Giving Back

It’s easy to accept favors and gifts. We love opening packages or having a special meal prepared in our honor. On our birthday we enjoy the cake and the singing of family and friends, all done in our honor.

However, how often do we give to others? Perhaps we hand over a house-warming bottle of good wine or a carefully wrapped gift for a baby shower. Maybe we mow the neighbor’s lawn when she’s broken her hip and can’t do it herself.

Considering how many worthy causes there are and how many financially-strapped families, what have we done to improve the lives of others?

Your task is to write a story in which a gift of some kind is freely given, not expectations of reward expected. Your character sees a need then organizes a fund raiser to fulfill it. Such generosity doesn’t come easy. Friends might scoff. Neighbors might complain. Helpers might fail to appear. Government entities might not give permission.

Remember the tension makes the story interesting, so give your character obstacles to overcome. Or not. People your story with helpers and detractors.

At the end the question must be answered: is she successful or not? Why? What makes things go right? What devilish things make it go wrong?

Have fun with this one.

Tell Me a Story

Storytelling requires imagination to create worlds and people that add interest, depth and tension. Gauging the audience is one way to determine which elements to emphasize. Young children love a bit of tension but want happy endings. Teens love violent and potentially deadly encounters and don’t mind if a minor character dies along the way.

Recall a time when you were asked to tell a story. What popped into your mind? A fairy princess and a dragon? A fierce warrior and an evil wizard? Did the story begin with a placid description of the scene and major characters? At what point did the quest begin and who was the hero on the quest?

Your task is to write a story that you might one day share with someone. Begin by defining the audience by age and preference for type of story. Then design the setting and establish the primary characters.

Next is the call to action, the point when someone, perhaps a queen, sends the hero out to conquer or retrieve something that endangers the kingdom or whose disappearance alters the fate of the world as it is. Along the way challenges arise. What are they? How does the hero overcome each? Is the hero hurt? If so, how does this impact her ability to continue the pursuit?

Is the hero successful? Not all heroes are, but when they fail, sometimes they are still honored and respected simply for the act of trying. What is the prize and does the hero earn it?

Have fun with this one.

Rooms, Houses and Buildings

In any story, regardless of genre, characters enter buildings of various types, ranging from simple mud huts to enormous skyscrapers. They might pass through a grand ballroom with an array of sparkling chandeliers or a rustic bathroom consisting of a hole in the floor.

No matter the room, the descriptions must be real because rooms are where we gather. In the ballroom they might attend a conference focusing on a medical issue or participate in a fiftieth wedding anniversary. At some point they use the bathroom. Are the counters granite or mud shelves imbedded in the wall? Does water run out of an artistic arrangement of descending pots or is there a simple bowl with standing water?

The spaces through which our characters pass reveal details about environment and its impact on they lives. Your descriptions are therefore critical in setting the scene. The way residences are decorated tell us who the characters are. A sparsely outfitted studio is vastly different from a castle on a hill filled with massive wood tables, chairs and cabinets.

Your task is to write a story in which buildings are not just backdrops but play a role in adding to the story.

How will readers know if a room is lavish unless hints of splendor appear? Or if the hut’s dirt floor is neatly brushed or covered with straw mats?

While setting is important, it also cannot dominate the scene. Be careful when writing to ensure that the amount of description does not overtake the story.

Have fun with this one.

Reality Show Mishap

If you’ve ever watched one of the many reality shows on television, you know that despite careful planning not everything runs smoothly. Participants might use words that have to be deleted. They might remove sufficient articles of clothing that the censors would shut down the show.

While you might not have ever appeared as a contestant on a reality show, events in your life might have emitted the same feelings that contestants experience. When you were in elementary school did your teacher hold spelling bees? Did you audition for a play or for a chair in an orchestra? Was there a time when you submitted an application for a competitive position in a company?

All of these scenarios could become fodder for a story.

Your task is to write a story in which your character participates in some type of reality show type of competition. Begin by setting the scene. Does your character apply through a written format or by submitting a video? How does she react when she is accepted?

Does the show take place in a studio or on a remote island? Does it involve stunts that could cause harm or is it an intellectual pursuit?

As the story develops some type of tragedy takes place. It could be a broken hell or a shattered bone, but the most important thing is that it alters, in some profound way, the subsequent events in the story.

Have fun  with this one.

 

Coincidences

Sometimes a series of unrelated things seem to happen at the same time, creating a situation that is both unexpected and mysterious. Often these events bring joy but they can also trigger unhappiness.

For example, let’s say that while on vacation in New Zealand you happen to run into a friend from high school that was unaware of you going there. You might say, “What a coincidence,” followed by shared laughter.

