Updated, March 2, 2017 | We published an updated version of this list, “650 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing,” as well as a companion piece, “401 Prompts for Argumentative Writing.”
Every school day since 2009 we’ve asked students a question based on an article in The New York Times. Now, five years later, we’ve collected 500 of them that invite narrative and personal writing and pulled them all together in one place (available here as a PDF).
The categorized list below touches on everything from sports to travel, education, gender roles, video games, fashion, family, pop culture, social media and more, and, like all our Student Opinion questions, each links to a related Times article and includes a series of follow-up questions. What’s more, all these questions are still open for comment by any student 13 or older.
So dive into this admittedly overwhelming list and pick the questions that most inspire you to tell an interesting story, describe a memorable event, observe the details in your world, imagine a possibility, or reflect on who you are and what you believe.
- What Was Your Most Precious Childhood Possession?
- What Were Your Favorite Childhood Shows and Characters?
- What Were Your Favorite Picture Books When You Were Little?
- What Things Did You Create When You Were a Child?
- What Places Do You Remember Fondly From Childhood?
- Have You Ever Felt Embarrassed by Things You Used to Like?
- Do You Wish You Could Return to Moments From Your Past?
- Was There a Toy You Wanted as a Child but Never Got?
- What Objects Tell the Story of Your Life?
- What Are Your Best Sleepover Memories?
- What’s the Best Gift You’ve Ever Given or Received?
- What’s the Most Memorable Thing You Ever Got in the Mail?
- What Nicknames Have You Ever Gotten or Given?
- What Have You Learned in Your Teens?
- What Personal Achievements Make You Proud?
- What Are Some Recent Moments of Happiness in Your Life?
- What Are You Grateful For?
- What Rites of Passage Have You Participated In?
- What Advice Would You Give Younger Kids About Middle or High School?
- What Can Older People Learn From Your Generation?
- What Do Older Generations Misunderstand About Yours?
- Who Is Your Family?
- What Have You and Your Family Accomplished Together?
- What Events Have Brought You Closer to Your Family?
- What’s Your Role in Your Family?
- Have You Ever Changed a Family Member’s Mind?
- How Do You Define ‘Family’?
- What Are Your Family Stories of Sacrifice?
- What Possessions Does Your Family Treasure?
- What Hobbies Have Been Passed Down in Your Family?
- How Much Do You Know About Your Family’s History?
- Did Your Parents Have a Life Before They Had Kids?
- How Close Are You to Your Parents?
- How Are You and Your Parents Alike and Different?
- Do Your Parents Support Your Learning?
- What Have Your Parents Taught You About Money?
- Do You Expect Your Parents to Give You Money?
- How Permissive Are Your Parents?
- Do You Have Helicopter Parents?
- How Do Your Parents Teach You to Behave?
- How Do You Make Parenting Difficult for Your Parents?
- If You Drink or Use Drugs, Do Your Parents Know?
- Do You Talk About Report Cards With Your Parents?
- Would You Mind if Your Parents Blogged About You?
- How Well Do You Get Along With Your Siblings?
- How Well Do You Know Your Pet?
- What Role Do Pets Play in Your Family?
- What Is Your Racial and Ethnic Identity?
- Have You Ever Tried to Hide Your Racial or Ethnic Identity?
- How Do You Feel About Your Last Name?
- What’s the Story Behind Your Name?
- What Are Your Favorite Names?
- How Have You Paid Tribute to Loved Ones?
- Would You Most Want to Live in a City, a Suburb or the Country?
- How Much Does Your Neighborhood Define Who You Are?
- What’s Special About Your Hometown?
- What Would You Name Your Neighborhood?
- Who Is the ‘Mayor’ of Your School or Neighborhood?
- Who Are the ‘Characters’ That Make Your Town Interesting?
- What Would a TV Show About Your Town Spoof?
- What ‘Urban Legends’ Are There About Places in Your Area?
- What Local Problems Do You Think Your Mayor Should Try to Solve?
- Do You Know Your Way Around Your City or Town?
- Have You Ever Interacted With the Police?
