Prolific pulp writer Lester Dent (Doc Savage) outlines a simple master plot for crafting short (6000-word) stories.
A story needs at least one of 1) a different murder method for the villain to use; 2) a different thing for the villain to be seeking; 3) a different locale; and/or 4) a menace that hangs over the hero.
A 6000-word story will comprise four 1500-word sections:
First 1500 words
- Introduce the hero as soon as possible (in the first line if possible) and immediately put him in danger or trobule
- The hero tries the solve the problem
- Introduce all the other characters
- The hero's efforts put him in actual physical conflict near the end of the first 1500 words
The story needs suspense, a meaningful threat or menace, and it must fit together logically. The first 1500 words should propel the reader into the next 1500.
Second 1500 words
- Introduce more problems and challenges for the hero
- The hero must struggle, leading to...
- Another physical conflict and
- A surprising plot twist near the end of the second section
The menace must grow in the second section, and the hero must take his lumps.
Third 1500 words
- More grief for the hero
- The hero should make progress, and corner the villain (or one of his agents) in...
- Physical conflict
- Followed by another plot twist, which constitutes a major setback for the hero
Avoid monotony. Change up the physical threats. Build atmosphere with sensual imagery. Make every word count.
Fourth 1500 words
- More difficulties for our hero
- The hero must get buried: this is the moment when everything is lost
- The hero must extricate himself from his troubles through his own skills, training, or strength
- Introduce a final twist, e.g. the villain is an unexpected person; the treasure is worthless
- Have a great punch line at the end that leaves the reader with a warm feeling