The Moral Dilemma

            A moral dilemma is a situation in which a person is torn between right and wrong and involves a conflict that forces a character to examine her own principles and values. The choices the person makes may leave them feeling burdened, guilty, relieved, or even questioning their own values. The individual must decide what actions she can live with, whether the outcome is unpleasant or even illegal.

Dilemmas form the central conflict that the protagonist encounters. Taking into consideration that real people face all kinds of dilemmas in life, the choices they make along the way can have long-lasting impacts in terms of effects on relationships and on society as a whole.

            Imagine asking someone out on a first date. Should he go to the museum or see a movie? If he decides on the movie option, which one, the romantic comedy or the high-speed chase? What happens if the date doesn’t like chase movies and so is disappointed and bored? The relationship might go nowhere fast.

            Let’s consider what the secretary should do when she discovers that he fire her, or if he’s desperate, kill her. If she ignores his actions, she might be a co-conspirator when the theft is revealed.

            Your task is to write a scene in which the protagonist is faced with a moral dilemma. Make the stakes high enough that the wrong decision places her in danger. Include enough description so that readers understand the situation, but not too much to slow down the scene. Dialogue is necessary to reveal the intricacies of the relationships involved.

            Have fun with this one.

Negotiation Tactics

            We’ve seen the car you want on the lot. The salesperson has been dogging you, spouting the merits of this car or that. You take the one you’re most interested in out for a test drive with the salesperson riding in the back seat, singing the praises. When it’s time to buy, the salesperson offers one price, you go under. Negotiations ensue.

            You interview for a job that you have all the skills for. You expect a certain salary, the PR officer offers a lower one. You drop your expectations a tad, but ask for benefits to make up the difference. Negotiations ensue.

            There are many scenarios in which haggling takes place. How you enter the fray says a lot about who you are. For example, if you personify the injured party, you might not get what you want. On the other hand, if you come off too aggressive, then nothing will go right.

            Your task is to write a story in which negotiating plays a major role. First establish the setting, including the where, when, why and what for. Make it something large enough that it truly matters. It needs to have value, either in terms of money or social status.

            Dialogue will be critical as readers will need to be there as the bargaining takes place. Remember to include emotional reactions, such as facial expressions, body posture, words chosen.

            Does your character win the negotiations or not? Witnessing someone be a sore loser might have more emotional impact than watching him succeed.

            Have fun with this one.

Worries

            Life is not a bowl of bright red cherries or a box of sweet chocolates. Issues arise that cause us to worry, about self, family or friends. We might have financial problems that threaten our livelihoods, our ability to keep our house or car. Perhaps it’s illness, an unexplained bump or a general feeling of malaise.

            Our minds latch on to the issues before us, causing us to worry. Most of the time we can push those thoughts away as we go through our day, saving them for the dark of night. Sometimes, however, we can’t. Our concerns cloud our thinking, hamper our ability to function and interfere with our relationships.

            Your character might experience periods of profound worry. It might happen when searching for a job, when in a new relationship, when considering a transfer to a new location.

            Your task is to write a story in which worries play a key role in the emotions of the protagonist. Begin by making a list of things that might afflict your character. Narrow it down to the one issue that you can write most passionately about.

            Perhaps you might do a little research into how worries affect personality and behavior.  Working from what you discover, set up a scene in which the protagonist is faced with decisions for which there is no clear path.

            Readers will want to feel the emotions, walk with the character, experience the thought-processes as the character works through the worries. Narrative and dialogue are important.

            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.

Dead Letter File

            Recall a time when you fired off an angry letter. All your feelings were on the page. Your grievances were aired, your hurt feelings exposed, your vulnerability revealed.

            What did you do with it? Did you send it? If so, what happened as a result? Or did you save it in your dead letter file? What went through your mind during the decision-making process?

            It’s not just letters that get us into trouble. Imagine a phone call to your boss or to your brother in which you let it all loose. You ranted and raved, accusing the other of all kinds of nefarious deeds. You gave them no opportunity to speak, to defend themselves.

            What happened as a result? Did you regret your actions? Why or why not? If you had a chance to do it over, what different actions might you have taken?

            Your task is to write a story in which your character composes the angry letter or makes the explosive phone call. Readers have to feel the anger and understand where it’s coming from. Dialogue will be important even if it’s a letter that gets sent, for once the words are read, the recipient will respond.

            Raw emotions are painful to read about, but they are a part of life. We’ve all experienced those feelings, so if your story is intriguing, readers will identify with the protagonist.

            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.

Being Stalked

There are some situations that give us chills. Being stalked is one of them.

Imagine watching a movie in which the protagonist has a questionable person following him. The stalker jumps in and out of shadows, leaves clues and seems to be everywhere at once.

The protagonist is so terrified that he cannot function normally. The police are trying to help, but they cannot be everywhere at all times.

So far nothing untoward has happened, but the threat that something awful could occur occupies your character’s mind. It’s a dangerous situation, one that inhabits the mind and constricts behavior.

Your task is to write a story in which your character is being stalked. Begin small. It might be that the stalked looks familiar, or has a voice that reminds your character of someone he knows. It might seem accidental that the stalker keeps popping up, but when the quantity of appearances increases, then it gets just plain spooky.

Description will be important as you set the scene. In fact, each time that your character changes setting, new descriptions will be important. Dialogue will pop up when your character tries to tell someone what’s happening. Will the someone believe or not? Will the someone take action or not?

Have fun with this one.

Playground Bully

Picture a school playground. Kids are running, shouting, jumping, climbing, swinging and playing basketball. Groups form then someone leaves and a new group is created. Most kids seem happy and well-adjusted. However if you look carefully, somewhere on that playground is a child being tormented.

Sometimes the tormentor is a classmate, sometimes it’s a neighbor, sometimes it’s an older child. The one given is that the bully is bigger, stronger and domineering to the point of terrifying the smaller child.

Playground bullies often grow up to be workplace bullies or domestic abusers. Their skills are well-developed by this time, so they know just the right words, just the right postures, just the right ways to belittle others into doing what they want.

Your character most likely ran into a bully sometime in his life. Imagine the story he would tell. He would speak of the terror that took over his body anytime the bully drew near. He’d tell about the ways he tried to hide, tried to brush off the comments, tried to elude by staying near a playground supervisor.

Your task is to write a story in which a bully plays a prominent role. Your protagonist can be the bully or the bullied. Dialogue and description are important for both will create the ambience needed to convey the intense feelings that the victim experiences.

Will there be a happy ending in which the victim overcomes the bullying? In which the bully is severely punished? Or will the ending be one of continued torture, not just from the playground bully but by adult bullies as well?

Have fun with this one.

Unexpected Help

            You’ve got to trim the trees in your yard. The problem is that you are terrified of heights and the job can’t get done without someone climbing a ladder. Or maybe there’s a glitch in your computer that you can’t solve. Perhaps you’re in the midst of a complex project at work and won’t meet the deadline.

            Imagine that someone appears who offers to help, either out of the kindness of his heart or because he was told to do so. With his help, the task is completed satisfactorily.

            Your character might need help at some time during the story. How he asks for and accepts help says a lot about who he is. For example, what if he is gruff and ungrateful? The helper might walk away. On the other hand, what if he offers a free meal in payment?

            Your task is to write a story in which help is needed and provided. How is the need communicated and received, if offered? What kind of person is the helper? Is he rude and disrespectful or patient and kind? Does he humiliate the person needing help or patiently jump in?

            Both description and dialogue is important in this story. Emotions and behavior play key roles. A little tension might make the story more interesting.

            Have fun with this one.