104 Of The Best Short Story Ideas And Prompts To Grab Your R
So, you want towrite a short story and not just a mildly entertaining short story but one your readers cant put down until theyve finished it.
You want a story that gets reactions like Wow! and How did you do that? and Do you have more like this?
What writer doesnt want that kind of reaction, right?
And since short stories are short, you have less time to wait for your readers reactions but you also have less time to grab their attention.
Thats why a great topic is worth its weight in gold when it comes to writing these little gems.
Even with the challenges inherent to short story writing, youll most likely finish a short story in far less time than you would a novel.
So, youll get to explore more story topics in less time than if you were writing longer works.
But how do you generate short story ideas that are worth the time youll invest in crafting a short story your readers will love?
If youve been writing for long enough, you already know good story ideas are everywhere, and you might even have some in mind as you read this. But which of those ideas should be on your shortlist for story writing projects?
And if you dont have anygreat ideasat the moment, where do you get some?
(Side note: If you want the peace of mind that youre publishing with good grammar and punctuation, then check out the free Grammarlyproofreading tool.)
Short Story Idea Generator (how to generate story ideas)
Generating Story Ideas with the Short Story Formula
Timeless Themes and Emotional Impact
Short Story Idea Generator (how to generate story ideas)
When it comes to generating new story ideas, you can take more than one approach. You might try these three:
Think of your school days when your English teacher assigned anessayor invited you to write a paragraph in answer to a question.
Maybe all you had to do was write one complete sentence. Or maybe your teacher wanted a haiku or a rhyming couplet.
School isnt the only place forwriting exercises, though. If youve ever joined a creative writing group, your leader may have encouraged you to spend some time each day freewriting orwriting a character sketch.
The purpose of writing exercises is to practice writing or to practice a specific kind of writing (voice journaling, essays, persuasive ad copy, song lyrics, etc.).
So, whether its NaNoWriMo, Twitters VSS (Very Short Story) challenge, or writing sprints, the more time you invest in these exercises, and the more you open yourself up to constructive criticism, the more quickly your writing will improve.
The most effectivewriting promptsand writing exercises make use of themes with a history of captivating and inspiring others. Because of this, either one might lead you to a story idea that you can hardly wait to explore.
Take one (or more) of those popular themes and combine them with a context that is both unique and relatable, and you have the formula for a compelling story idea.
Story writing ideas are generally more fully developed than writing prompts. Its not unusual, for example, to begin with awriting prompt, develop it into a story idea, and then write the actual story.
And dont beat yourself up if the first idea that comes to mind is a clich. Youre human, and familiar ideas are the easiest to think of. Nothing wrong with that. The first idea is like afirst draft, in that it gives you something to start with.
And dont be afraid to mix it up literally. Take one idea, mix it up with another, and play with it for a while. Who knows how you might juice up your story idea without even trying?
The best fiction story ideas make use of timeless themes. Youll find one or more of the ten themes that follow in most stories that have been written, read, and shared over the centuries.
The story idea itself in its simplest form doesnt have to be original, and in fact, it shouldnt be. But the way you embody and develop that idea should surprise your readers and evoke an emotional response in them.
Its that emotional impact that makes your story not only worth finishing but memorable.
Short story ideas will look different from novel ideas, though mainly because short stories have to make a big impact with fewer words. And because of this, the most powerful short stories have what James Scott Bell describes as the one shattering moment.
In his book,How to Write Short Stories and Use Them to Further Your Writing Career,Bell describes that moment as something that happens to a character, an emotional blast which they cannot ignore. It changes them, in a large or a subtle way in a way that cannot be ignored.
Any one of the popular themes listed above could you give your main character a shattering moment that would change that characters life or perspective.
Take a look at the following creative story ideas, many of which combine two or more of the popular themes listed, and feel free to modify any of them to create your next unputdownable short story.
1. Your characters loved one has died, and he learns while going through that loved ones belongings that the latter had a terrible secret that unnervingly correlates to your characters deepest fear.
The rest of the story explores your characters reaction to this discovery and how it affects his/her relationships and decision-making.
2. Your character has marriedthe man she saw as her soulmate. During their honeymoon, he shows her his list of goals for their first five years together, and they have their first real argument over one of those goals which requires something of her that she never agreed to.
She has a sudden memory of their first date and of the moment when she first decided he was the one, but she sees it now from his perspective, and it changes everything.
3. Your orphaned character inherits a houseand moves in to find that its already occupied by the spirits of the characters long-deceased parents, who arent at all like the people other relatives have described.
