Skills and Talents

            Some of us are artistic and can easily learn a new skill. Painting with oils? No problem. Knitting a sweater? Piece of cake. Cooking a seven course meal for the boss and wife? Maybe a bit more difficult, but still done with pizzazz.

            Perhaps you’re gifted musically and can learn to play any instrument that comes your way. Your singing voice is superb and you can sight-read a new piece of music and get it right the first time. On top of that you compose music in a variety of genres.

            A few of us are good with our hands. We can fix whatever ails a car, tend struggling plants, repair the stove when it refuses to heat and alter the dishwasher so that the waste goes through the garbage disposal.

            Your characters need to have skills and talents that make them special. Begin by listing a wide range of possibilities. If necessary, do a little research into what is needed to succeed at that skill. Imagine when and where your character will display her ability and how others will react when the result is revealed.

            Write a story in which talents play a major role. Description is important, but so is dialogue and action. Not everyone in the story will appreciate the skill. Some might be jealous or turn it into a competition. The final product might be a masterpiece or a complete failure. How the characters behave is important to the story.

            Have fun with this one.

Attitude Toward Medicine

            For many of us our attitude about going to the doctor’s is influenced by the things our parents said and did as we grew up. A parent who brushed off illnesses and injuries might have taught us to be wary of seeking medical advice. Perhaps we might have done the opposite, running to the doctor over every twitch or tingle.

            If our parents took us to the doctor over and over and over, we might grow up avoiding taking ourselves to a doctor’s office, even when needed. Perhaps we scan the aisles in stores where products are displayed, reading labels and self-diagnosing rather than getting antibiotics that were necessary, herby creating a new problem.

            Your character also has an attitude toward medicine. The person who runs to the doctor over every little ill might be a bit comical while the one who avoids doctors even when necessary could make for a fascinating tale when things go awry. Which would make the most interesting story for you to write?

            Character description is critical. Readers have to get to know your protagonist so that they can identify with how and why he will behave, what motivates the choices he makes, what forces operating inside him drive his decision-making.

            Narrative will help readers see those forces, but dialogue is also important in character development.

            Have fun with this one.   

Shopping Day

            Imagine that you have a difficult teenager who needs new clothes. You arrange a day and time to take her to the mall. Even that takes some effort as she whines about having to go with you. The car ride is oppressive and silent. The walk through the mall is laced with opportunities to incur her wrath. She snubs her nose at stores you can afford and will only enter those you cannot.

            The struggle over clothes that you deem appropriate and affordable is embarrassing. Her eye-rolling and thin-lipped glares annoy you to the point that you almost give in and let her have whatever she wants just to get it over with.

            Were you ever that teenager? Can you recall a time when you made life difficult for your family? If not, are you a parent of a child who frustrated you? Who embarrassed you in public?

            Your task is to write a story in which it’s time to go shopping. Your character can be the teen or the parent. Tension is important to tell the tale. Use a combination of narrative and dialogue: narrative to set the scene, dialogue to show family dynamics.

            How will the story be resolved? Will there be a meeting of minds or will conflict continue throughout? Will the teen end up with clothes or will the parent march them out, empty-handed?

            Have fun with this one.

Change in Routine

            Your character gets up every morning at six, showers, fixes a cup of coffee and a piece o toast, then drives to the metro station. She hops on the next train for a forty-minute ride. Before going into the office, she stops at the coffee shop in the lobby and buys a second cup of coffee, this one loaded with goodies.

            Once her computer is on, she checks for important emails that might require action. After that, she focuses on her job, ignoring conversation flowing around her until ten, her official break. Her day continues in a similar vein. Day after day, she follows the same routine.

            What would happen if her alarm didn’t go off or if there was no hot water? What if her coffee machine was broken or the train didn’t arrive? What if her coworkers gathered around her desk and sang Happy Birthday?

            How would she react to the changes?

            How we handle change says a lot about us. Some of us are quite rigid and want things to stay the same, both at work and at home. Some of us enjoy change as it adds mystic and variety.

            Your task is to write a story in which your character’s routine changes. You decide whether or not this is a good thing, whether it causes undo tension or not. Readers will want to see the “normal” world at the beginning, then witness the change and the emotional reactions that ensue.

            Have fun with this one.

Random Acts of Kindness

            You’re in line at a store, mentally counting your money to see if you have enough to buy the bread and cheese in your arms. You step up to the register, and when the tally comes up, the clerk tells you that the person before you had paid your bill. You burst into a huge smile and feel like dancing all the way home.

