ARGUMENTATIVE/PERSUASIVE ESSAY WRITING TIP
Definition: In this kind of essay, we not only give information but also present an argument with the PROS (supporting ideas) and CONS (opposing ideas) of an argumentative issue. We should clearly take our stand and write as if we are trying to persuade an opposing audience to adopt new beliefs or behavior. The primary objective is to persuade people to change beliefs that many of them do not want to change.
Choosing an argumentative topic is not an easy task. The topic should be such that it should be narrowed down
X Marijuana should be considered illegal. (Not a good topic because it is too general. In some medical cases, marijuana is prescribed by the doctors and the patients are encouraged to use it in case of suffering from too much pain)
√ Selling and using marijuana in public places should be considered illegal.
It should contain an argument
X We should decide whether we want a bicycle or a car. (our stand is not clear: do we support having bicycles or cars?)
√ If we are under the age of 30 and want a healthy life, we should definitely get a bicycle instead of a car.
X Are you one of those who thinks cheating is not good for students? (a question cannot be an argument)
√ Cheating helps students learn.
X Considering its geological position, Turkey has an important geopolitical role in the EU. (Facts cannot be arguments)
√ Considering its geopolitical role, we can clearly say that the EU cannot be without Turkey.
It should be a topic that can be adequately supported (with statistics, outside source citations, etc.)
X I feel that writing an argumentative essay is definitely a challenging task. (Feelings cannot be supported; we cannot persuade other people)
If you believe that you can find enough evidence to support your idea and refute others effectively, you can choose challenging topics as well. You can enjoy writing about such topics:
Cheating is beneficial for students.
Stress is good for the human body.
Polygamy is quite natural.
For women, there is no need for men.
Abortion is a Crime.
Organization: All argumentative topics have PROs and CON’s. Before starting writing, it is imperative to make a list of these ideas and choose the most suitable ones among them for supporting and refuting.
There are three possible organization patterns:
PRO idea 1
PRO idea 2
CON(s) + Refutation(s)
CON(s) + Refutation(s)
PRO idea 1
PRO idea 2
CON idea 1 -----> Refutation
CON idea 2 -----> Refutation
CON idea 3 -----> Refutation
The sample essay has been written according to the third pattern.
Thesis: Do Reiki instead of taking medicine.
People should trust medicine since it is effective and scientifically proven.
Reiki is also scientifically proven and does not have side effects. (refutation method: insufficient claim)
Serious illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and cancer cannot be treated without medicine.
Medicine also cannot treat serious illnesses if not diagnosed at an early stage. (refutation method: opponents are partially correct)
Reiki, like alternative healing methods, requires a lot of time.
Reiki requires less time if done regularly. (Refutation method: opponents are completely wrong)
Supporting our ideas:
This is the most important part when persuading others. We are asking some people to change their beliefs or actions. We should be supporting our ideas with such facts, statistics and/or authorities that there should not be room for any doubts. Here are some faulty supports we should avoid:
Thesis: Leaving the university and starting to work is good for the adolescent because …
Feelings, emotional arguments (… it makes one feel much better.)
Irrelevant examples (wandering off the topic) (… he would then be able to take his girlfriend to expensive restaurants.)
Oversimplification (… only then would he understand what it means to be an adult.)
Hasty generalizations (... it is a widely known fact that all adolescents look forward to earning money.)
Unreliable, even false outside sources (… according to www.doubtme.com, 80% of working men wish they quit school when they were at university and started working at an earlier age.)
Refuting opposing arguments: Before we start saying that the opponents are wrong, we should specify their opposing ideas. Otherwise, it would be like hitting the other person with eyes closed. We should see clearly what we are hitting and be prepared beforehand so that he cannot hit us back. We can do this by knowing what we are refuting.
E.g. X Some people may say that adolescents should not leave university education; however, they are wrong. (What they say is not wrong. Maybe their supporting idea is wrong /irrelevant /insufficient. We should state their supporting idea specifically to be able to refute it.)
