5 Important Elements of a Short Story

A short story is a short work of fiction. Fiction, as you know, is prose writing about imagined events and characters. Prose writing differs from poetry in that it does not depend on verses, meters or rhymes for its organization and presentation. Novels are another example of fictional prose and are much longer than short stories. Some short stories, however, can be quite long. If a a short story is a long one, say fifty to one hundred pages, we call it a novella. American literature contains some of the world's best examples of the short story. Readers around the world enjoy the finely crafted stories of American writers such as O. Henry, Stephen Crane, Jack London, Mark Twain and Edgar Allen Poe. What makes these authors such remarkable short story writers? They are true masters at combining the five key elements that go into every great short story: character, setting, conflict, plot and theme. The ELLSA web-site uses one of these five key elements as the focus of each of the five on-line lessons in the Classics of American Literature section. In each lesson, you will explore a single American short story from the USIA Ladder Series and discover how the author uses a certain element. The definitions on the right are repeated on the first page of each short story lesson.

A character is a person, or sometimes even an animal, who takes part in the action of a short story or other literary work.
see The Green Door by O. Henry

The setting of a short story is the time and place in which it happens. Authors often use descriptions of landscape, scenery, buildings, seasons or weather to provide a strong sense of setting.
see The Last Leaf by O. Henry

A plot is a series of events and character actions that relate to the central conflict.
see The Open Boat by Stephen Crane

then most people would certainly enjoy it. 5. The rules are simple: Working in groups of four. or even against something inside himself or herself (feelings. Write down your answers and be ready to discuss these with the rest of the class. see To Build a Fire by Jack London The theme is the central idea or belief in a short story. illness). point of view. plot. Is the theme of a story always the moral of the story? Explain your answer. Be sure to work as a team. It is said that setting is important in some stories but not in others. emotions. On the other side. told orally. 3. if it’s a good one. 6. Questions 1. 4. Read the questions and websites carefully. Which is the case for the story. Introduction Who among us doesn’t enjoy a good story? Whether the story is written. Afterwards. the main character may struggle against another important character. The main character is usually on one side of the central conflict. and theme. against society. “The Cyborg Sitter”? Explain your answer. But how do these elements work together to make a story? Let’s find out through this activity. against the forces of nature.The conflict is a struggle between two people or things in a short story. Can a story begin with the climax? How would the story unfold if it began with the climax? You may cite an example (such as a movie) to support your answer. . But what do we mean by a good story? When is a story good? What makes a story work? There are five basic elements to a short story: setting. Is the character foil the same as the antagonist? Explain your answer. What is the relationship between the conflict and the plot? Or how are conflict and plot related to each other? 7. you will look for the answers to the questions below in the websites given (under “Resources”). answer the Big Question. or shown as a movie. Does it matter whose point of view a story is told from? Explain your answer. character. How do we find out about the characters of a short story? Or how do we get to know them? 2.

html Literary Elements (Character) http://www.html Point of View http://www.com.html Constructing Plot http://www. .ca. ambiguous. How do the various events in the story complicate the action or resolve it? 6. or could the story have happened anywhere? Explain your answer.cas.ns.org/Dha%20Grade%208/Main%20Files/Elements%20of%20a%20Short %20Story.htm#8 Short Story Elements http://hrsbstaff. From whose point of view is the action seen? Is the point of view omniscient.learner. unhappy. Are the characters consistent and motivated in their actions? Are they believable? Are they simple or complex. intellectual. static or dynamic? Cite examples from the story to prove your answers.html Analyzing Theme http://www.k12.html Sample Short Story: “The Cyborg Sitter” http://www.org/exhibits/literature/read/plot2.veranda. an unconventional ending? How does the ending relate to the theme: does it make the theme stronger or weaker? 7. What is/are the conflict/s in the story? Is/Are the conflict/s physical. why? 8.usf. What is the story’s theme? Or what message is the story trying to communicate? 5.ph/viloria/manuel/webis02. Analyze the story by answering the following questions: 1.learner.us/mvm/netlinks/1shortstory/pointofview. open or closed? Was it a surprise. or objective? Are there shifts in point of view in the story and if so. 3. Who is the protagonist of the story? The antagonist? 2.edu/lis/lis6585/class/litelem.ednet.org/exhibits/literature/read/theme1.htm The Big Question Read the story “The Sacrifice” by Celso Carunungan in your textbook. moral. first person.isgdh. emotional? 4. Is the ending happy. Is the setting important to the plot.suhsd.ca/engramja/elements.Resources Elements of a Short Story http://www.

sunny. or all. of a particular place)? . etc) c) weather conditions .What is the daily life of the characters like? Does the story contain local colour (writing that focuses on the speech. \ SHORT STORY ELEMENTS SETTING CONFLICT POINT OF VIEW PLOT CHARACTER THEME SETTING -. you will continue to work as a group. why not divide the questions above among yourselves (two questions per group member)? Answer the questions individually and then meet to discuss your answers and to make sure that everyone agrees. time of day. may be present in a story): a) place . You have two days to do this assignment.In doing this analysis of “The Sacrifice”.When is the story taking place? (historical period. Where is the action of the story taking place? b) time . dress. mannerisms. etc? d) social conditions . customs. while for others it is not. etc.geographical location. To make sure everybody has a contribution.Is it rainy. stormy. year.The time and location in which a story takes place is called the setting. There are several aspects of a story's setting to consider when examining how setting contributes to a story (some. Then finalize your analysis and submit it to your teacher. For some stories the setting is very important.

