With all the submissions we receive at AlienSkin Magazineand Nocturnal Ooze, we are continually amazed at how many stories fail to contain basic story elements, such as beginnings, middles and endings that maintain our interest as not only editors, but readers.
Some of the tales we reject are simply those where the writer didn’t really have a story to tell. One of the foundations of the story was just too weak to support the story. It lacked plot, characterization, conflict, etc. Perhaps these writers never heard of, or forgot, the old writing adage that,
‘Not every story idea in your head will prove to be a marketable story on paper’.
But for those of us, who truly believe we have a cool story to tell, it increases our odds of getting our story published if we take the time to ensure our tale contains the basic story elements which will support the story from finish to end. It also helps if we structure our story for dramatic effect, to capture and maintain reader interest.
There’s nothing wrong with writing the first draft of a story when your creative urge compels you to write, but you must remember the story ‘writing’ does end there. You need to review your story to see if it contains an interesting beginning ~ one that hooks the reader and reels them in. One that raises a desire within them to read on. From start to finish, the action within the story must proceed in a logical manner, building and maintaining tension, until the climatic moment where the main character reaches that do or die moment just before the story ends. And when the story does end, the resolution must tie everything together. The main character must have been changed by the outcome of that single climatic moment.
So What is the Basic Foundation of Every Story? ~
Some writers would say there are three basic foundations to every story, short story or otherwise. These basic foundations are:
1. The Beginning: The Opener
The opening scene of your short story must captivate your reader, drawing the reader in and making them want to read more.
An easy formula to use to remember what you want to accomplish in your beginning scene is H5W.
Hook: Start your story in the middle of things. With action or dialogue. Avoid static openings, such as a paragraph full of description or one that attempts to ‘set the scene’.
Who: Establish who the main/focal character is within the story.
What: Hint at or show what is upsetting your main character’s world.
Where: Weave in a sense of where the character is or where this story is taking place.
When: Almost the same as ‘where’, but establish a sense of the time of day, season, or era the story is takes place. This is especially important if your story is taking place in the near or distant future or if it is taking place in a fantasy realm.
Why: Establish ‘why’ the ‘what’ is happening to the main character and ‘why’ it unbalances his/her world.
2. The Middle: The MASS of the Story
Mud: Let the mud ensnaring your main grow thicker and deeper. The problem facing your character should trouble and test him/her more and more in these middle scenes.
Adversity: A person’s true character shines through in the face of adversity. Use adversity to ‘show’ the reader who your main character really is.
Show: Show the strengths and weakness of your main character during this period of tribulation.
Setup: Set your main character and the reader up for the big finale.
3. The Ending: The Story Resolution ~ The Closer ~ The End Cap
In the final scene of your story you MUST resolve the opening dilemma your main character faced. Good or bad, the outcome must be a Wow the reader some how. This is where your main character and the dilemma he/she faces clash. And at the end of your story, as a result of this clash, your main character MUST change in some way. And that change, MUST be made apparent to the reader.
Another important element that is part of the Blueprints for Building a Solid Short Story are Joists.
What are Joists? How are They Used to Construct a Story?
Joists support the foundation of your story. They help carry the tale from one level to the next. They are also the basic components that strengthen a scene. There are 4 important joists that support a story’s foundation.
These 4 Important Joists are:
Conflict: Throughout your story your main character must be challenged in some major way.
Action: The main character must act. Avoid lengthy introspection.
Dialogue: Use external and internal dialogue to convey information about your characters.
Imagery: Use descriptive words that invoke powerful images in the minds of your reader. Avoid passive and vague words.