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.

Thrift Store Treasures

            Many people enjoy going to thrift stores, looking for unexpected finds. They finger through racks of clothing, hoping for something they didn’t know they needed, but now love.

            They explore the shelves of dishes, toys, bedding and even hats, eagerly searching for just the right thing to put in their houses.

            Sometimes they go home empty-handed, but almost always they find something.

            Your task is to write the story of an avid thrifter. Make the character come alive through the exploration of one thrift shop after another. Have a companion go with. That way they can share what they find, laughing at the downright unusual, rejoicing with each discovery that makes them smile.

            Clothing has to be tried-on. Send the shoppers to the dressing “room”, which often is no more than a curtained-off area.

            There should be laughs when it doesn’t hang right, and smiles when it fits perfectly.

            Your task is to tell the story of these two shoppers, from beginning to end. It would be nice to throw in a little tension, such as what happens when they want the same item.

            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.

Decisions, Decisions

            A recent study reported that adults make as many as 122 decisions a day. Some are quite ordinary, such as figuring out when to get out of bed, what clothes to wear and what television programs to watch.

            We also make decisions that affect our lives in quite serious ways. For example, when choosing a career, some might look at the money to be earned while others might consider job satisfaction over anything else. Teachers are notoriously underpaid when taking into account the college coursework required. Despite knowing that they might never be paid what someone with a comparable education would in the private sector, teachers want to have an impact, they want, essentially, to watch their charges grow and learn.

            Your task is to write a story in which your characters make decisions, both big and small. Readers will want to watch as they discuss their options. This allows readers to see how the characters think. Show the results of the decision as well. It might be more interesting if the results are not what the characters wanted.

            Have fun with this one.

Without a Trace

Mystery stories often revolve around a disappearance. A woman, last seen getting into her car in a parking garage is never seen again. The family dog, an AKC Champion, is stolen from a fenced backyard. The lawyer representing a case against a government official doesn’t appear in court.

The rest of the story revolves around the search. Who is leading the search, whether police, detective or ordinary citizens. Where they look, what cluse they find, the roadblocks they hit and who all they suspect.

There are highs and lows. A clue is found that leads to a near miss, followed by periods of time in which wheels are spun. Suspects are cleared and more are added to the list. False leads given by the public. Misinformation published in the news that only confounds the search.

Your task is to write a story in which someone or something goes missing. You can make it a police procedural or a cozy mystery. Your protagonist can be a no-nonsense detective or an average citizen who refuses to stop investigating.

Include narrative and dialogue. Setting is important, remembering to describe each new location. Sensory details add to the mystery, so don’t forget to toss them in.

Have fun with this one.

Press Release

            Something interesting happened just as your character walked in the door. Perhaps a move star tripped over a wrinkled edge of a rug. Maybe a politician kissed a woman, not his wife, in an extremely romantic way. It could be a car accident outside the doors that nearly killed a popular older woman or the elevator that got stuck between floors trapping inside a small boy who’d accidentally strolled inside.

            Because your character is a budding journalist, she seizes the opportunity to write up a press release and deliver it to the local paper’s office. On top of that, she’d had her phone out and managed a few good shots, plus a short video, which she takes to the small TV station in the next town.

            Your task is to write a story in which your protagonist is the one who caught the story. Write up the press release and have her try to get it published somewhere, anywhere.

            As writers, we understand rejection. Perhaps your character doesn’t because everything she wrote for her high school paper got printed.

            You might include her interviews of witnesses, showing the give-and-take as she struggles to get valuable information.

            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.