You’ve written some great short stories (and perhaps a few not-so-great stories that you’ve tossed aside), but now you’re stuck for ideas. Maybe you’ve tried writing prompts, writing exercises, and even a change of scenery, but your creative well is still dry. At Writer’s Relief, we have a suggestion that can help you come up with your next short story idea: Look at the stories you’ve already written—both good and bad—and see if you can find the story that’s “outside” the one you’ve already created. The characters, settings, and plot twists lurking just outside the parameters of your old work can be a jumping-off point for a new short story idea!
Where To Find The Story Outside Your Short Story
Secondary characters. Sometimes, as you’re writing a short story, you realize you’re using the wrong main character. Is your protagonist’s voice falling flat? Does another character’s perspective come more naturally to you? Whether you’re looking to change up your current story or write a new one, focusing on a different character is a great idea. This may be the sidekick you always suspected had the chops to be a main character, or a fringe character who only gets a single mention but deserves more!
Relationships. Check your existing stories for intriguing relationships. On second glance, the story you wrote about a character’s career struggles might reveal an interesting dynamic with the character’s best friend. Or in a story about a bride questioning whether or not she really wants to get married, you might notice that the bride’s brother and the wedding photographer have suddenly clicked. A nuanced relationship can hook readers just as much as an action-filled plot. When you discover a relationship worth delving into, you can create a story featuring those characters or new characters with a similar interaction.
Events in the story’s world. If you’ve built a strong world in your story, you can consider what type of events or festivities they may have. Do they celebrate the annual return of the Red Moon? Is there a feast where the elderly are honored? A story’s setting can be as important as its characters, so you may want to think about who else lives in the forbidden forest or what other business may be located in the nearby town. Whether you’ve crafted an epic fantasyland or a quaint small town, a really great setting can yield entirely new stories.
Memories. When you developed the protagonist in an existing short story, you probably put some thought into the details of their past. Sift through these backstory elements—perhaps there was a life-changing childhood event or a long-ago romance. Your new project could be based on that traumatic event or heartbreak. Or maybe it’s an influential experience a character had in school or at a previous job. Any of these past events can be the source of new ideas.
Deleted scenes. It happens to every writer: Sometimes you realize you’ve overwritten and just don’t need a certain scene, even if it’s a favorite. That scene may not have worked for that particular short story, but it might be perfect for your next one! Revisit your deletions and see if you can turn any into complete stories.
Ask “What happened after the ending?” Finding the perfect ending is one of the hardest parts of writing a short story. No matter how well you wrapped things up, sometimes you’ll still find yourself with lingering questions or the nagging feeling that your character has more growing to do. If you think there’s still more to your short story even after you’ve written “The End,” you might want to consider writing a sequel!
Ask “What happened before this story?” Prequels have become more and more popular, and with good reason! How did the friends meet? Or why did the thief once pledge undying love to the person he robbed? Did the parents of your protagonist and villain once live next door to each other? What came before your story can be just as interesting—or even more so!—than your story’s present. Maybe the near-past interests you, or maybe you’d rather go further back in time from your current story. Either way, events and situations that happened days, months, or years before this story may become the inspiration for your next short story.
An edited scene, a throwaway character, or even a single sentence from one of your old short stories may prove to be the inspiration for your next writing project. By simply looking outside the framework of an existing story, you can find great ideas for another short story!
Question: What elements from old stories have you used to inspire a new one?