Short stories. What are they? Where do they come from? How do you write one? What do they look like? The most common questions on the internet about short stories. Now, I’m no professional, but I have learned a few things when it comes to short stories and that’s what today’s post is about. So, if you’re interested in learning, or perhaps refreshing yourself on the plot structure of a short story then stick around and see what I have to share with you today!
Disclaimer: “The content mentioned in today’s post is merely just my advice on the topic and what method I use. You are free to take what you choose from my advice. I am not trying to limit you to this specific method, just hopefully giving you another useful insight on this topic.” 🙂
At the moment, I am working on a short story called ‘A Semester with You’ and thought I would share what I have learned about writing a short story, so without further ado, let’s get down to the topic of today.
Before I break into the plot structure of a short story, I’d like to share with you the three common characteristics of a short story:
- Short stories are generally shorter than a novel and range between 500 – 10,000 words.
- Usually based in one setting and covers a short period of time.
- Most commonly the story focuses on one main plot with a limited cast of characters.
The above is something to keep in mind as you plan your short story, but please don’t ever feel limited to these features. Remember they are characteristics, not boundaries. If you feel your story growing, follow it and see what it becomes. Never force a story to be something it is not.
The Plot Structure of a Short Story
The purpose of a short story is to take the reader on a journey, where they’ll discover a new world and a family of characters that are facing an interesting conflict, and what these characters do to overcome this in a short period of time, remember this isn’t a novel so they don’t have the same luxuries and this includes time.
Above is the structure I use to plot out my short stories. I find this method to be simple but a powerful way of planning a story as well as an easy to follow method. Below I will go into more details on each segment.
EXPOSITION: This is the beginning of the story. In this segment, important characters are introduced, the setting is presented and we get to see the current life of our protagonist. A question is commonly asked at this point, but the protagonist can’t find the answer just yet. We may also see the conflict that is bothering our protagonist.
RISING ACTION: In this segment, we see the problem play out and we also see some sort of action and reaction from our protagonist. In my opinion, this should be the most exciting part of the story because we are able to challenge the protagonist and see how far we can push him/her until they break.
CLIMAX: This is where our protagonist finally faces up to the problem that has been holding them back. Here we must see some action from the character(s), it can’t be fate that decides how the climax turns out. It has to come from the character.
FALLING ACTION: Every action must have consequences and this is where we see the aftermath of the climax. What happened once our protagonist took action and faced the problem? That’s for you to decide.
RESOLUTION: Finally, we reach the answer to the question we asked in the exposition. The reader discovers the life of the protagonist once the problem has been dealt with. Is he/she better off now than what they were at the start of the story?
And that is really all the elements that are needed in planning a short story. Once you include these then you have successfully planned out a short story that readers will find both interesting and easy to follow.
How I Plan my Short Stories
When I sit down to write a short story I always ask myself “What do I want to write about?” then I simply brainstorm a blur of possible themes and characters that interest me.
Once I figure out the root of my story, I give myself three days to mentally think it over. This will allow me to work out who my characters are, how I can make a problem into a menacing conflict, where I want the story to be based, but most importantly, who is my main character(s) and why them? Sometimes I can work all this out on the first or second day and if that’s the case, I don’t waste time. I start scene dumping!
I agree. The name ‘scene dumping’ could do with some work, but it basically describes to a T what I am doing at this stage. I open up a blank word document and begin writing any scenes that come to mind. Each of these scenes is simple and not too in-depth, which I find allows me to think of the next scene faster. This usually does take another day or two because I’m not just thinking about the plot. I’m also looking at my characters and finding out who they are and what makes them tick.
When I am happy with my characters and I believe that I have enough scenes to make up a story, I get out my index cards and summarize each scene on a blank card. This allows me to play around with the plot and discover what works and what doesn’t. This is where I use the method I explained above to sort out my scenes into the correct segments.
Eventually, I’ll find the correct order of my scenes and start work on an outline for my short story. In my outline I would go into more detail about each scene, listing what happens, any dialogue I feel I need to include and the characters in each scene. Once I have this completed, I’m finally ready to write the first draft of the story!
I hope this information was of use to you reader and that I have motivated you to write that short story you were initially thinking about writing. If you feel that I have missed something, then do please leave a comment on this post and share your thoughts.
Thank you and happy writing!