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by Stu Noss

The Key Characteristics of a Short Story Plot

The plot of a short story normally contains 5 key characteristics;

1) You must have a plot and by that we mean a series of events or character ‘actions’ that relate to the central conflict of the story (that needs resolving in one way or another)

2) You need a central conflict to be going on in your story. Normally your main character (or characters) are on one side of this conflict and are seeking some form of resolution. The main character will always struggle against those on the other side, be they other characters, forces of nature, society or a way of thinking (to name a few).

3) Within all of this there must be a central theme to the story. A theme is the main idea or belief that either motivates the characters or is a part of the outcome (and thus probably the moral to the story).

4) Setting is crucial for all of this. Have a clear sense of time and place is extremely important for both the reader to imagine the events you present and for the writer to contextualize their plot, theme and conflict within. The sights, smells and seasons of a short story provide the setting in which the characters exist and operate within.

5) Lastly, but perhaps most important, we have characters. A story wouldn’t be a story without them. These are the people, animals or entities that take part in the story and are trying to seek some for of outcome or resolution to the conflict that forms your plot. Their motivation is driven by the theme and the environment they exist within is of course your setting.

A Great Example of the 5 Characteristics at work:

So lets give you an example to contextualize all of this.

In his recent short story ‘Cake or Pie or Timmy’, Stephen Schwegler follows all 5 short story rules.

  • He has two central characters that are cats, with other minor characters in the cat Timmy and the Doberman dog plus the unseen characters of the humans the cats live with.
  • His setting is the apartment and neighbourhood that the cats live within.
  • The plot is kept simple; the cats are off to raid a neighbours for pie. Will they succeed?
  • The central conflict is two-fold. Will they be able to overcome the dog and get the pie plus should they divert their attentions and go save Timmy from the well instead?
  • Which leaves use with the central theme to the story – should self-interest overrule doing the right thing and helping those less fortunate than ourselves, even if it means we have to give up or lose out on the thing we really want?

So as we can see, structuring a short story doesn’t have to be overly complex or massively diverse. It can be kept simple yet remain hugely effective (we do love cake or Pie or Timmy here at Solqu Shorts!)

The Future of the Short

Of course the short story is a young and fluid thing. It is constantly evolving in form and style. So having a little understanding of its evolution can also help you develop the short story into a format that works for you.

So why not also have a read of our sections on;

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One thought on “How to Create a Short Story Plot

  1. Pingback: Defining the Short Story « SolQu Shorts

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