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A Mini-Compendium of Short Story Ideas Across Genres

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How to write a good short story? Where to find some good short story ideas? What do developing good story starters and amazing short story topics take?

Well, it does take quite a lot of motivation and imagination! And, while things work best if your writing skills are sharp as a razor, the motivation to write and an inexhaustive imagination are the most crucial requirements!

Short stories, a cornerstone of literary expression found across every genre, hold a timeless allure. Crafting these narratives into masterpieces demands more than initial simplicity suggests. A proper & cohesive plot, worthwhile characters, plot & character development, seamless narrative flow, insightful dialogues, rising tension, confrontations & climax, and resolutions — all converge to elevate a simple short story into an extraordinary experience. This art of storytelling, essential to academic writing, blossoms through diligent practice.

If you wish to become a master storyteller (or story writer), start writing today. And use this compendium of amazing short story ideas to conjure exceptional short stories that will mesmerise all your readers.  

Let’s start by looking at some excellent short story ideas on one of the most popular genres in literature, fantasy.

Fantastic Fantastical Short Story Ideas

The fantasy genre is one of the most popular and prominent. And, arguably so, as fantasies can transport us to another world, breaking the daily monotony and helping us forget the troubles of living in this increasingly unnatural world.

 If you have decided to write a fantasy short story, you must indulge in your creativity. It will be great if you have read any fantasy novels of late or have been mesmerised by any of them. They can serve as excellent inspiration for your ideas. Here are some must-read fantasy books that can help you develop amazing ideas.

  • The Lord of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien à A legendary book in every sense, Tolkien’s novels are timeless classics that have been republished time & time again and told & re-told in many different formats.

Good vs Evil, Fighting & Striving against Overwhelming Odds, how temptation corrupts the soul, love and sacrifice as weapons against evil— there are many ideas for writing any fantastical short story.

  • The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling à A group of young wizards fighting against an immensely powerful evil wizard overlord. This concept has served as the seed of so many different books. Magic, potions, friendship, monsters, rivalry, MacGuffins – every ingredient in the Harry Potter stories to help you develop your fantasy universe.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis à A group of kids find themselves becoming unlikely heroes in an imperial conflict in a parallel dimension in the classic children’s book. The magical world of Narnia is home to many typical fantastical elements, mythical beasts, witches, and the like.

You can create your world of young warriors who, despite finding themselves in overwhelmingly outrageous circumstances, do not give up. The good residents of the parallel world train them as warriors and teach them the art of witchcraft, preparing them for the ultimate confrontation.

In addition to the above, numerous other fantasy novels are out there, such as George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series, Stephen King’s The Gunslinger series, and David Gemmell’s Waylander Saga, etc.

However, if you do not have the time or the patience to read books, here are some exciting fantasy short story prompts.

  • The son of a deceased warrior learns about the mysteries and atrocities surrounding his father’s death. He sets out to uncover the mystery and avenge his death.

The prompt has the potential to be turned into a long and interesting story. To develop a short story, you can focus on a key aspect of his vengeful journey.

  • While trekking for summer camp, your protagonist and their friends are lost in the woods. They stumble upon a cave and the remnants of an ancient structure. On further exploration, chaos ensues when they are trapped by a mythical beast slumbering deep within.

This fantastical prompt can be turned easily into a thrilling short story and can even be infused with elements of suspense & horror.

  • You are a struggling writer, having been able to publish only one book in the last 4 years. You scour libraries and bookshops for ideas and inspiration; in one particular shop, you come across an old storybook written in medieval English. You start writing stories using the prompts from the book and find out that every borrowed or inspired idea and entity materialises in the real world.

Can you craft a convincing and cohesive short story using this prompt?

Well, let’s now move on and focus on another major genre in arts and literature, drama.

Distinctively Dramatic Short Story Ideas

Drama in literature generally involves dialogues, confrontations, escalating events, climaxes, de-escalating events, resolutions, etc. Make events dramatic or even melodramatic, create tension, ramp up the emotional quotient, and compel the audience to evoke & state sides.

For your dramatic short story to take effect, you need to develop the right kind of plot and content that stirs the audience’s emotions, presents dramatic renditions of events, and allows them to visualise & feel the characters of the story. The story and plot development are crucial for making everything dramatic.

Let’s look at some awesome dramatic short story ideas.

  • An unknown person has attacked and robbed people at gunpoint for several weeks. Our protagonist is a bright young lad with a strong sense of justice and bravery. He is a college student by day but decides to sleuth around at night to find the perpetrator.

A riveting dramatic short story on this premise can be easily written with loads of suspense, investigation, confrontation, dramatic twists & turns, and a cracking climax.