- How Often Do You Interact With People of Another Race or Ethnicity?
- Who Would Be the Ideal Celebrity Neighbor?
- What Is Your Favorite Place?
- How Much Time Do You Spend in Nature?
- What Small Things Have You Seen and Taken Note Of Today?
- What Would Your Dream Home Be Like?
- What is Your Favorite Place in Your House?
- How Important Is Keeping a Clean House?
- Is Your Bedroom a Nightmare?
- Do You Plan on Saving Any of Your Belongings for the Future?
- With Your Home in Danger, What Would You Try to Save?
- What Would You Put in Your Emergency ‘Go-Bag’?
- Have You Ever Lost (or Found) Something Valuable?
- What Is Your Personal Credo?
- What Motivates You?
- What Makes You Happy?
- What Are You Good At?
- How Much Self-Control Do You Have?
- How Good Are You at Waiting for What You Really Want?
- What Role Does Procrastination Play in Your Life?
- When in Your Life Have You Been a Leader?
- How Well Do You Perform Under Pressure?
- How Well Do You Take Criticism?
- Are You Hard or Easy on Yourself?
- How Full Is Your Glass?
- Do You Have a Hard Time Making Decisions?
- How Good Are You at Time Management?
- How Productive and Organized Are You?
- How Would Your Life Be Different if You Had Better Listening Skills?
- How Competitive Are You?
- Do You Perform Better When You’re Competing or When You’re Collaborating?
- Do You Take More Risks When You Are Around Your Friends?
- Do You Unknowingly Submit to Peer Pressure?
- How Much of a Daredevil Are You?
- What Pranks, Jokes, Hoaxes or Tricks Have You Ever Fallen For or Perpetrated?
- How Do You React When Provoked?
- How Often Do You Cry?
- Do You Think You’re Brave?
- What Are You Afraid Of?
- What Are Your Fears and Phobias?
- What Are Your Personal Superstitions?
- Do You Like Being Alone?
- How Impulsive Are You?
- Are You a Novelty-Seeker?
- What Annoys You?
- Do You Apologize Too Much?
- Do You Have Good Manners?
- Are You a Saver or a Tosser?
- Are You More Introvert or Extrovert?
- Are You Popular, Quirky or Conformist?
- Are You a Nerd or a Geek?
- What Would Your Personal Mascot Be?
- What Assumptions Do People Make About You?
- What Challenges Have You Overcome?
- What Do You Do When You Encounter Obstacles to Success?
- What Are Your Secret Survival Strategies?
- How Do You Find Peace in Your Life?
- How Have You Handled Being the ‘New Kid’?
- Do You Ever Feel Overlooked and Underappreciated?
- How Stressed Are You?
- How Do You Relieve Stress?
- Does Stress Affect Your Ability to Make Good Decisions?
- What Challenges Have You Set for Yourself?
- How Often Do You Leave Your ‘Comfort Zone’?
- What Did You Once Hate but Now Like?
- Does Your Life Leave You Enough Time to Relax?
- Do You Set Rules for Yourself About How You Use Your Time?
- Is ‘Doing Nothing’ a Good Use of Your Time?
- What’s Cluttering Up Your Life?
- What Work Went Into Reaching Your Most Difficult Goals?
- When Have You Ever Failed at Something? What Happened as a Result?
- When Have You Ever Succeeded When You Thought You Might Fail?
- What Life Lessons Has Adversity Taught You?
- What’s the Most Challenging Assignment You’ve Ever Had?
- What Kind of Feedback Helps You Improve?
- Is Trying Too Hard to Be Happy Making You Sad?
- Do Adults Who Are ‘Only Trying to Help’ Sometimes Make Things Worse?
- What Are Five Everyday Problems That Bother You, and What Can You Do About Them?
- How Do Male and Female Roles Differ in Your Family?
- Do Parents Have Different Hopes and Standards for Their Sons Than for Their Daughters?
- Is There Too Much Pressure on Girls to Have ‘Perfect’ Bodies?
- How Much Pressure Do Boys Face to Have the Perfect Body?
