Generating Ideas for Writing - Short Stories

The blank page (or screen). It is an intimidating sight, to begin with nothing. You can do anything you want, except you can't, because you want it to be good. So... sit, you stare, you wait, you worry, you go get a drink, you take a walk, you read, you watch a show, etc, etc.

To begin you must have an idea, luckily it doesn't have to be a good idea. I am going to attempt to create an interesting idea for a short story, right now, as I write this. It will not be good, at least in the beginning.

What to begin with? It is possible to begin with a character, or a place, or a time, or an intention, or an obstacle, or the stakes/motivation, and some people even begin with an idea for an entire narrative. I will begin with this.

A man wants to get milk.

Seems reasonable, seems boring. It is a simple and easy intention; or is it? What do we need to add to it? I could add an obstacle, but instead I am going to add a motivation.

A man wants to get milk because he is thirsty.

It's better, but not by much.

A man wants to get milk because his child is thirsty.

Oh, now it is getting a little more interesting. I think this could be turned into a nice little melodrama. Just add in some unusual obstacles, or an unusual setting, or an unusual character, and you have something, but I want something more. I want a little more punch.

A man wants to get milk because his child is starving.

Okay, now the stakes are real, the stakes are high, and I want to know "why?"

A man wants to get milk because his child, who is nursing, is starving because the mother has died.

This makes me kind of hate the guy. Why doesn't he just go buy some formula? Is the guy so psychologically messed up about his wife (or baby mama) dying that he is letting his child starve? That is not the type of story of human cruelty that I want to hear. I like struggle, but there has to be a good reason.

A man wants to get milk because his child, who is nursing, is starving because the mother has died. She was killed two days ago in their escape from the "Community."

I am intrigued. What is the "Community?" Why did they kill her? Are they trying to kill him? Why? Where is this? Can he get help?

It feels to me like this is going in the direction of a fictional dystopian world of some sort, maybe like "The Handmaid's Tale." It doesn't have to be, it could just be some sort of commune that is very rural. There are other possibilities I may try, but I want to try another direction first. What if it wasn't human malevolence that got them into this situation?

A man wants to get milk because his child, who is nursing, is starving because the mother has died. An experienced adventuring power couple they decided to document their trip to inspire families with young children to be more active. While on a mountain in (Columbia or Venezuela) they had a violent encounter with a (drug cartel or starving splinter group or gang). His wife activated her emergency beacon, but the rest of their communication equipment lies with her where she fell two days ago. He and the baby are on the edge of a local ranch, but who controls the ranch? Is it a place that will help? Maybe he should steal some supplies?

Now that sounds like a powerful story. It doesn't really meet the whole not having human malevolence thing I was going for, but whatever, it's good. I like both of these last two ideas, but the second appeals to me much more. I may develop this story more. Next post I will probably come up with more ideas for other types of stories. You are welcome to join me in both endeavors at


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