Starting Over

            Who doesn’t like a fresh start? Well, many people might resent being told to scrap work and begin again. Imagine putting in hours designing what you thought was a winning presentation, only to find that it wasn’t what the boss had in mind. You’d be frustrated, angry and hurt.

            To many, however, having a chance to start over might bring a sigh of relief. Picture a student who received a poor grade on an important test. The grade is so low that it will pull down her grade point average, possibly endangering her scholarship. The professor, after learning that she has a previously undisclosed disability, agrees to give her more time. She redoes the test in the learning center. And…her grade is substantially higher!

            Both cases involve scratching the first attempt. Both have different feelings attached.

            Your task is to write a scene in which the protagonist has to start over. It can be in a relationship, at work or school, on a project for the house, or even writing a book. Emotional reactions will vary depending upon the situation that you set up.

            The first step is to establish character. An angry character will just get angrier while a passive one might just shrug it off. Someone prone to tears reacts differently from a stoic.

            Next come up with a challenge that has stakes attached. It could be a promotion, purchasing a house, or repairing a car.

            Have fun with this one.

Wish Giver

            Imagine that someone you know is dying. As you sit next to him, holding his hand, he asks you to fulfill his dying wish. He says it isn’t a big thing, but something that’s been on his mind for some time. What do you do?

            Your response will be leveraged by your morals and beliefs, by the time it might take to complete, and by costs involved. For example, he asks you to travel to Norway to visit a long-lost cousin. The expense and time such a venture would take determines how you respond.

            What if he asks you to paint the outside of his house so that his widow has a pleasant place in which to live? If you have the skills, time and money to pay for paint and materials, you might choose to get this done. In fact, you could organize a group of friends on a Saturday morning, all of whom come prepared with materials needed and the energy to complete the project.

            Your task is to write a story in which a dying person asks your protagonist to grant one last wish. To increase complexity, choose something that either goes against your character’s beliefs or something that requires a great amount of time and energy.

            How to begin? Set the scene through dialogue and description. Put readers in the room. Allow readers to see what’s happening, feel the relationship, and experience the range of emotions as your character understands what is being asked of him.

            Have fun with this one.

Physical Fitness

           Some of us are specimens of incredible fitness while others are morbidly obese. Most of us fall somewhere in between. How we feel about being fit says a lot about our character. Is exercising an obsession or a supplement to good health? Does limiting the size of meals mean you are a picky eater or trying to keep off the pounds? On the same note, gorging to excess is also an influential factor in overall fitness.

            Your character’s attitude toward physical fitness might not play a key part in the story, but it does tell a reader something about who he is. Imagine him walking through a door into a crowded lob filled with strangers. What do the people see and think when they see him? How do they react? How does he present himself in terms of clothing, ability to walk and overall demeanor?

            First appearances often affect future relationships. You need to take this into account in the story. When a dazzling blond model struts into the scene, she receives a different reaction than when a morbidly obese man waddles into the room.

            Fill your scene with dialogue, perhaps between casual observers. Narrative is required.

            Have fun with this one.

Accepting Outcomes

            Picture yourself sitting by the phone waiting for a call. Perhaps you interviewed for a dream job or maybe you had a medical test done and are eagerly awaiting the results. Maybe you ran for a political office and now that the election is over, you want to know whether or not you won.

            The call comes. How do you react if you didn’t get the job or the results are negative or you didn’t get elected? Do you file a complaint? Demand a second opinion? Ask for a recount? Do you contact a news agency and share your beliefs that you were discriminated against in some way?

            How we receive bad news tells a lot about us. Some people shrug it off and move on while others drown themselves in a pity party. Some blame themselves while others blame everyone else.

            Your task is to write a story in which your protagonist does not get the news she had hoped for. Choose a situation that is easiest for you to write, perhaps something you’ve experienced yourself. Begin by establishing her desires, embedding readers in how important the outcome is to her.  Use a combination of narrative and dialogue to establish the scene.

            Have fun with this one.

Anticipation

Your birthday is coming up and you’re aware that a party has been planned. You think you know who’s coming, you wonder if Jesse, a childhood nemesis, will have the audacity to appear.

Anew job opportunity has opened up and if you’re offered the position, it means more money and responsibility, but you’ve got to ace the interview.

There are many events that arise in our lives that cause angst. The anticipation alone makes us sweat, interferes with sleep, and causes our hands to tremble. We rehash possible negative outcomes, analyzing each reaction that we might have.

Anticipation is a complex emotion. It is a feeling of excitement about something that is going to happen in the near future that leads to restlessness, difficulty focusing, a sense of uneasiness, and an attempt at avoiding participation in the event. In story form, anticipation can trigger scenes of tension and conflict between characters that alter familial relationships and ruin friendships.

