Manipulating Time and Space

            Being able to jump back and forth in time is a function in many Speculative Fiction stories. Portals exist through which beings and objects can pass. What happens to the traveler can be frightening or placid, depending upon the author. The important aspect is how different the connected worlds are: the greater the difference, the bigger the impact.

            Imagine living in our contemporary world, then after passing through a portal you’re back in the Victorian ages? Or perhaps you move forward to find Earth colonized by beings from space? There might be language barriers to overcome as well as differences in available technology. Fabrics and clothing styles would be different as well as boundaries between countries, foods eaten, and types of buildings.

            Your task is to write a story in which your protagonist discovers a portal and jumps through. Begin by establishing the normal world in enough detail that the reader understands where the character is coming from, but be careful not to bore the reader with too much information presented all at once.

            What does it feel like passing through? Does the character see colors, smell flowers or touch ice-cold barriers? When he arrives on the other side, how does he react? Sensory details will make this world come alive.

            Interacting with others before the portal and once in the new world is important. Dialogue allows readers to be immersed in the world without giving them a list of descriptions.

            Have fun with this one.

Negotiation Tactics

            We’ve seen the car you want on the lot. The salesperson has been dogging you, spouting the merits of this car or that. You take the one you’re most interested in out for a test drive with the salesperson riding in the back seat, singing the praises. When it’s time to buy, the salesperson offers one price, you go under. Negotiations ensue.

            You interview for a job that you have all the skills for. You expect a certain salary, the PR officer offers a lower one. You drop your expectations a tad, but ask for benefits to make up the difference. Negotiations ensue.

            There are many scenarios in which haggling takes place. How you enter the fray says a lot about who you are. For example, if you personify the injured party, you might not get what you want. On the other hand, if you come off too aggressive, then nothing will go right.

            Your task is to write a story in which negotiating plays a major role. First establish the setting, including the where, when, why and what for. Make it something large enough that it truly matters. It needs to have value, either in terms of money or social status.

            Dialogue will be critical as readers will need to be there as the bargaining takes place. Remember to include emotional reactions, such as facial expressions, body posture, words chosen.

            Does your character win the negotiations or not? Witnessing someone be a sore loser might have more emotional impact than watching him succeed.

            Have fun with this one.

Sibling Rivalry

            Children growing up in the same home, raised by the same parents, may experience a bit of rivalry now and again. For example, one child may believe that Mom loves the brother more or that Dad spends more time with the sister. Often a younger child thinks that the older one has preferential status in the family, and if allowed to fester, can lead to verbal and physical fights. These beliefs can lead to long-term familial dysfunction.

            Recall a time when you disagreed with a sibling or close relative. What caused the problem? Who started the argument and how was it resolved? Did the relationship improve over time or continue to disintegrate?

            Your task is to write a story in which sibling rivalry plays an important role. Begin with the characters and their order within the family. Create a list of issues that might arise. Establish whether arguments will be physical, verbal or a combination of both.

            Setting is crucial. Readers will need to see the environment, not just in terms of concrete objects, but also in terms of how the parents or guardians interact with each child. Dialogue is important as well as readers will want to hear the words spoken. Lastly, emotional reactions will drive the story forward.

            Have fun with this one.

Relationship with Clothes

            Think back to your childhood. What type of clothes did you wear? How much influence did you have in the purchase of your clothes? Did you have drawers full or only two outfits? Were your clothes stylish or faded and worn?

            How did you feel when you stepped out of the house? Were you ashamed or proud? Did you cover up your clothes with a jacket or strut about knowing that people were checking you out?

            Our relationship with clothes is formed in our early years. A child with few options might become an adult with closets stuffed and drawers overflowing. A teen who would only wear designer brands might choose the high-end brands as an adult.

            Your character’s preferences most likely stem from childhood options. While it isn’t necessary to detail every outfit your character wears, it is important to give readers a feel for how he dresses at varying situations.

            Your task is to write a story in which clothes are mentioned several times. Consider weather, situation and finances. Perhaps another character comments on an outfit or maybe she goes shopping and tries on dresses or slacks.

            Readers will want to see the design, the cut, the colors, the fit.

            Have fun with this one.

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.

The Best Gift

            Gift-giving opportunities arise all throughout the year. Children have birthday parties, couples celebrate anniversaries, there are house-warming parties and, of course, Christmas and other such holidays. Sometimes we know the recipient well enough to know what they like, but often we are clueless. We head off to the store looking for inspiration which might not happen.

            What is the best gift you’ve ever given? Was it something that you wanted for yourself or something from a want-list? What was the reaction when the gift was unwrapped? Do you think the person kept the gift or returned it at the soonest opportunity?

            Your character might have to give a gift, or perhaps might be the recipient. How will she react? Will she smile even if the gift is hideous? Will she thank the giver or push the gift aside?

            If she’s the giver, how much effort will she put into finding a gift? Is she the kind of person who buys gift cards or does she search for what the recipient really wants? Does she wrap the gift herself or pay someone to do it for her? Does she buy online or at a store?

            There are so many options here, so many opportunities for a good story.

            Your task is to write a story in which gifts are involved. There can be welcomed gifts, surprise gifts, pleasant gifts or unwelcome gifts. The giver can be aware and thoughtful or callous and unfeeling. The recipient can be grateful or simply accepting.

            Use both narrative description as well as dialogue. Include a little conflict in order to make the story interesting.

            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.   

Holiday Beliefs

            With Christmas approaching, now is a good time to write about the holiday. Not everyone celebrates Christmas, so if you have a special day, choose that one to remember.

            Some children are so poor that there are no gifts, no tree, nothing special about the day except maybe going to church. Other kids dream about all the packages they get to unwrap and then, on Christmas Day, get to tear paper off gift after gift.

            Try to recall a holiday that was special for you. What were the reasons that it was meaningful? Was it the gifts or time with family? Was it the mystic or the planning that went into preparations to celebrate?

            Your task is to write a story in which your character celebrates a special day. Make the anticipation large enough to inspire a well-developed story. Include a bit of conflict so that not everything runs smoothly. Narrative is important to set up the scene, but dialogue is what will spur action. Sensory details allow the reader to be in the scene, so include them as well.

            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.

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.