√ Some people may say that adolescents should not leave university education because they are not physically and psychologically mature enough to cope with the problems of the real world. However, they forget one fact: adolescents can vote or start driving at the age of 18 (in some countries even before that age!), which proves that they are considered physically and psychologically mature at that age.
Language: Signposts gain importance in the argumentative essay. They enable the readers to follow our arguments easily.
When pointing out opposing arguments (CONs):
Opponents of this idea claim / maintain that …
Those who disagree / are against these ideas may say / assert that …
Some people may disagree with this idea.
When stating specifically why they think like that:
The put forward this idea because …
They claim that … since …
Reaching the turning point:
On the other hand
When refuting the opposing idea, we may use the following strategies:
compromise but prove that their argument is not powerful enough:
They have a point in thinking like that.
To a certain extent they are right.
After seeing this evidence, there is no way we can agree with what they say.
Say that their argument is irrelevant to the topic:
What we are discussing here is not what they are trying to prove.
Their argument is irrelevant.
Sample argumentative essay:
HEALTH AND HEALING AT YOUR FINGERTIPS
Throw out the bottles and boxes of drugs in your house. A new theory suggests that medicine could be bad for your health, which should at least come as good news to people who cannot afford to buy expensive medicine. However, it is a blow to the medicine industry, and an even bigger blow to our confidence in the progress of science. This new theory argues that healing is at our fingertips: we can be healthy by doing Reiki on a regular basis.
Supporters of medical treatment argue that medicine should be trusted since it is effective and scientifically proven. They say that there is no need for spiritual methods such as Reiki, Yoga, and Tai Chi. These waste our time, something which is quite precious in our material world. There is medicine that can kill our pain, x-rays that show us our fractured bones or MRI that scans our brain for tumors. We must admit that these methods are very effective in the examples that they provide. However, there are some “every day complaints” such as back pains, headaches, insomnia, which are treated currently with medicine. When you have a headache, you take an Aspirin, or Vermidon, when you cannot sleep; you take Xanax without thinking of the side effects of these. When you use these pills for a long period, you become addicted to them; you cannot sleep without them. We pay huge amounts of money and become addicted instead of getting better. How about a safer and more economical way of healing? When doing Reiki to yourself, you do not need anything except your energy so it is very economical. As for its history, it was discovered in Japan in the early 1900s and its popularity has spread particularly throughout America and Western Europe. In quantum physics, energy is recognized as the fundamental substance of which the universe is composed. Reiki depends on the energy within our bodies. It is a simple and effective way of restoring the energy flow. There are no side effects and it is scientifically explained.
Opponents of alternative healing methods also claim that serious illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and cancer cannot be treated without drugs. They think so because these patients spend the rest of their lives in the hospital taking medicine. How can Reiki make these people healthy again? It is very unfortunate that these patients have to live in the hospital losing their hair because of chemotherapy, losing weight because of the side effects of the medicine they take. Actually, it is common knowledge that except for when the cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, drugs also cannot treat AIDS or cancer. Most of the medicines these patients use are to ease their pain and their sufferings because of the medical treatment they undergo. Instead of drugs which are expensive and have many side effects, you can use your energy to overcome the hardships of life, find an emotional balance, leave the stress of everyday life and let go of the everyday worries. Most of the chronic conditions such as eczema or migraine are known to have causes such as poor diet and stress. Deep-rooted anger or other strong emotions can contribute to viral infections as well. Since balancing our emotions and controlling our thoughts are very important for our well-being, we should definitely start learning Reiki and avoid illnesses before it is too late.
Some people may still maintain that in our material world, everything depends on time. It is even “lacking time” that causes much of the stress that leads to the illnesses we mentioned. How would it be possible to find time to do Reiki to ourselves and the people around us when we cannot even find time to go to the theater? This is one good thing about Reiki; it does not require more than 15 minutes of our time. There is no need for changing clothes or special equipment. It is a wonderfully simple healing art, an effective method of relaxation and stress-relief. Most important of all, it is less time consuming than medicine if we think of all the time we spend taking medicine for some complaints and taking some more for the side effects as well.
