While writing evolves with the writer and changes its’ hues, the words gain more depth as the writer matures. Maturity here doesn’t refer to age. It can be the kind of writing and ideas one is getting exposed to, and the time one devotes to the art of writing. The short story is one of my favorite forms of writing, characterized by its brevity.
As a child, being a poor eater, I was put through a story-a-meal diet to keep me interested enough throughout the meal and thus stories became an addiction with me. One of the early influencers were Ruskin Bond, Carolyn Keene and Jeffrey Archer.Short story is perhaps one of the most difficult form of writing as well, as youdo not have the luxury of time and words to delve into the nuances of each character. It’s a tease – the short story, which tickles the readers imagination and makes him want more. It lingers through the readers mind, even after the text finishes.
Even though the thought of writing can be quite overwhelming and intimidating, there is always a method to the madness. In this article, we will explore the short-story structure and how it can help you craft your own short story. Many writers, like Sylvia Plath, began their esteemed careers by writing short stories before ‘graduating’ to novels — while others have made it their bread and butter. Short stories are often published in literary magazines or anthologies made up of entries from one or more writers. For those unfamiliar with the form, here are some stats to help you out:
- A short story is a piece of fiction typically no longer than 10,000 words.
- Most short stories are only 3,000 to 7,000, but
- Micro-fiction might be less than 500, and
- A longer “short” story might be as many as 20,000 (novellas start around 30,000 words).
The Structured Approach
A traditional short story or a novel follows the following structure:
Inciting Moment: An inciting incident is an event that hooks the viewer into the story and sets everything else that happens into motion. This moment is when an event thrusts the protagonist into the main action of the story.
Exposition: The exposition is the introduction to a story, including the primary characters’ names, setting, mood, and time.
Conflict: The conflict is the primary problem that drives the plot of the story, often a main goal for the protagonist to achieve or overcome.
Rising Action: Rising action refers to the part of the story after the characters and setting are introduced and where the events of the story begin to create suspense as the character faces conflict. The rising action of the story includes the events that help to build toward the climax of the story.
Climax or Turning Point: Climax is the highest point of tension or drama in a narratives’ plot. Often, climax is also when the main problem of the story is faced and solved by the main character or protagonist.
Falling Action: The falling action of a story is the section of the plot following the climax, in which the tension stemming from the story’s central conflict decreases and the story moves toward its conclusion.
Resolution / Denouement: The resolution, also known as the denouement, is the conclusion of the story’s plot. It’s where any unanswered questions are answered, or “loose ends are tied.”
Taking a different route
While you might not have the time to hit the number of plot points included in the traditional story structure of a full-length novel, this kind of story should still be comprised of exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, and denouement. Of course, you can always experiment with how you present these five elements when you start writing.
For instance, let your story start In Media Res— or “in the middle of things.” In other words, your story begins in the middle of the narrative, usually with some sort of crisis occurring to jumpstart your story. From there, the rising action towards the climax occurs. After the climax comes, the traditional falling action and denouement.
This structure works particularly well for short stories, as it brings readers immediately into the main conflict of the story — which is important when time is of the essence. In the end, the secret to great writing will always remain that – a secret. For David Foster Wallace, it was about fun. For Henry Miller, about discovery. Susan Sontag saw it as self-exploration.
Many literary greats anchored it to their daily routines. And yet, the answer remains elusive and ever-changing. So do explore your own secret and create your very own story. Good luck!
(Written for Storizen Magazine by Madhulika Ra Chauhan)