Short Stories


Elements of a Short Story

Character, plot, setting, point of view, mood or atmosphere, theme, and style are developed in the story.


A. Character

Characterization: the author's description and explanation of the people in the story.


Characters are developed in the following ways:

q       their thoughts

q       their appearance

q       their actions

q       what they say

q       what others think about them

q       comparisons with other characters

q       what the author says about them


B. Terminology

Main Characters: are characters who are central to the conflict.

Minor Characters: are characters who are not central to the conflict.

Protagonist: is the chief character of a story, on whom our interest centres.

Antagonist: is the character or force pitted against the protagonist; can be one or many.

Developing Characters: are characters who change their outlook/attitude/behaviour during the story. It is often informative to consider what the change is, what causes it and when it occurs.

Static Characters: are characters who do not change their outlook/attitude/behaviour during the story.

Round Characters: are "complex in temperament and motivation" and they are as difficult to describe as real people. Like people in real life and they are capable of surprising us.

Flat Characters: are built around a single idea or quality. They can be described in a simple phrase or sentence.

Foil: is a character opposite in personality to that of the main character; the foil contrasts severely with the main character; together they illuminate each other's strengths and weaknesses.


C. Plot (Story Line)

This is the sequence of interlocking events in a story. A plot is based on conflict and this usually centres on the opposing forces or the problem facing the main character. A plot consists of:

1. Exposition: This is an introduction to the setting, characters, conflict, and the antecedent action (what happened before the story opened). The exposition also provides any other background information that the reader needs in order to understand the events to follow. The conflict is a clash of actions, ideas, desires or wills. A conflict may be physical, mental, emotional, or moral.

2. Initial Incident: This is the incident which begins the central conflict of the story.

3. Rising Action: This is a series of scenes or episodes in which the conflict becomes more intense.

4. Turning Point: This is an indication that the climax is about to occur; a decisive moment at which a crucial decision must be made.

5. Climax: This is the point of highest interest and tension.

6. Falling Action: This word means any unfinished or necessary concluding scenes or episodes.

7. Denouement: This word means "unknotting" in French. It is the conclusion and the tying up of complications.


D. Setting

The time, place, and circumstances surrounding the characters. This is the where (place) and when (time) of the story. Some stories could take place anywhere at anytime. In other stories, setting is very important.


E. Point of View

Point of View refers to the perspective from which the events in a short story, poem, or novel are narrated. There are four basic points of view:

1. Omniscient (All knowing)

Author tells the story (3rd person)

Author reveals the thoughts and feelings of more than one character.

Advantage: flexibility (author can interpret)

Disadvantage: may destroy the sense of reality

2. Limited (sometimes called Limited Omniscient)

Author tells the story (3rd person)

Author reveals the thoughts and feelings of one character.

Advantage: more realistic -- you usually consider a single pov.

Disadvantage: less flexible -- less room for interpretation.

3. First Person

Character tells the story

Character reveals his/her thoughts and feelings

Advantage: intimacy -- perhaps you identify with the character

Disadvantage: no author to interpret directly

4. Objective

Author tells the story (3rd person)

Author does not reveal thought and feelings of any character

Advantage: speed of action -- the story moves quickly; good for a surprise ending.

Disadvantage: no interpretation possible by author


F. Style

The author's distinctive manner of expression (use of words, sentence structure, and the use of figurative language)


G. Mood or Atmosphere

The dominant feeling or effect the reader gets from the story, achieved through setting, description, and action.


H. Tone

The tone is the author's intended attitude toward his/her subject.


I. Theme

The theme is the main underlying idea in a story. It is a truth about life which encompasses the story but extends beyond the confines of a single story into life itself.