The Upside Down Check Mark

Writing a short story is very different from writing a novel. And, in a lot of ways writing them can be more difficult. Think about it, novels give a writer room to roam with expansive exposition, plots and subplots, and pages of character development. Longer pieces can have multiple settings and tons of twist and turns, and they can take place over months, years, even generations. Ya, we don’t have the room to run like this with short stories. So how can a writer develop great short stories given such limited working room? For me, my favorite tool is the upside down check mark. Can I break it down? Let it be broke..


Story arc

The exposition is the first point on the check mark. This narrative is where I like to set the story in motion with a strong hook, introduce the main characters, and describe the setting. Depending on the length of your short story, the exposition can be super short, like a sentence or two, or it can last a couple of pages. The only rule I stand by in this section is have to start with a strong hook.

The series of events that make up the meat and potatoes of a short story is called the rising action. I think this is the most important part on your check mark because all of this conflict makes up the plot. The poor veteran who is down on his luck is about to get evicted. He can’t find steady work. His wife and baby are starving. He gets in a fist fight with his landlord. These devastating events build the story up through the rising action to the boiling point, the climax.

The turning point of the story is the climax. When our veteran decides he can’t take it anymore and robs an armored car!  Other things to note; maybe if the story is a comedy, things will have gone badly for the protagonist up to this point; now, the plot will begin to unfold in his or her favor, often requiring the protagonist to draw on hidden inner strengths. If the story is a tragedy, the opposite state of affairs will ensue, with things going from good to bad for the protagonist, often revealing the protagonist’s hidden weaknesses.

The falling action and resolution are closely tied together. This is where all the conflict is resolved and the closing narrative is exposed.

Simple as that. If you are struggling with short stories because you are used to writing longer works, or just need a simple tool to start, try outlining your story around the upside down check mark. And, if you want to see one the pieces I did using this format, try  The Woman In The Blue Dress, on Amazon Kindle.

~Write On




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