Five Important Elements of a Short Story

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Point of View

A short story is a short work of fiction that contains between 1500 to 3000 words. Some short stories can be longer up to 10000 words. Fiction is prose writing. It is usually about imagined events and characters. Prose writing differs from poetry in that it does not depend on verses, meters or rhymes for its organization and presentation. Short Story writers from Canada have won many awards for their craft of the story.


Characteristics of Each Element:


The arrangement of incidents or small events in the story. Some are more important than others to the solution of the conflict.
Plot Line:

  1. Opening Situation - The reader is often told where and when the story occurs; character (s) are introduced.

  2. Inciting Force - A conflict is usually established between characters.

  3. Rising Action - The conflict between characters develops and becomes more pronounced.

  4. Climax - The moment of greatest suspense. Climax is a three-fold phenomenon:  1)  the main character receives new information  2)  accepts this information (realizes it but does not necessarily agree with it) 3)  acts on this information (makes a choice that will determine whether or not he/she gains his objective).

  5. Falling Action - The action leads to the resolution or final outcome.

  6. Final Outcome - The writer wraps up and ties up any loose ends in hopes that the reader will leave the story satisfied.



There are two basic types:

  • Internal - man versus himself
  • External - man versus man
  1. man versus nature

  2. man versus society

  3. man versus unknown

  4. man versus supernatural

  5. man versus time

1)  Man vs. Man (physical) - The leading character struggles with his physical strength against other men, forces of nature, or animals.

2)  Man vs. Circumstances (classical) - The leading character struggles against fate, or the circumstances of life facing him/her.

3)  Man vs. Society (social) - The leading character struggles against ideas, practices, or customs of other people.

4)  Man vs. Himself/Herself (psychological) -  The leading character struggles with himself/herself; with his/her own soul, ideas of right or wrong, physical limitations, choices, etc.



The theme in a piece of fiction is its controlling idea or its central insight.  It is the author's underlying meaning or main idea that he is trying to convey.  The theme may be the author's thoughts about a topic or view of human nature.  The title of the short story usually points to what the writer is saying and he may use various figures of speech to emphasize his theme, such as: symbol, allusion, simile, metaphor, hyperbole, or irony.  

Some simple examples of common themes from literature, TV, and film are:
- things are not always as they appear to be:

  • for entertainment--just to tell an exciting tale

  • moralistic--to teach a lessons

  • to make us laugh

  • People are afraid of change

  • to weave a fantasy and let us escape from reality

  • Believe in yourself

  • to explore a certain character

  • Love is blind

  • to explore a certain setting and how it affected people or events

  • Don't judge a book by its cover


The physical background of the story - where and when the story takes place.

The time and location in which a story takes place is called the setting.  For some stories the setting is very important, while for others it is not.  There are several aspects of a story's setting to consider when examining how setting contributes to a story (some, or all, may be present in a story):

a)  place - geographical location.  Where is the action of the story taking place?
b)  time - When is the story taking place? (historical period, time of day, year, etc)
c)  weather conditions - Is it rainy, sunny, stormy, etc?
d)  social conditions - What is the daily life of the characters like? Does the story contain local colour (writing that focuses on the speech, dress, mannerisms, customs, etc. of a particular place)?
e)  mood or atmosphere - What feeling is created at the beginning of the story?  Is it bright and cheerful or dark and frightening?


The plot needs characters that have tension between them. The main character is placed in a situation that contains a problem he must overcome. Most stories also have minor characters who either help or hinder the main character's attempt to solve his problem. Characters always have motivation. Something that makes him/er behave that way?

  1. Flat Character - a character who doesn't go through a change. These characters are usually one-dimensional.
  2. Round (Dynamic) Characters - Characters who are usually fully developed in terms of personality. They are affected by the events in the story. They are described in good detail and their personalities are easy to see. Round characters usually change,  learn, grow, or get worse by the end of the story.
  3. Protagonist - The main character of the story.
  4. Stereotyped Characters - a character who is so well known that little has to be said about him/her. These characters are immediately recognizable because of the role he/she plays. Examples - the strong silent gunfighter, the nerd, the beautiful international spy, the mad scientist, etc.
  5. Antagonist - This character opposes the protagonist. Often, he/she is an opponent to the main character and is sometimes right and justified in his/her actions.

We learn about a character by examining 5 areas:
1. what he/she says
2. what he/she thinks
3. what he/she does
4. what is said about him/her by other characters and the narrator
5. an author's direct statement

In character analysis, look at the character's dialogue; his appearance; his actions; his environment; his character type; what motivates the character; is his motivation consistent?



Point of view, or p.o.v., is defined as the angle from which the story is told.

1.  Innocent Eye - The story is told through the eyes of a child (his/her judgment being different from that of an adult) .

2.  Stream of Consciousness - The story is told so that the reader feels as if they are inside the head of one character and knows all their thoughts and reactions.

3.  First Person - The story is told  by the protagonist or one of the characters who interacts closely with the protagonist or other characters (using pronouns I, me, we, etc).  The reader sees the story through this person's eyes as he/she experiences it and only knows what he/she knows or feels.

4. Omniscient- The author can narrate the story using the omniscient point of view.  He can move from character to character, event to event, having free access to the thoughts, feelings and motivations of his characters and he introduces information where and when he chooses.  There are two main types of omniscient point of view:

a)  Omniscient Limited - The author tells the story in third person (using pronouns they, she, he, it, etc).  We know only what the character knows and what the author allows him/her to tell us. We can see the thoughts and feelings of characters if the author chooses to reveal them to us.

b)  Omniscient Objective The author tells the story in the third person.  It appears as though a camera is following the characters, going anywhere, and recording only what is seen and heard.  There is no comment on the characters or their thoughts. No interpretations are offered.  The reader is placed in the position of spectator without the author there to explain.  The reader has to interpret events on his own.

Good Leads

A reader usually decides very early in a story if he will continue reading or abandon the text. The author needs to draw the reader in from the beginning.