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…”
“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!


To plan your story out go to Week 1/Exercise Sheet 1 and complete your story map.
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