Writing Short Stories

Updated April, 2003

One of the things I need to do is to get into the habit of writing. Back in 1999 I set out a goal of writing a 1,000-word short story each day (not worrying about how good it was). That goal never got off the ground, but I found the file where I started and decided to at least start some of the process.

So here is a list of efforts/comments on this process:

What makes up a Short Story?

A list of Situation/Complication/Resolution Ideas

Short Story Structure

So what is a short story? Traditionally there are five primary elements:

Situation -- what is the problem, the thing that makes it more important than run-of-the-mill life? The exposition includes a description of the characters and the situation. The plot details the events making up the story, telling how the protagonist main character resolves the situation.

Complications -- what happens when the protagonist tries to resolve the situation? His efforts, or those of others, introduce complications. Nothing in a story is easy like it is in real life. There may be an antagonist. The action will rise, complications will tie the knot that must be untied to reach the resolution.

Climax -- what is the high point of the story, the time/place when the crisis is reached? This may not be when the situation is resolved, but it must be very close in the story.

Resolution -- what results from the actions of the protagonist to reach resolution? This element in the story identifies how, when, where, but mostly what happens to resolve the situation. This must be the result of something from the protagonist, else the protagonist is useless.

Anticlimax -- what happens after the climax and resolution? Anything after that point is anticlimactic, and though it may be of use in some situations, it should be kept as small as is reasonable.

Other factors to consider in a short story are its length (2,000 words or shorter is typical, though it may range from 200 to 10,000 words), the contrast in its characters (conflicts, different names, imagery, etc), and purpose of the story (it could be to mystify, shock, amuse, inform, entertain, or anything else that induces an emotional response in the reader -- who is the audience?).

Situations/Complications/Resolution Ideas

Below are some ideas for short stories. Some of these are reworks of short pieces I listed on the website previously.

Some time ago I wrote a little piece called "The Young Devil and the Fiddlers Convention (version #1)." My cousin Roseanne said it was not clear who I was writing it for. In review I believe it lacks the structure of a Short Story.

The next piece was in my novel Memphis 7.9 but I removed it (I think -- check on that). I offered two versions: the first in past tense and the second in present tense. Which do you prefer, "Stop at Carson City (Past Tense)" or "Stop at Carson City (Present Tense)"?

The next piece tells of how some people view disaster when it strikes. I just call this one "New Madrid." It has been updated to the present tense as well.

And I am adding a new piece from the novel of a technical nature, describing something about how an earthquake begins. Just call it "The Start."


Wolf and the RC Cars

Our son, Michael, and his family joined us at Lake Minden TTN for Saturday afternoon. The heat of the day died slowly as the sun set over the lake, and the temperature finally reached a level suitable for a short walk. The time had come to tempt Wolf with the Remote Control cars.

"I'm the one who brought all the batteries, so why can't I use them?" Rebecca, our twelve year old grand-daughter, had made arrangements to bring the remote control racing car early in the week, preparing all the supplies and handling all the logistics. She topped off the charge in the batteries.

"It's my car. I want to drive it!" Matthew, her fifteen year old brother, suddenly intrigued by the attention given the RC car by Wolf, changed his mind about the value of the toy and attempted to exercise his primary rights of ownership, usurping his earlier agreement with Rebecca. He reached for the controls, ready to yank them from his sister's grasp.

"Matt!" Their father intervened loudly, sounding much like his father of twenty-five years ago. "You told Becca she could use the car. Now let her at least run through the first battery."

Our son.... . . (well, it is an interesting story and I may finish it some day.)


[Return to the Writing Log Page]