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Elements of Short Stories

Short Story Unit: Introduction to Elements of Short Stories

M Vidulin

on 19 November 2016

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Transcript of Elements of Short Stories

Short Story Unit Introduction
Thank you for your attention!
And one more thing...
A short story is a work of prose fiction usually having only one main character, plot, setting, and theme. The short story focuses on a character, who, when faced with a problem, must make a difficult decision. By making this decision, the main character sets a goal that takes her or him on an emotional ride that leads to consequences.
Short stories are made up of 4 main elements:
Plot (including conflict)
First, What is a Short Story?
Some Facts About
Short Stories
Short Story Elements
A. A short story is short! Only the most important details are included.
The number of characters is small.

B. The short story must quickly involve the reader in the action, and the
story only covers a brief space of time.

C. These elements can be part of every short story: characters, setting,
plot, and theme. Quite often in short stories, only one of these elements will dominate.

D. Writers tell most short stories from either a first-person point of view(I) or a third-person point of view (he/she), but some stories are told from a second-person point of view (you).
All fiction is based on conflict and this conflict is presented in a structural format called plot. As shown in this diagram, a traditional plot uses five parts in a fixed order to achieve specific purposes. These parts are: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.
The Exposition (or Introduction) presents facts necessary to understand the story. It introduces the following:
The setting is established
The central characters are introduced
The tone/mood is set
The inciting force triggers the conflict (more about conflict later...)
The rising action fits the following criteria:
Begins with an initiating event (the first conflict of the story)
3 to 4 major events are revealed
Tension (suspense) of the story increases/intensifies
The climax is:
The highpoint of the story for the reader
The most emotionally intense and most interesting part in the story
The point at which the outcome of the conflict can be predicted
The falling action:
Includes the events after the climax which closes the story
Ties up loose ends developed in the rising action
Brings the plot forward to its conclusion
The resolution (also known as the denouement):
Rounds out and concludes the action
Reveals the outcome of the conflict
Do you remember when I mentioned that we'd look at a part of plot called "conflict" later? ....later is now!
Conflict is the struggle (drama) that grows between two opposing forces in a piece of literature
At least one of the opposing forces is customarily a person
If you have sufficient conflict, you will be able to move the plot forward and keep the attention of your reader
If your writing lacks conflict, it will lack tension and fall flat
There are two types of conflict: internal and external.
vs. Nature
vs. Self
Often portrayed as a character fighting against his/her conscience or moral beliefs, his own will, his own confusion, or his own fears
In order to attain happiness, he/she must overcome the conflict with him/herself by coming to a realization, finding out who he/she is or changing his/her character
The struggle of the human being to come to a decision is the basis of Human vs. Self.
With external conflict, the main character struggles with a force (something or someone) which is outside of him/herself. There are several categories of external conflict.
Here a person struggles with ideas, opinions, beliefs, which are incompatible. Internal conflict involves a person's experience of having to make a difficult decision.
vs. Human
vs. Society
vs. Fate or God
The most common and obvious literary conflict
The conflict between two characters
Epitomizes the daily troubles we have with others.
Can be intellectual, moral, physical or emotional
Plays a large role in the plot and contributes to the development of both characters
Stories driven by this conflict usually revolve around resolution via violence or defeat
Often represented by a person who is an outcast or a character who tries to break the normal rules or traditions of society
The character is repressed by society. Society itself is often represented as a single character
The main character fulfills his/her destiny in the midst of uncomprehending or hostile social environments
Such literature gives the writer an opportunity to comment on the positive and negative aspects of society as a whole
A character fights against the forces of nature, such as a dangerous natural environment or wild animal(s)
The forces of nature are out of the character's control
It is especially prominent in an uncivilized world. In modern times, this theme is primarily seen when civilized people are put into a less civilized setting or remote location
Many disaster movies focus on this conflict
The battle with machines usually arises out of a dystopia that occurs as appearance and reality are blurred
A manifestation of humankind's fear of machines, suggesting what would happen if machinery could become sentient and superior to humans through their lack of emotion or human frailty
Places a character against robot forces with "artificial intelligence"
This could be ghosts, monsters, demons, etc.
The main character must call upon his or her strength to defeat the fantastic enemy confronting him or her
Often the supernatural acts as a catalyst for another conflict - human vs. self
A struggle aginst metaphysical or abstract forces
It is a conflict where the main character attempts to break free of a predetermined path chosen before him/her prior to his/her knowledge
It can also be referred to as an issue between fate and freewill
A character is constrained by time or time is directly conflicting with the character's goal
Character refers to an individual in a story. The main character in a story is called the hero or protagonist. The character that comes into conflict the protagonist is called the villain or antagonist.
Character, or characterization, also refers to the qualities, or traits, of an individual. There are two ways we can learn what a character is like:
Direct characterization
Indirect characterization
Time Period
Setting is the place and time of a story.
Telling us directly what the character is like (generous, deceitful, timid, etc.)
Describing how the character looks and dresses
Letting us hear the character speak
Letting us listen to the character's inner thoughts and feelings
Revealing what other people think or say about the character
Showing the character's actions
Types of Setting
Anywhere on
the planet
...or known universe
...even in
one's mind!
For Discovering Theme
A theme is a central idea or insight into life - the attitude or opinion of the author - expressed through writing
Sometimes it is a moral message the author is conveying
This message is about life, society, or human nature. In a good piece of writing, the theme serves to unify the story
Lengthy writings have several themes.
In stories for children, the theme is often spelled out clearly in the end. In more complex literature, the theme will not be so clearly spelled out
Theme must be expressible in the form of a statement. For example, "loyalty" is not a theme it is a subject. Theme must be a statement about a subject. A thematic statement about loyalty would be, "loyal to a country often inspires heroic self-sacrifice."

