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.

Starting Over

            Who doesn’t like a fresh start? Well, many people might resent being told to scrap work and begin again. Imagine putting in hours designing what you thought was a winning presentation, only to find that it wasn’t what the boss had in mind. You’d be frustrated, angry and hurt.

            To many, however, having a chance to start over might bring a sigh of relief. Picture a student who received a poor grade on an important test. The grade is so low that it will pull down her grade point average, possibly endangering her scholarship. The professor, after learning that she has a previously undisclosed disability, agrees to give her more time. She redoes the test in the learning center. And…her grade is substantially higher!

            Both cases involve scratching the first attempt. Both have different feelings attached.

            Your task is to write a scene in which the protagonist has to start over. It can be in a relationship, at work or school, on a project for the house, or even writing a book. Emotional reactions will vary depending upon the situation that you set up.

            The first step is to establish character. An angry character will just get angrier while a passive one might just shrug it off. Someone prone to tears reacts differently from a stoic.

            Next come up with a challenge that has stakes attached. It could be a promotion, purchasing a house, or repairing a car.

            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.

Extroversion

            Everyone knows a silent loner. Picture the individual who eats alone, never speaks up in a classroom or meeting, and walks the halls or sidewalks seemingly lost in their own thoughts. People who fall into this category are considered introverts. Creative folks often fall into this category. By working alone, they feel as if they accomplish more.

            On the other end of the scale are the extroverts. These are the sociable party people. They can be loud and aggressive, often preferring to be center stage even at the cost of hurting others. They seek thrills so as to gain more attention, often at the sake of their own safety and well being. They can be lively conversationalists and enjoy team sports and outdoor activities.

            Having both types of characters in a story might set up interesting points of contention. Imagine the introvert wanting silence while the extrovert flits about the office striking up loud conversations.

            Your task is to write a story in which these opposites are in the same setting, perhaps assigned to the same team or task. Imagine the conflicts that can arise. The extrovert might believe that her ideas are the only good ones while the introvert might be groaning inside.

            Setting is important, but dialogue is critical. Readers are going to want to see and feel what the characters are experiencing. Sensory details of sight and hearing will add important touches to the story.

            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.

Aging Parents

All of us have parents that sooner or later will need extended care. It might be in the end stages of their lives or it might be while they are still able to live fairly independently. We don’t like to think about those days. We prefer to hold the image of the way they were when we were young: robust, strongly independent, able-bodied and sound of mind.

When the time comes to change their living situation, we are often dismayed, confused and stymied. Even if the relationship is good, we might recoil at the thought of our parents mobbing in with us. Having them around full time, offering criticisms and sometimes rude comments, suffering through their idiosyncrasies, can be more than we want to tackle. There’s a difference between dropping in for a visit, which soon grows burdensome, to living in our house and taking control over what we eat, what we watch on television, where we go and how often we have free time.

Your task is to imagine a situation in which this plays out in a story. Perhaps your protagonist is the daughter of a cranky father. Maybe your protagonist is the cranky father. Something has to be done because dad can no longer live in his house. What options will be considered? How will the daughter react when dad negates them all? What will dad do when he’s presented the various possibilities?

Tension and disagreements will arise. The best way to show this is through dialogue. Readers want to know what has caused the necessity of changing living arrangements. Take readers along when dad visits retirement communities to care homes. Show the emotions as displayed. Give a resolution that might be mutually agreeable, or maybe, if you want to end on a tenuous note, a situation that leaves no one happy.

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.

Inconvenient Truths

            We don’t like to hear things that go against our beliefs. We cringe when someone spouts an idea that counters what we’ve been led to be true. It might make us angry; it might make us sad. It might even make us change our minds, depending upon how deep-rooted our beliefs are.

            We all know someone who is steadfast even when confronted with verifiable sources of information. They close their eyes and ears, blocking out sources and references that present opinions different than their own. These individuals are difficult to be around. They often spew their beliefs without provocation, taking over conversations and dominating group discussions. They block out dissenting points of view and disallow attempts to change the topic.

            Your task is to write a story in which a group is gathered that includes at least one individual who refuses to accept alternate points of view. Altercations might take place in which words are flung about that are hurtful and resolve nothing. There may even be fisticuffs that result in injury.

            Setting is important. The place and event determine who is invited, how groups form and reform, and when uncomfortable topics arise. Narrative sets the tone: dialogue carries the conflict.

            Have fun with this one.