A short story is a work of fiction or imagination that is usually written in easily understandable grammatical structure with a natural flow of speech. Short story is meant to be read at single sitting and therefore should be brief and as direct as possible. A typical short story has very little action and hardly any character development.
Basic Elements of a Short Story
Short stories have six basic elements that they share with longer works of fiction. The basic elements are: setting, conflict, plot, characters and character development, theme, and point of view. All stories have some version of all of these elements although not necessarily in the most literal manner.
1. Setting – A story’s setting is more than just its physical location. It includes the time in which the story takes place, whether it’s the span of an hour or a lifetime and whether it takes place in modern times, the future or the distant past. Setting refers to the world the characters inhabit, which includes such as weather, architecture, social expectations, and legal practices.
2. Conflict – Generally speaking, all stories have some sort of conflict. Some conflicts are more blatant than others, clearly pitting characters against each other, against society in general, or against nature or some external force. Other conflicts are more subtle, taking place mostly within a characters own mind: their view of themselves, their view of the world, their morals, and their emotions. The conflict in a story is generally what makes it interesting or compelling. If nothing is at stake, a story will not typically be very interesting, even if the writing itself is good.
3. Plot – A story’s plot consist of all it’s events, laid out in chronological order. Plot is often broken up into five basic sections. Most stories will follow this structure. The first is the introduction, when the characters are introduced. Next comes the rising action, when the story’s conflict is revealed and it really starts moving. Sometimes, this happens at the very start, essentially combining the introduction and rising action. The climax of the story is its most pivotal point, when the conflict could swing one way or the other and the characters are tested. Some stories have multiple smaller climaxes. The fourth section is falling action, as the conflict is either resolved or left open. Finally the last section is the denouement, or the end, when the final outcome is explained – or left for the reader to wonder about, depending on the story.
4. Characters – Most stories have one or more protagonists, whish in another way of saying “main character” (or characters). Some stories have clearly defined antagonists, or villains, whereas others no not. Sometimes the line between protagonist and antagonist is blurred, as in the case of an anti0hero. Characters can be either round or flat. Round characters are fleshed out like they are real people. The reader is given many realistic details about the character. Flat characters are less complicated and stereotyped or caricatured. We don’t see them from more than one angle, either because they aren’t centrally important or because the narrator is only concerned with one aspect of their personality of because the narrative mode is satirical or ironic. Characters can also be either dynamic or static. Dynamic characters change as a story progresses. They learn new things, change their minds, grow as people, mature, have breakdowns, insights, or epiphanies,. Static characters stay pretty much the same throughout a narrative.
5. Theme – Theme is the most abstract of these basic elements. Theme is, essentially, what the story is about. This is not to suggest that all stories are about only one thing or that once you have figured out the theme of a story you have somehow cracked the code or solved a problem. Themes can be complex, and the important thing when analyzing literature is not what the themes are but how they are created and developed. All stories have themes. Themes can include death, redemption, challenging gender roles, overcoming fears, prejudice, hatred or the shortcomings of language. Most stories can be shown to have more than one theme.
6. Point of View – Point of View is a question of who is telling the story and how. In a first-person story, the narrator is a character that uses the pronoun I. Sometimes, the narrator speaks in first person, but the real protagonist is another character. In a second-person story, the narrator uses the pronoun “you” and addresses the reader directly and if he or she is a character; this point of view is quite rare. Third person refers to all of the characters as “he” or “she” – the narrator is not part of the action. Sometimes, a third-person narrator is omniscient, meaning he knows what all the characters are doing and even describes what they are thinking. Other times, the narrator only shoes things as they would be seen or heard but doesn’t go inside the character’s heads; this is knows as “limited” third-person point of view. There are many ways to experiment with point of view, and different stories may employ very different techniques, including switching narrators or modes of narration.
Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Essential Tips for Short Story Writing
According to Mr. Vonnegut, there are only eight tips you need to craft a good short story. These tips were originally compiled in his 1999 book, “Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction” but were made available later.
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the tie was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least once character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something; even it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them, - in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, you story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches east the last few pages.
Writing a short story is nearly like writing a novel, only condensing the words and elements.
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