Your task is to write a story in which anticipation plays a major role. Choose a scene in which emotions run high, affecting how the character thinks, acts, speaks. Include narrative and dialogue so that readers can see how anticipating the event influences the story arc.

Have fun with this one.

Family Game Night

Many of us older folks grew up playing card and board games. Some of us might have pleasant memories of friendly competition and conversations shared that brought joy and laughter. If the games took place on a regular basis, we probably eagerly looked forward to time spent with family and friends doing something that we could enjoy together.

However not all game-playing is friendly. Imagine a scene in which players are teased, harassed and humiliated. People scream at each other as they declare dominance in terms of gaming skills. Alcoholic beverages are consumed intensifying the belittling. The atmosphere is tension-filled because of the highly competitive situation. Instead of looking forward to those nights, dread looms over the announcement that the time has come to repeat the performance.

Your task is to write a scene in which your character takes part in game night. You choose whether there is friendly competition or cut-throat activities. Or maybe there is a combination of the two.

Begin by setting the scene and placing your character in the midst of the action. Perhaps there is debate as to which game to play, who is in charge and how it is determined who will go first. If younger players are involved, maybe they need help. If so, who takes on that role?

Dialogue and description are key.

Have fun with this one.

Play Ball!

Baseball. Basketball. Volleyball. Tennis. Rugby. American football, soccer and futbol as it’s known everywhere else. Playing sports is something almost everyone does sometime in their life.

For most of us we learn the rules of the games in our physical education classes. If a parent follows sports, then we spend hours watching on television.

Some of us play on recreational teams that become quite competitive, while others only play pickup games at local fields and courts.

Games can become contentious. Players cheat to get ahead. They illegally trip or push opponents. They step over lines then argue that they didn’t. Players who fall become injured, and if not hurt, get angry and fight back. Tensions rise. In professional sports it’s not unusual to see entire teams rush onto the field.

Your task is to write a story in which sports plays a major role. Choose a sport that you know enough about in order to tell the story. Make sure you understand the causes of tension and use them to draw the reader in. Details are critical. Dialogue is required.

Have fun with this one.

Listening Skills

Some of us are truly great listeners. When someone speaks to us, we give undivided attention, make appropriate comments, and offer timely responses. We don’t interrupt and ask for clarification if needed. Our body language, usually leaning forward somewhat, signals our interest in what’s being said.

There are those of us who are terrible listeners. When someone speaks we are fiddling with our phones, shuffling papers, tapping our feet and fingers and thinking of ways to exit the situation. Our disinterest in what is being said is clearly telegraphed through our facial expressions and posture. We are impatient, wanting it to end so that we can present our take on the subject or terminate that discussion so as to bring forth one of our own.

Your characters have listening skills as well. How to present them in a story? There must be a situation in which listening takes place, such as a party, social gathering or workplace meeting. There must be dialogue and there must be physical reactions. Posture and behavior is critical. There must also be give and take, with your character saying something in response.

Your task is to write a scene in which your character displays listening skills appropriate to her personality. A domineering, bossy person might have extremely poor skills, while a quiet, thoughtful person might be excellent. It’s up to you.

Write an interesting scene. Reread looking to make sure that tension exists and that your character’s skills are clearly shown.

Have fun with this one.

Unexpected Package

While I was out and about today I package came that my husband did not expect. He was overjoyed when he realized the vendor. He quickly put the meat selections in the freezer and is looking forward to cooking them.

How do you feel when something unexpected arrives at your door?  Is it with joy of discovery or dread, not knowing to whom you might owe a favor? And once it is opened, do your emotions change? If so, why?

Your task is to write a story in which a surprise package arrives for your character. This can be based on a real event that occurred in your life or completely fictionalized. What’s important is to describe the thoughts and emotions that your character experiences.

We want to see, from beginning to end, how it transpires.

This does not have to be a long piece, but could eventually be part of a larger story.

Have fun with this one.

Family Dynamics

Imagine a family gathering in which a variety of aunts, uncles, cousins and elders mix and mingle throughout the house and backyard. Most of the time pleasantries are exchanged and rules of engagement are followed.

But then someone has a little too much to drink or Johnny pushes Steven off the swing or Aunt Carol’s casserole gets knocked off the counter or someone overhears juicy gossip about themselves. All hell breaks loose, right?

That’s the story that you want to tell. Not the goody-goody everyone’s pretending to like everyone. Readers want to tension, the fights, the nasty words tossed about. We want to see what happens. Who’s involved. The words/actions. Who tries to intervene. Who laughs. Who gets hurt.

Your task is to write a fascinating story about family times that go awry. Remember to include details. The skirt tucked into Sally’s panties. The zipper of George’s slacks that gets stuck. The smell of rancid lettuce rotting in the afternoon sun.

We want good things to happen, sure. If not, the story would be over the top. Give us pleasant happenings, but then an incident that triggers disaster.

Have fun with this one.