  • A soldier returns from deployment to find his family torn apart by his brother’s death by a powerful criminal gang. He takes it upon himself to bring peace and justice.

There have been many movies based on this particular premise. A short story based on this prompt should focus on a pivotal event that touches upon key aspects of the plot and involves prominent characters.

  • A long-lost person has come back home all by himself. He has a lot to tell; what unfolds next will change a family forever.
  • A young man is on his way to his first job interview. He is enthused and excited but learns of horrific news on his way. How he handles this news and keeps his life from falling apart is the subject of your short story.

Writing a heavily dramatic and emotionally-poignant story with this plot is quite easy. All you have to do is develop a proper outline, think of events, interactions, & dialogues that suit the setting & can be used to relay emotions & take the story forward and introduce some strong characters.

  • A tsunami has devastated a coastal town. Our short story focuses on a man looking for his wife and child amid all the chaos and danger.

This popular and common dramatic short story idea can compel readers to feel for the characters.

  • Our protagonist has decided to find and fight back against his lost love. They will leave no stone unturned and take on the world to find the one he loves.
  • A teenage drug addict loses his mother to cancer. He is left devastated as he was high & out of his mind and could not be by her side during her last moments. He has had enough and decides to clean himself up once & for all.

Our story will revolve around his trials & tribulations and everything else he faces on his road to redemption.

And those were some quick story writing prompts for crafting interesting and engagingly dramatic short story prompts. Use them to develop interesting storylines and your own drama short story ideas.

Now, let’s have a look at another major story genre.

Short Story Ideas on Dystopian Fiction

Dystopian fiction takes place in dark, bleak, and desolate worlds. In some cases, civilisation, as we know, has fallen apart, quite like the worlds of Fallout, Mad Max, Waterworld, etc., or a different world order has taken over, and autocratic & totalitarian regimes exert absolute, oppressive control, like Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 or George Orwell’s 1984.

Dystopian short stories generally revolve around characters trying to survive, defying an oppressive regime, or looking for hope in unending desolation. Dystopian fiction must be incredibly visual to help readers comprehend society’s decay state. At the same time, they should highlight different aspects of humanity, shedding light upon our capabilities of doing both immense good and bad.

Here are a few potent short story ideas for developing quality dystopian fiction.

  •  The year is 2200. Climate change, global warming, and energy and water crisis have brought humanity to the brink of extinction. More than half of humanity is gone, governments & economy have fallen, and as the last vestiges of civilization wither away, the children of this new world suffer due to no fault of their own.

Can you craft a story that showcases the horrors of a fallen civilisation, its inhabitants, and their resilience & fight for a better future? You can make it a story about hope, a warning to the current generation, or the horrors of living in an uncivilised world.

  • AI has taken over. Humanity is on the back foot, struggling and fighting for survival. Humankind had to dispose of all modern digital technology as an AI hive mind controls them all. Things take a major turn when a particular faction of AI contacts the human militia & wishes to help them fight & broker peace. Can they be trusted?

What is the best way to take the story forward? Will the characters in your story trust these new allies, or do they think this is a ploy by incredibly intelligent machines?

  • The year 2084 witnessed the beginning of World War 3 due to a floundering global economy, dwindling resources, racism, and religious extremism.

Write a short story highlighting how the war further tears human society apart. It will be bleak, depressing, shocking, and maybe, without any happy ending.

  • You wake up in a post-modern world where society has regressed to the pre-industrial stage. High-end technologies have become precious treasures, and people have forgotten all about the marvellous achievements & knowledge of ancient times.

You are a robotic clone, a relic of the old days designed to aid humanity during dire times.

There are many ways to turn this seed of an idea into a riveting short story.

  • A totalitarian regime has an iron grip on a state and its people. Rebellion comes from the most unlikely of quarters as a section of the armed forces joins & accelerates an ongoing protest of the excessively oppressed proletariats. Even the elite openly air their support.

Your story may be about the intense retaliation of the regime, betrayal, the risks of being a rebel, etc. There’s loads of scope and many directions in which the story can progress.

  •  As resources become scarce, governments and the powers decide to implement different ways to cull the population. Every person has to prove their worth and is assigned different resources accordingly. Luxury items are banned, and every essential resource is subject to strict rationing.

Things changed when a group of workers delegated to government officials discovered that the rich and powerful were still enjoying lives of wanton excess.

  • A giant asteroid has devastated the Earth’s ecosystem. People live underground in vast vault cities. Five years after the impact, scientists, soldiers, and explorers decide to venture outside and restore human civilisation on the surface.
  • A child who has been educated as per the norms of a religious fundamentalist and autocratic government meets another from a free, liberal, and atheist society. Their discussions dig deep into the effects of the environment, education, and propaganda on developing young minds and a child’s perception & perspective on worldly matters.