4. Your character is having troublegetting past his anger over the wounds inflicted by those who raised him and by those with whom he had one failed relationship after the next.
After losing his job, he goes on a journey to change the direction of his life, but that journey is interrupted by the death of one of his parents the one who hurt him the most.
5. Your character is widely regarded as a monsterand doesnt deny or hide from that designation.
When his closest confidante gets fed up with him, tells him off, and leaves the company they founded together, your character finds himself disoriented by grief and does something different.
6. Your character is content with her lifebut suddenly inherits a large sum of money and a palatial estate on the east coast.
She sees the inheritance as proof that the Law of Attraction works, and she invites family and a few close friends to move with her and share the wealth. On the first night of their stay, someone dies.
7. Your characters snake-loving neighborhas just been found in the belly of her pet boa constrictor (who she swore was a better snuggler than her ex).
The ex shows up and is angry when he finds out that your neighbor left the house and everything in it to your character. He threatens to ruin her life if she doesnt turn the house over to him.
8. Your character meets his/her soulmateon a flight that almost doesnt make it to its destination; both of them respond to emergencies on the plane (one as a cop and the other as a doctor).
Once at the airport, your character learns that this soulmate is already in a relationship with a well-known philanthropist. But your character notices something odd and calls the philanthropist out.
9. Your characters best friend just announcedthe end of a relationship, and your character is surprised to find this friend in a celebratory state of mind (rather than heartbroken).
Your character then finds out the disturbing reason for the friends manic behavior.
10. One of your characters siblings is getting married,and during wedding preparations, your character learns something she was never meant to know. This discovery changes her relationships with everyone.
11. The happy couple living next doorto your character has died in a horrific accident, and when the parents show up for the funeral, you find out why the couple always changed the subject whenever you asked them about their families.
12. Your character starts receiving messagesfrom someone who knows his/her deepest fears and intends to exploit them.
At the same time, your character is discovering a latent ability that relates to those fears but might also help him overcome them. Or they might change him into something the messenger never saw coming.
13. Your character meets a soulmateat a community grief counseling group meeting and learns that this soulmate also attends AA meetings (like your mc) though with a different group and with a friend who doesnt particularly like your main character.
The surprising reason comes out when your character goes on a first date with this soulmate. The soulmates friend swears he/she knows your mc from a different reality which he/she visits in dreams.
14. Your character breaks free of a painful relationshipand embarks on a journey to discover what shes capable of. After volunteering at a nursing home reading to vision-impaired residents and writing letters for them she agrees to personally deliver one of those letters to the residents estranged son.
15. After avoiding close relationships because of deep scarsfrom his childhood, your main character learns something about one of his parents that changes everything for him. He then has an opportunity to take a step off his accustomed path.
16. Your character has been married for 19 yearsbefore her spouse after a weekend that reminds her of when they met and why she married him hands her divorce papers.
17. Your character is making a list of reasons to break upwith her boyfriend of two years when the latter comes home early and tells her hes won the lottery jackpot.
18. Your character is a locally famous writerwhosehero storyideas come from his freewheeling lifestyle and insatiable curiosity about others.
One day, out of boredom, he offers a homeless man $100 to propose to the first woman he takes a fancy to, while he watches from a safe distance. The proposal goes terrifyingly wrong.
19. Your character has just lost a child by miscarriage, and when she comes home, her married life has changed. Her husband, who was always the more talkative of the two, spends their time together quietly grieving in his own way.
Your character, on the other hand, becomes more outgoing and starts spending more time (and money) on her appearance.
20. Your young adult character finds himself suddenly orphanedwhen his parents die in a plane crash. The funeral is the beginning of a dramatic shift in his perspective and in the choices he makes.
He breaks off a relationship with a woman his parents adored, he quits the lucrative job that he hates, and he leaves the country.
21. Your character has just learned that his spousehas been cheating on him, and he confronts her when she gets home that night.
She reveals that what he saw as proof of her infidelity was something completely innocent but that shes already decided to make a permanent and dramatic end to their marriage.
22. The only child of your character is diagnosedwith a fatal illness, and your character doesnt know how to deal with the worry and dread that now consumes her.
Her doctor suggests one anti-anxiety med after another, and her husband and his family urge her to try one for her husbands and her sons sakes. She goes into a fugue state with the experimental drug she tries, and she wakes up to the consequences.
23. Your characters new glasses created as a free gift from an old friend with unusual connections reveal more than the physical objects in his field of vision.
