How Do You Want to Be Remembered?

            When you have passed, what will you want people to remember about you? What stories should they tell or keep hidden? Most importantly, is there anything you can do now to control the narrative?

            We tend to recall the negatives in our lives. Imagine your friends and family gathered together sharing stories of their interactions with you. Are they going to mention times when you yelled or argued? Caused friction in some way? Or will there be laughter as they reminisce about the birthday cake you made that slithered apart, the dress you made that split apart at the seams, the times you offered helping hands to those less fortunate?

            Your task is to write a story or essay that controls the narrative. Imagine that you have an opportunity to set the record straight, to clear the air about misconceptions that might be attributed to you.

            If it’s uncomfortable to write about yourself, then choose a character who is in a similar situation. He knows that his time is ending and he wants to write down those things that he hopes people will recall after he is gone.

            This is important work.

            Have fun with this one.

Dear Diary

            Journal writing has been popular for many, many years. Young girls were often given a diary in order to record their thoughts. They were encouraged to write every day, even if they had little of interest to report.

            Diaries were often padlocked with a tiny key. The girl would hide both the diary and the key in order to prevent parents and siblings from reading their thoughts.

            Diaries became important as a tool for historical research. By reading such records, historians are able to deduce what life was like during times of peace and war, during turbulent and peaceful times.

            Your task is to imagine the diary entries that your protagonist would write. These do not have to be complete stories, but rather figments of time capturing the emotions that the individual experienced. Later on these thoughts might inspire a story, but for now the task is to simply write what the person most likely worried about, dreamt of, feared and yearned for.

            Have fun with this one.

The Old, the Young and the Vulnerable

            Imagine a culture in which the old are venerated, then think of one in which they are thrown away. These are very different scenarios. In the first, seniors might live with family where they are cared for, loved and treated with respect and dignity. In the second, seniors are ignored, abandoned and left by the wayside, despite an inability to care for themselves.

            Now consider how the very young and the disabled are treated. Are babies nurtured even if they have obvious issues? Are toddlers who are deaf or blind left on a rock in the middle of the forest or is there some system in place to care for them?

            What happens when someone is injured and is then permanently disabled? Does the family provide food, shelter and love or leave them behind when they migrate?

            Your task is to write a scene in which one of these populations takes on an important role. Don’t tackle all three, however. Choose the one that you feel the most comfortable writing about, perhaps one that you know intimately.

            Begin by making a list of possible reactions, both positive and negative. Where will the story start? Choose a point of action designed to establish society’s POV. This might be a tense scene or one of love. It might show someone being abandoned or someone being nurtured.

            Dialogue is important so that readers hear how the community thinks. There need not be total agreement between members. For example, someone might want to keep a disabled child, but the cultural rules forbid that to happen. Conflict ensues.

            Have fun with this one.

Wish Giver

            Imagine that someone you know is dying. As you sit next to him, holding his hand, he asks you to fulfill his dying wish. He says it isn’t a big thing, but something that’s been on his mind for some time. What do you do?

            Your response will be leveraged by your morals and beliefs, by the time it might take to complete, and by costs involved. For example, he asks you to travel to Norway to visit a long-lost cousin. The expense and time such a venture would take determines how you respond.

            What if he asks you to paint the outside of his house so that his widow has a pleasant place in which to live? If you have the skills, time and money to pay for paint and materials, you might choose to get this done. In fact, you could organize a group of friends on a Saturday morning, all of whom come prepared with materials needed and the energy to complete the project.

            Your task is to write a story in which a dying person asks your protagonist to grant one last wish. To increase complexity, choose something that either goes against your character’s beliefs or something that requires a great amount of time and energy.

            How to begin? Set the scene through dialogue and description. Put readers in the room. Allow readers to see what’s happening, feel the relationship, and experience the range of emotions as your character understands what is being asked of him.

            Have fun with this one.

Assigning Blame

            Let’s assume that something negative has occurred. Perhaps a favorite vase was shattered or the front end of the car is damaged. You are responsible, but fear reprisal. What do you do? Assign blame to someone, everyone, even if that person was nowhere near when the event took place.

            Why do some pass off the responsibility while others do not? One factor might be familial upbringing. Imagine growing up in a home in which accepting blame leads to severe punishment. The individual learns to never, ever admit to having committed an offense. It’s about self-protection.

            The problem is that healing can’t take place as long as fear gets in the way.

            Your task is to write a story in which something happens and fingers start pointing, looking for someone to blame. Begin by creating a list of factors that could come into play. Think actions, reactions. Choose the one that you are most comfortable writing about.

            The action determines the offender. A young child most likely didn’t drive the car into the garage door. He could, which might make for an interesting story, but how likely is that to have happened?

            An adult might steal the girl’s doll, but why? Is the doll an artifact? Is it worth something and so can be sold?

            Match the age to the situation.

            Take into consideration responses of the supervising adult. Does he threaten violence such as whipping with a belt? Does the child kick and scratch? Is the offender pushed into the lake? There are endless possibilities.

            Use dialogue and action.

            Have fun with this one.

