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.

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.

Health Issues

            Have you noticed that when people of a certain age come together that the bulk of the conversation has something to do with health? High cholesterol, diabetes, vision and hearing, aches and pains and limited mobility. They compare medications and what doctors have said about the various issues.

            Often the condition of teeth pops up, with some bragging about a lack of cavities while others bemoan having another tooth removed.

            They discuss what types of foods are now prohibited and that they miss or share recipes for low caloric foods.

            On and on they go, often circling back to original topics because they forgot what’s been hashed over.

            Your characters, when they reach that age, would do the same. Begin by establishing what health issues your characters have. It would be beneficial, for conversations sake, if they didn’t share the same ones. They could have the same doctor, but perhaps it might add complexity if they did not. The same would be true for the medications that they are taken.

            Picture what would happen if one character believes his issues are worse, or more important. He trivializes hers, minimizes the severity of her ailments and maybe even contradicts her doctor’s recommendations.

            Interesting, tense-filled conversations arise that could lead to the dissolution of the relationship.

            Have fun with this one.

Masquerade

            People seem to love dressing up in costume and going to parties. If the mask is good enough, even the best of friends can’t identify the wearer. This allows freedoms to say and do things that perhaps the participant would never do.

            Some masquerades are quite elaborate. They take place at huge houses or McMansions. There are spiraling staircases, gilded trimmings, caterers about and even an orchestra playing dance tunes. Decorum is maintained according to caste expectations.

            During Halloween there are also parties, but they might feature salads made up to look like human insides, games designed to gross out participants, and freaky music echoing off the walls.

            Your task is to write a scene in which a masquerade plays a major role. Make things interesting by having something unexpected and untoward happen. Think murder or grand theft. Perhaps an unwanted sexual encounter. Stumbling drunks and flirtatious behavior.

            The setting is crucial. Readers want to be drawn in by opulence or the fright-factor. Descriptions of what participants are wearing is also important. When the story gets going, dialogue will make things come alive.

            Have fun with this one.

The Old, the Young and the Vulnerable

            Imagine a culture in which the old are venerated, then think of one in which they are thrown away. These are very different scenarios. In the first, seniors might live with family where they are cared for, loved and treated with respect and dignity. In the second, seniors are ignored, abandoned and left by the wayside, despite an inability to care for themselves.

            Now consider how the very young and the disabled are treated. Are babies nurtured even if they have obvious issues? Are toddlers who are deaf or blind left on a rock in the middle of the forest or is there some system in place to care for them?

            What happens when someone is injured and is then permanently disabled? Does the family provide food, shelter and love or leave them behind when they migrate?

            Your task is to write a scene in which one of these populations takes on an important role. Don’t tackle all three, however. Choose the one that you feel the most comfortable writing about, perhaps one that you know intimately.

            Begin by making a list of possible reactions, both positive and negative. Where will the story start? Choose a point of action designed to establish society’s POV. This might be a tense scene or one of love. It might show someone being abandoned or someone being nurtured.

            Dialogue is important so that readers hear how the community thinks. There need not be total agreement between members. For example, someone might want to keep a disabled child, but the cultural rules forbid that to happen. Conflict ensues.

            Have fun with this one.

A Different Kind of Vampire

            Vampires suck blood out of their victims, right? But what if they didn’t? What would vampires need to stay “alive” then?

            Would it be possible for them to enjoy a nice, cold glass of milk? Perhaps with a dollop of chocolate stirred in? Or maybe they’d like hot chocolate with marshmallows mixed in?

            Your task is to think of an alternative that changes the vampire narrative. If they don’t need blood, then they won’t drain victims of blood, killing them. They wouldn’t change their victims into vampires either.

            Consider what a vampire needs to sustain itself. That means there should be something nutritional about what they consume. That rules our soda unless it’s accompanied by some type of food that provides the vitamins and minerals that vampires need.

            Once you’ve settled on a “food”, then create the scene and situation that shows the vampire procuring and enjoying the drink.

