Tuesday, April 23, 2013

PPWC13: The 4-Hour Short Story Writer

This workshop was led by DeAnna Knippling.  Although these are my notes, the workshop content is attributed to DeAnna and the participants who offered input and discussion. 

The inspiration for this technique of short story mapping was The Four-Hour Chef by Timothy Ferriss.  Ferriss' approach to cooking was to break down the process into all the pieces.  Likewise, DeAnna studied the process of crafting the short story, pulled out all the pieces, set clear definitions, and strung them together into a checklist of sorts.

To write a short story using this technique, here's what you will need to learn:

1. Standard Manuscript Format.  DeAnn recommends William Shunn's online guide.

2.  Genre.  Know the expectations and conventions of your chosen genre.

3.  Character.  For the purposes of a short story, a character is simply a job or role in life and an attitude. 

4.  Setting.  For the purposes of a short story, the setting is simply a place, time, and a suggestion of how this place deviates from reality (if this applies).

5.  Problem.  The protagonist must have a problem; something that they cannot handle using their normal mode of operation.

6. Opening.  Defined as a character in a setting with a problem.

7.  Try/Fail Cycle.  The protagonist tries to accomplish something and fails (this is because they are using their normal mode of operation and have not yet transformed; transformation is necessary for the protagonist to eventually succeed).  When they do succeed, something gets worse.

8.  Climax / Last Big Try.  Strip the protagonist down and take away everything.  Force them to change and go outside of their comfort zone.  There are two possible outcomes: (1) the protagonist definitively succeeds and solves the problem, or (2) the protagonist fails and is unable to solve the problem.

9.  Validation.  Make sure the reader knows that reading the story was worth their time and that the story is over.  This will vary by genre convention.  Use "grace notes" by repeating one of the themes of the story.

When put together, these nine pieces make up the 4-hour short story.  Spend the time necessary to map out your short story and then use DeAnna's recommendation for pacing as shown below:

250-300 words (or 30 min. writing) = Opening
~500 words (or 45 min. writing) = Scene
~500 words (or 45 min. writing) = Scene
~500 words (or 45 min. writing) = Scene
~500 words (or 45 min. writing) = Scene
250-300 words (or 30 min. writing) = Climax & Validation

For a more complex approach to story structure, DeAnna recommends Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.


  1. No problem. It was an excellent workshop!

  2. I'm sad I missed this one! Did you enter the contest?

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

  3. Nope, I did not enter the contest. :( But for good reasons: two agents requested my manuscript so I'm busy polishing. :)


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