According To Hoyt

The Structure of A Short Story

I’ve lately been reading a lot of my own stuff, which is one of those things you shouldn’t do while sober, particularly if said stuff is more than a couple of years old.  (Read your own stuff, I mean.  Of course you should read mine because you know, I was born amazing.  Also because, frankly, I have NO idea what ya’ll will like… or not)

It’s actually a great setup because they don’t read like mine, so I can copyedit to the limits of my admitedly not detail-oriented ability but they still feel enough like mine that I see EVERY flaw as though under a magnifying glass.

Did I say that’s a great setup?  Well it is, if your goal is to clean the stories up.  For the writer’s ego, which in my case is so collapsed most of the time it might as well be a blackhole, it is a disaster, but never mind that.  I think I have enough rational detachment not to roll up in ball and cry at how bad stuff is.

I did come up with what seems to be a few idiosyncrasies that bear noticing, such as my penchant to have people attacked in their sleep and/or the shower; my penchant to have any woman who plays a musical instrument be pure evil (the men tend to be sweet, though.  Go figure); my penchant to destroy the Natural History Museum, etc.  At least give me props, though, for no longer stalking Kit Marlowe.  It takes effort, but… Stalking a dead man is just evil.  Also, he probably didn’t swing that way. (Actually hard to tell, as Elizabethan England was more… fluid.  But Marlowe is as close to an indication of leaning [or falling over] as we have.)

However, reading these many short stories in a row gave me indications of several things, like “Short stories, I was doing them wrong” – or not wrong, but now I can see how I truncated things to fit within word limit.  You see, I’m a VERY lazy person and I hate doing work for free.  BUT it turns out that when unfettered – the few stories I wrote since realizing I could go indie with them – I tend to 10 to 15k words, not 6.

On the other hand it also gave me a clear idea of how I – note I said I, I’m not telling you everyone should do this! – structure a short story.  I thought it might be of interest to the writers among you.  So, here’s what I’ve discovered.

1- First line or two, introduce the most startling or grabby thing about your characters/setting/situation.

2 – Use the rest of the paragraph to lay out character/setting/ and most of all problem.  You might want to lead with problem as that brings out the most interesting things about your idea.  (If your idea isn’t interesting, WHY are you writing it?)

3 – Next few pages –Develop the present situation which your character is caught.  This situation is usually not the main problem, and you should have at least one try/fail before getting character out of the PRESENT situation.  About 1/4 of the way through the story, have the character realize what the REAL problem is.

4 – Initiate try/fails to solve the main problem.

5- Around middle of the story have character realize he was going about obtaining goal the wrong way or that his/her assumptions were oh, soooo wrong.

6- Activate cunning plan.  (This normally doesn’t involve a turnip, on account of not being a Black Adder story.)

7 – Try fail sequences set up about 3/4 through the story.

8 – Black moment about 1/8th from the end.

9 – resolution and usually not much of what my husband calls a cigarette moment, because it’s a short.

There are exceptions to this, but this seems to be my basic structure, and I probably could outline a short (if needed – might be, I’m out of practice for shorts) by going in and filling in the events at each of those points for whatever the story is.

And now, having got up indecently late (getting over re-crudescence) I’m going to get coffee.