Short Story Guide

800 words = moment in time

1300-2000 words = one concept explored

2000-3000 words = multiple plot lines, strong plot

First person perspective beats third person perspective for immersion.

Main cast: Protagonist, Side-kick, Antagonist (use distinct names)

Stick to thumbnail sketches of characterization, given as soon as possible: Mannerisms, quirks, behavior that stands out. Draw the character within 3 to 4 paragraphs, then introduce the problem.

Pace: something new happens every 4 or 5th paragraph. 70% dialogue, 30% narrative

General structure:

  • Inciting incident: set the stage quickly by giving a time, location and present characters
  • Complications
  • Crisis: decisive moment, turning point.
  • Complications
  • Climax
  • Denouement

Act 1

The first sentence (and the last) can implicitly convey the story as a whole.

Act 2

One subtle crisis towards the end of the middle. Episodes and incidents must be interrelated thematically and symbolically as well as causally. Every scene in a short story must relate to the story as a whole more so than just to the scene next to it.

Act 3

Skip the long summary of what happened ‘afterwards’. There is no need for explanations as long as the story is brought to an end. Resolution can occur by the introduction of some thematic note such as a new image or symbol, a bit of dialogue or description that is indicative of a new attitude.