Lies and Cover-ups

            No one likes a liar; or do they? People lie when a woman asks how they look in a hideous skin-tight bold floral print dress because if they told the truth, the woman would become angry. They lie when a coworker proposes an insane idea for a project, saying conciliatory phrases such as, “Interesting idea,” and then moving on to whatever is submitted next.

            Lies similar to the ones above save feelings, but not all lies do. When a competitor calls the opponent a wimp, freak or loser, that’s done intentionally to ire the opponent as well as influence viewers. If when filling out legal forms the writer lies about wealth or financial status in order to qualify for a loan or political office, that could be a criminal act.

            Participating in a cover-up can likewise have serious consequences, depending upon what’s being hidden. If when selling a house the owner doesn’t disclose that the septic system is failing, that has repercussions that could cost the seller quite a bit of money. What if a murderer buries the body in the backyard and then pretends that he has no idea where the deceased is? That’s another type of cover-up.

            Your task is to write a story in which lies and cover-ups drive the plot. Twists and turns are critical to the story arc, with each action leading to more and more serious consequences. At the end, does the perpetrator get away with it or is she caught and punished?

            Have fun with this one.

Random Acts of Kindness

            You’re in line at a store, mentally counting your money to see if you have enough to buy the bread and cheese in your arms. You step up to the register, and when the tally comes up, the clerk tells you that the person before you had paid your bill. You burst into a huge smile and feel like dancing all the way home.

            You’re sitting in your car waiting for your turn to come at the toll booth. Behind you is an older car being driven by a little old man. You reach into your purse and pull out an extra five dollars. As you drive away, you’re smiling and nodding.

            Your task is to write a story in which someone executes a random act of kindness. Your character can be the one who reaches out or she can be the recipient. The emotional reactions are most important. Readers are going to want to see the scene through the eyes, heart and mind of the giver and receiver.

            Your recipient does not have to be grateful. In fact, he might consider it an insult. If this happens, then who will he verbally attack? The clerk or the giver?

            Have fun with this one.

Crime and Punishment

            Back in the Middle Ages there were beheadings and amputations for what today would be considered minor crimes. People would be whipped so badly that little skin remained on their backs. Others would be locked into stocks and left to die.

Torture and imprisonment was sued to exact confessions. People were beaten burned alive, covered with boiling water, or worse, tar, and fingers cut off. Branding was also used to identify criminals.

Outlaw bands roamed about, robbing villagers and city-dwellers alike. The harsher the crimes they committed, the worse the punishment. What’s more important is that the punishments were public affairs, much like going on a picnic or seeing a play.

Your task is to establish the role that crime and punishment takes in your world. You can borrow from earlier times or create your own system, but whichever you choose, it needs to make sense in terms of the society you have built. Medieval torture might not fit in a contemporary society, but maybe it does!

Write a story in which a crime is committed and punishment is doled out. Readers will want to be there from the beginning, to walk with the criminal throughout it all. Or if you write from the perspective of the officials who hunt down, catch and then punish, make sure that the details are intriguing enough to entice readers.

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.

Sunset Story

            Time of day affects the setting of a story. Imagine a broiling hot trek across an Arizona desert or an early morning hike on a Minnesota Lake in the dead of winter. Bot situations might be untenable without proper preparation and the correct gear.

            Try to recall the most spectacular sunset you have ever seen. Where were you? Who were you with? What made it memorable? Was it the company, the situation or the location? Perhaps it was a combination of all those things.

            Your task is to write a story in which your character experiences a sunset so profound that it touches her heart. The colors, the people she’s with, the location all come into play. What she’s doing just before sunset occurs sets the stage.

            As you write remember to include sensory details. Readers will want to see, hear, taste, smell, and touch everything that your character does. Dialogue is also important because it is through conversation that feelings will be revealed.

            Reread looking to see if the picture that you paint with words comes clear.

            Have fun with this one.

Awareness of Cultural Appropriation in Story

            Previously authors wrote in characters from other cultures with little thought other than adding diversity to their stories. Stories with men wearing turbans added an element of mystique, as did bringing in traveling gypsies who were thought to “steal” children and dabble with the occult.

            In today’s world we have to be aware that it may not be appropriate to borrow the ideas, symbols and artifacts of individuals outside of our own. Cultural appropriation can be contentious when a writer of a dominant culture includes characters who have been subjected to prejudice in terms of social, political, economic and military status. This is especially true when there has been a history of ethnic or racial conflict.

                What should a writer do? First of all, examine the reasons why you want to include a character from a culture other than her own. If the writer is looking to represent these cultures, perhaps that’s not a valid reason. Instead, decide if in the story, characters will be living in a society that reflects the realities of the world.

            Your task is to write a story that includes a character from outside your own culture. Decide what role this character will play from the perspective if it’s necessary for the story arc. You might want to do some research into how people of that culture eat, dress, speak. Do these factors affect story plot? If not, then rethink why you need this character to do.

            Be sensitive, but enjoy the experience.

            Have fun with this one.

Story Pacing Affects Plot Development

            How fast a story unfolds is controlled by pacing. It is what determines the appeal of a story to its varied audience. For example, some readers want lots of events taking place right at the beginning, and to continue throughout the story. Other readers like the intrigue when obstacles and reactions take place over time. Because pacing affects atmosphere and tone, there are times when a period of concentrated action is needed to provide the conflict and tension that makes a story interesting.

            An adventure novel should revolve around a series of action-packed events while a psychological thriller should be gripping as clues arise as characters react to what’s happening.

            How do you control pacing? The length of a given scene is one way. A long scene will slow down how often something important occurs, while a short scene that includes dialogue and action speeds things up. The period of time that elapses within a scene also impacts pace. If the story is long, the characters will age. This is what differentiates an epic from a short story.

            Your task is to write a story employing a fast pace. Make things happen, keep the characters moving, include tension and conflict. Then rewrite the story slowing down the pace. Use lots of narrative sentences. Allow time to pass, second by second, at a measured pace.

            When finished, reread each version, looking to see which pacing technique works best.

            Have fun with this one.

Discovering Your Talent

Everyone is good at something, right? Are you a musician, writer or mechanic? Do plants bloom under your care? Can you design cards for all occasions? Organize messy closets? Sort through things you haven’t used in ages and part with them?

Maybe you’re not creative or good with your hands. Perhaps your talent is in the patience you have when faced with difficult situations. Maybe it’s your ability to understand the emotions of others. Is it that once you sign up for something, you give it 100%?

There are those who pitch in and o whatever is asked, even when the task is unpleasant. Or, maybe it’s your gumption, your determination to push on even through difficulties that might stump others in their tracks.

Your characters have skills and talents as well and it’s up to you to reveal them so that readers know a different side of those characters. It adds dimensionality and therefor builds interest.

Your task is to write a story, either real or made up, in which a skill is revealed through action. It might be useful to include dialogue as a way of spurring your character to participate, in whatever way she can, in an activity.

Remember to include emotions in order to increase tension. We need to see your character in t5he decision-making process as well as in the process of doing the activity.

Have fun with this one.