Having said these, resistance to Reiki would be quite illogical. Reiki is natural and drug-free. What is more, it is easy to learn by anyone, regardless of age and experience. It can be used anywhere, anytime. It also enhances physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being and the benefits last a lifetime. It is definitely high time to get away from the drug boxes we store in our drug cabinet!
Tips: Persuasive or argumentative essays
In persuasive or argumentative writing, we try to convince others to agree with our facts, share our values, accept our argument and conclusions, and adopt our way of thinking.
Elements toward building a good persuasive essay include establishing facts to support an argument clarifying relevant values for your audience (perspective) prioritizing, editing, and/or sequencing the facts and values in importance to build the argument forming and stating conclusions "persuading" your audience that your conclusions are based upon the agreed-upon facts and shared values having the confidence to communicate your "persuasion" in writing.
Here are some strategies to complete a persuasive writing assignment:
Write out the questions in your own words. Think of the questions posed in the assignment while you are reading and researching. Determine
Facts any sources that will help you determine their reliability (as well as for further reference) what prejudices lie in the argument or values that color the facts or the issue what you think of the author's argument List out facts; consider their importance: prioritize, edit, sequence, discard, etc.
Ask yourself "What's missing?" What are the "hot buttons" of the issue? List possible emotions/emotional reactions and recognize them for later use
Start writing a draft!
Start as close as possible to your reading/research. Do not concern yourself with grammar or spelling
Write your first paragraph:
• Introduce the topic
• Inform the reader of your point of view!
• Entice the reader to continue with the rest of the paper!
• Focus on three main points to develop. Establish flow from paragraph to paragraph
• Keep your voice active
• Quote sources to establish authority
• Stay focused on your point of view throughout the essay
• Focus on logical arguments
• Don't lapse into summary in the development--wait for the conclusion.
Summarize, and then conclude, your argument. Refer to the first paragraph/opening statement as well as the main points
• does the conclusion restate the main ideas?
• reflect the succession and importance of the arguments
• logically conclude their development?
Edit/rewrite the first paragraph to better telegraph your development and conclusion.
Take a day or two off!
Re-read your paper with a fresh mind and a sharp pencil
• Ask yourself:
Does this make sense? Am I convinced? Will this convince a reader? Will they understand my values, and agree with my facts?
• Edit, correct, and re-write as necessary
• Check spelling and grammar!
• Have a friend read it and respond to your argument.
Were they convinced?
• Revise if necessary
• Turn in the paper
• Celebrate a job well done, with the confidence that you have done your best.
Short Story Writing Tips
1. Collect ideas for your story. Inspiration can strike at any time, so carry a notepad with you wherever you go so that you can write down story ideas as they come to you.
Most of the time, you’ll just think of small snippets of information (a catastrophic event around which you can build a plot, a character’s name or appearance, etc.), but sometimes you’ll get lucky and a whole story will reveal itself to you in a couple of minutes.
If you have trouble finding inspiration, or if you need to write a story in a hurry (for a class, for example), learn how to brainstorm or if you can't come up with any ideas you might have to look to family and friends for inspiration.
Experience usually helps to build good plots. Many of Isaac Asimov's mysteries came from experience of certain incidents.
2. Begin with basics of a short story. After you've chosen an idea, you need to remember the basics of a short story before writing one. Steps to a good short story are:
Introduction: introduces characters, setting, time, weather, etc.
Initiating action: The point of a story that starts the rising action.
Rising action: Events leading up to the climax or turning point.
Climax: The most intense point or turning point of the story.
Falling action: Your story begins to conclude.
Resolution: A satisfying ending to the story in which the central conflict is resolved—or not! You don't have to write your short story in order. If you have an idea for a great conclusion, write it down. Move backward or forward from your starting idea (it may or may not be the beginning of the story), and ask “What happens next?” or “What happened before this?”
3. Find inspiration from real people. If you have trouble understanding or finding attributes of a character, turn to your life. You can easily borrow attributes of people you know or even strangers you notice.
