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Some Ways to Have Short Story Ideas

How do you come up with ideas when you write? Hopefully you don't just sit there waiting for inspiration. It is almost always better to write anything right now. The English writer Graham Green attributes much of his success to a simple habit: He forced himself to write at least 500 words daily, whether he felt like it or not. Perhaps creative inspiration can strike at any time, but it strikes more often when there is work instead of waiting.

Of course, as useful as that advice may be, it is an old idea. This is a site about new ideas, so below are a couple new ways to generate short story ideas.

Explain This

There is a car travel game I created (though it was probably invented many times before by other people) called "Explain This." The basic idea is to suggest an unusual scenario in a sentence or two, and then have each player explain it in a plausible and interesting way. I found that in addition to being an entertaining way to pass time, it is also a great way to come up with short story ideas.

To try this, start with as odd a scene as you can think of quickly, perhaps just anything that pops into your head, and describe it in a line or two. For example, you might imagine and say this: "Todd handed out the dollar bills to the people as they walked by, trying to distribute as many as he could quickly, before the police could stop him." Now try to explain that.

The human mind insists on explaining things, so you'll find an explanation if you give it a little bit of effort. If it's an interesting enough explanation, you have your next short story.

I imagine the dollar bills are signed or otherwise identifiable (perhaps by serial number?). Why? So they can be traded for a gift worth even more. Where? At a big seminar that the Todd is promoting. So do you spend it and get soda, or get something truly valuable for it at the seminar? Okay, this may go in the marketing ideas file instead of the short story ideas file.

Could Todd be handing out the last of his money as per the instructions of his spiritual leader? Maybe it is a "get rich quick" cult that requires all members to start from zero. A religious movement based on getting rich? Who knows? I imagine someone could make it into a plausible story.

Make Songs Into Short Stories

Many songs are essentially short stories with music, while other musical pieces might merely suggest ideas for fiction. Both types can be good for quick inspiration, so turn on the radio or play those CDs. As you listen, consider what the "plot" or theme is and expand on it in your mind. If you find that one of the songs really gets your imagination going, you probably have the basis for a good short piece of fiction.

Ideas from Beliefs

If you feel strongly about some things, those passions are a great place to look for new ideas. For example, suppose you believe that courage is not...

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You might also like to see the page Short Story Questions for another way to get short story ideas.

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Short Story Ideas