Nothing is more frustrating for writers than facing a blank page and not having the slightest idea what to write about. This struggle is real for all kinds of writers: novelists, short story writers, poets, and even bloggers.
While some may be quick to write it off (pardon the pun) as writer’s block, professional writers believe in the importance of pushing past the wall and writing—sometimes, just anything. So how do you overcome the blank page?
How Do You Get Ideas for Short Stories?
Short stories usually range from 2,000 words to about 8,000 words, with longer ones reaching as many as 20,000 words. When done well, writers can even make money writing short stories.
This means that whatever idea you come up with for a short story, you need to be able to tell it succinctly.
Professional writers recommend keeping an idea notebook, so each time you think of something, even the barest wisp of an idea, you can jot it down and return to it later.
For example, if you jot down an observation on a train, of a ragged looking man carrying a small paper bag, you might brainstorm what he could be carrying in the bag. Or, you might try asking, “What if…?”
Asking the question “What if” helps trigger your brain to think of something that isn’t happening at the moment: it helps you imagine an alternate reality. In this case, you might ask:
- What if… this man was really a millionaire in disguise? Why is he dressed as a beggar?
- What if… this man was just laid off and going home to a sick wife with his last penny spent on a loaf of bread for her?
- What if… this man used to be a legendary businessman who just went bankrupt? How did he lose his money? What is he doing now?
See how one idea can trigger many more?
But sometimes, even the notes you’ve taken may not give you much to work with. Perhaps you are too close to them to be able to conjure up interesting images. In times like these, writing prompts come in really handy.
Short Story Prompts
If you want to write a short story and are having trouble coming up with ideas, why not try some of these short story prompts?
Science Fiction Short Story Prompts
- The Internet suddenly shuts down, and no one knows why or how to get it back running again.
- A struggling writer in the modern-day world gets an unexpected visit from her great-great-great-grandmother, who was a well-known author in the 1800s.
- A modern-day city kid with no concept of saving money time travels to the Great Depression era.
- All the chicken in the world suddenly disappears—what happens to all the fast food?
- A scientist discovers a way to make food capsules: just add water and it comes out as a full serving.
- An alien ship releases a deadly virus on the earth, and scientists work around the clock to find a cure before the aliens invade the planet.
- Five families volunteer to start a colony on the Moon.
- A web-conferencing company finds a way to incorporate holograms into video calls.
- The water supply of an entire community suddenly spews out soda.
- A fiction writer writes a story every night, but every morning the manuscript disappears and the characters show up in town.
Comedy Short Story Prompts
- A group of friends steal a neighbor’s watermelon and find ways to frame other people.
- A family has all these ideals about taking in foster children, but when they come, everything flies out the window (sounds like “Instant Family”).
- A homeschooling mom of five ends up homeschooling five more kids when a neighbor gets in an accident and needs to stay in the hospital.
- A pastor suddenly loses his church building to a legal battle, and has to think up creative ways for his congregation to meet.
- An elderly couple spends all their money on lottery tickets, and their three grown children can’t agree what to do with them.
- Three friends ride their bikes cross-country and meet strange characters along the way.
- An introvert who runs an online business is forced to meet people when one of his books goes viral.
- All the toilet paper factories are sabotaged by a mysterious fiend; how will the world cope?
- Two elderly brothers, one blind and the other deaf, are trying to make their way home in time for a Thanksgiving family reunion.
- An ice cream company explores new flavors and gets a surprising level of reactions on social media.
Fantasy Short Story Prompts
- A group of friends discover an old tree house that looks like different time periods each time they go inside.
- An 8-year-old boy receives an invitation to a ball in King Arthur’s court.
- Monsters live together underneath a town, with intentions of helping the people but getting misunderstood each time.
- A flock of phoenix shows up in a city, each one bringing different events.
- A family of centaurs struggles to survive as the city expands into their forest home.
- The Greek gods and goddesses suddenly show up in a modern city, but no one takes them seriously.
- Your character gets swept into a land where all the characters of the books she’s read are living.
- A family of dragons takes in an orphaned toddler boy and his baby sister.
- Santa’s elves are already behind on their Christmas gift production, when a child shows up and messes things up even more.
- Your characters fall through a crack caused by an earthquake and find themselves in a highly civilized underworld.
Mystery Short Story Prompts
- Your character witnessed her father’s murder when she was 5 years old, and now, at work, she wonders why her boss looks vaguely familiar.
- Your character’s first-grade teacher leaves in the middle of the year, and her husband replaces her but offers no explanation.
- Your character’s best friend drowns in a boating accident, and the family investigates into foul play.
- A homeschooled boy suddenly disappears, and the only clue is a short story he recently printed off his computer.
- A lawyer leaves the country in the middle of an important trial.
- A family heirloom is stolen, and the police find it in a charity ball.
- Your character’s pet dogs come home each night with strange scratches on their bodies.
- A fast-food chain’s secret recipe is suddenly published online and goes viral; how do they find the thief?
- Your character is brought up in a secluded mansion all her life, seeing only her father and two trusted servants. What is the secret her family is hiding?
- A mother discovers her teenage son’s bankbook showing millions in his account.
Romance Short Story Prompts
- A married couple is on the verge of getting a divorce until a nephew comes to live with them and forces them to deal with their problems.
- The most eligible bachelor in town needs to get married in order to claim his inheritance from a deceased uncle.
- Your character is the prettiest girl in town, and all the men fight over one another for her.
- A family with strained relationships is forced to stay home when one of them contracts a contagious disease that forces them into quarantine.
- A college-age son struggles to win his father’s approval, especially when he quits college to pursue his dreams of becoming an artist.
- Your character is the disowned heir of a multinational company, but his mercenary fiancee doesn’t know it.
- A cake artisan decides to surprise the woman he’s wooing with an intricately-designed cupcake every day of the month, but he doesn’t know she’s allergic to nuts, which he puts in the last cupcake.
- A girl who was brought up around boys can never seem to see them as anything more than friends. What will your character do to win her heart?
- A vegan falls in love with a hardcore carnivore.
- A student falls in love with her professor, but the professor couldn’t care less.
How Can I Start Writing?
From this list of short story prompts, choose two of your favorite genres, and pick one story prompt from each genre that appeals to you.
You can also check out our list of creative writing prompts for some added inspiration, so you can keep those ideas (and your ink) flowing!
Have you ever written a short story? Tell us about it in the comments below!
If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:
- 10 Tips for Writing a Great Story
- Get Paid to Write Short Stories: 22 Places That Publish Short Fiction
- 8 Reasons You Should Be Writing Short Stories
- 181 Best Literary Magazines: A Directory for Fiction, Poetry, and Short Story Publications
Yen Cabag is the Blog Writer of TCK Publishing. She is also a homeschooling mom, family coach, and speaker for the Charlotte Mason method, an educational philosophy that places great emphasis on classic literature and the masterpieces in art and music. She has also written several books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her passion is to see the next generation of children become lovers of reading and learning in the midst of short attention spans.