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Short Stories: How to Add Drama, Surprise and Twists

written by: Julia Bodeeb • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/6/2012

Help students learn about the elements of a short story and how to use drama effectively to build suspense. Tips to teach students how to craft a unique and enjoyable short story.

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    Since writing is such an important part of standardized tests, it is crucial to help students learn how to create a short story that is memorable and keeps the reader highly interested. Many high school students create stories that are about typical experiences; they need encouragement to reach beyond their everyday lives and create a story that is full of drama and surprise.

    The Elements of a Short Story

    Before students start working on the story outline, give them tips about writing short stories. Discuss the elements of a short story such as a clear opening, body, and conclusion, and strong characters. Also discuss the importance of using strong, vivid words. Encourage them to use imagery and similes to build pictures in the mind of the reader. Write some examples of strong similes on the board and ask students to volunteer to make up a simile too.

    Create a Story Outline

    Have students work in pairs to create an outline for a short story. Tell them to name at least two main characters, five traits for each character (at least 3 of the traits should be unusual), list the setting, list two conflicts, list three plot events, and one surprise. Working in teams helps students who have a phobia about creative writing get over their fears and talk through their ideas for the story.

    Give Advice about Outlines

    Circulate the room while students are creating their outlines. Remind students to use unique plot events. Also give students feedback about the characters they are creating. Ask them some questions about how the character would act to help them think through the personality of their characters.

    Put Buzz Words on the Board about Surprises

    List some words and phrases on the board to help students brainstorm ideas for the surprise in their short story. A sudden surprise or twist in a story livens up the story and keeps the reader very interested in staying focused on the story. Some examples might include: and he walked in the room, I had never seen anything like it, what was that noise? my heart started racing, I smiled like never before, my eyes widened, I laughed in surprise, and everyone turned to see it. Also ask students if anyone would like to volunteer a word or a phrase that could be used to transition to a surprise in a story.

    Discuss Favorite Movie Surprises

    Help students understand the importance of using surprise in a story by discussing some unusually surprising plot events from movies they have seen. Students love to discuss movies and will relish the opportunity to describe the plot of their favorite film.

    Start Story Introduction and Get Peer Review

    Ask students to work in a team with the outline they created and start to write an introduction to their story. After writing two to three paragraphs ask them to stop and have another team peer review their story. If each team gets another to look at the introduction it will help the students learn if their characters are interesting and if the story gets off to a strong start.

    Team Writing

    Give the students one additional class period to work with their partner to continue writing a draft of the short story. Circulate the room the entire period to give feedback and writing tips as you review each story. Then inform the class the final draft of the story will be due in one week. Remind them to follow the guidelines discussed for the story and to create a story of at least 5 typed pages in length.

    Assess Student Progress

    Critique each story to assess students’ writing skills and adherence to the story writing guidelines provided. Check for use of similes and imagery. Give feedback in writing about the strength of vocabulary used and the overall success or not of creating a story that is interesting and unique.