For example, you might notice someone is always drinking coffee, they talk in a loud, booming voice, they are always typing away at the computer, etc. All of these observations would together make a very interesting character. Your character can even blend attributes of a number of people.
4. Know your characters. For a story to be believable, the characters have to feel genuine and realistic. It can be a difficult task to create interesting and realistic characters. But here are a few strategies to create "real people" to populate your story: Write a list, titled with the character's name, and write all the attributes you can think of, from their position in the orchestra to their favorite color. Know as much as possible about your characters, from what their central motivations are to what their favorite foods are. Do they talk with an accent? Do they have any quirky mannerisms? You won’t include all this information in your story, but the more you know, the more your characters will come to life, both for you and for the reader.
Make sure your characters' personalities are not perfect. Every character needs to have some flaws, some problems, some imperfections, and some insecurity. You might assume that people wouldn't like to read about a character with a lot of flaws, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. Batman wouldn't be The Dark Knight if he weren't a borderline sociopath!
People can relate to characters with problems, as that's realistic. When trying to come up with flaws, you don't need to give your character some huge, bizarre issue (although you definitely can). For most characters, try to stick with things you know about. For example, the character could have anger issues, be afraid of water, be lonely, dislike being around other people, smoke too much, etc. All of these could be taken further in development.
5. Limit the breadth of your story. A novel can occur over millions of years and include a multitude of subplots, a variety of locations, and an army of supporting characters. The main events of a short story should occur in a relatively short period of time (days or even minutes), and you typically won’t be able to develop effectively more than one plot, two or three main characters, and one setting. If your story has much more breadth, it probably needs to be a novella or novel.
6. Decide who will tell the story. There are three main points of view from which to tell a story: first-person (“I”), second-person (“you”), and third-person (“he” or “she”). In a first-person story, a character in the story tells the story; in the second-person the reader is made a character in the story; and in the third-person, an outside narrator tells the story. (Second-person narration is rarely used.)
Keep in mind that first-person narrators can only tell what they know (which will be limited to what they see firsthand or are told by others), while third-person narrators can either know everything and explore every character’s thoughts, or be limited to only that which can be observed.
You can also mix-and-match. For example, you could switch between a first-person narrative in one chapter, and third-person in another, or even have more than one first-person point of view.
7. Organize your thoughts. After you've prepared the basic elements of your story, it can be helpful to do out a time-line in some way to help you decide what should happen when.
Your story should consist at least of an introduction, initiating incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. You can draw or write a visual with very simple descriptions of what should happen in each of these stages. Having this done will help you keep focused when writing the story, and you can easily make changes to it, so that you are able to keep a steady flow as you write the full story.
8. Start writing. Depending on how thoroughly you’ve sketched out your plot and characters, the actual writing process may simply be one of choosing the right words.
Generally, however, writing is arduous. You probably won’t know your characters and plot as well as you thought, but it doesn’t matter—in a sense, they will tell you what they need, even if you paint them into a corner. Plus, there's always the second draft!
9. Come out swinging. The first page—some would say the first sentence—of any writing should grab the reader’s attention and leave him/her wanting more.
A quick start is especially important in short stories because you don’t have much room to tell your story. Don’t dillydally with long introductions of the characters or uninteresting descriptions of the setting: get right into the plot, and reveal details about the characters and setting piece-by-piece as you go along.
10. Keep writing. You’re almost certain to hit some bumps in the road to finishing your story. You’ve got to work through them, though. Set aside a time to write each and every day, and make it a goal to finish, say, a page each day. Even if you end up throwing away what you wrote on that day, you’ve been writing and thinking about the story, and that will keep you going in the long run.
Consider participating in writing groups or activities.
11. Let the story "write itself". As you develop your story, you may want to turn your plot in a different direction than you had planned, or you may want to substantially change or remove a character. Listen to your characters if they tell you to do something different, and don’t worry about scrapping your plans altogether if you can make a better story as you go.
1. Get Started: Emergency Tips
Is your short story assignment due tomorrow morning? These emergency tips may help. Good luck!
• What does your protagonist want?
(The athlete who wants her team to win the big game and the car crash victim who wants to survive are not unique or interesting enough.)
