How to Plan a Short Story   2 comments

This post is taken from my forthcoming book ‘Blue-Sky Thinking’. It should be on the market in May and is a creative writing workbook that comes with a Teachers’ Guide. It is designed for ages 11-16. I hope you enjoy the post and the short story.

For much more of these types of posts, please check out my new descriptive writing book ‘Writing with Stardust’ by clicking here:

The short story can be a very rewarding genre (i.e. style) to write in. Every novel is cut down to between an hour and half to three hours when it is put on the big screen. Think of the short story as being five minutes of action on You Tube. You need to get your story across in a short time. How do you do that? It is very simple. HAVE A PLAN! The plan is underneath:

1. Introduce your setting and the weather.
Will your story start in a dark forest, a city or inside a house? Give the details required to paint a scene for the reader. Is it raining or misty? Is the sunny or gloomy? Are the stars out or are they peeping from behind the clouds? Give the sort of detail that this book encourages but don’t waste time giving too much.

2. Introduce a character.
Will your central character be a hero, a villain or an anti-hero (i.e. a man who may do bad things but can is essentially a good person)? Is he young or old, strong or weak? Give some physical details if you think they are needed. You can also make yourself the hero or villain.

3. Start the action (i.e. rising action).
In a short story, something dramatic or life changing usually happens. Start the action flowing by introducing a problem. It could be a burglary you happen upon, an event like a tsunami or an accident you caused yourself.

4. Give the story a climax.
The high point of the story should be dramatic and unusual. This should be pre-planned and keep the reader guessing as to what will happen.

5. Falling action.
The action is still taking place but the crisis is over. If it was a burglary, the police could have arrested the burglar but are still taking statements, for example. For a tsunami, the land is flooded and you are describing the devastation it caused.

6. The resolution.
The effect of this unusual climax should be outlined. How did it affect you? How did it affect others in the story? Is there a moral to your story and was your central character a winner or a loser in all this?

The art of the short story takes time and practise in order to get it right. Look out for unusual things that happen in your school day or your life outside school. If anything dramatic, impactful or unique happens, put it in your notebook. Jot down how people responded to the crisis. Write out the exact words they used. That is your dialogue taken care of. All the great writers keep a notebook close at hand for ideas. If you are serious about writing, you will too.
“It is the tale. Not he who tells it.” Stephen King


Reading the newspaper today made me laugh out loud. It also brought back a memory that I thought had been buried forever. Let me paint the scene for you…

It was roughly fifteen years ago on Christmas Eve. The snow was falling in a cloud of Merlin-white and the air was beautifully cold. The sky was bleak and cinder-grey. It wasn’t the skin-seeping pinch of a windy day, more like the powdery cold of a crisp, Alaskan whiteout. I was standing outside the front entrance of a shopping mall in New York, enjoying the high spirits of the shoppers as they swarmed around me. My mother was inside getting some Christmas presents. I suppose I was about twelve at the time.

There was a homeless man in the middle of the street weaving his way through the traffic. I could only assume that he was homeless as his actions and clothes were bizarre. He held a brown paper bag in one hand and he would occasionally put it to his mouth to take a drink from the bottle within. The other hand was being used to make rude gestures and to thump the bonnets of the honking cars. All the while he let loose a string of swear words and vile curses. Not just your ordinary curses either. This guy was threatening the motorists that the milk would curdle in their fridges, their food would turn to sawdust and that he would make them infertile for eternity. He was like a one man comedy show with the outrageousness of his performance.

He had a strange appearance, almost as if it was made up. His hair was wizened and straw-like, nearly fossilized it was so dry. He had the sad eyes of a basset hound and a distinctive beard. It wasn’t a thick, captain Ahab beard but rather something a lunatic might have: bushy and spittle flecked. His face was toil worn and tanned from exposure to the elements and he walked with a weary, sad air until he would suddenly explode in a burst of rage. His fingers were gnarled and knobbly and the clothes he wore were musty and smelly judging by the reaction of the people he passed. Their noses would crinkle in disgust and they would peel away from his presence. I don’t want to sound pass remarkable, but he was a truly unpleasant character. What made it worse is that he made a beeline to where I was standing.

I shuffled uncomfortably as he approached. His eyes seemed to laser in on me as if I was his target for the day. His voice was surprising, a gravel-and-gravy mix of whiskey roughness and educated accent.

“Hey kid. Gotta buck to spare?”

He seemed very gentle, a complete contrast to the South Park character I had witnessed earlier. I normally didn’t entertain vagrants or weirdoes but I was so grateful he wasn’t shouting at me that I gave him the first note out of my pocket. It was twenty bucks. I felt a pang of regret then as it was part of my money to get Christmas presents. He looked at the note and I remember that he said: “You’re a nugget, kid. God bless all generous and good looking people.”

With that he was off. He zigzagged his way across the street, screaming at anyone who honked. I saw him going across to another shop front and some old lady gave him money. That was the last I ever saw of him.

Now my eyes drifted to an article in the Obituary column of the New York Times. The caption was ‘New York’s Unlikeliest Billionaire.’

Died Monday, aged 65: Lloyd ‘The Tramp’ Carson, heir to the Carson Steel Empire, and notorious practical joker. Lloyd, who was a dedicated actor and keen observer of human life, liked nothing better than to dress up as a vagrant and shout insults at his fellow New Yorkers. Although knocked down twice as a result of these escapades, he played out the role until his last day on this earth. His last words were known to be: “You’re a nugget, man. God bless all good looking people.” Indeed, these are the exact words which shall be on his epitaph as per his wishes.

It is believed that Mr. Carson has left an estate worth north of $1.7 bn. As he does not have any immediate family, speculation is mounting as to who shall be named in his will. Rumours are rife that he had a team of private detectives following him. Apparently, they would discover the identities of people who were particularly generous to Mr. Carson’s alter ego. It may be another urban myth, of which New Yorker’s are particularly fond of, but sources at the New York Times are adamant that Mr. Carson intended to pay back those who had a generous spirit.

I laughed out loud again as I finished the article. He was most definitely a character, this guy. I had to hand it to him. He knew how to get a kick out of life.

I thought nothing more of it until a letter arrived three months later. Then I didn’t laugh at all. I cried with happiness.

Did you like this story? Do you think it is better to give to those less fortunate than you or to ignore them? Can you think of any practical way you could help people in your community? Are there people in your community who are alone and who your class could help?

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Posted February 22, 2014 by liamo in Uncategorized

2 responses to “How to Plan a Short Story

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  1. @Liamo
    Hello sir.
    I didn’t like ur story I just loved it🙂 It was Amazing!! I always believe that along with hard work it’s inspiration that develops the hunger in a person to reach heights of sucess. Thank you cuz today after reading ur short story I realized that my level of hunger for success was rising.
    I loved the story especially the ending cuz the iceberg theory of Hemmingway really did workout very well there.

  2. Hi monayagirl:
    Thank you very much for the kind comment. I’m glad it helped you in some small way and that you got something out of it. Take care for now. Liam.

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