Idea Generation/
Story Starters
Every story needs a starting point.
Some of you might know exactly
what you want to write about or
some of you may have a real story
to tell. Others might have a
particular genre in mind or many of
you may not have any idea what to
write about at all – and that’s OK!
There are many ways to generate
ideas for stories and the
following lesson will focus on things
like genre, theme, emotion etc…
But first we will look at what it is
that makes a good short story
and a good short story writer,
as well as discussing drafts.
So, what makes a good short story?
Strong characters are a must, an
enticing introduction, a good plot/
storyline, pace, intrigue, suspense,
mystery and a satisfactory
conclusion. It must also occur
within a specific timeframe and
your story mapping will help you
ensure that you work within it.
What makes a good
author/short story writer?
A strong command of English
(or your chosen language),
imagination, the ability to edit,
attention to detail,
understanding of what’s
required when character building,
preparation, humour and practice.
What makes a bad story?
Too many characters, a long-winded
narrative and a confusing storyline/
plot can lead to the reader losing
interest very quickly. The main
objective when writing a story,
is to keep the reader reading
and entertained!
What makes a bad author/short
story writer?
A lack of imagination, no planning, the
inability to edit, careless work and
rushed or forced prose are all ill-advised
when writing for publication. If you want
to ensure that your story is up to scratch;
take your time, think outside the box
and always be prepared to rewrite.
You won’t get everything right
the first time – and no
one expects you to.
What is a draft?
A draft is a version of a story and a story
can have an unlimited amount of drafts
(but don’t go overboard either!).
As previously indicated, the first draft is
just that – a first attempt. There is
always room for improvement and
you shouldn’t expect yourself
to write a print-ready
story the first time.
In fact, if you think it’s print ready the
first time you are undoubtedly mistaken.
This is where having an open mind
comes in. Every writer should be
prepared to read over his or her work
and identify areas in need of editing.
Ask your fellow students for
constructive criticism and offer it
back – this will help you all to
develop those drafts and reach the
final version with great satisfaction.
So how do you generate
an idea for a story?
Let’s look at emotions first –
fear, sadness, anger, disgust,
anticipation, joy and relief are
just a few. Do any of
them trigger any ideas
with you?
If emotions don’t work for you,
how about a place?
Have you a favourite setting – like
the lake in autumn or the mountains
in winter? How about your favourite
holiday destination? Or your
secret hideout?
Maybe it’s real life you want to write
about… Have you got your own story
to tell? Have you experienced something
amazing that you would like to share?
Or have you been through hard times
and survived them but want to get it
all down on paper?
Another idea is to use a sentence to
kick-start your story, for example…
“John had been a victim all of his life
and he was sick of it…” or “Eva looked
around her, terrified of what she was
about to do but, at the same time,
resolute in her decision to do it…”
Choosing a theme is also
a very good way of getting
your imagination going.
Have a look at the following
themes and see if they give
you any ideas…
Memory Loss, Old Age,
Ghosts, Good Fortune, Love,
Time Travel, Space,
Animal Cruelty, Bad Luck,
Good versus Bad, Identity Crisis,
Injustice, Growing Up,
Survival, Vanity and Struggle…
As you will all soon be authors of a
short story anthology, it is important
to know what elements of a book
entice readers to it. These include the
title, the blurb, the tagline, the cover and
genre and we will take a quick
look at each…
So, what is a blurb?
A blurb is a brief description of the
contents of a book and it appears
on the back cover. The most important
elements of a blurb are...
1) It must be concise but enticing
2) It must complement the title
3) It must give the reader a taste for the
content but not give it away
4) It must sell the book to the reader
5) It must not be long-winded
What is a title?
The title of the book is its name.
It should be clever and simple with a
minimum amount of words.
It should make you think but not be too
random and it should suit the story that
you are telling but not give it away.
What is a tagline?
A tagline is a very short sentence,
which appears on the front cover
underneath the title and instigates
anticipation. For example, imagine the
title is “The Hungry Hippo” then the
tagline might be
“He stopped at nothing
and ate EVERYTHING…”
What do you need from a cover?
A good cover should represent the
story adequately while not overdoing it.
It should be attractive but not over the
top i.e. simple and not too ‘busy.’ It should
also be indicative of the genre –
Thrillers V Romance for example.
When we say genre what does
that mean? Genre is the style of, or
category within which, you choose to
write. Examples of genre include Fiction,
Non-Fiction, Chick Lit, Crime, Horror,
Short Stories, Children’s, Romance,
Poetry, Sport, Fantasy, Religion
and History…
Finally, what is a story map?
Every story needs a
Beginning (introduction),
Middle (body) and End (conclusion).
When you start out on your short story
writing journey, in order to contain it and
ensure that it is a short story,
it can help to map it out.
The story map helps you to sketch out
your genre, theme, characters and plot.
Once you have it done you are ready to
start writing!
EXERCISE
To plan your story out go to
Week 1/Exercise Sheet 1 and
complete your story map.
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