• When the story begins, what morally significant actions has your protagonist taken towards that goal?
(“Morally significant” doesn’t mean conventionally “good”; rather, your protagonist should already have made a conscious choice that drives the rest of the story.)
• What unexpected consequences — directly related to the protagonist’s goal-oriented actions — ramp up the emotional energy of the story?
(Will the unexpected consequences force your protagonist to make yet another choice, leading to still more consequences?)
• What details from the setting, dialog, and tone help you tell the story?
(Things to cut: travel scenes, character A telling character B about something we just saw happening to character A, and phrases like “said happily” — it’s much better to say “bubbled” or “smirked” or “chortled.”)
• What morally significant choice does your protagonist make at the climax of the story?
(Your reader should care about the protagonist’s decision. Ideally, the reader shouldn’t see it coming.)
2. Write a Catchy First Paragraph
In today’s fast-moving world, the first sentence of your short story should catch your reader’s attention with the unusual, the unexpected, an action, or a conflict. Begin with tension and immediacy. Remember that short stories need to start close to their end.
I heard my neighbor through the wall.
Dry and uninteresting.
The neighbor behind us practiced scream therapy in his shower almost every day.
The second sentence catches the reader’s attention. Who is this guy who goes in his shower every day and screams? Why does he do that? What, exactly, is “scream therapy”? Let’s keep reading…
The first time I heard him, I stood in the bathroom listening at our shared wall for ten minutes, debating the wisdom of calling the police. It was very different from living in the duplex over middle-aged Mr. and Mrs. Brown and their two young sons in Duluth.
The rest of the paragraph introduces I and an internal conflict as the protagonist debates a course of action and introduces an intriguing contrast of past and present setting.
“It is important to understand the basic elements of fiction writing before you consider how to put everything together. This process is comparable to producing something delectable in the kitchen–any ingredient that you put into your bowl of dough impacts your finished loaf of bread. To create a perfect loaf, you must balance ingredients baked for the correct amount of time and enhanced with the right polishing glaze.” -Laurel Yourke
3. Developing Characters
Your job, as a writer of short fiction–whatever your beliefs–is to put complex personalities on stage and let them strut and fret their brief hour. Perhaps the sound and fury they make will signify something that has more than passing value–that will, in Chekhov’s words, “make [man] see what he is like.” -Rick Demarnus
In order to develop a living, breathing, multi-faceted character, it is important to know way more about the character than you will ever use in the story. Here is a partial list of character details to help you get started.
• Residence • Pets
• Single or married?
• Favorite color
• Favorite foods
• Drinking patterns
• Faults • something hated?
• Strong memories?
• Any illnesses?
• Nervous gestures?
• Sleep patterns
Imagining all these details will help you get to know your character, but your reader probably won’t need to know much more than the most important things in four areas:
Appearance: Gives your reader a visual understanding of the character.
Action: Show the reader what kind of person your character is, by describing actions rather than simply listing adjectives.
Speech: Develop the character as a person — don’t merely have your character announce important plot details.
Thought: Bring the reader into your character’s mind, to show them your character’s unexpressed memories, fears, and hopes.
For example, let’s say I want to develop a college student persona for a short story that I am writing. What do I know about her?
Her name is Jen, short for Jennifer Mary Johnson. She is 21 years old. She is a fair-skinned Norwegian with blue eyes, long, curly red hair, and is 5 feet 6 inches tall. Contrary to the stereotype about redheads, she is actually easygoing and rather shy. She loves cats and has two of them named Bailey and Allie. She is atechnical writing major with a minor in biology. Jen plays the piano and is an amateur photographer. She lives in the dorms at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She eats pizza every day for lunch and loves Red Rosetea. She cracks her knuckles when she is nervous. Her mother just committed suicide.
4. Choose a Point of View
Point of view is the narration of the story from the perspective of first, second, or third person. As a writer, you need to determine who is going to tell the story and how much information is available for the narrator to reveal in the short story. The narrator can be directly involved in the action subjectively, or the narrator might only report the action objectively.
