Object as Muse

            Try to recall a gift someone gave you that you hadn’t asked for and didn’t want. The giver came to your house fairly frequently, so if the item was meant for display, you had to keep it. Perhaps you tucked it away in the china cabinet and pulled it out only when they were coming. Imagine what would have happened if they dropped in unexpectedly!

            Maybe it was an inheritance from a treasured relative. It had no monetary value, but whenever you touched it or looked at it, it brought you back to that time and place.

            What if you really liked it and so wore it every day. And then you lost it.

            There are so many stories to be told about objects that enter our lives.

            Your task is to write that story, one in which your character comes into possession of an item that she is meant to keep forever. To add interest, it might be something quite ugly or something that doesn’t fit in the décor of the house. Or maybe it’s a hideous piece of jewelry that has no value.

            Or, it could be something that another relative expected to inherit and is outraged that it went to your character.

            Have fun with this one.

 A Public Admission

            Imagine being at some type of gathering. People are milling about, forming into small groups, then breaking apart and reforming in completely new ones. The talk is generally muted, but occasionally a voice rises above the melee.

            You are drawn to the voice because it sounds somewhat familiar.

            You push your way through the crowd, which is all now watching the goings-on. Indeed, you do know the owner of the voice: it’s your ex-business partner arguing with a vendor who provides security for the firm.

            What you hear shakes you to the heart of your soul.

            Your task is to write a story in which some type of confrontation takes place. It should be between at least one person your character knows. Begin by making a list of possibilities, including the who, what, when, where and why. The juicier the better.

            Tension is critical. Your readers are going to want to know what is at stake, what secrets are being revealed and how that will impact the business, the relationship, the future.

            Begin by establishing setting, but don’t labor over the details. Give just enough to place the scene without describing every painting on the wall, every piece of furniture, every item of clothing worn.

            Take us to the conflict as soon as possible. We want to feel the emotions through voice, action and words.

            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.

The Party

            The backyard is festooned with balloons and colorful banners. The clown has been hired, the bounce house inflated and the cake delivered. The grill is ready to cook hot dogs and hamburgers. Games are stacked and the pinata is hanging on a tree branch. The guests arrive and initially all goes well.

            The boss rented a banquet hall in an upscale hotel. The caterer has hired staff, ordered the food for the buffet and stocked the bar. Floral bouquets are centered on each table. The band is warming up and the chef is rushing around the kitchen overseeing the preparations. The employees drift in by ones and twos, head for the bar and settle at tables.

            Something always go wrong. It is inevitable. It might be a child skinning a knee or a priceless vase shattering into tiny pieces. Most likely there will be at least one argument after a goodly amount of booze has been consumed. Perhaps hair will be pulled, a chest punched or a pair of drunks will roll down a hill.

            Your task is to write a story in which a series of unfortunate events occur. Begin with rather inconsequential issues that escalate into increasingly larger ones. As tension builds, your characters’ true personalities will show.

            Have fun with this one.

Unexpected Inheritance

            When someone we know dies, the first thought that comes to mind is sorrow. We will miss them if they were close, and possibly regret not knowing them better if they were not. We buy a sympathy card and if possible, attend the funeral services.

            We don’t rub our hands together in anticipation of whatever benefits the estate might give us.

            Or maybe we do.

            What happens when inheriting something is the furthest thing in your mind? And when you find out you are getting a portion of the estate, what goes through your mind?

            Your task is to write a story in which your character is the beneficiary of an unexpected inheritance. It can be as large as a piece of land or as small as a two-dollar bill.

            Make it interesting and perhaps a bit humorous. Let readers see the range of your character’s the reactions, from grief, to shock, to surprise and elation.

            Use both description and dialogue to make for an interesting story.

            Have fun with this one.

Delivering the Eulogy

Delivering the Eulogy

            When we lose someone we love, whether it be human or animal, our grief can be quite profound. We go through a series of emotions, from shock to grief to acceptance. Unfortunately we are still deep in the first two when we are asked to eulogize the individual.

            What memories do you share? Do you speak about the time Spot stole the neighbor’s underwear from her clothesline or do you bemoan all the walks you didn’t have the time to take?

            Should you begin with a funny incident from a person’s life to cheer things up a bit or stick to the most solemn moments that you recall?

            Imagine that your character has lost someone that he loves. Perhaps he’s not comfortable with public speaking, but because he knew the individual well, he is the most qualified to deliver the eulogy.

            Begin by deciding who died. If it’s a person, what is the relationship between the two? How close were they? What things did they do together?

            If it’s an animal, when did the critter come into the character’s life? In what way did the animal impact the character? What kinds of things did they do together?

            Your task is to write the story of death and eulogy. Include both description and dialogue. Make sure your readers feel the emotions of the character. And that you’ve set the scene with relevant sensory details.

            Have fun with this one.

In the Listings

            The next time a flyer for an open house arrives in your mail, save it. Look at it carefully, studying the layout, the furniture, the decorations. If it’s within driving distance, go take a look. Check out the neighborhood. How far apart are the lots? How close are the nearest schools? What types of businesses are nearby?

            Attend the open house so that you can walk through the rooms and step into the backyard. If photos are displayed, check them out. Who lives here? A family? A group of friends?

            What stories would they tell if you could interview them?

            Using your imagination, write an interesting story that takes place in this house. Is it a murder mystery? An invasion of pests? A romantic-comedy? Ghosts floating about?

            There needs to be tension for the story to be interesting. Begin by mapping out your characters. What do they want? How hard are they willing to work to get it?

Include both description and dialogue. Maintain a good pace so that the story does not get bogged down.

Have fun with this one.

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.