Children in the Home

Some people don’t want to have children, but others do. Some only want one child, while others want a whole passel.

Children add complexity to a relationship. They have needs that have to be met, they have interests that need to be enriched, they like and dislike many things. They can be whiny, difficult beings. They can also be charming and pleasant to be with.

Your task is to write a scene in which the protagonist has at least one child. Remember that a good story has tension, so make something happen that causes conflict within the family unit.

Dialogue is important in this task. It would be difficult to show conflict between parent and child without conversation. Also remember that the child’s voice and choice of words need to be appropriate for the age. No adult voice for the child.

Reread. Where necessary, add details. Make changes whenever the child doesn’t speak or behave like a child.

Have fun with this one.

Significant Objects in Your Life

When we were growing up someone gave my mom a cookie jar that was in the shape of a monk. We called him Friar Tuck, as in Robin Hood. My mom would store cookies in there, but because it was not airtight, the cookies quickly became stale.

When we moved from Ohio to California in 1964, the jar came with us, one of the few items that made the trip. The jar sat proudly on my parent’s countertop no matter where they lived. When my dad passed away a few years ago, Friar Tuck was still there.

The jar represented all the moves, all the changes in my family’s life. Marriages, grandchildren, moves. Eventually the deaths of both of my parents.

Your task is to think of something that represents your life. It could be an object, a traditional food item, or a journey that the family made together over a period of years.

Perhaps the objects no longer exist, the food no longer prepared and the trip no longer taken, but the memories linger. The memories don’t have to be positive. It could be that every time you think of your sister’s special spaghetti it dredges up images of arguments, hurtful words tossed about like candy.

Write the story behind that object. Allow it to reveal events in your past that add up to a longstanding story about your relationship.

Have fun with this one.

Awards Won

I was not one of those kids who won things. I never earned a certificate for perfect attendance or for high grades. Girls seldom participated in sports back then, so I never won a ribbon for participation. I didn’t play an instrument, wasn’t artistically gifted and never entered a competition.

I do remember, quite clearly, the first time I did win something. I was ten. My family had gone to my dad’s union picnic. A BINGO game was held for kids.  I didn’t win the first few games, which was no surprise, but I played anyway. The last game was called. My blocks quickly got filled. All of a sudden I realized I had a BINGO! I raised my hand and was instantly recognized. An adult checked my game board. I truly had won! They called me to the front where I was presented with a tiny piece of candy. It didn’t matter the prize, for I had won. That’s all that I could think of.

Your character has probably had some type of similar experience. Ribbons were earned, certificates were given, and promotions handed out. It’s up to you to decide.

Your task is to create a list of awards won. Make sure that the contests match the character’s personality and interests.

Narrow down the list to the most important one, the one whose story you can tell.

Write the story, making sure to include sights, sounds, feelings of the character and others.

When you are finished, reread. Look for places where you can strengthen details.

Have fun with this one.


One Day to Live Again

If given an opportunity, which day in your life would you choose to relive?

Is there a time that you said or did something that you regret? If so, what would you do differently? How would this change the outcome?

We all do things that later cause us grief. It might have been a snide comment in response to being treated poorly by a friend or family member. It might have been an act as simple as not dividing the cake into equal portions and giving someone you were angry with the smallest piece. Granted, this is not a huge event, but it speaks to an underlying tension.

Your task is to write from the heart. Recall a situation that, if given a chance, you would do differently. Begin with the scene. Put us in the moment, whether it is a situation at work or an encounter in a coffee shop.

Choose your character. It can be first person or third. If third, keep the character’s actions as close to what really happened as possible.

Put things in motion. Try to recall the things that were said, the emotions, and the reactions.

Think about how you felt after it was over. For how long were you in remorse? Write about that feeling, wishing that it had never happened.

This will not be a fun activity, but one from which you can learn. Your characters say and do things that they should regret.

Good luck with this one!

A Responsible Person

Many people take care of others. I know of grandparents who watch their grandchildren five days a week while the parents work. I also know of people who have their elderly parents living with them.  In both cases, there is a degree of responsibility that transcends what we consider our responsibility as parents.

For whom is your character responsible? This is an important consideration. Even if your character lives alone, there must be someone in his life that demands attention. Is it a close friend who needs rescue? Is it a parent who cannot manage his finances without supervision? Is it a grown child who is still under the parent’s insurance?

Your task is to create a dependent for a character, then establish the degree of responsibility that the protagonist has for this dependent. Make it substantial in order to bring tension to the story.

Write a scene in which something occurs that tests the relationship. Perhaps someone falls ill, either the caretaker or the dependent. Perhaps someone falls and can no longer live alone. Perhaps someone loses financial independence and cannot afford to stay in her apartment any longer. Perhaps a natural disaster occurs that destroys the person’s home…and both caretaker and dependent have to make other arrangements.

There are many things that can occur that create tension. Your job is to choose one and write about it.

Have fun with this one.

Building Family

We are born into our families and so have no choice about who they are and how they behave.

It’s different for our characters as we get to create their families.

That is your task.

After you choose a name and age for your character, then fill out a family tree.

You probably should  search online for a model. This will give you a working model.

Start with the grandparents on both sides. Name them. Name the people they married. Who were these people? What jobs did they have? Were they trustworthy or  liars? Did they own their home or rent? Where did they live? In a city or in the country?

Move to the next generation. Include all the relatives at this level, which means the all the siblings. Answer the same questions as you did before.

That takes you to your character’s generation. Your family tree should be expansive at this point.  Answer all the questions for each person along this line.

If your character is married and has children, list the details for each.

This is a time-consuming task, but the effort will pay off once your story begins.

Have fun with this one!

Family Story

How many times have you heard that you should write about what you know? And what do we know most about? Family, of course.

We’ve got quirky aunts and uncles, feisty grandparents, argumentative siblings and overly protective mothers. Maybe. In your family it could be that mom was standoffish, dad was aloof and unconcerned, and that your older sister ran the household.

No matter the formation of our family, it is something that we share in common. Even if we don’t have an uncle who sat a little too close or an aunt who baked the most delicious apple cake, our family is unique and therefor interesting.

It is through our family unit that we figure out where and how we fit in and who we are as a person. This is something that all of us can identify with, and so it becomes fodder for our writing.

If you are intimidated by the prospect of writing about family, then construct memories  that are similar but not identical. Change names and appearances. Make someone older while another is younger. The clingy one becomes strong and dominant while the dominant one becomes shy.

Your task is to take a family story and write it. At first keep the details as is. Even the names. The setting is your hometown, the house the one you lived in. The bedroom you shared with a sibling. The fights you had when someone took your toy. Your joys and sadness.

After you have written this story, then sit back and reflect. First of all, what are the easiest things to change? Names, personalities, appearance. Start there.

Next alter the setting so that it takes place in a completely different time and place. When you think of the house, make it an apartment in a high-rise building. Instead of an inner city bungalow with a tiny yard, move it to a sprawling ranch house in the heart of farmland.

If you wrote about your school, change it in physical appearance as well as in perception. If the school was small, make it huge. If the teacher was warm and welcoming, make him a bit of a grouch. Change your best friend to someone with darker/lighter skin, longer/shorter hair, taller/shorter than you.

After you’ve rewritten your story, does it still reflect what actually happened and how it impacted you? Hopefully it does. If not, then what needs to be changed?

Do this over and over until you have a story that resonates.

Have fun with this one.