Inspiration and ideas for writing short stories

Home learning focus

To explore sources of inspiration for writing short stories, and review narrative structure.

This lesson includes:

  • two videos to help you explore sources of inspiration

  • three activities

Learn

Watch this short clip to find out how one writer gets her inspiration and ideas.

Novelist Rebecca Abrams offers advice for young aspiring fiction writers by offering tips on how to find inspiration

A short story should be compelling to read and have an effective structure. A story structure will help a writer keep a story moving through the following stages in a compelling way.

  • Opening - an opening should engage (or hook) the reader and absorb them into the story. To do this writers often use a plot hook. Some writers might start a story by giving the end away like Shakespeare did in Romeo and Juliet or in the middle with lots of action which leaves the reader wanting to know what happened before.

  • Setting - establishing the time, place and situation and to develop mood and atmosphere. It can sometimes help to use a familiar place or situation a reader can relate to, for example, a school on a cold, damp Monday morning with a maths lesson looming. This stage can also be used for introducing the main character(s).

  • Fiction trigger or inciting incident – the use of a narrator to tell of an incident or event can help a reader feel that the story has started and engage their interest as they want to know what will happen next. For the main character in the story (protagonist) there is now a problem that has to be faced and overcome. A fictional trigger can be an event that really starts the story and can develop the plot hook. For example, a story about a robbery might focus on an event that makes a character consider carrying out a robbery.

  • Keeping up the momentum (plot development or rising action) - builds tension and keeps a reader absorbed and guessing where it will lead. At this point a story can move forward and lots of techniques can be used to keep the reader guessing, 'What will happen next?'

  • Climax - the plot reaches a head, with suspense creating lots of tension for a reader. This will be a key event but the protagonist will work to overcome it.

  • Conclusion (the resolution) - must leave a reader with a sense of satisfaction, or it could be a twist in the tale leaving questions that linger in the mind. An ending of a story ties up the loose ends to the satisfaction of the reader.

By following the story structure, and planning around each of the above headings, you should be able to come up with a tense plot for your own story, one that will engage and absorb your reader.

Watch the following clip to hear how another writer, Michael Morpurgo, was inspired to write some of his most famous novels.

Michael Morpurgo reveals some of the techniques that shape his writing

Practise

Activity 1

Think like a writer. Begin a 'moodboard' for writing. Create a collection of ‘ordinary’ material that you could use to write a story. You could include snippets of dialogue overheard at home, an exchange in a text message, pictures or phrases. Aim for at least five different possibilities.

Activity 2

Choose one or more of your moodboard items to create a structure for your story.

Can you identify a hook, setting, inciting incident, rising action, climax and conclusion? With a sheet of paper and pen, write your structure in a table or diagram.

Once you have the structure for your story, follow Michael Morpurgo’s advice and continue developing your story by talking the story which he describes in the video above at 5:20.

Record yourself telling the story out loud – on a mobile phone or other device.

Now listen back to the recording of your story and write it down. Remember that this is a short story. Try to use less than 350 words.

Top tip!

Experiment and try something new!

Example

If you are really stuck for ideas, try one of the following triggers:

  • A parent and teenager come into conflict over the teenager's friend.

  • Two friends come into conflict when a new friend comes on the scene.

  • Parent and teenager have problems when a grandparent comes to stay.

  • A new teacher causes problems between two friends.

Activity 3

If you are feeling inspired use the story starters provided by Teachit for more writing prompts. Chose a story starter and challenge yourself to plan and write a short story.

Story starters
document

Where next?

In this lesson you have learnt to explore sources of inspiration for writing short stories and how to structure them.

There are other useful articles on Bitesize to help you make your writing interesting and engaging.

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