- How Did You Learn About Sex?
- How Should Parents Address Internet Pornography?
- What Experiences Have You Had With Gender Bias in School?
- What Have Been Your Experiences With Catcalling or Other Kinds of Street Harassment?
- Do You Know Boys Who Regard Girls as ‘Prey’?
- Do You Consider Yourself a Feminist?
- How Do You Help?
- What Ethical Dilemmas Have You Faced?
- Would You Help an Injured Stranger?
- When Is the Last Time You Did Something Nice for a Stranger?
- Have You Ever ‘Paid It Forward’?
- How Much Do You Gossip?
- How Comfortable Are You With Lying?
- Have You Ever Taken Something You Weren’t Supposed To?
- What Could You Live Without?
- Do You Ever Feel Guilty About What, or How Much, You Throw Away?
- Do You Ever Eavesdrop?
- How Important Is Your Spiritual Life?
- Do You Believe That Everything Happens for a Reason?
- Can You Be Good Without God?
- Are You Less Religious Than Your Parents?
- Can You Pass a Basic Religion Test?
- What Can You Learn From Other Religions?
- Who Is Your Role Model?
- Who Are Your Heroes?
- Who Inspires You?
- What’s the Best Advice You’ve Gotten?
- Who Outside Your Family Has Made a Difference in Your Life?
- If You Had Your Own Talk Show, Whom Would You Want to Interview?
- To Whom, or What, Would You Like to Write a Thank-You Note?
- What Leader Would You Invite to Speak at Your School?
- What Six People, Living or Dead, Would You Invite to Dinner?
- Are You Distracted by Technology?
- Do You Always Have Your Phone or Tablet at Your Side?
- What Tech Tools Play the Biggest Role in Your Life?
- What New Technologies or Tech Toys Are You Most Excited About?
- To What Piece of Technology Would You Write a ‘Love Letter’?
- Does Your Digital Life Have Side Effects?
- Do Apps Help You or Just Waste Your Time?
- Do You Spend Too Much Time on Smart Phones Playing ‘Stupid Games’?
- When Do You Choose Making a Phone Call Over Sending a Text?
- Do You Know How to Code? Would You Like to Learn?
- Whom Would You Share Your Passwords With?
- What Are Your Favorite Video Games?
- What Have You Learned Playing Video Games?
- Do You Play Violent Video Games?
- When Should You Feel Guilty for Killing Zombies?
- Who Are Your Opponents in Online Gaming?
- Do You Like Watching Other People Play Video Games?
- How Careful Are You Online?
- Do You Ever Seek Advice on the Internet?
- How Do You Know if What You Read Online Is True?
- How Much Do You Trust Online Reviews?
- How Do You Use Wikipedia?
- What Are Your Favorite Internet Spoofs?
- What Are Your Favorite Viral Videos?
- What Would You Teach the World in an Online Video?
- What Are Your Experiences With Internet-Based Urban Legends?
- What Story Does Your Personal Data Tell?
- Do You Worry About the Lack of Anonymity in the Digital Age?
- Do You Wish You Had More Privacy Online?
- Have You Ever Been Scammed?
- How Do You Use Facebook?
- What Is Your Facebook Persona?
- What Memorable Experiences Have You Had on Facebook?
- Does Facebook Ever Make You Feel Bad?
- Would You Consider Deleting Your Facebook Account?
- Do You Have ‘Instagram Envy’?
- Do You Use Twitter?
- Why Do You Share Photos?
- How Do You Archive Your Life?
- Have You Ever Posted, Emailed or Texted Something You Wish You Could Take Back?
- Have You Ever Sent an Odd Message Because of Auto-Correct?
- Would You Want Your Photo or Video to Go Viral?
- Do You Worry Colleges or Employers Might Read Your Social Media Posts Someday?
- What Are You Listening To?
- Who in Your Life Introduces You to New Music?
- How Much Is Your Taste in Music Based on What Your Friends Like?
- What Music Inspires You?
- How Closely Do You Listen to Lyrics?
- Which Pop Music Stars Fascinate You?
