The Chef

            Some are excellent cooks. They can make something grand out of ordinary things. On the other hand, many can’t cook worth a lick. There are also those in the middle: with the help of recipes, they can put palatable food on the table.

            Your protagonist might have secret talents that aren’t revealed in the story, but that influence his actions in some way. For example, he meets friends for lunch at a fancy restaurant. He’s the only one that understands the names and descriptions, surprising everyone. From there perhaps he invites them over for a gourmet dinner.

            Or maybe he’s so clueless about the menu that he selects a simple salad, trying to be safe.

            Your task is to write a story that involves food in some way. If your character is a marvelous cook, write a scene in which something happens that alters the taste or consistency of the meal. You can do the reverse with the lousy cook: she concocts an entrée that’s the hit of the pot luck.

            Description is important, but build tension through dialogue. There must be conflict of some kind, either internal or external, or even both.

            Have fun with this one.

Favorite Activity

            Recall a time when you participated in an activity for the first time, only to discover that you truly enjoyed it. Perhaps you liked it so much that you incorporated it into your life. When given a chance, you’d go for a hike, toss out a fishing line, make something from yarn or go bowling.

            These activities enriched your life by adding a texture that was missing. Stories were told based upon your exploits or creations shared that you made with fabric, wood or yarn. Friendships developed among those who shared your interests. Together you went places and did things that perhaps you still recall in vivid detail.

            Your character needs to have a favorite activity. It might not be the driving force of the story, but it’s there in the background. It influences the way she thinks and interacts.

            Your task is to write a story in which your character either discovers an activity that she enjoys or participates in one that she hates. Details are important. Dialogue is needed to bring the character into the activity, for most often we are drawn to new experiences through people in our circle. Bring in the senses and the emotions. Readers will want to be there as your character explores the activity, from beginning to end.

            Have fun with this one.

The Gift

Everyone has received an unusual, and often, unwanted gift. A nonsmoker might be given a gorgeous crystal ashtray or a nondrinker might receive a subscription to an online wine club. For some, these might be cherished and appreciated items, but for others, a bit of a bother.

If you don’t want the gift, what do you do with it? If you know where it came from, you might be able to return it without a receipt. But in the case of the online wine club, you have to find someone who would love a monthly bottle of expensive wine.

Your task is to write a story in which your character receives something he didn’t ask for and definitely doesn’t want. The item can arrive in the mail or be presented in person. Describe the character’s anticipation as she opens the gift, then her reaction when she sees what it is.

Even if the gift comes by mail, include dialogue. He could show it to a friend and have a good laugh about it, or he might call the giver and politely thank them even though it’s a lie.

Make it interesting and funny.

Have fun with this one.

A Sweet Story

Around Valentine’s Day advertisements appear in which a beau gives a potential lover a red heart-shaped box of rich chocolates. Candy releases pleasure chemicals into the brain, so it symbolizes the sweet feelings in a relationship. The giver intends to make an impression and imply that their love is durable, lasting a good long time.

Who doesn’t like a bit of sweetness now and then? And if it comes from someone that you care about, it gives a warm, pleasant feeling.

Your task is to write a story in which candy plays an important part. It could begin with the making of chocolate by a chocolatier or the buying of the candy at a store that specializes in expensive chocolates.

Your protagonist can be the maker, the giver or the recipient, whichever you feel the most comfortable writing.

Readers will want some form of tension. It could come in the creation of something new, some recipe that doesn’t work out right at the beginning. Perhaps the giver agonizes over the perfect choice of candy, be it the hearts with imprinted sayings, peanut-butter stuffed chocolates or expensive truffles in a gold-foil wrapped box.

And then there’s the recipient who might now expect or appreciate the gift or the giver!

Narrative description is important, but so is dialogue. The dialogue could contain some humor as well as angst.

Have fun with this one.

In the Listings

            The next time a flyer for an open house arrives in your mail, save it. Look at it carefully, studying the layout, the furniture, the decorations. If it’s within driving distance, go take a look. Check out the neighborhood. How far apart are the lots? How close are the nearest schools? What types of businesses are nearby?

            Attend the open house so that you can walk through the rooms and step into the backyard. If photos are displayed, check them out. Who lives here? A family? A group of friends?

            What stories would they tell if you could interview them?

            Using your imagination, write an interesting story that takes place in this house. Is it a murder mystery? An invasion of pests? A romantic-comedy? Ghosts floating about?

