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Elements of a Short

Story
I.

Character
Characters are persons represented in a dramatic or narrative work, who are interpreted by
the reader as being endowed with a particular moral, intellectual and emotional qualities by
inferences from what the persons say and their distinctive ways of saying it the dialogue
and from what they do the action. The grounds in the characters temperament, desires and
moral nature for their speech and actions are called their motivation. A character may remain
essentially stable or unchanged in outlook and disposition from beginning to end of a work
or may undergo a radical change, either through a gradual process of development or as a
result of a crisis. Whether a character remains stable or changes, the reader of a traditional
and realistic work expects consistency the character should not suddenly break off and
act in a way not plausibly grounded in his or her temperament as we have already come to
know it.
Types of Character (http://learn.lexiconic.net/characters.htm)
1. Major or central characters are vital to the development and resolution of the conflict. In
other words, the plot and resolution of conflict revolves around these characters.
2. Minor characters serve to complement the major characters and help move the plot events
forward.
3. The protagonist is the central person in a story, and is often referred to as the story's main
character. He or she (or they) is faced with a conflict that must be resolved. The protagonist
may not always be admirable (e.g. an anti-hero); nevertheless s/he must command
involvement on the part of the reader, or better yet, empathy.
a. Anti-hero is a major character, usually the protagonist, who lacks conventional
nobility of mind, and who struggles for values not deemed universally admirable.
Duddy, in Mordecai Richler's The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, is a classic antihero. He's vulgar, manipulative and self-centered. Nevertheless, Duddy is the center
of the story, and we are drawn to the challenges he must overcome and the goals he
seeks to achieve.
b. A foil is any character (usually the antagonist or an important supporting character)
whose personal qualities contrast with another character (usually the protagonist). By
providing this contrast, we get to know more about the other character.
4. The antagonist is the character(s) (or situation) that represents the opposition against which
the protagonist must contend. In other words, the antagonist is an obstacle that the protagonist
must overcome.
5. A dynamic (sometimes called the developing character) character is a person who changes
over time, usually as a result of resolving a central conflict or facing a major crisis. Most
dynamic characters tend to be central rather than peripheral characters, because resolving the

conflict is the major role of central characters. A round character is anyone who has a
complex personality; he or she is often portrayed as a conflicted and contradictory person.
6. A static character is someone who does not change over time; his or her personality does not
transform or evolve. A flat (sometimes called type or two-dimensional) character is the
opposite of a round character. This literary personality is notable for one kind of personality
trait or characteristic.
7. Stock characters are those types of characters who have become conventional or stereotypical
through repeated use in particular types of stories. Stock characters are instantly recognizable
to readers or audience members (e.g. the femme fatale, the cynical but moral private eye, the
mad scientist, the geeky boy with glasses, and the faithful sidekick). Stock characters are
normally one-dimensional flat characters, but sometimes stock personalities are deeply
conflicted, rounded characters (e.g. the "Hamlet" type).
8. A symbolic character is any major or minor character whose very existence represents some
major idea or aspect of society. For example, in Lord of the Flies, Piggy is a symbol of both
the rationality and physical weakness of modern civilization; Jack, on the other hand,
symbolizes the violent tendencies (the Id) that William Golding believes is within human
nature.
Characterization: How are characters portrayed?
An author or poet's use of description, dialogue, dialect, and action to create in the
reader an emotional or intellectual reaction to a character or to make the character more vivid and
realistic. Careful readers note each character's attitude and thoughts, actions and reaction, as well
as any language that reveals geographic, social, or cultural background.
Characterization is the process by which the writer reveals the personality of a character.
Direct characterization refers to what the speaker or narrator directly says or thinks about
a character. In other words, in a direct characterization, the reader is told what the character is
like.
Indirect characterization refers to what the character says or does. The reader then infers what
the character is all about. This mimics how we understand people in the real world, since we can't
"get inside their heads". In other words, in an indirect characterization, it's the reader who is
obliged to figure out what the character is like.
In indirect characterization, the ways characters are revealed through (1) what the narrator says
about the character, (2) what the other characters say about the character, (3) what the
character says about himself or herself, and (4) what the character actually does.

II.

