What makes a short story? • A short story may be short because the material itself is narrow in its range or area of interest. • A short story may be short because although the material has a potentially broad range, the writer cuts it down to focus on one aspect and maximize the story’s impact or artistic effect. • Edgar Allan Poe is often credited with being the creator of the short story. • Many short stories focus on a single incident, moment in time, or experience, but that is not always the case.
Short stories often focus on a single character in a single situation • Often the focus for the story a moment at which one or more of the central characters undergo some important experience which represents a significant moment in their personal development – an epiphany or moment of truth during which some perception changes within the character • Not all short stories reach a climax and some end inconclusively leaving the reader with a sense of uncertainty while other stories may not have discernable plot at all.
What should be focused on when studying a short story? • 1. Plot and Structure – Be sure to understand what happens in the story, the basic ideas that it deals with, how it is structured, and how the various elements of it relate to one another. How the story is structured can be of particular interest if it varies from a straight-forward chronological structure
Character(s) encounter some event, crisis, experience, etc that leads to personal development, greater awareness or change Characters cannot see the implications or nature of the key event, experience, or crisis but the reader can Key event or crisis point SHORT STORY Inconclusive story The story does not raise the action to a climax or contain a key important event. It may present a snapshot of a moment, event, or experience. The story may have a crisis but the reader is uncertain and left with a number of interpretations or questions The story does not raise the action to a climax or contain a key important event. It may present a snapshot of a moment, event, or experience.
Beginnings – The majority of stories have some kind beginning or opening section; a middle, where the characters, situation, and ideas are developed; and an ending that draws the story to a conclusion. • There are stories that do not seem to have a beginning or an ending in the conventional sense. • However a writer begins a short story, it is definitely worth examining. Because short stories require economy of words, writers must consider how much to include and/or omit in the introduction.
II. Narrative Viewpoint – The question of who is telling the story is a very important one and raises questions about why the writer has chosen to present the story from this particular viewpoint and what effect this has on the reader’s response.
Narrative Line • Short story writers order the events that they describe in a particular way. Through the story-line the writer can create a wider range of effects, such as creating suspense, raising the action to a climax point, resolving problems, leading (or misleading) the reader in particular ways, and leaving endings open to a variety of interpretations.
Very often the narrative structure is a straight-forward progression with one event following another and moving towards a conclusion where all is resolved. However, sometimes a writer might play around with this structure to create particular effects.
Points of Narrative Structure • Make a list of key events in the story • Look at the order in which these events are related by the writer. • Look at the time structure of the story – is it told in simple chronological order or is there use of flashbacks or cutting back and forth? • Are there any details or pieces of information that the writer omits or particular points that are emphasized?
Endings • There are as many ways of ending a short story as there are of beginning, but the ending is a very important element in the overall structure of a piece. • In a short story it is often the ending which reveals meaning, points up a significant theme, or provides a resolution. • Equally a writer might create an open ending that might leave the reader wondering what it all means. • The ending with “a sting in the tail,” a technique often used by Maupassant, has been popularized through the short stories of Roald Dahl. • It is important to consider how the ending relates to the rest of the story.
Narrative Viewpoint • In addressing viewpoint, you need to consider who is actually seeing the events described and who is narrating them. They may be one and the same or quite separate. • As a reader, you need to be aware of how writers use viewpoint within their stories, be sensitive to subtle shifts and aware of the effects this can have on the narrative and your perception of it.
III. Characters – Questions often focus on one or more of the characters in the story or stories and may ask you to examine how the writer presents or develops the characters to explore how they relate to each other.
Readers should never lose sight of the fact that characters are creations of the writer and do not have an existence outside of the text. • In many cases, writers create their characters to serve particular functions within the narrative and present them in ways that give particular impressions. • Consider the kinds of characters the writer portrays, how they are presented, which of their features are stressed, what role they perform, how they interact with all the other elements of the story to create a unified whole, and how we respond to them as readers.
IV. Language and Style – You will need a clear idea about the distinctive qualities of the writer’s style. This will involve focusing closely on the specific detail and the writer’s choice of language – the way it is used and the effects it creates.