- Who Is Your Favorite Pop Diva?
- What’s Your Karaoke Song?
- What Song/Artist Pairings Would You Like to Hear?
- What Were the Best Movies You Saw in the Past Year?
- What Movies Do You Watch, or Reference, Over and Over?
- What Movies, Shows or Books Do You Wish Had Sequels, Spinoffs or New Episodes?
- Do You Like Horror Movies?
- Who Are Your Favorite Movie Stars?
- Would You Pay Extra for a 3-D Movie?
- What Is Your Favorite Comedy?
- What Are the Best Live Theatrical Performances You’ve Ever Seen?
- Have You Ever Stumbled Upon a Cool Public Performance?
- What Role Does Television Play in Your Life and the Life of Your Family?
- What Television Shows Have Mattered to You?
- Do Your Television Viewing Habits Include ‘Binge-Watching’?
- How Often Do You Watch a Television Show When It Originally Airs?
- What Old Television Shows Would You Bring Back?
- Why Do We Like Reality Shows So Much?
- What Ideas Do You Have for a Reality Show?
- What Are Your Favorite Commercials?
- How Much Are You Influenced by Advertising?
- Read Any Good Books Lately?
- Do You Read for Pleasure?
- What Are Your Favorite Books and Authors?
- What Are the Best Things You’ve Read, Watched, Heard or Played This Year?
- What Are Your Favorite Young Adult Novels?
- What’s on Your Summer Reading List?
- What Memorable Poetry Have You Ever Read or Heard?
- What Are Your Favorite Cartoons?
- What Magazines Do You Read, and How Do You Read Them?
- Do You Enjoy Reading Tabloid Gossip?
- When Have You Seen Yourself and Your Life Reflected in a Book or Other Media?
- Do You Prefer Your Children’s Book Characters Obedient or Contrary?
- Do You Read E-Books?
- Would You Trade Your Paper Books for Digital Versions?
- To What Writer Would You Award a Prize?
- Why Do You Write?
- Do You Keep a Diary or Journal?
- Do You Have a Blog?
- Do You Want to Write a Book?
- When Do You Write by Hand?
- Do You Write in Cursive?
- Do You Write in Your Books?
- What ‘Mundane Moments’ From Your Life Might Make Great Essay Material?
- What’s the Coolest Thing You’ve Ever Seen in a Museum?
- What Are the Most Memorable Works of Visual Art You Have Seen?
- What Are Your Favorite Works of Art?
- What Are Your Favorite and Least Favorite Words?
- What Words or Phrases Do You Think Are Overused?
- How Much Slang Do You Use? What Are Your Favorite (Printable) Words?
- How Much Do You Curse? Why?
- Why Do So Many People Say ‘Like’ and ‘Totally’ All the Time?
- Do You Sometimes ‘Hide’ Behind Irony?
- How Good Is Your Grammar?
- What New Emoticons Does the World Need?
- Are You Fluent in Vocal Fry, Creaky Voice or Uptalk?
- How Much Information Is ‘Too Much Information’?
- When Did You Last Have a Great Conversation?
- Do You Speak a Second, or Third, Language?
- When Do You Remember Learning a New Word?
- Do You Like School?
- What Are You Really Learning at School?
- What Are You Looking Forward To, or Dreading, This School Year?
- Would You Want to Be Home-Schooled?
- Would You Like to Take a Class Online?
- Would You Rather Attend a Public or a Private High School?
- How Would You Grade Your School?
- What Can Other Schools Learn — and Copy — From Your School?
- Is Your School Day Too Short?
- What Do You Hope to Get Out of High School?
- Do You Have Too Much Homework?
- Does Your Homework Help You Learn?
- What Is Your Best Subject?
- What Memorable Experiences Have You Had in Learning Science or Math?
- Are You Afraid of Math?
- Do We Need a New Way to Teach Math?
- What Are the Best Ways to Learn About History?
- How Would You Do on a Civics Test?
- How Important Is Arts Education?
- What Is Your Most Memorable Writing Assignment?
