Do you wish to try your hand at writing a short story? You are at the right place. This article, besides providing you with suggestions on how to structure a short story, will also offer short story collections to delve right into.
A kind of short story collection that will give you the confidence of conjuring one in your mind (if you haven’t already) and enable you to write an interesting, engaging, and a wonderful short story.
In the literary world and the publishing world, a short story is always referred to as Fiction. Short stories are rather difficult to write because they require a compact and incisive narrative technique. But that does not mean that you cannot experiment with your plot(s). It, in fact, gives you the freedom to plot your story in a way that you see your dreams.
Just like your dreams contain a precise and concise detail, a short story too will have details burgeoning in it but with a masterful clarity and precision. Before I touch upon how to structure a short story, let me begin with how to plot one.
How to Plot a Short Story
Plotting a short story does not require you to jot down a full-scale, encompassing list of plot points. It may be as simple as putting a dream you saw and remembered vividly on the paper. However, that exercise alone may prove to be exhausting. But do not worry. I’ll have some significant and concrete ways drawn out for you to learn how you can plot a short story.
1. Brainstorm: One solid concept and your plot is 90% ready. You do not have to delve into varied arrays of plot ideas. All that a short story takes is one concrete concept on what you so desperately want to write about. If you still do not get an idea, use short story prompt generators. Know your characters, the setting, the dialogues.
Plot your short story around the most arresting and captivating childhood memory of yours, or when you got your first favorite gift, or about someone who fought to be their lover, or about a psychotic serial killer who falls in love with a nun. There are plenty of ideas your dreams, your surroundings, a conversation between two strangers, a bus-ride can give you.
2. Draw out the Central Conflict: The rising action of your short story comes from the main conflict in the plot you conjured or chose. And how you create it? By understanding what your main character desires the most and how he can not have it until he can.
This will entail the tension and movement in the plot, and then eventually in your short story. Remember that the conflicts are both external and internal. There may be an antagonist barring your protagonist from reaching his goal, or there may be the protagonist’s own feelings hindering his process of achieving his objective. The point of conflict will solely depend on what the character wants, and what sort of problems he faces to get it.
3. Outline your Story: Draw out the outline- the flow between the events, characters’ interactions with each other, the major events in the story, the event of climax, etc. A briefness in the information of everything constitutes a good outline of a short story. Put in the important points of the backstory in the outline so that you have a clear picture of how you will proceed with writing the short story.
4. Which Point-of-View to Use: There’s no hard and fast rule for which Point-of-View should you write your short story in. However, mostly short stories work best in the first person. Since it’s a short story, it has to immediately connect with the reader. The readers are instantly engaged when the narrator directly tells them the story. And that means a short story may work well in second-person or third-person as well. A short story tends to revolve around one character. It’s always best to have a narrative focusing on that character so that the reader is not confused or disengaged.
Basically, the best way to describe a plot is-
- An Inciting incident
- The Character
- The Obstacle
- The Quest
“When an inciting incident happens to the main character, he/she has to overcome the obstacle (conflict) and complete the quest.” – Brando Skyhorse.
How to Structure a Short Story
Now that we have understood how we can plot our short story, it’s time for actually beginning to write one. It’s always best to structure a short story in a determined format. But it is not at all mandatory for every writer to follow a certain pattern.
“Any kind of structure or plan is better than having none.” – Dr. Bushra Rahmani
I shall discuss here 2 types of Structures you can format your story into.
- The Beginning is where you set up your characters, their relationships, their wants, and desires.
- The Middle where the plot reaches its climax. Where the characters are either close to reaching their goal or they have achieved it by now. They have encountered the antagonist in this portion, fought with them, failed a little, and then eventually succeeded.
- The End is when the plot is resolved. It’s basically when the main character has defeated his/her enemy (antagonist) and reached a resolution. It’s where the story ends with either a happy ending or the right ending.
Five-Act Structure of a Short Story
Ancient Roman Lyric Poet Horace had devised a 5-act structure in Ars Poetica wherein he advised about how to effectively write and structure drama and poetry. Specifically arguing that a drama should never be longer or shorter than 5 acts, Horace introduced the 5-act structure of novels or short stories.
It wasn’t until Gustav Freytag, German Playwright, in 1863 introduced the Freytag Pyramid to demonstrate the 5 acts in the structure of a story. And here is how it goes:
1. Exposition: It contains all the background, and the setting of the story, the introduction of the main character, and what he desires. Above all, the exposition contains the inciting incident which sets the story into motion. The inciting incident requires resolution and it from there on produces the tension.
2. Rising Action: All the conflicts, both external and internal, the obstacles, and the problems are thrown on the protagonist’s path for him to make his/her way out of it and resolve the inciting action.
3. Climax: The turning point of the story is here. The climax is where there is tension is the thickest and most intense. It’s the doing or dying situation for the protagonist in the story, for instance, Harry Potter has held onto Lord Voldemort’s head and challenges him to ‘finish it together’.
4. Falling Action: The climax is now finished and the storm has passed. All the tension is released here and the characters have now reached their goal like, Harry Potter has defeated Lord Voldemort with the Expelliarmus charm.
5. Dénouement: It’s the ending of the story, where all the conflicts have been resolved, all the obstacles have been surpassed and dealt with. This is where the reader heaves a sigh of relief that Harry Potter has now broken the Elder Wand and thrown it away.
Besides this 5-Act structure based on Freytag’s Pyramid, Anne Lamott speaks about the craft of writing in her book Bird by Bird explaining a 5-act structure to a short story which goes like:
A (Action) that the story begins with action- with either the narrator or the character doing something.
B (Background) That includes the background and the setting of the story, the characters.
D (Development) This is where the story begins to develop, the character begins to attempt to resolve by fighting off the obstacles.
C (Climax) It’s the stage of a showdown where the main character’s goal and life are at stake.
E (Ending) This is the moment of resolution, where everything resolves, the protagonist achieves his/her goal, all the conflicts have been solved.
Before you set to writing a short story of your own, give yourself some reading exercise. Following is the collection of 6 best short stories of the decade (2010-2020).
Read them to find out how you want to proceed with writing your short story.
1. Birds In The Mouth by Samanta Scheblin
In ‘Birds In The Mouth’ the narrator is a father who worries about his 13-year-old daughter’s mysterious appetite for eating live birds.
2. The Graveless Doll Of Eric Mutis by Karen Russel:
‘The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis’ focuses on a group of teenagers who come across a scarecrow tied to a tree. The scarecrow looks frighteningly similar to a young boy they used to bully.
3. The School by Donald Barthelme
“The School” is a dark comedic fable that makes the reader not just laugh but think about the contradictions and the wrong customs of our society. The entire story happens in one small second grade classroom in elementary school.
4. The Swan As Metaphor For Love by Amelia Gray
Amelia’s story is precisely what the title suggests. The author dismantles all the misconceptions people have about the romantic abilities of swans and makes us believe how they are an apt metaphor for love.
5. The Bastard by Patrick Dewitt
The protagonist ‘Bastard’ is a con-man who is motivated by bragging rights and money. He can become whoever he needs to be. His specialties are confidence, intuition, and research.
6. The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt
The Dark Dark is a story of being a woman, of becoming someone else, and realising that you’ve lost yourself. The Dark Dark talks about a female body and how it transforms and turns into endless new versions.
It can prove to be a headache to bring out a well-structured, well-constructed short story. But keep at it. Remember to write it, develop the characters, address the emotions in the readers, and give it a satisfying ending. A short story is just perfect to begin your writing career with and structuring it well gives it the shape it deserves.
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