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Characteristics of the Short Story

Characteristics of the Short Story

The short story is a narrative of interrelated events, involving a conflict and a resolution. The following are essential features of the short story.


  • A short story should create a single impression.

  • It should be highly economical with every word, all characters, dialogue and description designed to develop single predesigned effect.

  • Most short stories revolve around a single incident, character or period of time,

  • Should be capable of being read at one sitting.

  • Opening sentence should initiate the predetermined or predesigned effect.

  • Once climax reached, the story should end with minimal resolution.

  • Character should only be developed to the extent required by the story.


  • Take a PLOT and fit characters to it.

  • Take a CHARACTER and choose incidents to develop it.

  • Take an ATMOSPHERE and get actions and characters to develop it.

  • Take an IDEA and use characters and action to develop this.


  • Narrative Structure :

    • orientation (exposition);

    • complication (rising action, crises, conflict);

    • resolution (climax, falling action, denouement).

(An alternative narrative structure is sometimes cited in some texts as follows:


o      Presents who, when, where what and why;

o      Introduces complication or problem which triggers the action

o      Focuses readersÍ attention, engages them with story / character / conflict / mood.

       Middle or rising action

o      Presents a series of crisis points consisting of actions and reactions.


o      Resolves the complication with the climax.)


  • Entertain

    • Suspense / conflict / mystery

    • Emotional impact

    • Character in action

  • Provide insight

    • Into characters motivation / fears / beliefs

    • Into the world / life / truth / justice / reality

This is an essential element in every short story. The conflict tells of some type of struggle:

      Man (person or character) against man;

      Man against society;

      Man against his environment / nature;

      Man against himself. (This may be physical or psychological, but whatever it is, the conflict propels the story on to its final solution.)

Conflict may be internal or external. The tension created by this conflict gives rise to drama and action in the story. Is the conflict evenly balanced? By identifying commonly experienced conflicts in a novel, we can identify THEME; ie how character/ s attempt to deal with and resolve major conflict in their lives is what the author wants us to consider.

Point of View

Every story is told or narrated from at least one position or point of view. Some stories are told using several different points of view. ( For example, a novel written in the third person may contain letters from character/s, providing us with a separate first person perspective.)

In every story the reader can discern one (generally) of four basic points of view:

  1. The omniscient narrator knows everything about the characters, even their most inmost thoughts, but choosing to reveal only information that is relevant to the story. This is the most common point of view.

  2. A limited omniscient narrator is an all knowing about one character through whose eyes and thoughts the story is filtered.

  3. In a first person narration*, (*A first person narrator can only report what he/she sees, hears or is told by others.. He/she only has insight into the thoughts or motives of the characters if they have been told or overhear.)

    1.  first person major : a character either tells his own story or one in which he is one of the participants;

    2. first person minor : here the character is a minor one, observing and reporting the life of the story's main character.

(There are further subdivisions in all of these, as well as other povÍs (such as the second person) however, these will be taught as and where necessary. In the case of Yr 12, 2004, another relevant first person pov is the subjective narrator. A subjective narrator is one who provides a very emotionally loaded and personal point of view. It is a view that the reader is encouraged to question the validity of.)


The setting involves the place and time of the incidents in the story. The location, the social environment, and period of history form an essential, element in the short story. Within this setting characters may move, initiating some action within the text. In addition the setting will construct some feeling in the reader in relation to place, character, time and action.

WHERE : place specific (classroom); place general (Ireland)

WHEN: time specific (midnight); time general or era (nineteenth century)

WHO ; the characters who may be introduced;

WHAT : some action may be established providing direction for th text to move in;

ATMOSPHERE : this is the mood or feeling created in the reader in relation to some aspect of setting.

EMOTIONAL LANDSCAPE : Often the setting of a story acts as an emotional landscape. What this means is that the setting may mirror (or may directly contrast, to highlight) the main character's emotional state. As such the setting embodies feelings we the reader may attach to  the character.

Thus, the setting can play an active part in the short story.

