Continued from Creating Short Stories
The Short Story Outline
Everything needs a structure. For stories, I believe the three-act structure is the most appropriate, although some may disagree. The three acts represent the beginning the middle and the end, each serving a specific purpose.
Suppose we did a story on Julius Caesar’s war with Pharnaces II of Pontus. It lasted for four years, and Julius told it in three words that are three acts when he said, "Veni, Vidi, Vici."
Act I, I came
Act II, I saw
Act III, I conquered.
It doesn’t get more succinct than that. But, writing the story is more complicated than that because there are elements in each of the acts that give readers a reason to read the tale to its conclusion: emotions, conflict, and drama have a place in the three-act structure that bring the narrative to life. And bringing the story to life is a good way to describe what authors do; they add life to the plot.
Here writers create the setting, which might be a historical location during the 16th century, say, Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, about the French revolution. (This novel has sold more than two-million copies.) The story might be set in contemporary society as Nelson DeMille’s The Lion’s Game. The setting may also be in a future world, such as Orson Scott Card’s, Ender’s Game. Futuristic stories give one the opportunity to create completely new worlds with quirks and strange phenomena to tickle the mind of readers who enjoy speculative fiction.
In this act, we discover the cast of characters and their relationships.
The second act begins with a problem for the protagonist that sends him or her into a crisis. The protagonist’s world turns inside out and upside down. Something obstructs the hero’s path that he or she must overcome to accomplish the goal. Conflicts with the antagonist arise and must be resolved. Tension rules. Readers root for the protagonist to resolve the situation and prevail over the obstacles set forth to create tension and prevent the champion from reaching the objective.
The main character experiences a process in which a method to triumph, often against all odds, over the crisis he or she faces.
As the second act closes, the protagonist has an epiphany, a moment of revelation where the hero has insight into how to solve the crisis and reduce the tension created by it. The champion understands how to resolve the problem at hand.
Now that the protagonist understands what needs to be done to remedy the situation, he or she will use the remedy to confront the antagonist and have the final interaction with this enemy. When the hero has a conquest of the adversary that has frustrated him or her throughout the second act, we have the climax of the story. The story reaches resolution, action winds down, the champion prevails (usually), and peace returns.
Next week we will discuss the essential elements that go into the story.
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