Bad Company

            You move three thousand miles away from nagging family. You’ve settled into your new, unfettered life when the dreaded call comes: your parents are flying out, intending to stay for a month. Imagine the feelings that you experience, from the sinking of your stomach, to the palpitating of your heart, to the outright panic.

            Instead of your parents, what if the guest is your sister-in-law who doesn’t understand the use of deodorant? No matter how many times she’s been shunned due to her body odor, nothing changes, and once she’s passed by, that odor lingers. Now she wants to borrow your empty bedroom for just one night, or two at most. You know, from experience, that the room will have to be sprayed repeatedly and aired out with a fan running for days.

            In both cases, if you decline, you will be in hot water, so you shrug it off as just another burden to shoulder. It won’t be that bad, right?

            Your task is to write a story in which company comes that either your character didn’t invite or would never invite for one reason or another.

            Tension, from the moment of the invitation, is critical. Allow readers to feel the emotions experienced by your protagonist as the event progresses. You can add in twists, such as an extended stay, to moving in, to other problematic behaviors such as excessive drug use.

            Have fun with this one.

Painting Dilemma

It’s time to repaint a room in the house. You’ve got an idea of what you’d like, but your partner/landlord has something completely different in mind.

Perhaps you’re thinking of an intense color, such as a deep burgundy or a navy blue. In your mind, you see one wall of the living room in one of those colors, the rest a variety of white. You believe that the contrast will make the room look bigger, more alive, more welcoming. More modern.

The other, however, only wants pastels because she thinks dark colors are too hard to cover up if selling/leasing.

Your task is to write a story in which the subject of painting is the main discussion point. Imagine the characters visiting paint stores, looking at sample strips, and perhaps bringing home tiny cans of different colors.

Things can’t go smoothly, of course, if there’s to be tension that hook readers.

Using a combination of narrative and a heavy reliance on dialogue, draw readers into the dilemma and keep them there. Be sure to tell the end! What color do they eventually settle on and why!

Have fun with this one.

An Authority Figure Interferes

            We’ve all experienced authorities who get in the way. A supervisor gives us an assignment to complete on your own, then hovers and interferes. A police officer who follows you everywhere as if you are a criminal. A parent who refuses to let you grow up. A teacher who is a jerk, calling you insulting names.

            How you handle these people says a lot about you. Definitely about your personality, as some of us can more easily shuck off the jerks, while other suffer alone, at home. Some of us turn to respected confidants while others hold everything inside. Some might report the individual to a higher up or file a complaint, while others find a new job.

            Your task is to write a story in which an authority figure gets in the way. Make the person a bit difficult, but give her a bit of charm. Have him say inappropriate things, yet be supportive of new ideas. All of us have two sides, so make this person the same, which will create conflict within the story.

            Have fun with this one.

Object as Muse

            Try to recall a gift someone gave you that you hadn’t asked for and didn’t want. The giver came to your house fairly frequently, so if the item was meant for display, you had to keep it. Perhaps you tucked it away in the china cabinet and pulled it out only when they were coming. Imagine what would have happened if they dropped in unexpectedly!

            Maybe it was an inheritance from a treasured relative. It had no monetary value, but whenever you touched it or looked at it, it brought you back to that time and place.

            What if you really liked it and so wore it every day. And then you lost it.

            There are so many stories to be told about objects that enter our lives.

            Your task is to write that story, one in which your character comes into possession of an item that she is meant to keep forever. To add interest, it might be something quite ugly or something that doesn’t fit in the décor of the house. Or maybe it’s a hideous piece of jewelry that has no value.

            Or, it could be something that another relative expected to inherit and is outraged that it went to your character.

            Have fun with this one.

 A Public Admission

            Imagine being at some type of gathering. People are milling about, forming into small groups, then breaking apart and reforming in completely new ones. The talk is generally muted, but occasionally a voice rises above the melee.

            You are drawn to the voice because it sounds somewhat familiar.

            You push your way through the crowd, which is all now watching the goings-on. Indeed, you do know the owner of the voice: it’s your ex-business partner arguing with a vendor who provides security for the firm.

            What you hear shakes you to the heart of your soul.

            Your task is to write a story in which some type of confrontation takes place. It should be between at least one person your character knows. Begin by making a list of possibilities, including the who, what, when, where and why. The juicier the better.

            Tension is critical. Your readers are going to want to know what is at stake, what secrets are being revealed and how that will impact the business, the relationship, the future.

            Begin by establishing setting, but don’t labor over the details. Give just enough to place the scene without describing every painting on the wall, every piece of furniture, every item of clothing worn.

            Take us to the conflict as soon as possible. We want to feel the emotions through voice, action and words.

            Have fun with this one.

