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.

The Big Proposal

Do you recall the day that your significant other proposed? Where did it happen? How did you react? What did you tell others after it happened?

Some of us prefer quiet, gentle proposals while others want something huge and dramatic. Imagine the proposal on the jumbo-tron at a baseball game. What if you weren’t in love with that person? With thousands watching, if you decline, think of the resounding hiss!

Your task is to write the story that shows the scene played out, in glorious details, for your chosen protagonist. You can choose to write from the POV of the one doing the proposing or the one being asked. Readers will want to see it played out from inception of the idea to the end result.

One place to begin is by making a list of potential scenarios. Think from minimalistic to grandiose. Narrow it down to the one that you feel most comfortable writing, the one that best suits your character’s personality, the one that makes the most exciting scene.

Have fun with this one.

Hit Refresh

Have you ever wanted to get a new start? Let’s say that a relationship that you’d like to develop began with you saying or doing something dumb. If you could get a do-over, what would change?

Think back to when you began your current career. If you could, would you go back and head in a different direction? If so, why? What choice would you make today?

Just as you might enjoy getting a fresh start, so will your protagonist.

Your task is to imagine a scene that went badly. Write it, in all its gory details. How does your character react to the choices she made? As she reflects, what plan of action does she come up with to change the trajectory of her poor decisions?

Write that as well. Readers will want to suffer with her as she analyzes what she did that’s upsetting and as she attempts to make things right. Details are crucial. Readers want to see her face turn red, hear the pace of her breathing change, feel her tears as she suffers.

When you are finished, reread looking for tension, conflict, reflection and change.

Have fun with this one.

Welcome Home

After being away from home, who greets you at the door? A child? Spouse? Beloved dog? Maybe a neighbor or a renter?

How does it make you feel to be loved so much that someone waits for your return?

Now think about your protagonist. Close your eyes and visualize who greets her.

Your task is to write that story. Your readers will want to see the details and feel her emotions. They yearn to experience what she’s going through, down to the smallest detail. For example, does the puppy pee on the floor? The cat rub her legs? The birds chirp loudly?

Perhaps not only happy things occur. Maybe someone left a message on the answering phone that a relative is gravely ill or has died. Or that they are coming for a surprise visit arriving in an hour. How does you character react to those bits of news?

Remember that all stories need conflict and tension, so while writing the happy arrival story include some piece of conflict.

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.

Writing From Experience

Another technique to use when you can’t think of a story to tell, is to write from a specific incident in your life.

For example, write about the time you were betrayed by another. This could have taken place when you were a child, or when you were in high school, or even as an older adult. You want to choose something that had an impact on who you are today.

If you are not writing about yourself, but rather a character in your story, choose an occurrence in her life that would have a comparable impact.

Your task is to first create a list of events that you might be able to write about. For example:

  1. Your first experience in deep water.
  2. The first time someone asked you out and the date that followed.
  3. Your first pet. This can be your initial reaction to it, your feelings over time, how devastating it was when it died.
  4. The time when you met someone who later became important in your life.

Once you have created your list, or working from the one above, write the story. Try to include as many details as you can, making sure that you tickle the senses. If you are writing about yourself, but you really wanted to use the details in a fictional story, then rewrite those parts that change the point of view.

Have fun with this one.

A Special Birthday

Think back in time to a birthday that was unique in some way. Perhaps it was your first party and Timmy Pearson ate so much cake that he barfed all over your Mom’s favorite throw rug.

Maybe it wasn’t your party, but your best friend’s when you were both teenagers. Someone brought a pint of vodka and dumped it in the punch. Everyone got drunk and silly. There was lots of close dancing, kissing and serious making-out.

Maybe your party was ruined when your Uncle Joe showed up, being the bully and braggart that he was, and stole your thunder by making it all about him.

Think of the stories you can tell!

Your task is to write about a special day that either you remember happening to you, or one that you want your character to experience. Details are important, so include foods eaten, drinks consumed, behaviors exhibited.

Dialogue is important so that personalities and interactions rise forth.

Your reader wants to be in the moment, to feel as if they are in the room, seeing and experiencing everything as your character does.

Reread, looking for details that make the story jump.

Have fun with this one.