Short story structure demands that you abandon all ideas of forming your own brand of storytelling. The rules are very simple: comply to the form that sells, or you don’t sell.
Short story structure has been around since the beginning of time. You can read short stories in the Bible and on cave walls. They all have the same structure; so don’t try to reinvent the wheel.
Every short story has a theme – that invisible thread that runs from beginning to end, delivering a silent message to the reader. For example, Moby Dick wasn’t about hunting whales. It was about revenge. Gone With the Wind wasn’t about love. It was about Scarlet O’Hara’s manipulation and control and how it led to her devastation.
So – what is your story about? When you know the overall theme, think of the middle scene – the plot. What will be the one scene that will turn the whole story? Get that firmly in your mind, take notes on it, and then head your whole story toward that objective.
Every story must have conflict, and without it, you are dead in the water. What is your conflict? There are five kinds:
· Man vs. man – any kind of man, woman, or child conflicting with anyone else
· Man vs. nature – any kind of conflict where man battles nature, whether it be a storm or wild animal
· Man vs. self – I advise new writers to stay away from this one. It deals with a man, woman or child battling with themselves. It is difficult to bring this kind of story to a good resolution.
· Man vs. society – man, woman or child battling with peers, groups, society, organizations, authority, etc.
· Man vs. machine – fantasy stories with aliens or machines
Where to Begin:
Don’t begin at the beginning. For example, opening a story with a normal scene no longer works. Today’s readers are an action-oriented group that bases their entertainment on electronic toys, fast-paced movies, and faster paced stories, so start your first paragraph with gripping action. It can be part of a flashback, or even the middle of a scene.
Editors are buying third person (he, she) in past tense these days, so don’t write a story in first person unless the magazine you have in mind requires first person.
Be sure you include characterization, which is another whole lesson, but you should write out a list of 50 things describing your two leading characters – what they like, what they think, where they came from, physical description, etc.
Every story must have dialog. If you don’t think you can write believable dialog (or even if you do), go to a restaurant and eavesdrop. Take notes. Eavesdrop everywhere you go. It may not be polite, but it is the best teacher available.
If you are interested in writing, you can do it, because writing is a learned skill. Get out that pen and paper, typewriter, or computer and get started. Good luck! See below for more writing tips.