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The author of a short story makes careful choices in creating each element of a story.

elements include the following:

Setting (and the mood it evokes)


Character and conflict

Point of View


In analyzing a story, we will look at some of these choices and how they combine to create
theme. At the end of some of the sections in this lesson, you will find recommendations for
reading and analyzing the element or elements of a story presented in that section. Keep this
expert advice in mind—advice from textbook authors and professors of literature—when you
come to the testing section at the end of the lesson.

“‘The king died and the queen died’ promises a story, but not a plot,” according to novelist E.M.
Forster. This is because there is no cause and effect connection between his death and hers. A
connection is created, and a plot appears if the sentence is changed to “The king died, and then
the queen died of grief.”

Plot consists of the related events of a story and may be divided into three main parts:
beginning (rising action), middle (climax), and end (falling action). Two other important aspects
of plot are exposition and resolution. Exposition may be thought of as the background that the
reader needs in order to understand the story. Where did the king and queen live? How did he
die? Many plot diagrams place exposition at the beginning of the story before the rising action
occurs. Exposition may also continue throughout the course of the story. The resolution occurs
when the complications that make up the rising and falling action are taken care of or “resolved.”

They distinguish between “crisis” or “turning point” in a story and “climax,” which they define
as “a consequence of the crisis.” According to them, the climax “is the story’s high point” and
“may take the shape of a decision, an action, an affirmation or denial, or an illumination or
realization.” Though the image that accompanies climax looks as if the climax occurs in the
middle of the story, the climax does not always happen in the middle. It may be closer to the
end, or in some instances, it could occur before the middle of the story. These concepts are good
for you to think about when identifying the climax of a short story.

Now let’s use the story “Cinderella” to review some short story concepts. Each part of the story
has been placed into a category: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, or resolution.
Read through the categories and placement of events from “Cinderella.”


Cinderella lives unhappily with her stepmother and stepsisters (probably “long ago” and
somewhere “far away”); she often sits alone beside the cinders of the fireplace.

Rising action

The invitation to the ball arrives.

Cinderella’s stepsisters prepare for and attend the ball with her help. A fairy godmother,
sometimes depicted as an old woman, provides Cinderella with clothes, a coach, and a footman.

Cinderella attends the ball and meets the prince.


Cinderella leaves frantically at midnight, losing a glass slipper in the process.

Falling action

The prince says he’ll marry the woman whose foot fits into the slipper.

The stepsisters try to force their feet into the slipper.

The slipper fits only Cinderella’s foot.


Cinderella and the prince marry, and they live happily ever after.

posing these questions helps to analyze setting:

“What does it look like, sound like, feel like?”

“How long does it take for the action to occur? What clues does the author give to indicate how
much time is passing?”

“What is the social environment portrayed in the work—the manners, mores, customs, rituals,
codes of conduct of a society? What does the author seem to think about them? (Approving?
Ambivalent? Disapproving?)”

Character and Conflict

We describe characters in fiction as flat (simple) or round (complex). Round characters change in
some way during the course of the story; therefore, we also say that they are dynamic. Flat
characters are one-dimensional and do not grow or change during the story; therefore, we say
that they are static. Round characters play an important role in the story but are not always

In the book Everyday Use: Rhetoric at Work in Reading and Writing, the protagonist is defined as
“the figure in the narrative whose interests the reader is most concerned and sympathetic
toward.” The antagonist is the character who “opposes what readers (and the author) want” for
the protagonist. Because of this opposition, conflict arises. Conflict may be external or internal.
Watch the “English Shorts” presentation which distinguishes between these two types of
conflict. Oops! You will probably notice the narrator’s misuse of the semicolon. He doesn’t need
it in two sentences. They should be punctuated like this: “a problem inside a person like a
choice” and “a problem that is physical like a fight.”

short story writers reveal characters through

actions or gestures (to show a character’s strengths and weaknesses);

descriptions (to possibly show a character’s place in the social and

economic world);
thoughts and statements (dialogue) about the protagonist between other characters; and

statements by the author speaking as storyteller or observer, which are “usually accurate,” but
are also open for questioning in the same way that any character’s thoughts, actions, or
statements are open for questioning.

Characters in a short story may be developed directly (by telling the reader

what the character is like) or indirectly (by showing the reader what the character is like).

Point of View and Theme

Photo of young woman looking at a library book while looking confused

Source: Need help? Ask a friendly student rover!, UTS Library, Flickr

Point of view
Short story authors present the characters and their conflicts to the reader through a carefully
chosen point of view. The events of the plot may be told by a character in the story or by a
narrator outside the story. The following chart shows the most common points of view that a
writer might choose for a short story. Read over it and then do the exercise that follows.

Point of View (POV) Description

Third-person Omniscient

The narrator tells the story in the third person from an all-knowing perspective. The knowledge
is not limited by any one character’s view or behavior, as the narrator knows everything about all

Third-person Limited

The narrator restricts his knowledge to one character’s view or behavior.

Third-person Objective

The narrator reveals only the actions and words without the benefit of the inner thoughts and

First person

The narrator restricts the perspective to that of only one character to tell the story.

The theme of a story is what the author is trying to convey — in other words, the central idea of
the story. Short stories often have just one theme, whereas novels usually have multiple themes.
The theme of a story is woven all the way through the story, and the characters' actions,
interactions, and motivations all reflect the story's theme.

But don't confuse theme with the story's plot or moral. The plot is simply what happens in the
story and the order of the story's events, and the moral is the lesson that the writer wants the
main character (and by extension, you) to learn from the story. Each of these serves the overall
theme of the story. That is, the events of the story illustrate the theme, and the lesson that you
learn relates directly to the theme.