Analyzing and Creating a Short Story

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Analyzing and Creating a Short Story

Project Overview
In this project students will study the work and life of Flannery O’Connor, a Southern writer. They will read “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” one of O’Connor’s short stories. They will also read an article about what constitutes a good short story. This assignment is primarily for a fiction-writing class but may also be extended for use in English composition or literature classes. Students are also encouraged to communicate with others interested in Flannery O’Connor and her work through a fan club Web site.

One of the ways that writers learn their craft is by reading and analyzing the work of established writers. Another way that beginning writers hone their skills is by writing and rewriting their own stories. This two-fold assignment helps students gain a better understanding of their own writing by placing it in the context of the work of a professional and gifted writer, Flannery O’Connor. Students will write an essay analyzing “A Good Man is Hard to Find” based on what constitutes a good short story, especially in terms of how character is developed. Students will then transfer their understanding to their own creative writing by drafting a short story of their own.

URLs: Main Web sites:

  • What Makes a Good Short Story?

  • General information about O’Connor and her life.

  • A Good Man is Hard to Find”

Student Learning Objectives

For this RWLO, students will be able to:

  • Use analytical skills in reading and understanding a work of fiction.

  • Be able to apply the views presented in an article on the craft of writing to an actual short story.

  • Develop their argumentative and analytical writing skills in essay form (complete with MLA format and documentation.)

  • Have the opportunity to write their own short stories using O’Connor’s story as a model.


Time: Approximately 8 + hours.
Materials: Students need to have access to a computer with an Internet


Prerequisites: Students should have experience in writing an essay. They should have taken English Composition or an equivalent course.
Implementation: This RWLO is designed to be used in an online class or in a combination of traditional classroom and online.

  1. Students are given the assignment.

  1. Students read both “What Makes a Good Short Story” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”

  1. They then post their responses through online discussion. They also post a response to another student’s posting.

  1. Students write an 800-word essay using “What Makes a Good Short Story” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find” as evidence.

  1. Students write their own short story of no fewer than 500 words.

Content Material

Student Directions:

Part One: Two Discussions:

Before participating in Discussion A, you should read “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor. Post to Discussion A. Next, read “What Makes a Good Short Story?” and post to Discussion B.

For each Discussion, write an original posting and one response. (In your response, you should consider if you agree or disagree with the original posting. Explain why you agree or disagree.)

Discussion A: Based on “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The original posting should consider the following questions:

  • Who is the main character?

  • Note one specific detail that reveals something important about him or her.

  • How does the main character drive the plot of the story?

Do you feel that you are drawn into the story? Does it seem like a real dramatic event? Explain your answer.
Discussion B: Using “What Makes a Good Short Story?” as your reference, you should discuss “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Provide specific examples in your answers.

  • Why is character so important in a short story?

  • How does the writer reveal the character?

  • Note three ways “A Good Man is Hard to Find” demonstrates the qualities of a good short story.

Part Two: Analysis.

Essay assignment: Write an 800-word essay based on the following prompt:

Discuss how Flannery O’Connor reveals character effectively in her short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”

  • Your essay should include information about the author and her background.

  • The introduction should be interesting and make the reader want to read on; it should also lead up to the thesis in a logical way.

  • In terms of overall content, the essay’s ideas should be developed with thoughtful interpretation and specific, concrete detail.

  • The thesis should be focused, assertive, and responsive to the prompt.

  • Topic sentences should agree with the thesis in content and order.
  • Evidence should come from both the essay and the short story. Each paragraph should contain one direct quotation and one paraphrase.

  • Paragraphs should be well developed and include a summary sentence or a transition into the following paragraph.

  • The conclusion should not repeat but remind the reader of the thesis. Try to end your essay in a thoughtful and memorable way.

  • The essay should be free of grammatical errors.

  • The paper should be formatted according to MLA standards; the sources should be documented according to MLA requirements.

Part Three: Creative Writing: In her essay “On Writing Short Stories,” Flannery O’Connor writes, “I myself prefer to say that a story is a dramatic event that involves a person because he is a person, and a particular person—that is, because he shares in the general human condition and in some specific human situation.” Write your own short story of at least 500 words that tells the story of a person involved in a dramatic event. Make sure to write in a specific and concrete way, focusing on the person or character in your story. Let the reader get to know this person through dialogue and description, and feel what he or she is experiencing.

URLs: Main Web sites:

  • What Makes a Good Short Story?

  • General information about O’Connor and her life.

  • A Good Man is Hard to Find”

  • Flannery O'Connor Fan Club


  1. Readings and discussion (worth 15 points)

  1. Essay (worth 85 points): The essay will be graded equally on the

guidelines listed in the Student Directions section. (Readings and discussion and the essay are graded together for a total of 100 points.)

  1. Student short story (100 points); each of the following counts 20

points for a total of 100 points.

  • The story contains necessary specific and concrete detail.

  • The story contains realistic dialogue and description.

  • The story focuses on a person and his or her development and change.

  • The story contains a specific dramatic event.

  • The story is free of grammatical errors.

Links to Course Competencies

This RWLO could be applied in the following courses: Fiction Writing, English Composition, Writing about Literature, and others. Specifically, this RWLO meets the following course competencies:

  • Students are able to think critically about a creative writer’s work.

  • Students are able to write a well-structured and developed essay about a work of fiction.

  • Students are able to use correct MLA format and documentation.

  • Students are able to write a short story using the elements of fiction: character development, dialogue, description, point of view, and plot.

Supplementary Resources

Additional Web sites:

  • (Writing Lab for assistance on essay writing.)

  • (Secondary source for “A Good Man is Hard to Find.)

  • (Information for the instructor on how to teach Flannery O’Connor.)

    (Elements of Fiction)

Recommendations for Integration:
This assignment is for use primarily in an online setting. However, it can also be used in a classroom if the teacher has access to Flannery O’Connor’s books. Another essay to use in analyzing O’Connor’s story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is her own essay “On Writing Short Stories” that can be found in Mysteries and Manners, a collection of O’Connor’s prose edited by Sally and Robert Fitzgerald. The short story can be found in A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories. Both of these books by O’Connor are available through and most bookstores.
Instructors in a traditional classroom setting may also ask their students to view the Web sites noted in this RWLO. Also, in a traditional classroom, students can be divided into groups, and they can address the same questions as are used for the online discussion. This assignment could be divided into a certain number of class hours for each stage of the reading, discussion, and writing.
Revision and peer review can be incorporated into the writing process for both the essay and the short story.

Back-up: If the Web sites are not available, this RWLO can be completed using books from the library or books purchased at a local bookstore or online.

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