An Old Acquaintance

            Sometimes we leave behind people we’ve known for very good reasons. The person might have been abusive or a braggart. Perhaps a relationship that went nowhere. Maybe you moved so far away that continuing a friendship was challenging.

            Often when we switch jobs, we never see those coworkers again, either by choice or because it just doesn’t happen. The same is true when we marry. Singles often prefer to spend time only with other singles. Once children are born, then families prefer to spend time with other families.

            What happens when someone from your past suddenly reappears? Imagine the emotions you experience, ranging from surprise to dread. It also depends upon where you crossed paths. If it’s in the grocery store, you might exchange pleasantries and that’s it. If it’s at work, then you’ll have to interact with this individual as long as you both work at the same job.

            Your task is to write a story in which someone from the past appears. You need to decide whether it’s a joyous reunion or one fraught with tension. The type of meeting determines the emotional tone of the piece. Or, it could be a little of both: tension at first, bumps along the way, then acceptance and perhaps something more than friendship.

            Have fun with this one.

Elevator Music

            How many times have you been subjected to the type of canned music commonly called “elevator music”? Far too many to count. It used to be that canned music was everywhere: at the dentist’s office, in the supermarket and at the beauty salon. You’d hear it in department stores and offices. On telephones as you wait for calls.

            All of this becomes too much after a while. You grit your teeth, clench your fists and want to scream at it to stop. But you don’t because it would accomplish nothing. But what if it could?

            Your task is to write a story in which your character launches a drive to end all elevator music. How does she get the word out? Where does her group meet and what actions do they plan? How often does she protest and how does she react when the crowd is either too small or much bigger than she expected?

            How much of a driving force is she? Is she the center of the movement or has she shared her ideas with someone else who takes over?

            Your readers will want to be a part of what’s happening, so make sure to establish setting, tension, driving force and strong character.

            Have fun with this one.

Food Inspiration

Many key things occur during the preparation or consumption of food.

In a wealthy household, there might be an entire staff working in the kitchen. Scullery maids did the dirty work of cleaning endless amounts of pots and pans. Cooks slaved over wood-burning stoves and ovens, chopped fruits, vegetables and meats, rolled pastries all while issuing commands to those under their watch.

Imagine the conversations that took place. Most likely there was a fair bit of gossip tossed about the family and townspeople alike.

In the dining room circumstances were quite different. Wealthy patrons were waited on by unformed servants. Course after course was served. Conversation might have covered contemporary issues, politics, entertainments and relationships.

Things are very different in the homes of the less wealthy, even today. Instead of maids, the wife does the cooking and cleaning. Kids help out, and in more egalitarian marriages, so do the husbands.

Regardless, topics of conversation might be quite similar.

Your task is to write a story in which the preparation and consumption of food plays an important role. Establish the setting and key characters, then get the action moving. Dialogue is going to be important, so make sure there is enough to allow readers to see what is going on.

Have fun with this one.

Lying

            It would be nice to never have to lie, but that’s a naïve idea. Telling the truth, can at times, create difficult situations that have serious repercussions.

            Imagine that a loved one emerges from her room wearing a new outfit. She asks how she looks in it. Your honest opinion is that the color, style or fit aren’t complimentary. However, if you tell her that, she might get angry, might fight back, might hide in her room. So you smile, say something noncommittal such as, “Looks nice.”

            What if instead of a loved one, it’s your boss asking your opinion about a project idea. You have experienced this exact situation before and so know that it you express doubt, all hell will break out. When you look at the details, you know immediately that it’s a lousy proposal that could cost the company a client, or waste money, or even lead to a potential lawsuit.

            Sometimes we have no choice but to lie even when we know that to do so, isn’t right.

            Your task is to write a story in which your character is forced to either lie or tell the truth. Make the stakes high enough that the character has something to lose.

            Use a combination of narrative and dialogue. There must be tension! And conflict.

            Have fun with this one.

Cooking Lesson

            Picture yourself in the kitchen, trying to cook something for the first time. Back then you probably had little experience to rely on, so you had to follow the recipe. If it turned out fine, then you were lucky as most of the time, we fail. The pasta might not be cooked thoroughly enough, the sauce might not taste right and maybe a key ingredient was left out.

            Most of us learn from a parent or spouse. Some, thanks to social media, go to videos or television programs for ideas and instruction. Learning from a video isn’t quite as emotionally charged as standing next to someone who might not be the best teacher.

            Your task is to write a scene in which the tension is so thick that it taints the experience. Your character might not be a willing participant. That generally happens when a teen is forced into learning from a parent. What could possibly go wrong? Everything.

            Include lots of dialogue. That will allow readers to see and feel what is driving the tension.

            Have fun with this one.