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.

Forgiving Oneself

Because we are human, we are fallible. Not many days go by in which we do not commit a mistake of some kind. Perhaps it’s a misinterpretation of someone’s words. Maybe we cook something too long in the oven, making it practically inedible. It could be entering data incorrectly into a program that skews results of the project.

Our mistakes are large and small, of minimal importance and of huge import. Some are so egregious that it’s near impossible to find redemption. Often we dig holes so deep that the sky does not shine for weeks.

Your character also makes mistakes. It is through her response to those errors that the reader learns something about her inner strength. An individual who apologizes and moves on has different skills than one who blames others and takes no responsibility for his actions.

Your task is to write a scene in which your character does something that creates a stir. It’s important that it be large enough to create tension, that it upsets the normal routine of life.

You might want to use dialogue as a tool to show what has transpired. Readers want to walk with our character through the entire process. Show us the event, the reactions of others, the feelings of your character and the end result. Details are important.

Have fun with this one.

Perfect Strangers

Recall a time when you interacted with a stranger. Was it while standing in line at the grocery store? Going through security at the airport? Asking advice at a bookstore?

Was it a positive experience?  If so, why? What occurred that allowed you to feel good about the interaction?

Did you initiate the conversation? If so, what words did you use?

Your task is to place a character in a comparable situation. She is out and about. She runs into someone she doesn’t know, most likely will never see again, yet strikes up a conversation.

Be sure to describe the scene in sufficient detail that we hear the sounds, smell the smells, taste whatever is being offered, but not so much detail up front that the story never gets started.

Give us emotions. Fear? Dismay? Pleasure? But not all at once. Allow us to travel the range of emotions as the character experiences them. Much of this will have to take place in dialogue form.

Then give us a satisfactory ending.

Have fun with this one.

Natural Disasters

Let’s face it: things happen. Life is not a bowl of chocolates or cherries or cookies. It’s messy, even if we eliminate all the emotional baggage and just focus on the environment.

All over the world weather causes damage. Fires. Floods. Mudslides. Tornadoes and hurricanes. Famine and drought. Fissures and earthquakes. Lightning strikes, ice, hail and snow.

And when these things happen, people’s lives are affected.

Your character, even when living in a fantasy world, experiences a natural disaster or two. This has to be reflected in the story. Not just the event, but also the character’s reactions.

Your task is to write a scene in which some force of nature comes tumbling down in the way of your character’s life. I suggest choosing a phenomenon with which you are most familiar.

For example, in the SF area where I live,  earthquakes are not all that uncommon. But we’ve also recently experienced four years of drought followed by this year’s torrential rains. A reservoir overflowed, the emergency release point on a dam crumbled, and the overflow washed away in a sea of mud. Homes were evacuated, bridges and streets collapsed and water seeped into basements, parks, and parked cars.

If I were to write a story that takes place in the spring or fall, I would need to add in rainfall, hail, sleet and maybe even a little snow on the highest peaks.

Think of the location for your scene. Then make a list of potential disasters that could occur. Choose one. Then write.

Remember to include what your character sees, thinks, feels, tastes and hears. Include emotional reactions. Have some type of damage occur so that your character has to take action.

When finished, reread looking for places where you can strengthen description and response.

Have fun with this one.