Writing Short Stories
Writing a short story in Subtxt works the same way it does when writing a full-length screenplay or novel. You use the same pieces and the same methodologies—you just use less of them.
If you’re writing something relatively simple, like a short 1200-1800 word article, or a three to four page short story (even a Calvin and Hobbes-sized comic strip 😃), Subtxt's InstantScene feature can help you structure what happens when.
To learn in great detail how to use this feature, read Writing a Scene with Subtxt on Narrative First.
If you want to write something a bit more complex, something between an InstantScene and complete story, you can simply use Subtxt’s Build a Story features—and then leave out the parts of the story you don’t want to write.
Short stories are simply a slice of a complete story. They tell a complete “story” of their particular focus, but they’re not fully complete in the kind of argument they’re making (I.e., their Premise will only be partially proven).
When beginning to create a short story or screenplay using Subtxt, one simple approach is to select a single quad of items. Four elements, Issues, or Types from any level within the model can be the foundation for a compelling short story. The key to success is choosing one quad and maintaining consistency throughout your work. This concept underpins the InstantScene feature in Subtxt.
Another strategy is to explore an entire tower of the model, focusing on a single Throughline from top to bottom. Your short story could concentrate on the Main Character or the Objective Story, for example. In this case, you would be selecting four elements within the model, but this time, you'd traverse the four levels from top to bottom.
Subtxt's flexibility allows for a variety of approaches, ensuring that your stories are complete and consistent at whichever level you decide to write them.
Working with Subtxt Muse is the best way to get started, as it enables you to quickly build a workable outline just by mentioning a quad of elements in Muse. The intuitive interface allows you to easily explore different quads and levels of the model, streamlining the process of building a solid foundation for your story. By engaging with Subtxt Muse, you'll not only gain a deeper understanding of the underlying principles and theories but also efficiently develop a comprehensive outline to guide your writing journey.
To get started writing a short story in Subtxt, first create a Premise in the Premise Builder that approximates what you want to say with your story.
Once built, drop into your story and determine what aspects of the complete story you want to focus on in this short story. Typically, short stories focus on either the Main Character Throughline or the Objective Story Throughline (and sometimes both).
Develop your chosen Throughline as you would in the Illustrating section. Make sure you stay at the Transit level. If you go any lower, your short story will quickly become a long story. 😊
After illustrating the single Throughline of your short story, move down to the Plotting section and add one Moment for each Act of your story. Once added, drag and drop or add the Storybeat Transit from that Throughline into that Moment.
Repeat this method for the remaining three Acts.
Congratulations - your short story is now complete. 🎉
All that’s left are a simple tweaks and adjustments here and there for spelling and storytelling (you can do it right there in the Writing section), and then download the final product to take into your favorite writing app.
You just used Subtxt to write a compelling and meaningful short story.
If you're writing a scene using the Instascene, know that you do not have to connect the four Methods with any other quad (as you would in a complete story). When only writing to a single quad, you're not writing a complete story--you're writing a part of a complete story.
For example, if writing a short story--or scene--about Approach, one might ask Subtxt: "write me a dramatic scene that consists of these four parts: 1: being considered, 2: using logic about a group, 3: feeling good, 4: amending." These four Illustrations match up with the four Methods found in Approach: Consider, Logic, Feeling, and Reconsider.
Given the above input, Subtxt might respond:
Eva is at a town hall meeting with members of the community, discussing ways to improve the town. She is open to the ideas being proposed, but is also thinking about solutions from her own perspective. She speaks up to express her ideas and uses logic to make her case. She is surprised to find the other members of the community are resonating with her and she realizes that her ideas could be the solution they need. Encouraged by their reaction, she amends her original proposal and offers a more logical and achievable solution. She feels good inside knowing that she has been able to contribute to the discourse in a meaningful way.
Note that the response flipped items 3 and 4. If you re-write the response yourself in the recommended Z-pattern as presented in the Instascene you actually write a short scene with a thematic look at the appropriateness of one's Approach (of how they do things or resolve conflict):
Eva is at a town hall meeting with members of the community, discussing ways to improve the town. She is open to the ideas being proposed, but is also thinking about solutions from her own perspective. She speaks up to express her ideas and uses logic to make her case. She is surprised to find the other members of the community are resonating with her and she realizes that her ideas could be the solution they need. She feels good inside knowing that she has been able to contribute to the discourse in a meaningful way. Encouraged by their reaction, she amends her original proposal and offers a more logical and achievable solution - even though it goes against her original idea.
Adding the very last bit helps to reinforce the idea of this being a problem for Eva. The question now to ask, is "is her amending a good thing or a bad thing?"" Eva presented a logical and rational idea, but now she's totally changing her mind because she's getting a good feeling from them? Sounds a bit like someone is compromising their values. How the Author presents that value judgment within the short story will be their thematic take on the Issue of Approach and the meaning of Eva's choices.
You can use this quick outline for short stories, blog posts, or anything where you just want to simply follow along the relative positive and negative values of resolving conflict.
If you want an even faster way to InstantScene, you could also just check the beginning Method of a particular Issue against the end. Methods begin at the upper left quadrant and end in the lower right quadrant. In the case of Approach, this would be looking at what would happen in a scene that starts in Consider, but then ends in Reconsider.
If you were to ask, "what does it mean if a scene starts out in Consider but then ends in Re-consider? What would it mean for a story about a puppy named Ralph?" you might receive back:
If a scene starts out in Consider but then ends in Re-consider, it may mean that the character has weighed the pros and cons of a situation and has come to a realization that their original thoughts were incorrect or incomplete. For a story about a puppy named Ralph, this could suggest that Ralph goes through a process of understanding and learning something new, and re-evaluates his situation with newfound knowledge.
if you were then to follow-up with "how can I show how Ralph's Approach is problematic for him as a puppy?", you might find out that:
I don't know of any specific examples from the provided films, but you could use the scene to show how Ralph's approach to a situation is problematic by having him approach it without fully understanding the consequences or how his actions will affect other people or things. For example, if Ralph goes after a toy he really wants without considering how it will affect his owner, or if he rushes into a situation without considering the risks, this could create problems for him.
That inconsiderate moment for Ralph at the beginning sets off all his problems. It's only once he begins to re-consider the risks involved that he starts to grow and mature as a character.
This simple "approach" of using the starting and ending Methods of a quad in Subtxt is perfect for 1-2 minute student films, or quick social-media posts, or whenever you want to communicate growth and you want to illustrate a solution for your character's (or audience's) problem.
There are several articles on Narrative First—and even a class here in Subtxt—that explore writing a short story further:
To Tell a Tale, To Craft a Story compares two children's books Scuffy the Tugboat and Sam and the Firefly to discuss what happens when you do and don't use some sort of structure to guide the flow of narrative events.
Back to Basics: Structuring a Short Story is the class in the Writers Room where I go over the step-by-step procedure towards using Subtxt to write your short story.
Both Resurrecting the Flying Kreisslers and Writing Short Stories with Dramatica use a fantastic short story written by Logan and The Queen's Gambit writer/director Scott Frank to explore the structure of shorter material.
The Structure of a Short Story covers the theoretical narrative concepts behind short stories (as related to complete stories).
Piper: A Complete Story in Six Minutes relates the subtextual structure behind Pixar's animated short film, Piper.