Perhaps you carried a load to laundry to the garage. The washing machine doesn’t get all the water out of the clothes and the dryer isn’t working properly either. Again you would declare that a coincidence.

Your task is to write a story in which a coincidence plays a major role in the plot. First barnstorm a list of possible occurrences that could be linked together. Then figure out a way to write them into a plausible story. You can choose fantasy or realistic fiction. Or, if you prefer, you can share with readers things that happened in your life.

Make the story interesting by including details that add a sense of humor, such as dialogue combined with narrative. You can play with setting as well by placing the event in an unusual location.

Have fun with this one.

Magical Beings

Think about a fantasy story that intrigued you. The images that come to mind will encompass the elements of the world itself (the setting), the characters and their quests (heroes and antagonists) and the magical beings that either help or hinder the success of the quest.

While not all fantasy includes faeries and other such creatures, many do, especially those for younger readers. Belief in alternate realities inspires many children to explore different types of stories.

If you intend to write fantasy, one factor that you need to consider is how to populate your world. Will there only be humans in conflict with other humans as they attempt to find or steal some type of object (such as the Holy Grail)? Or will orcs, wargs, ogres, wizards, trolls and other magical beings participate in the telling? If so, how will they enrich the story?

Your task is to write a story in which at least one type of being plays a major role. First do some research to discover the known options. If none of them appeal to you, create your own by beginning with its physical appearance and then by bestowing a combination of uses and powers.

How will the presence of this being influence the story? Will it be friend or foe to your protagonist? In what ways will it affect the telling? It can either move the action forward or slow it down by presenting obstacles for your character.

Have fun with this one.

Love at First Sight

Picture yourself in a crowd. A variety of people are milling about. Perhaps it’s a birthday party or maybe it’s a dance at the community center. You spot a good friend on the opposite side of the room and as you wind your way through the seemingly tangled mess of humanity, a face appears that takes your breath away.

Is that love at first sight? It might be depending upon what happens next.

What is your story of falling in love? Have you ever shared it with someone outside of the immediate family? If you did, what was their reaction? If not, why?

Your task is to write a story in which characters meet and something happens. A spark. A tingle. A magical moment. It can be fiction or nonfiction. You could make it predictably sappy or there can be friction between the two as they navigate their way.

Begin by setting the scene. This might be a time to have weather details included, for isn’t spring the time of love? Allow your readers to feel the environment through sight and sound.

Make the developing relationship interesting enough so that readers want to know more.  Bring in complexities and complications. Use dialogue to enhance the progression of the romance.

Have fun with this one.

Long Lost Friend

Do you remember what it felt like when a friend that you hadn’t seen in a log time crossed your path? Did you experience joy or dread? Did seeing her call up fond memories of places you’d gone and things you’d seen? Maybe she tormented you, called you names, and so you fear that she’ll start it up again?

We’ve all experienced the appearance of someone from our past, so this is a story that all readers can relate to. Begin with the characters. Who are they and what happened in their past that perhaps they preferred to keep buried?

Now imagine a story in which a character runs across someone from the past.

Your task is to tell that story. Complexity is crucial for readers need to feel those conflicting emotions.

Begin with the setting.  The place and time ground readers in the story. Expand to include emotional reactions as you explore how the characters feel and react. Use dialogue to draw readers into the relationship.

Have fun with this one.

 

Rules and Regulations

Probably the first rules you remember had something to do with home: Make your bed. Eat all your food. Don’t hit Jimmy. Obey Mom.

As you moved into the world, you learned new rules, primarily around school and community: Finish your work. Don’t talk back to the teacher. Take turns on the playground.

Eventually rules dealt with work, driving, and keeping the city safe.

There were also unstated rules, things we understood that we had to obey even though no one articulated the reasons why. For example, no jaywalking, changing clothes frequently, looking neat out in public.

Your task is to write a story in which rules and regulations play a part. Rules will depend upon the ages of your characters and how you see them interacting with others. Your story can be realistic or fantasy, humorous or serious.

Have fun with this one.

Rewrite a Known Fairy Tale

Children love hearing fairy tales. The stories take kids to places dark and scary, filled with villains and heroes. Add in an element of magic and the scenes brim with mystery.

Many of the protagonists are male who rescue the maiden from evil forces. However, in modern retellings the roles are often switched. What if it had been Maid Marion who stole from the rich? What changes would there be to the story?

Imagine Prince Charming having lost a boot and Cinderella searches far and wide for the foot that fits. The Prince might have been the one abused by evil cousins while Cinderella lived in a luxurious palace.

Your task is to rethink a fairy tale that you loved as a child. Where will it take place? Who are the characters and what things do they do?

Hang on to enough of the essence of the original story so that your readers will recognize it. Give readers drama through danger and resolution from chance or magic.

Have fun with this one.