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English 90R
Ms. E. Pumpelly
Elements of a short stories
Purpose: To expose students to American short story writers. To increase student understanding of the elements of a short story such as plot, theme, characters and setting.

A short story is a short written composition.  The action is compact and every single event is critical to the development of the plot.  The time span could vary from a day to years. Read more on short story elements.

The place and time where the story occurs. Sets the stage for the action. Gives the scene description, helps create the atmosphere and tone. The setting can be defined as the place where the story happens, the time when it happens and the conditions under which the story is told. The setting can be any determined area or time.

Setting or the time and place of the action in a short story has a definite impact on the character development and plot. The setting is often found in the exposition of the plot and readily establishes time and place. Frequently it plays an important role in the conflict giving credence to the rising action as a climax or turning point is approached. Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game”, is a story that focuses on the external conflict of individual versus individual and an individual’s struggle with nature (Rainsford’s struggle with the setting namely, Ship Trap Island).

The people or personalities in the story. The narrator through the characters actions and dialogue can be described. The characters are the people involved in the action of the plot. The plot of the story is developed by the characters. Their actions, their dialogues and their point of view combined form the development of the plot. Who they are? What they do? How well what they do follows who they are?

  • Appearance.  Gives your reader a visual understanding of the character.
  • Action.  What kind of person is your character? Describe actions rather than simply listing adjectives.
  • Thought.  Talk about your character's mind, to show them your character's unexpressed memories, fears, and hopes.
  • Comments and reactions of others

The main person or thing trying to achieve a goal.
 What does he or she want? What morally significant choice does your protagonist make at the climax of the story. (The athlete who wants her team to win the big game and the car crash victim who wants to survive his injuries are not specific enough.)

a)  his/her physical appearance
b)  what he/she says, thinks, feels and dreams

c)  what he/she does or does not do

d)  what others say about him/her and how others react to him/her


A person or thing preventing the protagonist from achieving his/her goal.

a)  his/her physical appearance
b)  what he/she says, thinks, feels and dreams

c)  what he/she does or does not do

d)  what others say about him/her and how others react to him/her

An idea that the author conveys to the reader. What the author is saying about life or the lesson. 
The theme is the basic idea of the story. It is what the author tries to tell us by writing the story. A short story can concentrate around one specific theme or a sequence of themes related to one another. The plot evolves around the theme.

Some simple examples of common themes from literature are:
- Things are not always as they appear to be

- Love is blind

- Believe in yourself

- People are afraid of change
- Relationships are more important than money.

The events that move the story forward.  The plot answers the questions what happened? When did it happen? In what order did the events happen? What is the story about?

The highpoint in the story, tension may take place.

The tension and struggles between two or more characters, between a character and his environment.

The problem is sometimes solved, the tension has eased, both the characters and the situation have changed.

Point of View:
The person telling us the story. The one whose eyes we see through as we read the story. (first person, third person)

Literary techniques:
Short story writers have developed a number of literary techniques, in particular the surprise ending.  Most surprise endings involve an unexpected event.  Such endings were popular with O. Henry in the "Gift of the Magi".   Other writers use literary techniques that focus on ordinary life instead of emphasizing dramatic action.

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