“For me a page of good prose is where one hears the rain. A page of good prose is when one hears the noise of battle… a page of good prose seems to me the most serious dialogue that well informed and intelligent men and women carry on today in their endeavor to make sure that the fires of this planet burn peaceably.” – John Cheever
Ah, short stories; those easy-reads we all love so much. A short story is literally that; it is a story that focuses on a self-contained incident that evokes a single effect or mood. It is often how great novelists start – writing short story fiction. Writing short stories is much easier than writing a novel and is a great stepping stone to begin doing so. Most authors actually begin their novels by writing short stories revolving around one character and then compiling them. Seems pretty simple, right?
Like any form of literature, writing a short story is boundless and allows the writer to let his imagination and style drive. Now, even with all the freedom a writer has, there are still some key elements that every short story must contain in order to be a story at all. These are 1. Setting, 2. Characters, 3. Plot, 4. Conflict, and 5. Theme. The elements are all pretty simple and are pretty common sense when it comes to weaving a story.
The first important element of a short story is the setting. This refers to the physical background of the story, meaning where and when the story is taking place. For example, in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving, the story took place in the year 1790 in a secluded area called “Sleepy Hollow” in the Dutch Settlement of Tarry Town, New York. To provide a strong sense of the setting, authors usually use descriptions of landscapes, scenery, seasons, or weather.
Without characters there can be no story at all, really. The characters are the people who move about the story and whose lives and actions make up the plot. There are several types of characters that go into a story; these are the protagonist or hero, the antagonist or opponent, and the minor characters. Simple enough.
There also 3 types of minor characters; these being flat, round, and stereotyped characters. Flat characters are those that remain unchanged by events and are one-dimensional; round or dynamic characters are those that are affected by the story’s events, have a fully developed character, are described in more detail, and usually undergo some sort of change or deterioration by the end of the story; and stereotyped characters are those that are so well-known that little has to be said about them for us to get to know them, such as the drunk uncle, the cool biker, the nerd, or the beautiful international spy.
The plot is the arrangement of incidents or events in a story as they relate to the central conflict. To put it simply, the plot is what is happening in the story. There are 6 parts to a plot and can be likened to a rise and fall graph. First, the exposition introduces the setting and the characters; next, a crisis or conflict is established, causing problems for the protagonist; then there is a rising action, wherein the conflict becomes more pronounced and the tension builds; after, there is the climax which is the moment of greatest suspense; then a falling action which leads to a final outcome; and lastly, the resolution, where the writer wraps up the story.
This one is so important that it got its own element – the conflict. As stated, the conflict is the struggle between the two people or things in the story, usually having the protagonist on one side of the central conflict. The main character may struggle against another character, society, the forces of nature, or even himself. This is what fuels the events of the story and influences its course.
The theme is where it all begins. It is the central idea, motif, or belief in a story; it encompasses and permeates the entire story and persists throughout the narrative. For example, in the story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway, the central theme is death, because it focuses on the prospect of imminent death and facing death with courage.