Your Favorite Place

            Close your eyes and visualize the place that makes you the happiest, the most calm. The place that inspires a feeling of awe. Listen to the sounds. Breathe in and take in the smells of the flowers, the earth, food cooking. Reach out and touch the bark of trees, the silkiness of flower petals, the gravel beneath your feet.

            Use your imaginary camera and take a picture and then another one. Pick up a paint brush, dip it in some paint and create a replica of what you see in your imagination.

            Think about how you feel. Are your shoulders relaxed? Has your breathing slowed? Did a sense of calmness flow over you?

            This is your happy place.

            Your task is to create a comparable place for your character. Begin by imagining him in a variety of places and situations. Where does he feel most fragile, most overwhelmed? That’s not it, but it’s important to the story. Now think about one or two places where she’ll feel relaxed. Where the sense of awe comes to her.

            That’s the spot where a portion of the story will occur.

            Write a scene in that place. Add in other characters to people the situation. Remember to include sensory details here and there so that readers will enjoy being there as well.

            Have fun with this one.

Shopping Extravaganza

            There’s nothing more exciting than heading off to the mall for a morning of shopping. Even if you have little money to spend, there are windows to peruse, clothing to inspect, dreams to build.

            You might begin by simply strolling up and down the mall, stopping to see what wonders are on display. On the next go-round you enter only those stores that intrigued you. Up and down aisles you go, occasionally holding up an item for inspection. You check the make, the style, the price, the quality, all the while imagining yourself wearing it.

            Does it go with anything you currently own? Is it too similar to things you’ve got at home? Is it worth the price or should you wait for a sale?

            All these thoughts go through your mind as you meander about.

            Imagine your character going on a shopping spree. What kinds of things hold his interest? Which stores invite him in? What items does she choose to inspect up close? Does she make immediate decisions or mull things over? Does he leave to see what comparable things other stores offer or make the purchase right then and there?

            Your task is to send your character on a nice, long shopping trip. He can go alone or bring a friend. She can try on things in her own dressing room or share with a friend. Lunch might be included as well as dinner after.

            Will the day go smoothly with lots of laughter and pleasant conversation or will arguments ensue? At the end, will he have purchased anything? If so, what? If not, why not? Dialogue might be the stronger as it allows for the give-and-take between characters as they discuss the merits of each item.

            Have fun with this one.

Sweltering Conditions

            Summer is upon us and temperatures are rising. Lucky people have air-conditioning or can seek shelter in a cooling spot. However, not everyone is blessed with ways to cool off.

            Free-standing fans provide limited relief if a person sits right in front of it, but do little for a family of four. Or for a classroom full of steaming children or a church filled with parishioners.

            Imagine the stories that arise from being overheated. Fights break out because tempers rise. Tears are shed. Clothing is stripped off. Hoses spray cooling water, but not when there is a drought. People might take a drive if their car’s air works or go stroll through a nearby shopping mall.

            These are all temporary solutions. What happens when the electricity goes out or people have to return to the overheated offices, classrooms and homes?

            Your task is to write a scene in which the heat is overwhelming. Begin with the setting. Are your characters on the road, at work or at home? How do they cool off? How does the heat impact relationships?

            Use a combination of narrative and dialogue, remembering that tensions are going to arise. There might be angry words tossed about or actual fisticuffs.

            Have fun with this one.

Life’s Lessons

            As we progress through life, we hopefully learn as we go along. For example, we might discover that it’s better to tell the truth than to fabricate a believable, consistent lie. It might be better if we don’t watch scary movies when home alone or go out in the dark without a good flashlight. When asked to babysit, don’t agree to it if you can’t stand being around kids, or if it’s those particular kids that you hate.

            If we hate seafood, perhaps we should admit that before agreeing to meet friends at a restaurant that only serves fish. Maybe we shouldn’t agree to go to a party where an obnoxious relative will hold court or promise to send a gift when we don’t know what the person would like.

            There are so many lessons that we learn along the way that it’s impossible to list them all.

            Your character will have learned things as well.

            Your task is to write a scene in which that character has to either admit to a mistake or learns something important about herself. The lesson can be small or large. It can change her life or not. It can cause hurt to herself or others.

            Make the setting in which she has to learn this lesson interesting. Include people that challenge her. Use a combination of dialogue and narrative.

            Have fun with this one.

Cheapskate Travelers

Imagine that your character goes out to eat with friends.  He orders a number of drinks, appetizers, an expensive entree and a desert. The food is delicious. The service excellent.

The bill comes. Each person is expected to contribute their fair share, with tax and tip.

What does your character do? Does he contribute an appropriate amount of money or short-change the rest of the party?

On the other hand, what happens if he tips amply but the others don’t? Does he say something?

What happens when everyone pays with cash except for one person who pulls out a charge card? And that person collects the cash and stuffs it in his wallet. How do the others know how much he tipped? Do they say something or accept that they’ll never know?

On the other hand, what if your character doesn’t pay for all he ordered and consumed? How do the others feel? What do they say and do?

Your task is to write the story.

Have fun with this one.

A Safe Place to Live

We’ve heard the stories of refugees from war-torn countries who search for a peaceful place to live. They yearn for jobs, food, and relief from fear. They pack what belongings they can carry and walk mile after mile, experiencing countless hardships along the way.

