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.

Power Sources

            In the beginning, foot power made things work. Think about women sitting in front of some type of device designed to make something. There would have been a foot pedal to make it spin, twirl or weave. Water then became a source, being used to grind wheat, mash seeds to create oil, or to move logs from one place to another.

            Ponies were attached to a tether and walked around and around all day long, day after day, turning a wheel. Eventually coal was used to power huge electricity generating plants. As time passed wind and solar power were incorporated into the grid. Even nuclear power was harnessed.

            When you’re creating a setting, you must take into account where your world is on the spectrum of possibilities. If burning wood is the only source, only certain types of machinery are able to operate. If nuclear power is used, a wider range is available.

            Your task is to write a scene in which the source of power comes into play. Perhaps it’s just been employed and the characters are terrified, surprised or both. Maybe there’s a breakdown that has the potential to cause catastrophic events to occur. Dialogue and narrative are both critical.

            Have fun with this one.

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.