By Erinn Stam

Writing flash fiction appears deceptively simple. After all, some flash fiction can be as little as 100 or 200 words. When compared with an epic novel, that may seem like child’s play. For many, finding ways to distill your story to so few characters can be more challenging than filling thousands of pages with new worlds. As with any creative writing, sometimes just finding a place to start can be the biggest challenge. How do you find ideas for your stories? When space is a constraint, there can be even more pressure to come up with a good story idea.

The next time writer’s block hits you and you’re unable to figure out how to get your story started, or you’re just stumped for a story idea, try one of these prompts:

Shuffle It

Put your iPod or iTunes on shuffle. Write a story based on the next song that you hear. You can find inspiration in the story or the emotions of the song. A lyric could even become the title for your story.

What Do You See?

Look at the photo below. Write a story about what you see, or a story that’s inspired by the emotion it elicits. If you aren’t inspired by this photo, or you want to try a similar prompt in the future, try a random Google image or Flickr search.

Get Nostalgic

Take out your old scrapbooks and photo albums. Find a picture that moves you, and write a story about it. You can start by using your own experience, or you can draw on the emotions that the photo inspires.

Ask “What If…”

Spend some time imagining “what if” possibilities, such as “What if I could travel in time? Where would I want to travel?” or “What if I could talk to any person who has died? Who would I talk to, and what would I say?” Write a story about the answers.

The Saying Goes …

Think of an old expression such as “The early bird gets the worm” or “Penny wise and pound foolish” and write a story about it. There are books and Web sites devoted to these old adages.

Browse through until you find one that inspires you.

Whittle it Down

Think of your favorite movie, book or short story – it may even be one you wrote. Now condense it to a piece of flash fiction. Start with writing only 500 words, then see if you can get it down to 100.

Change Your Point of View

Pick up a random object in the room where you are sitting, or rummage around a junk drawer or toy chest and draw out a random object. Now write a story from the point of view of this object. What has it seen? What role did it play?

Imagine the Possibilities

Imagine a wrapped box. You open it. What’s inside? Write a story about what you discover.

Random Words

Let your dictionary fall open randomly and point to a word on the page. Use it to inspire a story.

Let Computers Do it For You

If you’re still stumped for ideas, try a random story idea generator, such as this one. There are also character and name generators available, which could also offer inspiration.

We’d love to read any stories you create by trying these prompts! Be sure to share them in the comments, or tell us about any of your own favorite prompts.


Erinn Stam is the managing editor for clinical nurse specialist programs. She attends Wake Technical Community College and is learning about nursing school rankings. She lives in Durham, NC with her lovely 4-year-old daughter and exuberant husband.