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.

Being Helpfu

Happy people are more likely to help others. It doesn’t take a researcher to verify that statement for we’ve all seen it in action.

Imagine walking down the street at the same time as a mother pushing a stroller while holding the hand of a young child. As she goes down the curb, the stroller tips, threatening to dislodge the toddler.

On one side of the street is a young man walking to the beat of music only he hears. On the other side is another young man stomping forward, bent over, lost in some negative event.

Which of these two will rush to help the woman?

Your task is to write a story in which someone needs help. You can make the need as large as you wish. For example, perhaps an older gentleman needs a new roof or maybe an item is too high for a young girl to reach. Your character reacts. Or perhaps she doesn’t.

Readers will need to meet your character before the event occurs in order to understand the motivations between action or inaction. Set the scene by including sensory details that establish the when, where and why. Make sure readers also meet the person in need of help. Establishing personalities is crucial. Once the story gets going, allow readers to see and feel what happens next.

Have fun with this one.

Zoom Meeting Issues

            Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us participate in many zoom meetings on a regular basis. We’ve all become aware of things that annoy or distract. Perhaps it’s important to establish basic ground rules at the onset and then periodically remind people of what they should and shouldn’t be doing. For example, it the group is large, the it might make sense for everyone to mute their microphones in order to keep background noise to a minimum.  Another issue is an improperly place camera, for example, a camera pitched so high that you only see a person’s forehead, or one so low that you only see the desktop.

            Another problem arises when participants are doing other things, such as jogging, working on another monitor or chopping onions. These movements distract others, pulling them out of the conversation. It also sends a message that the individual is not fully engaged, often considered disrespectful to the group.

            Not being prepared is also a major problem. For example, your book group is discussing the assigned novel, but you chose not to read it. Unless the topic is one that you know something about, it’s hard for you to participate. In that case, a few voices are heard while the others sit silently.

            Your task is to write a story in which a zoom meeting goes wrong. Perhaps someone is only wearing underwear which is revealed when he stands to get a cup of coffee. Or maybe a person’s dog insists on sitting on the owner’s lap, completely blocking the person’s face. There are myriads of things that could go wrong.

            Have fun with this one.

Reacting to Taboos

            Taboos are prohibitions against doing something that is either culturally repulsive or is too sacred for ordinary humans. For example, in many cultures eating dog meat is considered a taboo, but in others, it’s meat for consumption. Eating lunch behind the altar of a church would be a taboo, but holding a religious revival where food is served is not. What is labeled a taboo depends upon the times, the culture and the background of the community.

            What happens to people who break the taboos also varies. In one society a woman walking around with shoulders bared might result in severe punishment, while men can be bare-chested with none. Eating meat on Fridays was a long-lasting taboo in the Catholic Church, for which the offender was expected to confess. Having sexual relations outside of marriage might be accepted in the royal class, yet could be result in being ostracized in the lower classes.

            Your task is to create a scenario in which taboos exist for which there are punishments. Begin by listing at least three taboos that you feel you could include. Choose the one that will make the most interacting story. Consider how your character will behave in this society. She can be the one who observes the breaking of the taboo or is the one violating society’s rules.

            Setting is important for readers need to understand that place and the people in this world. Dialogue is crucial so readers can see what’s taking place and how your character explains her behavior and rational for breaking the taboo. Readers also need to see and feel what the punishments are like and how they affect your character.

            Have fun with this one.

Assigning Blame

            Let’s assume that something negative has occurred. Perhaps a favorite vase was shattered or the front end of the car is damaged. You are responsible, but fear reprisal. What do you do? Assign blame to someone, everyone, even if that person was nowhere near when the event took place.

            Why do some pass off the responsibility while others do not? One factor might be familial upbringing. Imagine growing up in a home in which accepting blame leads to severe punishment. The individual learns to never, ever admit to having committed an offense. It’s about self-protection.

            The problem is that healing can’t take place as long as fear gets in the way.

            Your task is to write a story in which something happens and fingers start pointing, looking for someone to blame. Begin by creating a list of factors that could come into play. Think actions, reactions. Choose the one that you are most comfortable writing about.

            The action determines the offender. A young child most likely didn’t drive the car into the garage door. He could, which might make for an interesting story, but how likely is that to have happened?

            An adult might steal the girl’s doll, but why? Is the doll an artifact? Is it worth something and so can be sold?

            Match the age to the situation.

            Take into consideration responses of the supervising adult. Does he threaten violence such as whipping with a belt? Does the child kick and scratch? Is the offender pushed into the lake? There are endless possibilities.

            Use dialogue and action.

            Have fun with this one.

Aging Parents

All of us have parents that sooner or later will need extended care. It might be in the end stages of their lives or it might be while they are still able to live fairly independently. We don’t like to think about those days. We prefer to hold the image of the way they were when we were young: robust, strongly independent, able-bodied and sound of mind.

When the time comes to change their living situation, we are often dismayed, confused and stymied. Even if the relationship is good, we might recoil at the thought of our parents mobbing in with us. Having them around full time, offering criticisms and sometimes rude comments, suffering through their idiosyncrasies, can be more than we want to tackle. There’s a difference between dropping in for a visit, which soon grows burdensome, to living in our house and taking control over what we eat, what we watch on television, where we go and how often we have free time.

