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I'm a great lover and a modest consumer of the short story genre.

But I've precious little experience writing fiction.

A line just popped into my head while listening to music and working problem in mathematics, and this just might be the thing that finally gets me started putting pen to paper:

Delete the people, keep the math and jazz.

It's sort of in the same spirit as the famous "So long, and thanks for all the fish" in that someone is ending our world and commenting on what is or isn't worth saving. It could be that the Earth is being destroyed, or that someone is going to click "exit" on the simulation that we live in.

It also reminds me of (and probably comes from) those immortal words "Leave the gun, take the canoli."

What are good ways to approach organizing my thoughts and collecting the various ways I can see the situation getting here so that I don't loose anything and yet somehow converge on a readable short story?

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You’ve a start at an idea. And, as you’ve recognized an idea isn’t a story.

The term for the next step is Pre-writing. The web is full of differing processes and ideas on this subject. One process that works for me is to generate associations that are induced by the idea. These associations are grouped in loosely logical categories like Theme, Causes + Consequences, and Costs and Potentials.

I think themes are self explanatory. List out what themes your idea suggests to you.

Causes + Consequences: Is a list of events or needs that must be met in order for this idea to be the best situation or solution to a problem. Also, list what are the consequences of the idea being the best situation.

Costs and Potentials: Is a list of what is lost and gained by this idea. It can be hard to shift this out separately from the previous group. I think of these as more how peoples lives are impacted by the idea — for the good and the bad. And the previous grouping might be considered historical or large scale social drivers.

With this sort of mind map laid out before. Imagine yourself or a character living in this world built by your idea. People want things, so what are the things you or yours character could want that create the maximum conflict in their lives. This works in both the positive and negative sense. The basic idea is that interesting stories come from people being frustrated/prevented/challenged from try to get or perform the actions they want to perform and how they deal with the fall out from trying and failing or trying and succeeding.

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    This is quite helpful; believe it or not making the story interesting to others hadn't even occurred to me :-)
    – uhoh
    May 24 at 3:49
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    @uhoh, maybe I've been going at this all wrong for years. Not trying to make my stories interesting might have made writing a lot easier
    – EDL
    May 24 at 16:19

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