A short story plot can happen anywhere, anytime. Ideas for stories are known as story starters.
I once dated a fellow whose birthday was December 22nd. He never really complained, but once commented that people usually forgot his birthday because it happened so close to Christmas.
That was decades ago. What could have brought that to mind other than my Muse announcing one of her short story starters?
Scenarios in my stories change drastically from any reality that produced the ideas. The stories are only fiction, after all.
Remember, too, that short story starters are not necessarily a list of ideas found in a book or on the Internet. The best place to find short story starters is right in your own life.
Many times I've heard people say, "I ought to write a book about my life." So do it. Start with a short story or two. Life is full of story starters. Write a short story or two and build a book around it.
You needn’t write about your experience and what you did with the money. But you can write about how money affected a fictitious character, changed their life for better or worse. Remembering you having found money and what could be done with it has the potential for a great short story.
Then, too, you might remember someone finding a bit of money and having squandered it. Them finding money triggers a plot about how it might affect you had you found it. Simple occurrences. Great short story starters.
Getting back to my friend’s plight of his forgotten birthdays, my Muse, bless her, kicked up a lot of memories of my life during that time period long ago. The scenes and story action meshed. I also found a couple other short story starters in the mix and fleshed those out too.
The Take-Out Queen is a cross between my friend’s birthday and how I used to be a workaholic. Back then, I never thought anything from my everyday life could produce story starters, but now I’ve changed my mind. Yet, like most that I write, this short story is fiction.
I wrote this short story in two versions, sort of an exercise in writing for me. The version presented here is in First Person, present tense. The other was Third Person, past tense.
I try not to write in First Person too often. First Person is harder to sell, but strangely, this First Person version is the one that got picked up for publication.
First Person stories are mostly frowned upon due to the many times “I” must be used. If you were to do a word search in this First person version for each “I,” it would be clear how the reader is drawn back time and again to the character and away from the action of the story. You can also see or feel that from simply reading any First Person stories. They are ego-centered.
Having said that, know that some First Person stories have great success and become famous.
There is always an exception to any rule.
Foreshadowing is the set up for a conclusive ending. The plot moves along, and usually purposely, never alludes to the foreshadowing once mentioned. The action at the end ties to the early foreshadowing and binds it all neatly together.
Perhaps one of your short story starters actually produces the ending of your story. In any case, story starters fit anywhere and any way you can build stories around them.
Posted in the Articles section of this site is a great article about foreshadowing. If you cannot determine the foreshadowing in this story, read the article, then come back to Take-Out Queen with a fresh perspective.
The Take-Out Queen
Sooner or later I was going to have to face this day.
“Wha-at?” I say into the phone and then listen to Jake on the other end. “Of course I want to see you two. It’s been months.” I listen again. “Dinner together? Okay…yeah, sure.” As I hang up, my anxiety escalates.
Sooner or later I was going to have to face this day. My son and his wife are coming for dinner for the first time since they were married. With my office in my home, I’ve been busy and sometimes neglect my housekeeping. With Jake not around to remind me, I forget my own birthday.
Christmas is only days away. I’m excited about seeing my family but I wish they would delay arriving until Christmas morning. We could do this first home-cooked family dinner over turkey on Christmas day instead.
Jake and I enjoyed wonderful Christmas mornings while he was growing up. This time of year was always special for my little guy. I hope Annie likes our tradition. Jake said she wasn’t materialistic and that she gave useful practical gifts. So that meant she wouldn’t have any hesitation in joining our fun.
But now I work at home writing. The plot of my novel is pouring out. At times, I’m not sure which day it is. I just want to keep my creativity flowing. Yet, tonight I need to prepare a delicious meal that will make an impression on Annie. With them having been away since they married, how can I say no to an unexpected dinner with the two most important people in my life? I’ll be breaking in my new kitchen earlier than planned.
Cook? Me, the take-out queen? Cook?
In a short story, the main character’s personality should be built as quickly as possible.
Often times, I build my characters from one of my story starters and not from action happening.
