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What Short Story Should I Teach in an Introductory Creative Writing Class?

There is no standard form for an “Introduction to Creative Writing” course, however, most creative writing classes begin with some form of creative writing workshop. Typically, this involves students sharing their work in progress with the rest of the class, discussing their work with an experienced and talented tutor and critiquing each others’ work. All of this is intended to improve the creative writing skills of the group and prepare them for the main coursework which usually begins in the second or third year of study.

The Importance of Story Structure

While creative writing is about producing literature that will entertain or instruct the audience, story structure is about ensuring that the audience is entertained from the very first words they read. So, if you want your students to develop proficiency in creative writing, structure is the key. It is important that the writer establishes a clear narrative in a short story or novel and follows suit throughout. Structural issues can sometimes be difficult to grasp, even for experienced writers, but they are vital to a novel’s or story’s success. A good story structure will engage the reader and hold their attention while also setting the stage for an unforgettable narrative. In order to achieve this, the author will need to utilize a series of dramatic events that progress naturally towards a satisfying conclusion.

The Three-Act Structure

The three-act story structure was first developed in the 1920s and it continues to be the most popular story arc in popular fiction. It is easy to understand why – the three-act structure is a proven formula for storytelling success. First, the story is introduced to the reader; this is called the setup and it sets the stage for the rest of the story. Next, the action takes place and it contains the bulk of the events that will determine the story’s outcome. Finally, the story concludes with a resolution of some sort and it brings the story to a close. Although the general rule is that each act should be approximately two-thirds of the total length of the story, the amount of material varies from short stories to novels. In general, a short story should have three acts with each act being around 10,000 words long. In order to make the most out of this formula, the author should follow a carefully thought-out plotline that will carry the reader from the very first scene through to the very last. In the case of the three-act structure, this means following a clear chain of events that will lead to a satisfying conclusion. Act one should begin with a bang and end with a bang as well. This is usually achieved by opening with a startling incident and/or protagonist and then gradually building up to the major action scene, climax and conclusion of the story. In the second act, the story should continue along its natural course and build towards the dramatic confrontation that will determine the outcome of the story. Finally, in the third act, the story will end on a high note with a surprising revelation that will leave the reader wondering what happened and wanting more.

Characters: Creating an Involveable and Engaging Narrative

Human nature being what it is, stories about people will always have a certain appeal. Indeed, it would be hard to overstate the influence of fiction in general, and the works of the greats in particular on modern society. So, it should come as no great surprise that students of creative writing want to write about people. What is more surprising, however, is that so many students want to write about society’s outcasts – those who the rest of the world has given up on. Perhaps this is because these characters allow the writer to explore dark themes – oppression, injustice and tragedy – without having to rely on metaphor or allegory. Or, it could be that those who are forced to live in the shadows want to tell their story and have someone to relate it to. Whatever the reason, this is the sort of topic that attracts serious students of creative writing. What is even more important is that these are the sorts of characters that the reader wants to invest in – they want to believe that they can change the world for the better. So, in creating these characters, the writer should bear in mind that they have enormous potential to entertain the audience while also advancing the narrative.

Setting The Scene

A good short story should be set in a believable location and/or time period. So, if you are writing about contemporary society, you should look for settings that the reader will immediately recognize. In addition to this, it is also important to remember that your setting will greatly influence the rest of your story. The author of Little Women, for example, chose to set her story in nineteenth century America and it greatly informed the style and tone of the book, as well as its major events. Similarly, if you set your story in the future, you should embrace the technology that your readers will be familiar with and you will be able to better integrate the setting into your plotline. In both of these cases, setting is used not just to provide a context for the story but it also provides the basis for much of the narration. In Little Women, the author uses the first-person narrative to give the reader a taste of the life in Victorian times. Similarly, in Snowflake, by Madeleine L’Engle, the main character’s perspective is limited not just to her own life but to the world around her as well. The choice of setting is arguably the most vital part of any short story or novel. It is here that the author will determine the style and tone of their piece as well as the major conflicts which will drive the narrative forward.

Craft: The Artistry of the Short Story

There are several technical terms that are commonly used in reference to creative writing and some of them may surprise you. First, it is important to note that the term “short story” itself may not necessarily fit your needs because there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to craft. For example, if you are writing for children, it might be best to choose a different title. However, when it comes to the actual craft of creative writing, there are certain terms that are widely used and it is important to be familiar with them.

The first and most important of these terms is “story arc”. As mentioned above, a story structure is about making the most of the three-act structure, however, the term “story arc” can be used to define both the setup and the climax of a story. In addition to this, the story arc can be used to describe the entire narrative, including the character development and resolution. In order to create a story that will have dramatic weight, it is important to follow an arc that will naturally lead to a climax and conclusion. In addition to this, it is also important to follow a logical order to this end – it is not enough to have the setup and the climax in the same act. A good short story arc will develop the characters, lay the groundwork for the conflict and plot twists that are central to the narrative and then conclude on a high note, leaving the audience satisfied yet wanting more.

The next important term is “chiasmus”. This is defined as the “reversal of one element for matching effect”. So, if you are writing a story about a prince who is searching for a princess to marry, you could use chiasmus to highlight the fact that the prince is not actually looking for a wife but is in fact, looking for a way to inherit the throne. As mentioned above, the story arc can be used to define the beginning, the middle and the end of a piece of creative writing, however, chiasmus can be used to highlight how the events of the story reversed themselves at a certain point. In Snowflake, by Madeleine L’Engle, chiasmus is used in a way that highlights the theme of faith and trust – as soon as the main character begins to doubt the goodness of God, the world turns upside down and she finds herself trusting once again. In this case, the use of chiasmus serves a dual function – it highlights the theme of faith and trust but it also acts as a symbol of the changing of the guard, as a way of underscoring the transformation that the main character is going through.