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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Short Story Structure

   
Author Topic: Short Story Structure
Winters
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I'm just curious, what do my fellow Hatrackers believe a short story must contain, in terms of structure?
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Meredith
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In my (inexpert) opinion:

  • A beginning which establishes some problem or conflict
  • A middle which develops it
  • And an end that in some way resolves it.

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Osiris
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A good protagonist with a sympathetic objective, confronted by a good antagonist, which leads to spectacular ending in which all the conflicts a resolved and a new state of being is achieved.

I also believe the 8 point story arc is a good model to follow, which is just another way of laying out the three-act structure. See google search for details.


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BenM
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I found Algis Budrys article on the WotF website helpful, though it's just another way of implementing the 3-act structure (or, if you like, just a way of testing your story against it to evaluate possible reader reaction).

As it's no longer visible on their (changed) site I've pulled it up from the wayback archive:

http://web.archive.org/web/20090427035351/http://www.writersofthefuture.com/newsletter/february09.htm


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Merlion-Emrys
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I believe such questions are largely meaningless and indeed counterproductive. Nobody can tell you what a story MUST contain, they can only tell you what a story must contain for them to like it or consider it a story.

I can't even do that, since I have no absolute opinion on the subject...but then, I also believe all arts to come down to story of some kind in the end.

Further, all the reading I've done recently of published fiction, professional and otherwise, reinforces the idea that a story can have basically any structure at all...indeed I've read a few that, from my perspective, had no structure at all, and many that had little structure if any. And many upon many with no resolution or one so ambiguous as to make no nevermind.

Even the conflict thing, which is often the cornerstone of attempts to define the "requirements" of story is from my perspective absent from some, or can take so many subtle forms as to amount to the same thing. Is there conflict in "Born of Man and Woman?" I'm not even sure...(of course that doesn't fall into the recent catagory, it just popped in my head, as it is wont to do sometimes...)


[This message has been edited by Merlion-Emrys (edited August 16, 2011).]


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Reziac
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Something that entices my eyes to follow the words from the beginning to the end. What that is can be damnear anything, so long as it keeps my interest.

That said -- I am generally not a fan of short stories, largely because 1) too often they're really just extended vignettes, and I'm seldom interested in that (seen too many, too alike), and 2) as a rule they're event-driven, with minimal characterization, and that's the inverse of my reading interest.

And I used to read a lot more short fiction back before the "SF New Wave" or "speculative fiction" stuff took over, and seemed to suck the story right out of its end of the genre, in favour of style points and making social points.

What was the question?



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MartinV
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Oh, short stories. To write the setting, describe the characters and develop a story in 10k words or less... Something that seems to be incomprehensible to me, much to my annoyance.
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Robert Nowall
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Beginning, middle, and end seems good to me...how about premise and resolution?

By the way, I've read many shorter works that have vivid and well-drawn characters. Sometimes less is more, and more is too much...


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Rhaythe
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A plot of some kind. I cannot stress this enough. Everything else is really secondary.
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EVOC
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More then a beginning middle and end, it has to be a story that can be told in a short way. I have read some shorts that should really have been longer, but the Author felt a need to trim word count. It had a good beginning Middle and end, but it just was too small.
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pdblake
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Beginning, middle and end, same as any other length story. Though I must stress the 'end' again. I've read quite a few short stories, including in the last couple of WOTF volumes, that just seem to stop or grind to a slow halt without actually ending properly. Just like a novel, any loose ends should be tied up and the main plot arcs resolved.
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Brendan
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quote:
1) too often they're really just extended vignettes,

And I used to read a lot more short fiction back before the "SF New Wave" or "speculative fiction" stuff took over, and seemed to suck the story right out of its end of the genre, in favour of style points and making social points.


Hmm. The New Wave was a wave of the late 1960s, and by the late 1970s the short with plot was back. I have had stories, that had subtle plots, but still present, rejected on the basis they were vignettes. So there are a number of magazines that actively don't publish the very thing you don't want to read. I'd even go so far as to say that stylistic fiction is very much the minority nowadays, so it may be worth getting out and reading a few more.


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Merlion-Emrys
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Likewise this...

quote:
as a rule they're event-driven, with minimal characterization, and that's the inverse of my reading interest.


Is almost entirely opposite my recent experience reading short fiction. Indeed a good number of stories I've read of late seem to consist more or less entirely of characterization, at the expense of plot, atmosphere or any sort of resolution to anything. If you read the guidlines of most publications, strong characters are put up as a necessity, and indeed many stress they focus on "character driven" fiction (though thats another of those terms that everyone has their own definition of.)

quote:
And I used to read a lot more short fiction back before the "SF New Wave" or "speculative fiction" stuff took over, and seemed to suck the story right out of its end of the genre, in favour of style points and making social points.


I'm not sure what you mean by "speculative fiction" since in my experience that term has been used to refer broadly to science fiction, fantasy and horror of all types for a long, long time. I'd also like to point out that making social points has been a very significant part of said speculative fiction from the begining. Science fiction especially has always been a showcase for social commentary.


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EricJamesStone
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quote:
I'm just curious, what do my fellow Hatrackers believe a short story must contain, in terms of structure?

Words.

I'm trying to think of something else that must be there, and I can't. There are stories with no characters. There are stories with no plot. There are stories with no setting. There are stories with no conflict. There are stories with no dialogue, or no narration. There are stories that consist of only an ending, with the beginning and middle implied. There are stories that consist of only a beginning, with the rest implied.

But I've never read a short story that didn't have words.


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