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The Seven Sentence Story

This is the first week for fiction writing in my Creative Writing class at the high school, and once I got past my introductory material, I talked to them about plot.  It's not enough, though, to lecture on the subject.  I have to come up with exercises to demonstrate, reinforce or practice the idea, so I came up with this this morning.  I don't believe it's original to me, but I don't know if I've ever seen it before either.  I think the kids will have a lot of fun with it however.  We'll read our mini-stories to each other when we are done.

I thought about this exercise last night and wrote it this morning in the last 30 minutes, so it may (must) need fine tuning.  I'm particularly disappointed with my example seven-sentence story.  It's neither charming, clever or funny.  I'll know more about the effectiveness of this lesson plan after the kids do it.

An Exercise in Plotting: The Seven Sentence Story

 We talked about plot having several components: an inciting moment, rising action, a climax and a denouement.  One way to see how a plot can work is to build a plot skeleton, a very short story, stripped of everything except the plot.

 To write this kind of story, you are limited to only seven sentences.  Each sentence has a specific role.

 #1:        Introduce what the main character wants and the first action he/she takes to accomplish the goal.

 #2:        The results of the action the character takes from sentence #1 has to make the situation worse.  The character should be farther from the goal now.

 #3:        Based on the new situation, the character takes a second action to accomplish the goal.

 #4:        The results of the second action the character takes from sentence #3 is to make the situation worse.  The character should be even farther from the goal now.

 #5:        Based on the new situation, the character takes a third and final action to accomplish the goal.

 #6:        This third action either accomplishes the character’s goal, fails to accomplish the goal, or there is an unusual but oddly satisfying different result of the last action.

 #7:        The denouement.  This sentence wraps the story up.  It could tell the reader how the character felt about the results, or provide a moral, or tell how the character’s life continued on.

 Example Story:  Tiffany’s Homecoming Disaster

1)     More than anything in the world, Tiffany wanted Brad to take her to homecoming, so she asked her best friend, Cindy, to find out if he liked her.  2) Cindy was charming, clever and funny when she talked to Brad, and before she could bring up the subject of Tiffany Brad asked her if she would like to go to homecoming with him.  3) Sad to learn her best friend had betrayed her, Tiffany decided to convince Brad he’d made a mistake, so she approached Brad’s friend, Larry, with a plan to make Brad jealous.  4) Unfortunately, Larry got into the playacting too well, and actually fell in love with Tiffany.  5) In frustration, Tiffany met Larry at Starbucks to have a heart to heart talk about why he couldn’t possibly be in love with her and why Brad and Cindy were a bad match.  6) But during the conversation, Larry was so charming, clever and funny that Tiffany realized she liked him too, so she asked him to go to the dance with her.  7) The two couples decided to double date, and it was the best homecoming ever.

 If you would like to enter the 7-Sentence Story Contest, See the rules here.


( 32 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 12th, 2007 01:23 pm (UTC)
(no, you don't know me, Hi, pleased to meet you :)

This is super! Plotting is not exactly my strong suit, but I love how you boiled it all down.

Have fun in class today. I'm curious to see how it works out for the kids, too, and what they come up with :) I wish I'd had a class like this in high school, I'll tell you!

Oct. 12th, 2007 05:31 pm (UTC)
The first class was great. The kids wanted to hear ALL the seven sentence stories, but we ran out of time.
(no subject) - kara_gnome - Oct. 13th, 2007 03:08 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 12th, 2007 01:54 pm (UTC)
Good exercise. I might try that one. :) I'm fine with plotting novels but I rarely write short stories, although ironically I've had two published and not yet a novel. Someone prompted a character sketch, so I did that with no idea of where it is going, so I think I'll make a short story of it using your seven sentence demo.

Great idea. Thank you.
Oct. 12th, 2007 05:31 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! If you write a seven-sentence one, you should post it here.
(no subject) - g_gucci_handbag - Jun. 26th, 2010 06:49 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - makoiyi - Oct. 12th, 2007 07:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimvanpelt - Oct. 13th, 2007 10:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 12th, 2007 02:49 pm (UTC)
I think if you tried to get too clever with your exercise, you'd lose the point of writing an example. I think it's a good, solid example of the method. I'm bookmarking this for later. It could really come in handy.
Oct. 12th, 2007 05:40 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Jeremy. I get self conscious about the quality of the work I'm posting. When I gave the exercise to my first class today, they loved the example story. We just finished Homecoming week, and the dance was still fresh in their heads.
Oct. 12th, 2007 04:09 pm (UTC)
A friend linked to this post in her journal. I love your advice and think this is a great writing exercise. I hope you don't mind if I add you to my f-list. Thanks!
Oct. 12th, 2007 05:32 pm (UTC)
You're welcome. I don't mind at all.
Oct. 12th, 2007 04:21 pm (UTC)
The following is not in any way a suggestion that you change your approach, nor a criticism of it: I'm not quite sure why, but my own propensities would probably lead me to eliminate the denouement. I think I must prefer that the readers draw their own conclusions, or in some cases that the conclusions are so obvious that they don't need stating. This is in dramatic contrast to last season's Smallville television series, in most episodes of which the denouement constituted the last quarter of the entire show.
Oct. 12th, 2007 05:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the thought. I denouement sometimes and don't others (if you don't mind me verbing the word). For the kids, talking about a denouement is another way to help them understand climax and epiphany.

