So you want to write a short story, but you can't think of an idea. Is that what's troubling you today, Bunkie?
I have a suggestion. Specifically, here's a writing exercise that might help you out.
I assume you read a lot of short stories. (If you aren't reading what you want to write you are doing it wrong.)
So, the next time you are really enjoying a story, stop reading halfway through.
Painful? You need to know what happens! How does it end?
Good question. So sit with it a while. What happens next? Is there a twist? Does the protagonist get what she wants? Work it out in your head. Maybe write a paragraph or two.
Once you have decided how the plot is going to turn out, go ahead and finish reading the story. Did you guess the ending? If so, bravo to you for your discernment.
But if you guessed wrong - congratulations! Now you have a story idea.
I'm not suggesting you should copy the first half of the original. There's a name for that and it rhymes with "majorism."
But you can build on the original idea and take it in a new direction.
For example: Mensje van Keulen wrote a story called "Devil's Island," which appeared in Amsterdam Noir. The narrator's friend can't get over his break-up with a girlfriend. One evening in a nightclub he says "I'd sell [the devil] my soul if he'd make Martha come back to me. And then a stranger arrives, asking for a light for his cigarette...
It's a fine story and made my best of the year list. But the key thing is that I thought I knew how it would end. Turned out I was wrong.
But just because van Keulen didn't use the ending I dreamed up didn't mean it was not worth using. So I wrote a story about an actor, sitting in a nightclub and complaining that an upcoming movie has a part that would be perfect for him, but he can't even get a try out. "I'd sell my soul for a chance," he declares.
And up pops a helpful stranger. "Call me Nick…"
My story, "The Fourth Circle," is in the current, May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.
Here's another example, which I wrote about here last year. Janice Law wrote a story called "The General," about a deposed dictator who fears he is losing the love of his son.
I guessed wrong as to where Janice was leading and that gave me the idea for "Worse Than Death," about a dictator very much in power, whose son is kidnapped.
You get the idea. Will the exercise work for you? Beats me. If you try it, let me know.