Writing Mini-Lessons: How to Write Compelling Fiction, Short Story Structure
“I believe you have constructive accidents en route through a novel only because you mapped a clear way.
If you have confidence that you have a clear direction to take, you always have confidence to explore other ways . . .
The more you know about a book, the freer you can be to fool around. The less you know, the tighter you get.”
~ John Irving
“Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it’s work….
Belief and reader absorption come in the details:
An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned
neighborhood can stand for everything.”
~ Stephen King
Over the course of the year, you have read and heard a variety of short stories and novels. You may have noticed that short stories are unique in that they are compact: they must do all the work of a novel in a small space.
The writer of short fiction must be complete and concise, while being sure to do the following:
- Engage the reader
- Introduce and develop the main character
- Describe or imply a setting
- Create action that introduces and develops the problem faced by the main character
- Develop the plot and problem toward a climax/high point
- Show the main character changing
- Resolve the problem—even if the resolution is that the problem is unresolvable
As a writer of fictional narrative, your task will be to follow the aforementioned patterns that are the key characteristics of excellent short fiction. The short story structure listed below is the basis for all fictional narrative, regardless of sub-genres (i.e., historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, etc.).
Short Story Structure
- Create a narrative lead: show the main character in action, dialogue, or reaction.
- Introduce the main character’s character.
- Introduce the setting: the time, place, and relationships of the main character’s life.
- Introduce and develop the problem the main character is facing.
- Develop the plot and problem toward a climax, e.g., a decision, action, conversation, or confrontation that shows the problem at its height.
- Develop a change in the main character, e.g., an acknowledgment or understanding of something, a decision, a course of action, a regret.
- Develop a resolution: how does the main character come to terms—or not—with his or her problem?