The events and complications begin to resolve themselves. middle.This is the highest point of interest and the turning point of the story. It is the opposition of forces which ties one incident to another and makes the plot move. The reader wonders what will happen next. Conflict is not merely limited to open arguments. The plot is a planned. rather it is any form of opposition that faces the main character. b) Rising Action . Without conflict there is no plot. Within a short story there .The beginning of the story where the characters and the setting is revealed.What feeling is created at the beginning of the story? Is it bright and cheerful or dark and frightening? BACK TO TOP PLOT -.e) mood or atmosphere . There are five essential parts of plot: a) Introduction . The short story usually has one plot so it can be read in one sitting. logical series of events having a beginning. e) Denouement .This is where the events in the story become complicated and the conflict in the story is revealed (events between the introduction and climax). It is helpful to consider climax as a three-fold phenomenon: 1) the main character receives new information 2) accepts this information (realizes it but does not necessarily agree with it) 3) acts on this information (makes a choice that will determine whether or not he/she gains his objective). The reader knows what has happened next and if the conflict was resolved or not (events between climax and denouement).The plot is how the author arranges events to develop his basic idea. It is the sequence of events in a story or play. will the conflict be resolved or not? d) Falling action . and end. c) Climax .Conflict is essential to plot. BACK TO TOP CONFLICT-.This is the final outcome or untangling of events in the story.

There are four kinds of conflict: 1) Man vs. thinks. The author may reveal a character in several ways: a) his/her physical appearance b) what he/she says.A struggle with a force outside one's self. forces of nature. Man (physical) .The leading character struggles against fate.The leading character struggles with himself/herself. 3) Man vs.may be only one central struggle. Characterization is the information the author gives the reader about the characters themselves. Persons in a work of fiction . a person must make some decision. physical limitations. Society (social) . Circumstances (classical) . BACK TO TOP CHARACTER -. with his/her own soul. overcome pain. choices. practices. or animals. etc.Antagonist and Protagonist Short stories use few characters. 2) Man vs.he/she is the PROTAGONIST. The opposer of the main character is called the ANTAGONIST.A struggle within one's self. or there may be one dominant struggle with many minor ones. resist an urge. or customs of other people. 2) The characteristics of a person. One character is clearly central to the story with all major events having some importance to this character . or the circumstances of life facing him/her. The Characteristics of a Person In order for a story to seem real to the reader its characters must seem real. ideas of right or wrong.The leading character struggles with his physical strength against other men. Himself/Herself (psychological) .The leading character struggles against ideas. There are two types of conflict: 1) External . feels and dreams c) what he/she does or does not do d) what others say about him/her and how others react to him/her . quiet their temper. 2) Internal . etc.There are two meanings for the word character: 1) The person in a work of fiction. 4) Man vs.

Stream of Consciousness . Developing . feelings and motivations of his characters and he introduces information where and when he chooses. Static . and life-like (resemble real people) Characters are.dynamic.Characters are convincing if they are: consistent.round. 1.Stereotype. BACK TO TOP POINT OF VIEW Point of view. or p. by the end of the story. have one or two characteristics that never change and are emphasized e. 1. He can move from character to character. 3. 2. she. brilliant detective.The author can narrate the story using the omniscient point of view. scrooge. There is no comment on the characters or their thoughts. many sided and complex personalities.v.The story is told through the eyes of a child (his/her judgment being different from that of an adult) .The story is told so that the reader feels as if they are inside the head of one character and knows all their thoughts and reactions. and recording only what is seen and heard. it. event to event. b) Omniscient Objective – The author tells the story in the third person. There are two main types of omniscient point of view: a) Omniscient Limited . The reader sees the story through this person's eyes as he/she experiences it and only knows what he/she knows or feels. is defined as the angle from which the story is told. drunk. he. etc). we.The author tells the story in third person (using pronouns they. Individual .. We can see the thoughts and feelings of characters if the author chooses to reveal them to us.The story is told by the protagonist or one of the characters who interacts closely with the protagonist or other characters (using pronouns I. Omniscient. having free access to the thoughts. First Person .o. going anywhere. etc.g. 4. for better or worse.. cruel stepmother. etc). Innocent Eye . It appears as though a camera is following the characters. The reader is . 2. motivated.. We know only what the character knows and what the author allows him/her to tell us. many sided personalities that change. 3. No interpretations are offered. me.

The reader has to interpret events on his own. It is the author's underlying meaning or main idea that he is trying to convey. The theme may be the author's thoughts about a topic or view of human nature.The theme in a piece of fiction is its controlling idea or its central insight. The title of the short story usually points to what the writer is saying and he may use various figures of speech to emphasize his theme. TV. and film are: .things are not always as they appear to be . hyperbole.Don't judge a book by its cover . allusion.placed in the position of spectator without the author there to explain. metaphor. BACK TO TOP THEME -.Believe in yourself . simile. or irony. Some simple examples of common themes from literature.Love is blind . such as: symbol.People are afraid of change .

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