Our hearts go out to them, even when there is little we can do to offer comfort.

What about the refugees living nearby? For example, there are shopping-cart people who push up their baskets and down streets, hoping to find someplace that offers some degree of privacy. Or the homeless man who sleeps leaning against a shopkeeper’s wall in downtown San Francisco. If he’s lucky, he has pieces of cardboard on which to lie and a blanket as cover. He is dirty, ragged and hungry. And often smells so bad that passers-by wrinkle their noses in disgust.

It is easy to write stories in which the characters are comfortable in fancy homes, in tree-lined neighborhoods, with two working parents and new cars in the drive. It is much more challenging to speak for the speechless, to tell their stories with compassion and understanding.

Your task is to choose a refugee and place her in a scene. Give her a voice. Listen to her heart. Interact with her, in some way, either in first person or as an omniscient narrator. Wake up with her in the morning, walk about with her in the day, sleep with her at night. Eat meals with her. Follow her as she searches for a bathroom in which to wash up. Be with her, not as a sympathetic ear, but as an equal. Walk in her shoes, even if just for one day.

Have fun with this one.

Health Issues

            Have you noticed that when people of a certain age come together that the bulk of the conversation has something to do with health? High cholesterol, diabetes, vision and hearing, aches and pains and limited mobility. They compare medications and what doctors have said about the various issues.

            Often the condition of teeth pops up, with some bragging about a lack of cavities while others bemoan having another tooth removed.

            They discuss what types of foods are now prohibited and that they miss or share recipes for low caloric foods.

            On and on they go, often circling back to original topics because they forgot what’s been hashed over.

            Your characters, when they reach that age, would do the same. Begin by establishing what health issues your characters have. It would be beneficial, for conversations sake, if they didn’t share the same ones. They could have the same doctor, but perhaps it might add complexity if they did not. The same would be true for the medications that they are taken.

            Picture what would happen if one character believes his issues are worse, or more important. He trivializes hers, minimizes the severity of her ailments and maybe even contradicts her doctor’s recommendations.

            Interesting, tense-filled conversations arise that could lead to the dissolution of the relationship.

            Have fun with this one.

The Dishonest Salesperson

            Did you ever have an encounter with a salesperson who you believed was less than honest? What did he/she do or say that led you to that opinion? Was it a tilt of the head, a glance over the shoulder, or a smirk? Perhaps it was the tone of voice or words said. Maybe even the way paperwork was handled.

            How did he/she make you feel and what did you do in response?

            Some people accept the situation because they needed whatever the person was selling. For example, there’s a car that fits in your price range, a make and model that you’ve been interested in. You desperately need a car, today. You feel that there’s something shady going on, but you don’t have the time to shop around some more. The person knows this, and so has the upper hand.

            There are many other situations in which something similar could take place.

            Your task is to write a scene in which your character encounters the dishonest salesperson, or, your character could be the salesperson.

            Establish the setting so that your readers will feel at home in the scene. Give enough of a description of the salesperson so that readers will create the first impression that you want them to have. Set things in motion through dialogue and narrative.

            Tensions will develop. It’s up to you to decide how far the reactions will go. There could be words, there could be fisticuffs, there could be a shooting.

            Have fun with this one.

Most Deserving of Forgiveness

            So many things happen as we grow up. If we’re lucky, we had kind and thoughtful parents/guardians. But maybe we didn’t. We grew up hating them as people and for the things they said and did.

            In school we might have been blessed with wonderful friends, but we also might have been victimized by bullies whom we hated with all our might. The same might have happened on the job or with people we met in conferences, workshops and around the neighborhood.

            We might have retaliated verbally or, when young, by physical acts of aggression.

            Now we regret the things we’ve done, but also want to forgive the people who hurt us as a way of moving on.

            Who on your list is most deserving of forgiveness?

            Your task is to write either a personal essay in which you discuss the topic or create a story in which your protagonist is facing the same dilemma. Readers will need background, but not presented all at once. Find a way to weave it into the scene, either through dialogue or scene.

            Build in tension so that readers understand how the aggressors made you or your character feel.

            Have fun with this one.

Starting Over

            Who doesn’t like a fresh start? Well, many people might resent being told to scrap work and begin again. Imagine putting in hours designing what you thought was a winning presentation, only to find that it wasn’t what the boss had in mind. You’d be frustrated, angry and hurt.

            To many, however, having a chance to start over might bring a sigh of relief. Picture a student who received a poor grade on an important test. The grade is so low that it will pull down her grade point average, possibly endangering her scholarship. The professor, after learning that she has a previously undisclosed disability, agrees to give her more time. She redoes the test in the learning center. And…her grade is substantially higher!

            Both cases involve scratching the first attempt. Both have different feelings attached.

            Your task is to write a scene in which the protagonist has to start over. It can be in a relationship, at work or school, on a project for the house, or even writing a book. Emotional reactions will vary depending upon the situation that you set up.

            The first step is to establish character. An angry character will just get angrier while a passive one might just shrug it off. Someone prone to tears reacts differently from a stoic.

            Next come up with a challenge that has stakes attached. It could be a promotion, purchasing a house, or repairing a car.

            Have fun with this one.