  • It can time, place, character and action;

  • it can mirror, establish or influence a character's emotions, ideas or actions;

  • it can create a sense of mood and feeling (atmosphere). This atmosphere often plays a significant role in developing character, action and theme.


Character development in short story is generally limited to the major character. Such a character can be said to be complex or rounded, as distint from simple or a flat character. Most characters in short stories don't need to be developed.Other names for types of characters are stock characters or stereotyped characters ; they are like cardboard cut-outs.

Character may be revealed through CHADSBOAT:

  • CH = character

  • A = author; thee author may comment directly about this character; ("he was a mean and nasty piece of work..")

  • D = dialogue or what the character ssays;

  • S = says; what the character thinks of the world and other people is revealed in his or her dialogue;

  • B = background;the character's context can tell us something about them, such as class attitudes;

  • O = others; what other characters say or think about them;

  • A = appearance; what some ch's look like tells us what they are like as people;

  • T= thinks; what ared his or her thoughts, feelings, doubts, fears, hopes.

Plot and Narrative Structure

The plot involves the ordering of the happenings; that is, selection and arrangements of incidents of the story into a recognizable sequence.

Plot graphs have us believing that most stories are simple, linear, chronological sets of events. Indeed some stories are, however, there are many ways in which stories develop. How a story is developed and the order in which it proceeds, is its NARRATIVE STRUCTURE.

Chronological : action proceeds in order of time, sequenced according to occurrence. **Note expansion and contraction of time as a narrative device. Some moments, indeed whole short stories, can be very limited amounts of time expanded. Stories often contain an expansion and contraction of events.

Flashback : where a story moves to and fro in time, possibly starting in the present and flashing back to one or more events in the past. A

In media res ; this is Latin for ñin the middle of the actionî. A story may commence in the middle of an event (plane crash), go back to before plane takes off, then lead up to crash and whatever the resolution is.

*Setting : essentially THREE things. Remember also TIME expansion and contraction.



  1. Theme;

  2. Character / characterisation / how character is developed;

  3. Character motivation;

  4. Stereotyped / stock character / flat character;

  5. Rounded / developed character

  6. Point of view;

  7. Plot;

  8. Plot structure (flashback, chronological, in media res);

  9. Setting;

  10. Atmosphere or mood

  11. Dialogue;

  12. Style;

  13. Exposition;

  14. Rising action;

  15. Falling action;

  16. Foreshadowing;

  17. Suspense / tension;

  18. Conflict; (internal, external)

  19. Symbolism;

  20. Protagonist;

  21. Satire; satirises; satirical writing;

  22. Tone of writer;

  23. Antagonist;

  24. Issues;

  25. Beliefs;

  26. Values;

  27. Attitudes;

  28. Irony / dramatic irony;

  29. Climax (turning point);

  30. Reader positioning;

  31. Reader context;

  32. Writer context;

  33. Textual context;

  34. Power;

  35. Subversion;

  36. Gaps and silences;

  37. Gender representation / how gender is represented;

  38. Discourses;

  39. AuthorÍs attitude towards character;

  40. AuthorÍs attitude towards subject;

  41. How setting supports theme;

  42. How reader positioned to identify with / be alienated from main character;

  43. Ways in which writer promotes identification with central character;

  44. What is authorÍs attitude to main character;

  45. How does use of setting, choice of language, selection of detail position reader to represent certain minority groups or characters;

  46. Discuss methods used by writer to shape specific reader responses and present a particular way of viewing the struggle of one adolescent against a hostile world;

  47. How are our attitudes to a particular theme / issue challenged or endorsed by awriter;

  48. How are our values challenged or endorsed, encouraging us to respond to a particular issue;

  49. How reader positioned to agree with / support / endorse writerÍs ideas / theme.

  50. How language used to position reader;

  51. How writer challenges our values and attitudes;

  52. How writer endorses values and attitudes;

  53. Significance of title;

  54. Power / distribution of power;

  55. Ideology;

  56. Marginalised;

  57. Priveliged;

  58. Dominant reading;

  59. Alternative readings;

  60. Resistant readings;

  61. Binary opposition.



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