Friday, February 14, 2014

Inspiration for Writing Short Stories by Della Galton // Not Really a Review

As you may remember, I got this book in the mail a few months ago from a British writers' magazine:

What I'm Reading

It's been an interesting read, and I thought I should write some sort of post on it. But how do you review a "How to" book? Well, I'm going to write about one of the most important things I've learned from it.

How to get ideas for short stories.

I have had always have had trouble finding inspiration for short stories - it always ended up being dragged out into an idea for a very long novel.
The key, I've found, is that a short story doesn't necessarily need a very active plot. Of course, it still needs an exposition, rising action, climax, resolution; but the climax doesn't need to be extreme - it could be something as small as a shy girl finally saying hi to that one guy at a party. In a novel, the previous example would probably occur within the rising action - and because I am more experienced in novel-writing, I automatically think of it as such. But with short stories, the small triumphs (or failures, depending on your story) make for fantastic reads.

So - practically everything can be used for a short story. I am actually working on three short stories simultaneously right now - I, who barely wrote one short story over the course of five years!
My inspirations for two of these stories are as follows (the third I started before reading the book, so it doesn't really count.):

1. The inspiration for the first actually comes from a discussion over at Books, Tea & Me, where someone mentioned something along the lines of "Why don't guys buy books for girls at bookstores the way they buy drinks for girls at bars?" (I wish I could link to the exact post, but I couldn't find it, sorry...)
I immediately decided, why not write a story based around that idea? A comparison of the two kinds of guys - the bar/drink kind, and the bookstore kind. You can obviously guess which one "gets the girl" in the end :-)
(Note: the girl is loosely based off of me... :-P )

2. On the internet one day, I saw this: "Alcohol: because no good story ever started with a salad."
When a story-writing challenge is that blatantly staring at me, I can't pass it up. So here's a sample of the beginning to this story:

“...The doorbell rang, and guess who it was? Steve, covered in mud, and with the saddest face - ! I almost died laughing!”
I walked into the office to a burst of laughter as Jim finished his story.
“That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard!” gasped Keith.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Jim was telling us about his party last weekend,” Keith explained, still grinning. “They all got drunk and Steve got himself into some big trouble!” The laughter erupted again.
I just raised my eyebrows and settled down behind my desk.
“I may have had the darndest headache on Saturday,” Jim said loudly, “But you’ve got to admit I also had one great story.”
“That’s what’s alcohol’s for!” put in Dave. “It gives you something to talk about the next day. Every great story always starts with some drinks.”
“That’s true,” said Keith. “No great story ever starts with - a salad!” The laughter burst out once more.
“I beg to differ!” I shouted over the din.
I haven't had time to write anymore, but I've been considering all the adventures that Our Teetotalling Hero will embark upon because he orders a Cesar salad - with extra anchovies.

I have a third "quote" floating around in my head, but I'm not quite sure what to do with it. It is:
"What is the probability of a seven-legged elephant walking in through the door?"
Of course, the obvious story is having a seven-legged elephant walk in through the door, but I'm sure there's other possibilities. And if anyone has any ideas - feel free to write your own story! Actually, I would highly encourage you to do so.

And if anyone was wondering, the above quote is a part of a larger conversation during a statistics lecture, where my professor was explaining the concept of Zero Probability. Though one adventurous student suggested that the elephant could be very small, and thus fit through the door!

Anyone have any tips on getting ideas for short stories? Or novels, for that matter?

Oh and I almost forgot. Happy Valentine's Day! And if you're not doing anything - remember, it's also International Book Giving Day! :-)



  1. Dear Sophia,

    To begin with, Happy Valentine's Day!

    With regard to finding ideas for short stories/novellas/novels, the great author Ray Bradbury once suggested that you should "take ten things that you love, and ten things that you hate, and write about it". Not a bad suggestion from my perspective.

    Take care!



    1. Oh, that is a very excellent idea! I'll definitely attempt it.



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