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ELEMENTS OF SHORT STORIES

What is a Short Story?


• A short story is a relatively brief fictional narrative or story written without
using any rhymes of rhythms. The short story has a beginning, a middle, and an
end and is composed of the following elements:
• Theme
• Plot
• Character
• Setting
• Point of View

I. THEME—The central idea that the author wishes to set forth in his or her
writing.
To find the theme, ask yourself these questions:
1. What is the story about?
2. What is the central idea?
3. What observation did the author make about human nature?

II. PLOT—A series of related events that the author uses to develop the theme of a
story. To identify the plot, ask yourself these questions:
1. What happens in the beginning of the story?
2. What happens in the middle of the story?
3. What happens at the end of the story?

III. CHARACTER—The action of the story is centered around the characters in


the story. One central character usually dominates the story.

IV. SETTING—The stage upon which the action of the story takes place. The setting is
to a story just as the background is to a painting.

V. POINT OF VIEW—The author’s choice of the teller of the story. The point of view
is important to the total structure and meaning of the short story. To find the point of
view, ask yourself who is telling the story.
SHORT STORY ANALYSIS
TITLE OF STORY:_______________________________________________________

AUTHOR OF STORY:____________________________________________________

I. THEME—The central idea that the author wishes to set forth in his or her
writing.
To find the theme, ask yourself these questions:
1. What is the story about?

2. What is the central idea?

3. What observation did the author make about human nature?

II. PLOT—A series of related events that the author uses to develop the theme of a
story. To identify the plot, ask yourself these questions:

1. What happens in the beginning of the story?

2. What happens in the middle of the story?

3. What happens at the end of the story?


III. CHARACTER—The action of the story is centered around the characters in
the story. One central character usually dominates the story.

1. Describe the most important character in the story.

2. Describe at least two other characters in the story.

IV. SETTING—The stage upon which the action of the story takes place. The setting is
to a story just as the background is to a painting.

1. Describe the setting of the story. Where does the story take place?

2. In what year and time of year does the story take place?

3. What is the mood in the story?

V. POINT OF VIEW—The author’s choice of the teller of the story. The point of view
is important to the total structure and meaning of the short story.

1. Who is telling the story?

2. Why do you think the author made this choice?


A. Literary techniques used to develop theme:
1. foreshadowing—giving hints to the reader about what is to happen next
2. flashback—the author interrupts the story to go back in time to add scenes
or information. This helps the reader understand what is happening in the
present.
3. Irony—the opposite of what is expected to happen. Either a statement may
have an opposite meaning, or an outcome of events may be the opposite of
those hoped for or expected.
4. Tone—the “feeling” conveyed by the way the writer writes about his
subject.
5. Realism—the author attempts to portray life in his/her novel realistically.
He/she must use details to reflect the reality that we see around us.
6. Romanticism—the author uses his imagination to present the world to us.
At times his/her view may be extremely idealistic; at other times it may
reflect extreme horror.
B. THEORIES OF LITERATURE:
1. Imitative theory—the author’s job is to present an imitation of the world
so we, the reader, can better understand the forces of the world around us
that shape our thought and feeling. Art imitates life.
2. Expressive theory—the author examines his internal view of the world.
“Truth” has nothing to do with the work. The author shapes the world as
he internally perceives it.
3. Affective theory—this theory is similar to the expressive theory except the
focus here is on the feelings of the reader. The author attempts to sway the
reader’s perceptions of the world.
QUESTION TO PONDER: Does art imitate life or does art generate or push
us, the reader, into new patterns of thought and behavior?
I.

