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.

Word Scramble

            Story ideas come from interesting places. It could be something in the news, a conversation overheard while commuting to work, or from family issues that continue to plague.

            When inspiration is taking a vacation, something you can do is put together a list or semi-related words to use in either a poem or story.

            Below are two lists of such words. You can turn them into verbs or plural nouns. You can add endings creating adverbs or find synonyms that better express your thoughts. You do not have to use all the words, but try to do so. The more you write, the more likely you are to come up with an idea.

            Kindness                                                                    Fire

Tenderness                                                                              smoke

Sympathy                                                                                inferno

Gentleness                                                                               flame

Goodwill                                                                                 burning

Warmth                                                                                   flare

Merciful                                                                                  brimstone

Love                                                                                        hearth

Goodness                                                                                crackle

            Your task is to write a story using as many of the words from one of the lists. Either lean toward the creation of setting. The first might describe the protagonist, while the second the environment.

            Have fun with this one.

An Authority Figure Interferes

            We’ve all experienced authorities who get in the way. A supervisor gives us an assignment to complete on your own, then hovers and interferes. A police officer who follows you everywhere as if you are a criminal. A parent who refuses to let you grow up. A teacher who is a jerk, calling you insulting names.

            How you handle these people says a lot about you. Definitely about your personality, as some of us can more easily shuck off the jerks, while other suffer alone, at home. Some of us turn to respected confidants while others hold everything inside. Some might report the individual to a higher up or file a complaint, while others find a new job.

            Your task is to write a story in which an authority figure gets in the way. Make the person a bit difficult, but give her a bit of charm. Have him say inappropriate things, yet be supportive of new ideas. All of us have two sides, so make this person the same, which will create conflict within the story.

            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.

Pivotal Point

            Do you remember a time when something occurred that altered your life? Perhaps it was a move cross-country or changing your major in college. It might have been falling in love when you had no intention of ever marrying. Maybe you got what you thought was the job of your dreams only to find out that you found it so boring that you hated going to work.

            When something happens that causes you to change course, that’s a pivotal point in your life.

            Every good story, whether in a book, movie, play or television show, has a pivotal point that sends the protagonist down a different road. Sometimes the road is so bumpy and rough that the protagonist will turn around and go the other way. But many times, they push on, determined to see where that first path leads.

            Your task is to write a story in which your character faces such a pivotal point. You can have him ignore it and just carry on, but what fun would that be? Instead let your character make the change. Plot points will include lots of events that make the choice uncomfortable, that makes the character question what he has done.

            Use both narrative and dialogue to tell the story.

            Have fun with this one.

 A Public Admission

            Imagine being at some type of gathering. People are milling about, forming into small groups, then breaking apart and reforming in completely new ones. The talk is generally muted, but occasionally a voice rises above the melee.

            You are drawn to the voice because it sounds somewhat familiar.

            You push your way through the crowd, which is all now watching the goings-on. Indeed, you do know the owner of the voice: it’s your ex-business partner arguing with a vendor who provides security for the firm.

            What you hear shakes you to the heart of your soul.

            Your task is to write a story in which some type of confrontation takes place. It should be between at least one person your character knows. Begin by making a list of possibilities, including the who, what, when, where and why. The juicier the better.

            Tension is critical. Your readers are going to want to know what is at stake, what secrets are being revealed and how that will impact the business, the relationship, the future.

            Begin by establishing setting, but don’t labor over the details. Give just enough to place the scene without describing every painting on the wall, every piece of furniture, every item of clothing worn.

            Take us to the conflict as soon as possible. We want to feel the emotions through voice, action and words.

            Have fun with this one.

Change in Plans

            Quite a while ago you decided to go on a trip. You asked your friends for ideas. You searched the Internet and requested brochures. Finally, after much deliberation, you settled on a destination, contacted an agent and made reservations.

            You’ve marked it on our calendar and shared the information with family and friends. You even went shopping to get needed items.

            And then something happens. Perhaps you sustain an injury or maybe a family member falls ill and needs care. Maybe the cruise is no longer offered on the dates you had chosen and the new dates don’t work with your schedule. Or, a world-wide pandemic hits and all travel screeches to a halt.

            Think of the range of emotions you’ve experienced on this journey.

            Your task is to write a story in which your character wants to go on a vacation. She follows all the usual paths before settling on the one most interesting to her. It might be fun to send her on that trip and have everything run smoothly. It might also be interesting if on the trip, some form of disaster hits. Or as in the above scenario, the problem arises before leaving.

            Readers will want to go on this exploration with your character, but not as co-tourists, but as witnesses. Not only will you use narration, but also dialogue. Through conversations with others emotions will be revealed.

            Have fun with this one.

Hidden Phobia

            Everyone is afraid of something, right? It might be a fear of heights so crippling that you cannot climb even the first step of a ladder. Perhaps whenever you see a dog you cower. Maybe it’s a nighttime terror that stalks you in your dreams.

            How many people know of your phobia? If not many, then you’ve done a great job keeping it hidden. But what if you’re suddenly in a situation with others and whatever your terror is, suddenly is in your face? What do you do or say?

            Your task is to write a story in which your character has a phobia that he’s kept hidden for years. None of his friends from high school know, nor does anyone from work. Something happens that causes him to either have to overcome that phobia or confess its existence.

            Setting the scene will be critical. Stay away from backstory that reveals the cause for the phobia. Instead let it slowly come forward through dialogue and narrative. Readers will want to see your character squirm as he weighs his options.

            Build tension through the use of heightened senses. Allow us to see what he sees, feel what he feels, smell what he smells and so on.

Have fun with this one.

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.