            There needs to be tension for the story to be interesting. Begin by mapping out your characters. What do they want? How hard are they willing to work to get it?

Include both description and dialogue. Maintain a good pace so that the story does not get bogged down.

Have fun with this one.

Chance Encounter

            Some of us are outgoing and enjoy talking to complete strangers. We relish every opportunity to meet others, share stories and seek common ground.

Others of us find such meetings intimidating. We avert our eyes, turn our heads and walk quickly away.

What happens, however, when you run across someone you don’t know when you are alone in a situation that allows for no escape? For example, you’re hiking in a local park, enjoying the view, listening to the birds sing as you walk up and down hills. That is until someone you’ve never seen before comes up from behind or appears on the horizon?

There’s no place for you to go to avoid the individual. Think about what emotions you experience as you go over what limited options you have.

Your task is to write a story in which your character finds herself in such a situation. Begin by establishing the setting and her feelings about being there. Let readers walk along with her, seeing what she sees, hearing what she hears, smelling what she smells and feeling the dirt beneath her feet.

Suddenly the stranger appears. Readers want to know what she experiences at that moment in time.

Assume dialogue takes place. Who initiates it and what do they talk about? When it’s time to continue their separate journeys, how does she feel as the stranger leaves?

Have fun with this one.

A Safe Place to Live

We’ve heard the stories of refugees from war-torn countries who search for a peaceful place to live. They yearn for jobs, food, and relief from fear. They pack what belongings they can carry and walk mile after mile, experiencing countless hardships along the way.

Our hearts go out to them, even when there is little we can do to offer comfort.

What about the refugees living nearby? For example, there are shopping-cart people who push up their baskets and down streets, hoping to find someplace that offers some degree of privacy. Or the homeless man who sleeps leaning against a shopkeeper’s wall in downtown San Francisco. If he’s lucky, he has pieces of cardboard on which to lie and a blanket as cover. He is dirty, ragged and hungry. And often smells so bad that passers-by wrinkle their noses in disgust.

It is easy to write stories in which the characters are comfortable in fancy homes, in tree-lined neighborhoods, with two working parents and new cars in the drive. It is much more challenging to speak for the speechless, to tell their stories with compassion and understanding.

Your task is to choose a refugee and place her in a scene. Give her a voice. Listen to her heart. Interact with her, in some way, either in first person or as an omniscient narrator. Wake up with her in the morning, walk about with her in the day, sleep with her at night. Eat meals with her. Follow her as she searches for a bathroom in which to wash up. Be with her, not as a sympathetic ear, but as an equal. Walk in her shoes, even if just for one day.

Have fun with this one.

Masquerade

            People seem to love dressing up in costume and going to parties. If the mask is good enough, even the best of friends can’t identify the wearer. This allows freedoms to say and do things that perhaps the participant would never do.

            Some masquerades are quite elaborate. They take place at huge houses or McMansions. There are spiraling staircases, gilded trimmings, caterers about and even an orchestra playing dance tunes. Decorum is maintained according to caste expectations.

            During Halloween there are also parties, but they might feature salads made up to look like human insides, games designed to gross out participants, and freaky music echoing off the walls.

            Your task is to write a scene in which a masquerade plays a major role. Make things interesting by having something unexpected and untoward happen. Think murder or grand theft. Perhaps an unwanted sexual encounter. Stumbling drunks and flirtatious behavior.

            The setting is crucial. Readers want to be drawn in by opulence or the fright-factor. Descriptions of what participants are wearing is also important. When the story gets going, dialogue will make things come alive.

            Have fun with this one.

Difficult Choices

            Recall a time when you were faced with two possible choices. At the time, one definitely seemed better than the other, but the least favored choice would be easier to accomplish.

            For example, you could go to college and earn a Master’s Degree, a choice that might enhance employment opportunities. However, it will take at least a year to complete.

            On the other hand, you could expand your current skills by attending workshops, seminars or weekend trainings. Each one you complete goes on your resume, making it appear that you are constantly working on improving yourself.

            The choices might be more mundane such as whether to have the beef enchilada drowning in sauce and cheese or the tortilla soup. Both are delicious, but one has far fewer calories.

            Your task is to write a scene in which a character faces two choices. Make sure that both are compelling and offer some type of reward. Your character must take time to consider both equally.

            To make the story more interesting, add in another character. This allows for dialogue, which provides opportunity for depth and detail.

            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.