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Discovering Great Short Story Ideas

Updated on November 14, 2009

Mining for Nuggets

So, you want to learn how to write, eh? Good. I suppose the best place to start is with an idea. After all, we can't have a critter like you running off with the keyboard and typing random nonsense, now can we?

What's that? I called you a critter?

As this is the first addition to my hub, perhaps I should explain myself. You see, critters are those folks learning to become authors. It's an affectionate term for those kindred spirits seeking to release their inner turmoil on white pieces of paper, with the hopes others will read them. So, what does this have to do with great story ideas? Not a darned thing, so we'll need to move onto the good stuff. I just wanted to get that part out of the way before continuing any further.

With that said, we need ideas. Where do we get those? Relax, critter, it's a rhetorical question, and one that's far easier to answer than you could imagine. Two magic words – 'What If'. That's all you need, right? Good, because I'm ready to move on.

Hmm… I see the confusion in your eyes. Confusion is good. It means the gears behind those eyes are turning, trying to make sense of it all. It also means I'll need to explain things to help you get the jist of them. You seem like a fine critter to me, so I'd be happy to help.

What if?

It seems like nothing, but it's the basis of all stories.

What if ... a young farm boy discovers he has a mystical power and uses it to save the galaxy? Star Wars

What if … a spider is able to weave marvelous webs and uses them to save a pigs life? Charlotte's Web

What if … a girl finds herself transported to an add place and finds interesting friends to help her get home? The Wizard of Oz

These were all 'what ifs' in somebody's mind before they were stories. The secret is coming up with a good what if. I see your mind starving to get in on the action, so let's feed it a bit, eh?

Let me lengthen the 'what if' to help you out a bit.

What if (something interesting happens) (that helps the main character accomplish something)?


What if (a scientist creates a tear in apace that allows people to travel instantly across the galaxy) (and we become friends with the aliens we meet)?

All you need is a spark to get started, and this simple formula helps arrive at that spark. Understand critter, there are as many formulas for finding an idea as there are people looking for them, but this is the easiest method ole Yoshi has come across, and trust me … it works.

Why? You may ask. I didn't want to bore you with the details, but if I must … You see, we all want to read stories where interesting things happen and we all want to see stories where something gets accomplished before the story ends. By placing this all in your 'What If', you have fashioned the bookends to your story. You have a beginning (something interesting happens) and an ending (the main character accomplishes something). The rest is all the writing that is done in-between.

And what do you write in-between? That's the fun part where we discover 'What Happens Next?'

What if Joseph Carl (a scientist) creates a hole in space? He walks through it …

What happens next?

He discovers a new world.

What happens next?

He's attacked by aliens.

And on and on …

Now, let me stop you here before you laugh at the simplicity. Remember … We're mining for nuggets – not writing a full-fledged story. Trust me, critter, you can spend a whole day looking at a blank page or you can go along with the seemingly insane to see where it will take you. See things my way and that page won't be empty when the sun falls below the horizon, provided it does rise again the next day. Just go with it, winding yourself toward the ending we planned for ourselves. Never take the straight path! Never, ever, ever… Take your time reaching the end and plan for twists and curves along the way. You're not writing a story, you're plotting the path for a road you will travel – when you are done musing away.

Did you finally reach the end of the road? Good. So, now what? Another rhetorical question. You can expect those from time to time. It helps to keep a critter like you reminded of the fact they are here to learn and not to get lost in Yoshi's endless musings. Where was I? Oh, right. So, now what? Now we look at our page (or pages, with any hope) and sift through it for nuggets. What works for you? What doesn't? If you don't like pieces of what you wrote, cross them off. No sense in writing what your heart don’t want to write, right?

With that done, look over at what remains. A picture should start to form in your mind of the story you want to write. It's still primitive and evolving, but we're only here for the idea. The how-to-write-it part comes later. For now, you have an idea – an idea that must be written! Embrace the pages you typed, critter, as they are a creation only you can mold to pure gold, and we will go over how that's done in later hubs.

