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Short Story Writing Prompts

Instructor: Nicky Davis
Short stories come in a variety of genres and narrative styles and are generally characterized by their length, running far fewer pages than a novel. For ideas and advice to help you get started writing a short story of your own, keep reading.

Prompts for Writing Short Stories

Short stories are a brief but complex form. Writing short fiction can be a good place for beginning writers to start, as well as a way for more experienced writers to refine their voice and hone their writing talent. Find prompts for two different types of short stories - short fiction and flash fiction - below.

Short Fiction Prompts

Short fiction generally refers to fiction ranging between 1,000 and 7,500 words in length.

  • Song-spiration: Choose a song at random and then select a lyric of that song to serve as the title for your short story. Let the mood of the song and the arc of the song's narrative inform your writing.
  • Ordinary Day: Tell the story of a day in the life of your character that began as extremely routine and ended up being anything but normal.
  • Day in the Life: Write the life story of a creature or item with an incredibly short lifespan, such as a mosquito or a tissue.

Flash Fiction Prompts

Flash fiction is generally 100-1,000 words in length.

  • Single Sentence: Get inside your character's head and think of a specific conversation that changed his or her life. What was the sentence that sparked the change? Tell the story of that sentence.
  • Photo Memory: Choose an image, a photo of yours, or a photo from a newspaper or magazine and write the story of the moment when that picture was taken.
  • Dictionary: Select three words at random from a dictionary and let them inspire a story. Get creative! Maybe the words have meaning that's inspiring, maybe the sound they make reminds you of something else, or maybe one of the words becomes a character's name.
  • Story in a Bottle: Think of a story that is familiar to you; it could be a family memory, a fairy tale, a favorite book, or movie plot. Now challenge yourself to retell this story in less than 1,000 words, while still conveying the heart and weight of the story. Is there a single moment in the story that, when told in detail, speaks for the story as a whole?

Short Story Writing Advice

Once you've found your inspiration, all that's left is the writing itself. Since this can be the hardest part, below are some tips to help guide you as your short story gets started.

  • Choose the most important or interesting moment in your character's life. The story is short, so don't waste time describing days and moments that aren't significant.
  • Similarly, only tell one story, maybe two. Don't get wrapped up in subplots and b-stories when there's only room to tell, at most, a couple stories well.
  • Be concise and make every word count. During revisions, take an axe to any extraneous words.
  • Eliminate non-essential backstory, exposition, and characters.
  • Use action rather than description to convey information about your characters.
  • Tell a story that challenges and changes your characters. Don't be afraid to ask the tough questions or to put your protagonist in uncomfortable and unflattering situations.

Writing Resources

Reading other short fiction is a great way to become a better short story writer. Study.com offers a series of lessons on the American short story that includes not only an overview of the short story form, but also examples and analyses of classic short fiction.

Additionally, it may be helpful to dive into the fundamental writing lessons available on Study.com. The resources below provide guidance and advice for brainstorming, writing, and revising.

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