A. Stages of development:
1. EXPOSITION—the beginning stage
a. the reader is given the setting of the story
b. the reader is introduced to the principal characters and their relationships
to each other
c. the reader is given information about the events that existed before the
story actually begins.
d. The reader is also given some information about the conflict in the story.
CONFLICT is the struggle between opposing forces.
Types of conflict:
1. Man vs. man—external struggle between two or more
individuals
2. Man vs. himself—internal struggle concerning emotion and
decision
3. Man vs. nature—external struggle between man and an
element of nature.
e. the exposition sets the groundwork for the story.
2. COMPLICATION—mini-conflicts that contribute to the rise in action.
a. Each mini-conflict must be more intense than the other until the most
dramatic conflict occurs
b. This dramatic conflict (or climax) will hint to either the success or failure
of the principal character’s ability to win his struggle or to simply solve
his problem.
3. CLIMAX—the turning point in the story, or the emotional high point
a. this turning point is for the character, not the reader
4. FALLING ACTION—the events that lead to the resolution
5. RESOLUTION (denouement)—the final stage
a. The outcome of the conflict or the resolution of the problem.
b. The outcome of the resolution will express the general theme of the story.
A. All characters should be believable—have recognizable human traits and
characteristics
B. FOUR TYPES OF CHARACTERIZATION—techniques the writer uses to
develop character
1. What the author states
a. Physical description
2. What the characters say or do
3. How the characters dress
a. The characters’ speech and dress play significant factors in the
development of their characterizations
4. What other characters say
5. Other
C. Types of characters:
1. protagonist—the central character—he or she can be good or bad
2. antagonist—the “opposing” character(s)
3. flat—characters who do NOT change in a story.
4. round—characters who change
D. Analysis of characters:
1. motivation—what motivates the character to cause his/her actions?
2. Behavior—what are the actions of the character and why is he/she behaving
this way?
3. Consequences—what are the results of his/her actions?
4. Responsibility—what moral, legal, or mental accountability does the
character have?
5. Expectations—what expectations do you have for this character?

A. The setting determines the place, time, tone, and atmosphere


1. tone—the author’s attitude toward his/her material
2. atmosphere—the general feeling or mood set by the author
B. The author must choose items of description that are important not only
because of their visual representation, but also in terms of their importance to
the over effectiveness of the story.
C. Techniques for establishing setting:
1. Sensory details—words that appeal to the senses
(sight/hearing/taste/touch/smell)
2. Figurative language:
a. simile—comparison using like or as
b. metaphor—comparison using is or form of is
i. implied metaphor
ii. extended metaphor
3. personification

II.

A. Types of Point of View:


1. first person—the narrator is the main character who tells his own story.
The narrator tells the story speaking with an “I” in his/her own language.
2. First person observer—the narrator tells the story which he has observed.
The character is usually of secondary importance in the story. He looks on
and simply reports what the more important characters say.
3. Third person—the author is outside the story using “he” or “she”
a. Author-Observer—allows the author to tell the story using the third
person. He remains outside the minds of the characters. He records only
what any observer in the same situation might also see.
b. Omniscient author—may tell what happens with the power to go into
the minds of characters and also give his own comments. He/she is “all-
knowing.”
B. Identifying point-of-view:
When the narrator is a character in the story ask:
1. Does the main character tell his own story? (first person narrator)
2. Does a minor character tell the main character’s story? (first person
observer
When the narrator is not a character in the story ask:
1. Does the author tell what people think and explain feelings and motives?
(omniscient author)
2. Does the author simply tell the story without giving the thoughts and
feelings of the characters? (author observer)
1. Read plenty of short stories. Nothing can help you “learn” how to write a good short story better than reading
good short stories. Take note of the style and how they have used the small amount of words to their
advantage. Choose authors that you enjoy, and also choose some of the “classics.” Pay attention to how the
authors develop their characters, write dialogue, and structure their plots.

2.

Gather ideas for your story. Inspiration can strike at any time, so carry a notepad with you wherever you go
so that you can write down story ideas as they come to you. Most of the time, you’ll just think of small snippets
of information (a catastrophic event around which you can build a plot, a character’s name or appearance,
etc.), but sometimes you’ll get lucky and a whole story will reveal itself to you in a couple of minutes. If you
have trouble finding inspiration, or if you need to write a story in a hurry (for a class, for example), learn how to
brainstorm.

3. Choose an idea and start with basics of a short story. At the very least, a story should have an exposition
(the story leading up to the climax), rising action (events leading to the turning point), a climax (a turning point
in a story brought about by conflict between characters or within a character), falling action (your story begins
to conclude), and a resolution (a satisfying ending to the story in which the central conflict is resolved - or not).
Move backward or forward from your starting idea (it may or may not be the beginning of the story), and ask
“What happens next?” or “what happened before this?”

4. Know your characters. For a story to be believable, the characters have to be believable, and their actions
should appear inevitable given who they are. In other words, you should know as much as possible about your
characters, from what their central motivations are to what their favorite foods are. You won’t include all this
information in your story, but the more you know, the more your characters will come to life, both for you and
for the reader. Sometimes it helps just to listen to unimportant conversations between characters in your head,
even if it won't be in the story.