After looking at a coworker and seeing the latters death just hours before it happens, he goes to replace the glasses with a plain pair from a local chain. Then he catches his full-length reflection in a window.
24. Your character wakes up alonein an unfamiliar place and is told by everyone he encounters that the life he thought hed lived for the past six years with a wife and three kids and with the job that barely paid the bills must have been a dream.
Hes actually stunningly wealthy, treated with respect by everyone he meets, and desired by more than one woman. So, why is there a picture of him with his nonexistent family on his desk?
25. A year ago, your character met someonewho offered her the power to transform the interior of her home to anything she wants in exchange for a DNA sample from her only child, who is a gifted storyteller.
During the year after she accepted the offer, her home becomes everything she wants it to be, but her son stops telling stories, and one day she finds out why.
26. Your character makes drastic changesto his diet and adopts new habits that alienate him from his usual circle of friends but lead him to a new one.
He then wins a large sum of money from a scratch ticket that an estranged friend (a compulsive gambler) slipped under his door.
27. Your character has returned from a successful questto find his home empty, with no sign of his loved ones other than a note left on the refrigerator.
Not only does he now have no one with whom to share his victory, but what he learns calls that very victory into question.
28. Your character has spent eleven yearsliving with the consequences of a vow she has taken. When she forges a new friendship with a counselor, she learns something about herself that scares her and makes her avoid the counselor, for his own sake.
Keenly aware of her own vulnerability, she brands herself to ward off unwelcome attention.
29. Your character, after 15 years of living ina house chosen mainly to fit her spouses preferences, sees an ad for an apartment in town that represents the life she gave up to make her husband happy.
After hearing him complain about his life and their house for one too many times, she goes to look at this apartment and finds it has almost everything she wants. The apartment manager, a well-dressed woman close to her own age, hears your characters last name and appears shaken by it.
30. Your character splurges on anew rug for her living room floor the kind of rug shes coveted for years and her S.O. criticizes it and later accidentally spills his drink on it.
The final straw is his suggestion that she wait til it dries and return it to the store for a refund or exchange it for something more practical.
31. Your character has recently broken free froma cult that had drawn him in when he was vulnerable from a family tragedy. His new support system a group of other cult survivors is having varying degrees of difficulty re-entering society and repairing damaged relationships.
Your character meets with them one evening at their accustomed caf table and confronts a server whose off-handed comment provokes him. What begins as a calm request for respectful treatment escalates as other members of the group chime in and the servers manager gets involved.
32. Your character has joined a churchand finds herself under the tutelage of a church member who leans toward the traditionalist end of the spectrum and who regards her as the daughter he never had.
When he decides to renounce the churchs leadership and join an extreme traditionalist group, she backs away from him after explaining to him why she wont do the same. His behavior toward her changes and she makes a change of her own.
33. Your character is so desperate for money thathe does something he never would have done otherwise. He doesnt get caught, but he doesnt get away with it, either. Consumed by guilt, he undergoes a penance of his choosing, which spirals out of control.
34. Your character walks into a tourist shop and buysa homemade tonic freshly mixed by the owner, after tasting and enjoying an innocuous sample in the same flavor. The tonic changes him in a way he cant ignore or undo.
35. Your character inherits an old music shop with a secretback room where his uncle kept a few instruments that can make even someone like him who has never played an instrument a virtuoso in seconds. He takes the piano to his apartment and learns why his uncle (in a letter hed written before his death) had warned him not to and why his uncle kept the door to that secret room locked.
Withwriting prompts, you get a launching pad of sorts: a question, an idea, a provocative quote, or something that inspires a reaction specifically a written one. Maybe that reaction is an argument, or maybe its an impassioned defense of an idea.
Whatever it is, the purpose here is to take that prompt and use it to generate a written response in one form or another. The aim of writing prompts for short stories is to get you started on anew short story.
The prompt could be as simple as a word or as detailed as a character sketch or an elevator pitch. It could even be a picture or a song. It could be an observation you make while (discreetly) people-watching.
Weve create 69 short story writing prompts that flesh out an idea more thoroughly, giving you a good headstart for your story.
1. You get a new job, and your new boss approaches you on the first day with an invitation to the After Hours Club. He tells you its no big deal if you decline, but you get a strong impression that it would be.
2. One day, on the way home from work, your new car takes over and drives you to a remote area, stopping beside other cars in a clearing underneath a new moon. You wake up underneath a full moon and drive yourself home. But much has changed in your absence and so have you.
