Tough Decision

Every now and then try writing a story in which your protagonist is faced with an extremely difficult decision. Think life-altering.

For example, what if one of his children was accused of murder? And he knew that the child was innocent? Would the father confess to the crime to save the kid?

Perhaps a good friend needs a kidney transplant and your character is a good match. However, your character has some complications that makes the surgery a bit risky.

Your task is to write a story in which a tough decision has to be made. Choose something that has serious outcomes, perhaps even life-threatening. What’s important is to make the stakes so high that he has to weigh the options.

Dialogue is important so that readers see discussions being made, questions being asked and answered and the social dynamics involved.

The story can be realistic based on research you’ve done, or fantasy, in another place and time.

Make the tension clear, palpable.

Have fun with this one.

An Authority Figure Interferes

            We’ve all experienced authorities who get in the way. A supervisor gives us an assignment to complete on your own, then hovers and interferes. A police officer who follows you everywhere as if you are a criminal. A parent who refuses to let you grow up. A teacher who is a jerk, calling you insulting names.

            How you handle these people says a lot about you. Definitely about your personality, as some of us can more easily shuck off the jerks, while other suffer alone, at home. Some of us turn to respected confidants while others hold everything inside. Some might report the individual to a higher up or file a complaint, while others find a new job.

            Your task is to write a story in which an authority figure gets in the way. Make the person a bit difficult, but give her a bit of charm. Have him say inappropriate things, yet be supportive of new ideas. All of us have two sides, so make this person the same, which will create conflict within the story.

            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.

Pivotal Point

            Do you remember a time when something occurred that altered your life? Perhaps it was a move cross-country or changing your major in college. It might have been falling in love when you had no intention of ever marrying. Maybe you got what you thought was the job of your dreams only to find out that you found it so boring that you hated going to work.

            When something happens that causes you to change course, that’s a pivotal point in your life.

            Every good story, whether in a book, movie, play or television show, has a pivotal point that sends the protagonist down a different road. Sometimes the road is so bumpy and rough that the protagonist will turn around and go the other way. But many times, they push on, determined to see where that first path leads.

            Your task is to write a story in which your character faces such a pivotal point. You can have him ignore it and just carry on, but what fun would that be? Instead let your character make the change. Plot points will include lots of events that make the choice uncomfortable, that makes the character question what he has done.

            Use both narrative and dialogue to tell the story.

            Have fun with this one.

Change in Plans

            Quite a while ago you decided to go on a trip. You asked your friends for ideas. You searched the Internet and requested brochures. Finally, after much deliberation, you settled on a destination, contacted an agent and made reservations.

            You’ve marked it on our calendar and shared the information with family and friends. You even went shopping to get needed items.

            And then something happens. Perhaps you sustain an injury or maybe a family member falls ill and needs care. Maybe the cruise is no longer offered on the dates you had chosen and the new dates don’t work with your schedule. Or, a world-wide pandemic hits and all travel screeches to a halt.

            Think of the range of emotions you’ve experienced on this journey.

            Your task is to write a story in which your character wants to go on a vacation. She follows all the usual paths before settling on the one most interesting to her. It might be fun to send her on that trip and have everything run smoothly. It might also be interesting if on the trip, some form of disaster hits. Or as in the above scenario, the problem arises before leaving.

            Readers will want to go on this exploration with your character, but not as co-tourists, but as witnesses. Not only will you use narration, but also dialogue. Through conversations with others emotions will be revealed.

            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.

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.

Strange Occurrences

            Sometimes things happen during our day that can’t be explained through rational thinking. Perhaps the sky darkens unexpectedly and strong winds arise, followed by a deluge that no one had foreseen, reminiscent of fantasy stories, yet not.

            Maybe a strange critter scampers by while you’re out on a hike that only you see. It resembles something real, but it’s coloring is a bit off. When you point it out, your friends think you’ve gone bonkers. And you agree.

            Your task is to write a story in which something bizarre happens. Perhaps a whole bunch of strange things happen, much like in a children’s story. You can choose to use the voice of a children’s author or that of an adult fantasy writer.

            Scene is important. There need to be sufficient details that readers can see what’s happening. It also has to be believable in the world that you have created. Dialogue helps to establish scene and gets readers into the heads of characters.

            Have fun with this one.

Welcome Phone Call

            Do you have a good friend that you miss? Have you called them but they never call back? What do you do?

            I’ve given up. After always being the one reaching out and never having the effort reciprocated, I’ve stopped dialing. Imagine my dismay when that friend doesn’t call, no matter how much time passes.

            Your protagonist most likely has similar tales to tell. Long lost friends or acquaintances that no matter how often she reaches out, they never respond in kind. Does your character write them off? Sit back and not dwell on past times?

            Your task is to write a story in which your character is missing a good friend. Perhaps one of them moved far away, making getting together challenging. Or maybe they got new jobs that are time intensive, making socialization difficult.

            Establish setting and tone first. Show us the character in her natural world. We want to see her reaching out, being rejected, and experiencing loss. Show us how she handles the passage of time. And then, what happens when the call finally comes!

            Have fun with this one.

The Gift

Everyone has received an unusual, and often, unwanted gift. A nonsmoker might be given a gorgeous crystal ashtray or a nondrinker might receive a subscription to an online wine club. For some, these might be cherished and appreciated items, but for others, a bit of a bother.

If you don’t want the gift, what do you do with it? If you know where it came from, you might be able to return it without a receipt. But in the case of the online wine club, you have to find someone who would love a monthly bottle of expensive wine.

Your task is to write a story in which your character receives something he didn’t ask for and definitely doesn’t want. The item can arrive in the mail or be presented in person. Describe the character’s anticipation as she opens the gift, then her reaction when she sees what it is.

Even if the gift comes by mail, include dialogue. He could show it to a friend and have a good laugh about it, or he might call the giver and politely thank them even though it’s a lie.

Make it interesting and funny.

Have fun with this one.