5 Ways to Spark Short Story Ideas


I’m sure we’ve all been there at some point. We want to write, feel compelled to write, but we’re not always sure what to write about. The ideas don’t always flow.

But never fear, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to help you get those creative juices flowing. Next time you find yourself feeling stuck, consider trying these 5 tips to spark new short story ideas and get back to doing what you love.

1 | Step away from the computer. Seriously. Let the world around you be your inspiration. Take a walk in the woods, go outside and play ball with your dog, head to the store or a coffee shop. It really doesn’t matter where you go, as long as it’s away from the screen. When you do this, you’ll be amazed at how quickly and easily ideas begin to fall into place. 

2 | Listen to music. When I was writing my short story “Regret,” I had the general idea of it bouncing around in my head, but it wasn’t fully formed yet. I mulled it over for a bit, then one day the song “Crying” by Roy Orbison came on, and I’m not sure what exactly happened in my brain, but what I do know is that in that moment, while listening to that song, the complete story formed in my mind. Music is an amazing gift. Give it a try.

3 | Pay close attention to situations and events as they happen around you, then ask “What if?” An ordinary, everyday event can be twisted into an entire story by simply asking, “What if?” For instance, when writing “That’ll Be the Day,” I asked myself, what if someone, whose life is looking a little bleak at the moment, were to board a ferry (an everyday event for some), fall asleep, and then wake up to find themselves back in the 1950s? It was great fun to explore this idea and to write about it.

4 | Writing prompts (pictures or text) are another great tool to get the ideas flowing. The stories in “Sincerely, Grace” were all based on writing prompts, and the characters in the stories were the very same characters in two of my full-length novels (Choices & Providence). Using these prompts was a great way to come up with ideas and situations for a group of short stories that I was later able to publish in a collection of short stories.

5 | Fill your creative well. Visit a new place, go to a museum, a historical landmark, or even read a book about a new topic that’s piqued your curiosity. Take note of all the things that grabbed your attention, then ask, “What if?”Once you’ve gathered tidbits of ideas, you can then connect and combine them with other bits you’ve gathered elsewhere to create a fully fleshed out story idea.

I hope these five tips help to INSPIRE ideas for your next project. I’d love to hear your thoughts on idea generation!