The Well-Disguised Spy

            Recall a time when you were able to hear and see what was happening from a position of advantage. No one could see you and so no one knew you were watching. What did you discover? Was the husband cheating on the wife? Attempting to bribe a school administrator? Offering for sale valuable piece of jewelry?

            What did you do? Keep it a secret, thinking it was none of your business? Or did you report what you’d witnessed to an authority?

            This is the story that needs to be told.

            Your task is to write a story from the point of view of the spy, the character that no one knew was watching.

            This person could be real, or imaginary, or even an animal, such as the pet cat.

            Intrigue is a must. Make the event something important, something that changes relationships, the economy or even the power of government.

            Have fun with this one.  

The Awkward Date

            Did you ever go on a date that didn’t turn out well? What went wrong and how did it make you feel?

            Imagine if you’re a teenager and going on your first date. What emotions do you experience? Who do you tell? What do you wear? Where does your date take you and do you have a good time, or are you miserable? Does he kiss you when he brings you home? Or walk away?

            Imagine everything that could possibly go wrong. Make a list, then narrow it down to the two or three that might make for an interesting story.

            Your task is to write that story, building in plenty of tension and drama. Make the characters complex and interesting. Use dialogue and narrative description so that your readers are right there, experiencing the fraught evening.

            Have fun with this one.

Visions

Close your eyes. Relax, allowing your mind to drift wherever it wants to go.

What do you see? Hear? Smell?

Are you somewhere in your past or seeing a vision of the future? How does it make you feel? Sad? Lonely? Frightened? Hopeful or happy?

What story comes to mind? Is it from your childhood or perhaps when you were much older?

Your task is to write that story, complete with all the emotions that hit you when your eyes were closed. You could begin with a line such as, “When I looked back, I…”

Bring the people in the story to life. They also have emotional reactions to the time and place. There might be conflict. There might be an argument. There might be cooperation and joy.

Use both narrative and dialogue to make the story sing.

Have fun with this one.

Distinctive Fragrance

            Try to recall a time when wearing cologne was commonplace for both men and women. Put yourself in that time and place. Which ones did you like? Which ones made your nose wrinkle?

Which lingered long after the wearer had passed through?

For example, back when Old Spice was quite popular with men, when you were near someone wearing it, how did it make you feel?

Now consider a woman wearing Channel #5.

Your task is to write a story in which a character is wearing a distinctive cologne. That cologne must play a major role. For example, what if the burglar had been wearing the Channel? Or the rapist the Old Spice?

What images would your victim call forth?

Include as many sensory details as you can.

Have fun with this one.

New Person

            You’ve got an established story and you’re well into the plot. Perhaps it’s time to add something to jazz it up. Why not bring in an entirely new character?

            This character must add a twist to the story, something entirely unexpected. Make this individual’s flaw sufficient enough to alter the flow. Maybe he’s an antique collector who just happened to run across a hidden message at the back of a drawer. The note is yellowed and a bit crumpled, but it reveals….

            What if she belongs to a coven and believes that she can influence future events? How could she provide and interesting twist?

            The person might have magic or be a descendant of a powerful faerie line. If there was no magic so far in your story, think how this would up the stakes.

            Begin by making a list of possible individuals and what they would bring.

            Have fun with this one.

Examine House Listings

            Whenever you get stuck on setting, look up available houses in the neighborhood. Take a good look at the photos of each room. Check out the exterior as well, whether it’s a single-family home, an apartment or a condo.

            Can you picture your character living there?

            What happens inside the residence? A murder? A hot love affair? The birth of a child? Perhaps a devastating fire.

            Adapt the residence to fit your setting. Change the modern two-story house to an enchanted mansion on a street of Victorians. If it’s in perfect condition, give it a serious flaw, like a leaky roof or bathroom tiles that collapse inward when cleaned.

            How large of a family do you envision living there? If it’s a studio, perhaps you cram a family of four inside as it’s all they can afford. Or maybe a successful business woman buys the triplex in a new, swanky neighborhood.

            Now that you’ve established character and setting, craft the story. Make something intriguing happen, something that draws readers in.

            Invite other characters to populate your story, but make them all different, with spooky characteristics that clash.

            Have fun with this one.

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.

Dealing with a Phobia

            Many of us are scared of heights, spiders and yapping dogs. We might be terrified of boats, riding on public transit or walking alone at night. The degree to which our phobias impact our lives varies from person to person.

            Seeing any size dog might cause your character to cross the street or turn around and go back home. A spider crawling on the wall might temporarily freeze your character, increase heart rate and impact breathing, paralyzing her until she forces herself to grab a shoe and smash it repeatedly.

            There’s a difference between not climbing a ladder and not going out after sunset. The first might prevent him from cleaning the gutters while the second might stop him from enrolling in classes at the university, accepting a longed-for job or jogging in a nearby park.

            Your task is to write a story in which the phobia seriously impacts your character’s life. Perhaps if when she steps outside and hears a dog barking somewhere, she goes back inside and slams the door. Maybe she stays there, missing dinner with friends or even not going to work, which results in broken friendships or a lost job.

            It might be interesting to hear how your character explains his phobia to others, so include dialogue. Sensory details will be paramont, so make sure we hear, smell, see, feel, and possibly taste very bit of that fear.

            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.

Deep In Debt

            A new car every year, shopping sprees where thousands of dollars are spent, investing in questionable start-ups, and trips abroad every few months rack up so much debt that it’s nearly impossible to repay. Add to that gambling at the race track, membership at an exclusive country club and the yacht that he just had to have.

            Maybe it’s not a lavish lifestyle, but rather medical bills for cosmetic recontractions, cancer treatments or surgeries for the kids, placing tubes in the ears.

            Whatever the reason, your character is deep in debt. How she handles the situation says a lot about her character.

            Does she negotiate with each lender, agreeing to whittle down the amount owed? Perhaps she offers favors in payment, declares bankruptcy or marries a wealthy person who can pay off her debt.

            Your task is to write a story in which your protagonist finds himself in substantial debt. The amount has to be so large that he has no way to settle the bill. Of course, that amount depends upon the individual’s situation.

            A person having little might owe a thousand, and be unable to pay. A person owning a lot might owe millions.

            Both situations make for interesting stories.

            Have fun with this one.