Everybody loves Christie Yant’s Career Bingo card (available here), and I wanted to compile something similar for the actual process of writing short stories. Hence, the Style and Structure Bingo card for writers:
This is intended as a tool to encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and experiment with your stories. I’ve included some easy boxes, because everyone likes to feel accomplished, and frankly writing at all is a worthy accomplishment. (Yes, I am the sort of person who, after completing a task, will add it to my to-do list for the sheer joy of then immediately crossing it out.) The more challenging boxes are the result of a brainstorming session over at Codex Writers’ Group. Thanks for all the help, guys!
So what the heck do these boxes mean?
Since some of them may not be self-explanatory, here’s a bit of elaboration along with some linked examples of published short stories that illustrate these styles and structures. More examples are always welcome, so send them my way if you have suggestions. You’re also free to use your own definitions, of course — the only person you’re competing with is yourself, so use this tool however you like!
White room is a story with no setting, often composed entirely of dialogue. The best known example is probably “Made Out of Meat” by Terry Bisson.
Tell don’t show is a story where the narrator stands between the reader and the action. No dialogue, no blow-by-blow fight scenes. Often told in first person, such as “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer, but not always; see “Robot” by Helena Bell as a second-person example.
Epistolary might mean old-fashioned letters, as in Dracula, but could also include more modern types of communication like emails, video messages, etc.
Diary / captain’s log differs from epistolary in that the entries are not necessarily intended for a particular recipient, or any recipient at all. Daniel Keyes’ “Flowers for Algernon” is the classic example here.
Social media — told through texts, tweets, forum posts, or any other kind of electronic communication with a short lag time. See “Wikihistory” by Desmond Warzel or “I am Graalnak of the Vroon Empire” by Laura Pearlman.
Document / article could be a news article, wikipedia entry, academic review, reference guide, etc. Differs from epistolary and diary / captain’s log in that it’s a single document rather than a series of sequential entries. See “‘I’m lonely': Immune to Apraxia, Toronto doctor refuses to give up on a cure” by Kate Heartfield.
List it — a story containing one or more numbered lists. To get a feel for the versatility of lists, see “Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler (the Successful Kind)” by Holly Black, “How to Become a Robot in 12 East Steps” by A. Merc Rustad, and “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain” by Cat Rambo.
Recipe could be kitchen-related or it could be instructions for creating/building/producing something else. Your recipe may have numbered steps, but should not be a list of ingredients, because that would fall under list it instead. See “Recipe: 1 Universe” by Effie Seiberg.
Alternate / future history written in the fashion of a biography, an analysis of past events, a profile of a place over time, etc. May be considered a subset of document / article, but this requires a specifically historical perspective on the subject matter. See “Biographical Fragments of the Life of Julian Prince” by Jake Kerr or “Earthrise” by Lavie Tidhar (which used to be available here, but the site seems broken now).
Story within a story — Tell it Scheherazade style, with a frame story containing another story. Ken Liu’s “The Clockwork Soldier” is a recent example of this.
Find the footage is similar to story within a story, but in this case your frame character figures out what happened by piecing together the evidence — often but not exclusively video footage.
Nonlinear chronology of any type — alternating timelines, flashbacks, etc.
Ambiguous chronology where the order of events is either obscured for part of the story or never explicitly resolved for the reader. K.M. Szpara’s “Ordinary Souls” can be considered an example of the former.
Flash series that together add up to something more than the sum of the parts. See “Five Stages of Grief After the Alien Invasion” by Caroline M. Yoachim.
The structure is the plot — the story contains a structural (or stylistic) conceit that is integral to the plot. For a recent example, see “Time Bomb Time” by C.C. Finlay.
Hyperlinked could mean a choose your own adventure story, or any other way of making the reader experience interactive.
Story in the footnotes has footnotes that not only enhance the main body of the text but are in some way essential for the reader’s understanding of the story as a whole. Unlike hyperlinked, this story should still work if you sell it to a print mag.
With multimedia contains images, sound, video, etc as an integral part of the story. See “Kenneth: A User’s Manual” by Sam J. Miller.
Colloquial voice refers to narrators who have a very different way of speaking than the writer’s usual voice. “Mister Hadj’s Sunset Ride” by Saladin Ahmed is a great example. WARNING: the failure mode of ‘colloquial’ is ‘offensive’, so tread carefully.
Who needs grammar? Rules are meant to be broken. Write all in sentence fragments, or in very long run-on sentences. Overindulge your passion for semicolons or parentheses or ellipses. Or violate some other grammatical convention of your choosing.
Repetition of sounds (ie rhyming/alliteration), of words, or of sentence structure.
Five senses — a story where sensory experience is central to the plot or theme. Must include taste, smell, or touch, not just sight and sound. See “Alive, Alive Oh” by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley or “Of Blood and Brine” by Megan E. O’Keefe.
Retell a classic includes anything from fairytales to Shakespeare to Golden Age SF. “The Things” by Peter Watts is a brilliant take on John Campbell’s classic story “Who Goes There?” (also an example of villain as protagonist and nonhuman POV).
Collaboration — any type of multi-author collaboration, so long as each writer contributes enough to put their name in the by-line.
Concrete prose like concrete poetry, where the typographical arrangement of words conveys information to the reader.
The subtext is the key — leave some crucial element of your story in the subtext, strongly implied but never outright stated.
Sidekick tells the story — like Gatsby and Holmes, the protagonist is not the point-of-view character.