Also in Take-Out, from the beginning, we are forewarned of a dilemma. The son and his wife are coming for dinner. The “I” person is busy, but of course, not so busy she won’t see her son. What troubles her is that she’s no cook.
Do you recognize the story starters as I explained above?
When Jake was younger, I worked all the time, leaving no energy for practicing new recipes. I’d arrive home exhausted and carrying steaming containers of food, rationalizing that what I had chosen was nutritious. I had a wide variety of restaurants from which to choose and all accommodated take-out orders. Eating that way was better than scrounging for anything lying limp in the bottom of my refrigerator. Being a working single parent, I overlooked much to do in the home. Home…a place where tantalizing aromas of Grandma’s delicious meals permeated the rooms….
I love to work and even enjoyed finding a new job when one dead-ended. But of all my roles, I’ve never played the cook. Now I own a thriving home decorating business and am busier than ever. Especially since I began to write.
Months ago, placing my store manager in charge, I took sabbatical to write my first book. Relinquishing management of my own company wasn’t intimidating, what with writing offering a new creative outlet. I found myself immersed in this new form of expression with increased stamina and direction.
Mother worked too, so I never learned to cook a wide assortment of foods. What I learned, I cook well. But variety I lack. Yet, a small intimidating voice inside taunts me to eat nutritious meals. I’ve thought about forcing myself to write a cookbook. I’d have to first try out all those recipes. Why not write a cookbook? My writing office is upstairs right over my kitchen.
The few friends who venture over when I cook rave and encourage me to try their recipes. But in these busy times, I dash out and sit in the sunlight at a local eatery. Somehow I can’t see myself perusing a cookbook for recipes while sitting at a sidewalk cafe munching stuffed grape leaves and sipping imported tea. I people watch, though, searching for interesting traits and quirks I can use to build my fictional characters’ personalities.
Now, this lovely girl my son married evidently cooks well, judging from the way he looks in photos. I always wondered what I’d do if they came for dinner. With this anxiety-provoking event finally at hand, I must take the time to prepare a fantastic meal. I never thought I’d feel put off by my own lack of interest in cooking. My son always favored my Poulet a la Francaise. Oh sure, French Chicken. Well, maybe Trout et l’Orange.
I should show my son I haven’t forgotten how to use the kitchen. After all, I designed and decorated that room as well as the rest of this house. I find much comfort in being home—as long as I can write.
Dragging away from the computer and forcing myself to take a lunch break, I peruse a cookbook in search of something surprising. If one follows a recipe to the letter, nothing can go too seriously wrong, right? I let previous experience be the judge and opt for my chicken recipe and make a dash to the supermarket.
Like any of the few meals I cook, this chicken recipe can be baking while drinks and appetizers are served and conversation enjoyed.
Arriving home, I clean and cut the vegetables and chicken and store the covered pieces in the refrigerator as my office phone rings again upstairs.
A friend helping with library research found verifying information to lend credence to a particular scene in my story. Now my protagonist would also learn this valuable information and my conjured plot could take another ironic twist.
This new information fanned the flame of fiction’s fire. While one hand hangs up the phone, I boot my computer with the other, all the while acting out the gestalt of my characters’ conversations. Absorbed with their vocalizations and deftly pounding out a wild rhythm on the keyboard, I barely hear the doorbell. Or was that the second or third chime?
In this section of the short story, more of the personality of the “I” character is built.
Too, it sounds like the friend who telephoned found yet another story starter to help this woman’s plot get unstuck.
Whether your short story starters make the beginning or the ending of your stories makes no difference. You must still build the short story in the usual manner: beginning, middle, and ending. Also building those who people the story, and the action and setting in which everything takes place.
Notice that First person stories do not allow the character telling the story to tell you what they look like.
As such, in this story, you know this is a busy, active woman. If she can’t describe her physical attributes through her actions or the setting, the reader will relate to her with mental pictures they have of people they know who seem similar.
If you need to describe your “I” character for some reason, then it’s best to write in Second or Third Person.
