests made and lost. Use both narrative and dialogue to develop the scene. Take your readers on the search by using sensory details.

            Have fun with this one.

Shopping Extravaganza

            There’s nothing more exciting than heading off to the mall for a morning of shopping. Even if you have little money to spend, there are windows to peruse, clothing to inspect, dreams to build.

            You might begin by simply strolling up and down the mall, stopping to see what wonders are on display. On the next go-round you enter only those stores that intrigued you. Up and down aisles you go, occasionally holding up an item for inspection. You check the make, the style, the price, the quality, all the while imagining yourself wearing it.

            Does it go with anything you currently own? Is it too similar to things you’ve got at home? Is it worth the price or should you wait for a sale?

            All these thoughts go through your mind as you meander about.

            Imagine your character going on a shopping spree. What kinds of things hold his interest? Which stores invite him in? What items does she choose to inspect up close? Does she make immediate decisions or mull things over? Does he leave to see what comparable things other stores offer or make the purchase right then and there?

            Your task is to send your character on a nice, long shopping trip. He can go alone or bring a friend. She can try on things in her own dressing room or share with a friend. Lunch might be included as well as dinner after.

            Will the day go smoothly with lots of laughter and pleasant conversation or will arguments ensue? At the end, will he have purchased anything? If so, what? If not, why not? Dialogue might be the stronger as it allows for the give-and-take between characters as they discuss the merits of each item.

            Have fun with this one.

Life’s Lessons

            As we progress through life, we hopefully learn as we go along. For example, we might discover that it’s better to tell the truth than to fabricate a believable, consistent lie. It might be better if we don’t watch scary movies when home alone or go out in the dark without a good flashlight. When asked to babysit, don’t agree to it if you can’t stand being around kids, or if it’s those particular kids that you hate.

            If we hate seafood, perhaps we should admit that before agreeing to meet friends at a restaurant that only serves fish. Maybe we shouldn’t agree to go to a party where an obnoxious relative will hold court or promise to send a gift when we don’t know what the person would like.

            There are so many lessons that we learn along the way that it’s impossible to list them all.

            Your character will have learned things as well.

            Your task is to write a scene in which that character has to either admit to a mistake or learns something important about herself. The lesson can be small or large. It can change her life or not. It can cause hurt to herself or others.

            Make the setting in which she has to learn this lesson interesting. Include people that challenge her. Use a combination of dialogue and narrative.

            Have fun with this one.

Cheapskate Travelers

Imagine that your character goes out to eat with friends.  He orders a number of drinks, appetizers, an expensive entree and a desert. The food is delicious. The service excellent.

The bill comes. Each person is expected to contribute their fair share, with tax and tip.

What does your character do? Does he contribute an appropriate amount of money or short-change the rest of the party?

On the other hand, what happens if he tips amply but the others don’t? Does he say something?

What happens when everyone pays with cash except for one person who pulls out a charge card? And that person collects the cash and stuffs it in his wallet. How do the others know how much he tipped? Do they say something or accept that they’ll never know?

On the other hand, what if your character doesn’t pay for all he ordered and consumed? How do the others feel? What do they say and do?

Your task is to write the story.

Have fun with this one.

A Safe Place to Live

We’ve heard the stories of refugees from war-torn countries who search for a peaceful place to live. They yearn for jobs, food, and relief from fear. They pack what belongings they can carry and walk mile after mile, experiencing countless hardships along the way.

Our hearts go out to them, even when there is little we can do to offer comfort.

What about the refugees living nearby? For example, there are shopping-cart people who push up their baskets and down streets, hoping to find someplace that offers some degree of privacy. Or the homeless man who sleeps leaning against a shopkeeper’s wall in downtown San Francisco. If he’s lucky, he has pieces of cardboard on which to lie and a blanket as cover. He is dirty, ragged and hungry. And often smells so bad that passers-by wrinkle their noses in disgust.

It is easy to write stories in which the characters are comfortable in fancy homes, in tree-lined neighborhoods, with two working parents and new cars in the drive. It is much more challenging to speak for the speechless, to tell their stories with compassion and understanding.

Your task is to choose a refugee and place her in a scene. Give her a voice. Listen to her heart. Interact with her, in some way, either in first person or as an omniscient narrator. Wake up with her in the morning, walk about with her in the day, sleep with her at night. Eat meals with her. Follow her as she searches for a bathroom in which to wash up. Be with her, not as a sympathetic ear, but as an equal. Walk in her shoes, even if just for one day.

Have fun with this one.

The Reluctant Hero

Sometimes we are called to acts of bravery. We save an injured dog lying by the side of the road, pull a motorist from a damaged car, or take a test which will advance us in our career. We do these things not because we are born heroes, but because they are the right things to do.

We have all known someone who was a little crazy as a youth. Jumped off the garage roof. Rode a skateboard down a steep hill that ended at a major intersection. Approached a strange woman, dressed in rags, and asked her name. But are these acts of heroism?

Once we take on the mantra of adulthood, we settle down into the routine of life. We get up and go to work. We come home and play with the kids. We go shopping and mow the lawn. Day in and day out.

But what about those of us who become police officers, fire fighters or join the military? Are those individuals heroes? In today’s world they are often called to acts of bravery and then are heavily criticized for how they behaved under stress. Because of technology, they are constantly supervised. They have no rights of privacy and must understand that everything they do will be analyzed and reanalyzed from different points of view. Yet they still run into burning buildings, pull motorists from badly damaged cars, walk into hostage situations, parachute into enemy territory.

It would be easy to argue that these are the true heroes.

In the movie Bridge of Spies, an insurance lawyer, Jim Donovan, is asked by the government to negotiate a prisoner exchange despite him not being an actual representative of the United States. He is not the hero type. He is intelligent, patient, insightful and thoughtful. He is a husband and father who is providing a good life for his family. He is faithful to those he cares about.

Jim Donovan is the true reluctant hero. He steps up when asked. Does what he set out to do. Expects no fanfare.

Your task is to right a scenario in which your main character is a reluctant hero. She can be an average person, going about her day, when something happens that challenges her.

In order to do this, first you must give her a life. Establish her routines. Create family and her relationship to her family. Suddenly a situation arises that pulls her out of her comfort zone. She has to choose what to do. Allow her to take risks.

Have fun with this one.