The English Classroom

A HELPFUL GUIDE FOR PRESERVICE AND GRADUATE TEACHERS

How to Write a Short Story When You Have No Ideas

Inspiration is everywhere, but sometimes it is difficult to see.

Sometimes our students need help in this department. We can’t expect them to be filled with ideas and know exactly how to develop their story. Sometimes, we need to model the process of writing a story.

Below, I have outlined a simple method that you can use when modelling story writing in the classroom. For the purpose of simplicity, I will explain it in the manner that I would explain it to a student in my class.


Make a list of five unlucky things that could happen to you in a day. It could be, losing your job, a car crash or your pet running away. Try to be inventive and think outside the box and consider alternative responses.

Character:

With your list of five, consider the person in your mind.On a large piece of paper, record everything you can about this character:

  • What types of things do they SAY?
  • What do they THINK about?
  • What EFFECT do they have on others?
  • Describe their ACTIONS.
  • Describe what they LOOK like.

These questions and prompts will give you some direction about your character.

Setting:

Now that we have a character, we are going to start visualizing the setting.

Go to Google images. Find an image which represents, relatively closely, where your story takes place. Use this image as a reference point for your writing. Remember to be specific with your search terms.

Look at your image and imagine that you are standing in the image.

  • What do they smell? 
  • What do they hear? 
  • What textures can you feel?

Record these ideas somewhere on your brainstorm, preferably in a section dedicated to setting. Create a list of adjectives that you might use to describe the location. When modelling this in the classroom, you might have students who are working ahead of others write similes and metaphors. You will come back to this section later.

So far, you have a character and a setting. Now you need to establish the internal and external conflicts of the character in that setting. Remember that these words mean:

  • Internal conflicts – How the characters feel
  • External conflicts – how the characters environment impacts them. 

With these conflicts in mind, begin to develop how they might work together:

  • What problems does your character have throughout the narrative? For example, perhaps their day gets progressively worse and worse.
  • How does your character feel as a result of this conflict?

At this point in your brainstorm, you will have:

  • A basic premise for your story (A character who is exceptionally unlucky)
  • A brief character chart using the STEAL acronym
  • A setting with an image to reference the general landscape that your character occupies
  • Ongoing internal/external conflicts that might arise with your story.

For here, you will be able to develop a more defined plot diagram that includes a resolution to your story.

Have a go and build your fluency, so that when you are in the classroom you can easily help your students when they are stuck!

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