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.

Hike in the Woods

            You’ve made plans to join friends for a hike in the woods. You’ve never been there before, but one of your friends claims to have been there several times before and so knows the trials. What could go wrong?

            Think of all the possibilities, from mundane to terrifying, that could happen. Stalked by a wolf? Injured by a hunter who mistook you for a deer? Lost when you went down an unfamiliar path? Slipped on a treacherous hill and careened over the edge? The list is endless.

            Your task is to write a story in which your hike goes wrong. Begin by looking at photos of forests to get an idea of how tall the trees are, how deep the forest, how narrow the path. Become familiar with the types of trees, edible plants, poisonous fauna. Research building shelters, finding shelter in caves, overhangs and amongst briars.

            Create your hiking group. Include a variety of personalities: the overconfident, the narcissist, the timid, the follower. How they interact will impact the flow of the story arc.

            Set the story in motion. Remember to build up tension as your characters walk along.

            Have fun with this one.

Self-Reflection

            Sometimes it’s good to look back over the things we’ve said and done. It gives us a new perspective as to whether we should have approached a given situation differently or if what we did still feels okay.

            If we would change things, how would we do it? Would we walk up to the person and apologize? Send an email? Text? The method we choose might affect the outcome in ways that we hadn’t foreseen.

            Your task is to write a scene in which your character realizes that she didn’t behave the way she should have. She then contacts the injured party to try to make amends.

            This should be a tension-filled situation. Your character has no idea how the other person will react. She’s going to be nervous and possibly rehearse what she’s going to say. She might practice with a trusted friend before the meeting.

            The other person could accept the apology with grace or could strike out with hurtful words. Both scenarios work because sometimes we need a feel-good ending.

            This situation calls for dialogue and body-language. Include sensory details so that readers know exactly where the meeting takes place.

            Have fun with this one.

The Lie

            Most of us knows someone who lies on a regular basis. He lies about big things and small, at work and at home. He lies to his friends, family and peers at work. He cannot help himself.

            Most of his lies seem minor, but when added together, he becomes an untrustworthy person. If he says he ate at Boudet’s, the most expensive restaurant in town, or that he dated Cheryl a few years back and he dumped her because she smelled. No one believes him, laughs it off, and walks away.

            But when he lies about a job that he didn’t finish, or blames someone for losing his work, those lies affect not just his peers, but his company.

            Your task is to write a story in which a lie impacts a number of people and possibly affects the outcome of a situation. Take into consideration what the liar will do to try to hide the lie so that the truth is never revealed.

            Dialogue is important for readers will want to hear the liar repeating his story over and over. Description is critical for readers need to see, hear and feel the reactions of the liar and those to whom he lies.

            Have fun with this one.

Pause to Reflect

Impulsivity can lead someone in the wrong direction, in a relationship, on a job search, or even out on a hike. Imagine a person who, after knowing someone for two minutes, jumps into a serious relationship, only later to discover that the lover is married. Or think of a situation in which an individual believes she heard a piece of scandalous news and then runs to the boss. Or a hiker who takes off without a map, intentionally goes off-trail because he thinks there might be a terrific view just around the boulder, only to become hopelessly lost.

Impulsive behaviors can get a person into serious trouble.

Now consider how different the results would be if, before rushing off, the person paused to reflect. For example, after writing an angry email, what if he put it aside for an hour, thought about it, then deleted it. The outcome would be completely different.

Your task is to write a story in which impulsive behaviors negatively impact your character’s life. Dialogue would be useful here to give readers insight into what your character is thinking. Descriptions are also important to allow readers to understand where the character is.

Have fun with this one.

Following Directions

            From an early age we learn the rules, what to do, when to do it and when to stop. We are taught where to do something and for how long. Lining up begins when we are young and continues throughout the rest of our lives.

            What we are seldom taught, however, is how not following directions impacts others.

            For example, imagine you’re on a trip with forty other people. The tour director tells you to be on the bus before eight in the morning. You figure the bus won’t leave until 8:10, so you don’t bother to appear until 8:11. Your inability to follow directions impacts the rest of the group.

            All games have directions. Children are taught to follow them in order to make the game fair. What happens when someone feels above the “law”? They are called cheaters.

            The same term can be applied to adults as well.

            Your task is to write a scene in which following directions plays an important role. It might be interesting to have some characters who always comply, some who sometimes comply and some who seldom, if ever, comply. The combination builds tension, something needed to make a story interesting.

            Have fun with this one.