At the beginning of the year I had a very ambitious plan to write one short story per week.

Of course, that plan went down in flames.

No surprise, in fact, I think my inner critic was snickering at my goal setting endeavors, because when I reviewed my business plan today (only 7 days behind schedule, mind you) I hadn’t written ONE short story, let alone 4 for the month of January like I’d planned.

What went wrong?


I’d not been writing one short story per month, let alone per week, so of course the habits that I needed to put into place weren’t supported…hence the tumble down the hill where I commenced to break my crown…lol.

It’s not as if I didn’t try.

In fact, I’ve written thousands of words on a story that wants to become a novella.

And that’s okay, let it be what it wants to be.

So am I giving up on the one short story a week idea?

Not entirely.

What I am doing is adjusting.

Instead of one short story per week the plan is one short story per two weeks.

This should give me time to keep working on the novella (which I plan to use as part of my marketing plan) while continuing to write short stories.

I’m also going to try something new.

I’m going to try the Lester Dent formula of short story writing to see if it can help me stay on task and keep the stories moving along as they should.

Ever hear of Doc Savage?

As a prolific pulp fiction writer (those guys were amazing) Lester had a tried and tested formula for writing pulse pounding short fiction.

Here’s one description of the formula from blogger Michael Salsbury.:

The Master Plot Formula, in 1500-word Chunks

The following is a breakdown of a 6,000-word short story into 1500-word chunks.  As you write or review your story, you should compare the story’s progress to these guidelines.  If there are story points that don’t apply to your tale, or you’re hitting most but not all of them, etc., that doesn’t mean you need to change your story.  Remember:  These are guidelines and suggestions, not set-in-stone rules.  If your story works, don’t change it.  If your story isn’t working, look here for advice on what may be wrong with it.

The First 1500 Words

The first quarter of your story should introduce the main characters and hint at (if not start) the primary conflict or challenge of the story.  If possible and appropriate to the tale you’re telling, this part of the story should hit the following points:

  • As soon as possible, introduce the main character and introduce (or hint at) the challenges that the character will face for the rest of the story.
  • Show the main character becoming aware of the challenge and making an effort to deal with it.
  • Introduce all the other important characters as soon as possible, linking them to the challenge in some way.
  • Show the main character dealing with some kind of significant challenge by the end of this quarter of the story.

Questions to ask yourself about this part of the story:

  • Is there an element of suspense, mystery, tension, danger, or excitement here?
  • Is there a physical, emotional, or other threat to the main character in play?
  • Is the sequence of events here logical and reasonable?  (For example, if the character could walk away, why doesn’t he/she?)

The Second 1500 Words

The second quarter of the story should resemble the following:

  • The character attempts to struggle with the main story challenge.
  • Each struggle should get more difficult or dangerous.
  • End with a surprising revelation or story point (e.g., the bad guy escapes from a room with no apparent exit)

Questions to ask yourself about this part of the story:

  • Is there suspense, mystery, tension, danger, and/or excitement here?
  • Is the suspense growing as the story develops?
  • Is the hero being backed into a corner, facing a seemingly insurmountable problem, etc?
  • Is the sequence of events here logical and reasonable?  (For example, if the character could walk away, why doesn’t he/she?)

There should be at least one minor surprise during this section of the story.  This invites the reader to continue reading to see how the thing turns out.  If the surprise is misleading or intriguing, so much the better.

The Third 1500 Words

In the third quarter of the story, things look grim for the main character.  The difficulties continue to mount.  Just when the main character appears to have solved the story problem, something happens.  Perhaps the story problem isn’t the real challenge, or perhaps a well-conceived strategy fails for an unexpected but logical reason.  In this section, we expect:

  • Much more trouble falls on the main character than at any previous point in the story
  • The main character appears to have found a final solution to the problem
  • The main character attempts to execute the plan, but fails miserably

Questions to ask yourself about this part of the story:

  • Is there still suspense, mystery, tension, danger, and/or excitement in play?
  • Does the main story challenge now appear much more insurmountable?
  • Is there hero being backed into a corner in some way, such that overcoming the story challenge is the only way out?
  • Does all this happen in a logical and reasonable way?  (There is no way the character could back out or act differently.)
  • Is the action swift, vivid, and “tight” (using the minimum number of words necessary)?
  • Can the reader see, hear, smell, taste, and feel what’s going on?
  • Does every word in this section count?


The Last 1500 Words

In this last section, the main character should see the challenge as something that cannot be overcome.  It should seem as difficult, imposing, frightening, or impossible as it can be.  This section should:

  • Add more challenges to the main character’s predicament
  • Put the main character in a seemingly inescapable predicament
  • Show the hero using skill, learning, or strength (physical or emotional) developed during the story to extricate himself or herself from the inescapable predicament
  • End with a big surprise, if possible, such as the villain turning out to be an unexpected person, a much sought after reward being something other than was expected, etc.
  • A satisfying conclusion, where the main character acknowledges growth, overcomes a personal demon, or otherwise leaves the reader with a warm feeling

Questions to ask yourself about this part of the story:

  • Has the excitement continued up to the end?

  • Did the challenge continue up to the end?

  • Have all the mysteries been solved (unless you’re leading up to a sequel)?

  • Has everything in the story happened logically, and as a natural progression of the events that happened before?

  • Is the reader left with a warm feeling?

  • Was it the main character who overcame the challenge, or someone/something else?  (The main character should nearly always be the one to overcome the challenge, even at the cost of his/her life.)


Do you have a favorite method of writing short fiction?