ABDCE Spells Short Story Success

by Leih Mikulic

While it sounds counterintuitive to create a writing formula, for new writers five small letters can help them organize the plot of their short stories. Most stories follow a three part structure of beginning, middle and end. This can be broken down into more specific parts. Not every story needs to follow these guidelines to be successful but following the ABDCE formula can give you some direction when organizing your story for your reader. 


The very first action of your story is the hook that draws the reader in. Possibly something unexpected happens out of the blue that illuminates the conflict of the story. Perhaps you open with a very in-your-face expose of your main character’s actions. This first action, known as the inciting incident, gives your readers a taste of who your characters are and the struggles that lie ahead for them. 

Next, show your readers more about your characters and the setting. Who are your characters? What do they believe? Why are they acting and reacting as they do? Characters are as complex as anyone else you know. They have conflicting beliefs and ideas that cause them to do things that surprise or even infuriate the reader. The best characters are multidimensional and thus as close to real as possible. 

Now, the momentum of your story is rolling faster and faster. The conflicts your character faces are more complex and leading towards the ultimate climax of your story. These littler conflicts along the way share the context of your story and characters. How your characters react or don’t to the struggles they face sets up the reader for what to expect in the climax. 

This is the moment. This is where the largest, most forceful action takes place that illuminates the true nature of all your characters. Whether the conflict is internal or external, this is the beating heart of your entire story where its innermost truths are thrust willing or not into the light. 

It’s time to wrap up the loose ends of your characters and the actions of your story. Any questions can be answered here. Leave your readers with a final thought or moment about the whole story that lays behind them. 

How does this formula play out in a real story? Let’s take the classic fairytale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (the more well-known and less frightening version) and break it down into the ABDCE structure. 

A. Goldilocks finds an empty house and decides to look inside. 
B. We learn about Goldilocks that she is hungry and lost. The setting of the house is revealed with three of everything in different sizes.
D. Goldilocks does certain actions that propel the plot and shows us her character such as eating from all the porridge bowls and finishing her favorite, sitting on all the chairs, breaking her favorite and even falling asleep on the best bed for her. The bears come home, see their house is amiss and investigate. 
C. Baby Bear yells “Someone has been sleeping in my bed and she’s still there!” This causes the commotion of the bears and Goldilocks to come face-to-face. Goldilocks screams and runs in terror out of the house. (In the original version, she isn’t so lucky.)
E. The fairytale finishes with the three bears sorting their house together and Goldilocks learning to not wander off from having the fright of her life. 

Most stories can be broken down into this formula. Think about one of your favorite and see if you can put it in ABDCE. With this awareness, use the ABDCE writing formula when organizing your short stories so your readers can follow along and enjoy whatever tale you wish to tell.

Leih Mikulic