3. You bake pies for a local bakery, and when a celebrity comes to town and tastes your locally famous turtle pie, he invites you to go on tour with him to a movie set somewhere in Europe to be his personal pie maker. You say yes.
4. You buy a single rose from a street vendor, and it lasts a week, then two weeks, then three, and then a full month. Only then does someone point out to you that previously healthy people in the neighborhood have been falling ill and dying at an abnormal rate.
5. Its time for your 10-year-old daughter to make her First Confession, but when her turn comes to go into the confessional, she panics and wont be persuaded to go in.
6. Youre stranded in a small village down a winding road from Burgos (Spain) on a Sunday. A stranger comes by on a motorcycle and goes to fetch a taxi for you. Youre waiting at the bus station when he tells you he knows youre meant to replace his recently deceased wife.
7. The bartender brings you your first Irish coffee in what looks like a candy dish. Halfway through, you notice the whole cafe seems to be floating, and since you cant put the rest into a to-go cup (alas), you pay your tab and head out. You think youre doing fine until your key doesnt work in the front door of your apartment building. Someone else kindly lets you in, and you recognize him as the bartender from that cafe.
8. Youre exploring an old Spanish town, and you realize someone is following you. You turn and find an old woman who asks if youll help her find her hotel. You help her, and she invites you in, telling you she has a son who shares your interest in all things Tolkien. Youre not in a hurry to get back to your hotel room, so you go up with her.
9. Your fingers dont respond to you the way they used to, and youve been having other difficulties. You go see your doctor, and they run some tests to check for neurological diseases but dont find anything. They think its probably stress-related. Your life has been stressful lately, and it doesnt help that your new roommate has been acting strangely toward you.
10. You wake up with your heart racing, but you dont remember why. You almost never remember your dreams but often wake up covered in sweat with your heart pounding. Youre tired of having to shower every morning and feeling sick for the rest of the day, so you decide to undergo hypnosis, hoping to find out whats going on.
11. Your neighbors have been up to some strange shenanigans lately, and their lights are on well into the wee hours of the morning. Youd like to know why, but every neighbor youve talked to who have gone over there to ask about it has, later on, told you that nothing suspicious is going on and that those neighbors are very spiritual, and so, so nice!
12. The street lamps that light up your cul de sac have gone dark, and youre outside waiting for your spouse to get home when something large and dark brushes past you, almost knocking you off balance. Then a man appears and asks, Have you seen my cat?
13. Someone has broken into your house while you were away and has taken all the religious articles out of it every statue, every picture, and every holy water bottle. The thief left everything else alone.
14. You move into an apartment that used to be a hoarders paradise, and your manager gives you permission to paint the walls a different color and add some new flooring. You get to work removing the kitchens linoleum floor and find something you never expected.
15. You joined a wine delivery service, and the delivery person is every bit as charming as the labels on the posh wine he brings to you each week. When you lose your job and cancel the service, the wine keeps coming.
16. You buy a pound of gourmet coffee beans at a local food festival, and as youre sipping the first cup from the first pot youve brewed, you have a vision, which feels as real as though it were actually happening to you. When the vision ends, youre still in your kitchen, holding your cup. You take another sip.
17. Youre about ready to gather up all the ceramic village pieces that have been cluttering up your living room and toss them in the trash bin, but your spouse, who knows you hate them, insists you should try selling them on eBay, instead. Thats when the fight starts.
18. You buy a new pair of Bluetooth earbuds that are supposed to enhance your listening experience. You plug them in and use them while watching a movie, and suddenly, youre there on the scene, about to get flattened (or eaten) by a dinosaur.
19. You need a new toilet, and someone shows up at the door (as though sent by heaven) to sell you a toilet that will flush down ANYTHING. Oddly enough, it doesnt even need to be hooked up to your septic system. All you have to do is remove and empty the dust tray at the base every evening, reinsert it for the next days flushes, and voila!
20. You buy a newkeyboard, and after typing a few sentences of a new story, it starts typing on its own, and you watch in surprise as it types out a new short story. You submit it to a contest youve never won and win first prize. You start thinking youll never have trouble paying the rent again! Then you accidentally spill wine on the keyboard, and even stranger things start happening.
Related:55 Funny Writing Prompts To Inspire Your Inner Comedian
21. Your famous stew recipe has won an award. You go to collect it (a cash prize), and meet the next runner-up, who believes she should have won the first prize instead with her three-bean salad. She warns you not to spend the money, because she will prove you won unfairly. You go home and find a bowl of three-bean salad and a note.
