Basic Elements of a Short Story Short stories tend to be less complex than novels. Usually, a short story will focus on only one incident, has a single plot, a single setting, a limited number of characters, and covers a short period of time. The major literary elements of a short story are as follows:
Characters:A short story usually focuses on a limited number of characters.
Protagonist – The main character of a story.
Antagonist – The main character in opposition to the protagonist or hero.
***Hero/Anti-Hero – The hero is the central protagonist of the work, around whom the action
revolves and is usually an admirable person. An anti-hero is a main character who disappoints the
audiences expectations of an admirable hero.
Characterization: Characterization is the process by which the reader learns about the personality of the characters in the story. There are two ways an author may do this.
Direct/Explicit - The author literally tells the audience what a character is like. This may be done via the narrator, another character or by the character him or herself.
Indirect/Implicit - The audience must figure out for themselves what the character is like through the character's thoughts, actions, speech (choice of words, way of talking), looks and interaction with other characters, including other characters’ reactions.
Setting:The time and place of the action in the story.
Plot: The sequence of events or actions in a narration or drama having a particular causal structure and unity of purpose or theme. The basic elements of plot are as follows:
Exposition – the introduction of setting, situation and main characters
Rising Action/Conflict/Complications – complications are introduced that the
main character must deal with; this gets the action moving
Climax – The point of crucial interest with the greatest emotional intensity in a narrative or drama. It is sometimes synonymous with crisis.
Resolution – moves down from the high point of the climax and usually settles the conflict or conflicts (and not always for the better)
***See Plot Diagram Handout (will be used for a later lesson)
Conflict:A struggle between opposing forces or characters in a story, which moves the action. There are two types of Conflict found in literature:
Internal: (Man vs. Man) the character struggles internally with his/her ideas, beliefs, values, etc.
External: (Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Society) a character struggles with some external force, such as another character, weather, or a societal belief.
Point of View: A term used to designate the position from which the story is told. The two fundamental points of view are third-person narration and first-person narration.
First Person: With first person narration, the story is told by one of the characters in his or her own words, that is from the “I” vantage point. This is considered a limited point of view, since the reader is only told what this character knows and observes.
Third Person:With third person narration, a narrator tells the story from the vantage point of “he” or “she.” There are two possible standpoints of a third-person narrator. (1) Omniscient – here the narrator is an all-knowing observer who can describe all the characters and actions in the story as well as comment on what the characters think and feel. (2) Limited – here the narrator only tells the story from the viewpoint of one character but describes things objectively. It seems as though the narrator is looking over the shoulder of the character and telling the story
Theme: The main idea or the basic message of a literary work. The theme can often be expressed through a maxim or proverb.
Other literary techniques and elements to be discussed:
Dialect: A representation of the speech patterns of a particular region or social group.
Dialogue: An exchange of words between characters. Dialogue can help to develop characterization.
Figurative language: Language used in a non-literal way to express a suitable relationship between essentially unlike things.
Flashback:An interruption of a narrative to show an episode that happened before that particular point in the story.
Foreshadowing: A hint given to the reader of what is to come.
Hyperbole:A great exaggeration. A form of figurative language.
Imagery: Words or details added by the author to appeal to the reader’s senses of sight, sound, tough, smell, taste, and internal feelings. Imagery provides vividness to literary works and tends to arouse emotions in a reader. (Informally: pictures created out of words/word pictures)
Irony:The term used to describe a contrast between what is expected, or what appears to be, and what really is.
(1)Situational – refers to an occurrence that is contrary to what is expected or intended.
(2)Dramatic – refers to a situation in which events or facts not know to a character on stage or in a fictional work are known to the audience or reader.
(3)Verbal – refers to when the actual meaning of a statement is different from (often the opposite of) what the statement literally says.
Metaphor:A comparison between two unlike things without using the words “like” or “as.”
Mood: The overall atmosphere or prevailing feeling within a work of literature or art.
Motif: A motif or motive is a recurring element that has symbolic significance in the story. Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. The motif can be an idea, an object, a place, or a statement.
Personification: A form of figurative language, not meant to be taken literally, that describes an animal, an object, a natural force, or an idea as if it were human.
Repetition: Where a specific word, phrase, or structure is repeated several times, usually in close proximity, to emphasize a particular idea.
Satire: The technique in writing that employs wit to ridicule a subject, usually some social institution or human weakness, with the purpose of pointing out problems in society or inspiring reform.
Simile:A comparison of two unlike things, using the words “like” or “as.”
Surprise Ending: an unexpected conclusion or climax to a work of fiction, which may contain an irony, or cause the audience to reevaluate the rest of the story.
Suspense:The quality of a literary work that makes the reader or audience uncertain or tense about the outcome of events.
Symbolism: Any object, person, place, or action that has a meaning in itself and that also stands for something larger than itself, such as a quality, an attitude, a belief, or a value.
Tone: The attitude a writer takes toward his or her subject, characters, and readers.