First Person: The story is told from the view of “I.” The narrator is either theprotagonist (main character) and directly affected by unfolding events, or the narrator is a secondary character telling the story revolving around the protagonist. This is a good choice for beginning writers because it is the easiest to write.
I saw a tear roll down his cheek. I had never seen my father cry before. I looked away while he brushed the offending cheek with his hand.
Second Person: The story is told directly to “you”, with the reader as a participant in the action.
You laughed loudly at the antics of the clown. You clapped your hands with joy.
Third Person: The story tells what “he”, “she,” or “it” does. The third-person narrator’s perspective can be limited (telling the story from one character’s viewpoint) or omniscient (where the narrator knows everything about all of the characters).
He ran to the big yellow loader sitting on the other side of the gravel pit shack.
• Your narrator might take sides in the conflict you present, might be as transparent as possible, or might advocate a position that you want your reader to challenge (this is the “unreliable narrator” strategy).
First Person: “Unites narrator and reader through a series of secrets” when they enter one character’s perceptions. However, it can “lead to telling” and limits readers connections to other characters in the short story.
Second Person: “Puts readers within the actual scene so that readers confront possibilities directly.” However, it is important to place your characters “in a tangible environment” so you don’t “omit the details readers need for clarity.”
Third Person Omniscient: Allows you to explore all of the characters’ thoughts and motivations. Transitions are extremely important as you move from character to character.
Third Person Limited: “Offers the intimacy of one character’s perceptions.” However, the writer must “deal with character absence from particular scenes.”
5. Write Meaningful Dialogue
Make your readers hear the pauses between the sentences. Let them see characters lean forward, fidget with their cuticles, avert their eyes, uncross their legs. -Jerome Stern
Dialogue is what your characters say to each other (or to themselves).
Each speaker gets his/her own paragraph, and the paragraph includes whatever you wish to say about what the character is doing when speaking. (See: “Quotation Marks: Using Them in Dialogue“.)
“Where are you going?” John cracked his knuckles while he looked at the floor. “To the racetrack.” Mary edged toward the door, keeping her eyes on John’s bent head. “Not again,” John stood up, flexing his fingers. “We are already maxed out on our credit cards.”
The above paragraph is confusing, because it is not clear when one speech stops and the other starts.
“Where are you going?” John asked nervously.
“To the racetrack,” Mary said, trying to figure out whether John was too upset to let her get away with it this time.
“Not again,” said John, wondering how they would make that month’s rent. “We are already maxed out on our credit cards.”
The second example is mechanically correct, since it uses a separate paragraph to present each speaker’s turn advancing the conversation. But the narrative material between the direct quotes is mostly useless.
Write Meaningful Dialogue Labels
“John asked nervously” is an example of “telling.” The author could write “John asked very nervously” or “John asked so nervously that his voice was shaking,” and it still wouldn’t make the story any more effective.
How can the author convey John’s state of mind, without coming right out and tellinig the reader about it? By inference. That is, mention a detail that conjures up in the reader’s mind the image of a nervous person.
John sat up. “Wh– where are you going?”
“Where are you going?” John stammered, staring at his Keds.
Deep breath. Now or never. “Where are you going?”
John sat up and took a deep breath, knowing that his confrontation with Mary had to come now, or it would never come at all. “Wh– where are you going?” he stammered nervously, staring at his Keds.
Beware — a little detail goes a long way.Why would your reader bother to think about what is going on, if the author carefully explains what each and every line means?
Let’s return to the first example, and show how dialogue labels can affect the meaning of a passage.
“Where are you going?” John cracked his knuckles while he looked at the floor.
“To the racetrack.” Mary edged toward the door, keeping her eyes on John’s bent head.
“Not again,” John stood up, flexing his fingers. “We are already maxed out on our credit cards.”
In the above revision, John nervously asks Mary where she is going, and Mary seems equally nervous about going.But if you play a little with the paragraphing..
“Where are you going?”
John cracked his knuckles while he looked at the floor. “To the racetrack.”
Mary edged toward the door, keeping her eyes on John’s bent head. “Not again.”
