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Mark Twain believed there was no such thing as a new idea. But he also felt that old ideas could become new with a little inspiration. Writer’s Relief feels the same way, which is why we created a mix-and-match idea generator to help you breathe new life into timeless topics for short stories. Check out this free writer tutorial and gain some fresh insights into classic short story subjects!
Editors at literary magazines love when writers put a new spin on traditional subject matter. Also, exploring new angles will help you become a better short story writer. It will challenge you to push boundaries and encourage you to move out of your writing comfort zone.
Here’s How Writers Can Breathe New Life Into Classic Short Story Ideas
When using this tutorial, you can deliberately make your narrative choices, or you can take a risk: Print this page, close your eyes, and let fate decide according to where your pen lands!
One: Pick your overarching short story topic. We recommend choosing one that hits an emotional trigger point for you.
Two: Select a central character.
- College professor
- Daycare assistant
- Office worker
- Stay-at-home parent
- Store clerk
- Retired soldier
Three: Give your character some emotional baggage (aka backstory). Take a moment to consider how the following broad topics might specifically apply to the character who has started to form in your mind when you chose from the list above.
- Isolation issues
- Professional stress
- Caregiving duties
- Financial pressures (from too little money OR too much)
- Social pressures to conform
Four: Choose a location for your opening scene. Surprise yourself! Your choice doesn’t have to correspond to your main character’s profession. In fact, sometimes it’s more interesting if it doesn’t!
- Parking lot
- Pet store
- Monster truck rally
- Television studio
- Train station
- Emergency room
- Nail salon
- Fast-food drive-through lane
Five: Pick a point of view. Is your POV that of an observer watching your characters and plot unfold, or is it the main character doing the thinking/talking?
- First person
- Second person
- Third person
- Third-person omniscient
- Something else entirely
Six: Select the inciting conflict. Does your main character…
- Annoy the wrong person
- Overhear a secret that should be told
- Run to the rescue of another character
- Have to choose between stepping in and stepping away
- Break something valuable
- Get called out for a social faux pas
- Lose sight of an abducted child
- Need to wiggle out of a promise
Seven: Determine the end.
Now it’s time to take the starting points you’ve selected and flesh them out into a fully developed story. You have a classic topic (one that taps into deep human emotions and resonates with readers), a main character who has an interesting backstory, and an inciting incident that can shed light on the subject matter at hand.
But…we’re not going to give you prompts for how your story should end. After all, part of the fun of writing is taking the story’s journey to a natural stopping point.
You can learn more about how to craft a short story (including how to write a great short story ending) by checking out the following articles by Writer’s Relief:
How To Find Help Publishing Your Short Story
Once you’ve completed your short story, you may want to explore the possibility of submitting it for publication to a literary magazine. There are lots of free short story resources to help you on our website.
But if you’d rather be writing than doing the legwork of making submissions, check out our professional submission assistance services here at Writer’s Relief!
Question: Where do you get your ideas for short stories?