Writing Prompt: Random Short Story

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Have you ever tried to write an original short story? They are fun, but can be quite a challenge even for motivated and creative writers. Crafting a good short story is difficult, so follow the guidelines below carefully.

First, an assignment as open ended as “write a short story” can be intimidating. You might be wondering, Where do I start? Never fear, I’ve come up with a creatively random way to narrow your options. It will require some honesty on your part to really work.

Below, you’ll find a selection of settings, characters, and objects. I’ve also included a link that will let you download a document with the table on it. Print that page and cut along the dotted lines. Fold up each slip and place them in separate piles or containers (one for setting, one for character, one for object). Then draw out:

  • 2 characters
  • 1 setting
  • 1 object

I want you to write a short story with the setting you selected and at least the two characters as your central figures (you can add more characters if you like). We’ll let you decide the events of the plot, but it must have something to do with the object you selected. Figure out a way to make it an important part of the story. If you don’t like your selections, resist the urge to redraw. Force yourself to be creative.

Some important advice: Most rookie short story writers get in trouble by biting off more than they can chew. Their stories start out with complex structure and plenty of descriptive detail. Before long, however, they realize that at this rate the story is going to take twenty pages or more to finish. Then they cut out the fluff and skip right to the big finale. The stories end up half introduction and half rushed, sketchy conclusion.

You can avoid this problem by:

  1. keeping your story simple.
  2. outlining the story before you begin.

A good story needs a conflict or a problem to be solved (e.g., the evil dragon must be destroyed,  the bunny has to find his way home, Charley must marry the girl who doesn’t even know he exists, etc.) Start by creating a problem.

Next, figure out how the problem is going to be solved. This will eventually be your climax (e.g, the dragon is slain by a boy with a pea shooter, the bunny is run over by a taxi ten yards from his hole, Charley saves the girl from a sinking canoe and wins her undying love, etc.)

Then work backwards from the climax. In a typical short story many events can take place between the introduction and the climax. To keep yours brief and workable, include no more than one or two events.

Below is a sample outline.

  1. Setting: an autumn afternoon in an average suburb
  2. Characters: a typical fourth grader named Alex and the school bully
  3. Introduction: Alex finds the school bully lying in a ditch with a sprained ankle after a bike accident.
  4. Conflict/Problem: The bully has been picking on Alex cruelly for months and made fun of him just that day in front of everyone in the cafeteria. The boy must decide whether to get even or help the big lug.
  5. Rising Action/Middle Events: The bully starts out bossy and mean, but grows worried as the boy contemplates several creatively cruel options. The boy pulls out a large pocket knife from his backpack.
  6. Climax: the boy uses the knife to cut branches for splints, does a quick first aid job and takes the boy to his own house to call for an ambulance.
  7. Conclusion: The bully shares dinner with the boy’s family while he waits for his parents to arrive.

Once your outline is done, writing the first draft will be much easier. Starting with an outline is only a suggestion, remember. The important thing is that you write the story.

Short_Story_Assignment_Printout

*****

Like this writing prompt idea? We’ve got tons of great assignments like this, including narrative, descriptive, expository and persuasive papers in all of our WriteAtHome online writing courses. Visit WriteAtHome.com today and see if we can do what we’ve done for thousands of middle and high school students: sharpen writing skills while awakening their creativity and love for words.

 

 

About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

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  51. Mary Brueggemann
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    I want you to know that this is one of my favorite assignments for the students. They love it too, and they’ve produced some of the most hilarious stories. It challenges their imaginations, especially when they pick a crazy combination. The best story written by one of my students combined a cowboy, a wrestler, an autograph and a medieval dungeon.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko05-16-2012

      I’d love to read it, Mary. If you think of it, email me a copy.

      • Mary Brueggemann
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        I’ll do that right now.

  52. Brian Wasko
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    We’ll look into that too, Von. Thanks. If you want to send me a story to post, send it to my email: brian at writeathome dot com.

  53. von
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    Say, I can’t seem to comment on the ‘brother can you spare a comment’ post (ironic, eh?) but I would have a couple of suggestions:
    1) Make the comment thing clearer. At least on my screen the ‘comment’ box vanishes into the background.
    2) Have a ‘recent comments’ thing in the sidebar; I think it will encourage people.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko05-10-2012

      Hmm. I’ll have to get my IT genius (A.K.A. Nerd) take a look. Haven’t heard anyone have that problem before. Sorry for the trouble. And thanks for the suggestions. We actually do post “recent comments” on a sidebar, but only on the homepage.

  54. von
    von05-10-2012

    And then what? Are we going to be sharing these with each other? Or just have the satisfaction of having done it?

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko05-10-2012

      Oh, one of the things I post on occasion are suggestions for writing projects. Many readers are teachers and homeschooling moms looking for such things. If you write this and send it tome, however, I would certainly consider publishing it. That might be a really good idea!

      • von
        von05-11-2012

        As a Homeschooling dad, and aspiring writer (which I do while waiting for my ambulance pager to go off: my job that pays actual money) I am always looking for people to exchange writing with. I tend to do more full length novels etc. than short stories, but still.
        But it certainly would be neat to see a lot of posts up with what your ‘story starter’ started :)

        PS Another thing for your nerd, most comment things have a way for the site to tell you when someone has replied to your comment. I had to keep coming back here waiting for your reply, for example.

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