Is your short story idea well running dry? Fear not! New short story ideas might be closer than you think! Your life is full of ideas for fiction—you’ve just got to know where to look. Start with our suggestions.
5 Ways To Find Ideas For Short Stories Based On Your Own Life
1. Order up a slice of life. Many writers come up empty when trying to think of story ideas because they’re focusing on traditional story arcs. The fact is, life rarely offers neat little narrative packages that are gift-wrapped with easy conflict resolutions and clearly rendered characters. Fortunately, every short story doesn’t have to have a neat, traditional ending. You can write a short exploration of a scene, idea, or character—as opposed to a whole story. Slice-of-life vignettes are trending right now with lit mag editors; find out more about how to write good slice-of-life stories.
2. Make a scene. Physical places are rife with inherent conflict and problems that are just waiting to appear. You might discover a good story idea in your own backyard, the local park, or the mall—maybe even at the neighborhood senior housing center or hospital. Trees fall. So does rain. So do people. All of this has consequences for your characters, your setting, and your town. Learn more about scene and craft.
3. What a character! Think of the colorful people you know. Readers (including literary magazine editors and agents) love larger-than-life characters. Uncle Joe, who claims he was abducted by aliens. Aunt Dee, who talks more to her parrot than to her neighbors. Great stories often start with great characters.
4. Be afraid. Be very afraid. What are you afraid of? What’s the worst thing that could happen to you right now? What would stop you from reaching your goals? Your answers will reveal great story ideas, full of realistic conflict and emotional authenticity. Don’t be afraid to exploit your own fears. Learn how to write with fearful bravery!
5. Listen up. With every conversation, people are telling you stories. If you’ve watched the latest reboot of Sherlock (courtesy of the BBC), then you’ve seen how the titular detective can look over a person and deduce intimate secrets of that person’s life based on the smallest physical cues (a dog hair on the cuff of black pants, cracked nails, etc.). As a writer, you can do the same. Study the people you talk to. And remember—what you can’t glean, you can always invent.
One Last Warning: The Paradox Of “But It Really Happened”
Often, when a new writer hears a critique group member complain, “This doesn’t feel like it could really happen,” the author might reply, “But it did!” Here’s the problem with that logic: Whether or not a story feels true is actually more important than if it is true. Even if Uncle Joe really was abducted by aliens or Aunt Dee’s parrot truly can hold sophisticated conversations about classic literature, your story will fail if readers don’t buy into the truth of it. Listen carefully to readers’ reactions. And remember: there’s always more where that idea came from—your real life is replete with inspiration for fiction.
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