Aging Parents

All of us have parents that sooner or later will need extended care. It might be in the end stages of their lives or it might be while they are still able to live fairly independently. We don’t like to think about those days. We prefer to hold the image of the way they were when we were young: robust, strongly independent, able-bodied and sound of mind.

When the time comes to change their living situation, we are often dismayed, confused and stymied. Even if the relationship is good, we might recoil at the thought of our parents mobbing in with us. Having them around full time, offering criticisms and sometimes rude comments, suffering through their idiosyncrasies, can be more than we want to tackle. There’s a difference between dropping in for a visit, which soon grows burdensome, to living in our house and taking control over what we eat, what we watch on television, where we go and how often we have free time.

Your task is to imagine a situation in which this plays out in a story. Perhaps your protagonist is the daughter of a cranky father. Maybe your protagonist is the cranky father. Something has to be done because dad can no longer live in his house. What options will be considered? How will the daughter react when dad negates them all? What will dad do when he’s presented the various possibilities?

Tension and disagreements will arise. The best way to show this is through dialogue. Readers want to know what has caused the necessity of changing living arrangements. Take readers along when dad visits retirement communities to care homes. Show the emotions as displayed. Give a resolution that might be mutually agreeable, or maybe, if you want to end on a tenuous note, a situation that leaves no one happy.

Have fun with this one.

Marriage and Infidelity

            There are books, movies and television shows that show couples falling in love. Their eyes sparkle whenever they are together. They hold hands, wrap each other up in hugs and passionately kiss. Everyone can see they are in love, so it’s no surprise when they marry.

            In real life, much of that does happen. Couples join are joined together with the words promising a life filled with joy, a life with struggles, a life that will last forever.

            Things happen, however, that challenge their bond.  Illness can shake up the relationship. Financial stress can cause friction. Children misbehave. Problems with the home arise.

            The worst, however, is when one partner breaks the relationship through infidelity.

            Your task is to write a story about marriage. You can choose to have your characters live happily ever after or the relationship can fall apart. What’s important is to let the readers feel the emotions that bring them together, and in the case of infidelity, the emotions that drive them apart.

            Set up a plausible scene, keeping in mind that details such as a sparkling ocean or pounding rain can signal reactions. Dialogue is critical. Readers will need to see the words spoken, both when falling in love and then when angry words cause pain and suffering. Find a good balance between the two.

            Have fun with this one.

Sibling Rivalry

            Children growing up in the same home, raised by the same parents, may experience a bit of rivalry now and again. For example, one child may believe that Mom loves the brother more or that Dad spends more time with the sister. Often a younger child thinks that the older one has preferential status in the family, and if allowed to fester, can lead to verbal and physical fights. These beliefs can lead to long-term familial dysfunction.

            Recall a time when you disagreed with a sibling or close relative. What caused the problem? Who started the argument and how was it resolved? Did the relationship improve over time or continue to disintegrate?

            Your task is to write a story in which sibling rivalry plays an important role. Begin with the characters and their order within the family. Create a list of issues that might arise. Establish whether arguments will be physical, verbal or a combination of both.

            Setting is crucial. Readers will need to see the environment, not just in terms of concrete objects, but also in terms of how the parents or guardians interact with each child. Dialogue is important as well as readers will want to hear the words spoken. Lastly, emotional reactions will drive the story forward.

            Have fun with this one.

Inconvenient Truths

            We don’t like to hear things that go against our beliefs. We cringe when someone spouts an idea that counters what we’ve been led to be true. It might make us angry; it might make us sad. It might even make us change our minds, depending upon how deep-rooted our beliefs are.

            We all know someone who is steadfast even when confronted with verifiable sources of information. They close their eyes and ears, blocking out sources and references that present opinions different than their own. These individuals are difficult to be around. They often spew their beliefs without provocation, taking over conversations and dominating group discussions. They block out dissenting points of view and disallow attempts to change the topic.

            Your task is to write a story in which a group is gathered that includes at least one individual who refuses to accept alternate points of view. Altercations might take place in which words are flung about that are hurtful and resolve nothing. There may even be fisticuffs that result in injury.

            Setting is important. The place and event determine who is invited, how groups form and reform, and when uncomfortable topics arise. Narrative sets the tone: dialogue carries the conflict.

            Have fun with this one.

Holiday Beliefs

            With Christmas approaching, now is a good time to write about the holiday. Not everyone celebrates Christmas, so if you have a special day, choose that one to remember.

            Some children are so poor that there are no gifts, no tree, nothing special about the day except maybe going to church. Other kids dream about all the packages they get to unwrap and then, on Christmas Day, get to tear paper off gift after gift.

            Try to recall a holiday that was special for you. What were the reasons that it was meaningful? Was it the gifts or time with family? Was it the mystic or the planning that went into preparations to celebrate?

            Your task is to write a story in which your character celebrates a special day. Make the anticipation large enough to inspire a well-developed story. Include a bit of conflict so that not everything runs smoothly. Narrative is important to set up the scene, but dialogue is what will spur action. Sensory details allow the reader to be in the scene, so include them as well.

            Have fun with this one.