Plot a Short Story with ABDCE

This formula works similar to a checklist. Do A, then B, then C D and so on. Some call it the five act structure. The letters correspond to Action, Background, Development, Climax, Ending. This formula is said to be worded by the American writer Alice Adams.


ABDCE spells Short Story Success” gives a short and very good overview on this formulas letters and shows the structure by the example of the fairy tale goldilocks and the three bears.

Feel free to mention further resources down below, I will add them to my list.

How to use it?

When plotting your short story, take care to hit all the letters after another.

Action: Introduce the character. And no, don’t describe her in detail or show her bringing out the trash, show why she is the protagonist. What’s her problem? Why is she meant to be the one we follow along for the length of the story?

Background: We know the character and her problem, now expand the background to intensify, why this problem is so meaningful to her. Thus raising the stakes for the protagonist and getting the reader more involved in the conflicts development and final outcome.

Development: We have the story’s conflict set up, now make it worse. Develop the characters problem, let it grow and let the characters attempts fail, to make the climax inevitable.

Climax: This is the final confrontation after that the protagonist will be forever changed. Problem and character have led to this point and it has to fit into the story’s tone and theme (don’t let the world end, when writing a sweet romance).

Ending: Tie up loose story threads, make sure to answer the stories questions and show the changed life of your character.

Try to give each act or letter an equal amount of words. Be it 500, 1.000 or 50. This is a good rule of thumb to find balance within your story.

When to use it?

This formula follows an intuitive buildup, a clear story arc. Writers who don’t use formulas might have this in their guts. To be of use to your idea, you need your main character, a problem for them, bit of a background to explain why it’s important and then let your ideas flow to make your characters life hard. Most writers won’t have a problem with that.

This approach is especially suited, if you don’t want to plot your whole story before you put down your pen, but you want to start with the character, that has been haunting your thoughts for weeks now. It lets you explore step by step the things you need to invent next.

And in terms of foreshadowing, loose threads and dead ends; that’s what revision is for.

Why use it?

ABDCE is suited for every text length and able to fit every planing stage of your story. It allows the writer to go step by step, come up with a character, his background, how he develops…
If you are able to keep track of your word count and identify each act, chances are that the resulting story is nicely balanced in terms of introduction, action, and ending.

The kind of idea that can be transformed into a short story of this structure just starts with “There ist a character with a problem…”


  • There is a busy housewife who want’s to make strawberry jam. But it’s late august and the berries are out of season.
  • It’s important to her, because the family will move to another town, which means more space but no strawberry fields in the backyard. So it was the last chance to home cook this jam.
  • Our housewife gets distracted by trying to get some of the last strawberries in town, while her husband wants her to manage the move. As she get’s obsessed with her strawberry jam, their relationship begins to suffer.
  • The movers have arrived and everything is packed up, when a neighbor appears with a bucket of ripe strawberries, that have to be cooked right away.
  • The housewife declines, accepting that her jam project was her projection of not wanting to leave for all that she loved about her old life. She will find a new strawberry field. Next year. In the new neighborhood.

There we go. I just startet with each point and added plot points as I go. I will try to draft this short story within the next posts.


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