Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.

Big Five Plot Points… for Short Stories

Maybe I should have titled this the post the Little Five Plot Points instead. The words “big” and “short” aren’t exactly accronyms, but they seem odd together.

I wrote my rules for the Big Five Plot Points a couple months ago, but I originally shared my thoughts on plot during NaNoWriMo. It’s been a few more months now, and a whole lot more words, and I’m still sticking to my guns on what comprises a good trade fiction plotline.

Since we are working on a new short story project together… what, you didn’t hear about it yet? We are collaborating on a short story together. You vote on what happens, and I’ll do the heavy lifting, er, writing. I’m very excited about this project and want it to be a success for everyone. So, since we are working on a short story together, I thought we should touch on plot points and how I think they fit into a short story.  Afterwards, we can see if I am correct.

The Big Five Plot Points for Short Stories:

1. Inciting Action – This is the event that starts your story in motion. Sometimes you need to start writing a bit in front of it to give some context. In a short story where every word counts, you should get through this part as quickly as you can.  If possible, I would try to marry it with #2 below.

2. Answering the Call / Point of No Return – This is when the main character (MC) makes a choice that pushes the story forward and from which there is no turning back. The MC cannot give up, go home, and have life return to normal. I also try to incorporate the first plot twist here.  Keep the number of characters limited in a short story.  Whenever possible, have the character do double duty, such as love interest AND antagonist.

3. Great Big Midpoint Plot Twist – Make sure that life for the MC is not pleasant as we reach this point. Come up with something big for the middle of the story that turns everything on its ear. Raise the stakes whenever you can by putting the MC’s life or reputation on the line, or by setting/shortening a deadline.

4. The Darkest Hour – The MC struggles on, maybe achieving a small win, but mainly experiencing more setbacks. This is the cruelest point of all, testing the character to the very core. To overcome this, the MC needs to dig deep and use some character trait that is unique to the MC.

5. The Grand Finale – Ramp everything up to the final showdown. Everything is on the line, and this is when either the MC or the villain will win. Paint that big scene on the rain-slick precipice under ominous weather conditions in all its glory. This is what you have been working for!  Short stories are known for the twist endings or ambiguious endings, so if you ever wanted to surprise your readers in a big way, this is the time to do it.


And if you haven’t done it already, do me a huge favor and go over here and vote.  This project won’t work without the support of readers like you. Thankee sai!

8 comments on “Big Five Plot Points… for Short Stories

  1. Christi
    March 8, 2013

    A short story can definitely have big plot points. :-) Thanks for great points!

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  3. ericjbaker
    March 8, 2013

    Good list. Too many stories have no reason to keep going.

  4. thejode
    March 10, 2013

    This is VERY insightful! I’ve been wondering why my novel felt so plodding, and in reading your points I can see where I’ve fallen short. Thanks so much for the Big Five- this insight is what I needed to reenergize my plot! I still dont think prose is my cup of tea, but at least now I have some options to improve :)

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  8. Indelibility
    October 4, 2013

    Interesting. I’m judging my own short stories and outlines now and most of them follow this arc already. The outlines that don’t I’m adjusting. :3 Thanks.

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Posting Schedule for 2014-15

Monday through Friday I will be posting about writing as business and craft, the science of creativity, all things steampunk, and progress on The Dreamless City.

Weekends are reserved for my Music Playlist.

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About the Author

Tracy Cembor attempts to juggle a preschooler and a baby, a full-time job, random geekery, and the writing life. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a steampunk urban fantasy novel. Come join the adventure.
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