- What Would You Like to Have Memorized?
- Does Your School Value Students’ Digital Skills?
- What Was Your Favorite Field Trip?
- Do You Participate in Class?
- What Are Your Best Tips for Studying?
- Do You Use Study Guides?
- Is Everything You’ve Been Taught About Study Habits Wrong?
- How Well Do You Think Standardized Tests Measure Your Abilities?
- Do You Have a Tutor?
- Are Your Grades Inflated?
- When Has a Teacher Inspired You?
- What Teacher Do You Appreciate?
- What Teacher Would You Like to Thank?
- What Do You Wish Your Teachers Knew About You?
- Do Your Test Scores Reflect How Good Your Teachers Are?
- Do Your Teachers Use Technology Well?
- What Role Do School Clubs and Teams Play in Your Life?
- Who Has the Power in School Social Life?
- How Big a Problem Is Bullying or Cyberbullying in Your School or Community?
- Does Your School Seem Integrated?
- What’s the Racial Makeup of Your School?
- Do You Ever ‘Mix It Up’ and Socialize With Different People at School?
- Can Students at Your School Talk Openly About Their Mental Health Issues?
- Is Your School a ‘Party School’?
- How Common Is Drug Use in Your School?
- Do You Know People Who Cheat on High-Stakes Tests?
- How Does Your School Deal With Students Who Misbehave?
- How Much Does Your Life in School Intersect With Your Life Outside School?
- Would You Ever Go Through Hazing to Be Part of a Group?
- Where Do You Want to Go to College?
- What Are Your Sources for Information About Colleges and Universities?
- Is College Overrated?
- How Much Does the SAT or ACT Matter in Your Life?
- What Personal Essay Topic Would You Assign to College Applicants?
- What Qualities Would You Look For in a College Roommate?
- What Would You Do With a Gap Year?
- What Makes a Graduation Ceremony Memorable?
- How Do You Feel About Proms?
- What Are Your Longtime Interests or Passions?
- Do You Have a Life Calling?
- What Do You Want to Do With Your Life?
- Do You Think You Will Have a Career That You Love?
- What Investment Are You Willing to Make to Get Your Dream Job?
- Would You Consider a Nontraditional Occupation?
- Would You Want to Be a Teacher?
- What Hidden Talents Might You Have?
- What Do You Hope to Be Doing the Year After You Graduate From College?
- Would You Rather Work From Home or in an Office?
- What Career or Technical Classes Do You Wish Your School Offered?
- What ‘Back-to-the-Land’ Skills Do You Have, or Wish You Had?
- What Have You Made Yourself?
- What Would You Create if You Had Funding?
- How Did You Start Doing Something You Love?
- Did You Ever Take a Break From Doing Something You Love?
- What Have You Done to Earn Money?
- Do You Have a Job?
- Would You Quit if Your Values Did Not Match Your Employer’s?
- What Are Your Attitudes Toward Money?
- Can Money Buy You Happiness?
- Where Do You See Yourself in 10 Years?
- What Do You Want to Be Doing When You’re 80?
- Do You Want to Live to 100?
- What Do You Want Your Obituary to Say?
- Have You Ever Been in Love?
- What Are the Most Meaningful Relationships in Your Life?
- What Advice Would You Give to Somebody Who Just Started Dating?
- What Are the Basic ‘Rules’ for Handling Breakups?
- What Are Your Beliefs About Marriage?
- Are You Allowed to Date?
- Is Dating a Thing of the Past?
- Do You Have a Best Friend?
- How Do You Feel About Introducing Friends from Different Parts of Your Life?
- How Should You Handle the End of a Friendship?
- How Often Do You Have ‘Deep Discussions’?
- Do You Like to Exercise?
- How Has Exercise Changed Your Health, Your Body or Your Life?
- Why Do You Play Sports?
- What Is the Most Memorable Sporting Event You’ve Ever Watched or Played In?
- What’s the Most Impressive Sports Moment You’ve Seen?
- When Has a Sports Team Most Disappointed You?
- What Sports Teams Do You Root For?
