There’s a lot of advice out there on how to structure a short story. I know because I’ve been out there and looked for it. Most of it is exactly the same and it’s the type of advice that you would get if you googled, ‘how do I write a catchy song?’ Put some chords together, write some words that repeat and give it a whirl. The problem is that this can provide all sorts of results and, to be fair, if you were googling it in the first place then the chances are you’ll probably come up short.
Today’s pearl of wisdom is actually sailing very close to sounding totally and completely obvious. I feel like I’m walking in to a room with Isambard Brunel, Thomas Edison, and James Dyson and saying, ‘ok chaps, so what I have here is an incredibly nifty device. I call it… the wheel.’ But I will tell you anyway.
Everyone knows that you structure a short story by having a beginning, a middle and an end. If you only have one or two of these then people are either left hanging, or nobody can actually follow it in the first place. It needs a twist, or at least an unexpected end, and it should follow one plot line. Not too incredible just yet.
But last night I made a discovery whilst busy planning one of the stories that will go in to the Christmas Anthology. I set up a page of A4, divided it into thirds and then at the top of each column I wrote… wait for it… ‘Beginning’, ‘Middle’, and ‘End’.
I know. Genius.
But what it helped me to do was great. Firstly, I was able to hold the structure together by roughly allotting word count for each section (1,000 – 3,000 – 1,000) and ensuring the content was sufficient; secondly, it really helped me focus on each part of the story and challenge where it was going. It resulted in a much better plan than my normal ‘back of a fag packet’ effort and has motivated me to write the story.
I’m wondering now whether I could deploy a similar flow chart for longer formats. I don’t see why not. I’m thinking – big strips of paper on the wall with post-it notes hanging off it. I like the sound of this visible direction for the story and I think it will help me maintain the big picture overview.
If you do this already, then I guess you must be a genius too :), but if you do something else that helps you achieve the same end, let me know.