I read through a few more short stories and made notes of the big segment-moods through which the stories moved. I was trying to think of these shapes separate from those stories, but I do wish I’d made a note of what stories they were! One of them was an M.R. James.
If this approach to thinking about stories (written or drawn!) resonates with you, I encourage you to make your own list based on short stories you like. But for completeness, here are all the short story shapes from this page and the previous one:
- Ordinary — inkling — confirmation
- Reluctance — engagement — deepening
- Humorous sketch — elements clash/conflagration — fall-out
- Inkling — build — reveal-behind-the-story
- World — deeper — dissolve into it
- Unsettlement — deepening horror — the cusp of annihilation.
- Ominous — compounded — twist (of plot or knife)
- Formation of goal — quiet progression towards goal — achieves goal
- Inkling — red herring — solution
- Foreshadow doom — Proceed towards doom — [evade] doom
- Meet cute — complication — HEA (happily ever after)
- Fragments — facets — whole
- Situation — failures — successes
- Door — something through — pushed back
- Metaphor — metaphor — metaphor
- Suspicion — Peel back — truth & consequences
They fit short stories, and while each trio could fit in a single illustration, they also work nicely for sequences of at least three (at the risk of feeling like an instructive Victorian cartoon).
After making the list, I again remixed and rearranged the orders, to see what sort of stories each new grouping suggested to me. For example, “Ordinary — deeper — fall-out” suggested the horror behind the mundane, or a secret history. “Dissolve into the world — conflagration — inkling” could fit a ‘getting of wisdom’ plot. “Confirmation — build — unsettlement” might be about discovering someone or something has feet of clay.
This process is not about reinventing the wheel of story structure. It was about learning what the shapes of stories mean to me. The thinking-through is the point. That said, now that I have the list, it sometimes comes in useful for quickly giving shape to an idea (written or drawn!). I’ll post some examples of that soon.
(If you’d like an art or writing activity, there’s one based on this in the previous story structure post.)