What is a good short story plotline and why?

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Answered by: Robert, An Expert in the Write Short Stories Category
As I’m sure you can imagine this is actually an intrinsically difficult question to answer. Because of the creative nature of storytelling and the essential flexibility of what you want to achieve it’s very difficult to pin down the hard and simple rules that will lead you to your endgame. That aside, however, there are several ways that you can tease a unique and solid narrative from your own thoughts without the worry of convolution or of losing your story’s unique identity.

At the end of the day we all want to write something that’s not been written before, something that has come only from ourselves. This in itself is the start point that we’re going to use. You need to identify within yourself what you want your story to be about. There are several narrative archetypes that we can fall back to for help with this, but it’s the details that you add that are the unique factors. The aspects that will make your story your own. Ask yourself these questions: Do I want to tell a coming of age story (a story about a character growing in some respect)? Is it a story about finding something that was lost (either physical or psychological)? Is it a journey story (where our character goes from one place to another (again either physically or psychologically)? These factors, or a combination of them can give you a good basis upon which to build the rest of your story.

The next thing to consider is character of course. Who are you going to place within this framework? Again there are many permutations of this but we can yet again get help from standard archetypes. The unique qualities come from what you build into these characters. Gestures, vocal ticks or anomalies in the character help frame how they will react within the situation you’ve presented before them. For the best character archetypes we can go back to ancient Italy and Commedia dell’arte. Within this theatrical genre we can see characters such as the amorosi or the lovers, Arlecchino or the comic servant and Il Capitano or the heroic outsider of the Captain. There are many more of course, but far too many unfortunately to discuss in this article. Even so, these few characters mentioned here can give you a great amount of scope for the creation of your short story plotline. In fact these guidelines can easily be applied to any piece of narrative writing.

Your character can of course also inform your narrative, and a combination of characters coupled with a narrative structure is in fact what begins the formation of a plot. Plot is the interaction of characters with each other and with the narrative in order to tell a story and it’s because of this that I can’t tell you what plotline you should use, but also because of this that I can guarantee your plotline will be unique.

However, even with these factors thoroughly planned out and under your belt with a short story there also needs to be a certain amount of focus on brevity. We’re not looking to write a novel here and so when thinking about your short story plotline you also need to take into consideration how long it will take for your characters to complete their interaction and reach the end of the narrative. For instance your lovers might be on a journey of discovery, learning about each other for the first time, perhaps there is a friend taking the comic role of Arlecchino. A spanner can be thrown in the works with the incorporation of Il Capitano, a mysterious stranger with tales of far flung places that entices one of the lovers. Through planning or accident Arlecchino exposes Il Capitano’s hidden truth and the lovers are rejoined, their bond forever stronger. Each element of this should be planned out into easily manageable chunks and then a word limit associated with each item. In this way you can keep track of your plots pacing and make sure that it is not only a good plotline but that it also flows well and reaches the height of its energy at exactly the right point, the reveal. The point at which Il Capitano’s true personality is revealed and the ensnared lover learns the truth and heads back in earnest to their erstwhile partner.

Writing a short story is no easy task, and this is by no means a definitive guide. All the same if you follow these concepts and apply your own ideas to them you can come up with a solid plotline that, although at first might be recognisable, will fast turn into something far better and more unique than anything you may have been taught in the past.

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