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You don’t have to look far to find ideas for short stories. These ideas are where you are, that is, they are all around you, including in your memories. When you understand this concept, ideas will come to you unbidden.
What exactly is a short story?
It’s prose. It’s writing that uses “ordinary language without a formal structure or metrical pattern . . . Prose is the most common way to tell a story because it uses the same plain language most of us use every day. Prose allows for a more natural and fluid expression of ideas, and it follows the conventional rules of grammar, using clear and coherent sentences” (Edwards).
We see prose in novels, short stories, magazines, and other types of writing. Prose is everyday writing with which you are familiar.
Before we continue with ideas for short stories, it would be appropriate to know the elements of a short story, which deals with:
Of course, there are more than just these elements that you need to know and master. Other elements include word length, genre, dialogue, and others. These are discussed in other articles on this site.
As stated above, ideas are everywhere. One place to find them is by watching movies and television shows. These end one way but you thought they would end another way. The endings may trigger your imagination to put a different angle on it. You will not use their story, but you will come up with your own great idea(s).
Perhaps the movie you saw was about a young man being chased by a pit bull. The man jumps on top of a car for safety, but the dog is able to catch his ankle and pull him down.
This triggers you to come up with an idea about a young woman being chased by a Rottweiler. She screams for help. A handsome young man rescues her. She falls in love with him immediately. (Later she discovers that the man owns the dog.)
Your short story genre could be a romance or a rom-com (romantic comedy).
This same scene could trigger you to come up with another idea:
A young woman is being chased by a Rottweiler. She screams for help. A portal opens before her. As she runs, the Rottweiler is able to tear off her shoe. She stumbles and falls headlong inside the portal. The dog is unable to follow, being rewarded with only her shoe.
This story genre could be written as sci-fi or fantasy.
People-watching is another great way writers get ideas for short stories because people are usually unconscious of their behavior and will exhibit some beguiling actions.
Once, I was sitting at an outdoor cafe. A middle-aged man sat not far from me, eating French fries. He then unscrewed the top off a bottle of catsup, poured some catsup on his fries, and then, licked the bottle opening.
The man’s behavior could have been totally unconscious. Perhaps he did this at home and forgot that others would be using the catsup after him, providing of course that they didn’t see him lick the mouth of the bottle.
You could write this gesture for one of your characters, not the good guy, though. This gesture will evoke an emotion in your reader; this is just what you want your reader to have.
You remember the time you saw a man fall off a motorcycle. He got up but was unable to put much pressure on one foot and was unable to pick up the bike. You rushed over and helped him stand the bike. The man was grateful and was able to successfully ride away.
Suppose you spin the scene in another direction for an idea for a short story. You embellish it this way:
A man falls off a motorcycle. He gets to his feet but is unable to put much pressure on one foot and is unable to pick up the bike. You rushed over and helped him stand the bike. Suddenly you hear sirens. The man hobbles away quickly. The police car screeches to a stop in front of you; two policemen jump out with guns pointed at you. You’re confused. They tell you to get your hands off the motorcycle and drop to your knees. They tell you that you're in possession of stolen property.
Here, the genre for your short story can be drama.
My cousin told me the true story about his road trip. He was traveling with his wife and their four little children. The kids were noisy, and it was raining hard. He stopped the car at a convenience store to get snacks for everyone. He purchased the snacks and started driving again. About a mile down the road, as his wife was giving snacks to the kids, she realized one child was not in the car! Frantic, my cousin wheeled the car around and sped back to the store. As he was about to enter the store, he heard grunts from a mud puddle. In the puddle was the missing child, apparently having gotten out of the car unseen to follow his dad inside the store. The child was muddied but uninjured.
Let's expound on more ideas for short stories based on my cousin's account:
The above conversation may yield generous ideas that can be tailor-made to fit the genre of your choice.
Remember that ideas for short stories can be fleeting. You may have a wonderful idea, but before you can memorialize it on paper or take notes on your phone, it’s gone. Sometimes the idea, as powerful as it may be, never returns. It happens to all writers. To avoid this, you must, then, develop a system where your ideas cannot tumble down a deep and convoluted rabbit hole.
One trick is to say the idea over and over in your mind. This way it becomes ingrained, and you will be more likely to remember it by the time you get to your pen and paper or phone. Have these items handy at all times. You can even record your ideas using your phone.
After you have your ideas jotted down, have a system in which you can find them. There's nothing worse than knowing you have that great idea written down someplace, but now you can't find it. Figure out beforehand a system where you'll put all of your ideas.
And always be alert to more ideas. Once you bid them to come, they will, whether it's from a movie, people-watching, memory, or conversation. Be ready to write your great short story.
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