Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Creating Short Stories

Since I began writing, many people have asked, “How do you write a story?” That’s a difficult question to answer because within the fiction category, there are so many different types: science fiction, children's, young adult, fantasy, horror, romance, mystery, historical fiction, and more. To complicate matters, there are sub-divisions within each category.

It’s not necessary to define them to understand how to write one. Just pick the one you want to write. My choice is science fiction.

There is a common thread, at least as far as I know. Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. The three parts constitute the plot: 1) in the beginning of a tale in which there was previous activity; 2) the middle builds on what you learned from the beginning; 3) the end ties the loose ends from the previous two parts and resolves the conflicts generated.
A short story takes a slice of life and creates a whole, the beginning, middle, and end, of course with a twist.

Where do you start? Let’s start with the “story idea,” that propels a writer to create those three segments. Where do “story ideas originate?” They come from everywhere. You can find sites on the Internet that supply them. One site in the United Kingdom, Story ideas, Visit Story Ideas! that offers characters, scenarios, titles, lines and more. All you need do is fill in the questions, and the answers display on the screen.

Writer’s prompts are another avenue for ideas. Writer’s Digest Visit Writer's Digest! has page after page of prompts that can help any writer get going with a story. They’re not the only site to offer this gift. offers a plethora of ideas for stories and characters. To find others, search “writing prompts.”

Writers also find story ideas in everyday life: a funny character from childhood, a startling event, everyday news. To me, this is the best way because it’s organically induced creativity that allows a writer to exercise the imagination.

Yesterday I read about using plants to remedy global pollution problems. It seems that certain plants have the ability to purify the air. Before I finished the second paragraph, I had three story ideas written in a notebook: 1) What if the plants emitted a gas that made people drunk and made them do silly things? 2) What if the plants made the atmosphere too clean and people lost the ability to fight off viral and bacterial infection? 3) What if the plants were sent by aliens to take over Earth by cleaning the air, then releasing toxins to destroy human life? The third option presents the most promise for an exciting story, at least to my thinking.

Now that you have the story idea what comes next? Many people may say, “The beginning.” That might be correct. But is it the best way to write a story? Do you just sit down and begin writing? Some might be able to do this, but I’m not one of them. There something recommended that might come before you begin to write. We call it the story outline.

Next week we’ll discuss more about creating a short story outline and its components.
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