            You’re sitting in your car waiting for your turn to come at the toll booth. Behind you is an older car being driven by a little old man. You reach into your purse and pull out an extra five dollars. As you drive away, you’re smiling and nodding.

            Your task is to write a story in which someone executes a random act of kindness. Your character can be the one who reaches out or she can be the recipient. The emotional reactions are most important. Readers are going to want to see the scene through the eyes, heart and mind of the giver and receiver.

            Your recipient does not have to be grateful. In fact, he might consider it an insult. If this happens, then who will he verbally attack? The clerk or the giver?

            Have fun with this one.

Crime and Punishment

            Back in the Middle Ages there were beheadings and amputations for what today would be considered minor crimes. People would be whipped so badly that little skin remained on their backs. Others would be locked into stocks and left to die.

Torture and imprisonment was sued to exact confessions. People were beaten burned alive, covered with boiling water, or worse, tar, and fingers cut off. Branding was also used to identify criminals.

Outlaw bands roamed about, robbing villagers and city-dwellers alike. The harsher the crimes they committed, the worse the punishment. What’s more important is that the punishments were public affairs, much like going on a picnic or seeing a play.

Your task is to establish the role that crime and punishment takes in your world. You can borrow from earlier times or create your own system, but whichever you choose, it needs to make sense in terms of the society you have built. Medieval torture might not fit in a contemporary society, but maybe it does!

Write a story in which a crime is committed and punishment is doled out. Readers will want to be there from the beginning, to walk with the criminal throughout it all. Or if you write from the perspective of the officials who hunt down, catch and then punish, make sure that the details are intriguing enough to entice readers.

Have fun with this one.

Physical Fitness

           Some of us are specimens of incredible fitness while others are morbidly obese. Most of us fall somewhere in between. How we feel about being fit says a lot about our character. Is exercising an obsession or a supplement to good health? Does limiting the size of meals mean you are a picky eater or trying to keep off the pounds? On the same note, gorging to excess is also an influential factor in overall fitness.

            Your character’s attitude toward physical fitness might not play a key part in the story, but it does tell a reader something about who he is. Imagine him walking through a door into a crowded lob filled with strangers. What do the people see and think when they see him? How do they react? How does he present himself in terms of clothing, ability to walk and overall demeanor?

            First appearances often affect future relationships. You need to take this into account in the story. When a dazzling blond model struts into the scene, she receives a different reaction than when a morbidly obese man waddles into the room.

            Fill your scene with dialogue, perhaps between casual observers. Narrative is required.

            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.

Planning a Memorial for Your Protagonist

As we journey through life we encounter many people in many different circumstances. At work we have a business persona that’s built around the job requirements. We behave differently at the gym, bowling alley, bar or tennis courts, where we are able to relax and talk about personal interests. At church we follow the lead of our pastor, minister, or rabbi in terms of how we act during and after the service. At home we have family to consider.  

            In all these situations we present ourselves differently and so we will be remembered differently after we’ve passed away. Some might recall a jolly fellow who loved joking with colleagues while others would think of a stern disciplinarian or a stickler for rules. Perhaps they recall a person who would give you anything you needed while others would consider you stingy and selfish.

            Your task is to plan a memorial service for your protagonist. Fill the service with people from all walks of life. Imagine them grouped together, sharing stories. What will they say about the protagonist? Now have the groups break up and regather with others from family or gym. What happens when mixed perceptions arise? Will there be surprises or conflicts?

            The story can be somber or sad, sweet or angry. Include dialogue so that feelings can come forth.

            Have fun with this one.

Sunset Story

            Time of day affects the setting of a story. Imagine a broiling hot trek across an Arizona desert or an early morning hike on a Minnesota Lake in the dead of winter. Bot situations might be untenable without proper preparation and the correct gear.

            Try to recall the most spectacular sunset you have ever seen. Where were you? Who were you with? What made it memorable? Was it the company, the situation or the location? Perhaps it was a combination of all those things.

            Your task is to write a story in which your character experiences a sunset so profound that it touches her heart. The colors, the people she’s with, the location all come into play. What she’s doing just before sunset occurs sets the stage.

            As you write remember to include sensory details. Readers will want to see, hear, taste, smell, and touch everything that your character does. Dialogue is also important because it is through conversation that feelings will be revealed.

            Reread looking to see if the picture that you paint with words comes clear.

            Have fun with this one.