Short stories

A short story needs to be compelling to read and to be this it needs to be given an effective structure. Like all texts, stories also have their own basic 'recipe' called 'genre conventions'. Here is a typical story structure that will help you to keep your own story moving through different stages in a compelling way – and help make sure you don’t accidentally ramble on!

Opening

This part of your story must work to engage your reader, beginning to absorb them into your 'story-world'. You should aim to hook the reader into the story with the 'plot hook'. Whether you choose to start the story by giving the end away just like Shakespeare did in his play Romeo and Juliet; or you start in the middle of lots of action; or even with very little action at all, you will definitely need to start in a way that hooks your reader – and do so pretty quickly.

Example

Can you find the 'plot hook'?

It was a brilliant summer’s day smack in the middle of the school holidays. It was my birthday, too. I was ten. You can imagine I was feeling that life couldn’t get much better than this: warm weather, holidays, a bar of chocolate all to myself, a bunch of texts from my mates to answer, and being driven with mum and dad to Twycross Zoo. They knew just how much I loved animals and the chimps there were always my favourites. What could possibly go wrong? That day any thoughts of problems weren’t even a distant cloud on the horizon of my sunny mind.

The sentence 'What could possibly go wrong?' overlaid over a scene of a car driving in front of green hills on a sunny dayPlot hook

The 'plot hook' in this example is 'What could possibly go wrong?'.

Setting

Establish the time and place, as well as the general situation. This can also be used to help develop a suitable mood or atmosphere. It can sometimes help to use a familiar place that your reader can relate to in some way. At this stage, you need to 'set up' the story and begin to introduce the main character(s).

Fiction trigger (or inciting incident)

Use your narrator to tell of an incident or event that the reader feels will spark a chain of events. This helps make the reader feel that the story has really started. From this point, life cannot be quite the same for your main character (that is your protagonist). There is a problem that has to be faced and overcome.

The fiction trigger can be an event that really starts the story. It will develop from the 'plot hook'. If the story is about a day out at the zoo, then maybe an animal has escaped. If is about a robbery, it might be the event that makes a character consider carrying out a robbery; and if it is about an accident, it will be the event that causes it to happen.

Keeping up the momentum (plot development or rising action)

This section builds the tension – keeps the reader absorbed and guessing where it all will lead.

This is where you will move the story forward and will use lots of techniques to keep the reader guessing, 'What will happen next?!'

Climax

The problem reaches a head, with suspense creating lots of tension for the reader– showing the reader the possible result of what has come before.

This is not the end of your story – not quite. It will be the key event but your protagonist will, somehow, overcome it and all will be well.

Conclusion (the resolution)

This must leave your reader with a sense of satisfaction, or it could be a twist in the tale leaving questions that linger in the mind.

This is the ending of your story – where all loose ends are tied up to the satisfaction of the reader. A good story will cause the reader to go, 'Hmm – I liked that' or even 'Wow'

By following this story structure, and planning under each of the above headings, you should be able to come up with a tense plot for your own story, one that will engage and absorb your reader.