6 Tips to Come Up With Ideas For a Short Story

6 Tips to Come Up With Ideas For a Short Story

It can be extremely difficult to come up with ideas for a short story. Almost every short story idea can feel like it’s not good enough.

When you struggle to brainstorm ideas for a short story it can be easy to lose confidence. Luckily, much of this is simply overthinking. Here are some ways to come up with ideas for a short story.

1. Make a List of Ideas For a Short Story

I have found when you sit around brainstorming ideas in your head it is hard to convince yourself you are being productive. On top of this negativity, when you brainstorm in your head it can be easy to forget quality ideas.

This tip may seem a bit too simple, but you would be surprised by how effective it can be. Take out a notebook or open a document and start a list of short story ideas. Spend a good hour and jot down every idea that comes to your head.

List of Story Ideas Memes

I mean every idea. It does not matter how stupid it seems. If you think it up, write it down. You never know which of these ideas will spawn a great short story. You do not have to stop at a single idea either. The beauty of writing short stories is they do not take too long to draft out, meaning you can work on more than one. It is not the commitment writing a novel is.

Another reason to write down every idea is you never know what ideas looking at an idea can inspire. Even if you hate one of the ideas you jot down on the page. Looking at it may still inspire one you love. It can never hurt to toss an idea onto a page.

2. Reflect on Abandoned Novel Ideas

Not every idea you have for a novel pans out. Some ideas are simply not capable of supporting 80,000 words of content. However, that does not mean an idea that can not support a full novel is a bad one. In some cases, that idea may just be better suited for a short story.

Think back about some ideas you had for novels that did not work out. Every author has some. Consider the reason this story idea did not work. Was it hard to think of enough scenes? Was it too hard to reach the word count required for a novel? If the answer to either of these questions was yes then you may have a good idea for a short story on your hands.

Simply because an idea does not work for a novel does not mean it is garbage. It may still have a place as a short story or a subplot. Never threw out ideas as an author. You never know when they will come in handy.

3. Explore Writing Prompts to Find Ideas For a Short Story

Writing prompts are an extremely underrated method of discovering inspiration for your work. A reason for this may be that some writers may view them as cheating. This is because the ideas from writing prompts are not original to you.

That is foolish. The truth is almost all ideas are not completely original. Even the ideas you come up with are inspired by the events you witness around you. Your imagination is fueled by your life experiences.

Besides, writing prompts are meant to be borrowed from. Creators make writing prompts a resource for authors to find inspiration from. When I include them on my Instagram page my hope is always that fellow writers will take inspiration from them.

It is important to keep in mind that no two authors will turn the same idea into identical stories. I went into detail in a previous post about every writer having a unique way of telling a story. Stories have borrowed ideas from each other for years. Most writers come up with their version of an idea when they find inspiration from a writing prompt anyway.

Writing prompts are there for you to use. Do not let them go to waste.

4. Ask What-If?

When you are brainstorming ideas for anything one of the greatest questions to ask yourself is what if? What if time travel was possible? What if WWII had a different victor? What if you could turn invisible?

Questioning what if is a great way to brainstorm all kinds of stories. Ask the question and see where it takes you. At the very least it is a great way to get your creative juices flowing.

Ideas For a Short Story Meme

5. Read to Get Ideas For a Short Story

Sometimes when you can not seem to think of any good ideas it helps to read. Reading is one of the greatest forms of inspiration. You never know when it will lead to a new story idea.

It may also be a good idea to read more short stories and other works of short fiction. You do not have to read what you like to write, but it can certainly help. This is especially so if you are newer to short stories. At the very least you can get a better feel for what a good idea for a short story should look like.

Short stories can look a lot different than novels. They are not merely small books. If you are struggling to come up with ideas for short fiction, reading more short fiction can certainly help. 

6. Look at Contest Prompts

Sometimes it can be hard to come up with ideas because there are too many potential genres and themes to explore. Contest prompts can help with this cause it zones in your thought process. 

There are plenty of benefits to joining a writing contest. They can increase your confidence in your work, and if you win you may also earn a cash reward. They also may be a great way to find a good idea for a short story.

Another reason contests make it easier to brainstorm a good idea is simply the deadline. For some reason, when there is a time limit we writers seem to be more effective in almost every skill. This applies to idea brainstorming as well.


It can be tough to come up with ideas for any story. This can be especially so for short stories, as a good short story idea has to be interesting enough to stick with the reader in a short amount of words without being too complex for the small word count.

These tips can certainly help with coming up with a great idea for a short story. Remember not to overthink it when it comes to story ideas. Sometimes writers can feel too much pressure to find the absolute perfect idea. 

If you are not sure if a short story idea is good enough, just write it. The worst thing that can happen is you realize the idea does not work and you move on. That is the beauty of writing a short story. It is far less commitment, giving you room to experiment.

Author: Patrick Nilan

Just a young writer looking to take the mistakes I've made to aid the next generation.

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