The question I’m asked the most – in relation to my writing – is where I get my short story ideas from. Now, I want to say that I’m brimming with ideas and can hardly contain myself with excitement in my rush to commit them all to paper. But that would be a lie. I go through phases where a few will come at once, and I go through other, usually longer, I might add, phases where I struggle to come up with anything decent.
But what does help, is keeping a notebook specifically for ideas that might inspire me to come up with something. My series, the story behind the story, which I’ll be continuing for the foreseeable future, will give more details of how I turn specific ideas into stories that sell/win.
So, the one piece of advice I would give to any aspiring short story writer, is to keep a notebook of ideas, snippets, anecdotes. And here are where I get mine from.
Things that people say, things that people do, things you read, things you observe. Some examples of real life things I’ve built a story around – a butchers shop that is now a cafe, but the new owners have kept the original fittings; a dead whale washed up on a beach; the story someone told my dad about a ‘ghost’ that passes through the house at the same time every day; a pair of matching voodoo doll key rings; a colleague who told me about a phone box in his garden.
Just small, seemingly insignificant things can spark a story, and are great for messing around with if you think you’ve ‘run out’ of ideas. Make a note of things that catch your imagination and see what connections your brain makes.
I read an article which claimed that drinking coffee helps you live longer. This sparked an idea- what if a child, concerned about their parents dying, hears this? What would ensue? This led to the story Have Some Coffee! An article about an engagement ring found on a beach, many years later, and many miles from where it was lost, led to The Ring on The Beach. I also read about a church hall that banned yoga classes because they were classed as ‘spiritual’. I’m currently working on a story inspired by this.
The more obscure the story, the better. I tend to find that there are more gems in the smaller headlines than the larger ones. And local papers are often better than tabloids.
Other people’s stories
By this, I don’t mean copy someone else’s story and pretend its yours. NEVER do that. But do read other people’s short stories, and use them to spark yours.
See if you can write something else in a similar theme (e.g. its the small things in life that make us happy, children are often wiser than we realize etc)
Use other people’s titles and first lines as sounding boards. I write the sentence or title down on a sheet of paper before reading the rest of the story, and I use it to create what I think might happen next. The resulting story is ALWAYS very different to the original story, and I never need to use the copied first line/title for my completed draft – it’s just a way of sparking my creativity. I have a story in the current issue of Take A Break Fiction Feast’, which was inspired by the first line of someone else’s story.
Plots and ideas from TV shows
Remember when Joey from Friends decided to go vegetarian when Phoebe was pregnant and craving meat? That inspired me to write Confessions of a Vegetarian, which was a similar scenario between two warring sisters, and which was purchased by Take A Break Fiction Feast. Take an idea or sub-plot, and see if you can apply it to a different situation and different characters.
Creative writing prompts and story themes
Now, I must confess that prompts rarely work for me. Our creative minds all work differently, and prompts just don’t tend to help me, but they’re popular with many other writers. Just google ‘creative writing prompts’ or ‘short story prompts’ and you’ll find an array to choose from.
With that said, I do sometimes find themed competitions can be helpful. I’ve entered a good few Writing Magazine competitions, as I quite like their themes, which are relatively open but still tight enough to force my brain to think of something a bit different. Themes include crime, adult fairy stories, paranormal, stories for children, and three word prompts.
If you’re planning to start writing short stories, best of luck! If you’re already a writer, do you have any tips to add?