How to Develop (Imaginative, Insightful & Credible) Short Story Ideas

Copyright © 2013 Jerry Dunne


The aim of the book is to show the writer how to analyse methodically certain types of source material with the purpose of using it as both an inspiration and a guide in the development of imaginative, insightful and credible ideas for the short story. The source material used here will consist of five different types of literature: the saying, the fable, the poem, the fairy tale, and the historical narrative (modern texts written by historians).

Each type of source material offers a different representation on a mix of character, conflict, theme, point of view, plot, structure, setting, drama, imagery, style, language, irony and humour. Each expresses itself in a fundamentally different way: the saying offers us a universal truth in a witty, ironic and incredibly pithy way; the fable’s tiny tale highlights a specific human flaw through simple characterization in order to express a clear message; the poem inspires and enlightens through imagery and lyricism, creating fresh and deep nuances of emotion, thought and ideas; the fairy tale shows us human nature in a stark and fantastic way which appeals to some deep instinct in us to support the struggle of justice; the historical narrative highlights our human condition on both an individual and a collective level (social, cultural, political, for example) in a factual manner and within a setting unlike our own by default of it being situated in the past. Clearly, each type of source material promotes a unique approach with regards to inspiration and guidance in the development of short story ideas.

The short story has evolved out of literary forms such as fables, legends, myths, fairy tales and parables, all of which started in the folkloric oral tradition. Poetry is an ancient form of literature whose influence on the short story is apparent through its economical and structured use of language, imagery, rhythm, style devices and even character and storylines. The creative intuition and techniques behind many short anecdotal tales, proverbs, sayings and jokes have also contributed to the short story’s development, especially in their use of irony and the twist. By drawing on the older literary forms as inspiration and guide for the creation of our short story ideas, we will come to understand fully what core literary elements the short story shares with these older forms, and also what advances have been made in the modern short story over these older forms; and by working in an analytical and methodical manner directly with our source material we will be able to combine their strengths of technique and creativity with both the strengths of the modern short story and our own imaginations in order to create fresh and effective stories. Once our skills are honed using the older sources, we will move on to the modern historical text where we can draw on very deep levels of character detail, theme, storyline and even plot to give our story ideas and plans an added dynamic boost.


The best way of approaching the book is to read it through once so as to gain an overall impression of the techniques and methods used here. After this first reading, the reader can proceed to work carefully through the chapters. The chapter layout is deliberate. The reader gains knowledge, experience and skills in working with the shorter literary forms before moving on to the last and most difficult chapter.

Chapter 1 gives a breakdown of the short story’s storytelling or literary elements and explains the 3 act plot arc structure. As our analytical technique involves focusing on these storytelling elements throughout the book, and as we will also use the 3 act plot arc structure throughout as a means of structuring the early draft plans and short stories, it would be better to have a good understanding of this chapter before moving on to the body of the book.

It is really recommended that the writer grows familiar with each chapter before moving on to the next, and in particular, that the techniques and methods of the earlier chapters are fully understood before tackling the history chapter. This last chapter has been included because it is the next step on from working with the much easier to manipulate literary material. Once we learn how to handle the historical narrative well, we can apply our newly acquired knowledge and skills to any other type of written material, short or long, suitable for our objectives.


I hope like me the reader will come to celebrate the fact that there exists a vast amount of literary sources from which we can take inspiration and guidance for a never ending amount of imaginative, insightful and credible ideas for our short stories. But I would go even one step further and suggest that the awareness and skills the writer will develop as a consequence of using this book will enable him or her to discover effortlessly great short story ideas out there in the living, breathing world, too.


This book does not teach craftsmanship. It is not a ‘how to write short stories’ book. We will not teach character development, pace, ‘SHOW’ not tell, and so on. The book is aimed at those already familiar with the rudiments of fiction craftsmanship. Some aspects of craft will be considered, especially plot arc structure, but only to a limited extent and only where it impacts directly upon the development of our short story ideas in the early draft stage or in the five short story plans.

You can buy Jerry’s books on any Amazon site. They are also for sale in many of the other online stores such as Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords.

Click on the image below to buy any of Jerry’s books on the US Amazon site

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