I Can’t Write a Short Story without Structure

I find that for different types of writing I have different writing styles. My process for writing a poem varies vastly from my methods for writing a short story, even though they are both creative writing in nature. For me, a poem is something that can flow naturally or almost be stream of thought – I just think of what I want to say and how to say it, and it happens. A short story is much more complicated than that for me.

When I write a short story, I need to create a whole mythos around the project and flesh out each of the characters before I can even start outlining what will become the plot of the story. When I say short story, I mean something 10 pages plus – if I write anything less than that, I usually think of it as flash fiction, or a very short piece that doesn’t need much development. I’m not the kind of writer that can sit down and write 20 pages without detailed planning.

This is what I look like when I type. Pink dress and all.

This wasn’t always my method for writing, but rather a style I have developed over time. When I first started writing short stories creatively, I approached as I did poetry. I sat down with an idea and just wrote and wrote and wrote to see what came out. Often, what came out was okay, but had a lot of plot holes and developed in weird ways that weren’t exactly engaging to read. I found that while I had good ideas starting out writing a story and the first few days of writing went pretty well and had decent (and believable) plot and character development, as time passed, I lost ideas and plans that I had mentally put together for the piece and what I ended up with was nothing like what I initially intended to put out.

Now, if my stories hadn’t of gotten all weird, I probably would have kept this method up, since it works for my shorter works. But I found that for longer pieces, I needed to plan. What I consider my first successful short story came out of careful planning.

1. I write down the concept that sparked my interest – That way, I knew what the purpose was months down the line if I had to suddenly stop writing. It also helped give me clarity on what the purpose was for my writing those times I got lost.

2. I research – this stage takes a while, but if I’m going to write a short story based in medieval France, I’m going to read some of the more famous literature from France set in that era along with cracking open a few history books and studying historical figures, wars, etc. that were going on at the time. For my setting to be real, I have to know this and my characters have to know this. If I am creating a world from scratch, then I will still research a region or historical time period that would coincide with the story I am creating to give it more of a sense of realism. When I write, I want it to feel real, and the only way to do that for me is to research real things.

3. I develop the characters – At this stage, I name them, create a family tree, write down what their basic personality is and what their end game is within my story. I know of people who create whole biographies and a separate life for their characters outside of the story they are writing. That’s a bit much for me, but it’s a viable option for anyone who wants to flesh their characters out more than I do before writing. There are even charts and question sheets to help flesh a character out.

4. I write down the basic plot – what the conflicts are, where the characters are going, and how it’s going to be resolved (if it ends at a resolution).

5. The final stages of planning, for me, come from filling in the plotted points with specific actions and connecting what happens in the beginning to the middle bits, figuring out how the middle bits go together, and then how the middle bits connect to the end. After I feel I have a fleshed out plot, I write.

This is just my method. I’ve heard of some cool methods I have yet to test out – such as the snowflake method of writing, the 30 day method, the inverted pyramid method, and I’m sure a simple google search would turn up hundreds more.

My end game is to develop my short story writing skills enough to move up to a novel. I feel that learning the structure now will only benefit me in the future as I start writing longer pieces of work. So, how about you? Do you have a method you prefer? Or do you just free write and see where the story takes you? I’d love to hear your feedback below.

– Amanda Riggle


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