John stood up, flexing his fingers. “We are already maxed out on our credit cards.”
All I changed was the paragraphing (and I changed a comma to a period.)Now Mary seems more aggressive — she seems to be moving to block John, who seems nervous and self-absorbed. And John seems to be bringing up the credit card problem as an excuse for his trip to the racing track. He and Mary seem to be desperate to for money now. I’d rather read the rest of the second story than the rest of the first one.
6. Use Setting and Context
Setting moves readers most when it contributes to an organic whole. So close your eyes and picture your characters within desert, jungle, or suburb–whichever setting shaped them. Imagining this helps balance location and characterization. Right from the start, view your characters inhabiting a distinct place. -- Laurel Yourke
Setting includes the time, location, context, and atmosphere where the plot takes place.
• Remember to combine setting with characterization and plot.
• Include enough detail to let your readers picture the scene but only details that actually add something to the story. (For example, do not describe Mary locking the front door, walking across the yard, opening the garage door, putting air in her bicycle tires, getting on her bicycle–none of these details matter except that she rode out of the driveway without looking down the street.)
• Use two or more senses in your descriptions of setting.
• Rather than feed your readers information about the weather, population statistics, or how far it is to the grocery store, substitute descriptive details so your reader can experience the location the way your characters do.
Our sojourn in the desert was an educational contrast with its parched heat, dust storms, and cloudless blue sky filled with the blinding hot sun. The rare thunderstorm was a cause for celebration as the dry cement tunnels of the aqueducts filled rapidly with rushing water. Great rivers of sand flowed around and through the metropolitan inroads of man’s progress in the greater Phoenix area, forcefully moved aside for concrete and steel structures. Palm trees hovered over our heads and saguaro cactuses saluted us with their thorny arms.
7. Set Up the Plot
Plot is what happens, the storyline, the action. Jerome Stern says it is how you set up the situation, where the turning points of the story are, and what the characters do at the end of the story.
A plot is a series of events deliberately arranged so as to reveal their dramatic, thematic, and emotional significance. -Jane Burroway
Understanding these story elements for developing actions and their end results will help you plot your next short story.
• Explosion or “Hook.” A thrilling, gripping, stirring event or problem that grabs the reader’s attention right away.
• Conflict. A character versus the internal self or an external something or someone.
• Exposition. Background information required for seeing the characters in context.
• Complication. One or more problems that keep a character from their intended goal.
• Transition. Image, symbol, dialogue, that joins paragraphs and scenes together.
• Flashback. Remembering something that happened before the short story takes place.
• Climax. When the rising action of the story reaches the peak.
• Falling Action. Releasing the action of the story after the climax.
• Resolution. When the internal or external conflict is resolve.
Brainstorming. If you are having trouble deciding on a plot, try brainstorming. Suppose you have a protagonist whose husband comes home one day and says he doesn’t love her anymore and he is leaving. What are actions that can result from this situation?
1. She becomes a workaholic.
2. Their children are unhappy.
3. Their children want to live with their dad.
4. She moves to another city.
5. She gets a new job.
6. They sell the house.
7. She meets a psychiatrist and falls in love.
8. He comes back and she accepts him.
9. He comes back and she doesn’t accept him.
10. She commits suicide.
11. He commits suicide.
12. She moves in with her parents.
The next step is to select one action from the list and brainstorm another list from that particular action.
8. Create Conflict and Tension
Conflict is the fundamental element of fiction, fundamental because in literature only trouble is interesting. It takes trouble to turn the great themes of life into a story: birth, love, sex, work, and death. -Janet Burroway
Conflict produces tension that makes the story begin. Tension is created by opposition between the character or characters and internal or external forces or conditions. By balancing the opposing forces of the conflict, you keep readers glued to the pages wondering how the story will end.
Possible Conflicts Include:
• The protagonist against another individual
• The protagonist against nature (or technology)
• The protagonist against society
• The protagonist against God
• The protagonist against himself or herself.
Mystery: Explain just enough to tease readers. Never give everything away.
