Fiction Writing Masterclass
Lesson 5: How to Plot a Short Story
This week we’ll cover the essential elements of plot, story arc, and structure, as well as how to write beginnings, middles, and ends.
This is the fifth lesson in an 8-part series on writing fiction. It has been designed to take you through the process of writing a short story from start to finish. For more information, including the content covered in each lesson, check out my introductory post here.
In previous lessons, we’ve covered ideation, character building, point of view, and setting. However, to ensure you create a fully-formed story you need to know how to plot the individual events within it. You may think that plot and structure should come first in the planning process but don’t forget, it’s the character’s wants and needs that drive the story. If you start with plot you’ll often end up with a series of events that are devoid of life. And it’s this life that needs to run like a thread from beginning to end to make your story feel real, and, thus, hook the reader. Hopefully, at this stage, if you’ve been following the previous lessons’ writing exercises, you should have some well-fleshed out characters and a strong setting that now just need some structure, plotting, and a narrative arc.
- Plot — the individual events that make up your story.
- Story arc (also referred to as narrative arc or dramatic arc) — the shape (rise and fall) of the story.
- Structure — the organization of time within the story.
Important note: You’ll find that if you carry out more research on these terms, all three can be used interchangeably, and/or can have slightly different meanings. The way I have described them above is how I was taught them during my creative writing degree. However, the terms aren’t the important thing — for example, a baby doesn’t care whether you call the rubber nipple you give it a pacifier or a dummy, it just cares that there is one. The reader, therefore, doesn’t care what you call the different elements in your story, they are just interested in the fact there is a well-written story. Let’s now look at these three terms in more depth.