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.

The Hollow

            Do you ever feel an intense need to fill yourself? That there’s an emptiness inside? When this happens, what do you do to remedy the situation?

            Hollow spaces yearn to be filled. If it’s hunger, we want food. If it’s loneliness, we turn to family and friends. If it’s sadness, we search for things to make us smile. No matter the cause, we instinctively desire to put something in the hollow.

            Your characters also experience emptiness. Perhaps it’s not all-consuming, but it’s there nevertheless. Those intense feelings interfere with everyday life.   How does she focus on work when there’s a hole that needs filling? What does she think about when she’s standing in line at a store? When the phone hasn’t rung for days, how does that make her feel? And when the hollowness acts up, what are her go-to solutions?

            Your task is to write a story in which your character experiences the loss of something crucial. Think beyond a missing watch or a scarf that has disappeared into the depths of the closet. Make the “thing” significant enough that he cannot function normally until either the hole is filled or he forces himself to move on.

            Set the scene with description and narrative. Bring in other characters so that dialogue can reveal the emotions playing in his mind. Through that dialogue readers will learn how he reacts to suggestions. He might be pleased or he might become belligerent.

            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.

Skills and Talents

            Some of us are artistic and can easily learn a new skill. Painting with oils? No problem. Knitting a sweater? Piece of cake. Cooking a seven course meal for the boss and wife? Maybe a bit more difficult, but still done with pizzazz.

            Perhaps you’re gifted musically and can learn to play any instrument that comes your way. Your singing voice is superb and you can sight-read a new piece of music and get it right the first time. On top of that you compose music in a variety of genres.

            A few of us are good with our hands. We can fix whatever ails a car, tend struggling plants, repair the stove when it refuses to heat and alter the dishwasher so that the waste goes through the garbage disposal.

            Your characters need to have skills and talents that make them special. Begin by listing a wide range of possibilities. If necessary, do a little research into what is needed to succeed at that skill. Imagine when and where your character will display her ability and how others will react when the result is revealed.

            Write a story in which talents play a major role. Description is important, but so is dialogue and action. Not everyone in the story will appreciate the skill. Some might be jealous or turn it into a competition. The final product might be a masterpiece or a complete failure. How the characters behave is important to the story.

            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.

The Best Gift

            Gift-giving opportunities arise all throughout the year. Children have birthday parties, couples celebrate anniversaries, there are house-warming parties and, of course, Christmas and other such holidays. Sometimes we know the recipient well enough to know what they like, but often we are clueless. We head off to the store looking for inspiration which might not happen.

            What is the best gift you’ve ever given? Was it something that you wanted for yourself or something from a want-list? What was the reaction when the gift was unwrapped? Do you think the person kept the gift or returned it at the soonest opportunity?

            Your character might have to give a gift, or perhaps might be the recipient. How will she react? Will she smile even if the gift is hideous? Will she thank the giver or push the gift aside?

            If she’s the giver, how much effort will she put into finding a gift? Is she the kind of person who buys gift cards or does she search for what the recipient really wants? Does she wrap the gift herself or pay someone to do it for her? Does she buy online or at a store?

            There are so many options here, so many opportunities for a good story.

            Your task is to write a story in which gifts are involved. There can be welcomed gifts, surprise gifts, pleasant gifts or unwelcome gifts. The giver can be aware and thoughtful or callous and unfeeling. The recipient can be grateful or simply accepting.

            Use both narrative description as well as dialogue. Include a little conflict in order to make the story interesting.

            Have fun with this one.

Attitude Toward Medicine

            For many of us our attitude about going to the doctor’s is influenced by the things our parents said and did as we grew up. A parent who brushed off illnesses and injuries might have taught us to be wary of seeking medical advice. Perhaps we might have done the opposite, running to the doctor over every twitch or tingle.

            If our parents took us to the doctor over and over and over, we might grow up avoiding taking ourselves to a doctor’s office, even when needed. Perhaps we scan the aisles in stores where products are displayed, reading labels and self-diagnosing rather than getting antibiotics that were necessary, herby creating a new problem.

            Your character also has an attitude toward medicine. The person who runs to the doctor over every little ill might be a bit comical while the one who avoids doctors even when necessary could make for a fascinating tale when things go awry. Which would make the most interesting story for you to write?

            Character description is critical. Readers have to get to know your protagonist so that they can identify with how and why he will behave, what motivates the choices he makes, what forces operating inside him drive his decision-making.

            Narrative will help readers see those forces, but dialogue is also important in character development.

            Have fun with this one.   

Holiday Beliefs

            With Christmas approaching, now is a good time to write about the holiday. Not everyone celebrates Christmas, so if you have a special day, choose that one to remember.

            Some children are so poor that there are no gifts, no tree, nothing special about the day except maybe going to church. Other kids dream about all the packages they get to unwrap and then, on Christmas Day, get to tear paper off gift after gift.

            Try to recall a holiday that was special for you. What were the reasons that it was meaningful? Was it the gifts or time with family? Was it the mystic or the planning that went into preparations to celebrate?

            Your task is to write a story in which your character celebrates a special day. Make the anticipation large enough to inspire a well-developed story. Include a bit of conflict so that not everything runs smoothly. Narrative is important to set up the scene, but dialogue is what will spur action. Sensory details allow the reader to be in the scene, so include them as well.

            Have fun with this one.