Those were several unique ideas for developing interesting short stories with a dystopian world as the primary setting. If you decide to write one, remember to add information reflecting the bleakness, desolation, and dreariness of a dystopia.

Now, it is time to look at some good short story ideas for writing some awesome science fiction.

Quick Writing Prompts for Science Fiction Short Stories

The science fiction genre is another incredibly popular genre. Akin to futuristic fantasies, this genre is incredibly potent, spawned numerous sub-genres, and serves as the basis of innumerable short stories, novels, movies, video games, and the like.

Let’s dally no longer and look at some really interesting short story ideas & quick writing prompts in the science fiction genre.

  • A fleet of massive spaceships suddenly appears near Earth’s orbit. They claim to be from an incredibly advanced human civilisation with a galaxy-spanning empire & Earth is one of their long-lost colonies. Gigantic super soldiers land on the planet, and the world as we know it will never be the same.

If you have read or are a fan of Warhammer 40000, you will find similarities between its lore and this plot idea. However, there are different ways to flesh out this short story.

  • Aliens are here, but they are here to save Earth, a precious garden world that supports life. But, as expected, a section of humanity and the powers that be are not interested in listening to them.

What happens next will seal humanity’s fate?

  • A strange affliction makes children pale and strangely reclusive in a backward rural European community. Every sick child in the rural town goes missing from their house one night. The next morning, every one of those missing children is back. But there’s something off about them.

It sounds similar to The Children of the Corn’s plot, right? How can your story be different? Will you leave things vague or give some gory details about what happens to the afflicted children?

  • It is the year 3000. Dwindling resources, overpopulation, and numerous failed states & recessive economies have compelled the dissolution of borders. All of humanity now lives together under a set of strict, absolute rules.

Write from the perspective of a person who’s had enough of those oppressive rules or a proletariat or a scientist desperate to solve all of humanity’s troubles.

  • Humanity has spread across the stars. Augmented by technology left on Saturn’s Moon Titan by a long-lost alien civilisation, humanity has taken over almost every garden world within a few parsecs of the Sun.

Craft a short story about a young child of one such garden world who yearns to go to humanity’s original home but gets a rude awakening when he learns that no colony wants anything to do with Earth.

This story can be instilled with numerous dramatic elements and offers enough scope & flexibility for imaginative writers.

  • As global warming becomes more & more prominent, the frozen wastes of Siberia melt to release an incredibly deadly virus. Man’s worst nightmare comes true when the virus causes a pandemic and becomes a sentient microcosmic entity.

Only a select few are immune to this disease. How will man survive?

  • It has been a decade since an alien race invaded our planet, intending to take it over entirely. They were on the verge of extinction after their star went supernova, and Earth is the only other garden world they have discovered.

Can you write a story about an event that ushers in negotiations and gradually ends this bitter conflict?

  • Man’s faulty attempt to colonise the Moon is suddenly breaking it apart. You were on your way to the office when this disturbing news appeared online, and everyone began to notice animals & insects behaving erratically.

You should research how the Moon influences different aspects of the Earth. And your short story may dwell on everything that takes place as the Moon disintegrates.  

  • In a world where virtual simulations have become the primary media for interactions, entertainment, and even education, a techno virus has spread through all major VR systems, unbeknownst to the people to operate and maintain them.

The virus is slowly and surely brainwashing the minds of anyone who logs in with divisive propaganda.

A short story that details the origin of the virus and how overdependence on technology sealed the fate of humanity. You can spread your short story across a large timeline and end it positively or negatively.

And those were some examples of science fiction short story prompts. Hope they help you get started on that short story or novel that you have been thinking about writing for years now.

Horrifying Horror Short Story Prompts

The best short stories in the horror genre are spine-tingling works that etch a deep mark on our psyche. Short stories from masters such as Stephen King, Bram Stoker, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Peter Straub, Mary Shelley, Neil Gaiman, R. L. Stine, Ruskin Bond, Hemendra Kumar Roy, etc., are stunning examples and can serve as lessons for any aspiring horror writer. And their stories are also treasure troves of ideas and prompts.

Remember that horror need not always be supernatural. It can be psychological, involve natural or artificial disasters, or even include comedic elements.

Here are some short story ideas that can kickstart your mental faculties.

  • As an Uber driver wraps up his daily run, he picks up his last passenger from the shady area of the city. To his abject horror, the person is a terrorist belonging to a sleeper cell. He wants a trip to the city airport and will not take no for an answer.

