Hard-pressed to find a short story idea? Look no further than the How-To genre. Offering simple directions for accomplishing specific tasks, How-To articles provide an ideal starting point for your next short story. They begin with a problem and end with a solution – the perfect short story arc.
A cursory review of How-To articles currently floating around the internet turned up the following:
1) How-To Find Love on Twitter
2) How-To Train Your Cat to Use the Toilet
3) How-To Lose 200 lbs. in 200 Days
Each one of these is a prompt for a story waiting to be told. The trick to crafting a good How-To story is to select the right article, one that meets the following three criteria:
1) the topic must be interesting
2) the topic must be doable
3) the topic must be somewhat complex
Consider the following ideas:
1) How-To Carve a Potato – this fails the first criterion. Nobody cares. Anybody who wants to do this already knows how.
2) How to Make Kittens – this fails the second criterion. It is not doable, unless you’re a cat, so there’s no point in writing it. Cats are poor readers.
3) How to Make Orange Soda by Combining Orange Juice and Club Soda - this fails the third criterion. There is no complexity to it.
So what works? The following titles are up for grabs. If you like one or more of them, go for it. Just remember me come holiday time.
1) How-To Make Toothpaste from a Mango
2) How-To Erase Wrinkles Using Just a Crock Pot and a Garage Door Opener
3) How-To Protect Your Pet from Identity Theft
Here’s an example of a successful How-To piece that meets all three criteria. It’s interesting, doable, and complex enough in these tough economic times. It was a story waiting to be told.
How to Buy Vodka in a Recession
“I don’t have a lot of money,” I told the liquor store clerk. He knows me; we go way back. “But that doesn’t mean I’m willing to sacrifice on quality.”
“How much do you have?”
I held up a handful of coins. “$2.34”
He reached for a miniature bottle of Smirnoff. “This is the best I can do.”
“No.” I shook my head. “It’s really too small. What else do you have?”
“Nothing, nothing at all, except … no.”
He sighed and pulled a liter bottle from under the counter. The label was Russian. “I don’t know if you’re ready. It’s made from turnips.”
“What’s it like?”
“It’s a low-born vodka, sullen with a harrowing finish. It’s the kind of tipple you’d want along on a cold November morning if you were stripping wallpaper in Minsk.”
I did the math. “I’ll take two.”