Reacting to Taboos

            Taboos are prohibitions against doing something that is either culturally repulsive or is too sacred for ordinary humans. For example, in many cultures eating dog meat is considered a taboo, but in others, it’s meat for consumption. Eating lunch behind the altar of a church would be a taboo, but holding a religious revival where food is served is not. What is labeled a taboo depends upon the times, the culture and the background of the community.

            What happens to people who break the taboos also varies. In one society a woman walking around with shoulders bared might result in severe punishment, while men can be bare-chested with none. Eating meat on Fridays was a long-lasting taboo in the Catholic Church, for which the offender was expected to confess. Having sexual relations outside of marriage might be accepted in the royal class, yet could be result in being ostracized in the lower classes.

            Your task is to create a scenario in which taboos exist for which there are punishments. Begin by listing at least three taboos that you feel you could include. Choose the one that will make the most interacting story. Consider how your character will behave in this society. She can be the one who observes the breaking of the taboo or is the one violating society’s rules.

            Setting is important for readers need to understand that place and the people in this world. Dialogue is crucial so readers can see what’s taking place and how your character explains her behavior and rational for breaking the taboo. Readers also need to see and feel what the punishments are like and how they affect your character.

            Have fun with this one.

Assigning Blame

            Let’s assume that something negative has occurred. Perhaps a favorite vase was shattered or the front end of the car is damaged. You are responsible, but fear reprisal. What do you do? Assign blame to someone, everyone, even if that person was nowhere near when the event took place.

            Why do some pass off the responsibility while others do not? One factor might be familial upbringing. Imagine growing up in a home in which accepting blame leads to severe punishment. The individual learns to never, ever admit to having committed an offense. It’s about self-protection.

            The problem is that healing can’t take place as long as fear gets in the way.

            Your task is to write a story in which something happens and fingers start pointing, looking for someone to blame. Begin by creating a list of factors that could come into play. Think actions, reactions. Choose the one that you are most comfortable writing about.

            The action determines the offender. A young child most likely didn’t drive the car into the garage door. He could, which might make for an interesting story, but how likely is that to have happened?

            An adult might steal the girl’s doll, but why? Is the doll an artifact? Is it worth something and so can be sold?

            Match the age to the situation.

            Take into consideration responses of the supervising adult. Does he threaten violence such as whipping with a belt? Does the child kick and scratch? Is the offender pushed into the lake? There are endless possibilities.

            Use dialogue and action.

            Have fun with this one.

The Moral Dilemma

            A moral dilemma is a situation in which a person is torn between right and wrong and involves a conflict that forces a character to examine her own principles and values. The choices the person makes may leave them feeling burdened, guilty, relieved, or even questioning their own values. The individual must decide what actions she can live with, whether the outcome is unpleasant or even illegal.

Dilemmas form the central conflict that the protagonist encounters. Taking into consideration that real people face all kinds of dilemmas in life, the choices they make along the way can have long-lasting impacts in terms of effects on relationships and on society as a whole.

            Imagine asking someone out on a first date. Should he go to the museum or see a movie? If he decides on the movie option, which one, the romantic comedy or the high-speed chase? What happens if the date doesn’t like chase movies and so is disappointed and bored? The relationship might go nowhere fast.

            Let’s consider what the secretary should do when she discovers that he fire her, or if he’s desperate, kill her. If she ignores his actions, she might be a co-conspirator when the theft is revealed.

            Your task is to write a scene in which the protagonist is faced with a moral dilemma. Make the stakes high enough that the wrong decision places her in danger. Include enough description so that readers understand the situation, but not too much to slow down the scene. Dialogue is necessary to reveal the intricacies of the relationships involved.

            Have fun with this one.

Playground Bully

Picture a school playground. Kids are running, shouting, jumping, climbing, swinging and playing basketball. Groups form then someone leaves and a new group is created. Most kids seem happy and well-adjusted. However if you look carefully, somewhere on that playground is a child being tormented.

Sometimes the tormentor is a classmate, sometimes it’s a neighbor, sometimes it’s an older child. The one given is that the bully is bigger, stronger and domineering to the point of terrifying the smaller child.

Playground bullies often grow up to be workplace bullies or domestic abusers. Their skills are well-developed by this time, so they know just the right words, just the right postures, just the right ways to belittle others into doing what they want.

Your character most likely ran into a bully sometime in his life. Imagine the story he would tell. He would speak of the terror that took over his body anytime the bully drew near. He’d tell about the ways he tried to hide, tried to brush off the comments, tried to elude by staying near a playground supervisor.

Your task is to write a story in which a bully plays a prominent role. Your protagonist can be the bully or the bullied. Dialogue and description are important for both will create the ambience needed to convey the intense feelings that the victim experiences.

Will there be a happy ending in which the victim overcomes the bullying? In which the bully is severely punished? Or will the ending be one of continued torture, not just from the playground bully but by adult bullies as well?

Have fun with this one.

Lies and Cover-ups

            No one likes a liar; or do they? People lie when a woman asks how they look in a hideous skin-tight bold floral print dress because if they told the truth, the woman would become angry. They lie when a coworker proposes an insane idea for a project, saying conciliatory phrases such as, “Interesting idea,” and then moving on to whatever is submitted next.

            Lies similar to the ones above save feelings, but not all lies do. When a competitor calls the opponent a wimp, freak or loser, that’s done intentionally to ire the opponent as well as influence viewers. If when filling out legal forms the writer lies about wealth or financial status in order to qualify for a loan or political office, that could be a criminal act.

            Participating in a cover-up can likewise have serious consequences, depending upon what’s being hidden. If when selling a house the owner doesn’t disclose that the septic system is failing, that has repercussions that could cost the seller quite a bit of money. What if a murderer buries the body in the backyard and then pretends that he has no idea where the deceased is? That’s another type of cover-up.

            Your task is to write a story in which lies and cover-ups drive the plot. Twists and turns are critical to the story arc, with each action leading to more and more serious consequences. At the end, does the perpetrator get away with it or is she caught and punished?

            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.