The Short Story

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The Short Story: Notes

A short story is a brief, fictional prose narrative which may vary in length.

  • Brevity: brief, limited in the number of words.

  • Prose Fiction: fiction written in sentence form

  • Compression: short and covers a lot of ideas, only necessary ideas

  • Stressed Elements: elements of the plot

Essay vs. Short Story: differences- essay has no plot, no climax; short story written mainly to entertain, essay written more formally. similarities- both prose, one setting, one basic idea, both let us know something about the author.

Escape Literature: literature written mainly for enjoyment, entertainment, escape from the real world.

  • Immature reader: reader does no thinking, wants to read the same kind of material all the time; always expects a happy ending, tends to imagine him/herself in the story.

Interpretive Literature: literature written to broaden, deepen, and sharpen our awareness of life.

  • Mature reader: thinks about what he/she reads; reads all types of literature.

Elements of Plot

Plot is the sequence of incidents or events of which a story is composed.

  • Exposition: background to the story

  • Initial Action: first incident which causes conflict; first stages of the plot

  • Rising Action: actions leading to the climax, complications that must be overcome (motivation, complication, suspense)

  • Climax: high point in the story, highest point of suspense
  • Falling Action: immediate results; action after the climax

  • Denouement: the final outcome, solution, unraveling or clarification of plot

Literary Devices used in the plot of a short story:

  • Antecedent Action: action that has occurred before. Any happening or thing prior to another.

  • Significant Action: action that is important to the outcome of the story

  • Unity of Action: all action must be relevant to the story; it must contribute to the total meaning

  • Artistic Unity: the tying together of plot, character, setting, theme, etc. to create a single effect

  • Double Plot: a story within a story (frame)

  • Dramatic Foreshadowing: revealing hints of future events

  • Flashback: reminiscing, going back to a previous incident

  • Suspense: that quality in a story which makes the reader ask, "What is going to happen next?" or "How will this turn out?”; impels him/her to read on to find the answers

  • Surprise: a sudden new turn or twist in the plot; unexpected events that happen

  • Chance: no relationship between events

  • Coincidence: occurrence of two events that are related

  • Epiphany: A sudden revelation of truth inspired by a seemingly trivial incident.

• Verisimilitude: Literally, the appearance of truth. Life-like qualities.

• Universality: quality, state, or instance of being universal; unlimited range; applies to everybody; people can all relate to it.

• Juxtaposition: the act or instance of placing two or more things side by side; sometimes opposites.
  • Plot manipulation: author adjusts the story; deus ex machina (god from the machine) named after the practice of some ancient Greek dramatists in having a god descend from heaven (in the theater by means of a stage-machine) to rescue their protagonist at the last minute from some impossible situation


Methods of Characterization

  • Direct: told straight out by exposition or analysis what a character is like, or has someone else In the story tell us what he/she is like

  • Indirect: author shows character in action, we infer what he/she is like by what he/she thinks, says, or does

Complexity/Types of Characters

  • Flat: characterized by one or two traits, summed up in a few sentences

  • Round: complex and many-sided

  • Stock: a type of flat, stereotypical figure who has occurred so often in fiction that his/her nature is immediately known (i.e. sinister villain, good sheriff, mad scientist, etc.)

  • Static: unchanging character from the beginning to the end

  • Developing/Dynamic: undergoes a permanent change in some aspect of his/her character, personality, or outlook. Change may be large or small, better or worse, but it is something important and basic

    • Requirements for change: time- the story must allow for sufficient time for a character to change

    • Motivation: character must want to change

    • Capability: character must be able to change

Character Foil: two characters that are completely different

Foil: a person or thing serving by contrast to enhance or set off the qualities of another

Protagonist: the central character in a literary work.
Antagonist: the person or force in opposition to the main character/protagonist.

Confidante: a close, trusted friend to whom one confides intimate matters or secrets.
Requirements of Sound Characterization
  • Motivation: characters must be motivated to make the story plausible

  • Plausibility: characters must be realistic in the way they act, speak, and live

  • Consistency: characters must be consistent in their actions and beliefs


  • External (man vs. man/man vs. environment):

    • physical- real combat, physically fighting

    • psychological- why do something, conflict of minds

    • moral- conflict of right vs. wrong

  • Internal (man vs. himself):

    • psychological- conflict with your conscience

    • moral- conflict of morals within someone, what the character thinks is right or wrong


Setting consists of the time and place of the story; the mood, value systems, and daily manner of living of characters

  • physical setting: where

  • time setting: when

  • time span: for how long

  • emotional setting: manner of living, psychological backgrounds, occupations, value systems, social graces, mental stabilities, religious beliefs


Theme is the central or unifying concept of a piece of literature. It is a unifying generalization about life stated or implied. Theme must be expressible in the form of a statement with a subject and predicate. Theme must be stated as a generalization of life (be careful not to make the generalization larger than is justified by the story).

  • the theme must account for all major details

  • cannot be contradicted by any details

  • must not rely on supposed facts

There is no one way of stating the theme of a story. Often, a story will have numerous themes. We should avoid any statement which reduces the theme to some familiar saying or moral.

Point of View

Who tells the story and how it gets told.

  • First Person: the author disappears into one of the characters who tells the story in first person (using "I")

  • Omniscient: the story is told by the author, using 3rd person, and his knowledge and prerogatives are unlimited; all knowing

  • Limited Omniscient: story told in 3rd person, but tells it from the viewpoint of one of the characters in the story. He knows all about the character he is using, but has no knowledge of others

  • Objective: author is like a camera, he can record only what he sees and hears; cannot enter a character's mind

Other Literary Devices for Short Stories

Symbolism: something that stands for or represents another thing; abstract; it can be an object, a person, situation, an action, or some other item which has a literal meaning in the story but suggests or represents other meanings as well.

Irony: a contrast in which one element mocks the other

    • Verbal Irony: say one thing but mean the opposite

    • Dramatic Irony: audience knows more than the characters

    • Irony of Situation: discrepancy between appearance and reality

Fantasy: the non-realistic story; it transcends the bounds of known reality; conjures up a strange and marvelous world. It introduces us to a world where the ordinary laws of nature are suspended or superseded and where the landscape and its creatures are unfamiliar. (Fables, ghost stories, science fiction)

Sentimentality: the quality in a story which aims at drawing forth unmerited tender feeling. Oversimplifies and sweetens life, exaggerates, manipulates, and prettifies.

Emotion: treats life faithfully and perceptively; presented indirectly, must be dramatized. It must be plausible, convincing, and genuine.

Pathos: a quality in writing that arouses sympathy or pity.

Predicament: a situation that is difficult, unpleasant, embarrassing or sometimes comical; implies a complicated, perplexing situation from which it is difficult to disentangle oneself.

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