22. You suggest at the breakfast table one morning that you might actually have too many books, and your SO seizes upon this and offers to help you thin out your collection. After breaking up with him, you cull a few volumes for donation and run into the author of one of them.
23. Your first issue of Real Simple magazine has finally arrived, but something has come with it something you cant see but that makes your life anything but simpler.
24. A girl scout comes to the door selling cookies, and you tell her you already bought some from her at the table outside your grocery store, and youve spent enough for the year. Suddenly, all the food in your house (including the canned food) becomes moldy or rotten. And every bit of food that passes your threshold becomes inedible.
25. You buy a new whiteboard to help you keep track of your writing assignments, but you wake up one morning, and new items have somehow been added to your list. And the new titles have a sinister edge to them. You live alone.
26. You buy a new poster that looks exactly like the TARDIS door, and you put it up on your bedroom wall. One night, right at midnight (youre up working at your computer), the door opens and you walk through it.
27. You buy a CD with music thats supposed to help you write more creatively and also lose weight more easily. You start playing it during your writing time, and sure enough, the words flow without effort, and you love what youve written. You also start losing ten pounds a week, and soon you cant afford to lose another ten, but youve come to depend on that music CD.
28. Youre a carpenter who has joined a construction team to build a new development of 3,000+ square foot houses. All is going well until someone on the team discovers something buried in the lot for the third house. The foreman removes it and tells everyone to get back to work, but you have a bad feeling. And youre right to have it.
29. Your boss announces theyre having a potluck and youre all expected to show up and bring something. He also tells you it has to be homemade. You tell him you cant cook, but he tells you, Well, learn, then! Strangely enough, you do, and you create an entree that has everyones mouth-watering when you open the lid at the potluck. But your boss is conspicuously absent.
30. You wake up in the middle of the night and rush to the bathroom, where you empty your stomach of everything you ate that day. Something else comes out, and its moving.
31. You stop at a coffee shop while making stops to apply for a new job, and the barista tells you the new bed and breakfast is looking for someone to handle their advertising. You apply, are accepted, and agree to start immediately. But the owner, who openly admires your bicycle, offers you a room at the B&B, so youll be more accessible.
32. You have way too much time on your hands since your latest project has earned you enough to more than double your previous years salary, and youre taking a sabbatical. You see an ad for an opportunity to spend a month at a castle in Wales, with full room and board and a bicycle for exploring the countryside. You call the agent and book a flight.
33. One night, as youre coming back from the bathroom, you see a bright light and follow it to see that your front window is wide open and bugs are swarming in and out. You rush to close it but then you see the view from it which is not your usual view of the front yard. You see something you want to investigate.
34. Sometimes, people stare when you pull out an index card and start scribbling furiously onto it, but you dont care. Then someone accuses you of writing something about him and, pulling out a gun, demands you hand the card over to him.
35. Youre starting a new job, and one of your co-workers tells you its up to the new guy to keep the coffee pot full for his first week. While youre brewing the latest refill, muttering to yourself about how little youre getting done that day, one of your co-workers starts choking and accuses you of trying to poison her.
36. Your home-brewed ale is the talk of the neighborhood, but your next-door neighbor frequently buys up your newest batch. You start imposing limits. He then starts telling other neighbors that your secret is adding pee from your pet guinea pigs, But its cool, because urine is sterile. And that guinea pig pee really adds something!
37. You inherit a lighthouse from your deceased uncle along with the small living quarters attached to it. You move right in, looking forward to the solitude. But whenever youre up at the top scanning the surface of the ocean, you see things that cant possibly be there. And one of them sees you and comes to visit.
38. You stop at the local nursery and pick up a new houseplant a tiny, adorable succulent. The cashier looks nervous as she rings you up. That plant isnt normal. If you want to pick another one, I would totally understand. Shes nodding with wide eyes as she says this, clearly hoping youll agree.
39. You live in a studio apartment. Your boss comes to bring you soup when you call in sick and sees the quilt on your bed, which you won at a raffle. Thats the quilt my mom made! she says. She told me someone stole it.
40. You take your kids trick-or-treating, and you go to your bosss neighborhood (your boss suggested it). Most houses gave out full-sized candy bars, but one gave out treasure maps, and your kids want to find their treasures before you leave the neighborhood.
41. Someone offers you a chance to win a million dollars just by visiting his website and typing in your address. I dont need your checking account info. Its not safe to give that to just anyone. Ill just mail the check to you,he writes.
42. You wonder what it would be like to be a famous actor, and someone, out of the blue, invites you to perform in his movie as an ex