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.

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.

The Reluctant Hero

Sometimes we are called to acts of bravery. We save an injured dog lying by the side of the road, pull a motorist from a damaged car, or take a test which will advance us in our career. We do these things not because we are born heroes, but because they are the right things to do.

We have all known someone who was a little crazy as a youth. Jumped off the garage roof. Rode a skateboard down a steep hill that ended at a major intersection. Approached a strange woman, dressed in rags, and asked her name. But are these acts of heroism?

Once we take on the mantra of adulthood, we settle down into the routine of life. We get up and go to work. We come home and play with the kids. We go shopping and mow the lawn. Day in and day out.

But what about those of us who become police officers, fire fighters or join the military? Are those individuals heroes? In today’s world they are often called to acts of bravery and then are heavily criticized for how they behaved under stress. Because of technology, they are constantly supervised. They have no rights of privacy and must understand that everything they do will be analyzed and reanalyzed from different points of view. Yet they still run into burning buildings, pull motorists from badly damaged cars, walk into hostage situations, parachute into enemy territory.

It would be easy to argue that these are the true heroes.

In the movie Bridge of Spies, an insurance lawyer, Jim Donovan, is asked by the government to negotiate a prisoner exchange despite him not being an actual representative of the United States. He is not the hero type. He is intelligent, patient, insightful and thoughtful. He is a husband and father who is providing a good life for his family. He is faithful to those he cares about.

Jim Donovan is the true reluctant hero. He steps up when asked. Does what he set out to do. Expects no fanfare.

Your task is to right a scenario in which your main character is a reluctant hero. She can be an average person, going about her day, when something happens that challenges her.

In order to do this, first you must give her a life. Establish her routines. Create family and her relationship to her family. Suddenly a situation arises that pulls her out of her comfort zone. She has to choose what to do. Allow her to take risks.

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.

Masquerade

            People seem to love dressing up in costume and going to parties. If the mask is good enough, even the best of friends can’t identify the wearer. This allows freedoms to say and do things that perhaps the participant would never do.

            Some masquerades are quite elaborate. They take place at huge houses or McMansions. There are spiraling staircases, gilded trimmings, caterers about and even an orchestra playing dance tunes. Decorum is maintained according to caste expectations.

            During Halloween there are also parties, but they might feature salads made up to look like human insides, games designed to gross out participants, and freaky music echoing off the walls.

            Your task is to write a scene in which a masquerade plays a major role. Make things interesting by having something unexpected and untoward happen. Think murder or grand theft. Perhaps an unwanted sexual encounter. Stumbling drunks and flirtatious behavior.

            The setting is crucial. Readers want to be drawn in by opulence or the fright-factor. Descriptions of what participants are wearing is also important. When the story gets going, dialogue will make things come alive.

            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.

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.