Examine House Listings

            Whenever you get stuck on setting, look up available houses in the neighborhood. Take a good look at the photos of each room. Check out the exterior as well, whether it’s a single-family home, an apartment or a condo.

            Can you picture your character living there?

            What happens inside the residence? A murder? A hot love affair? The birth of a child? Perhaps a devastating fire.

            Adapt the residence to fit your setting. Change the modern two-story house to an enchanted mansion on a street of Victorians. If it’s in perfect condition, give it a serious flaw, like a leaky roof or bathroom tiles that collapse inward when cleaned.

            How large of a family do you envision living there? If it’s a studio, perhaps you cram a family of four inside as it’s all they can afford. Or maybe a successful business woman buys the triplex in a new, swanky neighborhood.

            Now that you’ve established character and setting, craft the story. Make something intriguing happen, something that draws readers in.

            Invite other characters to populate your story, but make them all different, with spooky characteristics that clash.

            Have fun with this one.

Bad Company

            You move three thousand miles away from nagging family. You’ve settled into your new, unfettered life when the dreaded call comes: your parents are flying out, intending to stay for a month. Imagine the feelings that you experience, from the sinking of your stomach, to the palpitating of your heart, to the outright panic.

            Instead of your parents, what if the guest is your sister-in-law who doesn’t understand the use of deodorant? No matter how many times she’s been shunned due to her body odor, nothing changes, and once she’s passed by, that odor lingers. Now she wants to borrow your empty bedroom for just one night, or two at most. You know, from experience, that the room will have to be sprayed repeatedly and aired out with a fan running for days.

            In both cases, if you decline, you will be in hot water, so you shrug it off as just another burden to shoulder. It won’t be that bad, right?

            Your task is to write a story in which company comes that either your character didn’t invite or would never invite for one reason or another.

            Tension, from the moment of the invitation, is critical. Allow readers to feel the emotions experienced by your protagonist as the event progresses. You can add in twists, such as an extended stay, to moving in, to other problematic behaviors such as excessive drug use.

            Have fun with this one.

Dealing with a Phobia

            Many of us are scared of heights, spiders and yapping dogs. We might be terrified of boats, riding on public transit or walking alone at night. The degree to which our phobias impact our lives varies from person to person.

            Seeing any size dog might cause your character to cross the street or turn around and go back home. A spider crawling on the wall might temporarily freeze your character, increase heart rate and impact breathing, paralyzing her until she forces herself to grab a shoe and smash it repeatedly.

            There’s a difference between not climbing a ladder and not going out after sunset. The first might prevent him from cleaning the gutters while the second might stop him from enrolling in classes at the university, accepting a longed-for job or jogging in a nearby park.

            Your task is to write a story in which the phobia seriously impacts your character’s life. Perhaps if when she steps outside and hears a dog barking somewhere, she goes back inside and slams the door. Maybe she stays there, missing dinner with friends or even not going to work, which results in broken friendships or a lost job.

            It might be interesting to hear how your character explains his phobia to others, so include dialogue. Sensory details will be paramont, so make sure we hear, smell, see, feel, and possibly taste very bit of that fear.

            Have fun with this one.

Painting Dilemma

It’s time to repaint a room in the house. You’ve got an idea of what you’d like, but your partner/landlord has something completely different in mind.

Perhaps you’re thinking of an intense color, such as a deep burgundy or a navy blue. In your mind, you see one wall of the living room in one of those colors, the rest a variety of white. You believe that the contrast will make the room look bigger, more alive, more welcoming. More modern.

The other, however, only wants pastels because she thinks dark colors are too hard to cover up if selling/leasing.

Your task is to write a story in which the subject of painting is the main discussion point. Imagine the characters visiting paint stores, looking at sample strips, and perhaps bringing home tiny cans of different colors.

Things can’t go smoothly, of course, if there’s to be tension that hook readers.

Using a combination of narrative and a heavy reliance on dialogue, draw readers into the dilemma and keep them there. Be sure to tell the end! What color do they eventually settle on and why!

Have fun with this one.

Deep In Debt

            A new car every year, shopping sprees where thousands of dollars are spent, investing in questionable start-ups, and trips abroad every few months rack up so much debt that it’s nearly impossible to repay. Add to that gambling at the race track, membership at an exclusive country club and the yacht that he just had to have.

            Maybe it’s not a lavish lifestyle, but rather medical bills for cosmetic recontractions, cancer treatments or surgeries for the kids, placing tubes in the ears.

            Whatever the reason, your character is deep in debt. How she handles the situation says a lot about her character.

            Does she negotiate with each lender, agreeing to whittle down the amount owed? Perhaps she offers favors in payment, declares bankruptcy or marries a wealthy person who can pay off her debt.

            Your task is to write a story in which your protagonist finds himself in substantial debt. The amount has to be so large that he has no way to settle the bill. Of course, that amount depends upon the individual’s situation.

            A person having little might owe a thousand, and be unable to pay. A person owning a lot might owe millions.

            Both situations make for interesting stories.

            Have fun with this one.

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.

A New Power

            Your superhero character can fly carrying heavy cargo vehicles. Or maybe she can vaporize demons with a flick of her wrist. He summons kind spirits from the earth that overpower the evil that’s threatening his world.

            What would happen if she suddenly has a new power? How would she discover it and how would it manifest itself? Do the powers conflict or work together? Does she drop one in order to utilize the other?

            Your task is to write a story in which a new power appears. Readers will need to know what talents the character has, how he uses it, and at what personal cost. It would therefor be important to show that talent being used.

            The second talent shows up either after training or unexpectedly. Show the emotions as the character discovers that skill, as well as how others react when they see this new skill in action.

            Perhaps the first talent was sued for evil purposes, but the second can only do good. Or the other way around.

            Have fun with this one.

Decisions, Decisions

            A recent study reported that adults make as many as 122 decisions a day. Some are quite ordinary, such as figuring out when to get out of bed, what clothes to wear and what television programs to watch.

            We also make decisions that affect our lives in quite serious ways. For example, when choosing a career, some might look at the money to be earned while others might consider job satisfaction over anything else. Teachers are notoriously underpaid when taking into account the college coursework required. Despite knowing that they might never be paid what someone with a comparable education would in the private sector, teachers want to have an impact, they want, essentially, to watch their charges grow and learn.

            Your task is to write a story in which your characters make decisions, both big and small. Readers will want to watch as they discuss their options. This allows readers to see how the characters think. Show the results of the decision as well. It might be more interesting if the results are not what the characters wanted.

            Have fun with this one.

Imaginary Friends

            I loved stories where the little kid had an imaginary friend. I tried summoning one when I was about eight, but nothing happened. I didn’t play with dolls or stuffed animals, so I couldn’t imbue any of them with human-like qualities.

            It was too bad, because having someone at my side, comforting me when I was feeling sad, might have made those years a tad better.

            In fantasy stories there are often magical beings which take on the characteristics of imaginary friends. Usually only the one person can see the friend, which creates a series of problems.

            Your task is to write a story in which the protagonist has an imaginary friend. Your story can be realistic or fantastical. Your protagonist can be a child, a teen or an adult. The imaginary friend can look like a human, a dragon or a sprite. It should have talents, such as talking, singing, working magic.

            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.