Your task is to imagine a situation in which this plays out in a story. Perhaps your protagonist is the daughter of a cranky father. Maybe your protagonist is the cranky father. Something has to be done because dad can no longer live in his house. What options will be considered? How will the daughter react when dad negates them all? What will dad do when he’s presented the various possibilities?

Tension and disagreements will arise. The best way to show this is through dialogue. Readers want to know what has caused the necessity of changing living arrangements. Take readers along when dad visits retirement communities to care homes. Show the emotions as displayed. Give a resolution that might be mutually agreeable, or maybe, if you want to end on a tenuous note, a situation that leaves no one happy.

Have fun with this one.

Good Intentions Gone Awry

            Imagine doing something nice for someone just to have it backfire. Instead of the happy smile you expected and the gushing thanks, you see only furrowed brows and quizzical looks. You ask yourself what went wrong. Perhaps you figure it out, perhaps you don’t.

            Does failure prevent you from trying to please someone else at a future date? Or do you try to come up with something different you could do, something more suited to the individual in mind?

            Good intentions don’t always work the way we intended. It could be that the person thinks you’re trying to get a favor in return, or maybe your act unintentionally insulted them. Perhaps the gift was a duplicate of something they’d had for a long time and you just never noticed it sitting in the house. Maybe the item is in a garish color that you love, but doesn’t fit in their color scheme.

            Whatever the reason, we have to accept the fact that not all our good intentions are welcomed.

            Your task is to write a story in which your protagonist attempts to do something nice for a friend, a coworker, a boss or a neighbor. Begin by making a list of things she could do. For example, she could make cupcakes or offer to mow the lawn. Next think of the antagonist and how she might react that shows displeasure.

            Description is needed at the beginning to establish scene, motivation and to describe the offering. Dialogue is required to show the interactions.

            Have fun with this one.

Power Sources

            In the beginning, foot power made things work. Think about women sitting in front of some type of device designed to make something. There would have been a foot pedal to make it spin, twirl or weave. Water then became a source, being used to grind wheat, mash seeds to create oil, or to move logs from one place to another.

            Ponies were attached to a tether and walked around and around all day long, day after day, turning a wheel. Eventually coal was used to power huge electricity generating plants. As time passed wind and solar power were incorporated into the grid. Even nuclear power was harnessed.

            When you’re creating a setting, you must take into account where your world is on the spectrum of possibilities. If burning wood is the only source, only certain types of machinery are able to operate. If nuclear power is used, a wider range is available.

            Your task is to write a scene in which the source of power comes into play. Perhaps it’s just been employed and the characters are terrified, surprised or both. Maybe there’s a breakdown that has the potential to cause catastrophic events to occur. Dialogue and narrative are both critical.

            Have fun with this one.

A Little About the Author

            A good exercise for any aspiring writer is to create a short biography. Many of us find it uncomfortable to write about ourselves, primarily because we’ve been raised to not brag about what we have done. However, if a piece you’ve written is published, the press will want to include something about you as a person, you as a writer, you as an inspiration for others.

            If you are an unpublished author, you might thing that your credentials are lacking. Wipe that thought away! Instead focus on when the written word first took on importance in your life. Was it when your guardian read to you at night? Did you then write your own stories?

            Perhaps you wrote picture books or chapter books for young readers, because that’s who you were at the time. Maybe as a teen you experimented with poetry and essay. Or you wrote fantasy because those were the movies that you most enjoyed.

            Your task is to write an autobiography of your writing life. In high school were you the editor of the school newspaper? Were you a featured contributor as well? When you were in college did you submit to the literary journal and get a few pieces published? Maybe you were busy writing research papers that spurred an interest in journalism?

            Make a list of where your work has appeared, even if it is only on your own blog. Have you attended writing conferences? If so, where and what did you learn each time? Has your work been workshopped either at a conference or within a critique group? What did you take out of those experiences?

            Include anything that might be relevant. Don’t worry about length at this time. Later on you can trim your autobiography down to meet publisher’s requirements.

            Have fun with this one.

A Twist on the Familiar

            Picture a dragon. An ordinary dragon. What do you see? Flames burning down villages? Piles of hoarded gold? Dwelling in a darkened cave? But what if your dragon does not meet those requirements? Perhaps instead of shooting fire it spouts water that drowns entire towns or maybe it uses its ability to refill reservoirs? What if it can’t fly but struts through the countryside winking at villagers and befriending other magical creatures?

            Take a typical ghost. She haunts the upstairs of the Victorian house on the top of the hill. She floats about terrorizing guests of the B & B. She dresses in a white gauzy dress, her ballerina-shoed feet never touching ground. What if your ghost lives in a modern high-rise condo complex in a major city? She has a nose-ring and wears punk-style clothing. Her attitude is obnoxious and rude. Her voice is a high-pitched squeal.

            Your task is to take a mythical or magical being and make it your own. Choose a creature that you are somewhat familiar with, or spend a little time researching something from another culture that sounds interesting. Think of ways to make it your own. Choose a nontraditional setting. Change the characteristics as in the above samples. Alter the personality, food preferences, behaviors.

            Write the story. Establish setting first, then drop in your character. Make things happen that will startle your readers. You want readers to smile, to nod, to enjoy the story.

            Have fun with this.