Conflict
The struggle between two opposing characters or forces.
Conflict demands solutions.
The opposition between two characters (such as a protagonist and an antagonist), between
two large groups of people, or between the protagonist and a larger problem such as forces of
nature, ideas, public mores, and so on. Conflict may also be completely internal, such as the
protagonist struggling with his psychological tendencies (drug addiction, self-destructive
behavior, and so on); William Faulkner famously claimed that the most important literature
deals with the subject of "the human heart in conflict with itself." Conflict is the engine that
drives a plot. Examples of narratives driven mainly by conflicts between the protagonist and
nature include Jack London's "To Build a Fire" (in which the Californian struggles to save
himself from freezing to death in Alaska) and Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat" (in which

shipwrecked men in a lifeboat struggle to stay alive and get to shore). Examples of narratives
driven by conflicts between a protagonist and an antagonist include Mallory's Le Morte
D'arthur, in which King Arthur faces off against his evil son Mordred, each representing
civilization and barbarism respectively. Examples of narratives driven by internal struggles
include Daniel Scott Keyes' "Flowers for Algernon," in which the hero struggles with the loss
of his own intelligence to congenital mental retardation, and Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale
Heart," in which the protagonist ends up struggling with his own guilt after committing a
murder. In complex works of literature, multiple conflicts may occur at once. For instance, in
Shakespeare's Othello, one level of conflict is the unseen struggle between Othello and the
machinations of Iago, who seeks to destroy him. Another level of conflict is Othello's struggle
with his own jealous insecurities and his suspicions that Desdemona is cheating on him.
(https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/lit_terms_C.html)
Major Kinds of Conflict
1. Internal Conflict Internal conflict is that which exists inside the character. Struggles
with morality, fate, desire and belief, to name a few. This form of conflict is central to the
character, or characters and must be resolved by the character alone. Every good
character suffers from the weight of internal conflict, it lends them an air of complex
believability. Internal conflict is also known as man versus self. Internal conflict is
necessary for good characters, but its the least complicated form of conflict.
a. Man against self A character has trouble deciding what to do in a particular
situation.
2. External Conflict deals with the problems of the world. The story's characters will
struggle against the circumstances of external conflict, they may even suffer internal
conflict resulting from the issues of external conflict, but this is not as simple as internal
conflict. External conflict occurs when characters are involved in the world's woes, such
issues as community, nature, government and other characters are all examples of
external conflict. External conflict manifests itself as man versus man, man versus nature,
man versus society and man versus fate.
a. Man against Man One character in the story has a problem with one or more of
the other characters.
b. Man against Society A character has a conflict or problem with some element of
society - the school, the law, the accepted way of doing things, and so on.
c. Man against Nature A character has a problem with some natural happening: a
snowstorm, an avalanche, the bitter cold, or any of the other elements common to
nature.
d. Man against Fate A character has to battle what seems to be an uncontrollable
problem. Whenever the problem seems to be a strange or unbelievable coincidence,
fate can be considered the cause of the conflict.

III.

Setting
Setting is defined as the physical location (physical setting) and the time (chronological
setting) of a story. In short stories, one or both of these elements are often not defined.
(http://learn.lexiconic.net/elementsoffiction.htm#setting)
Identifying the Setting:
a. Physical World in which Characters Live
1. Geographical location, topography, scenery, even the arrangement of objects in a
room can carry special significance.

b.

c.

d.

e.

f.

2. Spot words that ask you to hear, see and feel elements that make up and
strengthen awareness of physical setting.
Characters Revealed by Setting
1. Physical objects surround characters in different ways and these differences
reveal traits and changes in characters.
a. Psychologically, spiritually, economically and physically
b. Observe feelings and actions of characters with respect to their
surroundings; as setting changes, often so does character.
c. Listen for any remarks characters make about their setting.
d. Look for clues to characters in objects they have placed in their physical
world.
Setting Revealed by Characters
1. Characters contribute clues about setting
2. When time isn't made obvious, the reader can often make inferences from objects
a character has placed in the setting
3. Dress and dialect contain clues as to historical period in which events take place,
as well as to regional setting and social levels within a region
Plot Assisted by Setting
1. Some stories or plots can take place only in certain settings. Actions governed by
particular customs and mores
2. Traditions established over many generations exert great influence on what
characters do
3. Physical nature also creates conditions that affect plot: setting can confine action
as, for example, on the sea, or on a mountaintop
Atmospheric Setting
1. The mood is reliant on the words and tone of description; a jingle can be light,
full of life, and exciting, or, dark, foreboding, and full of evil
2. The setting of a Victorian drawing room elicits an atmosphere of restraint and
decorum
3. Atmosphere can be overdrawn (as in many Harlequin romances) and become
gooey with manufactured emotion
Theme Revealed by Setting
1. Some authors skillfully use atmosphere to introduce and reinforce the theme of
the novel; what happens in setting (flood) happens to characters (changed course
of action)
2. Setting may reveal how man sees nature, they may show hate, agony, courage,
etc. or men's struggle for insignificant things

Mood the emotional feeling that the reader gets from the writing. Usually the mood is
clearly related to the tone, for the tone of the author creates the mood of the reader. Mood, is
also affected by figurative language, sentence structure, and diction.
(http://learn.lexiconic.net/furtherfictionnotes.htm#oscarmood)
Tone the author's attitude toward his subject matter. The tone might be solemn, formal,
playful, or serious; it is created through word choice and sentence structure.
Atmosphere created by the tone pervading the literary work, atmosphere shapes the
reader's expectations about the plot (whether the events will be happy, sad, disastrous, etc.).
Verisimilitude an illusion of reality created in a fictional work

Local Color the use of details which are characteristic of a certain region or section of the
country

IV.

