The guidelines for short story submissions often say that the story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Sounds pretty simple doesn't it? And it is. But, students in my writing classes often have questions about exactly what belongs in each of the first three parts of the plot.
The beginning provides the reader with the necessary information to understand the rest of the story. It will usually include:
• the characters of the story.
• the subject of the story.
(What it will be about.)
• the setting of the story.
(When and where the story occurs.)
• the situation of the story. (How the conflict in the story arose.)
The middle provides a series of complications and events that are related to the situation of the story. The protagonist will struggle with problems throughout this part, and will be blocked by the antagonist every step of the way. Possible solutions to the characters' problems are sometimes given in this part of the story, but the reader is always left to wonder what the final outcome will be.
The end of the story reveals the final outcome of the events that comprise it. In it, the loose ends are tied up, and the reader knows what has happened to all main characters, and how the main problem(s) of the main character(s) is/are resolved.
The fourth part of the plot is the climax. The climax (or most dramatic part) of a story is that moment after which nothing will ever again be the same. The climax will sometimes occur at the very end of the middle section, or it may be at the end of a story. In a short-short story, it is often the very last sentence. That would especially be true in a story with an “O’Henry style” ending.
The most successful stories have a main character who wants something badly and struggles against opposing forces to get it. Also, the main character solves his or her own problems, rather than waiting for someone to rescue him or her.
Outlining all the parts of a story before beginning to write it, will often help a writer stay on track.