For now, take a break (ya earned it) and relish in your newly found story idea. Next stop for this hub? Your first sentence, and it's a very important one – important enough that we will dedicate a whole hub topic to it.

Until then … write up a few more great story ideas. We'll meet again soon.

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    • Marsha Musselman1 profile image

      Marsha Musselman 

      6 years ago from Michigan, USA

      I've used 'what if' a bit and that's a very small bit. I will make sure I utilize it even more than I have in the past.

      I also want to read all your hubs about writing, eventually. So, I'll be back.

    • htodd profile image


      7 years ago from United States

      Thanks for the great info..nice

    • yoshi97 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from a land called 'what if?'

      The current sites I write for are,, and I also have a big project in the works, but I'm staying tight-lipped on that one until I'm certain I can make it work. :)

      I also rechecked the author on Dialogue ... it was Gloria Kempton. Ah, as the mind ages, so also it does wander. ;)

    • vastav4 profile image


      8 years ago

      I was going through Orson Scott Card's bibliography.

      I did not find "Dialogue by Orson Scott Card".

      Please, can you cross-check the book has some different name or another author.

      However, Orson Scott does discuss on Dialogues and Style on :- " "

    • vastav4 profile image


      8 years ago

      Thank you so much.

      It's great to discover this site. Your writings are very captivating.

      In one another reply to me, you mentioned you also write for other sites. Can you please share that too.

      Hope I am getting too over bearing!


    • yoshi97 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from a land called 'what if?'

      Some of the best books I have read on writing are:

      Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

      On Writing by Stephen King

      Beginnings, Middles, and Ends by Nancy Kress

      Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

      Characters, Emotions And Viewpoint by Nancy Kress

      Dialogue by Orson Scott Card

    • vastav4 profile image


      8 years ago

      Your last response states you were reading a new book on writing. Please can you share the name of the book.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I enjoyed reading this - and you've put some good ideas together. Thank you.

    • FRANCES4ES profile image


      10 years ago from DC

      Enjoyed your subject matter. Very interesting, and informative. I'll be sure to keep watching out for your hubs and trying to follow your suggestions as much as I can.

      I'm a new fan. Thumbs up! Thank you!


    • Koby profile image


      10 years ago from Ohio

      Who knew that all these stories followed a basic format as simple as that!

      Once again you have engaged me with the clever way you interact with your reader, and given me an idea for my next hub. It'll be all about 'What if's'

    • yoshi97 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from a land called 'what if?'

      The funny thing is ... after all these years I finally found out why 'what if' works. I was reading a new book on writing yesterday and it mentioned that all great stories start with a premise ... and that premise forms from your ... 'what if'.

      And to think ... all these years I thought I stumbled upon something new when I really just found a different way at looking at an approach that has been around for centuries.

      I shoulda known I wasn't lucky enough to be the first to come up with the idea, but I'm still glad to have shared it and to see it helping others ... as it has helped me. :)

    • jill of alltrades profile image

      jill of alltrades 

      10 years ago from Philippines

      Thanks for this wonderful hub. I enjoyed it. What if...I followed it and come up with a fantastic story? What if the hubbers here have a convention? Hmmm...I'm enjoying this.

      Thank you for sharing!

    • profile image

      R. E. Proctor Jr 

      10 years ago

      I enjoyed reading this and will try to put it to use. Thanks!

    • yoshi97 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from a land called 'what if?'

      As they say when mining for gold ... it's not the size of the nugget that determines its worth, but the purity of it.

      Same thing with writing ... if you learn something new and it's something you can use to improve your writing then that nugget is worth tenfold more than all the rest.

      Also, it takes practice to get this method working ... often I find myself watching TV with a pad of paper writing down 'what ifs' during commericals, and some of it is actually worth writing a story around.

      Good luck with your writing! :)

    • Jen's Solitude profile image

      Jen's Solitude 

      10 years ago from Delaware

      Critter you say? Learn something new every day. Or should I ask, what if I learn something so new I . . . hmmm, I've got nothing, but its a start right? Thanks, enjoyed the hub.



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