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Plotting a Short Story

Hello folks,

I’m preparing to rework the first draft of my newest short story and I’ve decided to try something a little different. I’m going to use a loose plot structure on my story. This is new to me because I’ve never used a set plotting structure or formula for a short story. It’s not needed, but when I saw this one I decided it actually makes sense, so I’ll give it a go. Below is a screenshot of the basic idea so you can try it too, if you want.

This formula or technique is called “Dent’s Master Plot Formula” or the “6000 Word Story Formula”. I came across this idea when I watched a YouTube video titled “How to Outline a Novel in 10 Different Ways” on the Author Level Up channel.


As you can see, this method is pretty simple, but also formulaic. It is typically story driven and mainly focuses on characters that don’t grow much and remain static. However, you can adjust just about any part of this to allow for character growth.

For example, in the final quarter, just when all seems lost, when there seems like no way out, the hero finds a way to get passed it all. They are triumphant in their problem and they overcome some, or, all of the obstacles. This could be the highest point of that characters growth. How they’ve changed their thinking, adjusted their values (or strengthened them), and how they work with others. They have grown to get to that point and that growth has allowed them to “win”. In essence, this could apply to any of the four parts.

You can also adjust the length of each of the four parts to make your short story longer or shorter. Right now my story sits at about 6,700 words. I would like to cut it down to 5,000 words, which would bring each quarter of this formula to 1,250 words. Unfortunately, that is a lot of cutting for a short story, so if I find it too difficult, I may settle with a 6,000 word story, leaving it at the length in the picture above. A benefit of this structure is that it works for novels as well. In the YouTube video, the instructor explains that it works best for mystery type novels, but it can be adjusted to fit many and maybe all genres.

Back to me and my story…

I’m using this four-part plotting structure on a horror story. I’m trying to keep it fast paced and always moving, just as the video also explains. So, let me give you a basic example of how it might work in my case.

First Quarter:

  • Short exposition on setting as characters are introduced. Main character is discerned from other characters. Tone is set with location, objects, lighting, weather, and short dialogue.
  • There is a building realization that something taboo and frowned upon is about to happen.

Second Quarter:

  • The before mentioned taboo thing actually happens and leads to a tense scene, which begins the string of suspenseful, horrific actions and reactive scenes. Protagonist shows shock. Antagonist or “reverse force or character” is introduced.
  • First character dies as a direct result to above mentioned outcome.

Third Quarter:

  • Protagonist and remaining central characters are on the move. “Running for their lives” or metaphorically attempting to escape a terrible fate.
  • Second character dies and another character is injured or “slowed down/unable to continue or follow protagonist.”

Fourth Quarter:

  • Protagonist and character that is unable to continue are forced to split up.
  • Protagonist seeks and finds help or (protagonist is finally triumphant). They are taken to a “safe place” or surrounded by friends and family.
  • Extended: Character who was unable to continue and was separated seems to be lost (or dead, doomed, etc.).
  • Extended: Protagonist is blamed or becomes the victim in the eyes of friends, family.
  • Extended: Result of original “bad thing”, antagonist, taboo, or evil force has finally come to fruition against protagonist. “Got what they deserved moment”, “they’re not as safe as you thought moment”, “you’re never truly safe moment”, “things aren’t always as they seem realization”, etc. This is the final twist in the story or the ultimate shocking reveal.

Look at the image again. The points in each quarter match up well with the original diagram, with the exception of the extended three points at the very end, which blend with the final “End with a twist”.


This was a vague description of the points in my story, but I wouldn’t want to give away the important parts of my story, now would I? šŸ˜œ

What do you think? Would you want to give this method a try? If you do, let me know how it worked out for you. Did it make things simpler? Did it help your story make more sense?

Until next time,

TC Michael (author of Short Story Pro Market 2017)

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