- Does Being a Fan Help Define Who You Are?
- How Far Would You Go to Express Loyalty to Your Favorite Teams?
- What Fan Memorabilia Would You Pay Big Bucks For?
- What Rules Would You Like to See Changed in Your Favorite Sports?
- What Game Would You Like to Redesign?
- What Are Your Favorite Games?
- Where in the World Would You Travel if You Could?
- What Is Your Fantasy Vacation?
- What Would Your Fantasy Road Trip Be Like?
- What Crazy Adventure Would You Want to Take?
- How Has Travel Affected You?
- What Famous Landmarks Have You Visited?
- What’s the Coolest Thing You’ve Ever Seen in Nature?
- What Are the Best Souvenirs You’ve Ever Collected While Traveling?
- Would You Like to Live in Another Country?
- Would You Want to Be a Space Tourist?
Coming of Age
Community and Home
Gender and Sexuality
Morality and Religion
Technology and Video Games
Movies, Theater and Television
Reading, Writing and Fine Arts
Language and Speech
School and Teachers
School Social Environment
Senior Year, College and Applications
Work and Careers
Dating and Friendship
Sports, Exercise and Games
Looks, Fashion and Health
Most writers have too many short story ideas, not too few. However, therein lies the problem, because the more ideas you have, the harder it can be to choose the best one.
Here’s my advice: If you’re in the mood to begin a new short story, stop trying to find the best short story idea. In an interview with Rolling Stone, George R.R. Martin said, “Ideas are cheap. I have more ideas now than I could ever write up. To my mind, it’s the execution that is all-important.”
The best short story idea in the world won’t help you if you don’t write it, and a mediocre idea can be made into an award winning story if it’s written well. Stop worrying about finding the best idea and choose one that’s good enough (or even an idea you’ve already started). Your goal isn’t to have the best ideas, it’s to have the best short stories.
That’s why this list is so short. Some websites give 44 story ideas, 100 ideas, or even 1,000, and while that can be fun, it kind of defeats the purpose. More ideas won’t help you if you don’t write them, and they might just distract you from your true purpose.
Short Story Ideas
With that in mind, why not use these ten short story ideas to write your first ten stories, one per week, over the next ten weeks? I promise you, your life will look totally different if you do it.
Here are the short story ideas:
1. Tell the story of a scar, whether a physical scar or emotional one.
To be a writer, said Stephen King, “The only requirement is the ability to remember every scar.”
Good writers don’t cover up their wounds, they glorify them. Think for a few moments about a moment in your life when you were wounded, whether physically or emotionally. Then, write a story, true or fictional, involving that wound.
2. Your character discovers a dead body OR witnesses a death.
In 2011, 20 short stories were published in Best American Short Stories. Half of them involved a character dying. That same year, all 13 of the novels shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize involved the theme of death.
Think about your favorite films or novels. How many of them either show a character die or have the character’s dealing with the death of another.
Good writers don’t turn away from death, which is, after all, the universal human experience. Instead, they look it directly into it’s dark face and describe what they see on the page.
3. Your character is orphaned.
Pop quiz: What do Harry Potter, Superman, Cosette from Les Miserables, Bambi, David Copperfield, Frodo Baggins, Tom Sawyer, Santiago from The Alchemist, Arya Stark, and Ram Mohammed Thomas from Slumdog Millionaire have in common? Beside the fact that they are characters in some of the bestselling stories of all time?
They’re all orphans.
Writers love orphans, and statistically they appear in stories far more often than in the world. Orphans are uniquely vulnerable, and as such, they have the most potential for growth. It’s time for you to write a story about one.
Read more about why you should be writing stories about orphans here.
4. Your character discovers a ghost.
One more pop quiz: What do Edgar Allen Poe, Ron Weasley, King Saul from the Bible, Odysseus, and Ebeneezer Scrooge have in common?
Each of these characters* from literary classics saw ghosts!
Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, they make great stories. Have your character find one.
Need more reasons to write about ghosts? Check out our article, 3 reasons to write about ghosts.
