The Birthday That Went Bad

Anna Unkovich ( sent me this fascinating photo, the third of the trio that told the saga of the setting: one without the cake, one with the cake, and the third with the cake eaten. I found the third to be the most evocative.

Birthday Cake Eaten by One

Only One Place Setting Used


It shows a small glass table for two set for a private celebration. The card is open and, presumably, read, the cake eaten and one plate used. Only one, though it was set for two. The second plate remains pristine, with the napkin still covering its eating surface. Why?

Who are the two people who should have been there, celebrating this birthday? Two lovers, one of whom is married? A married couple? Two friends? What circumstances would have kept one of them away? Perhaps there was an accident. Perhaps the wife (or husband) discovered the illicit affair. Perhaps the friend found something more important to do. Or (given my suspense/mystery roots) perhaps the second person lies elsewhere in the room, dead. Now, there’s a story!

Where is this celebratory venue? In a restaurant, a hotel room, a living room, an office? Why did the one person who came eat the cake all alone? The entire piece of cake was eaten. Was it finished out of spite, or sorrow? And was the person who ate it the one celebrating the birthday, or was the birthday person the one who did not show up?

The story could go anywhere, involve anything. What direction will your story take?

Susan Tuttle

Let me know what this inspires you to write!


(From Write It Right, Volume 1: Story) A person’s quirks and/or weaknesses make them interesting. No one would want to be around someone who is perfect, not for very long—even super heroes have a foot or two of clay in their makeup. Mine your characters’ pasts to find intriguing faults that will make them even more real to your readers.