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Elements of a short story

Sherlyn Caluma

on 10 July 2013

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Elements of a Short Story
As a narrative a work of fiction has a certain arrangement of events which are taken to have a relation to one another. This arrangement of events to some end -- for instance to create significance, raise the level of generality, extend or complicate the meaning -- is known as 'plot'.
Narrative is integral to human experience; we use it constantly to make sense out of our experience, to remember and relate events and significance, and to establish the basic patterns of behavior of our lives. If there is no apparent relation of events in a story our options are either to declare it to be poorly written.
In order to establish significance in narrative there will often be coincidence, parallel or contrasting episodes, repetitions of various sorts, including the repetition of challenges, crises, episodes, symbols, motifs. The relationship of events in order to create significance is known as the plot.
Characters in a work of fiction are generally designed to open up or explore certain aspects of human experience. Characters often depict particular traits of human nature; they may represent only one or two traits. Usually there will be contrasting or parallel characters, and usually there will be a significance to the selection of kinds of characters and to their relation to each other. In almost any representation in art, the significance of a character can vary from the particular, the dramatization of a unique individual, to the most general and symbolic.
Narrative requires a setting; this as in poetry may vary from the concrete to the general. Often setting will have particular culturally coded significance -- a sea-shore has significance for us different from that of a dirty street corner, for instance, and different situations and significances can be constructed through its use. Settings, like characters, can be used in contrasting and comparative ways to add significance, can be repeated, repeated with variations, and so forth.
A narration requires a narrator, someone (or more than one) who tells the story. This person or persons will see things from a certain perspective, or point of view, in terms of their relation to the events and in terms of their attitude(s) towards the events and characters. A narrator may be external, outside the story, telling it with an ostensibly objective and omniscient voice; or a narrator may be a character (or characters) within the story, telling the story in the first person (either central characters or observer characters, bit players looking in on the scene).
The Narrator
First-person characters may be reliable, telling the truth, seeing things right, or they may be unreliable, lacking in perspective or self-knowledge. If a narration by an omniscient external narrator carries us into the thoughts of a character in the story, that character is known as a reflector character: such a character does not know he or she is a character, is unaware of the narration or the narrator.
An omniscient, external narrator may achieve the narrative by telling or by showing, and she may keep the reader in a relation of suspense to the story (we know no more than the characters) or in a relation of irony (we know things the characters are unaware of).
In any case, who it is who tells the story, from what perspective, with what sense of distance or closeness, with what possibilities of knowledge, and with what interest, are key issues in the making of meaning in narrative.
As in poetry, there will be figurative language; as in drama, this language tends to be used to characterize the sensibility and understanding of characters as well as to establish thematic and tonal continuities and significance.
Figurative language.
Representation of reality
Fiction generally claims to represent 'reality' (this is known as representation or mimesis) in some way; however, because any narrative is presented through the symbols and codes of human meaning and communication systems, fiction cannot represent reality directly, and different narratives and forms of narrative represent different aspects of reality, and represent reality in different ways.
A narrative might be very concrete and adhere closely to time and place, representing every-day events; on the other hand it may for instance represent psychological or moral or spiritual aspects through symbols, characters used representatively or symbolically, improbable events, and other devices.
In addition you should remember that all narrative requires selection, and therefore it requires exclusion as well, and it requires devices to put the selected elements of experience in meaningful relation to each other (and here we are back to key elements such as coincidence, parallels and opposites, repetitions).
As narrative represents experience in some way and as it uses cultural codes and language to do so, it inevitably must be read, as poetry, for its structure of values, for its understanding of the world, or world-view, and for its ideological assumptions, what is assumed to be natural and proper.
Every narrative communication makes claims, often implicitly, about the nature of the world as the narrator and his or her cultural traditions understand it to be. The kind of writing we call "literature" tends to use cultural codes and to use the structuring devices of narrative with a high degree of intentionality in order to offer a complex understanding of the world.
The astute reader of fiction will be aware of the shape of the world that the fiction projects, the structure of values that underlie the fiction (what the fiction explicitly claims and what it implicitly claims through its codes and its ideological understandings); will be aware of the distances and similarities between the world of the fiction and the world that the reader inhabits; and will be aware of the significances of the selections and exclusions of the narrative in representing human experience.
Answer the vocabulary exercise on page 16 of English 10 handouts as a preliminary preparation for reading.
WAR by Luigi Pirandello
World Text:
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