5. Limit the breadth of your story. A novel can occur over millions of years and include a multitude of subplots,
a variety of locations, and an army of supporting characters. The main events of a short story should occur in a
relatively short period of time (days or even minutes), and you typically won’t be able to develop effectively
more than one plot, two or three main characters, and one setting. If your story has much more breadth, it
probably needs to be a novella or novel.

6. Decide who will tell the story. There are three main points of view from which to tell a story: first-person (“I”),
second-person (“you”), and third-person (“he” or “she”). In a first-person story, a character in the story tells the
story; in the second-person the reader is made a character in the story; and in the third-person, an outside
narrator tells the story. (Second-person narration is rarely used.) Keep in mind that first-person narrators can
only tell what they know (which will be limited to what they see firsthand or are told by others), while third-
person narrators can either know everything and explore every character’s thoughts, or be limited to only that
which can be observed.

7. Start writing. Depending on how thoroughly you’ve sketched out your plot and characters, the actual writing
process may simply be one of choosing the right words. Generally, however, writing is arduous. You probably
won’t know your characters and plot as well as you thought, but it doesn’t matter. Outlines are not the same as
stories, and actually writing a story is the only way to complete one.
8. Come out swinging. The first page—some would say the first sentence—of any writing should grab the
reader’s attention and leave him/her wanting more. A quick start is especially important in short stories
because you don’t have much room to tell your story. Don’t dilly-dally with long introductions of the characters
or uninteresting descriptions of the setting: get right into the plot, and reveal details about the characters and
setting piece-by-piece as you go along.

9.

Keep writing. You’re almost certain to hit some bumps in the road to finishing your story. You’ve got to work
through them, though. Set aside a time to write each and every day, and make it a goal to finish, say, a page
each day. Even if you end up throwing away what you wrote on that day, you’ve been writing and thinking
about the story, and that will keep you going in the long run.

10. Let the story "write itself." As you write your story, you may want to turn your plot in a different direction than
you had planned, or you may want to substantially change or remove a character. Listen to your characters if
they tell you to do something different, and don’t worry about scrapping your plans altogether if you can make
a better story as you go.

11. Revise and edit. When you’ve finished the story, go back through it and correct mechanical mistakes, as well
as logical and semantic errors. In general, make sure the story flows and the characters and their problems
are introduced and resolved appropriately. If you have time, put the completed story down for a few days or
weeks before editing. Distancing yourself from the story in this way will help you see it more clearly when you
pick it back up.

12. Get some second opinions. Send your revised and edited story off to a trusted friend or relative for revisions,
edits, and suggestions. Let your reviewers know that you want to hear their real opinions of the story. Give
them time to read it and think about it, and give them a copy that they can write on. Make sure you consider
everything that your reviewers tell you—not just the parts you would like to hear. Thank your reviewers for
reading your story, and don’t argue with them.

13. Incorporate whatever edits, revisions, and suggestions you feel are valid. Your writing will be better if you
can carefully consider constructive criticism, but you don’t have to follow all the advice you get. Some of the
suggestions may not be very good. It’s your story, and you need to make the final call.
1. Step 1

Choose a narrative point of view. You can write your story as if you were one of the
characters (first person), as a detached narrator who presents just one character's
thoughts and observations (third-person limited), or as a detached narrator who presents
the thoughts and observations of several characters (third-person omniscient). A first-
person point of view will refer to the central character as 'I' instead of 'he' or 'she.'

2. Step 2

Create a protagonist, or main character. This should be the most developed and usually the
most sympathetic character in your story.

3. Step 3

Create a problem, or conflict, for your protagonist. The conflict of your story should take
one of five basic forms: person vs. person, person vs. himself or herself, person vs. nature,
person vs. society, or person vs. God or fate. If you choose a person vs. person conflict,
create an antagonist to serve as the person your protagonist must contend with.

4. Step 4

Establish believable characters and settings, with vivid descriptions and dialogue, to create
a story that your readers will care about.

5. Step 5

Build the story's tension by having the protagonist make several failed attempts to solve or
overcome the problem. (You may want to skip this step for shorter stories.)

6. Step 6

Create a crisis that serves as the last chance for the protagonist to solve his or her
problem.

7. Step 7

Resolve the tension by having the protagonist succeed through his or her own intelligence,
creativity, courage or other positive attributes. This is usually referred to as the story's
climax.

8. Step 8

Extend this resolution phase, if you like, by reflecting on the action of the story and its
significance to the characters or society.