Short Story Starters

All writers experience times when the words just do not flow. Ideas seem to fly out the window and are gone forever. You struggle to begin that new story. Some call it writer’s block, to others it may just be a temporary lack of ideas, motivation, momentum or you may just be having an off day. Whatever the cause you have to get back into the writing quickly or, if you are like me, procrastination sets in like a truck of quick drying cement. That often means the writer is stuck for any concrete ideas for the next piece of writing. (Excuse me- I just couldn’t resist that pun.)

Over the last year or so I have been posting a series of Short Story Starters on this blog. These are designed to help struggling writers with ideas. Many readers have found these to be most helpful. Today I will take a different approach. I will give you one way of developing your own story starters.

Alphabetical list

On your screen (or on a piece of paper) make an alphabetical list down the left hand side of the paper. Just write the letters A, B, C, D, E, F and so on. Ten or a dozen will do. You can start at any letter.

Now alongside each letter write the name of a person starting with that letter. For example: Alice, Ben Colin, Denise, Eric, Fiona, Gary and so on.

After each name write about that person. Quickly. Don’t stop to think. Just quickly imagine them in your mind. Write down two or three sentences about that person. No editing at this stage; just write.

Expand your ideas

When you’ve written about each person leave your list for 24 or 48 hours.

Come back to your writing with fresh eyes. Still don’t edit. Choose one that you like. Write another five to ten sentences about that person. Start asking “What happens to this character next?” Your new story is off and running. Keep on developing it.

Some examples:

Alice was always scared of mice. She freely admitted it. Terrified.

Ben could contain his anger no more. “Enough!” He took a deep breath and then calmly explained the process once more.

Colin knew it was going to be a rough day. The wind was already picking up and it wasn’t even eight o’clock.

Denise stopped. Unsure of where she was she looked around for help.

Eric started whistling as he left the building. This was so startling that he stood still, listened to the sparrows chirping nearby, smiled, and started whistling again as he headed for the railway station.

Fiona smiled shyly. She was not accustomed to being praised like this. She felt her face turning red.

Gary spluttered. Had he heard correctly? His obnoxious boss was moving to another company? His attention was now riveted on the speaker at the front of the room.

Developing the idea

I’m going to choose one of the above to expand further:

Colin knew it was going to be a rough day. The wind was already picking up and it wasn’t even eight o’clock. As he rounded to corner of the shed the hot air blasted his face. Already he was sweating and he felt his pulse quicken a little. The sun, already high in the sky, was a glaring orb of fire that seemed to reach right down and touch his face. He entered the Country Fire Service building with a sense of terrible foreboding.

Okay – so that is not brilliant writing and is full of cliches. I can fix that in the editing stage. All I’m interested in at this point is to get the storyline moving, to develop the plot and to flesh out the characters. Time to introduce some other characters and some action.

Now over to you.

Make your list of names, set the scene and off you go.

Good writing.



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