Formula: topic + action/opinion = theme
Theme must be stated as a generalization about life. In other words, it is not specific to a character.
We must ask what the central purpose of the story is: what view of life it supports or what insight into life it reveals.
We must also ask what the story reveals about human existence.
Sometimes we can get at theme by asking in what way the main character has changed in the course of the novel and what, if anything, he/she has learned before its end.
We can also explore the nature of the central conflict and its outcome.
The perspective from which the story is told.
First person
Third person
Second Person
Point of View
...and the very rare:
Character Types

A round, or rounded, character is anyone who has a complex personality; he or she is often portrayed as a conflicted and contradictory person.
A flat character is the opposite of a round character. This literary personality is notable for one kind of personality trait or characteristic.
A dynamic 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 static character is someone who does not change over time; his or her personality does not transform or evolve.
• Narrator is often, but not always, the main character
• Narrator tells the story as he or she experienced it
• One advantage is that the narrator can vividly describe his or her own thoughts, feelings, and observations. This helps the reader feel close to the narrator or to the action.
• One disadvantage is that the narrator does not have direct access to the thoughts and feelings of other characters. In addition, the narrator cannot relate events that happen when he or she is not present. Therefore, the reader cannot learn about those events until the narrator learns of them.

Third-Person Limited Point of View
• The narrator tells only what one character thinks, feels, and observes, and does not reach into the mind of any other character.
• Other characters’ thoughts and experiences can be revealed to the reader only through indirect means, such as dialogue.
• Third-person limited point of view is useful for surprise endings, in which the reader learns crucial information only at the story’s end

Third-Person Omniscient Point of View
• An omniscient, or all-knowing, narrator has access to the thoughts, feelings, motives, and experience of all the characters.
• The writer can shift attention from place to place, from time to time, and from character to character.
• Can describe aspects of the characters that they themselves do not know or cannot see.
• Also able to comment of what the events in a story mean.

The second-person narrative is a narrative mode in which the protagonist or another main character is referred to by second-person personal pronouns, such as "you".


"You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy." —Opening lines of Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City (1984)
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