What I've gotten out of this next exercise is specific details. They make all the difference in a story's believability but also they help the reader really connect with the characters.
Take a childhood secret or incident and fictionalize it.
My sister Nanna and I had a leftover red balloon from her birthday party. Her real name’s Joanna, but we’ve called her Nanna as long as I can remember.
In our living room – which is separate from our family room, and there is a BIG difference – we were flicking the balloon to each other.
Nanna grabbed the balloon in front of her and stuck her tongue on it and made a crazy face. I was laughing so hard I had to sit down. But I would have been even funnier if I could have popped it right at that second.
“Patty-cake,” Nanna said, “stop daydreaming and play.” She calls me Patty-cake at home and sometimes in public when she wants to embarrass me.
I jumped up and smashed the fat balloon as hard as I could. It bounced off Nanna’s face and flew to the mantel over the fireplace. The balloon drifted down but a cracking sound made us look at each other.
“Oh, oh,” I said.
On the marble floor in front of the fireplace was Mom’s precious figurine – head half cracked open and the little lamb’s leg skewed.
Nanna ran for the glue while I gathered parts back together.
We never said a word to Mom – she never noticed. But if you look close enough, you can see the lamb’s leg fractured and the patch job on the girl’s head.
It’s still our little secret.