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.

Object as Muse

            Try to recall a gift someone gave you that you hadn’t asked for and didn’t want. The giver came to your house fairly frequently, so if the item was meant for display, you had to keep it. Perhaps you tucked it away in the china cabinet and pulled it out only when they were coming. Imagine what would have happened if they dropped in unexpectedly!

            Maybe it was an inheritance from a treasured relative. It had no monetary value, but whenever you touched it or looked at it, it brought you back to that time and place.

            What if you really liked it and so wore it every day. And then you lost it.

            There are so many stories to be told about objects that enter our lives.

            Your task is to write that story, one in which your character comes into possession of an item that she is meant to keep forever. To add interest, it might be something quite ugly or something that doesn’t fit in the décor of the house. Or maybe it’s a hideous piece of jewelry that has no value.

            Or, it could be something that another relative expected to inherit and is outraged that it went to your character.

            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.

 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.

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.

An Animal Appears

            Who doesn’t like a cute cat sniffing out a burglar? Or a determined dog chewing a hole through a fence in order to follow the owner? Sometimes it’s an interesting twist to an ordinarily mundane story, especially if the pet owner just happens to be the villain.

            Imagine a T-rex marauding the country until it rescues a baby fawn! Picture the dinosaur bending down so that it’s short arms can cuddle the frightened baby. Most of us would see the fawn being a snack, so seeing it instead being cherished adds a bit of surprise.

            Your task is to write a story with an animal in it, either doing something unexpected or being owned by someone who has shown no tenderness. Unless your animal can talk, you have to find a way to show the animal’s feelings and reactions. That most likely has to happen through dialogue as other characters talk about what’s happening.

            Depending upon how you write it, the story could be very funny or quite serious, especially if the animal encounters a dangerous situation.

            Have fun with this one.

An Old Acquaintance

            Sometimes we leave behind people we’ve known for very good reasons. The person might have been abusive or a braggart. Perhaps a relationship that went nowhere. Maybe you moved so far away that continuing a friendship was challenging.

            Often when we switch jobs, we never see those coworkers again, either by choice or because it just doesn’t happen. The same is true when we marry. Singles often prefer to spend time only with other singles. Once children are born, then families prefer to spend time with other families.

            What happens when someone from your past suddenly reappears? Imagine the emotions you experience, ranging from surprise to dread. It also depends upon where you crossed paths. If it’s in the grocery store, you might exchange pleasantries and that’s it. If it’s at work, then you’ll have to interact with this individual as long as you both work at the same job.

            Your task is to write a story in which someone from the past appears. You need to decide whether it’s a joyous reunion or one fraught with tension. The type of meeting determines the emotional tone of the piece. Or, it could be a little of both: tension at first, bumps along the way, then acceptance and perhaps something more than friendship.

            Have fun with this one.

Contracting an Illness

            In the real world people fall ill. If they’re lucky, the symptoms are minor and the illness short-lived. Nevertheless, they might have to change plans. Going to work or to a party might be impossible, as is traveling or spending time with family. But after a period of isolation, everything returns to normal.

            Now consider what happens when the illness is severe. If it’s a form of cancer, the individual might have to go through invasive surgery and bouts of chemotherapy. If it’s pneumonia, they could end up in the hospital, especially if they are also asthmatic.

            Broken bones might require surgery to heal. Knees or hips might have to be replaced. There might be a hole in the diaphragm or polyps in the intestines. The list could be quite lengthy, each with its own period of pain and recuperation.

            Your task is to write a story in which your protagonist either falls ill or has to tend to someone who is ill. Choose something that is high on the scale in terms of intensity, something that will cause suffering and interfere with life.

            Narrative and dialogue are both needed. The first to set the scene, the second to allow readers to see what emotions are going through your character’s mind.

            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.

The Party

            The backyard is festooned with balloons and colorful banners. The clown has been hired, the bounce house inflated and the cake delivered. The grill is ready to cook hot dogs and hamburgers. Games are stacked and the pinata is hanging on a tree branch. The guests arrive and initially all goes well.

            The boss rented a banquet hall in an upscale hotel. The caterer has hired staff, ordered the food for the buffet and stocked the bar. Floral bouquets are centered on each table. The band is warming up and the chef is rushing around the kitchen overseeing the preparations. The employees drift in by ones and twos, head for the bar and settle at tables.

            Something always go wrong. It is inevitable. It might be a child skinning a knee or a priceless vase shattering into tiny pieces. Most likely there will be at least one argument after a goodly amount of booze has been consumed. Perhaps hair will be pulled, a chest punched or a pair of drunks will roll down a hill.

            Your task is to write a story in which a series of unfortunate events occur. Begin with rather inconsequential issues that escalate into increasingly larger ones. As tension builds, your characters’ true personalities will show.

            Have fun with this one.