Where will you take the story next? Can you end the story on a good note?

  • A strange fog engulfs a fishing vessel. Then, one by one, the fishermen start hallucinating and witnessing their worst fears come true.

Is it something supernatural? Or is there something else? It all depends on your imagination.

  • The protagonist’s estranged aunt has suddenly sent you a gift on your birthday that unleashes unspeakable horrors on anyone who triggers any negative emotions in the protagonist’s mind. And the person discovers how deeply she loved her younger brother (the protagonist’s father) and cared for him before she was kicked out of her house under mysterious circumstances.
  • It’s Halloween, but who’s ringing the doorbell at 1 am? And why is the dog growling and barking at the door? Then, a voice comes from the other side of the door, “Trick or Treat”. It’s a kid’s voice.

What happens if you open the door? How will you develop the story if the protagonist keeps the door closed?

  •  A wealthy family from the villages of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh just got their only son married to an affluent family. One day, a few weeks after the wedding, as their son and his wife are away on honeymoon, they receive a mysterious letter from their long-dead daughter whose foetus they had discarded all those years back.

How will the soul of an unborn child take revenge on the people who were supposed to love & guide her?

  • On its first attempt to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, an experimental lading pod veers off course. It does not burn up in the atmosphere and begins to float off into space.

Can you develop a psychological horror story with the confines of the pod as the setting? How would you keep the story short, tight, and tense & what kind of ending do you think is justified?

  • You dozed off while travelling on a bus across rural Europe. A jolt wakes you up, and you find yourself alone in the dimly lit inside of a bus, travelling nearly 80 mph on a rural highway. And, then, you find there’s no one in the driving seat.

What will our protagonist find when the bus stops? What unnatural horror has him in its grips? Can you develop a supernatural horror story that’s cohesive, terrifying, and not overtly absurd?

Here are a few more one-line prompts that can act as food for thought.

  1. A bullied teenage girl finds a book of ancient rituals and uses it to take revenge.
  • From a dedicated lover to a deranged stalker—how love and longing caused the downfall of a promising young man.
  • A group of friends witness a horrific murder and begin to follow the killer.
  • A new neighbour is a strange fellow. He moves around only in a car, lives alone, and not many people enter his house. Our protagonist wants to discover if he is hiding anything and gets the shock of a lifetime.
  • A young nanny discovers that the children she cares for hide a dark secret.
  • You are working late and the last one to leave the office building. As you make your way down, the power to the elevator curs off and you are stranded.
  • Your vacation to the Middle East turns into a nightmare as riots and religious cleansing break out.
  • A couple is driving on a lonely highway when suddenly, a truck appears out of nowhere and starts trailing them.
  • A Halloween party turns into a nightmare when many uninvited guests force their way in brandishing guns and knives.

What if the owner of the bread & breakfast you have arrived at harbours a deep dark secret?

Your daughter confides in you about a man who follows her daily when she returns from college. You accompany her the next day and are left shocked & horrified when nobody else, but your daughter, can see him.

A frenzied mob chases you and an injured girl. It is a religious riot & the crazed pack is baying for the blood of the girl who is of an opposing religion.  

Pam wakes up and starts scrolling through her phone. She is shell-shocked when she discovers pictures of her sleeping, bathing, dressing, etc.

As you make yourself comfortable in your cosy living room, you hear a knock on the door of the attached bathroom. You open the door to find blood bubbling from the tub, the basin, the commode, the shower, and the walls….

“How do you know him? He has been dead for more than 3 years!” said the old lady as you gave her the parcel and told her who asked you to give it to her.

You are probably the first person in your town to find out that vampires exist after you killed one who tried to kill you as you returned from work. Silver seems to work as you slash its throat with a silver knife that you eat with. It pays to be rich sometimes!

Someone leaves strange messages on all your social media accounts. You gradually realise that it might be the same person; however, complaints to the police and other concerned authorities are fruitless as they all say such an account does not exist!

A late-night walk turns into a nightmare for a couple as they witness the dumping of dead bodies and are then discovered & kidnapped by the criminals.

You and your friends decide to trick or treat the old lady in the dilapidated house near the edge of the town. All of you knock on the door, which opens on its own. It then abruptly shuts with a bang as you trickle in hesitantly. Then, all hell breaks loose!

There were strange & incredibly loud sounds coming from the nearby military test facility. Soon, numerous armed soldiers and vehicles make their way towards the facility. And then, the townsfolk overhear that something has escaped the base.

Those were some exciting ideas for developing different kinds of horror stories. Use the above short story ideas to conjure a chilling tale or use them to create your own horror short story prompts.

