Sudden Death

 A good thriller begins with a death, right? So who do you kill off and how do you make your dead character relevant to the story? One way is through short flashbacks.

 For example, a child sees something that reminds her of her dead or missing parent. The emotions she experiences are important parts of the story.

Perhaps a colleague becomes upset when a new hire is assigned the missing person’s desk. In the process of settling in, anything left behind is packed up and put away.

Your task is to write a story in which a character is either dead or missing. Your protagonist experiences flashbacks of times shared, places gone, things purchased that remind her of her parent/child/coworker.

Don’t make the flashbacks too long for fear of pulling readers out of the story. Short and quick is better.

Use a combination of narrative and dialogue. Begin with a strong setting that puts the protagonist in a situation that is poignant.

Have fun with this one.

The Party

            The backyard is festooned with balloons and colorful banners. The clown has been hired, the bounce house inflated and the cake delivered. The grill is ready to cook hot dogs and hamburgers. Games are stacked and the pinata is hanging on a tree branch. The guests arrive and initially all goes well.

            The boss rented a banquet hall in an upscale hotel. The caterer has hired staff, ordered the food for the buffet and stocked the bar. Floral bouquets are centered on each table. The band is warming up and the chef is rushing around the kitchen overseeing the preparations. The employees drift in by ones and twos, head for the bar and settle at tables.

            Something always go wrong. It is inevitable. It might be a child skinning a knee or a priceless vase shattering into tiny pieces. Most likely there will be at least one argument after a goodly amount of booze has been consumed. Perhaps hair will be pulled, a chest punched or a pair of drunks will roll down a hill.

            Your task is to write a story in which a series of unfortunate events occur. Begin with rather inconsequential issues that escalate into increasingly larger ones. As tension builds, your characters’ true personalities will show.

            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.

The Invitation

            A small card comes in the mail that you weren’t expecting. You hope it’s something good. Perhaps an invitation to a friend’s baby shower. Or to a bridal shower. She’s finally getting married!

You begin planning. What to wear, what to buy. Maybe even what dish to bring in case it’s a pot luck.

Finally, after dreaming about all the possibilities, you open the card. What goes through your head as you slide the card out of the envelope? As you look at the pretty picture on the front? As you slowly open the card and read the words?

Your task is to write a story in which your character experiences the range of emotions that accompanies the arrival of an invitation in the mail.

Set the stage with the setting, with the character, by employing both narrative and dialogue. Obviously this means there must be a secondary character, someone with whom discussion can take place.

Have fun with this one.

Strange Occurrences

            Sometimes things happen during our day that can’t be explained through rational thinking. Perhaps the sky darkens unexpectedly and strong winds arise, followed by a deluge that no one had foreseen, reminiscent of fantasy stories, yet not.

            Maybe a strange critter scampers by while you’re out on a hike that only you see. It resembles something real, but it’s coloring is a bit off. When you point it out, your friends think you’ve gone bonkers. And you agree.

            Your task is to write a story in which something bizarre happens. Perhaps a whole bunch of strange things happen, much like in a children’s story. You can choose to use the voice of a children’s author or that of an adult fantasy writer.

            Scene is important. There need to be sufficient details that readers can see what’s happening. It also has to be believable in the world that you have created. Dialogue helps to establish scene and gets readers into the heads of characters.

            Have fun with this one.

The Wizard Did It

            Every story needs a villain. In the fantasy world, there have been helpful wizards (think Gandolf), but most often, evil ones. Helpful wizards don’t always turn out to be all that helpful. They intend to do well, but things go wrong. Instead of starting a warming fire, they set the forest ablaze. Or what should have been a nourishing drink turns out to make someone very ill.

            We all expect the evil wizard to cause harm, so it might be a huge surprise if the wizard actually does something kind.

            Your task is to write a story in which everyone suspects the wizard. Begin with the event. What happened, how did the wizard get involved, how do the people feel, and what is the eventual result?

            Is the wizard the main character or someone else? Is the wizard friend or foe? Where does the story take place? Castle? Forest? Mountain top?

            Are there a lot of people nearby or is the location remote?

            Lots of decisions to make, keeping in mind that readers want tension. On top of that, keep in mind that tone impacts the story as well. If you write a comedic story, the overall tone is completely different if terror and damage occur.

            Have fun with this one.

            After searching for a new shirt, you find one in your size that fits. You carry it to the register, already picturing how wonderful you’ll look wearing it. You hand the clerk your card. It fails to go through.

             The payment is due on your car insurance. You use your credit card. It supposedly has insufficient funds.

            Embarrassed is too mild a word to describe how you feel.

            Your task is to write a story in which your character attempts to spend money using a credit card, but is denied. This story needs to shows the range of emotions that she goes through. There might be disbelief at the beginning, followed by hopefulness. Possibly anger. Frustration. Definitely embarrassment.

            Begin with the setting: place and time. Readers need to be there as he selects the items for purchase or is waiting in line to pay at a service center. The story could take place at a supermarket, car repair shop or insurance office.

            There will be dialogue between your character and whoever is processing the payment.

            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.

Monster Attack

            Do you remember the first movie you saw in which a monster arrived, creating havoc wherever it went? Most likely you were both horrified and entranced. Your eyes were glued to the television as the monster destroyed buildings, tossed cars and grabbed people off the street.

            Today the horror genre is incredibly popular. Moviegoers seem to eagerly await the next new monster, whether it comes from sea, air or land. There’s something intriguing about a foreign entity spewing drool and fire as it crushes a famous city.

            Your task is to write a story in which a monster invades a city that you know well. By choosing a known setting, you can include realistic concepts such as existing buildings and street names.

            Your protagonist can be the monster or the hero who fights to save the world. Descriptions is important so that readers can visualize your monster as well as the place, time and actions taken to fight it.

            Include dialogue as well so that readers understand what’s going through your protagonist’s mind.

            Have fun with this one.