Empowerment: Give both sides options.
Progression: Keep intensifying the number and type of obstacles the protagonist faces.
Causality: Hold fictional characters more accountable than real people. Characters who make mistakes frequently pay, and, at least in fiction, commendable folks often reap rewards.
Surprise: Provide sufficient complexity to prevent readers predicting events too far in advance.
Empathy: Encourage reader identification with characters and scenarios that pleasantly or (unpleasantly) resonate with their own sweet dreams (or night sweats).
Insight: Reveal something about human nature.
Universality: Present a struggle that most readers find meaningful, even if the details of that struggle reflect a unique place and time.
High Stakes: Convince readers that the outcome matters because someone they care about could lose something precious. Trivial clashes often produce trivial fiction.
9. Build to a Crisis or Climax:
This is the turning point of the story–the most exciting or dramatic moment.
The crisis may be recognition, a decision, or a resolution. The character understands what hasn’t been seen before, or realizes what must be done, or finally decides to do it. It’s when the worm turns. Timing is crucial. If the crisis occurs too early, readers will expect still another turning point. If it occurs too late, readers will get impatient–the character will seem rather thick.-Jerome Stern
Jane Burroway says that the crisis “must always be presented as a scene. It is “the moment” the reader has been waiting for. In Cinderella’s case, “the payoff is when the slipper fits.”
While a good story needs a crisis, a random event such as a car crash or a sudden illness is simply an emergency –unless it somehow involves a conflict that makes the reader care about the characters.
The best explanation I’ve seen of the difference between crisis and conflict comes from a Star Trek fan magazine I read as a kid. I’m almost sure that the author was David Gerrold. I’m reconstructing most of it myself in order to make my point, but the examples he gave were pretty stark and formulaic, along these lines:
1. The Enterprise encounters the slime monster. It attacks the ship. (Crisis!) Kirk kills it by freezing it. (Resolution)
2. The Enterprise encounters the ice beast. It attacks a peaceful planet. (Crisis!) Kirk kills it by melting it. (Resolution)
3. The Enterprise encounters the crystal demon. It attacks a strategic Federation base. The only way to stop it is to shatter it with sound waves — but doing so will deafen an entire city of the galaxy’s finest musicians. Doing nothing would mean that the Romulans might occupy the planet, shatter the demon and deafen the city anyway. Kirk has to decide what to do. (Conflict!!)
The first two scenarios might be exciting to watch. Imagine the screams of the slime monster, the howls of the ice beast, the tension on the bridge as the Enterprise closes in for the kill. Sounds like fun, but it is only action, like a video game.
The last scenario has the same potential for action, but in addition, it lends itself to introspection, to the exploration of values, to the examination of choices. For example, we might see the tearful pleas of the city dwellers, the belligerent boasting of the Romulans, and an argument between Spock and McCoy. We might even see the hero change in some way, too, as he tries to negotiate a moral path that takes into account what all parties have at stake.
This is true dramatic conflict.
10. Find a Resolution:
The solution to the conflict. In short fiction, it is difficult to provide a complete resolution and you often need to just show that characters are beginning to change in some way or starting to see things differently.
Yourke examines some of the options for ending a story.
Open. Readers determine the meaning.
Brendan’s eyes looked away from the priest and up to the mountains.
Resolved: Clear-cut outcome.
While John watched in despair, Helen loaded up the car with her belongings and drove away.
Parallel to Beginning: Similar to beginning situation or image.
They were driving their 1964 Chevrolet Impala down the highway while the wind blew through their hair.
Her father drove up in a new 1964 Chevrolet Impala, a replacement for the one that burned up.
Monologue: Character comments.
I wish Tom could have known Sister Dalbec’s prickly guidance before the dust devils of Sin City battered his soul.
Dialogue: Characters converse.
Literal Image: Setting or aspect of setting resolves the plot.
The aqueducts were empty now and the sun was shining once more.
Symbolic Image: Details represent a meaning beyond the literal one.
Looking up at the sky, I saw a cloud cross the shimmering blue sky above us as we stood in the morning heat of Sin City.