In First Person, if the “I” character were to describe what she or he looked like, they’d have to describe each time they changed their clothes to suit the action. It’s simply not done.
Now that I’m analyzing another short story, I see story starters all over the place. My recipes are one among many. How my food turns out when I follow recipes is yet another on the list of story starters. But if I didn’t follow recipes, I’d have no starters at all for my meal. I’d starve to death till I memorized the little I do cook.
Perhaps a lot more of me is in this short story than I realized. you know what they say: Write what you know. To that I would add... even if you ficitonalize it.
Jake and Annie arrive. While munching on vegetable spikes and thick ranch dip brought to life from a foil packet, I casually mention French Chicken so my son won’t be too surprised with the fare. With the phone constantly ringing, I am unable to glean his thoughts on the matter. I should have made sure everyone had my cell phone number. That’s what I bought an expensive head set for.
I excuse myself and make a dash upstairs to turn down the phone volume. When I come downstairs, also turning off my cell phone and removing the headset, Jake and Annie are all smiles standing side by side.
“It’s dinner time,” he says quickly.
My heart flutters over a momentary fear that, perhaps, my chicken recipe is something only Jake and I tolerate, and that Annie may not. Why couldn’t they have surprised me by announcing their first meal here to be Christmas dinner? Turkey anyone can do.
I walk to the refrigerator and withdraw the container of cut up chicken. As I do this, they snuggle stiffly side-by-side and turn like robots as I cross the room. Oddly, they seem to be hiding something behind their backs.
Surely I look puzzled. Jake walks over and takes the container from my hand and haphazardly dashes it back into the refrigerator. “That’s where that bird belongs tonight, Mother,” he says.
“But it’s your fav...”
“So, did you bring take-out?”
“We don’t even do that,” Annie says with eyes twinkling. “We’re as busy as you. We eat out, too.”
I don’t have a clue. Their smiles broaden.
“You’re not cooking,” Jake says. “Least of all today.”
Annie seems barely able to contain herself. “I understand you serve some serious turkey,” she says. “I’d like to cook with you on Christmas Day.”
The secreted glances they exchange make me feel they had rehearsed for this moment. “What are you up to?” I ask.
“Mom, you always overdo at Christmas. You give and give and forget about yourself.”
“Tis the season,” I say. “Mother’s do that.”
“Christmas will always be special,” Jake says. “But we’re no longer going to allow it to overpower everything else.”
“Where are you two going with this?”
“We’re taking you to dinner, Mom. I can’t believe you don’t remem—”
“I’ve been really busy. Almost finished my novel.”
“I guess!” Jake says. “But we’re not letting this day pass unnoticed again.” My joker-of-a-kid now looks real solemn. “Mom, I know Christmas has always been the important holiday for you because of raising me. But in all your giving, you never think of yourself.”
“’Cause your face always lights up on Christmas morning.”
Still smiling, Annie shakes her head and rolls her eyes. Then from behind herself, she produces a small elegantly wrapped gift, all sparkling lavender with a frilly bow and an envelope. “We’re not letting you go unrecognized any longer,” she says. “So, in the spirit of giving—”
“You’re giving me my gift now?”
Annie is beside herself trying not to laugh. Jake moves closer and squeezes my shoulders. Finally, he leans away and looks down at me as if to say I gotcha! Then Annie says, “Happy birthday, busy writer!”
In the last section of this short story, what was foreshadowed in the beginning with one of my Muse’s story starters comes to a sweet, surprising ending.
Endings need not be dramatic, heart thumping action in all stories. They must simply wrap up nicely, or otherwise, as the situation dictates.
I hope more people eventually remembered my friend's birthdays. He may never know that what he said ended up on my list of story starters and helped develop another short story.
If you feel you have a hard time finding short story starters, search the Net and other places to find inspiration. Many places provide lists to trigger your inspiration. Story starters are exactly that. Inspiration.
Just remember, there is much in your life that can trigger inspiration that will lead to a short story. I would encourage you not to overlook even the smallest incident from your life and then let your Muse run with it.