*Edgar Allen Poe was not exactly a character, but he was the narrator of “The Raven.”
5. Your character’s relationship ends.
Whether it’s a friendship or a romantic relationship or even the relationship between a parent and his or her child, write about the end of a character’s relationship.
As you write, be sure to keep this in mind:
“Every story has an end, but in life every ending is just a new beginning,” says Dakota Fanning’s character in Uptown Girls.
While it might feel like you’re writing an ending, remember that this end is the opportunity for a new beginning, both for your character and your story.
More Short Story Ideas
Ready to get writing? Get our workbook 15 Days to Write and Submit a Short Story for a step-by-step guide through the process.
6. Your character’s deepest fear is holding his or her relationship OR career back.
“Why bats, Master Wayne?” asks Alfred in Batman Begins.
“Bats frighten me,” Bruce answers. “It’s time my enemies shared my dread.”
We all have pieces of ourselves we’re trying to hide. You do, and so do the characters in your short stories. However, your characters’ secret fears and insecurities are actually the source of their power. Dive into them and you’ll unlock a captivating story.
For more, read our article When You Don’t Know What to Write, Write About Your Insecurities.
7. A character living in poverty comes into an unexpected fortune.
This storyline is one of the seven basic plots, and it describes the plot of some of our favorites stories, including Cinderella, Aladdin, Great Expectations, several of the parables of Jesus, and even Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
However, not all fortunes are good. As Tolstoy’s short story How Much Land Does a Man Need?and John Steinbeck’s novella The Pearl illustrate, sometimes discovering a fortune will destroy your life.
8. A character unexpectedly bumps into his or her soulmate, literally.
In film, it’s called the meet cute, when the hero bumps into the heroine in the hallway, knocking her books to the floor, and forcing them into conversation. In another story, they meet on a bus and her broach gets stuck on his coat. In another, they both reach for the last pair of gloves at the department store.
What happens next is an awkward, endearing conversation between the future lovers.
First, setup the collision. Then, let us see how they handle it.
9. Your character is on a journey. However, they are interrupted by a natural disaster OR an accident.
This is the plot of Gravity, The Odyssey, and Lord of the Rings. It’s fun because who hasn’t been longing to get to a destination only to be delayed by something unexpected.
10. Your character runs into the path of a monster.
In Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” a family is on a road trip to Florida when they get into an accident beside the hideout of a murderer who had just escaped from prison. What happens next is one of the most famous encounters with a monstrous criminal in short fiction.
Monsters, whether people who do monstrous things or scaly beasts or a monster of a natural disaster, reveal what’s really inside a person. Let your character fall into the path of a monster and see how they handle themselves.
Want more story ideas? Want to learn how to execute those ideas better, and get your short stories published? Check out this book Let’s Write a Short Story, a guide that will get you started writing and publishing short stories. Get it here.
Testing Your Short Story Ideas
Spend a few minutes today thinking about these 10 story ideas and coming up with a few of your own.
But before you start writing, try testing out your idea by sharing it with a friend, your writer’s group, or even our online community Becoming Writer.
If the people you share it with aren’t very excited about your idea, consider reworking it or even starting over. If they start getting visibly excited about the story, on the other hand, then you know you’re onto something.
I recently combined idea #7, the unexpected fortune, along with idea #5, end of a relationship, to create this idea:
A writer who is inexperienced with women suddenly gets the courage to date not one but two women—the old friend who had twice rejected him and a barista he’s long been attracted to—but after several months of balancing them, both relationships end leaving him alone.
I then posted the idea for feedback in Becoming Writer. And the feedback I got not only helped me see I had a promising idea, I got more ideas from members of the community about how to make the story even better.
As I wrote the story, I was more confident because of the feedback I had gotten, and when I finished, the story turned great.
Once you have your idea, join Becoming Writer to test them out. Oh, and if you join, here’s the link to mine if you want to share your feedback! I’ll be there ready to check it out.
How about you? Do you have any short story ideas? Share them with us in the comments section!
About Joe Bunting
Joe is a ghostwriter, editor, and author. He writes and edits books that change lives. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.