Elements of the Short Story

What follows is a brief overview of the main elements of the short story that you need to take into account when analysing a short story.

The main elements of the short story

1. By its very nature, a short story is limited in scope (limited characters, short time-frame) and includes a high degree of concentration and compression to make it work as an engaging, complex story.

2.  A short story usually contains some kind of a central conflict or challenge with which the main character (protagonist) has to contend. The character may confront the problem head-on and overcome it, be defeated by it, reach an accommodation with it or find an innovative way out of the dilemma.

3. Any of these resolutions will bring about a change in the character’s situation and a deepening of his or her understanding of the self and his/her world.

4. Often short stories are structured to include an exposition (the background, setting and context, often at the beginning but background information can also be dribbled in later on in the unfolding story), a complication (the conflict or challenge the protagonist faces), some development (the unfolding of the struggle), a climax (the point of highest tension, often an incident or event where the conflict is played out) and a denouement (a tying up of loose ends, the outcome of the conflict).

5. Atmosphere and tone are important in short stories because they provide a way for the writer to bring in emotions and attitudes without the need for any overt explanation: tone speaks volumes about attitude and emotion.

6. Themes are handled much more economically in short stories than in novels and writers need to rely on both direct and oblique references to construct these themes.

If you need a more comprehensive and detailed treatment of the genre of prose fiction, including the short story, you will find the study guide Analysing a Literary Text: The A* Way of great help because it takes you systematically through a discussion of the elements of the short story and also provides you with a method to guide you through your analysis.