As we near the end of this write-up, it is time to look at some ideas and things to write about for a good ghost story.

Ideas & Prompts for Ghost Stories

While many may consider ghost stories a sub-genre of supernatural horror, they are not entirely correct. Ghost stories have their charm & demand & need not always be horrifying.

As will be evident from the short story topics below, short stories involving ghosts can offer much more than just a scare.

  • Jim was about to fall off the treehouse when somebody grabbed him and helped him find a footing. Was it his recently deceased grandmother who loved him with everything?
  • There’s something in the new house where the McCarthy’s moved in last week. And, it is trying to tell them something—something about a dark ritual and why no one should try to live in this house.
  • What happens when the ghost of one of your ancestors possesses one of your relatives during a family trip to an ancestral property?
  • A woman wakes up in the middle of the night upon hearing her child scream. She goes to her child’s room and finds it empty. She calls out but again hears a scream and the name of someone which she thought she would never hear again.
  • Every night, a sceptic finds someone knocking on their door and leaving letters that contain the details of accidents and other mishaps. This has been going on for quite a few weeks, and the day it stops, an accident from the letters received is shown on live tv. And, then another one occurs the next day.
  • You are a ghost but yearn to talk with a human. On your first attempt, you scare someone to near death and realise that you look scary.
  • A hitchhiker you just picked up may not be human at all. But it is too late as you are hypnotised by it and are driving in a daze. The thing asks you about your family and asks you to drive home. You have no control over your body but are subconsciously aware of everything happening.

And that finally brings us to the conclusion of this write-up. Hope all the different short story ideas & prompts within aid you in developing amazing short stories that leave the audience wanting more. Go through them once more and craft stories that amaze & inspire.

Most Popular Questions Searched By Students:

What are some unique story plots?

Here are a few unique short story plots.  

  • You are about to board the local metro when a bomb goes off. And, someone close to you has been grievously injured.
  • There’s rampant corruption in the company that you recently joined. You are the sole bread earner of your family and desperately need this job. You are doing for your aged parents, but they are the ones who have instilled a strong sense of justice in you.
  • The attic of the new house that your father bought is filled with antiques. You decide to explore it one day and then set forth a chain of events which will leave an indelible mark on your psyche.

Which is the best topic for story writing?

This is purely subjective. Different people will consider different topics to be the best for writing a short story.

How do I start a short story?

  • Start with a hook.
  • Set the tone and atmosphere early on.
  • Establish the context & setting by relaying vital contextual information.
  • Introduce the main characters.
  • Keep them guessing by adding some mystery or ambiguity.

How long is a short story?

The average length of a short story is about 7500 to 9500 words.

What makes a good short story?

Tight plot, engaging storyline, unique setting, strong characters, smooth narrative flow, proper plot & character development, unexpected twists & turns, a healthy dose of emotions, prose that compels readers to evoke – many different things work together to turn a short story into something more.

How do I come up with an idea for a short story?

Read books and different stories, watch movies & web series, read comics & play video games and, last but not least, use this article to generate unique ideas. Stories and plots are all around you; all you need to do is be perceptive and imaginative.

How do I create a compelling ending for my short story?

The ending is part of the whole story. You can’t have a good ending if the rest of your story is not up to the mark.

However, if you are confident about the rest of the story, here are some handy tactics to develop an interesting ending.

  • Make it open-ended. Leave room for interpretation.
  • Bring about a satisfactory resolution to the central conflict.
  • Try to evoke the reader’s emotions.
  • Keep things unresolved and a bit mysterious.
  • Come up with an unexpected ending but ensure it does not spoil the rest of the story, character & plot development, etc.

How do I edit and revise my short story?

Edit and revise your short story as you are writing it. Editing and revising in parallel saves time and effort later on. However, if need be, seek professional editing and proofreading services.

How do I get my short story published?

Ask your parents, teachers, professors, friends, peers, relatives, Neighbours, etc., to review your story. Listen to their feedback and make any necessary changes. Only then should you approach any publisher regarding publishing your short story. This drastically improves your chances of getting your short story successfully published.

Hi, I am Mark, a Literature writer by profession. Fueled by a lifelong passion for Literature, story, and creative expression, I went on to get a PhD in creative writing. Over all these years, my passion has helped me manage a publication of my write ups in prominent websites and e-magazines. I have also been working part-time as a writing expert for for 5+ years now. It’s fun to guide students on academic write ups and bag those top grades like a pro. Apart from my professional life, I am a big-time foodie and travel enthusiast in my personal life. So, when I am not working, I am probably travelling places to try regional delicacies and sharing my experiences with people through my blog. 

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