Plot
The plot is the sequence of the actions and events in a story to convey a theme. It is the
skeleton or the blueprint of a story.
Plot is a system of actions in a purposeful sequence represented in a work. Aristotle defines
plot as that which has a beginning, middle, and an end.
Traditional Kinds of Plot
1. Man in a hole The action begins with a man or group of men getting trapped in some
kind of a hole, goes on to show how they try to climb out and ends with them either
escaping to safety or sliding back to the bottom for good.
a. A Dramatic or Progressive Plot: This is a chronological structure which first
establishes the setting and conflict, then follows the rising action through to a
climax (the peak of the action and turning point), and concludes with a
denouement (a wrapping up of loose ends).
i. Exposition background information on the characters, setting, and
situation, usually found at the beginning of a story
Exposition is at the base of the mountain or the beginning of the story.
This is where the author sets up the story including characters, setting,
and main conflicts.

(http://edtech2.boisestate.edu/weltys/502/conceptmap.html)
ii. Rising Action (Complication) begins when the conflict between the
protagonist and antagonist is set in motion and ends with the climax
The Rising Action occurs as you begin to move throughout the story.
This is where conflicts start to build just like when you climb a mountain
you are moving further along.

iii. Climax the turning point or moment of highest intensity in the work
when either the protagonist or antagonist must succeed
The Climax is the turning point of the story. You have reached the top of
the mountain and you cannot go any further, you have to turn and go
down. This point in the story is when things finally start to move in a
different direction and it may not always be a positive direction.
iv. Falling Action (Denouement) the action which works out the decision
made in the climax - the story unravels
Falling Action occurs after the climax as things start to work
themselves out in the story. You are coming down the mountain just as
you are coming down from the excitement of the climax.
v. Resolution the portion of the play or story where the problem is
solved, providing closure
The Resolution is the solution to the problem as you have reached the
bottom of the mountain. The solution might not be what you want, but
the conflict has been resolved.
2. Man on the road This kind of pot is found more often in a novel than in a short story. A
novel is an expanded short story. It has the same elements as in a short story. Many
novels and short stories achieve their unity, not through a single action, but through a
single hero, walking through various stages on the road of life. Man on a road is
episodic. It tends to stretch out.
a. An Episodic Plot: This is also a chronological structure, but it consists of a series
of loosely related incidents, usually of chapter length, tied together by a common
theme and/or characters. Episodic plots work best when the writer wishes to
explore the personalities of the characters, the nature of their existence, and the
flavor of an era.

3. Man in a tub This kind of plot is connected to the story of the Greek mathematician,
Archimedes who was once asked to determine whether a crown belonging to a ruler, was
made of pure gold. For some weeks he puzzles about the problem, but without success.
He knew that the silver weighs less than gold, but how could he measure any silver the
crown might contain without destroying the crown? Still baffled, he went one day to the
baths, as he stepped into a tub, observed the overflow of water. It suddenly dawned on
him that he had found the solution to his problem. So overjoyed was he by his discovery
that he forgot his towel and ran home through the street naked, shouting Eureka! (I
have found it!) Man in a tub involves two steps: first a straightforward, constructed,
usually commonplace event, and then a flash of realization, can form the skeleton of a

plot. "Man in a tub" is focused internally (limited physical movement in the tub), thus
being closely related to Man against himself.

Fundamental Concepts about Plot:


1. UNITY OF ACTION: The plot has unity if it is a single, complete, and ordered action in
which none of the parts is unnecessary. The parts are so closely connected that without
one of the parts the work would be disjointed
2. SUSPENSE: an anxious uncertainty about what is going to happen to characters with
whom the reader has established bonds of sympathy
3. SURPRISE: surprise occurs when the events that occur in a literary work violate the
expectations we have formed. The interplay between suspense and surprise is a prime
source of the power of plot
4. INTRIGUE: a scheme set up by a character which depends for its success on the
ignorance of the person(s) against whom it is directed
5. FLASHBACK: the writer interrupts the chronological sequence of a story to relate an
incident which occurred prior to the beginning of the story
6. FORESHADOWING: a writer's use of hints or clues to indicate events that will occur
later in the story. The use of this technique both creates suspense and prepares the reader
for what is to come
7. IN MEDIAS RES: the story begins at the middle
8. NARRATIVE HOOK: story opening that "hooks" readers' attention so they will keep
reading
9. FRAME STORY: a main story that organizes a series of shorter stories
10.FLASHBACK: also called prolepsis, a scene that temporarily jumps the narrative
forward in time. Flash forwards often represent events expected, projected, or imagined
to occur in the future. They may also reveal significant parts of the story that have not yet
occurred, but soon will in greater detail.
11.CLIFFHANGER: the narrative ends unresolved, to draw the audience back to a future
episode for the resolution
12.BACKSTORY: story that precedes events in the story being told past events or
background that add meaning to current circumstances

