Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Creating Short Stories 03

Essential Elements of a Story

See Creating Short Stories!

We already have the story idea: What if the plants were sent by aliens to take over Earth by cleaning the air, then releasing toxins to destroy human life? Further, we know that we need a plot, or nucleus of the tale nestled in the three-act structure, the beginning, the middle, and the end.

One of the more obvious elements needed for a short story is characters. The main or central character is the protagonist. Of course, the protagonist must have a problem to solve. Another crucial character, the antagonist, usually advances the problem.

One character who I think most people know of, Lex Luthor from the Superman comics and movies, epitomizes what an antagonist does. Antagonists do evil. Lex certainly did evil and stood proud as the worst of all villains, wreaking havoc on the world and attempting to kill Superman.

To add dramatic tension and keep the reader interested and asking for more, the protagonist needs some type of inner conflict to overcome to achieve his or her goal. Maybe it’s alcoholism, an inflated ego, or an insecurity that makes it so that he can’t ask the woman he loves out on a date. Whatever you choose for this internal struggle, it will prevent the protagonist from moving forward and achieving his or her goal.

The premise is the what-if question we asked in the story idea. Underlying the story Plants is the idea that aliens have come to Earth to take over the planet. To do this they sent plants that seem to cleanse the air and solve a problem. After a while, the plants release toxins that destroy human life. A good premise creates a desire in readers to continue reading.

A premise only applies to the story, and it need not apply to the real world. It guides us through the three parts of the story. For instance, I once saw a film about vampires that implied that the protagonist, a vampire, lived on the same moral plane that humans do. So the premise fit the story, but it failed the test of reality.

The theme is the underlying idea and may be described as a unifying idea that runs throughout the prose. A writer doesn’t necessarily state it in an obvious fashion. The readers extract it as they read. In Plants, the theme resides beneath the narrative.

Writers take these elements and combine them in a story within a setting.

The setting describes where and when the story takes place. 2001 A Space Odyssey took place in 2001 in space. Superman took place in Smallville and later Metropolis provided the setting. The story always seems to exist in contemporary society. Quite a trick if you ask me.

Next week we’ll discuss some of the spices that go into the short story soup.
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