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How to Structure a Story

the five-point guide that you can apply to (almost) any story

This week in Master the Short Story is all about structure.

Remember, structure and plot are not one and the same. Structure is the general shape that a story or novel takes, and the way in which the narrative travels through these stages. There are many elements at work within structure — plot, character, setting, dialogue, description, point of view, and voice — and throughout your story all of these elements will be interwoven, each having an effect on the other.

Plot is, simply stated, what happens in your story: the series of events through which your characters travel and in which they participate.

In this week’s video lecture, I walk you through a useful five-point model for structuring your stories (it works for novels too), and we apply the model to a recently published story by an award-winning debut writer.

Our reading this week is the wonderful and very short story “The School,” by Donald Barthelme — a great example of a writer raising the stakes at every turn.

The assignment this week is to write a very short yet complete story using the model provided. (This will be the story students submit to a literary journal of their choosing at the end of the course).

If you’re just now chiming in, Week 1 was all about character, in Week 2 we dove into point of view, and next week I’ll show you how to draw readers into your fictional world with setting and description. In weeks 5–8, we’ll talk dialogue, plot, voice and theme, and revising for publication.

Want to learn how to structure your story and more? Join us for the online class, MASTER THE SHORT STORY. It’s not too late to jump in!

(Oh, and if you already have that writing thing down? Publishing Boot Camp 2017 begins March 1!)

Michelle Richmond is the author of two award-winning story collections, including most recently HUM, and four novels, including the New York Times bestseller THE YEAR OF FOG. Her fifth novel, THE MARRIAGE PACT, will be published this summer, with foreign editions forthcoming in 27 languages.