V.

Point of View
It is the perspective from which the events in a story are told or narrated.
The methods of narration are:

1. First Person Participant POV the narrator is a central character in the story, and is
directly involved the action. Sometimes, the narrator is the major character and the story
is chiefly about him
2. First Person Observer POV the narrator is a minor character not directly involved in
the action who relates what he or she observes about the characters and action
3. Innocent-eye POV the narrator telling the story may be child or a developmentally
disabled individual; the narrator is thus naive. The contrast between what the innocenteye narrator perceives and what the reader understands may produce an ironic effect.
4. Second Person POV the narrator tells the story to another character using you. The
author could also be talking to the audience, which we could tell by the use of you,
you're, or your
5. Third Person Limited (or Subjective) POV the narrator can tell the entire story but
by revealing the inner thoughts and feelings of one (main) character. The rest of the
characters is shown only by their actions and dialogue. This is where the head-hopping
can be prevalent. The writer must not go into the heads of the supportive characters.
6. Third Person Observer (or Objective) POV the narrator doesnt reveal the inner
thoughts and feelings of any particular character. The readers are left to view the actions
and dialogue of all characters. Its almost like watching a movie. You know there is a
main player, but the scene is from a distance and youre not told of whats in his head.
7. Third Person Omniscient POV the narrator becomes the god-like or the know-all
story teller. Readers are privy to each and every characters inner thoughts and feelings.
The narrator can go inside of one character to another throughout the story. The downside
of this is that the readers might feel too distant because there is no one character they can
define themselves with.

VI.

Theme
The theme is a recurring social or psychological issue, like aging, violence, alienation or
maturity. The author or poet weaves the theme into the plot, which is used as a vehicle to
convey it. The title of the story or poem is often of significance in recognizing the theme.
What is theme?
a. It's the unifying or central concept of a story.
b. It's a theory of life which acts as the unifying force in a story, or the universal truth which
the story illustrates.
c. The simplest way of defining theme is this: it is the description of the basic challenges of
mankind (e.g. "the human condition").
d. In most stories it's not just a simple moral, which is usually what an author thinks about
the theme.
Theme is the central idea or meaning of a story. Theme in fiction is rarely presented at all; it is
abstracted from the details of character and action that compose the story. It provides a unifying point
around which the plot, characters, setting, point of view, symbols, and other elements of a story are
organized. Be careful to distinguish theme from plot the storys sequence of actions and from
subject what the story is generally about.

Identifying a story's theme:

a. Start with a clear idea of the character's situation and the plot. Why did the characters act
as they did?
b. Examine closely the central conflict. Overcoming a conflict is often the basis of the
recurrent human challenge in the theme.
c. Look closely at the events and/or characters that seem relevant to the main line of action.
Why are they included?
d. Does the author offer an explicit view point about the theme, or does s/he merely describe
the many points of view?
e. Look for literary devices such as symbolism or irony. They often reveal key elements of
the theme.
It is a statement about life or universal truth that a particular work is trying to get across to the reader.
In stories written for children, the theme is often spelled out clearly at the end when the author says
...and so, the moral of the story is
(http://mail.colonial.net/~shull/hullwebenglish/yellowpacket.htm)

VII.

Symbol
Symbol is an object, event or a character that's used to represent an abstract idea; it is
something which stands for something else. Symbols are clues to what's going on in the story
and often stand for key parts of the theme. What must be remembered is that readers aren't
told that something is a symbol, unlike a metaphor (the flower of my love) or a simile (my
love is like a flower). A symbol just sits there inside the story. Readers are simply expected to
understand its symbolic existence.
a. White Dove Peace
b. Santa/Mistletoe Christmas
c. Red Roses Love
d. Wedding Ring - Marriage/Eternal Love
e. The mockingbird in To Kill A Mockingbird - a symbol of innocent people being
unjustly persecuted

Collated and prepared by:


Mr. Wesley C. Barcoma
Subject Teacher, English 3