Five Basic Elements of Short Story

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A short story is a short literary form, a brief fictional prose narrative that is shorter than a novel, usually involving only a few characters and revolving around a main event. The plot of a short story is usually concise and compact, with the characters and the explanation of the incidents usually not being overstated or fully developed. There are many kinds of short stories in the history of human literature: anecdotes, fables, tales, legends, etc, that share some similarities in term of literature. The short story is characterized by possessing five elements, and the author uses a lot of figure of speech, literary devices and techniques to develop and narrate the story.

There are five elements that comprise the entirety of the content of a short story, including characters, setting, conflict, theme, and plot.A character is a person, or sometimes even an animal, who takes part in the action of a short story or other literary work (McClary, 2019). Characters can influence the reader’s understanding of the plot in many ways, because they are the narrators or experiencers of the story. Readers can learn about a character in various ways, such as through the author’s physical description, through the character’s dialogue, thoughts and confessions (The Five Elements of a Short Story, 2016).

Generally, readers pay more attention to the protagonist and the antagonist, who are the principle characters and the whole story is centered on them. The setting of a short story is the time and place in which it happens. Authors often use descriptions of landscape, scenery, buildings, seasons or weathers to provide a strong sense of setting (McClary, 2019). The importance of setting is reflected in providing the context for the actions of the characters in the story. When the reader knows the time and place of the story, it is easier to understand what characters are doing and why (Hansen, 2019). Without the setting, the reader will be confused and not understand the story.A plot is a series of events and character actions that relate to the central conflict. The conflict is a struggle between two people or things in a short story. The main character is usually on one side of the central conflict (McClary, 2019). Both external and internal conflicts

may expose in a story, which can be the obstacles a character faces in the external world (society, morality, ethic, etc), or can be his or her emotional obstacles (feelings, emotions, illness) (What is Conflict in a Story, 2019). The theme is the central idea or belief in a short story (McClary, 2019). It reveals what the author is trying to convey to the reader. All the characters, plots and backgrounds serve the theme. Plot is a pattern of events that develop from the interactions between characters, which also contains five elements: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and conclusion. The conflict involving in the plot makes a story emotionally engaging, and most importantly, the theme can be introduced through plots (Literary Terms, 2015). These five elements are indispensable for a short story that the lack of any of them make the story incomplete.

Figures of speech refer to a word or a phrase using figurative languages that is implying a different definition from the literary one without directly stating it. It makes the story vivid and fascinating, helping the reader to create an image for what the story is describing. There are nearly endless types of figurative languages, and each of them serves different functions to lend texture and color to a story. The common ones include metaphor and simile, which are designed to make a comparison; alliteration and hyperbole, which are used to provide a dramatic effect; idiom and proverb, which connect the story to the realistic background; personification and onomatopoeia, which bring the reader to the story personally, etc (Figurative Language, n,d,).

Figures of speech are considered the most common literacy technique in writings. For example, “Time is money” is a widely known metaphor that compares time and money, but it does not literally mean that the amount of time can be measured by money. Instead, it encourages people to use time effectively as they are as valuable as money earned.Figures of speech make up a huge portion of the English language and have lasted for thousands of years, which still play an important role in almost all kinds of modern literature.

Flashbacks, foreshadowing and symbolism are important literary devices whose presence serves to emphasize or clarify plots and words in a short story, adding complexity and depth to the narrative, and indirectly leading to themes. Flashbacks, which are usually inserted abruptly, move the reader from the current moment in chronological order to past scenes. Readers can access almost all of the hidden information by looking back. Foreshadowing provides the readers with hints about the unknown plot, which can be used directly or indirectly through prophecies, symbols, and omens.

Foreshadowing can serve as an element of humor, fear, tension, excitement, doubt, or suspense and anticipation. In addition, foreshadowing encourages the audience to predict the plot by revealing clues, revoking their interests to read on (Literary Terms, 2015). Symbolism is often used to give another interpretation beyond the normal meaning, which the symbolized object may be conventional such as interpreting white pigeon as the symbol of peace, or the symbol may have an unique interpretation that only being recognized in the story which it appears (Symbolism, 2013). Literary devices are more indirect and complex in terms of expressing the theme, but their existence enables the story more readable and appealing.


In summary, the foundation of a successful and popular short story consists of five basic elements (characters, setting, conflict, theme, and plot) among which the flexible use of figures of speech and literary devices ensures the fullness of the characters and the interest of the story, with the concise plot makes short stories easier to read and write. These factors have contributed together to the enduring popularity of the short story.


Cite this paper

Five Basic Elements of Short Story. (2021, Feb 28). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/five-basic-elements-of-short-story/

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