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Sunday, March 18, 2018

ABCDE Short story structure

cj Sez: Since yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, I’m sending all of you my wish that the Luck o’ the Irish (includes health, happiness, love, success…all the good things) continues with you throughout 2018.  

I’ve taken to writing more short stories recently and find myself referring to the following notes for guidance and reassurance that I’m on the right track. I’ve posted about this before, but perhaps you’re new to the process, and the notes will help you as well.

The first thing I do is put a copy of Anne Lamott’s ABCDE structure of a short story within eyesight:

Action—Start with something happening to draw the reader into the story. 
Background—Provide context for readers to understand how the characters came to the current situation
Conflict—The characters must want something they don’t have and work to achieve it (sometimes against each other)
Development—The 70-80 percent of the story describing the characters’ struggles to get what they want. Each time it appears they have the goal within reach, give them something more difficult to overcome until they reach the climax  (cj Sez: That’s the part where you get them up a tree and throw rocks at them.)
Ending—What happens after they reach their goal. In a romance, the hero and heroine realize their “happily-ever-after”. In a mystery or thriller, all the loose ends are tied up. In a literary story, the ending may be rather ambiguous.

I merge Ms. Lamott’s guidelines with a ton of writing tidbits I’ve cobbled together from how-to workshops and essays. And this is what I’ve learned (and a lot of this applies to novels as well)…

Short stories are about ONE thing, so start as close to the central action as possible, and I find that to be close to the end.

Try to let the setting help reveal the character and advance the plot. This is where a deep point of view can reveal internal character through reactions to setting.

In a short story, every line should (probably must) serve more than one purpose.

Every character needs to want something, even if it’s only to be left alone so s/he can take a nap.

Make the reader care about your main character. Snappy dialogue, beautiful settings, or surprising plot twists won’t keep your readers turning the pages if your main character is boring or unlikable. They need someone to root for.

That being said, all great characters have flaws—something that readers recognize or sympathize with. You don’t have space in a short story for paragraph-long character descriptions. This is where less is more, necessarily. One significant detail can tweak the imagination, and a complete character is formed in the reader’s mind. This is the character that can lead the reader to an unexpected twist ending, perhaps best exemplified by the master of twisted endings, William Sydney Porter (O. Henry).
A story with a moral appended is like the bill of a mosquito. It bores you, and then injects a stinging drop to irritate your conscience.Strictly Business by O. Henry 
Okay, all you short-story writers, is there something I’ve missed that you’ve found helpful?

That’s it for this post. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.

By the by, Adams Media has closed the Crimson Romance imprint. My books are currently still available on Amazon, but I’m on the hunt for another publisher for my next novels. Wish me luck.

Short romance stories in:
      Pieces Anthology 20+ short stories by Mobile Writers Guild
    The Posse a Western anthology of 8 short stories
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  1. Replies
    1. cj Sez: Happy you found something in this post. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Great advice! The only thing I might add is to ground the readers at the beginning of each scene, so they'll know where they are, when it is, who is there, and add as many relevant sensory sensations as you can.

    1. cj Sez: Exactly right, Kaye, and get as many of those five senses in a scene as possible. 'Preciate the addition to the post. I'm sure other readers will as well.


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