We’re always being told to write what we know but doesn’t that sound the teensiest bit boring?
Still, unless you have a lot of time for research, mining your own experiences can be useful…if you go about it in the right way.
Write a list of things you know about. Pick one. Give that knowledge to a character.
Dig deep as you make your list. Consider all the arcana of your brain’s storehouses. Don’t discount very, very specific things like “growing up one street across from an elite military academy’s live-fire training grounds, in the 1970s” or “spending vacations in an apartment over my uncle’s store”.
Pick something from the middle of your list. The first will be too obvious and everyday (therefore the story will not excite you) and the last one will be too weird, because you were clutching at straws. That one would require too much research and then your short story would never be written (or would demand to become a novel).
Consider what kind of character you can give this experience to. Will the wnjoy it? Hate it? Grow up to try to hide it only to have it become important (remember Clarice in “The Silence Of The Lambs” trading secrets about her backwoods upbringing to buy Hannibal Lector’s assistance?)
Consider giving your character a sidekick to impress/show off for/frighten/lie to.
What does your character want? How can this specialist knowledge help/hinder in their quest. What would they do/never do? What do they need? Where are they at the start and the end of your story (metaphorically and physically).
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My Facebook feed and RSS reader are full of posts from angst-ridden parents who already—three days in—hate their stupid Elf On The Shelf[1. A craze that took off a couple of years ago and is like the Tooth Fairy crossed with an advent calendar, and a nightmare for parents].
Imagine a character who is trapped in a situation beyond their control for a finite amount of time. Write their story.
What is the situation and why is it so torturous for THIS particular character?
How do they react on Day 1. How does that change by Day 15?
What is the crisis point? What brings things to a head?
What hilarious (or terrifying) events happen at the climax?
What fallout does this have for the character and the people around him/her?
What lessons are learned at the end? What vows are made?
Think about something that drives YOU crazy. Create a character who is also driven crazy by this thing, but make them more extreme. Amplify everything. Make the lows lower than they ever get for you. Make the highs higher.
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