Tis the season, right? Stores are stocked with wondrous items that everyone you know must want. Commercials air hourly enticing you to wish for, to yearn for, that special something that only a loved one can give.

You can’t escape the pressure. You are expected to surprise folks with the best gift, handpicked just for them. You spend hours agonizing over ads, magazines and online sites. And then you wait for a gushing thanks.

Imagine your character going through this process. Where does he look? How hard does he search? How soon before the big date does he shop? What does he buy?

Your task is to write the story of the search, the choice and the giving. Remember that there must be tension to have a viable story, something that someone wants to read. To do this, think of all the things that can go wrong. Perhaps the item is out of stock and won’t be available until too late. Or maybe the correct size in the perfect color is sold out.

And then there’s the emotional impact of choosing. What goes through his mind? How anxious is he?

Will the recipient open the gift in the giver’s presence? That might change the choice of gift as well as increase tension.

Have fun with this one.

Welcome Home

After being away from home, who greets you at the door? A child? Spouse? Beloved dog? Maybe a neighbor or a renter?

How does it make you feel to be loved so much that someone waits for your return?

Now think about your protagonist. Close your eyes and visualize who greets her.

Your task is to write that story. Your readers will want to see the details and feel her emotions. They yearn to experience what she’s going through, down to the smallest detail. For example, does the puppy pee on the floor? The cat rub her legs? The birds chirp loudly?

Perhaps not only happy things occur. Maybe someone left a message on the answering phone that a relative is gravely ill or has died. Or that they are coming for a surprise visit arriving in an hour. How does you character react to those bits of news?

Remember that all stories need conflict and tension, so while writing the happy arrival story include some piece of conflict.

Have fun with this one.

Staying up Late

When I was in high school I obsessed over grades. I stayed up all night, many nights, reviewing material for tests and quizzes. Although I was exhausted the next day, I believed that the effort paid off.

In college I continued the behavior. Was I always mentally sharp? Probably not, but I was so anxious about not doing well and fearful of losing my scholarship, that I continued.

Think of a time that you stayed up. What was the reason? The outcome? Did you accomplish what you hoped to? Did you do it just once or many times?

Now think of the story you can tell.

Your task is to write a story in which your character stays up all night doing something. Remember that a story needs conflict and tension, so how are you going to include those? Could there be a near-accident? Lecture from a parent? Too sleep-deprived to walk across campus?

Make the details compelling enough so that your readers will want to read to the end.

Have fun with this one.

Unexpected Package

While I was out and about today I package came that my husband did not expect. He was overjoyed when he realized the vendor. He quickly put the meat selections in the freezer and is looking forward to cooking them.

How do you feel when something unexpected arrives at your door?  Is it with joy of discovery or dread, not knowing to whom you might owe a favor? And once it is opened, do your emotions change? If so, why?

Your task is to write a story in which a surprise package arrives for your character. This can be based on a real event that occurred in your life or completely fictionalized. What’s important is to describe the thoughts and emotions that your character experiences.

We want to see, from beginning to end, how it transpires.

This does not have to be a long piece, but could eventually be part of a larger story.

Have fun with this one.

The Home in Story

While it might not play out in the story, our characters live somewhere.  It might be under a freeway overpass, an upscale condominium complex, or in a bedroom of Grandma’s house.  That residence affects how the character thinks, feels and reacts.

Imagine living outside on a cold, stormy day. How would you feel? Most likely you might be a bit grouchy. When someone passes you by, you might bark out a bit of foul language, angry because they didn’t recognize you as human.

Now place yourself in the condo. Do you feel entitled? Are you a bit haughty? Do you look down on those who you feel are beneath you and so treat them with disrespect?

Home influences our outlook on life.

Your task is to first of all, decide where your character lives. Draw it out, if you can or find a photo online that looks like the home. Consider what types of objects are inside the home: family heirlooms or a mishmash found at thrift stores or donated from family.

Now write a story that reflects how home influences your character’s behavior.

Have fun with this one.

Family Dynamics

Imagine a family gathering in which a variety of aunts, uncles, cousins and elders mix and mingle throughout the house and backyard. Most of the time pleasantries are exchanged and rules of engagement are followed.

But then someone has a little too much to drink or Johnny pushes Steven off the swing or Aunt Carol’s casserole gets knocked off the counter or someone overhears juicy gossip about themselves. All hell breaks loose, right?

That’s the story that you want to tell. Not the goody-goody everyone’s pretending to like everyone. Readers want to tension, the fights, the nasty words tossed about. We want to see what happens. Who’s involved. The words/actions. Who tries to intervene. Who laughs. Who gets hurt.

Your task is to write a fascinating story about family times that go awry. Remember to include details. The skirt tucked into Sally’s panties. The zipper of George’s slacks that gets stuck. The smell of rancid lettuce rotting in the afternoon sun.

We want good things to happen, sure. If not, the story would be over the top. Give us pleasant happenings, but then an incident that triggers disaster.

Have fun with this one.

Tips to Improve your Storytelling

We are writers. We write because we are compelled to get words on pages. We write whether or not anyone will ever read a single word that we’ve put down.

That being so, when we write, we want to do the best possible job.

Following are some tips how to do precisely that:

  1. Be specific in your choice of words, making sure that you’ve provided clarity.
  2. Make sure that the events you’ve included are relevant and add interest and depth.
  3. Stick to the story that you are telling. Don’t diverge into tangents unless those bits add details that can’t be included in any other way.
  4. Remember that a good story must have good characters that play a role in the plot development.
  5. Choose themes to explore that are universal in nature, such as love, death, bromance, friendships because you want readers to relate to the story plot.
  6. And, of course, bring readers into the scenes by using as many of the five senses as possible, but do so without lumping them all into the first few paragraphs.

Your task is to write a short story incorporating as many of these tips as possible, almost like using a checklist. This might not be the best story, so treat it as practice for future excellent stories.

Have fun with this one.