10 Questions to Spark a Plot

In the past week I have been teaching my English students how to write short stories.  They began with a set of questions that caused them to think or brainstorm about what they might write about.  Many of them chose to write about zombie stories, effectively writing rough drafts that ended up reading more like the actions of a video game.  After reading their many page epic to their table mates today, however, they realized that what makes a zombie story so good is not the zombie killing but the human interaction of the characters who are trying to survive it.

They are all furiously penning revisions as I write this.

The 10 questions I used to help students find a plot seemed help even the most unmotivated student find a plot, so I determined that they would be highly useful for any writer out there who is hard up for ideas.  Here they are:

  1. What is the most embarrassing event of your life and why?
  2. What is an event that happened in your life that you felt was a huge injustice either to you or someone you know?
  3. What is your favorite movie and how would you have ended it if you were the writer?
  4. What would you do in case of a zombie apocalypse?
  5. What are your favorite kinds of stories?  Think of two of them and then create a crossover story line.
  6. If you could travel through time, where would you go and what date would you go back to and why?
  7. What is it about westerns that are unrealistic, and how would you go about writing a “realistic” western?
  8. The typical romantic comedy has the same plot but with different actors.  Plot: guy meets girl, guy and girl hate each other, guy and girl fall in love, one of them does something to ruin the relationship but then they get back together in the end because one of them does something selfless and endearing.  How can we modify this plot line to make it more unpredictable?
  9. Think of the stories you have read over the years.  Pick one.  How would you write this story if it were written today or ten years from now?
  10. Think of a serious story that you have heard or a movie that is serious or a short story you have read that is dramatic.  How could it be rewritten as a parody?
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3 thoughts on “10 Questions to Spark a Plot

  1. Really interesting and useful questions, thanks Roger. Been looking at short stories myself recently and discovered that I need structured inspiration (oxymoron or just pragmatic realisation?) and this sort of thing is spot on.

    Is there anything specific you look at when coming up with short story questions (as opposed to inspiration for longer, novel-type stories)?  Does it take a certain type of inspiration to recognise a shorty story possibility?

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