Staring at a blank page can be daunting. You need to come up with a short story for a contest and you’ve got nothing. Where can you get some inspiration? There are a few tricks to get your creative juices going.
1. Free writing
Take a blank sheet of paper, one with no lines. Give yourself ten minutes. In that ten minutes just write without stopping. Just write any and everything that pops into your mind. It doesn’t need to make sense. Just allow your brain complete freedom. When you do, something magical happens. Somewhere in all of that gobblely- gook you will see a kernel of something true and interesting. Now start from there with your story.
I am a huge thief. Never speak to me because the chances something you say will turn up in a story of mine is pretty likely. I’ve written stories from bits of conversation and gossip. I’ve written an entire novel based on a rumour everyone was spreading through Radio Mall.
3. Start with the first line
There is a fantastic literary magazine called First Line. They give you a first line which you must use exactly as is. I like to practice writing by using their first lines. Or find a first line from a newspaper headline or an article title and work from there.
4. Listen or read short stories
I love the New Yorker Podcasts. You can listen to a famous writer reading one of the short stories published in the New Yorker. When my inspiration tank is empty, I listen to a story. It puts me back in the right zone, the short story zone.
5. Use a Photo
When I was in school, my favourite writing assignment in English was to write a story about a photo the teacher showed the class. I loved building an entire world around a single moment captured in time. Photos are all over the internet, in magazines- pick one and let your imagination go.
6. Start with the ending
I often start with the ending when a story appears in my mind. It’s fun to work back with your character to find out how she got to that place. There are so many paths, which will you choose?
7. Listen to other people’s conversations
If you’re on the bus, in the queue at the post office, or waiting at the doctor’s office listen in on people’s conversations. You can steal them straight (see number 2) or continue your story where the real conversation stopped.
8. Write what you wish could have been
I’m often socially useless. After I leave a party, I’ll think of all of the witty, urbane things I might have said. There is a starting point for a story, how the party might have gone. Or how about how you’d like the world to be. I have a children’s story I wrote where suddenly you can reach into the TV and grab anything you want. My characters grab some KFC and eventually a diamond that lands them in a bit of trouble, but I think you get the idea. Maybe you had a relationship that failed, live it again in your short story making yourself the hero.
9. Using writing prompts
A quick google search for “writing prompts” brings up a plethora of sites where you can get a jumping off point for your story. Examples might be: A babysitter is snooping around her employer's house and finds a disturbing photograph or use these three things in a story- a broken wristwatch, peppermints, and a hug that goes too far. From there, all sorts of ideas will spring forth.
(This first appeared 1 November 2013 in my column, It's All Write in The Voice Newspaper)