Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Art of the Short Story

How on earth can someone write a good short story in the short time available in either the Junior or Leaving Cert English exam? It's a herculean task but a few basic rules can definitely help and here they are summarised as best as I could:

A Short Story in 5 Easy Steps

1.    Introduction:
Establishing setting and characters.
a.     Describe the place where your story begins.
b.     What is life like for people there?
c.      Give the year/month/season/time of day or night.
d.     Who are your main characters? Give them names.

2.    Trigger:
Kick-start your story with something surprising…
a.     An event out of the control of the protagonist
b.     Reveal some interesting facts about your characters so the reader cares about them in some way.

3.    Development:
Develop the plot with some of the following options:
a.     A problem to solve
b.     Conflict between characters
c.      A quest
d.     Have your characters grow or develop in some way.

4.    Climax
Build up the tension to a dramatic climax
a.     Have main characters have to make a critical choice
b.     This is the highest point of drama in the story

5.    Resolution
Bring the story to an end with a satisfactory resolution:
a.     Have a reversal in the fortune of the main characters
b.     Resolve conflict or problem
c.      Give the reader a sense of a proper ending
d.     Have a surprising twist that catches the reader off guard.

Why does this formula work?  Well if you break down most of the stories we read/watch on a regular basis you'll find similar patterns at play - Here's my favorite writer, Kurt Vonnegut, talking about The Shape of Stories:

That's not to say you can't throw the rule-book out if you want to - but at least know the rules before you break them!

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