I'm also really stressing today that this exercise is just a pattern for practice. I don't expect that they'll write their stories this way, and I don't think anyone I know does. How artificial would it be to start with the thought in mind, "I think I'll write a story today where my character will try and fail twice, and then try and succeed on the third effort"?
(no subject) - redwill - Oct. 12th, 2007 07:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - swan_tower - Oct. 12th, 2007 10:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - redwill - Oct. 13th, 2007 01:51 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 12th, 2007 04:40 pm (UTC)
I like it!

Unfortunately, it's a little over the head of my remedial middle schoolers. Maybe. I might try something like it later. Right now, though, we're in the midst of trying to figure out the difference between subjects and predicates. (Sighs). Some of them are developing a very fragile grasp of subjects, but the minute they're questioned, they lose it.

Time to move on to predicates.

If you're going to be at Orycon, I'll share a story map I have that was part of my Master's project. I've found it really works with all levels of writers--a series of boxes which has the writer identify characters (with notes on distinguishing elements), place (with notes on distinguishing elements), problem (and why is it a problem) and then beginning, middle and end. It also works well for reading comprehension.

As a special ed teacher, I spend a *lot* of time with graphic organizers like that story map in writing, and I've found as a result that it seems to help my writing visualizations as well (and before you ask, no, I DON'T use story webs--I hate the webbing process, it doesn't make sense to my brain and I find that the kids who use it don't understand how to use it to organize what they're writing).
Oct. 12th, 2007 05:38 pm (UTC)
I don't know about the remedial middle schoolers, but I talk at middle schools several times a year, and I bet this exercise would work with the non-remedial ones. It's almost perfect for a 45 minute session or so. I'd have time to read a short story, talk briefly about how some stories work, explain the exercise, have them do it, and then read the results. I love a self contained lesson like that.
Oct. 12th, 2007 05:57 pm (UTC)
Seven sentences from here to hell
Pratt wanted very badly to keep breathing -- he tugged so hard at Lake's forearm that his fingers felt like they were going to break. Lake squeezed tighter and pushed the luckless writer's head even further into the shallow end of the palatial Van Pelt estate's swimming pool. Pratt tried to use the water to his advantage by dragging Lake down with him. Instead he cracked his forehead against the nubbly concrete at the bottom, staining the aqua waters with crimson dark swirls of blood until he couldn't see a damned thing except his life flashing before his eyes. Thinking of everything he'd ever hated about Lake, Pratt gave one final, mighty heave even as he began to black out. The two of them tumbled forward in a spinning somersault, Lake's tight grip dragging Pratt back into the air even as his hated rival was now beneath him in the chilly waters of the pool. Van Pelt stood above them both, laughing, and threw an old copy of LOCUS into the water with the words, "That's why you should never pay attention to reviews."
Oct. 12th, 2007 06:25 pm (UTC)
Re: Seven sentences from here to hell
Hi, Jay. LOL!!!

Do you want this in the contest? It ought to be there (if for no other reason than it would set the bar).
Re: Seven sentences from here to hell - tim_pratt - Oct. 12th, 2007 09:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 12th, 2007 09:03 pm (UTC)
This is awesome, I'm going to take this to my meeting of local Nanowrimo-ers tonight. Thanks. ;-)
Oct. 13th, 2007 10:31 pm (UTC)
How did it go at your meeting?
(no subject) - criada - Oct. 14th, 2007 04:53 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 13th, 2007 07:46 pm (UTC)
I have a writer friend who teaches English. Could I share this with him for his class?
Oct. 13th, 2007 10:32 pm (UTC)
You are more than welcome to. I don't think there is (or should be) ownership of teaching ideas.
(no subject) - melissajm - Oct. 13th, 2007 11:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 21st, 2010 01:16 am (UTC)
A Minor Event in Seven Sentences
I assume the competition ended long ago, but I recently discovered this exercise and thought I'd share my story with anyone who might read it.
As I read over it, I realize it sounds a little like an exaggerated imitation of a Brendan Behan story -- don't know how that happened.


Mammy had told him that if he prayed hard enough God just might answer, and so, figuring he’d have a better chance if he caught Him at His own home, he headed off toward the big cathedral on the far side of the river. But as he marched dutifully toward the footbridge on Templeton St, practicing in advance what he’d say to the Big Fella’ when he got there, a pair of hands grabbed him from behind, tackling him violently to the ground. Recognizing Noonan’s face – hard to mistake, seeing as it resembled a startled blowfish – he squirmed and kicked and threw furious, madman punches, writhing frantically to free himself so he could get there before the crowds filed in for afternoon Mass.
Catching Noonan with a quick right on the chin, he thought he might have found his opening, but the older boy only tightened his grip, pinning him at the shoulders to the grimy cobblestones. Desperate now, he called out for help: “Get this fat ole’ heap off of me, will yous’ – anyone, pleassse!” Just then, to his luck, a man with a reddish mustache in a long dark coat pinched Noonan by the ear and pulled him up off his body. Without stopping long enough to thank his liberator, he leapt up and ran like someone possessed to the steps of the cathedral, right up through the big wooden doors to the first empty pew he could find: “Dear Father Who Art in Heaven,” he panted under his breath, “I’ve meaning to have a word.”


Mar. 21st, 2010 01:18 am (UTC)
Re: A Minor Event in Seven Sentences
Sorry, last line was supposed to read:

"I've been meaning to have a word."
Re: A Minor Event in Seven Sentences - jimvanpelt - Mar. 21st, 2010 02:35 am (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 24th, 2012 01:25 am (UTC)
[Writing] Exploring emotions
User joshenglish referenced to your post from [Writing] Exploring emotions saying: [...] one step in each scene. If this is combined with Jim Van Pelt's wonderful Seven-Sentence Story [...]
( 32 comments — Leave a comment )