            Have fun with this one.

Good Friends

            Some people are lucky to have met and kept a good friend throughout their lives. They grew up together, shared countless experiences and even when distance separated them, they maintained their relationship. Having a good friend is truly special.

            Other people are not so lucky. Perhaps it’s because they moved around so much as children, or that their families discouraged making friends outside of the family, but these individuals grow up not knowing the kind of bond that can last forever.

            There are also independent individuals who prefer living in isolation. They like being on their own, not owing allegiance or time to anyone else. They work best on solitary projects, going on vacations to isolated places and avoiding crowds of any kind.

            Your task is to write a story in which friendship plays a major role. Your character can be the kind who gathers friends like collecting rocks, the kind who has difficulty making friends, or the one who enjoys his own company. Maybe, if you are feeling adventurous, you could have all three types of characters in your story.

            At the beginning readers will need to know what type of character the protagonist is. Show his personality through dialogue and interactions with others. Action and scene are also critical. All can be sweet and smooth or there can be a little conflict when differing personalities interact.

            Have fun with this one.

The Conscientious Person

 A conscientious individual is organized, industrious and reliable. When given a task, this person will work hard at it, giving her best effort, until it is completed. She can stay focused whether studying for a class, cleaning the house or helping to plan for a major event.

This is the type of person that does well on projects working with others. Looking ahead to the successful completion is reward enough. This includes neatness at home and setting personal goals such as maintaining a healthy diet and an exercise routine.

While such a character might make for a boring story, imagine what happens when her work practices are disrupted by a disorganized, uncaring, unreliable team member. Conflict will surely arise.

Your task is to write the story. Setting, narrative and dialogue are all necessary in order to establish the protagonist’s normal world. Tension builds when something or someone throws that world off kilter.

Have fun with this one.

Being Helpfu

Happy people are more likely to help others. It doesn’t take a researcher to verify that statement for we’ve all seen it in action.

Imagine walking down the street at the same time as a mother pushing a stroller while holding the hand of a young child. As she goes down the curb, the stroller tips, threatening to dislodge the toddler.

On one side of the street is a young man walking to the beat of music only he hears. On the other side is another young man stomping forward, bent over, lost in some negative event.

Which of these two will rush to help the woman?

Your task is to write a story in which someone needs help. You can make the need as large as you wish. For example, perhaps an older gentleman needs a new roof or maybe an item is too high for a young girl to reach. Your character reacts. Or perhaps she doesn’t.

Readers will need to meet your character before the event occurs in order to understand the motivations between action or inaction. Set the scene by including sensory details that establish the when, where and why. Make sure readers also meet the person in need of help. Establishing personalities is crucial. Once the story gets going, allow readers to see and feel what happens next.

Have fun with this one.

Zoom Meeting Issues

            Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us participate in many zoom meetings on a regular basis. We’ve all become aware of things that annoy or distract. Perhaps it’s important to establish basic ground rules at the onset and then periodically remind people of what they should and shouldn’t be doing. For example, it the group is large, the it might make sense for everyone to mute their microphones in order to keep background noise to a minimum.  Another issue is an improperly place camera, for example, a camera pitched so high that you only see a person’s forehead, or one so low that you only see the desktop.

            Another problem arises when participants are doing other things, such as jogging, working on another monitor or chopping onions. These movements distract others, pulling them out of the conversation. It also sends a message that the individual is not fully engaged, often considered disrespectful to the group.

            Not being prepared is also a major problem. For example, your book group is discussing the assigned novel, but you chose not to read it. Unless the topic is one that you know something about, it’s hard for you to participate. In that case, a few voices are heard while the others sit silently.

            Your task is to write a story in which a zoom meeting goes wrong. Perhaps someone is only wearing underwear which is revealed when he stands to get a cup of coffee. Or maybe a person’s dog insists on sitting on the owner’s lap, completely blocking the person’s face. There are myriads of things that could go wrong.

            Have fun with this one.