This article explores two specific components involved in writing a short story. That is, Character Development and the Situation. And how you can use these components to begin your own short story. And maximise popularity/profitability.
Short Story Process Overview
Components of a Short-Story
In short, the components of a short-story can be summed up as following a general process as outlined below and in the chart diagram to the right:
- A Character,
- In a Situation,
- With a Problem,
- Escalating the Problem,
- Resulting in a Climax,
- and Resolution
By the time the resolution is reached, this overall process when integrated effectively shows the audience that the problem (original, escalated or both) is completely and unquestionably resolved. That is, it leaves nothing unanswered. This article looks at the first two components of the process outlined.
|The Character||The Situation|
Setting the Scene
Motivation & Goals
Lead to Problem
What this Article Covers
The agenda for this article is to first explore concepts of;
- Character Development; and
- The Situation.
After which individuality, audience analysis and subjective perception are interwoven into a discussion about the practical application of tips and tricks presented along the way.
The Character Overview
There are three main things you need to keep in mind when deciding on your character. First, your character needs to have a personality that your audience feel they can relate too. Second, your audience needs to be able to imagine your character. And third, your audience needs to like your character. Not surprisingly all of these objectives can be accomplished in multiple ways.
Character Development Explained
How can you make your character relatable to a wide audience, without making a blank character with little to know definable traits? Personally I would urge you to read generalized horoscopes. Now I’m not for or against astrology but there is evidence that some of the fortunes told can apply to most people. I urge you to look for these descriptions to give your character a personality that not only fits with what you are writing but additionally resonates with most readers. The more you audience feels they can relate to the main character, the more likely they are to start reading and continue reading your story. But how do you get your audience feeling related to your character before they get into your story? Because let’s face it, most stories take a little while to get interesting. A short-story, however, doesn’t take as long as most others. The answer to this is twofold. First things first, the first thing you should do when writing a short story is introduced your character. Secondly, you need to introduce your character in the summary of your story. That is if you are attempting to generate interest. If you are only writing for yourself, then you needn’t worry about writing a summary unless you wish to do so.
Whether or not your audience can imagine, your character is the next biggest hurdle. Because you are only writing a short story, you need to start out with a description of your character. These types of explanations can be either generalized or specific. If you have a particular idea of the character, you want to portray. Or certain visual aspects are things your story relies on then by all means write a detailed description. However, this is not always necessary. You can write a detailed personality description but leave the visual ascetics up to the imagination of the reader. In this way, the reader (if the relate to the character) has the direct opportunity to put themselves in place of the central character. One of the biggest ways to get and keep a reader engaged.
One of my first mistakes I ran into when I started writing was that my primary character was not likable by most of those who read my story. Now in hindsight, this error is why I ordered Relatable and Imaginable higher than Likable. And if you head that advice you will easily avoid making the same mistake. Why? Because if your character is relatable, it is automatically likable. It is also important to remember and keep track of why you are writing. Why is that relevant now? Because if you are only writing for yourself, and you don’t want your audience to like your character, you don’t need to make it likable. But do keep in mind that people are less likely to read a story based around a character that leaves them with negative rather than positive feelings.
The Situation Overview
The situation is the next focus but not the next section. It should be introduced within the first section just after (or immediately before) introducing the character. The situation is a major component of what generates interest in the story and and persuades readers to keep reading. The situation should outline where the story is set, what the character’s external motives/goals are, and why the character ended up in the eventual problem. This can be explored by looking individually at what is involved.
The Situation Explained
Setting the Scene
Setting the scene should involve some description of the geographical or physical location. This can be something as simple as one room (if you can maintain interest without changing location). Or something as complex as creating an alternative universe. However it is important to keep in mind that a short story is just that, short. And for that reason is it preferable to spend more time on the eventual conflict than it is to focus on where the story is set. Again that depend on the necessity of the information to the story. If location is important than definitely elaborate on it but if not then less is more. But the motivation driving the main character is of generally of higher priority to the reader than where the story is based.
Motivation and Goals
What motivates your character? This can be tackled in when you introduce the character. But it still needs to be built on further. What motivate your character assists in increasing how relatable, imaginable and likable your character is. That is if you take advantage of it. Not all short-stories elaborate on the motivations and goals of the main character but it is gold mine in relation to maintaining reader interest. Only when it comes to what motivates your character can an aspect of story almost be more important than the conflict occurring. Why? Because the conflict hasn’t started yet. This is an opportunity for your main character to connect with your readers before the problem in the situation becomes clear.
Leading to the Problem
The opportunity to connect with your readers when linking to the problem of the story is something you should always take advantage of. This small opening gives you the chance to engage your readers with the main character before they encounter an issue. What does this do? It gives your readers the ability to accept the characters actions in the problem situation, even if they personally wouldn’t normally agree with that behaviour. Why? Because they feel like they know enough about the characters motives and goals that the character is justified in their actions. When a reader feels like the actions of a character need to be justified it’s almost like they are choosing sides. You want them to be on the side of the main character, not against them. Take advantage of this lead in to the problem situation.
In regards to character development (if you intend to publish your story), your audience needs to be able to relate to, imagine and like your main character. If you feel your story requires the audience’s dislike of a character then that role may be more suited to the antagonist than the protagonist. How imaginable and likable your main character is can also be covered under how relatable your character is. How skilfully you weave your words in this section can make all the difference in whether your reader continues reading or finds another story that can maintain their interest. The word interest is somewhat ambiguous here. I make a note of this because interest is subjective. That is why if your goal is to be published you need to write to appeal to either a very general audience or a niche you know generates interest. The first step is to write the beginning. Now move on to the situation.
The situation is your opportunity to get the reader on the same level as the character as well as leading up to the problem situation. Use this time to introduce your main characters goals and motivations so the reader feels the character is justified in future decisions/actions. This section is one of the main reasons I have found short-stories to be lacking. The story is only short. Use your words concisely to engage your reader rather than rushing into the problem. The added engagement will be well worth the additional effort required to perfect.
Audience Opinion Poll
This article explored the two main components and sub-component there in when endeavouring to write your own short-story. I hope these foundation concepts have either inspired you to begin your own masterpiece or revisit and enhance previous projects. Keep on the lookout for the next instalment of How to Write a Short Story (The Middle) in which aspects such as the problem, solving the problem, and escalating the problem are explored in more detail.
Try it Yourself!
Feeling confident enough to give it a go yourself? Try the ideas outlined above and see how you go. What did and didn't work so well? What could be better explained or included. Share your thoughts in the comments section below to keep the discussion going and ideas flowing.
Colin Garrow from Inverbervie, Scotland on September 29, 2015:
I know that some people like to plan everything and have a clear idea of what they're doing, who the MC is, where/when the story's set etc, so I suppose that using strategies like these might work well, especially if the writer is having problems getting started. However, I prefer my own method - just write. Admittedly, I need a starting point, but that's usually just a word, a name, or a situation - I don't want to work the whole thing out first. Good stuff, though.