I write a lot of short stories. Some people ask me how I come up with all those ideas. I’ve found all that’s needed is a situation, which of course includes a character or two, and a small detail. My latest story involves a vacuum cleaner salesman who dupes old women into buying a vacuum—the premise—and paperclips—the small detail. I don’t outline, so when giving some background about the woman who helps the older woman get her money back from the vacuum cleaner company, I mention that at work the younger woman had to undo the paperclips her boss had strung together. I have no idea why I came up with that, but it was, to me, a fun detail, so I kept it. And I was able to tie the whole story together at the end with those paperclips. Very tidy.

So, I suggest trying that. I didn’t realize until just a while ago how well this trick can work. I used it in my novel, ORGANIZED TO DEATH, with a candy bar. I had my protag, Tina, stop for gas and buy a candy bar, which she forgets about as things get hectic. A couple of days later, I needed her to go outside for a nasty encounter with a bad guy, and I used the missing candy bar to get her out there. She hasn’t eaten in a while, she’s hungry, remembers it, but can’t find it in her purse. She figures it must have fallen out of her purse in the car. I had no idea I’d need that candy bar later in the story. I never know what detail I’ll be able to use later. If they become too numerous, it’s easy enough to take them out later. But they can also add veracity to the story all on their own.

I’m going to be doing this more consciously as I write. Try it; see if it works for you.


  1. Jan,

    I like the idea a lot. Stories and books that are vague in their details don’t ring true. Reality is loaded with small details of everyday life that can become important pieces of description in a plot.

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